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Centering Clay


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  • scottiebie changed the title to Centering Clay

A few years back I injured the index and middle fingers on my left hand, and so for 6-8 weeks all I could do was throw one-handed. I did a batch of small bowls and cups, all about 1 pound. It takes some practice, like anything, but it's very doable. You're limited by the length of your fingers, as you have to pull by pinching with your thumb and finger. Once I was out of the splint, I still couldn't put pressure on the fingertips for a few months, so I threw  with my ring finger and pinky on my left hand. It took a couple of weeks to build up strength in those fingers, but after that it was just like using my index and middle. If you understand how the clay moves, you can use whatever body parts you need to get the job done.

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1 hour ago, scottiebie said:

Thank you for everyone's comments and suggestions.  I have a handful of beginners that are struggling with centering using both hands.  Is centering a pound of clay and using one hand okay to teach a beginner?

I think It’s generally more difficult. I would say if you have an easier way using one hand, then share it with students. Heck share it here. If it is more difficult for most students then I would say teach it as an alternative for those who find it easier.

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Ah, in terms of instruction, my observation was that starting with the anchor hand* - the one the clay is moving toward (so left hand for you counter-clockwise, right hand for me) - could be a valuable, and for some students, important, as in when that hand isn't staying anchored very well?
Just catching the clay and gradually getting it to spin around** and start to round, with that arm firmly supported or "anchored" to maintain unmoving/controlled position with respect to the clay. Show the skill, see? By the time you say, "Now the other hand..." a lot of the work is done. Seems like the next thing after getting the clay prepared and stuck on ready to center is that first/anchor hand. Breaking a skill into component bits and focusing on them seems good for about half or more o' the class, my experience. When circling back to the struggling ones, oh, wait, here just start with this hand, like this - when the anchor is at fault - it's already established per introduction, demonstration and discussion of steps; anchor/support/fix your arm, swang it around inta the clay, yarr, then the other hand, and then they work together like this...

Starting with the anchor might be a good place to try the other hand - does that feel more natural, intuitive, easier?

I'm right handed, but to me in centering, the catching hand is the skill position, which winds the clay down into the centered mass, and in throwing, to me pots are thrown from the inside, which hand has to work by feel a lot more than the outside hand, it can't see. So clockwise.

*There are those who center with the side hand, the one controlling the side on down to the bat, on the away side, so right hand for counter-clockwise. It feels better for me the other way.
**it spins around some - I'd thought putting a contrasting color in the clay ball to demonstrate as much, first demo, might have helped some of the beginners in my class. Round and around the clay goes. For some, seeing it, in this case, the flow of the clay through the fingers - which the colored clay highlights - will help them program their brain to expect that and feel it. The drag of the fingers on the clay moves it around - in a circle; pressure moves the clay up, down, in, out, yah, meanwhile, it is spinning, or thrown. 

Edited by Hulk
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By the way, the struggling students are senior adults ranging from 50ish to 70ish years old.   We started with 2 pounds of clay and showing them centering using two hands to cone up and to cone down.  They find it hard to remember to repeat the same hand positions, so I thought maybe one hand might be an option with centering only one pound of clay.  

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When you asked about centreing with only 1 hand, I was picturing a clay olympics kind of party trick. Now I’m picturing something more in line with locking your elbow into your torso, placing that hand against the wheel head (or a hair above) and using the other hand to push downward to make that hockey puck shape. This video is off my IG, and there’s another one 2 squares lower on the feed that show a good arial view. If you want the version that isn’t sped up, dm me and we can arrange something .

 I do cone after I get the clay mostly in place, mostly because I’m an indifferent wedger of any weight under 2 lbs, and I’m making sure there’s no uneven bits. 

Even if you’re applying just steady pressure from one side as opposed to coning, you’re still using 2 hands. Usually it’s your non-dominant side elbow anchored into your torso/leg/etc, with that hand pressing against the side of the clay. The dominant hand is in contact with the non dominant, and pushes down to create a hockey puck shape, instead of forcing the whole mass up. Usually you start with 2 pounds (ish) because it’s not as easy to overpower and push off centre as 1 pound is.

If they’re having trouble remembering steps, do you have some kind of visual aid they can refer to at a glance? Posters, diagrams on a white board, a written list of steps or or a series of pots cut in half at the different stages of pulling can be great assists. Verbal chants, stories or other mnemonic devices can also help some learners. 

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