Arts & Culture

Pinch pottery: Ideal project to learn how to work with clay

Step 1: Use the palm of your hand to round the clay, then roll it on work surface to create a sphere.
Step 1: Use the palm of your hand to round the clay, then roll it on work surface to create a sphere.
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Working with clay isn’t just for kids. We asked Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio Executive Director Ellen Kleckner to show us how to make a pinch pot. A pinch pot is one of the cornerstones of pottery, and is a round form. Many projects are built off the techniques of a pinch pot. A pinch pot can be used as a pot for a succulent, as a pen, ring or key holder and more. Air Dry Clay is not food safe, so don’t plan to eat or drink from this. The entire project takes around 40 minutes to complete.

What you’ll need

• Air Dry Clay

• Piece of wood/old cutting board

• Shish-kebab skewer/toothpick/chopstick

• Tools for adding texture to pot (comb, potato peeler, fork)

Making the pot

1. Using the palm of your hand, roll the clay into a ball. As the clay begins to take shape, gently claw to help form a ball of clay. Smooth rough edges over to get an even ball without cracks on the surface. 2. Make a dimple in the middle of the ball of clay. This becomes the space you use your thumb to pinch the pot open. Take your thumb and place in the hole, then gently use your other four fingers as a flat surface pushing against the ball, begin to pinch and claw at the clay. You’ll use a circular motion around the clay, with the thumb applying downward pressure. This is a slow technique, and you’ll go around several times until you build the depth of pot you want. Keep even pressure so the walls have even thickness.

3. As you have your basic form, work to flatten the bottom. Keep it on your surface and continue to turn. Add depth by pinching and clawing in a bottom to top motion to help widen the pot. It can take six to eight pinches to go bottom to top. (If this is your first time making a pinch pot, count the pinches to keep it even as you work around the circular form.) You can smooth out the surface by placing four fingers inside the pot to support the clay, and then rub prints out.

4. If you’re using this as a plant pot, add a hole in the bottom for drainage. Using the skewer, poke a hole in the bottom.

5. Now you’ll create an even rim to the pot. Make a line using your skewer and slowly turn it, while being certain to support the clay. In your first pass around the top, you’re creating your line and going one-quarter through the clay. The second and third passes around help cut through the clay. Wet your fingers slightly (not dripping) and smooth the rim with your fingers.

Decorating Your pot

6. Now you can add different textures to the surface of your pot by pressing them against the outside surface of the pot. While placing your fist inside the pot to support the clay, make patterns by creating impressions.

Making the feet

7. Now it’s time to make three feet for the pot to stand on. Create a coil with clay. Start rolling a little log within your hands, then put it on the board and roll them using the palm of your hand. Be sure to work across the coil as well.

8. Cut three even sections of clay using your skewer. Smooth out the edges.

9. Take one end of each log and pounce it to make a flat surface to attach to the pot. (Depending on the types of legs, you can narrow out the other end of the coil by using two fingers to roll and gently thin out the other end.) You want to keep these as even as you can, and may need to cut them.

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10. Now you want to “scratch and attach” the feet to the pot, by scratching both surfaces you’re attempting to attach using your skewer. Create a hashtag (#) on both the bottom of the pot where the leg will be, as well as on the top of the foot. (Tip: Use one of the feet to draw a circle so that you create a scratch area that is roughly the right size.)

11. Apply a bit of water on both ends and then press the foot to the bottom of the pot.

Making a tray

12. Start with a ball of clay and patty-cake it out and pinch to get as even of a circle as you can.

13. Taking the rounded form, draw a circle that helps guide how wide the tray needs to be so that your pot fits on the tray.

14. Working on top of your board, take one set of fingers right on the line you drew. This will serve as the boundary. Using your other hand, turn up the edge of the plate by working around the edge of the circular form.

Tips for working with clay

• Air Dry Clay is available at most craft stores. It hardens overnight and dries out without going in a kiln, so you’ll want to wrap it tightly in plastic if you need to take a break.

• Clay likes to be coaxed along, gently moved. If you push too hard, you may break or damage the clay.

• Make sure the surface you’re working on is non-stick so the clay doesn’t stick to it.

• Your hands take the moisture out of clay, so it’ll become more difficult to work with the more you handle it.

• Use whatever technique you use all the way around to keep as much consistency as possible.

• You can paint Air Dry Clay after it dries.

About the Artist & Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio

Ellen Kleckner is the executive director of the The Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio, a nonprofit studio which provides clay and warm glass for all ages and ability levels through classes, workshops, events/parties and residency programs. The center is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but is sharing craft ideas via its Facebook page. It’s located in the Cherry Building in NewBo, 329 10th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids. For more information about the center, visit iowaceramicscenter.org.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.