Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sgraffito Pinch Bowl Part One

One of my readers asked if I'd do a tutorial on how to make this sgraffito bowl. Today I am using red clay so the bowl will eventually be covered with white slip and I'll then use sgraffito to reveal orange stripes. For the bowl above I used red slip over the white stoneware so the stripes are white. Today I'll show how I pinch the bowl into it's final shape. Then in the next post I'll show how I make the slip and carve the sgraffito.

I start out with about 1/2 pound of clay which I cut off a block of soft clay in a 2 x 2 inch square. I hold the block of clay in one hand and I vigorously hit each of the four corners of the block of clay with the palm of my other hand. My aim at this point is to round out all the square edges and to compress the clay into a nice round ball.

Once the clay is shaped and compressed I take the thumb of my left hand and press it into the top of the ball of clay almost to the bottom of the clay making sure I don't press all the way through. Then I start the process of pinching the clay from the inside and outside into the shape of a bowl. I slowly move the clay at the bottom of the bowl up to the top a little at a time, rotating the bowl in a circle as I go - pinch a little up, turn a little, pinch a little up , turn a little and so on.

Since I've become very familiar with this clay I can pinch and rotate quickly and efficiently setting up a rhythm as I go - pinching, turning, pinching, turning. As I'm pinching and turning I'm constantly checking to be sure the walls of the bowl aren't getting too thin. I also smooth all the surfaces of the bowl as I go, both inside and out.

If the bowl becomes too thin or starts to flop I wait a bit for the clay to firm up. If the clay starts to show very thin drying cracks I smooth them over with my finger and if the clay is too dry I dab my finger in some water shake it off and dab just a bit of moisture on the clay to cover the crack, rubbing the moistened clay to smooth over the fine cracks as I go.

Once the bowl is formed in an upright position I smooth the inside and outside of the bowl and feel with my fingers to be sure the walls of the bowl are the same thickness.

At this point the clay becomes really soft and shows finger prints easily. To work on the underside of the bowl, I use a dry sponge and balance the bowl on a jar. I also make use of the dry sponge to support the opposite side of the bowl I am pinching.

After I smooth all the surfaces, and while the bowl is still quite pliable, I immediately start to bend the rim of the bowl over a little at a time. At this point I am gently coaxing the clay into a different position, being careful not to stretch the clay too far all at once and tear it.

All the while I'm keeping a close eye on the surface of the clay to be sure it doesn't stretch too thin or develop any fine cracks, checking the front and back of the bowl regularly. My goal is to bend the rim of the bowl almost completely over to the depth of the inside of the bowl. Once I am satisfied at the shape of the bowl I set it aside to dry. The first couple of days the bowl is drying I keep it lightly covered with plastic and I move it so the bottom doesn't stay wet. I also check to be sure the edges are not getting too dry.

Stay tuned next time for Part Two of how I make the slip, apply it to the bowl and carve the sgraffito into the bowl. Comments and suggestions are welcome.


  1. Great tutorial Linda, you should be doing "on the road" pottery classes :)
    I love to sit in my porch swing in the summer and make pinch pots. I line them up along the railing. They are quite meditative to make aren't they? I made some little bisque dishes (native american potters call them pukis) to sit them in while I twirl them around, sort of like a primitive banding wheel. Helps shape the bottom too.

  2. Linda, I read your post twice it was so interesting. What you do requires amazing patience, arm muscle and, above all, skill and the talent to realize what's possible. Looking forward to your next post!

  3. Thank you for the tutorial, I can't imagine it was easy to do in the traveling studio but it's so full of detail and instruction I feel like I could make this easily. I'm looking forward to part two.
    Is this a local clay?

  4. Hi Tracey, thanks, once I get my studio I intend to make a few of the pukis which would definitely help support the bowl as I make it. Yes twirling them around works for that. I also have used some of those inexpensive dollar store lazy susans, since they are at table top height, one can be seated when you use them for bowls and sculptures.

    Hi Kittie, thanks, glad you enjoyed the tutorial, it really is fun shaping the clay with your hands and feeling it shape up slowly.

    Hi Donna, thanks, yes it is fun and relaxing too.

    Hi Lori, thanks, this is clay I purchased before I left California which is navajo wheel a cone 5/6. there is some local clay around here and I drove by an excavation of some and was really tempted to get a few buckets of it. If my husband Gary hadn't of been with me i would have gotten some. it is right on the main road, so I will go there another day and borrow a little to see what it's like.

  5. Very interesting. Looking forward to the rest of the story.

  6. Love the sgraffito bowl and its design!! Thrilled to know the process of your making! Looking forward to reading the Part II!

    I found your previous post, Blue Crystal Persuasion, really fantastic! Lovely photos and the really nice song! Thank you for sharing them with us!!

  7. Excellent your blog, congratulations!

    Thank you for being together. You are worth gold, and this special moment, has a gift for you on our blog. I hope you enjoy.




  8. Hi Patti, thanks, we are really enjoying your previous home state.

    Hi Sapphire, thanks, these bowls are mesmermizing to make and a lot of fun too, the rest is coming up soon.


I love suggestions, questions, critiques, thanks for your comment