As a potter of 30 years, who’s worked with new potters and trained them to become production throwers, I think one of the hardest concepts to learn is that of throwing the pot with a finished size in mind. Clay pottery shrinks about 20% due to moisture in the clay. This, however, is not a hard and fast rule, as each clay body is different.
Getting a consistent shape is difficult enough, but when you throw in the shrinkage, making pots that are approximately the same size and shape becomes a real challenge. This was especially difficult in the early days of my throwing, as I have a real problem with design perception. Jennie was the one I relied on to help me with shapes, sizes and designs. I remember one time when Jennie came out to see me in the studio after I had just completed a couple trays of mugs. She looked at them and wanted to know what I was going to do with the huge mugs I had just thrown. Needless to say, I was somewhat worried we might not be able to use them, but I was also fairly certain they were about the same size I had been throwing. I had worked pretty hard at getting that many mugs, and I wasn't all that keen about possibly having to throw them back, so I decided to leave them be and go on with my work.
A week later Jennie came out to the studio and wanted to see those big mugs I had thrown. I had forgotten about them and had glazed them with the other orders that had already come out of the kiln finished. I showed them to Jennie and, with the shrinkage, they were right on for size. That 20% is a hard concept to build into your throwing, but eventually, with throwing enough clay, it becomes somewhat natural.
Now, when we go to our cabin, we drink out of mugs that I threw in the 80’s. They are very tiny, and a bit . . . well, interesting. I guess that goes with the territory of learning to make pottery, and most fledgling potters will have similar keepsakes. Those keepsakes are my reminders to give other learners lots of grace.
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