When you put a ball of clay in your hands, you just want to start making something, it’s so natural it’s uncanny. This term refers to the one of several techniques of building pots using only the hands and simple tools rather than the potter’s wheel and while equipment is used to make a lot of the pottery in the world, using just your hands or a simple paddle and rolling pin can produce awesome results.
"Handbuilding" is working with clay by hand using only simple tools, not the pottery wheel. Before potters had the wheel, they were creating beautiful pots and clay forms using clay, their hands and fingers, and basic hand tools. Below are the three most common forms of creating hand built pots: pinch pot, coiling and slab techniques. Most do not realize the infinite world of hand building and the artistic possibilities it opens. Handbuilding may be an ancient pottery making technique, but there is no shortage of exciting work being created today by the hands of ceramic artists.
Created from a single lump of clay, these are often the first forms created when beginning to work in clay. Due to the building technique's limitations, most pinch pots are fairly small, holding perhaps one cup to one and a half cups by volume.
Begin a pinch pot by forming a lump of clay into a smooth sphere that fits the size of the hand. This method is similar to the way the Native Americans shaped clay into useful pots. While holding the sphere of clay, press the thumb into the centre of the ball, half-way to the bottom. While revolving the ball in one hand, press the walls out evenly with the thumb into the inside and the fingers on the outside. Smooth the surface with a damp sponge.
Using coils, forms are built up into the desired size and shape. Coiled pots can take on any number of forms, and can be tiny or huge. The coils may or may not be completely welded together, depending on the desired surface effect.
Coils of clay can be used to build bowls, vases and other forms in various shapes and sizes. Keeping the fingers flat, form the clay into sausage shapes, then roll into ropes 1/4 to 1/2 inches thick. Make a shallow dish with the pinch pot method and turn up-side down to serve as a foot of base. Place a coil along the edge of the foot. Dampen the fingers and join the next coil to it, with a little pressure. Keep adding coils. Coils may be pressed with the fingers or a tool on both the inside and outside to create interesting texture.
Pots can be formed by joining flat slabs of clay together. These pots tend to be a bit tougher, technically speaking, to produce. The slabs of clay need to still be wet enough to produce strong seams, yet also firm enough to be able to hold up their own weight when placed vertically. Also, joints in slab-built pieces are more likely to crack or split during drying and firing, so especial care must be taken with them when the pot is being built.
Place two strips of wood on canvas a little further apart than the width of the finished slabs. Place clay on the cloth between the strips of wood and roll out. Use a pointed tool to trim the slab of clay to desired size. You may make paper patterns to follow if a form that has a number of sides is desired. Rub a wet finger over the edges to be joined and score with a tool. Roll out a thin coil of sticky clay and place it along one edge. Press the two edges together. Slabs of clay may be placed over rocks, bowls, plastic forms etc. to create interesting shapes. As the clay dries, it shrinks away from the form but retains the shape of the form.