Fast and Efficient Coil-Construction

Fast and Efficient Coil Construction – Three-Day Workshop (Click HERE for a PDF of Background, Description, and Schedule)

NOTE – This workshop can also be done in a five-day format.

Throughout human history, coil construction has been a primary clay-forming method for sculptural work and large vessels, and until advent of the potter’s wheel, coil- and pinch-construction were by far the prevalent methods.  Most tribal cultures that work clay still use these handbuilding methods and have shunned the wheel.  Many contemporary clay-workers choose coil or pinch over the potter’s wheel because of the freedom to manipulate asymmetrical form.  In our technological society we are easily seduced by tools and machines, assuming the product of our endeavors are improved by their use. In ceramics, that is often a mistake. The wheel is suited to certain kinds of forms, while coil- and pinch-construction offer unlimited possibilities. The wheel tends to impose symmetry unless the potter purposefully introduces asymmetry. Handbuilt processes tends toward asymmetry, unless the potter asserts the choice and has the skill to make the work symmetrical. And no matter how symmetrical a handbuilt form might appear, it is never as mechanically symmetrical as a wheel-thrown form can be, and will always communicates an organic, human quality, representing the hands, movements, and personality of the maker.

Workshop Description
Our objective is to get you to coil-build with control and confidence.  We will be working with West African coil-building methods as practiced in Nigeria and Ghana, allowing rapid construction of strong, light-weight forms.  Because of the nature of coil construction, we will also explore simple pinch-forming methods.  It can be very relaxing to switch back and forth between coil and pinch construction, offering a nice balance, especially as you wait for a partially-completed coil form to stiffen up.  As part of our exploration we will include a limited range of surface-decoration options.  We will have a slide show to introduce a range of historical and contemporary coil- and pinch-constructed forms.

Schedule for a Three-Day Workshop
This schedule serves as a general guide, but must remain flexible. Every workshop group is different, and the schedule always evolves to suit the needs and productivity of the participants.

  • First Day Morning – Introduction to the workshop. Discussion/demo of making coils, starting a large form from a flat base, essentials of coil-building.  Begin large coil form.
  • First Day Afternoon – Discussion/demo of making round-bottom coil forms.  Demo of pinch-forming.  Start a small coil form and continue working on large one.
  • Second Day Morning – Demo of continue working on coil forms.  Slide show “Coil-Forms Past and Present.”
  • Second Day Afternoon – Demo continuation of large coil from and addition of tripod feet to small round form.  Demo of bisque-stamps and their use at different stages of coil construction.
  • Third Day Morning – Demo of neck and lug handles, use of modeled decoration.  Slide show on Vince’s work (this slide show could be done in the afternoon or evening, depending on our schedule and preference of workshop participants).
  • Third Day Afternoon – Demo of resolving surface, finish details, appliqué decoration.  Finish coil and pinch forms and discuss results.

Materials Provided On-Site by Host (Click HERE for a PDF of Materials and Facilities List for Workshop Host)

  • Cone-6 or cone-10 clay containing fine sand or grog.  Have on hand 50# per participant and 100# for instructor.  Don’t skimp on the clay and have extra on hand.  Few things mess up a workshop more than running out of clay.
  • One gallon vinegar.
  • One gallon of joining slurry made in advance from the claybody. Cut 12# of clay into thin slices and dry completely. Break up the bone-dry clay into smaller pieces (not crushed) and immerse in water with several inches of water covering the clay and let sit overnight.  The clay will slake down to slurry by itself.  Next day, drain off all excess water, mix with drill impeller mixer or hand blender until completely smooth with no lumps, add one cup of vinegar, add water carefully, mixing frequently, until slurry will not pour if you tilt the bucket, but will if you shake it.
  • Four standard propane canisters for a standard hand-held propane torch.  I will bring several torches.

Facilities, Tools, and Equipment Provided by Host

  • Digital projector and appropriately dark room with a screen or white wall.
  • Large sturdy work tables for handbuilding and decorating. Heavy plywood-covered tables are best, but sturdy 3×6′ folding tables will work, with no more than four participants per 4×8′ table and two per folding table.
  • 24″ (approximately) stool for the instructor to use. This is important.
  • Several sturdy banding wheels (unless I bring my own).
  • Supply of large plastic trash bags to cover pieces for slow-drying.
  • Spray bottle for vinegar water.

Supplies Furnished by Participants (Click HERE for a PDF of the Supply List for Participants)
Depending on the particular venue, clay may be covered by workshop cost, or may be available for purchase on-site.  Joining slurry and vinegar will be provided. The following tools and supplies are all things you will need in order to continue doing this work on your own, and they are all important.  Note: The Kemper tools are available from most art suppliers and from amazon.  The Shimpo and CSI banding wheels are available from most ceramic suppliers, The Stanley Surform tools are available at amazon – enter “Stanley Surform” in the search box.

  • Standard clay tools (the packaged Kemper kit contains a wood rib, stainless-steel scraper-rib, wood knife, needle tool, cutoff wire, small sponge, and trimming tools).
  • Kemper S-10 flexible stainless steel serrated rib (no substitutes).
  • Kemper RB-4 or RB-6 wood rib. This rounded wood rib and the serrated stainless rib are required for this workshop.   
  • Metal fork for applying slurry.
  • X-Acto knife – standard pencil-thin model with 1″ tapered blade – the best ones have the adjustment knob at the opposite end from the blade, like the X-Acto “Gripster.”
  • Old ballpoint pen – cheap model like a Bic – excellent tool for incised and sgraffito decoration.
  • Stanley “Surform Shaver” (short curved blade) and Stanley “Surform Pocket Plane” (5″ flat blade). Get both types – these are made to be woodworking tools, but are excellent for shaving leather-hard clay.
  • One (and if possible, two) sturdy banding wheel or turntable. If you are serious about coil construction, invest in a high-quality aluminum or cast-iron banding wheel like the Shimpo BW22L. No reason to get a larger one, because this model is big enough for even very large coil pots.  The 8″ CSI turntable available from most ceramics suppliers for around $15 is okay for coil-building if you are on a tight budget, but it is not a replacement for a good cast-iron ball-bearing banding wheel in terms of what you can do with it.  Any sort of good-quality turntable or banding wheel will work, but light-duty plastic kitchen turntables will NOT work.   Again, if possible bring two banding wheels.
  • Hand-held propane torch or heat-gun. If you want to get a superior propane torch for this use, get the “Bernzomatic TS4000 Trigger-Start Torch” available at Lowe’s or Home Depot or from amazon.  It is worth it to pay a little extra for a good one.  It will cost about $40.
  • Spray bottle for vinegar water.
  • Small bucket for water.
  • Small snap-lid container for slurry.
  • Several dry-cleaner bags or large plastic trash bags to cover your work.
  • Small towel or other sturdy rag.
  • Apron (optional).

If you are interested in hosting one of my workshops, please call or email me for pricing and scheduling.