Teapots: Thrown and Handbuilt

Teapots Thrown and Handbuilt: Objects of Everyday RitualFive-Day Workshop (Click HERE for a PDF of Background, Description, and Schedule)

Skill Level – Some previous experience in handbuilding and/or throwing required.

The teapot is among the more intriguing of utilitarian vessels.  The simplest teapot is still a complex form, and with the articulation of multiple parts is inherently sculptural.  Every type of handmade utilitarian vessel features elements of ritual that accompany use.  This is an essential concept that differentiates handmade pottery from factory-made wares.  With common mass-produced vessels, daily use is a matter of routine rather than ritual – they simply serve their purpose.  In contrast, those who frequent galleries or craft shows in search of useful accessories for the home are seeking life-enrichment and enhancement of daily routine.  Regular use of handmade items becomes a form of celebratory ritual.  Garth Clark says “Fine craft reconnects art and life.”  Functional fine craft objects like handmade teapots take art off the wall or pedestal and put it back into the practical realities of everyday life where we celebrate the objects as we handle and use them, transforming routine into ritual.

At mealtime we each have a cup, bowl, and plate, while the serving bowl, cruet set, platter, casserole, and pitcher enhance the shared ritual of gathering with friends or family.  The teapot carries this further as the centerpiece of its own ritual.  No serious tea drinker would select a teapot solely on utilitarian function, because its use is too important.  Even when drinking tea alone, the quality of ritual is inherent in a teapot.  In all British countries and former colonies and in many East Asian cultures, the teapot is among the most important fixtures of daily life, and its use involves elements of ritual extending far beyond those of any other common ceramic vessel.

Workshop Description
What are the secrets to making good functional teapots?  In this workshop our objective is to create teapots that are well designed aesthetically, ergonomically, and functionally.  Unless a teapot is purely sculptural and non-functional (which seems a bit silly), those three concerns are intimately connected because anything we perceive as interfering with utility and ergonomics will also negatively impact our impression of aesthetic design.

Potters and aficionados of fine pots talk about “pots with attitude.”  Obvious examples are the wares of Josh DeWeese, Chandra DeBuse, and Ron Meyers.  These fully functional pots make bold individual statements.  That comes with focus and long, hard work, but every artist/artisan should look towards developing an individual voice.  In this case we are particularly concerned about the qualities of “attitude” that attract attention and make people want to pick up and use our pots.  The best-designed utilitarian vessels often radiate an excitement and energy.  They seem to be waiting for an opportunity to serve their intended function.  With these things in mind, we will investigate the interrelationship of body, foot, handle, spout, lid, and gallery with the objective of coordinating all into the design and creation of lively teapots that look good and work well.

Covering both throwing and handbuilding in one workshop is unusual, but I hope you will come to freely incorporate both in your work.  When a wheel potter makes a teapot, she/he forms the body, spout, and handle separately, and all subsequently assembly is handbuilding.  Why not incorporate slab components or a handbuilt handle or spout?  Why not put a pulled handle and/or thrown spot on a slab-built teapot?  It is a bold but proven claim that every wheel potter multiplies their technical capability and design sense by becoming capable in handbuilding.

Our focus is designing and making good teapots rather than surface decoration.  We may have the option to bisque-fire some of the work to facilitate transportation, but that’s always a challenge in a five-day workshop.  Plan on taking at least some of your teapots home as greenware.  That’s not difficult with some cardboard boxes and padding.  Always transport greenware in the leather-hard stage.  If it is damaged, you can repair it.

Schedule – Teapots Handbuilt and Thrown – Five-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, general information about the studio and our work schedule. Discussion/demo of basic wheel-thrown and slab-formed teapot shapes including variations of galleries and lids – what to emphasize, what to avoid.  Discussion of problems with clay-memory in slabs and thrown components. First half of teapot slideshow.
  • First Day Afternoon – Discussion/demo of closed forms as the teapot body both wheel-thrown and slab-formed.  Work on teapot bodies.
  • Second Day Morning – Discussion/demo of fitting lids on conventional thrown teapots, fabricating galleries and lids for closed-form teapots.  Second half of teapot slideshow.
  • Second Day Afternoon – Discussion/demo of handles including side handles, overhead handles, and mixed-media handles incorporated after the firing.
  • Third Day Morning – Discussion/demo of teapot spouts and strainer holes – different types of wheel-thrown and handbuilt spouts.  Work on teapots.  Second slide show.
  • Third Day Afternoon – Discussion/demo of special details such as separate strainers and the air hole.  Work on teapots.
  • Fourth Day Morning – Discussion/demo of designing complex slab-built teapots, making and using templates.  Work on templates for complex slab-built teapot and begin forming component parts.  Load bisque-firings.
  • Fourth Day Afternoon – Work on complex slab-built teapots, try different handle and spout possibilities. Slide show about Vince’s work.
  • Fifth Day Morning – Finish any final assembly/demo work.  Unload bisque firings, clean up studio. Discuss work, outcomes and possibilities.

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

  • Cone-6 or Cone-10 clay containing fine sand or grog – 50# per participant and 100# for instructor, plus some extra. Don’t skimp on the clay – few things are worse for a workshop than running out of clay.
  • One gallon white 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.
  • One dozen large sheets of poster board – get the cheap packages at Walmart, Staples, or Office-Max.
  • Two standard propane canisters for a standard hand-held propane torch.  I will bring several torches.

Facilities 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.
  • Slab roller
  • Twelve 36″ by 24″ (or whatever width fits the slab roller) sheets of unprimed 10 oz. canvas duck. “10-ounce” is a trade reference to the weight per yard for canvas sold in art supply stores. If you buy canvas from a fabric, sail or house painting supplier they might not that reference, but just get sturdy uncoated canvas while avoiding stuff that is excessively heavy – it should still be very flexible.
  • At least three or four good electric pottery wheels with standard bat pins.
  • Heavy-duty rolling pin with 12″ by 3″ body and bearing-mounted handles (unless I bring my own). If you are buying one, go to amazon and enter “Medium Commercial Rolling Pin by Thorpe” in the search box. This one is a beauty, and it isn’t worth it to get a cheaper or smaller one.
  • Several sturdy banding wheels (unless I bring my own).
  • Several snap-lid plastic storage bins approximately 12x24x12″ deep for me to use as damp boxes.
  • A generous supply of throwing bats and wareboards.
  • Wood dowels – one 48″ length each of 3/16″, 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 7/16″, 1/2″, 5/8″ and 3/4″ – cut each in so we will have two 24″ lengths of each size (If I am driving I’ll bring my own).

Supplies for Participants to Bring (Click HERE for a PDF of the Participant Supply List)
Clay will be available for purchase on-site.  Joining slurry, vinegar, and posterboard (for templates) will be provided. The following is a lengthy list of supplies for a workshop, but these are the things you will need in order to continue doing this work on your own, and we will be able to make better use of the available time if you bring all of these supplies. The Kemper tools are available online or at almost any art supply store.  The Stanley Surform tools are available at Amazon – enter “Stanley Surform” in the search box.

  • Four 36″ by 24″ (or whatever width fits the slab roller) sheets of unprimed 10 oz. canvas duck. “10-ounce” is a trade reference to the weight per yard for canvas sold in art supply stores. If you buy canvas from a fabric, sail or house painting supplier they might not that reference, but just get sturdy uncoated canvas while avoiding stuff that is excessively heavy – it should still be very flexible.
  • 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.
  • Several wood modeling tools of your choice.
  • Metal fork
  • X-Acto knife – pencil-thin model with 1″ tapered blade.
  • Scissors
  • 18″ ruler
  • Pencil
  • Compass for drawing circles.
  • Wood rolling pin with bearing-mounted handles (not one-piece rolling pin).  If you are serious about handbuilding, click here, or go to Amazon.com and enter “Medium Commercial Rolling Pin by Thorpe” in the search box.  It costs $60 but is so worth it.
  • Wood dowels – one 48″ length each of 3/16″, 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 7/16″, 1/2″, 5/8″ and 3/4″ – available from any home improvement center – cut them all in half and bring both halves.
  • 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 clay.  Available from any home improvement center or from amazon.
  • Small, sturdy banding wheel. The 8″ CSI turntable available from most ceramics suppliers for around $13 is fine for our needs, but any sort of good-quality banding wheel will work.  No cheap spice-cabinet turntables!
  • Spray bottle for vinegar water
  • 6 manila folders
  • A selection of bisque stamps and/or other textured objects or materials to impress pattern and/or texture into the clay.
  • Several dry-cleaner bags or large plastic garbage bags to cover your work.
  • Small towel or other sturdy rag
  • Apron (optional)
  • If you are driving, bring a large snap-lid plastic storage bin approximately 12x24x12″ deep, to serve as a personal damp box.  Bring your supplies in a separate box or bin.

If you have any questions or are interested in hosting one of my workshops, please email me.