Throwing is a method of forming pottery vessels on a potter's wheel (1). This method of pot formation was used by ancient Greek potters when they made their vases and is still used today.
Before clay can be thrown, it must first be worked in a method called wedging, which reduces the number of air pockets in the clay and creates a uniform texture (2). The wet clay is then thrown onto the center of the wheel so that it will maintain contact with the wheel head while the wheel is in motion. The wheel is spun and continues spinning at various speeds, depending on the needs of the potter throughout the process.
Once the clay is thrown onto the wheel head and the wheel is rotating, the potter centers the clay on the wheel, forcing it by hand to spin true. Once the clay is centered, the potter begins by making the floor, or the inside bottom, of the vessel. This is accomplished by using the thumbs to press down in the center of the ball of clay almost to the surface of the wheel. It is important in this step to leave excess clay at the bottom so that the vessel can be cut from the wheel when it is finished.
At this point, the clay should resemble a deep bowl with very thick walls. The next step is to pull the clay straight up to create a cylinder. The potter does this by placing one hand inside the hole of the bowl and one hand on the outside. Starting at the bottom, the potter presses the wall at one point between the interior and exterior fingers while pulling up slowly. Being careful to leave the walls of the cylinder thicker than they want the walls of the finished pot to be, the potter repeats this step until the cylinder reaches the desired height.
To create the desired vessel shape, the potter, again pulling up from the bottom, expands or contracts the walls of the cylinder at the appropriate places by pushing out with the inside hand or pushing in with the outside hand(s).
Once the desired shape has been achieved, the vessel is cut off the wheel with a cord. After the vessel has been left out to harden slightly it is worked further in a process called turning (2).
This essay was written to accompany a collection of Greek artifacts at the CU Art Museum.
- Toby Schreiber, Athenian Vase Construction: A Potter's Analysis (Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1999): 9.
- Schreiber, Athenian Vase Construction: 9-21.
- Susan Peterson, The Craft and Art of Clay (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996); Schreiber, Athenian Vase Construction: 21-22.