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Re: Teaching kids to center on the wheel


From: judiej (judiej50_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Fri Nov 26 2004 - 06:50:56 PST

Ditto to all of the hints given so far on learning to center on the wheel.

When I first learned, I was limited to half pound lumps of clay-weighed out on a scale,
about the size of a baseball. One usually ends up with a collection of many small bowl
like forms, which can be glazed creatively and given as gifts!!!!! Even the ugly ones
are wonderful when painted and glazed whimsically!!!!!

Clay must be wedged--kneaded--to realign platelets in the clay and release any air
bubbles in the clay. Usually fresh clay right out of the bag that hasn't been used
is best for wheel work. We handbuild with left over wheel worked pieces.

Place lump in center of wheel and pound down to attach to wheel. Put water on
flattened lump and place hands around making sure hands touch the wheel head
and hands completely cover the clay.

With wheel turning fast, and elbows against waist--if possible resting on knees-this
sounds awkward, but if elbows are flying out to side, one doesn't have as much

Control is the key word. Students control the clay and it will go whereever
they place their hands. Imagine a small circle in the middle of the wheel a bit
smaller than a dime. Your hands have about that much space to move to get
the clay centered enough to pull up. Closing the eyes sounds like a good idea in
order to get the feel of where the center is.

Clasp hands tightly around the flattened lump and turn wheel fast until your hands
don't move awkwardly. When your hands stop "wobbling" the clay is centered.

Keeping both hands around the clay to keep it centered, open the center with thumbs
being careful not to go too deep, should leave at least 1/2 to 1/4 inch on bottom.
Keep clay wet while pulling up, as dry clay creates a drag and uneven movements
might cause clay to move off center.

Slow down wheel (take foot off pedal) and begin pinching with the thumb and index
finger on one hand with a smooth even pressure, keeping the other hand cupped
around the lump to keep itcentered. If you let up on the pressure, it causes uneven
width in the wall--thick and thin areas--and will cause the walls to collapse in some pots.

Also, quick movements changing the speed of the wheel very quickly will pull the clay
off center. As stated previously, take hands away slowly and gently.

Practice pulling straight up to create cylinders. Practice, practice, practice. When the
clylinders are mastered, you can begin creating other shapes by putting pressure on
the inside of the pot with a sponge and pusing out ant up until the desired shape is

When I demonstrate, I usually pull a cylinder and using a wire slide it under the pot
and stop half way, then pull up cutting the cylinder in half. Fold one half back and show
students the even (hopefully) width of the cylinder walls--thin walls are weak. If there
is a lot of clay left in the bottom of the cylinder, particularlly on the side at the bottom of
the wall, this is clay that potentially could be pulled up into the wall, making a taller

Hope this makes sense. Happy potting, and yes, there are lots of funny stories about
making pottery on the wheel especially. There are lots of shapes that resemble
body parts that emerge, funny sounds, and don't know why(!!!!!!??????!!!), but when
we hand build and use the paddles to smooth forms--there are always lots of chuckles!!!!!!!!!!!
I tell the students this is part of working with clay, it happens every time, accept it, get the giggles
out the first day, and enjoy working with one of the oldest art materials in history. Thousands
of years from now, their pottery may be used to study our civilization!!!!!!!!!!!!

Judie J

For folks that have trouble getting the centering process here are some
tips that I have given to my students in the past.<br><br>
1) Try a small lump and do it one hand at a time. ( just like playing the practice with one hand at a time and then you put it
2) Make sure that the lump you are trying to center looks like an old
fashioned bee hive shape. If it flares out at the bottom you will be
fighting yourself pushing clay off center on the bottom. Keep the tension
in the muscles by your pinkie fingers if your have both hands on the clay
while you are centering. Keep the tension on the pinkie of the right hand
on the side if you have one hand on the top and one hand on the side.
3) Clay reacts to fast movements. If you rapidly move your hands away
from the clay, it will not go on center. So always be in control of your
muscles even as you are taking your hands away from the clay.
<b>Centering is rather like a martial art.</b> (Controlled practiced
movements) The tension in your muscles must be there and the release of
the tension is slow. When you look at a potter throwing pots it may look
like they just release the tension but they do not do this. <br><br>
Hope this helps.<br>
At 12:58 AM 11/25/2004 -0600, you wrote:<br>
<blockquote type=cite class=cite cite>Happy Thanksgiving to All,<br>
I am in the middle of teaching a senior to work on the wheel.<br>
He cannot seem to understand how to center no matter how many times i
show him and talk to him about the process.</blockquote>