We’ve all seen it: Demi Moore’s dainty paws hard at work on a pottery wheel, awaiting the arrival of Patrick Swayze’s much larger, much more rugged ones. The scene may be world famous, but doesn’t exactly do justice to the art of pottery.
Whilst Demi’s character, Molly, is probably using a real pottery wheel, and initially seems to know what she’s doing, she makes a few fatal errors in crafting her masterpiece from the second Sam, aka Patrick Swayze, comes in to distract her. Whether you’ve always wanted to be able to make your own vase or are just curious to give the craft a go, here are six key mistakes you’d do well to avoid.
1. You don’t need two people to make a pot
It needs to be said: as far as the potting clay is concerned, there’s no need for Sam to be sat behind Molly as she works her magic. As well as throwing off her balance by hugging her from the back, he’s affecting her posture and focus in pushing the pedal evenly. To make the pottery wheel spin, you need to push a pedal at an even, consistent speed. If you’re off balance and distracted, you’re unlikely to be focused enough to get the wheel going the way it should be.
When you pot, you need to lean forward and rest your elbows on your knees, so as to steady your hands as you sculpt the clay. Whilst Molly’s pot doesn’t collapse right away, when it did, we can’t safely safe that her hands were set firmly on her knees as they were meant to be.
2. Don’t take your eyes off the pot
Put simply, if you take your eyes off the pot then there’s danger it will spin out of control. Pottery is an art that requires keen observation not only of how the clay is behaving, but how you are causing it to do so. Many potters – amateur and master alike — have likened ‘wheel throwing’, where you form pottery on a spinning potter’s wheel, to meditation in the way it forces you to sit still and concentrate. What you’re looking at, and the way you are looking at it, are instrumental in helping you do this.
3. Even hands / even pressure
As well as getting the wheel spinning at a consistent rate, the way you apply pressure to the clay needs to be firm yet even, and, you guessed it, requires concentration. With four hands instead of two, there’s less control over how the clay is reacting to Molly’s touch, and she has little way to control the pressure being exerted on different parts of the pot’s sides. Irresponsible craftsmanship? Lovemycourse says yes.
Aside from the clay itself, your hands are the single most important element in forming a pot. Most steps in forming the structure of the pot require use of both hands; sometimes doing the same action, and sometimes in support of one another. For example, you might need to strategically rest one hand upon the other to get enough momentum for your first ‘pull’, where you pull the clay upwards to create your pot’s sides. With Sam’s hands beneath Molly’s, she’s unable to properly gauge how the clay is changing, so it’s hardly a surprise when her pot collapses. There's no need to cry, Demi. Just be more careful next time.
4. Heavy bottoms
One of the trickiest things in starting out is keeping your pot from becoming too bottom-heavy. Whilst the constant rotation of the wheel will help to keep your sides even, there’s no ‘quick fix’ to prevent this from happening all the time, so you’ll need to pay attention to how the clay is behaving under your fingers as it glides beneath them. The further down the pot you go, the more difficult it is to gauge how thick the walls of your pot actually are, so you’ll need to be extra vigilant in forming your judgement. Imagine how much trickier it would be if you were off-balance. Patrick Swayze, we’re looking at you.
5. Wear an apron
Whilst being clean isn’t explicitly related to the success of your clay masterpiece, you should always be sure to wear an apron so that the clay doesn’t completely ruin your clothes or get onto your skin. It’s pretty clear that Molly and Sam weren’t too fussed about this, but potting in a floaty, potentially sheer white number isn’t the best of decisions if she’s planning on wearing that shirt again.
6. Clean up after yourself!
Health and safety, please! Dust from clay and glazes can be hazardous when they are inhaled or ingested, so it’s important that you clean up your workspace thoroughly as soon as you’re finished throwing your pot. As well as wiping up the wheel, you will need to clean the floor around the wheel, as well as the front of the wheel itself. If there’s a surface of the wheel with some excess clay stuck to it, it may not spin as evenly the next time you use it. Similarly, shaping tools with clay still on them may become misshapen and uneven if the clay dries and sets on their surface.
Whilst we don’t explicitly see Molly clean up the mess, we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she diligently went back to clear her workspace after her and Sam had finished catching up.
Now that you’re confident you won’t make the same mistakes as the otherwise talented Ms. Moore, why not take a look at our selection of pottery courses, or see if any other types of arts or crafts tickle your fancy?
Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.