Two Key Refinements Cinda Suggests
1. Use clay that is the right consistency for your goal.Attempting to center clay that is too firm can result in a discouraging wrestling match with the clay that leads to frustration, a misinformed sense of how difficult potting is, and little sense of what one's true ability is. Soft clay (clay that contains more water than firm clay) is malleable and MUCH easier to center than firm clay. Centering soft clay provides an opportunity to focus on accuracy, finesse, steadiness, and coordination without requiring a lot of muscular force.
It is said that pie dough should feel like your ear lobe. Medium-moist clay is similar. Very soft clay is sticky. Soft clay is soft but not sticky. Clay as firm as an apple is too firm. If clay is too stiff, add water. If it's too wet, let it dry.
I start students out centering soft clay and making bowls. I prefer bowls to cylinders for the first lessons because the walls are shorter, and it's easier to see and reach inside of a bowl than a cylinder. Plus, bowls are wonderful for serving food. Later on, medium to firm clay is advised for tall shapes, thin walls, and wide pieces including bowls that would collapse if made from soft clay.
2. Hand-place the clay carefully on the wheel to start the process.Rather than "throwing" an uneven lump of clay onto the potter's wheel while the wheel is spinning and hopefully getting it in the center of the wheel, I prefer another method that shapes and positions the clay very carefully.
Before putting the clay onto the wheel, I prepare the lump of clay by patting in into an evenly proportioned oblong shape that resembles a baking potato. With the potter's wheel stationary (not spinning) I hand-place the clay as near the center of the wheel as possible. I set it down firmly (plop) to make it stick. If the clay is not exactly in the center of the wheel, I scoot the clay by hand until it is.
When the clay is adequately adhered and positioned in the center of the wheel, before I apply water to the clay, I spin the wheel very slowly (the slowest speed) and pat the clay down and round. The clay becomes a securely attached even ball-shape placed in the center of the wheel. Centering is essentially "symmetry and placement." To assess my progress, I spin the wheel fairly fast and observe the clay. Does it look steady and centered? Or, Does it look wobbly and off center?
Another way to test if the clay is centered is to spin the wheel fairly fast and hold a tool (or your finger) near the clay and gradually move the tool closer until it touches the clay. Does the clay touch the tool evenly or hit and miss? If the clay hits and misses the tool, I stop the wheel, scoot the clay toward the center of the wheel, and pat some more to make it even.
When the clay is quite centered from hand placing, scooting, and patting, I spin the wheel rapidly, apply water (for the first time), and center the clay entirely. I make my first centering motions downward (instead of upward) to further secure the clay to the wheel.
Call Cinda 831-336-8021