One very popular ceramic form known as Coil Pottery has its roots from the Greeks several millenia ago. The coil method in Grecian art came sometime after the pottery wheel method began around 2500 BC. After initial construction, these early Greek coiled pots were often placed on a wheel, turned and trimmed giving them a smoothed finish.
Due to the quantity of Ancient Greek pottery that has remained intact over time, archeologists have been able to better understand and piece together ancient Greek society. Paintings and documentation have not preserved as well as pottery.
Nearly 2000 years ago, agriculture began in North America. This new method of food production allowed the previously nomadic Indians to settle down in one area. By about 500 A.D., early Puebloan life had begun to focus on agriculture although people still hunted and gathered wild foods. This is when coil pottery first appeared in the Southwest United States. Various functional pottery forms began to take shape to assist with storing grains and liquids, and preserving seeds for the next planting.
Initially, handmade vessels were for functional purposes, with little consideration for artistry. Most of the very early vessels were undecorated, leaving only the texture of the coils and pinches, or indentations from pointed sticks. Symmetry was not much of a concern.
Check out History of Pottery for more information on the beginnings of pottery.
The Coil Pottery method is often used to create large pieces of pottery. The method basically has you rollout coils, score them, add slip, and gently pinch them together. Moisture control is critical in this method. You build your form slowly, a few layers at a time.
With larger ceramic forms, the artist and admirer has a wonderful opportunity to discover the textures of the pottery surface. Naturally in the coil pottery process, pinches and other marks are left on the surface, however the addition of stamping, carving, and burnishing can be used to bring additional emotions and provide interesting perspectives to the piece.
The Coil Pottery method is also effective in creating protrusions or projections into space. One technique is to build out a form horizontally using coils. The coil form can be shaped in undulating patterns with the help of some crumpled newspaper to provide support while it dries to a leather hard consistency.
Pottery Artist John Norris illustrates this technique in his sketches below.
To Make Coil Pottery
- Start with a handful of clay.
- Roll it into a long coil either on a table or between your hands gently stretching it outward as you roll, until you have a coil of uniform thickness of about 1 to 1 1/2 inches. The lengths of the coils do not need to be the same. Some can be longer and some shorter.
- Make the base of your pot by making a spiral from one coil, pressing the sides of the coils closely together and smoothing inside and out to make a smooth base of uniform thickness.
- Continue to roll out more coils or ropes of clay for the rest of your vessel.
- Coil the ropes around and around to create your desired shape.
- Using your fingers or a wooden tool moistened with water, gently press each coil into the coil below it to join them together. Note: Ensure they are well connected, or during the drying and firing process they may split or crack.
- Use a Rib Tool to smooth the external surface of your vessel. Place one hand inside the vessel, and while turning, use the Rib tool to smooth the outside.
- Burnish the surface if you want a polished smooth surface. To burnish, rub the outside wet clay with a piece of wood or stone, to produce a beautifully polished finish that will survive firing. Note: Some potters leave the coil design visible on the outside of their vessel as part of the design. They do however make sure that the inside of the pot is smooth and the coils are securely joined.
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