Pinch Pot Challenge - The Blue Bottle Tree (2024)

Pinch Pot Challenge - The Blue Bottle Tree (1)

In April, I embarked on a project to create 100 containers or vessels from polymer clay in 100 days. What an adventure! There are so many lessons to be learned in doing something like this and I strongly recommend it. Of course, it does take time and I’ll admit I’m struggling with that. But oh my goodness am I learning a lot!

One of the forms that I’ve tried making is a basic pinch pot. It’s a fundamental shape and forming method that you might have experienced if you’ve ever worked with earthen clay. Formed completely in your hands, shaped with only your fingers, it’s a shape that molds easily for potters, but what about polymer clay? I soon found out that not only was it possible, but very different from pottery. It greatly helped me understand the way the clay moves and that is changing how I make everything.

So I’ve started a Pinch Pot Challenge. I hosted this on the Polymer Clay Success Facebook group, but it’s a closed group and I figured more polymer clayers would benefit, so I am hosting it here as well. There are lots of project-based challenges out there. But this is different. I want you to explore a process. The goal here is NOT to make a pretty pot just like mine. The goal is not the finished item!! The goal for this challenge is to explore the process and expand your understanding of what this medium can do.

(And who knows…if challenges are popular, we might do even more of them.) Read on to get started…

What is a Pinch Pot?

As I said above, a pinch pot is a basic method of shaping a pot with your hands. It is the natural method that our ancestors first used when they learned to make useful shapes from mud. You can see abasic example of the process here.

You start with a ball of clay and then form a depression in the middle, usually with your thumbs. (This is easier if you trim your nails and take off your rings.) Working around the bowl, you “pinch” the clay to make the sides thinner as you work to raise the sides higher.

I’m not going to give a tutorial because the goal of this challenge is for you to explore the clay and do it yourself. I have found that when we have directions to follow, we are more concerned with “doing it right” than paying attention to what we’re doing. There is no way to do it wrong. If the bowl collapses or starts to look like a pancake, wad it up and start over. This is how you learn!

Fluted pinch pot bowl made with Cernit translucent.Vase made with pinch pot base and a tube added for a neck. Pinch pot bowl textured with leaves.How thin can you go? Yes, I was stunned that this worked.This started as a pinch pot, but was then draped over a dowel when it became too large to hold itself up.This tiny pinch pot was textured and colored after it was formed.

What's Possible with Pinch Pots?

Pinch pots are just the beginning. Once you form a bowl shape, you can add clay, modify the shape, or use other objects to adjust the shape of it. Blend two pinch pots to make a hollow form. Add a tube to your pinch pot to make a neck and pull it to make a spout. Make tall tubes. Make short, fat bowls. Open it up to make a dish. Add bits of veneer to the outside. Texture the pinch pot. Color it. Add a handle. Where can you go with the basic pinch pot idea? That’s the challenge!

Explore and See What Happens

This isn’t a challenge to make a perfect pot. This is a challenge to explore your relationship to polymer clay. I want you to push the envelope until it fails. That’s how you learn where the limits are.

  • How big can you go?
  • What happens when you use a different brand of clay? Which brand is best?
  • Is soft clay easier?
  • Is it better to pull the sides up or pinch them?
  • Can you cut out bits?
  • Is it easy or hard to add more clay?
  • How thin can you make the sides?
  • Is it easier to have your fingers inside the bowl or your thumbs?
  • Is it easy or hard to close the mouth?
  • Do you see air bubbles?
  • What’s the best way to fix them?
  • What happens if you don’t fix them?
  • How do you make a flat base?
  • Can you add a foot or base?
  • What happens when you try to add a signature stamp to the bottom?
  • What does the clay “keep trying to do”?

What lessons will the clay teach you? And no matter what you normally make with polymer clay, this exercise will help you understand your clay even better. Everyone will learn something by playing with pinch pots!

Again, the goal is not to make a perfect pot. We’re not giving grades or gold stars here. The goal is to explore and learn to understand how the clay moves. You will learn things that are impossible to be learned by following the steps in a tutorial. Okay…are you ready? Grab a wad of clay and get started. Play, explore, and then post your photos and experiences below. Share what you learned, what your challenges were, what you want to explore next!

Pinch Pot Challenge - The Blue Bottle Tree (2)

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Pinch Pot Challenge - The Blue Bottle Tree (2024)


How thick should the walls of your pinch pot be? ›

The piece can now be shaped into your desired outcome, continually being pinched out to make the form of a pot around a quarter of an inch thick. You can also smooth out the base of your piece at this step so that it sits nice and flat onto a surface.

What are some historical facts about the pinch pot? ›

Pinch pots that date back over 17,000 years have been discovered in China. At some point, the practice that started as a necessity—making an object to hold food or water—turned into the foundations of creating ornate vessels, and later, the basis for learning to manipulate clay.

What is the key for getting your pinch pot pinched out to an even thickness? ›

Change the position of your hands so that the fingers are inside and thumb outside and pinch the wall upward and outward in stages. Work the whole form to even thickness first, then again, a little thinner, and so on. The cutaway shows the new position of the fingers.

Why is the technique called pinch pot? ›

The name comes from the way you form them, wherein you gently pinch from the center of the ball of clay to shape it into a bowl or vase. Pinch pots are quick to make and can be decorated with patterns or designs using a variety of techniques, such as carving, painting, glazing, decals, and enamels.

What is the key to success when making a pinch pot? ›

The key to success lies in controlling the turning rhythm while keeping the amount of pressure even for each pinch. Practice: Pinch Pot To make a basic pinch pot, take a lump of clay about the size of a lemon.

What kind of clay is used for pinch pots? ›

You can make a pinch pot out of any clay including air-dry clay or homemade clay. But I do recommend keeping a few things in mind when selecting your clay. First off, I would recommend a type of clay that's plastic or easy to shape. The best two for that are earthenware or stoneware.

What did Native Americans use pinch pots for? ›

Some historians believe that the first pottery made by Native Americans can be dated to about 3,500 B.C.E. These pieces were primarily functional containers for storing food or water. As the craft evolved, more elaborate and decorative pieces were created for ceremonial purposes.

Did Native Americans make pinch pots? ›

A pinch pot is a traditional clay handbuilding technique that has been used for thousands of years. Initially, hand-built vessels were made solely for utilitarian purposes, with little consideration for artistry.

What is the main material required to make a pinch pot? ›

To begin, choose a clay to use. There are different clay types that have different firing requirements and can be used in different ways. Next, form the pinch pot by rolling the clay into a ball and thinning out the walls with your fingers. Let the pot dry completely before firing it or baking it.

How do you make sure that all sides of your pinch pot are the same thickness? ›

Then, create the proper thickness by pressing a thumb into the clay, proceeding to rotate the ball in small, . 25 inch, counterclockwise increments, slowly working to the outside edges until each area is uniform in thickness (figure 3).

What is clay slabbing? ›

The slab building technique involves rolling out clay to an even thickness - usually 1 cm - then cutting shapes, folding, bending, manipulating and joining together to form a finished object. Slab objects are left to dry EVENLY before bisque firing for at least 7 days - turning regularly.

What is the first firing called in ceramics? ›

Bisque or Biscuit Firing: The first firing of ceramic ware to make it strong enough to handle conveniently. Candling: Gently heating a kiln and its contents above room temperature but below the boiling temperature of water.

What is a pinch pot and how is it made what techniques are used? ›

Pinch Pot Techniques

It's essentially the same process as rolling a clay worm or snake before. Once you've rolled out the clay into a sausage-like shape, you can press the coil onto the rim, or maybe use it to form a handle for your pot. Of course, you can add smaller clay parts of any shape you wish.

What materials are used in the pinch technique? ›

Pinching Pots

Pinch pots are a great first handbuilding technique to learn when you first begin to work with clay. Simply begin with a single ball of clay and shape it into a small pot using only your hands by pressing your thumb into the center of the ball.

How do you carve a pinch pot? ›

Get Those Hands Dirty
  1. Knead the clay. Knead the clay for around 1 minute to align the particles and make it easier to work with. ...
  2. Make a ball. ...
  3. Make a hole. ...
  4. Pinch the basic shape. ...
  5. Refine the shape. ...
  6. Add a little water or slip to smooth out cracks. ...
  7. Finish the pot. ...
  8. Dry and decorate.

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