Project 1: Cylinders

Slide Show

Project 1: Cylinders      


The potters’ wheel is a useful tool for raising plastic clay from a centered mount into hollow shapes that are the basis for many functional objects. In the first project, we will be learning about how clay is prepared by wedging, how it moves when squeezed and pulled, and the skills needed to raise clay on the wheel. Much of the first project is technical skill-building to provide a basis for going on to a vocabulary of expressive choices. 

Cylinders are a very stable form because the wall of the shape is stacked straight above itself, rather than leaning out into space. When the clay is evenly distributed through the wall, the cylinder can be shaped by collaring or pushing the wall outward to add volume. Cylinders are the basis of many pottery forms such as pitchers, vases, mugs, jars, etc.  Reading pages 108-109 in our textbook and considering the pictures will be helpful. There will be demonstrations in class and discussions about process. YouTube and Ceramic Arts Daily, online, also have videos about throwing pots on the wheel. The Architecture and Fine Arts Library (AFA) is a good resource for additional videos. See the syllabus for book suggestions as well as a gallery I’ve created:

Using 2-3 pound balls of clay, practice your throwing skills until you can center, open, and raise the wall of the cylinder to produce a uniform wall. 

Research Questions (answer these in your sketchbook)

  • What is your personal style?  Consider your choices in various areas of your life, what kind of music, food, clothing or movies do you like?  Select a personal taste and abstract that as design considerations when you make form, color and surface texture considerations.
  • In other artistic media that you practice, does your work tend to be controlled and precise or gestural and “loose?” On a scale of 1 to 10, where does your sensibility fall? Please describe.
  • Look for examples of historical and contemporary ceramic cylindrical forms. Sketch the forms that appeal to you.
  • Look for cylindrical forms outside of the pottery realm, i.e. architecture, nature, non-ceramic vessels, etc. Find shapes and proportions that you relate to and sketch them.
  • Research texture and pattern from textiles, nature, music, historical pottery, etc. Make sketches of interesting examples.
  • Consider proportions in terms of height to width, diameter of bottom to top, location of the widest section in relation to height.


  • 3 sketches from research of historical and contemporary ceramic cylindrical forms
  • 3 sketches from research of non-pottery cylindrical forms.
  • 3 sketches from pattern and texture research.
  • 4 sketches of your own ideas that incorporate your answers to the research questions that reference your research.

Technical Goals 

  • Develop wedging and throwing skills for cylinders 
  • Develop trimming skills 
  • Learn to dry clay objects 
  • Experience surfacing with terra sigillata and glaze 
  • Learn how to load and fire electric kilns for bisque and glaze
  • Use your personal sensibilities to inform the execution of the cylinders. 

Aesthetic Goals 

  • Design decisions support attitude, including thickness, scale, and form, surface, color, surface design, etc.   
  • Explore form, pattern, texture and the relationship between them as expressive devices. 


  • 4 tall cylinders at least 6 inches tall (no width requirement)
  • 2 wide cylinders at least 4 inches wide (no height requirement)
  • 2 cone shapes leaning outward or inward 
  • 2 forms that have either a concave or convex curve to the wall
  • 2 of your choice

Once you have made your cylinders, let them dry gradually to soft leather-hard, then keep them at that state by enclosing them tightly in plastic.  We will practice trimming bottoms at this state.

Project Deadlines

  • 1/11 – Sketch Review – bring sketches and answers to research questions
  • 1/18– Have 6 cylinders at leather-hard stage to practice trimming in class
  • 1/23– Project due in bone dry state, Load Bisque
  • 1/30- Glaze and load glaze kiln
  • 2/13 – Critique 


Grade weighting percentages for this project 

  • Research -10% 
    • Research answers, description of your plans, sketches, blog. 
  • Technical Skill – 60% (20% ea) 
    • Throwing/form craftsmanship and function—even walls and bottom, controlled form
    • Trimming and foot finish 
    • Glazing/surface craftsmanship 
  • Aesthetic/Design skills- 30% (15% ea) 
    • Development of effective form/surface strategy 
    • Use of form, proportion, color, edge and other design elements to support your concept. 


A Potter’s Workbook. Illian, Clary,

Functional Pottery. Hopper, Robin.

The Basics of Throwing: A Practical Approach to Form and Design. Cohen, David.

Pinterst board: