polymer clay pinch pot challenge

Pinch Pot Challenge

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 a basic 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!

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!

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5 thoughts on “Pinch Pot Challenge”

  1. Belinda Broughton

    These little vessels were a huge learning curve for me, because I’d only made jewellery before. I made the little pinch pot (on the right), but went one step further with the little pink one, by making separate walls in the vessel. (So though it’s not a pinch pot, I felt I extended my skills with this little vessel.) The medium thickness walls of the pink one didn’t cave in whilst being cured, so that was a huge sigh of relief! (Though next time I would make them a little thicker to be on the safe side.) Lots of things learnt here! I’m ready to go further and experiment with more technically difficult vessels. Thank you for the challenge, Ginger! Without it, I would have never tried them!

  2. Anita Buckowing

    I used white translucent Premo for both of these pots. I have worked with earthen clay earlier in my life, so I was very familiar with the concept of this construction method.
    Earthen clay allows the creator to add water to increase the elasticity, making it easier to “pull” the sides up and make them thinner. I specifically chose white translucent Premo as I know that (to me) it is one of the more easily manipulated clays and would permit me to more closely recreate that process.
    I encountered some issues with cracking at the lip on the more enclosed form. This led me to overlap the clay a bit to seal the crack which ultimately led to the addition of the ripples on the sides. I took advantage of the adhering quality of this clay to seal the base to a tile and more easily form a nice “foot”.
    The more open pot was an experiment on how far I could “pull” the points and still bake without adding any support. I was very pleased that neither pot experienced any noticeable slump during baking.
    Both pots were enhanced with mica powders to accentuate some of the features of the individual pot.
    I feel I must give credit to some of the techniques I learned from the Dan Cormier Bio-forming class that I took last year. His class really allowed the students to explore the elasticity features of polymer clay along with methods to successfully manipulate clay in various ways to achieve the desired form.
    This was a fun challenge and I am going to continue to experiment with this theme.

  3. Did my first pinch pot this morning. I have not done clay and most small pots I make I use another pot as a mold. I have a new-found respect for anyone who throws.

    Done with Primo — a mix of yellow with a touch of granite. I only tried it twice and I stayed pretty thick. Fun experiment.

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