Sunday, February 5, 2017

Thinking about better bowls

Often when throwing a bowl, I found that I was taking a long time to open up a larger bowl 10 pounds or more. While still in graduate school, I was trying to throw large bowls, struggling along until I saw a picture in a book of someone using there elbow to open up. Looked weird in the beginning, but the more I thought about it, I decided what did I have to lose? It took me a few weeks of effort to get down the process, but after wards the entire opening up with the elbow felt quite natural. The elbow is a pretty rounded area of the body, the shortening up of the arm and the bracing of the wrist of the opening arm by the unused hand seemed to give a lot of stability and control. Ever since then larger bowls, which I have been doing more of lately are much easier. Here are a sequence of videos showing the process. I think those of you with experience will recognize how controlled the opening is using the elbow.
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When I first learned about throwing in college, my professor told us that there were three forms we were to be able should be able to throw. He started us with the cylinder, and I believe that most students on the wheel start with the lowly cylinder. He also stated that the three basic forms, the cylinder, the bowl and the plate were the forms from which all thrown pottery were derived. Over the years, I have read so much material discussing what made each of these forms, and how each form could be modified to do create a wide variety of functional and non functional forms. 
Cylinders seem to be the most adaptable of forms being able to adapt to forming taller forms like pitchers, vases, mugs, jars, and jugs. Lower forms of cylinders include cups, dishes, casseroles and other baking dishes. The other two forms, plates and bowls seem to be less adaptable than the cylinder. 
Bowls are a form that is often misunderstood or  What makes a good bowl? First maybe we should decide on what a bowl is defined as.
Miriam-Webster: 
Definition of Bowl
  1.  : a concave usually hemispherical vessel;

This as opposed to definition of a dish:
Definition of Dish
  1. a shallow, typically flat-bottomed container for cooking or serving food.
For this exploration of improving the bowl, I hope you can accept my Basic bowl profile as presented.

The basic bowl shape has some characteristics that have made it an excellent piece of functional pottery: the rounded curve into the bottom allows foods or liquids to pool on the bottom for removal by a spoon, the curve also is lacking corners or dead spots where flour of other materials would gather when mixing making it easier to get all ingredients mixed into the batch, and the curve can be adapted for wider or deeper bowls for a variety of uses from mixing to serving.

I have been using thrown bowls for many years in cooking at home, and find the basic shape in need of some updating. My wife and I will often use the dishwasher to clean up after big meals. Often the bowls used for preparation or serving are placed in the dishwasher leaning upside down. Upon unloading the dishwasher the bowl will often have water gathered in the base of the foot ring that drips over other ware in the dishwasher when unloading. Solutions to this problem could include changing the angle of the inside of the foot ring, or cutting the foot ring to the base of the bowl curve. Each of these methods removes the area where water gathers when the bowl is leaning upside down.
 
The first option is simple in that the inside curve of the foot ring is rounded into the base of the outside of the bowl. Thus allowing water to drain from the foot ring. This option allows for a very simple presentation, but works best for shallow foot rings as the deeper the foot ring the more extreme the curve blending into the bowl base.




The second option is much more useful for deeper foot rings and bowls with more presence on the table than the first option. Often the use of a fettling knife is used to cut away portions of the foot ring down to the bowl curve. The use of a large pipe to cut away part of the foot ring will give an elegant curve to parts of the foot ring that are left, and also allow the drainage of water. I have found this to be one of the easiest ways to cut the rim neatly.  I am sure that an experienced potter may find methods to alleviate the drainage problem, but these are two solutions that work without worry of holes filling with glaze or other problems. 


Further improvements on the bowl may be found at the rim of the bowl. My original profile had a rim that was slightly thicker at the rim, to strengthen the rim. Another concern though with bowls is lifting in and out of the oven, or microwave. Some would say to add a handle to the bowl, but traditionally a thicker rim with an outside edge allowed for lifting with gloves. This allows for a thicker rim, an embellishment on the outside of the form, and an edge to catch/hold when moving the bowl either with                                                                              gloves or without.


A second rim modification would be to add a flare on the rim, allowing for easy transport of the bowl with or without gloves. This rim could often be used as a decorative area for lettering, or other stamped or incised decoration. It can also have functional benefits for mixing bowls in that the form will catch materials not quite in the bowl. The rim can also be adapted for spouts, or folded down into the outside of the bowl for a natural area for handles.



This type of rim with the deep cut foot ring has greater presence on a table, or for other venues.



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