Throwing Bowls for Empty Bowls

Throwing bowls

Holly and two other “bowl throwers”

When my friend, Holly, asked me if I wanted to throw bowls with her art organization, I had to ask, “What?”  And then say, “Of course!”

It turns out that “throwing a bowl” is what you do on a pottery wheel when you make a ceramic bowl.  CHROMA, an art and design community for students outside of the classroom at Coastal Carolina University (CCU), hosted a free event, open to the community, to throw bowls in preparation for their annual Empty Bowls fundraiser which they will host later this year.  Empty Bowls is a national fundraiser to raise money to combat hunger in our area.

I have no experience with pottery or “throwing bowls” but I love an adventure!  I met Holly in the Ceramics department at CCU where she introduced me to the room as her “non-art friend.”  Everyone was very friendly and helpful.  And patient!  I had the option of throwing a bowl on a pottery wheel or designing one by making a circle with clay and printing a design on it.  I opted for the pottery wheel.

They cut about a three pound slab of reclaimed clay off of a bigger slab for me.  I was then shown how to cut it on a wire and throw it down on the table, kneading it in an effort to get rid of air bubbles.  I was shown how to make a cone shape out of the clay and then I made my way to a pottery wheel.

The pottery wheel was set up with a pedal (much like an accelerator on a car), a bucket of water, and tools that looked like a pic, a sponge, a wooden pencil, and a thin metal half-circle.  A friendly CCU student, named Abby, sat at a pottery wheel in front of me and showed me how to smash the clay onto the center of the wheel and then instructed me on how to mold the clay with my hands while spinning the wheel by pressing down on the acceleration pedal with my foot.  She showed me how to sit, crouching my upper body in between my knees to center myself, as I put pressure on the clay to mold it into a smooth cylinder with my hands.  I was surprised at how much force I needed in my hands to make the clay respond to my motions on the wheel!  I used my thumbs to create a hole in the middle and then pulled the sides out and up.  I had to keep drizzling water on the spinning clay to keep the clay smooth as the bowl slowly took shape.  Any jarring motion made the bowl lop-sided.

At one point my bowl started to feel thin on one side and then took on a lop-sided feature.  Abby came to the rescue and sat at my wheel to re-shape the bowl with the hands of a master!  She then let me back at the wheel to finish.  She showed me how to use each tool to smooth out the bowl’s sides and center and bottom, reminding me to keep the wheel spinning and to use a steady hand.

Bowls that were "thrown" on the pottery wheel

Bowls that were “thrown” on the pottery wheel.  The front two are Karen’s handiwork.

When I was finished Abby used a thin wire to “cut” and separate the bowl from the base it was on.  We then transported the base and bowl to a room where it would dry.

I was feeling pretty confident after my first successful “bowl throw,” so I grabbed another slab of clay and proceeded to recreate all of the steps Abby had shown me.  This bowl I managed to create and finish without “reconstructive surgery.”

As I was “throwing my bowl,” other community members and CCU students arrived.  CHROMA members greeted everyone with a friendly “Hi!” and then started giving them lessons on how to proceed.  I was impressed as to how patient the CHROMA members were with us, the “non-artists,” as they watched us collapse bowls and spin clay off of our wheels.  Abby even left her personal tools for me to use on my second bowl when she had to leave before I did!  She just asked me to clean them and put them in her cubby.

The bowls will be painted and glazed and then fired.  They will be available for purchase at the Empty Bowl fundraiser which CHROMA will host in April on the Coastal Carolina University campus.  At this event people will be able to pick out a bowl of their choice and fill it with soup for around $7.  All proceeds will go towards local organizations that combat hunger in the area.  This event is open to the public each year.

Cost: Free