Make an Ocarina with the pinching clay technique
Some years back while I was working for the first time in the Whole Schools Program in Mississippi, I studied the craft of making ocarinas from clay, so that I can teach school children how to make ocarinas. It is a fun project in which children can be challenged. It is also possible to keep them engaged with the object long after they made it. For some it may become a challenge to learn to make ocarinas that is in tune and it is one of those projects that can become a lifelong hobby or even a career, either as a musician or ocarina maker. It is possible to make many other kinds of musical instruments from clay too.
Whistles and ocarinas.
An ocarina is a whistle that can make different musical notes placing your fingers over a set of holes and blowing into the air duct. It is possible to play a tune with at least 1 full octave.
It is good to know how to make a whistle first and once you mastered the single note instrument, you can take the next step to make an ocarina.
The first thing that should happen is that you get sound, so before you get into the musical scale of an ocarina, make sure you make a good whistle. Your first ocarina may be off pitch, since it is a little harder to create the perfect holes, but it is not impossible. To be able to do that, may require some experimentation and a reliable pitchfork.
The most elementary ocarina has 4 holes. The smallest hole is the furthest right side, away from the mouthpiece. Going clockwise the holes should double in size from the previous one in order to obtain one octave. If the sound box (belly) of the ocarina is bigger, the sound is deeper; going higher the smaller the ocarina becomes.
You will need a few basic tools and clay
It is possible to make these ocarinas from a self drying clay although real pottery clay made from earth will be the easiest to use. If you add paper to the clay and seal it afterwards with glue, paint or some kind of lacquer, it will be hard enough to last.
Other tools needed are:
Sharp(point) knife (fettling),
Sharpened flat popsicle stick, or flat bamboo (like a chisel)
Round pencil or dowel stick with a sharp point
Sponge on a stick.
Keep a damp sponge close by to keep your fingers moist and to smear small stretch marks away.
Blow into the air duct to hear a clear sound. If the sound is not clear, it means something is obstructing it.
If the clay is too soft it is difficult to clean out well.
Bear in mind that you need enough space on top to drill a sound hole and at least 4 note holes in;
Form a round belly (sound box) for the ocarina, but the top somewhat square and flat.
Form the sound hole and air duct just as with the whistle. I like to widen my sound hole. It is also a good place to allow debris escape from the inside of the belly.
Beginning with a small hole, as wide as a pencil lead. Double the size when forming each hole, going clockwise.
When you form the air duct, make sure that the air flow is open, by having no obstruction between the sound hole and the air duct.
The sharp beveled edge of the sound hole and the air duct should be level with each other to allow a steady stream of air through.
Tips to be successful with making ocarinas
Pinching a Teapot
Pinch pots: Is it beginners pots or a good place to begin?
Arts Integrated programs in schools
Handbuilding pottery for beginners
Pinching is one of the oldest if not the oldest known clay techniques. It has always been a good place to start a first experience with clay, but for sure not a beginner’s technique. It is often mistaken to be the easiest technique in clay, because it is a logical place for potential potters to start working with it. The true fact though is that it takes a good bit of practice and skill to create even walls and to make a real piece of art from that small ball of clay in one’s hands.
Most beginners do not create perfect pinch pots at first and teachers are often hasty to move them to the next phase and never make sure that they mastered the skill in full. In my opinion that is a mistake, because unless those potters – to - be decides to go back, explore and practice pinch pots, they will always live with the idea that they will never be good at that specific technique, or they will label it as a beginners technique.
When clay is pressed between thumb, fore-and middle fingers it becomes more compact with every pinch, to make it into a very strong structured object. This is the most direct and often times the most effective way to manipulate clay.
When clay is pressed between thumb, fore-and middle fingers it becomes more compact with every pinch, to make it into a very strong structured object. This is the most direct and often times the most effective way to manipulate clay.
Pinching clay is one of the oldest techniques to manipulate clay. The first way Antoinette like to test the personality of a clay body, is by pinching.
Experienced potters develop a rhythm in which they press firm and evenly all over the clay. As they get to the right thickness, the pinching becomes gentler.
Pinching porcelain clay is one of the best ways to learn to understand and control the clay medium. Pinching and finishing porcelain pinch bowls can be a very rewarding experience. Here Antoinette is pushing the limits. Image by Koos Badenhorst
Whether one pinch hard and deep into a piece of clay or whether one have a gentle soft, but firm approach will depend on the type of clay that the maker have in his hand and that reminds me of how often times I would test a new clay body by tearing a small piece of clay, the size of a small orange off and pinch it into a bowl in my hand.
These porcelain pinch bowls are ready to be trimmed. Porcelain clay can be very thin and still be strong. Due to the glass-like quality of porcelain, the clay, fired to maturity, is stronger than any other clay. Antoinette is teaching this technique in her first porcelain e- course. Image by Koos Badenhorst
Different types of clay will act differently and it will convey a message to the user of what it “wants to become”
The way it forms little cracks on the side walls or rim, or stay smooth in the hand, show instant fingerprints or allows itself to be shaped into a smooth open vessel reveals and predicts the future relationship between clay body and potter. The way it tolerates ongoing handling or quickly gets tired of manipulation, the way it allows itself to be shaped and re shaped, the way it allows a finger to smear wet or semi - dry over its surface and finally how easy or difficult it is to finish it off and use different kinds of tools are all ways of telling the handler whether it is a clay body that suits his or her personality.
Is it possible that a pinch pot can stand on its own as an AESTHETIC piece of art?
The answer is without any doubt yes.
Probably the most renowned potter of modern times that pinched perfect pots was the British potter Mary Rodgers. She describes her techniques in her book “Pottery and Porcelain”. Although she often worked with stoneware, her porcelain pieces were outstanding. Today few of these exquisite pieces are still available and if it is available, it sells at breathtaking prices.
The cover of one of Antoinette's favorite porcelain books. Image by Koos Badenhorst
I have often times created pinch pots from porcelain and must humbly admit that Mary Rodgers always was the inspiration behind my pinch pots. There is something about pinching that becomes a very personal way to express my passion for clay
Antoinette show step by step how to create porcelain cups, plates and other kitchen articles from porcelain clay.
Whether you are making it by hand or on a pottery wheel, she offer 2 classes from which you can choose.
Malelane was paradise. Our children were young preschoolers; in fact Tinyke was a 9 month old baby when we moved there. Koos was working at the sugar mill, a booming new industry for a region that previously relied on vegetables for their daily bread.
I was raised in Namibia, where we only saw flowing rivers when it rained in the Khomas Hochland Mountain, just so that it will run down in a few hours into dry sand beds? So in comparison, Malelane was a true paradise.
It was a luxury to see the Crocodile River constantly running. Drought was not uncommon in this region, but the vegetation was lusciously green after the mostly grayish green landscapes where I grew up. Bougainvillea became trees in comparison with the ones growing in Namibia and I never saw bigger banana leaves than the ones that grew in plantations next to the roads. There were crocodiles and hippopotamus in the river and if you watched closely, you could see elephants or buffalo on the other side of the river in the Kruger National Park. Our favorite leisure time was on Sunday afternoons when we took the children to see animals in and around the river.
My biggest challenge at the time was to get the papayas off the trees in my garden, before the monkeys get it! A papaya showing the slightest hint of yellow was a monkey’s delicacy and they would grab it and then tease me from a distance while they consume it!
It was a beautiful remote little town, where everybody knew each other and helped raise each other’s children, but it was also a place where we had limited enrichment and adult educational opportunities. The result was that the woman of the town took it upon themselves to do exciting and stimulating projects.
So it happened that I became the regional potter.
My first 3 students were housewives from the community. They had to pay their class fees of R30 (the equivalent of about $1.73 in today’s terms) upfront so that I could buy our first clay. I became the one-eyed king in the land of the blind and I never dreamed that those first pottery lessons would lead to a passion of a lifetime. My pottery career officially took off.
Have you ever noticed how potters transfer images on clay, either by scratching through the surface or by painting on the clay surfaces? As a young potter, the marks that I put on my clay had no particular meaning; at least that was what I was thinking at the time. It was just pure joy to cut and carve and smear and pinch and roll the clay, a willing material that forms and shape in whatever direction it was pinched and pushed.
When I think back, I recall unfinished bottoms and sloppy pots, often times with underdeveloped forms. We did try to smooth it off, but it took several years, before I got the knowledge to finish my work properly. I learned that clay needed to rest and become ready for the next preparation phase with hard lessons. Even though I could see that there were mistakes, I did not have the knowledge to solve it. Pots were thick and it stayed thick! The local library had a few books about pottery and we utilized them as much we could, but the information was scarce and very unsatisfactory and all the information we got were always about the making process, but never about finishing the final product before it goes in the bisque kiln.
During this time we made pots and all kind of objects; from pinching, to coiling to slab built pottery that the clay allowed us to do, never thinking that once we have it fired, it basically would be set in stone, carrying naive finger and cutting marks ; objects that carried the evidence of a small community of potters to be.
It took me five months before I had my first kiln. Someone advertised a kiln for R400 (about $23.11 in current terms) in Nelspruit, a neighboring town. It was time for my next lesson and it was here that my husband showed his weight in gold regarding my pottery adventures.
The kiln was a flimsy old top loader, with broken elements and only two settings: on and off. With the help of technicians, Koos hand coiled elements and before long we had a kiln going!
By then I collected enough class fees to buy our first glazes. Not knowing better, I ordered 12 different one kilogram (2.2 lb.) glazes to dip our pots in. Of cause it did not work too well (our pots were too big to dip and we did not know of any other way, so we poured the glaze. We managed though and before long we had our kiln firing. Our first pots were made and we were very proud of ourselves.
As I improved, curiosity sometimes got the best of me and I opened a kiln way too soon, just to end up seeing pots cracking in two right in front of my eyes.
Today I know much better; I teach pottery and porcelain workshops. One of these classes is an online workshop in which I teach potters how to improve their glazes, store bought or self made and how to fire a porcelain kiln successfully.
It took me years to learn and understand that pottery carried a history that stretched far beyond my imagination. I never realized the importance of clay for anthropological research. If my first studio would have been an archaeological site, they will probably find shards, telling interesting stories of us few women that had so much fun in our garage studio and maybe they would find the first signs of the birth of my passion for clay. It became a lifelong love affair, one that I never would have managed, was it not for my dear husband and his patience with me. (oh he still did not eat his hat as he said he would do if I become a potter!)
I mentioned anthropologists. They are very interested in clay objects. Did you know that shards can tell us about ancient technology and human behavior? Since clay is preserved by fire, it carries footprints and cultural evidence that cannot easily be distinguished.
I came across this you tube video that explains how they translate images and marks from clay into historical facts: The presenter has a lively way in which he explains the importance of pottery shards to read ancient history.
I also found this beautiful website with information about the Ancestral Pueblo cultures found in the regions where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meets, known as “The Four Corner area” It is believed that the Pueblo people descended from nomadic living styles and gathered here some 12 thousand years ago. Their pottery has a significant influence on American pottery; to this day.
I was not fortunate enough to learn about clay through generational inheritance, as the ancient people probably did. I did not even know at first that clay is earth and it was a big "aha" moment for me when I realized that clay in a kiln and rocks forming from lava has strong similarities. When I decided I have to start teaching pottery, I never thought that I started on a path in which I created footprints that may have some permanence. Having that knowledge now, puts an obligation on me to make sure that any piece I fire, not just holds beauty in its core, but also an intelligence of good craftsmanship and expressional value to last for millenniums to come.
I partook in one of America’s most prestigious shows (American Craft Expo). Was it not that I still have so much to learn, I might have thought that I finally came full circle, but after almost 40 years I can say, I know what I still don’t know…….at least I think I can guess……
The throwing of a bottle requires specific planning. When working with porcelain it may take a little more planning, since the diva would not work along unless you do it "her" way. In this series of images I am showing you how I do it.
Be sure to wedge and center the clay properly The width of the dome before the opening of the clay, is an indication of how wide the bottle will be at the bottom.
Open the clay so that you have a round curve in the interior bottom. This will help to form a rounded curve at the base.
Push a dent at the bottom of the pot to be able to move a wall of clay upward.
Rather than pulling, push the clay up.
Keep pushing the "clay-wave" up right to the top. If you have to stop in- between, do so, but continue where you stopped.
Note the direction of my arm. That helps to keep the cylinder narrow and going upward instead of flaring open.
Keep pushing the clay-wave up right to the top.
Strengthen the clay rim by running over it and gently forcing the clay into the wall.(repeat this pushing process from bottom to rim at least 3 times)
The curve forms when your hands start to push the wall in and outward. Also notice how the position of my arm changes. When the interior hand pushes the clay wall outward and move it upward at the same time, a belly starts to form. At this time the outer hand (which is normally the dominant hand) will follow on the outside just below the inner hand.
When the hands change position, where the outside hand gets above the inner hand, the bellying stops and the clay move inward, closing in. Keep removing slurry and excess water all the time while throwing.
When the clay mouth becomes narrow enough for the hands to cup around the rim, it is time to collar the clay.
As the clay collar, it becomes thicker again and more clay becomes available to enclose the form and to make a spout. This is a critical time, since the clay is been worked a lot and it can easily collapse. Firm, but gentle touch and often a slightly increased speed of the wheel is necessary to keep the curve up. If you are a beginner doing pot for the first time, a 10 to 15 minute break to allow the clay to dry of some may help.
Push the clay up to form the spout.
Cut the rim straight with sharp tool if needed.
Move the clay with the one pinkie up against the other pinkie, which is in a supportive role at this stage.
Run a kidney up against the curve of the pot to remove excess slurry and to smooth the pot and allow the eye to move pleasantly and without obstruction over the curve.
Move the kidney up against the spout to help the transition between pot and spout become smooth.
The bottles below were made in the early 2000's by Antoinette.
Tips to throw a bottle successfully on the wheel.
Work very sparingly with water. More so when you throw with porcelain since the clay is thirsty and will collapse faster. Rather use little amounts of water more often that a big handful. Dipping fingers in the water is often times enough. I like to use a sponge and keep it lightly lubricated.
It takes experience to know when you need to start making the belly. Leave the pot at least a quarter of an inch thick so that there are enough clay to expand into a curve.
The top third is normally a good starting place to start narrowing the bottle.
Run a kidney (slightly bent between your fingers) from bottom to top to take out any ridges that may obstruct the flow of the curve.
Have fun, keep practicing and let me know how this method works for you. maybe you have a special tip to share here.
Keep following, because I will share more educational ceramic information here.
If you like what you see and get, please share it with your friends.
Below are comments that I copied from my previous web server. feel free to continue with comments
Thanks for the "push" vs. "pull" technique. Will try to indent and see results. Will use some porcelain at Elgin Community College this semester. Hope all is well in Mississippi with you and Koos.
1/20/2014 04:47:18 pm
Great to hear from you Corky! We are doing very well while I hear you guys are cold this year! Hope your studio is warm. Let me know if the technique works for you.
1/20/2014 07:17:02 pm
Hi Antoinette, Thanks! Have you got dates yet for your Durban workshop?
1/21/2014 04:14:12 am
I sent my info to some people there Elize .You can e-mail me and I will give you their names, but I guess they will have to work it through before letting me know. I have a great workshop coming up in Bryanston with Colleen Lehmkuhl and a few more in the pipeline.
1/21/2014 05:00:50 am
I am so looking forward to meeting you at your workshop with Colleen. Your work is very inspirational.love and light Rose Hobson.
1/21/2014 07:12:35 am
Thanks Rose,I trust I will be able to teach you my techniques and you will be able to make your own beautiful works.
1/21/2014 07:20:10 am
Now I'm really going to import some porcelain from France (our closest distributor). This is sheer delight to observe. But I MUST be doing it too. The photos were simply excellent (that "move the clay with one pinkie" frame is simply perfect. Thank you.
1/21/2014 07:42:41 am
You are so welcome John. Next time you come back to the States, bring us a small piece of Limoges with you if you can. Just make sure it is dried in full, for flight purposes. I am very curious about it. Hope to see you in one of my future classes. Just got the next date from Mike Lalone for 2015 too..............
Greta Michelle Joachimlink
1/21/2014 08:09:34 am
This is wonderful Antoinette. I am glad you decided to do this and I look forward to the e-course. How much clay are you working with in this how to?
1/21/2014 09:18:23 am
Greta, it is a while since I made this specific slide presentation, but I am guessing it was about 1.5- 2 lbs. That is the beauty of porcelain: big results with a little biddy clay.
Also: it is basically put together from 2 different pots. I took the best images to get a continuous presentation.
Every once in a while all of us experience something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. I had such a chance this past week at the close of our hands-on porcelain workshop in Pennsylvania.
The group was small. We all learned from each other all week long in the open pottery studio, while it was pleasantly raining outside and we had opportunities to share life experiences, pottery experiences and more.
At the end of the week Annie Carlsson surprised us with her writing talent. Her observations of the week were documented in a beautiful essay. It was a gift to me and touched me so much that I asked her if I could share it with you on my blog and with her permission I am giving you a glimpse of our week there.
I could not get myself to type her letter, since I thought it will contaminate the authenticity, so I asked my always willing husband, Koos Badenhorst to take pictures of the essay.
Annie I will always cherish it. Your essay highlighted an already extraordinary week. Thank you Annie, Briget, Hannah, Pam, Jeff, Eric and Lee. Without your presence, attitude and help, I would have been a lost case. I will remember this week for the rest of my life.
I teach porcelain workshops around the world in either an online workshop with TeachinArt, or hands-on somewhere in the world.
Places where I would still like to teach is Australia, New Zealand, India, Greece, South America and Asia. If anyone is interested in hosting a workshop in future, you can check out my workshop proposals and contact me.
Annie Carlsson commentary letter from the workshop
2021 - Italy: La Meridiana
Raised with art around me.
I was raised in an ordinary house with extraordinary parents. My dad was a policeman, an ambulance driver and a handy man; in my little eyes the best and biggest man out there. He loved music and had a beautiful voice himself. Everyone always asked him to sing and his favorite was “O Solo Mio”. There was sweetness in his voice, the same sweetness that Mario Lanza was known for.
My mom made the best food and clothes and she had a musical sound in her laugh that was infectious. I recall people talking about her artwork and her stories that she wrote and I remember she was the best story teller and the best painting artist that I knew.
Through my parents eyes and ears I learned to appreciate Michael Angelo (we had a thick book about his life and career on our coffee table) and Tchaikovsky.
I was an all-rounder in school. A little sport, a little singing and recitation, writing and whatever a young girl could do to impress teachers and peers. I even tried to paint, but failure convinced me that painting was not my forte!
I was already married when my husband and I were passing a gallery one day. I saw beautiful stone – like objects through the window and it drew me like a magnet pass the door. After a conversation with the gallery owner, I found out it was called pottery. At the time I knew nothing about clay; not where it came from, not how it gets hardened by heat and where the shiny glassy layer came from. At the time I never imagined in my wildest dream that ceramics would become my life long career, that I will still be learning about pottery 40 years later, teaching porcelain and pottery and exhibit my work in galleries and museums around the globe.
For a time after my gallery education, I traded cheap slip cast ornamental objects from hawkers that wondered our streets in search of old clothes and household items. I was so ignorant about clay, that the molded and copper painted horse Plaster of Paris sculpture that hung on my wall for a long time, became my biggest treasure!
It took another year or so before I had my first pottery class in Evander South Africa.
My first pottery lessons.
During those first 6 months of my career in 1981 when I learned the very first steps in making pottery, I never learned to take clay beyond the forming process. I never learned finish the clay correctly and anything about glazing and firing clay. I did however learned that clay shrinks about 25 % (which is not always true), so when I made my first pencil holder, I made holes the size of broomsticks – they were supposed to shrink, right!
The teacher was not too eager to teach me, so my first ashtray (my husband and I were not a smokers, but it was still the fashion of the day) was so heavy and unfinished, I could kill a deer with it.
I had to stop throwing on the wheel when I got pregnant with Linkie. My pots were so drunk and I was so sick, the two just did not go along with each other. It was then that my dear husband told me that he will eat his hat if I ever become a potter!
It would take me another 2 years before my career took off…
How did pottery begin : A little speculation in Pottery history
Fragments of ancient pottery were found in southern China that is estimated to date as far back as 20,000 years ago. Clay was used for housing for thousands of years, but the first signs of using it for water and food, dates back to about 10 000 years.
It is said that in prehistoric times, clay (which is earth that has a plastic workable quality) was originally roughly shaped and used unfired to hide food from predators. People then soon discovered that water last a little longer in a mud container and that food stayed fresher in a clay hive. It is been said that someone dropped a clay object in a fire one day and it came out hardened. The first pottery was created.
What to expect from your first pottery classes.
I often hear potters telling me that they are not sure if their teacher provide in their needs as far as instruction goes.
It is true that some instructors are more interested in the income or the opportunity to use the facilities that is available. There are also instructors that are simply just not qualified.
Here are a few things that beginner pottery students can ask / observe from their instructor before signing up for a class to see if the class may serve them.
I have pondered long about my life and career and when and how to start dropping my story in the clay water. There are so many stories of potters before me, potters with humble lives, potters with huge lives; masters and beginners that all helped to shape my life.
Not even to speak about all the legends out there, true legends, living legends, imaginary legends…..; whatever the case may be, there are many, many potters and their lives on who I built my career and to whom I owe a story.
Consider, if you will, just for a moment that pottery exists from 8000 years BC (according to open bible.info, there are 41 references in the Bible about pottery and 46 about clay) and then also that porcelain was discovered by Marco Polo in China in the late 1200’s. At that stage the Chinese were already making beautiful refined objects from porcelain.
The history of clay is everywhere to be found, particularly with the internet these days; therefore I am not going to come up with a repeat of what is not my specialty field. I’d rather want to bring the history of pottery and particularly porcelain into my studio and put my own work in context with clay.
So over the next few essays, I am going to tell you my personal clay story and how it was influenced and shaped by potters throughout history.