PPP: Book Review - Handbuilding Ceramic Forms

March 1, 2009
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Every new potter wants to have a personal teacher in ceramic design and form. Handbuilding Ceramic Forms is that teacher. Written to introduce basic methods used in developing pottery, Elsbeth S. Woody’s step-by-step instructional gives the reader a unique insight into the styles of handbuilding forms while introducing the hands-on side of pottery making.

The author begins with detailed instruction on the beginning use of clay. While covering information on types of clay bodies, basic terminology, and glazing and firing, Woody quickly moves to the preparation of the clay body with basic mixing steps and instruction on two common wedging styles.

The heart of Woody’s book includes areas of form that often represent the beginning of problems for the novice. By using past experience, the author addresses each problem with a solution in areas of joining clay bodies, creating support for large forms and working in stages. Methods of forming clay with solid forms, small and large forms, and the use of the paddle to shape and smooth clay surfaces provides a new look at creativity through the author’s eyes. Simple and complex surface treatments complete the instructional side of the book, with particular attention given to decorating with the use of detailed photographs.

The final chapter, “Ten Approaches to Handbuilding,” is the author’s unique way of introducing areas of form that she is not familiar with. Woody provides an exceptional display of 10 artists, including David Middlebrook, Billie Walters and Susan Wechsler. Explanations regarding their style, form and ability to overcome designing problems in their work provide a distinct approach to handbuilding their forms. Each artist introduces a completely new handbuilding technique that is an inspiring and fresh look at ceramic design.

Woody’s book covers the necessary information needed to establish a firm foundation in handbuilding. Written for the novice potter, the author clearly understands the necessary steps in teaching handbuilding form to a new pottery artist. Woody’s concise instructions, followed by detailed photos, allow the reader to visually retain the technique with the least amount of confusion.

As a potter, the book inspired me to work more in the handbuilding field. Woody’s use of established artists provides an appealing look at handbuilding as an acceptable form of ceramic design. The inclusion of new techniques provides insight on how to perform handbuilding projects and overcome the problems of stability, display and creative form often encountered when using clay. Woody focuses on problems often associated with the separation of joined surfaces, collapse, handling large slab works and displaying finished works. The author includes enough areas of handbuilding to give the reader a basis for developing their own style. She also provides problem-solving ideas that would cover many areas of handbuilding techniques not covered in her book.

Woody’s extensive experience in handbuilding informs her writing and helps to develop this book into a satisfying primer for the introduction of handbuilding form and styles. As a basic handbuilding reference, it is suitable for studio and school reference. Although a republished version clearly from a different generation of potters, the book covers information still useful in today’s studios.

Handbuilding Ceramic Forms includes 227 pages of text, 267 b/w photos, a bibliography of book and magazine resources, and a listing of clay and glaze recipes used by the featured artists. For more information, visit www.allworth.com.

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