My View of Pottery

At its most basic, pottery is a functional tool for transporting, storing, and cooking.  Before our ancestors developed pottery, they had to carry liquids in skins, cook on rocks or in skins or directly on fire and had no pretty good, reasonably waterproof container in which to store things (they could hollow out wood or soft stone, if available - I guess).

I find myself drawn to this most basic, primal use and form of pottery.  I like to make a form and say "what would this be good for" or "I want to make a storage container…." and make that happen.  It connects, in a small way, to how those in the distant past lived their lives.

To get a feel for how pottery might have gotten started, I've experimented with lining baskets with wet clay and moving water around in this structure.  Actually, it works pretty well.  If you smear some clay around on the inside of a basket, you can fill it with water and carry it round for quite a while.  If it leaks, just slap in some more clay.  Taking this a step further, I've set that lined basket aside and let it dry.  The clay cracks, and if you put water in, it runs out and takes a lot of clay with it.  No real surprise there.  But you can add some clay back over that and use it for a while longer.

At some point the basket gets ratty, and you need something to burn, so you throw the whole thing - basket, clay - into the fire.  The next day, you notice that some of that clay has gotten hard and no longer dissolves in water and as a bonus, has the imprint of the basket.  So you start experimenting - you get a lot of breakage, but some stay intact and all you have this new, permanent container.  

And of course, it just takes off from there.

So, when I look at pottery, i'm looking at form and function and the roots that might be associated with the piece.  A modern form might have holes or exaggerated extensions or extrusions but when you get down to it, its roots are that of a vessel, and that vessel has been on a long journey.

Wet Cleaning

You should try to clean up your shop area after a day of potting, but that doesn't always happen.

When you do get around to cleaning, don't sweep that dry floor.  You will stir up tiny particles of silica that are found in all our clay material, not to mention whatever glaze or oxide you might have spilled.  This is not so good to breath.

Clean all your surfaces using a wet method.  Water works fine.  Give tables, chairs, etc. a good going over with a damp rag.  Rinse it often.  When doing the floor, I like to use a wet cotton mop to get up the bigger stuff and since I have a concrete floor, I can hose out the shop occasionally.

Funky Smell in the Slop Bucket

So What is that funky smell that develops in the slop bucket, especially in the warm summer months.

Well, That's bacteria and fungi that were in the clay when you bought it, plus whatever came off your hands when you were working the clay.  Yes your hands harbor millions of bacteria and fungus (mostly bacteria).  These are part of your normal flora - your very tiny livestock.  They live with you in harmony most of the time and are essential to your well being.

When you leave them in your clay slurry, some find the environment to their liking and proliferate.  A few are anaerobic and like that there is not much air in you clay leavings, especially the wet, sloppy kind.  There are also some aerobic bacteria that also live on the surface and in pockets with some air.  A lot of bacteria can go either way, so they will be in the mix also.  These bacteria will metabolize whatever they find and will give off gases and liquids as waste.  Some of this waste is what is causing that smell.

So, simply put, there you have it.  Just be sure to wash after you potting (and I like to keep my tetanus vaccination up to date).


Hi.  My name is Lee Tucker.  I decided to start this blog at the suggestion of a friend.  I swirl my formal school training, jobs I've had, and my pottery into an uncommon skill set.

I am a self taught potter and have been throwing since 1998. I like to make functional items, but branch off into whimsy from time to time. Occasionally I sell something, but mostly am in it for the fun and challenge.

I also have a Masters Degree (Biological Science with emphasis in Medical Micro and Microbial Ecology).

And my current job is in the Safety field.  Go figure.

I've been a caver, I've ice skated more than a little, I know a little about horses and dogs and cats, running a tractor………….

If you are wondering about Black Kitty Pottery, my story here is that a black cat adopted us. For a long time he was an outdoor kitty that had access to my garage. The studio is in the garage. Black Kitty started hanging out with me when I potted. He'd watch and sleep and watch some more. He became my mascot and sometime muse.

© William Tucker 2012