If you've never worked with clay, you may have no clue what it means "to throw" on a pottery wheel. If you envision a potter's wheel going full speed with a hapless person throwing a piece of clay onto its surface with enough force to make it stick, well, then—that's not exactly accurate and it's good that you're reading this article (and just for future reference, that kind of method will definitely make a mess for you, but probably not a pot).
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Throwing as a General Term
When people talk about throwing pottery, they generally mean the process from the time the clay touches the wheel to the time the wheel is stopped. In this more general (and most commonly used) sense, throwing is the entire activity of shaping the clay on the potter's wheel.
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Throwing as a Specific Term
One part of the general activity of throwing is a specific step called throwing. To throw the clay means to bend it between your finger joints. The right finger is lower than the left. This is important since the discrepancy is what forces the clay to bend.
As the potter’s hands move upward, the clay is stretched through the bend, with the excess clay being forced upward. This creates the pot’s height as well as thinning the walls.
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A Good Throw
Not only does a good throw to make the walls taller and thinner, but the potter is also working to keep the pot’s walls uniform in thickness from top to bottom. Walls which are thicker at the bottom are a common occurrence for those new to throwing.
One way in which to gain mastery overthrowing a uniform wall is to throw with your eyes closed. By focusing your attention on the kinetic feel of the positioning of the hands, you are better able to judge the thickness and uniformity of the walls.
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Terms of Confusion
People have called throwing by several different terms. The specific action of throwing has sometimes been referred to as pulling up. The general act of throwing on the wheel has sometimes been called turning, which is technically working on a lathe with either wood or metal. Another word occasionally used is spinning, which could be confused with the twisting and thinning of fibers by a hand-spinner/weaver. Overall, the most correct term is "to throw."
While most modern potter's wheels are powered by electricity, the first ones were pumped by foot. Some ceramic artists still enjoy using human-powered wheels today.