Spherical teapot, 9" in height, underglaze decoration with clear overglaze fired to cone 04.

Teapots are one of the greatest challenges for any studio potter. Many elements go into their production and all the parts—the body, lid, handle and spout—need to fit together into a cohesive whole. For centuries, teapots have been produced in myriad ways and forms, and like many potters, I initially began making teapots on the wheel. But throwing and putting the parts together was a challenge for me because the forms were too mechanical so I began to experiment with handbuilding. Since I’ve done a lot of handbuilding using hump molds, this seemed the logical path to take.

 

While the process here uses a spherical form, you’ll soon recognize the endless possibilities with other shapes. The teapot form easily lends itself to a wide range of creative expression, and handbuilding a round teapot frees you from the symmetrical mechanized look of the wheel.

 


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Spherical Teapots


 

Getting Started

 

Each teapot begins with a slab draped over a plaster hump mold. I make these round plaster hump molds by taking a Styrofoam ball and cutting it in half. Styrofoam spheres are available in a variety of sizes from craft supply stores, and you’ll need a 6-inch ball for a modest-sized teapot. Other forms can also work and I use the blue extruded Styrofoam board found at home centers to build up and carve molds. Once the shape is finalized, I glue it to a piece of wood or tempered hardboard that’s been cut to shape (figure 1). Tip: You can finish the mold by propping it up and pouring plaster over the top. This gives you a thin, durable, absorbent layer that can be smoothed out when dry and makes a great lightweight mold.

 

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The Sphere

 

  1. Roll out a slab that’s about ¼ to 5/16 inches thick. Apply toilet paper to the mold as a release and place the slab over the mold.
  2. Trim the bottom, remove and repeat for the second hemisphere (figure 2). Set the hemispheres aside and allow them to dry to the leather-hard stage.
  3. Roll out a coil and attach it to the edge of one hemisphere (figure 3), then attach the other hemisphere using your finger or tool to work the seam (figure 4).
  4. Use a Surform tool to refine the shape (figure 5). Since I do a lot of painting on my surfaces, I use a metal rib to smooth the sphere (figure 6), but you can add different textures at this stage.
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Base and Lid

 

To create a base, one method I like is to use a triangular trimming tool to cut a strip from a block of clay (figure 7). With the sphere resting on an empty plastic container, attach the base and add decorative elements according to your style (figure 8). Of course, design opportunities abound here but bear in mind that all parts on a teapot work to form the whole work.

 

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For the lid, cut a round opening in the top of the sphere and set it aside. In order to have the lid fit only one way, make a small notch in the opening (figure 9). Place toilet paper around the edge of the opening as a separator. To construct the lid, first place a small ball of clay in the notch (figure 10), then add a coil of soft clay to fit into the lid opening (figure 11) so it slightly overlaps the opening. Take the clay piece you removed to make the opening and attach it to the coil (figure 12). Flip the lid over and add a ball of clay to the underside of the lid (figure 13). This will add some weight and balance to the lid to help hold it in place when tilting the teapot to pour tea.

 

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Spout and Handle

 

To form the spout, flatten a cone of clay (figure 14) and form a spout around a brush handle (figure 15). Trim the spout and attach it along with decorative elements to the teapot. To create the handle, I create two “dog bone” shapes and flatten them, leaving some thickness at each end (figure 17). Assemble the handle and add a decorative element if desired. Add a handle to the lid following the same style (figure 18).

 

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