There are so many tips and tricks for centering clay on the pottery wheel, including do's and don'ts. Let me try to break it down and share with you what works for me.
Why do we need to center clay?
Centering is the process of distributing clay on the pottery wheel evenly before creating a pottery piece. Centering allows me to shape the clay evenly to make a symmetrical piece. Unless you are looking to intentionally create a wobbly piece on the wheel, centering is an essential step for all potters to master.
Centering clay is very hard!
Many beginner potters find centering frustrating. The truth is we've all been there. And, the secret? Practice, practice, practice!
Steps to centering clay
1. Wedge. Adhere the clay. Dome.
Don't underestimate the wedging part in preparing the clay for the wheel. Wedging helps align the clay particles and remove any air bubbles. Every step in this preparation will contribute to the success of your final pottery piece.
Always aim to have strong, stable arms with elbows tucked in to the side of your hips or thighs. Brace yourself and keep your hands around the clay. It takes practice, lots of it, to be able to control the clay with even pressure without pushing or fighting it. Cone up and down several times to align the clay particles in your hands. My tip is to ensure that your hands move slower than the spinning of the wheel.
Use your body weight and make sure your left arm and elbow are strong and stable on your hip or thigh. Lean in and downwards to create a hockey puck, applying gentle and even pressure. Make sure the wheel speed is consistent and not too slow. Both hands should work as a team. Tip is to pretend that you are "smelling the clay" as a reminder to lean in.
If you press and have a really flat puck, the base of your item will be very wide. In the case of a bowl, you will have less clay to maneuver to create the height, almost creating a platter style bowl. Similarly, if your puck is very narrow, you will have a lot of clay to pull up and create the height, but the base needs to be strong enough to support this weight. Tip here is to have a plan and think beforehand what you would like to make before trying it out at the pottery wheel.
Centering is hard. With practice though, you will get it. Keep on potting!
Have you signed up for a pottery throwing workshop and frantically studying the basic steps of pottery throwing. Read this post and get prepared, but don't get too stressed. Failing and trying is part of the fun!