Peace, love and leather hard pots.

One of my favorite moments when I’m making pots is that moment in time when the clay has firmed up enough to handle without distortion. The moment when you can take a trimming tool to the bottom of the pot and you get nice long ribbons of trimmings that don’t gum up your tool.

Normally, the moment in time when the pots are perfect for stamping, carving, slipping and trimming is a moment that I experience in solitude with my pots. But I thought that I would try to share a bit of this moment with you. Below are some images of cups that I made today. They are freshly stamped and awaiting a second trip to the wheel for trimming.

You can see in the image (below) on the left that the soft clay is impressed deep enough that you can see the stamping on the inside of the cup. I hope that you can get a sense of the depth of the stamping from the image on the right from the pictures (click on them to see the image larger). The clay has to be dry enough that the stamp doesn’t stick to the clay, but soft enough to get a deep impression without cracking. More to come on this series in future posts!


I know that I am not alone in my love of leather hard clay. I see lots of freshly made pots in the posts of my fellow clay bloggers! I have put together some pictures (and links) from their sites to share with you.
Eleanor Hendricks of Fenelon Falls, Ontario, shared some great pictures on her blog last week illustrating her love of the process of making. She ended her post with this question:

Does anyone else sometimes treasure the process more than the finished products? 


Amy Sanders, of Charlotte, North Carolina, shared this image on her blog of her carved plates. What beautiful lines! As usual, with pots, it’s all about the timing!
I love how these drying beer cups from Euan Craig caught the sunlight in Mashiko, Japan. The perfect moment of leather hard met the perfect moment of sunlight streaming in his studio.
Cheryl Alena Bartram of Golden, British Columbia, shares this great image of tumblers on her blog. I can imagine the board of cups going on and on and on and on…. I have been known to base the amount of pots that I throw in a sitting based on the length of a board or the size of the table.
Douglas Fitch makes pots “in middle of nowhere, north of Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom,” far from my studio in Chicago. But when I see these images of the rough leather hard pots I think I can smell the mustiness of the clay… and that’s a great thing.
I find that there is little more satisfying in a day’s work that a table covered in finished pots.
John Zhender (from my home state of New Hampshire) posted this satisfying image of finished banks and lidded cups on his blog:
Look at these gorgeous plates that Ron Philbeck made at his studio in Shelby, North Carolina! I think I have to throw some plates tomorrow…
One of my favorite clay books is A Potter’s Workbook by Clary Illian. The images in the book are almost all photos of leather hard pots. The focus is on the forms without any distraction of decoration or firing technique. If you make functional pots, I highly recommend adding this book to your collection.

13 thoughts on “Peace, love and leather hard pots.

  1. Emily
    Great column. Thanks for sharing!
    Often, as the clay is drying from “too soft” to leather hard, i get distracted and time zips by and suddenly the clay is “too hard”!
    Happened yesterday. So it was most interesting to see your column today!

  2. Hi Emily,
    I LOVE your peace pots. Leather hard clay is a beautiful thing indeed. Thanks for the link and I have added you to my favorites.

  3. Great looking pots…I’m reopening my studio this summer and was wondering if there is a source for stamps. I need to get one made with my name, I get tired writing it. Any advice as to source would be appreciated…ciao

  4. Emily thank you…I only discovered your blog not long ago so I missed that. I haven’t done any pottery in four years due to circumstance but hope to get back at it this summer…ciao

  5. Emily,
    My favorite time to be at the studio is when everything is leather-hard and waiting to be trimmed/handled/stamped.
    Great pictures of all the pots at this stage. Thanks for sharing them!

  6. Emily,

    It’s great to hear other people enjoying the process as well. One of the times I love the best is just after I have slipped a batch. There is a fascinating thing that happens with a group of like things. A friend and fellow NSCAD ’75 student coined the phrase “gang authoritarianism” which I thought was appropriate. Your site is very interesting, thanks.

  7. Love the Peace cups, The process is where it’s at! finished never seems as much fun as the play!
    Thanks for the links, may check out the Scranton Pa gig!

  8. Hi Emily
    Thanks for the link. I’ve got to get my son to sort mine out for me(I’m not great at this computer stuff) and I’ll be getting him to put a link back.

    Great pots and blog by the way

    Best wishes from rainy England

  9. Emily – great cups; can’t wait to see them done. The perfect stage for drawing is my favorite… gets the nicest marks… For awhile I was photographing lots of leather-hard work, but wondered if (to a non-ceramicist blog reader) it all started looking the same, so I kind of stopped.

  10. I like ALL of my pots best at leatherhard. The sheen, the fleshy feel of them…for me glaze experimentation is an endless process of trying to find something that will be as appealing as that moment.

  11. really Great post. Thanks for sharing! As I am new commer to this field this will be useful to me

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