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Basic Vessel Shapes and Transitions


Pottery vessels are generally built using three basic container forms. Although there are sculptural-style vessels that do not follow this pattern, nearly all pottery vessels do use the basic forms, either alone or in combination. When the basic forms are used together, the pot also has transitions from one shape to the next. Understanding these basic forms and transitional styles helps the potter create aesthetically pleasing pottery.

The Cylinder

Silhouette of the basic cylinder form in pottery.
Drawing © 2008 Beth E Peterson
The cylinder is one of the most basic of vessel forms. Many forms are derived from it, including beaker shapes, cups, mugs, and goblets. It is often used in conjunction with other basic shapes to create an overall form. Common examples of this are pottery necks and feet.

The Disc

Silhouette of the basic dish form in pottery.
Drawing © 2008 Beth E Peterson
The disc is the flat, round shape that develops into shallow, concave vessel forms. From it are derived plates, platters, low bowl forms, and high-footed yet flat-dished forms such as the ancient Greek kylix (or drinking cup).

The Sphere

Silhouette of the basic spherical form in pottery.
Drawing © 2008 Beth E Peterson
The sphere is perhaps the basic form that is found most often in pottery, generally in merged with other basic forms. Deep bowls, storage jars, water jugs, and other round-bodied pottery forms derive from the sphere. Used in conjunction with the other basic shapes, a potter can create elegant vases, pitchers, teapots, bowls, and more.

Delineated Transitions

Silhouette of a pottery form in which the shape-boundaries are delineated.
Drawing © 2008 Beth E Peterson

Once you recognize the basic shapes that are used in a pot's form, you can then begin to define how they are merged together to create compound shapes. In compound shapes, there is a boundary found between shape ares.

Delineated boundaries are those which are distinctly defined. In the example silhouette, we can clearly see the change of angle between the rim and neck, the neck and body, and the body and foot. They are treated as separate areas, and the transition from one shape to the next is strongly delineated. The pots themselves will also impart a feeling of strength and resolution.

Continious Transitions

Silhouette of a pottery form showing continuity in the shape-boundaries.
Drawing © 2008 Beth E Peterson
The boundaries between shapes can be much more gradual and subtle than is found in delineated transitions. The compound shape as a whole has a continuity of form and silhouette line. Vessels which have continuous transitions between shape areas tend to have a more graceful feeling to them and may read as airy, light, and free-flowing.

Overlapping Transitions

Silhouette of a pottery form which has overlapping shape-boundaries.
Drawing © 2008 Beth E Peterson

Basic shape areas can also overlap one another, although this is hard to truly achieve. The one vessel form that demonstrates this the best is the spherical shape merged with a cylindrical shape which has been modified to be slightly concave. The illustration shows one such shape.

The concave cylinder is below the sphere. What makes this an overlapping transition is that the upper arc of the concavity of the cylinder also becomes the convex arc of the lower spherical area. The two shape areas truly do overlap one another.

Because of the difficulty of creating a vessel form that truly has overlapping transitions, many attempts to create the overlapping compound form result in a pot that feels unbalanced or unfinished.

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