Sunday, November 1, 2009

How to make your own ceramic pottery bird feeder out of clay!

Almost every Thursday evening for the past ten years I've been going to the "It's Just Mud" Pottery Studio where I throw pots and bowls and hand-build cool things out of clay. Since I love birds, you can imagine a lot of my designs center around them. About a month ago, I designed this little bird feeder with chickadees in mind. Since it's so cute and easy to make, I thought I would photograph the process so you can make one too. ANYONE can do it--you don't need to be an artist or a potter. All you need to do is find a local pottery studio with a teacher who can supply you with the clay, the glazes...and a kiln! (If you're near Cincinnati, call Pam Ives at the "It's Just Mud" Pottery Studio for studio hours and class information, 513-887-2657. Pam is a master potter and wonderful teacher. You will have fun at her studio!)

Bird feeders can be functional works of art.
My cute little feeder is easy to make...give it try!

How to Make a Ceramic
Pottery Bird Feeder out of Clay

Step 1: Grab the clay!
Start with a nice-sized lump of clay. High fire or low fire, it doesn't matter. Your teacher can help you pick out the best clay.
Step 2: Create the shapes.
If you can roll out a meatball, you can make a bird feeder out of clay! The shapes are easy to form...a little ball for the head, a big ball for the body, and a roll for the tail.

Step 3: Score the clay.
When you attach one piece of clay to another, you must "score" the surface first. To score the surface, you just rough it up using a clay needle or pencil. Both surfaces need to be scored.

Step 4: Attach the tail.
After scoring, you dab water onto the score marks and then stick the two pieces together. Once they are stuck together, form the tail. You do that by using your finger to drag the clay from the end of the tail toward the ball. Use both hands at this time. One to support the tail from falling off and the other to drag the clay. The more clay you move from the tail to the ball, the more stable the tail becomes. In the photo above, Pam (my teacher) is our lovely model. You can see how she is dragging her finger from the tip of the tail toward the body. This is the hardest part. You have to move a good deal of clay!

Step 5: Score and attach the head.
If you notice, both the tail and the head are attached fairly high on the ball. This makes for a cuter bird, but it also makes it easier to attach the clay.

Step 6: Add a collar and smooth in the head.
Roll out a small noodle and wrap it around the top of the bird's head. It helps form the bird's neck. You use the same technique to attach the head as you did the tail...simply drag the clay from the head to the body with your finger.

Step 7: Add the bill.
Isn't this this cutest little bill? It's so easy to make. Form a small cone, score it, dab it with water...and squish it on! Voila a cute, cute bill.

Step 8: Check your form.
Here is what the bird feeder looks like head on. He's a nice fat bird, and that's what we want. That will leave plenty of room for seeds.

Step 9: Cut out a wing pattern.
You can use this photo as your pattern, or you can create your own. Once you cut it out, stick it on the clay.

Step 10: Trace the wing pattern.
Use the needle tool to trace the pattern on both sides of the bird.

Step 11: Hollow it out!
This is the fun part. Get the clay loop out and scoop, scoop, scoop! You will be surprised how much clay you have to remove. When you get about halfway through, move to the other side and scoop until you can see all the way through! You also should be scooping some of the clay from the top. Clay is very heavy and we want to get rid of some of that upper weight.

Step 12: Refine.
Once you're hollowed out, go back and scoop some more. Be careful you don't scoop through the bottom, though. This is a tricky stage. You want to be careful, but not too careful. This is a tiny feeder meant to attract chickadees, but you want to be able to get more than just a small handful of seed in there!

Step 13. Smooth out.
Take a wet sponge and smooth out all the hard lines. Scooping with the metal loop leaves a mess. You want to smooth everything out. You can also shape a little, making sure both sides look pretty close (but that really doesn't matter...).

Step 14: Stand back and admire!
Does your bird look like a bird? Is he nice and smooth and even? If you notice any imperfections you can fix them now.

Step 15: Stuff that bird!
Sounds like Thanksgiving doesn't it? But we're not stuffing this guy with breadcrumbs. Get out plastic (dry cleaning bags are great) and stuff the bird. Clay is pretty heavy and we've hollowed out the middle, disturbing the structural integrity of the form. The plastic will keep the head and tail from weighing down and closing up the hole before it dries.

Step 16: Wait...
It can take up to two weeks for the clay to completely dry, then your teacher will fire your piece. When it comes out, you can glaze it. Your teacher will then fire it again, and it will come out ready for use! Making ceramic pottery bird feeders is a very s-l-o-w process!

Yes...the chickadees love this feeder.
It's nice and small and just their size, but I can't
guarantee they will be the only creatures using it!!!

I hope you find a studio, get out and make this cute feeder. You will have so much fun. Just print out this post, take it with you, show your teacher, and go to town! It makes a great gift too. I've created lots of bird feeder designs over the years. I'll continue to post more "How to make ceramic pottery bird feeders..." over time. I have some really, really cool things for you to make!!! Have fun and get dirty (make sure you wear your old cloths to the studio!).


Ken. said...

Hi Kelly.
Something else you are good at I see. It makes it all worth while when you actually see the wildlife using it. Nice one.

Gaina said...

Hello :-). I just started reading your blog a few days ago (a recommendation from Google Reader).

What a lovely object! :) I wasn't too keen on the 'wait two weeks' bit though - for an artist I'm terrible impatient when it comes to the boring bits :P.

I am rediscovering Polymer Clay at the moment and I'd forgotten how much fun it is (the fact that you just bung it in a conventional oven for 20 minutes to bake it is also very attractive to me!).

My friend is a Ceramicist and she'll love this so I'll send her a link to your blog :).

winterwren said...

I loved this post Kelly! (-: I used to do Pottery a long long time ago. This looks like a fun and very useful thing to make. I'll have to look into whether there are any potters nearby. Maybe........ Thanks, and I look forward to more..

Chris said...

Excellent Kelly and it seems to work.. I'm not gonna try it, There are no squirrels here :-)

Baby Birder said...

Kelly, That was one of the most fun posts ever! I'm sitting here trying to think if I know of anyone offhand with a kiln... my high school has one, and a local art-class place probably does. Those would make fabulous Christmas presents! Thanks so much for sharing!

Bill S. said...

You are talented. Should have made it larger with an eagle bill to keep the squirrels away. Good illistrations.

Carol Mattingly said...

Hey Kelly, I liked this post a lot. I may even try this and I am about as far from a potterer as one can get. Thanks for sharing this. Carol

Roy said...

Interesting! I may try that with Fimo™, since I don't have access to a kiln.

I have to admit, though, that my all-time favorite feeder is quite different; my friend Mark has one that fits in his window and you can sit in his living room and watch birds feed as if they were in the room with you! Is that cool or what?

Wanda..... said...

Lovely bird feeder you created Kelly...I may just try to make son-in-law has a kiln...I have watched him make many beautiful pieces, and even helped once with cutting stars out of candle lanterns he made.

Thanks for the post, I can use the hints when using polymer clay with my grandchildren also!

Laure Ferlita said...

That looks like a lot of fun - and you can give them as presents - pretty neat trick!!

FAB said...

Hi Kelly. Another talent that you alluded to recently. As you say 'a slow process' BUT definitely worth all the effort. Perhaps we could fill it with all the berries I found recently? FAB

Wai Yien said...

lovely lacquer finishing, love the color.

Gaina said...

Roy: I'm using fimo and was wondering how that bird feeder made out of it would cope with being in the garden in all weathers.

Heather said...

Kelly, that is too cute! I'm glad you shared this with us. That glaze... it looks kinda familiar! ;) Hope you're feeling better!

aspiritofsimplicity said...

We have a little clay studio right down the street from us. I think I'm going to try making one of these.

Kelly said...

Ken...thank you. I look out the kitchen window and seeing it on the deck while the birds drop in for a seed!

Gaina...I totally understand the waiting bit. Once you finish something, you want to see it then...not later, but it's worth the wait! I'd like to hear how it works with polymer clay. I've never used polymer clay. How heavy is the polymer? That is one good thing about the ceramics. It's very heavy, so it won't blow around in the wind. I'm glad you found the blog. Do you do yoga? Looks like your icon photo is sitting in half lotus. I'm a yoga teacher. I'll have to drop by your blog. I hope you can make one out of polymer....send a photo. I'd love to see it!!

Jenny...Thank you! I hope you find access to a kiln. It's a great art form...very satisfying and fun!

Chris...haha! If you build it they will come?

Kristen....I hope you find a kiln. Look under potter studios. There are probably more in your town than you think. If you make one, send me a photo. I'd love to see it!

Bill...haha! You made me laugh out loud. Actually that's a great idea. thanks!

Carol....I hope you do try it!!! Send me a photo if you do. You really don't have to be a potter. Once you start working with clay, you get hooked! and Gaina have to compare notes. She's working with polymer too. I would love to see it done in Fimo. You could always put a hole in the top and hang it from a tree. I have another that I've done that with. Send me a photo...or post it! Your friend's feeder sounds fantastic. I would love to see that...

Wanda....that's great! I hope you can make one using your son-in-law's kiln. He probably has all the glazes you would need as well. Keep us posted on your progress. family and friends have gotten so many presents over the years! I'll probably have to make a few more of these bird feeders for this Christmas. Thank you!

Frank.....I'm heading over to you blog to check out the berries. have access to a kiln, don't you? :-)

yen...thank you. I love the glazes. In addition to being beautiful...they are very durable, and you never know how they will turn out. Every one is always one of a kind.

Gaina....I hope you and Roy can figure it out. I mentioned to Roy that you can put a hole in the top and hang it from a tree. That would help with it getting blown over in a storm.

Kelly said... slipped in while I was answering the other comments. Yes, I bet you do recognize that glaze. It's my favorite glaze! Thank you! Have you been able to use the platter?

Hip chick....yeah!!! Send me a photo when you do. I'd love to see how other artists make it their own!! I'm so excited to see it! Once you'll never stop.

Gaina said...

Kelly I've only made small pieces so far but it is very light when fired.

I wonder if baking the parts seperately so you could envelope a weighted item in the base, then fuse it all together with raw clay then re-baking might work?

Hmm...something to think about.

Heather said...

Kelly - I haven't had a chance to use the platter yet, but I'll be bringing it out for Thanksgiving!

Betsy Banks Adams said...

Neat Kelly.... You are just so talented. I have never had the gift for things like this--but I surely do love seeing others make them. What a cute little birdie/feeder.

Hope you are feeling better. Did the boys get the flu? Hope not.


Kelly said...'ll have to let me know how it goes!

Betsy....Rick had it too. He had it first and was one day ahead of me, but he got well so much faster. He doesn't have asthma, and that was the hard part for me I think. My asthma is so well controlled I don't even know I have it. All I have to do is one puff of a low does of Flovent a day and allergy shots, but boy....did it flare up with the Swine--after the 4 days of fever, the asthma kicked in. Today was the first day I went out. I went to the Little Miami River for a lovely walk in the sunshine. It felt SO GOOD to be out in the woods again. Thank you! (Matty never got it, but he was sick about 3 weeks ago--maybe he had it then...who knows.)

Kelly said...

Gaina...that might work. I'm eager to see what you come up with. I should have everyone send me a photo and then post everyone's creations in a post about a month or so from now. To give everyone time to make one...

Tina said...

Wow, how do I get so far reading blogs..I just love your red-belly post and would love to see a red-breasted nuthatch someday!! Great photos, Kelly! I love all your different feeders.
I'm so glad you are working in clay and enjoy it.. your bird feeder is wonderful!!! You did a great job!! Clay was a major part of my life for many yrs. I taught 25 years of Pottery/Ceramics at the senior high level and enjoyed every min of it!
Clay is a great hobby as you have shown with this post!!

Busy Bee Suz said...

Kelly, this is just adorable. I love it...I would keep it in my house with candy too. But of course, that would be for me, not the birds. :)
Love the pic of the squirrel coming in for a snack.

Gabrielle said...

You multi-talented person, you! I love the bird feeder, from the shape to the beautiful glaze. And look how nicely that color goes with the squirrel's coloring - so stylish!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Oh that is such a pretty bird feeder! You are very clever with your hands... I wish I could do that! A cute squirrel!



Kelly said...! I didn't know you were an art teacher and taught ceramics. How wonderful. Do you still work with clay? With 25 years teaching experience, you must have some fabulous work! Thank you! that's a good idea! Maybe I should just run that thing through the dishwasher and bring it in as a candy dish for me! I like the way you think!

Gabrielle....thank you very much! It does complement the squirrel so nicely. Maybe that's why he's hanging out there so much now!

Rosa...thank you! Well...I wish I could cook like you do! I'm a good cook, but I love all your fancy creations.

Sue said...

Kelly, this is so neat! My gosh, you have talents OOZING out of you! You're such a creative gal and make this look so easy. THank you!

Anonymous said...

Fabulous idea.

Jayne said...

Oh, HOW fun Kelly!! Thanks for the lesson!

Unknown said...

that's really cool. Thanks for the directions and I may have to see about a place nearby when it's single digit temps and I don't want to go outside. Hope all is well.

Montanagirl said...

There's just no end to your talents! That is pretty cool.

RuthieJ said...

Oh Kelly, that's so cute! I'm impressed with sculpting talents. I hope the squirrel doesn't knock it off the railing and break it!

holdingmoments said...

What a fantastic post Kelly. I'd love to try something like that one day. What a great teacher you are too.

Warren Baker said...

Hmmm.......Looks like a lot of work to me, i'll stick to chasing Sprawks!

Elaine said...

Hmmm, with two daughters who are potters maybe I can convince one or the other to make some of these for me, or at least I can make use of their equipment. I'm not sure which would be better, but Christmas is coming up and I usually get at least some pottery from them, so.....

Deb said...

Fantastic feeder Kelly! So creative.

Mary said...

My are so talented and this is neat getting to see the whole process. I feel like I'm in a class with you. I'm not surprised that the squirrel likes it too :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Kelly, this could be another business you could start up.{:)
Its nice to make something yourself and display it as it means more.

Anonymous said...


Wonderful post. I've always wanted to get into pottery and your post has really inspired me. What a fun and easy project. Thanks so much!


Kelly said... is easy!! Give it a'll find out how easy it is. There's got to be a pottery studio up there somewhere. Thank you!!


Jayne...I'll have more in the future. If you have the time, it's a lot of fun.'ve got to try it. It will help you get through those long, cold Chicago winters! If you make one, send me a photo. I think I'll post everyone's creations.'s just fun. Thank you!

Ruthie....thanks! I thought about that too, but it's very heavy and so far, nothing has budged it. The squirrels have been pretty polite so far.

Keith...yeah! Glad you liked it and want to give it a try. If you make something, send me a photo. Thank you!!'s fun work, but I know all of your time is consumed with those darn Sparrowhawks! (I like that contraction to Sprawk!) cool! Two of your daughters are potters! They will be able to set you up, or maybe they will make you one. Let me know...send me a photo.

Deb...Thank you very much!!

Mary...Thank you! I wanted it to feel like you were in the studio with me, so that's good!

Roy...nahhh...not a business--too much work! I'm looking forward to this Thursday evening. I have another idea brewing...

Moria...Yeah! Thank you! I hope you can find a studio. You will absolutely love it. When you learn to throw and you center the clay on the wheel, it's almost like a form of yoga. This little feeder is very easy and would be a great intro to pottery. Send me a photo if you create something!

TonyC said...

What a beautiful post Kelly. Great feeder!!

Kathie Brown said...

Kelly, this was wonderful! So cute! You did a great job!

Tammie Lee said...

Your feeder is wonderful. You make it look do-able. Thanks for the demo, I will pass it on to a friend that is an avid birder. I bet she will love it to.

Cindy said...

That looks like fun. I'd love to try that. Maybe one day. Love how it came out.

Kelly said...

Thanks, Tony!!

Kathie...thank you!

Tammie Lee...thank you! It's definitely's actually easy!

Cindy....hope you find a studio and give it a try! Thanks!

Caroline said...

Oh, I didn't know you were a potter too! How clever of you to come up with that feeder - your pics and tutorial are splendid - might just try this when I next have a clay session! Thankyou!

R Sweetapple said...

Thanks! This will make a great project for the kids.

Kelly said...

Caroline....Oh....I hope you do try it!! Let me know how it goes! will love it! It's so nice to be able to use something you make also...maybe they will become birders too!

Anonymous said...

Me encantó el comedero de pájaros, gracias por compartir como hacerlo!!!!

طليعه said...


Gjeani said...

Thanks! I just started pottery and I think I can do this😀

Lou said...

Thanks for the idea! I tend to make things/designs too complicated & your approach is so wonderfully direct & so much simpler than generating tons of interconnecting pattern pieces!
You immediately know what the project will look like when finished! Brilliant!
Thanks Louise

Marloes NL said...

Hello Kelly, love this project.
I want to ask you something, how can I reach you? Using your emailadres connected to this blog keeps coming back; failed to deliver. Hope to hear from you soon.