When's the last time you did throwing exercises? They are great for warming up after a period without throwing, for improving your skills to the next level, and for getting ideas when you are out of them. Here are some great exercises.
Timed throwing is especially good when you are in the habit of obsessing over every piece. Weigh out 10 equally sized balls of clay. They should be an amount you can rather easily throw (don't use more than you can easily center).
Choose a shape (cylinder, bowl, etc.) Get a timer and set it for 3 minutes. Start the timer. Center and throw the first ball of clay. Stop when 3 minutes is up, cut off the pot, and rest for a minute. Start the timer and repeat 10 times.
At least every few pots, you should take your cutoff wire, run it beneath the piece half way, then pull right up through the center of the pot, cutting it in half. Observe where your walls are thick and thin.
Even if you don't do timed throwing, it is very useful to take equal amounts of clay and try to make multiple pieces exactly the same. You will need this skill for doing sets (ie. dinnerware), but it is also useful for developing technique. Don't try to do it without a scale... If you're like most people, you'll find that you are not very good at eyeballing equal weights!
In Japan, apprentices throw thousands of copies of the same shape, and are not allowed to progress to a new shape until they have mastered that one. One of their early shapes is a production sake bottle, where it is important for the size to be right so the bottler isn't giving away too much liquor nor cheating the buyer.
Throwing on a Theme
This is good for exercising your creative juices and learning good design. Starting with the same amount of clay, make similar items but find a way to differentiate them slightly. Most professional potters work this way, exploring a shape until they have to push it to its limits.
Follow Along with a Book
For example, "Wheel Thrown Ceramics" by Don Davis has both projects and photos of thrown pieces. A great book for the intermediate potter, it focuses on thrown and altered forms, and techniques for capturing the spontaneous fluidity of clay. Follow along, first duplicating each form, then expanding in it. Again, it is best to do several of the same form before moving on to the next.
We sell a variety of throwing books. If you find yourself having difficulty duplicating a shape, you may need more demonstration than a book can give. In this case, a good set of DVDs on throwing might be more the way to go.
You may try these exercises knowing that you won't keep any of the pieces. Just cut them off the wheel, re-wedge the clay, and use it again. Some people find that knowing they won't keep the piece allows them to be more experimental and take more risks.
So next time you're stuck in a rut, or not sure what to make, do some exercises and you'll see how much better your work gets!