Pottery can be a exciting hobby that can end up becoming a huge part of your life. It can be a way to relieve stress, release your creativity, make money, and improve your quality of life. Learning pottery isn’t simple, but it’s also not as hard as people tend to believe.
So, how do you learn pottery? Learning pottery requires a bit of preparation, including gathering all the right materials and tools, studying the different types of clays, deciding what kind of pottery you’d like to make, and more.
There are many things to consider when it comes to starting pottery as a hobby; let’s consider some of them below.
Clay is an incredibly forgiving medium, especially when you have the right tools and gain the right understanding of how this material works. Although “pottery” often stirs up the image of a skillful artist working with a pottery wheel, this is actually not the only way to make pottery.
In addition to the pottery wheel, you can also hand build pottery using clay and some simple tools, as well as slip casting. The easiest way to learn pottery is probably hand building, and you can learn how to work with a pottery wheel and other methods as you progress.
1. Hand Building Pottery
Hand-building pottery is similar to sculpting with clay (or like playing with play-doh), and you can do this with a few simple tools, such as a slab roller or rolling pin to slab build with clay. Other than that, brushes and trimming tools are all you need to get started.
2. Slip Casting
Slip is basically watered-down liquid clay, and you can play around with the thickness depending on your skill level. With slip casting, you can take advantage of all the scrap clay that you haven’t used from other projects and throw them together to create slip.
Slip casting requires you to have a plaster mold of the desired shape. Then, you pour the slip in the mold and waiting for it to dry in the desired shape, then you can pop it in the kiln to get the final result.
The only “tools” you need for slip casting, in addition to clay, are the plaster molds, which you can make yourself or buy from the supply store. Plaster molds are reusable, of course, so you can create multiple pieces of pottery with the same plaster mold and play around with the colors and design as you wish.
3. Using A Pottery Wheel
A pottery wheel is probably the most sophisticated method to make pottery. First, because a pottery wheel can be quite expensive (from $200-2000), and second, because it takes a while to master the spinning motion of the wheel.
Pottery wheels are designed with a foot pedal or lever that allows you to spin the wheel as you wish. As the wheel spins, you can use your hand to sculpt the piece of clay in the middle of the wheel to create different shapes and forms.
This method is quite challenging to master, mainly because it can be difficult to control the clay as the wheel moves. If the clay is even a little bit off-centered, the spinning motion can destroy the piece, and you will have to start all over again.
However, this method is probably the most rewarding since it allows you to create so many different shapes and forms without the limitations of the mold or the slab. Once you get used to spinning clay at the wheel, you can start to experiment and make everything you can think of with a pottery wheel!
Types Of Clay
You don’t have to start out right away with pottery clay if you’re not sure of your skills. There are far more forgiving types of clay, such as air-dry clay, that allow you to practice your sculpting skills before moving forward with more difficult mediums.
And if you’re wondering what the best pottery clay for beginners is, we have a whole other article waiting for you!
1. Air Dry Clay
Air-dry clay is probably the simplest introduction to working with clay since it can cure without the high temperature of a kiln. We like this kind because it’s easy to work with and affordable for beginners.
Working with air-dry clay is as simple as playing around with play-doh; you can use your hands, a rolling pin, or some trimming tools, and make yourself some jewelry, trays, decorations, and more.
Air-dry clay is very similar to pottery clay in texture and composition, but it has some added fiber that allows it to dry without a kiln.
There are some limitations to air dry clay, of course, which is why it’s not favored by experienced potters. For example, air dry clay is not waterproof or food-safe, so you won’t be able to make pots, bowls, or anything that will have to touch water or food.
Air-dry clay is also not as strong as pottery clay – its shape and form can become flimsy and not structurally sound. In comparison, pottery clay becomes very hard and waterproof after going through the kiln, making it much more versatile in terms of application.
2. Pottery Clay
Pottery clay is the “advanced” level of clay. Our favorite is this one for beginners because it is affordable and made with natural ingredients.
Before you get started with using pottery clay, make sure you have a kiln or have found a kiln space to fire your pottery since this type of clay will need to go through a kiln to cure, which is when it becomes food-safe and waterproof ceramic.
There are several types of pottery clay, including earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. When you first learn pottery, earthenware and stoneware are probably the right choices for clay since porcelain is much more difficult to work with compared to the other two.
The main difference between stoneware and earthenware is that the former is much stronger and less porous than the other.
Clay often has sand or grit, which are added to increase the clay’s strength. This can often feel rough on your hands when you work, especially when throwing on the wheel, so it’s best to go with a smooth clay, which will be easier to work with.
After you are done sculpting a piece and before it goes into the kiln, your pottery is called greenware. In a kiln, the pottery pieces are fired twice. The first is called the bisque fire, which solidifies the clay and turns it into ceramic, and the second is the glaze fire, which solidifies the glaze finish.
The glaze is the colors and finishes that you can add to your piece to decorate it. There are many, many types of glaze with many types of finishes (glossy, matte, etc.) and many types of applications (spray on, painted, etc.). Some glaze can be added to greenware, while others can be added after the bisque fire to the ceramic.
Alternatively, you can opt-out of using glaze altogether and leave the ceramic with a natural look, as seen in plant pots. However, if you are making kitchenware or jewelry, using a glaze finish can enhance the overall look of the piece.
You can easily find ready-made glaze from the local supply store or pottery workshop. One important thing to note when you buy glaze is that you need to match the firing temperature of your glaze to the firing temperature of the clay. That way, the result will be just how you want it.
Where To Work
Joining A Class Or Workshop
If you are a total novice to pottery, taking a class at a local pottery workshop is probably a good idea. A class can help you learn the basics about working with clay and techniques to help you with tricky tools such as the pottery wheel. And, most importantly, it will probably have a kiln to help you fire up your pottery.
A kiln is required to help your pottery become finished ceramics. The bisque fire helps to remove any moisture and organic matter from the clay, resulting in hardened ceramics that is waterproof and very strong. You’ll notice that your pottery will shrink a little bit after the bisque fire because of this process.
If you are using glaze, then a glaze fire is required to melt down the glaze coating on your pottery, creating a beautiful glossy or matte finish depending on the glaze you use.
A kiln usually reaches a temperature between 1,800-2,012°F, so you can see why it can be a little bit tricky for hobbyists, especially since something like this will require a large space and ventilation. A kiln is also quite tricky to operate, so for hobbyists, we don’t recommend investing in a kiln just yet.
When you take a class at a local college or studio, that class will probably have a kiln that you can fire your pottery in. This makes things a lot more convenient, and you don’t have to worry about firing your pottery at home.
Creating A Pottery Space At Home
If you cannot find a local workshop or are unable to join a class due to schedule constraints, you can still dedicate a space in your home to your pottery hobby.
You’ll want your workspace to be a dedicated space just for pottery, preferably with a concrete or linoleum floor, which makes it easier to clean up clay dust and residue. You will want access to water since water is required for many steps in the process.
A shelf and storage area to store your tools and dry your pottery is ideal. Your pottery will need a well-ventilated space to dry since the greenware needs to be dry to the touch before it can be fired in a kiln.
Other than that, you only need a sturdy and smooth surface to work on. Ideally, you’ll want something that clay cannot stick to and is easy to clean up. If you don’t have anything like this, you can use a piece of cotton canvas to cover your table and work with clay on top of this canvas, which the clay cannot stick to.
Once you’re ready to fire your pottery, you can find a kiln space in your local area. There are many pottery workshops or kiln spaces that allow you to fire your pottery for just a small fee.
When you find a kiln space, make sure you find out what temperature their kiln reaches. You’ll need to match the clay and glaze you buy to this kiln temperature so that you can get the best result.
Pottery Tools To Get
Although you can use your hands to form pottery, there are a number of tools that can work wonders in your craft. Here are a few things to get when you want to get started:
- Protective/clean up tools:
- An apron
- Soft cotton towels
- Some buckets to hold water as you work and water for a clean up
- Sponges for smoothing out the clay and cleaning
- Cutting tools:
- Trimming tools
- Trimming wires
- A potter’s needle
- Shaping tools:
- A rolling pin
- If you’re up for it, a sturdy pottery wheel
- Tools to help you transfer your pottery:
- A wooden bat
Of course, you can always build up your collection as you go, but these are just the basic tools that can help you advance your pottery skills and make some wonderful ceramics in the process!
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