When I thought about making pottery, I thought all you need is a pottery wheel, some clay, water, and a little glaze. How hard can it be? Right?
How little I knew. Yes, making pottery is basically all that, but it is so much more.
I would not be writing this article or creating pottery in my Living room that has been converted into a pottery studio if I had not taken pottery classes.
I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned, what to expect and how taking some pottery making classes will speed up the learning process incredibly fast. I’m not saying you can’t do pottery without taking classes; I’m merely pointing out the benefits of taking classes. Here are some reasons why every new potter should take pottery making classes.
- Receive Hands-On Training
- Guide You in Centering and Pulling
- Know What To Wear
- Learn About Clay
- Wedging the Right Way
- Get To Know Other Potters
- Get a Feel for Pottery Wheels
- Learn When and How to Trim
- Test Out the Many Tools
- How Clay Should Feel When Handbuilding
- Use a Slab Roller
- Know When to Bisque Fire
- Help with Glazing
- Access to a Kiln
Note: Keep in mind not every studio is the same. Some have different rules, supplies, and equipment.
Receive Hands-On Training
Because playing with clay has a lot to do with getting a feel for it, having someone right there to guide you and help position your hands properly is an essential part of getting a feel for how the clay moves through your fingers and hands.
Watching videos is great and very helpful. But when you start out, it helps a lot to have an instructor watching you and make sure your elbows don’t mysteriously start flying up in the air, or the pottery wheel doesn’t start spinning out of control. Many times I have heard, “watch your speed.” It’s funny how you get so into playing with your clay that you don’t even realize your foot is speeding up the wheel.
Because you have never thrown clay on the wheel before it can be a bit harder to learn from videos alone, you can most certainly learn from videos; it will just take a little longer without some hands-on help.
Guide You in Centering and Pulling
Most beginners struggle with centering. It’s nice to have someone right there to help you out. They can see what you are doing wrong and give you suggestions on what to do next. The instructor will take your hand and guide you in the right direction.
When learning to pull up a cylinder, it’s nice to be able to get real close and see where the instructor’s hands are positioned. When it’s your turn the instructor is there to help you know how much pressure to apply, how fast your wheel is spinning, and how fast or slow or your fingers are pulling up the cylinder.
Knowing What To Wear
Expect to get dirty. When I started pottery, I had no idea what to wear. You will find the article What to Wear When Making Pottery very helpful. It goes through what I learned to wear and not wear at the pottery studio as I’m going through my pottery making journey. The studio I attend provides aprons and towels if needed which is wonderful for beginners.
Learn About Clay
I thought the only difference in clays was the color and quickly found out I was wrong. When I received my first bag of clay, I had no clue there are different clays for firing temperatures. The most important rule was knowing your clays cone size (firing temperature.) For example; If you had a cone 5 clay and put it on the cone 10 clay shelf your pottery will melt all over the kiln self, and you will be buying a new shelf.
You also learn about different clay bodies for wheel throwing. The instructors know which clay bodies are best suited for beginner wheel throwers because we tend to play with our clay a lot longer. The reason being, it takes longer to center your clay and pull up the walls. This is normal for anyone starting out. It’s like a baby starting to walk; you don’t just pop up, start walking and never fall down. Mistakes will be made, but that’s OK it’s only clay.
As you get to know the clay, you will start to try different clay bodies until you find the one that’s right for you. My fellow potters even gave me different clays to try.
When they offer me some of their clay to try, the first words out of my mouth are, “What cone size is it?”
My instructor said, “Some find their dream clay, and some are on a never-ending quest.” It took me a while, but I finally found my dream clay. For now.
Wedging the Right Way
Watching videos on wedging has helped me a lot. But not being able to know how the clay is supposed to feel makes a big difference. When taking a class, the instructor will feel your clay to make sure it’s not too firm or too soft to throw on the wheel. They also make sure you are not creating air bubbles instead of eliminating them.
Get To Know Other Potters
A pottery studio is a great place to connect with other potters. I found it very helpful. You exchange pottery making ideas as well as tips and tricks you have learned along the way. I found my fellow potter’s to be most helpful.
If you want to be left alone, that’s great too. But for the most part, we tend to help each other out, encourage each other, and enjoy making pottery together.
I have made wonderful lasting friendships from taking pottery classes that go beyond the classroom. When you take up any craft or hobby, it’s wonderful to share with like-minded crafters. Connecting with other beginner potters and exchanging ideas and different things we have learned is fun. Seasoned potters even jump on board and are more than happy to share and see you grow. It’s so much fun to finish a piece and show everyone. Also to see what they have created.
Get a Feel for Pottery Wheels
It’s not a good idea to invest in a pottery wheel without ever using one. Unfortunately, you can’t rent a pottery wheel to see how it feels. As far as I know, no one has pottery wheels for rent. So what do you do? That’s where the pottery studio comes in.
If you don’t know anyone that has a wheel my suggestion would be to take some classes. At least a few classes can give you a feel for the pottery wheel. Warning, throwing on the Wheel may be additive. The first time I threw on the wheel I fell in love. I couldn’t wait to throw again. That’s when I knew it was time to buy a wheel.
At my local studio, I had the blessing of walking into a very large studio, (it’s huge!) with 20 pottery wheels and every major brand represented, kick wheels included.
You, on the other hand, might only end up learning on one brand or type of wheel, which is ok. At least you have started your pottery making journey. Congratulations!
I have hand-tested seven different pottery wheels and out of those seven here are My Three Favorites you can save (bookmark) the page for later when you get serious about buying a wheel.
Learn When and How to Trim
I love watching videos on trimming and learn a lot, but I didn’t know how the clay should feel when I trim. By taking classes, the instructor has you touch the clay before showing you how to trim so you know what leather hard clay really feels like and when you can trim your piece.
Test Out the Many Tools
The Studio I go to has different tools you can try. Having access to many different decorative tools is nice. I buy the ones I like for my own home studio. Other students let me try their tools, which I have found very helpful. It has saved me a lot because I would have had to buy the tools first to find out if I liked them or not.
Studio Tip to remember: Being handed back a dirty Ultimate Edger tool is not cool. Meaning if you borrow a tool from the studio, or another student, make sure to clean it off.
This is important since most of us use different clay bodies with different cone sizes and different colored clays. It’s a respectful thing to do.
How Clay Should Feel When Handbuilding
Hand building is fun and easy. There are so many different ways to play with the clay it’s seemingly endless. The important part of taking a class, in the beginning, is very similar to throwing on the wheel. You have to get to know the feel of the clay, so your piece is not too stiff to work with or too soft to keep its shape. You also want to keep the air bubbles out of your clay and prevent cracking when drying.
Use the Slab Roller
Slab rollers are great for handbuilding and throwing. When you throw a piece on the wheel, the slab roller comes in handy for add-ons. What are add-ons you ask? Add-ons are anything from handles to cutouts that you can score and slip on your pottery. I have scored and slipped on leaves, flowers, dragons, and butterflies, just to name a few.
Many potters I know combine throwing and handbuilding to make beautiful, unique pieces of pottery. Learning how to use a slab roller before you decide to buy one is a big plus.
Know When to Bisque Fire
Knowing when to bisque is just as important. If you think your pottery is dry but you are not sure because you are new to the art of pottery it’s great to have an instructor there to feel your piece and let you know if it’s dry enough to put in the kiln. They are nice enough to give you tips on drying your pottery.
Get Help With Glazing
My biggest fear was glazing. I actually prolonged it because I was in fear of melting my glaze on the kiln shelf. The instructors were great in helping me glaze and know how much glaze was too much or too little. If your glaze is too thin, it will be streaky and not cover your pottery completely. Glaze that is applied too thick will melt and fuse to the kiln shelf. You will find the article on How to Prevent Glaze from Melting on the Kiln Shelf helpful.
On my first glazing, I actually had the instructor dip my piece in the glaze. When it came time for brushing, I watched carefully before I did it and still put the glaze on too thin.
After you get the feel of the glaze, then videos will benefit you even more.
Access to a Kiln
Unfortunately, you can’t rent a kiln for your home. If you could rent a kiln, you couldn’t just plug it in and fire it up. Kilns need special outlets for all the power they need to vitrify (fuse the particles together) your clay and glazes.
You could find someone that has a kiln to use or rent, or you could take classes.
Buying a kiln is a big investment. Therefore you want to be sure you enjoy the art of making pottery before you take the plunge.
Taking classes helps a lot with getting to know how to take care of a kiln before you buy your own. You will find out how different temperatures affect different clay bodies and glazes. Also, which size kiln will fit your pottery making needs.
The Final Wrap Up – Take a Pottery Class
Teaching yourself the basics of making pottery is a long process. Making one piece of pottery can take as long as a month to complete.
Pottery making videos and books are great places to learn techniques and tips. But a video or a book can’t put their hand on yours and show you how much pressure to apply or how the clay should feel at each stage of the process like an instructor can.
Some of the points I touched on about centering, pulling, wedging, and glazing techniques all become so much easier and quicker to learn with an instructor by your side with words of encouragement or correction if needed.
I strongly recommend that every beginner go and get signed up for a pottery class before you consider putting your hands on a piece of clay. This is what I did, and I’m giving you the information to do the same thing.
Let us know where your pottery class is located we are making a database on where to find pottery classes.
Where Can You Take Classes? There are many places to choose from depending on where you live.
- A pottery studio in your area.
- Community centers are a great place to check out.
- Some art supply stores offer pottery classes.
- Art centers may also have classes; it doesn’t hurt to inquire.
- Your local community college or university may have pottery classes.
- Many potters with studios will share or rent their space.
- Groupon is another good place to check.
In what ways can pottery making benefit you? As a potter, these are just a few benefits of making pottery.
- You never have to buy a gift. Your friends and family will always get Pottery.
- There is nothing like eating, drinking or using your handmade Pottery. I didn’t believe it until I drank from my Mug. It is truly special.
- The art of making pottery is actually very therapeutic. I found playing with clay to be a great stress reliever. Don’t take my word for it. Just try it for yourself.
Is pottery hard To learn? The wonderful part of pottery is there are many simple things you can create when starting out. As your interest and skill level grows the more complex your pieces will become. What makes handmade pottery the best are the imperfections. You can just say you did it on purpose. You don’t want your pottery to look like it came off an assembly line. Anyone can pick up a perfect mass produced mug at the dollar store. The beautiful part of making pottery is no two pieces look exactly alike. That’s why I love the art of making pottery and find each stage fascinating.
How Much do Pottery Classes Cost? Every studio has different supplies and equipment, so depending on where you go and where you live costs will vary.
Where I take classes it’s only $160 for eight weeks. With that, I get one 3-hour class a week plus 3 hours of studio time to do whatever I want. They have slab rollers, pottery wheels, decorative tools, and 4 house glazes you can use. They also fire your pottery. You have to buy the clay, your basic tools, and glazes if you want different colors. All in all, I feel this is a great price for what you get.