Do you remember how much shopping you did for your first day at school? Your secondary school specifically. You would recall purchasing items like books, school sandals, uniforms, pairs of stockings, and more. This illustration seeks to prove that enrollment into a school, professional or not, often subjects a student or tutee to purchase special outfit and equipment, pottery classes inclusive.

As a prospective potter, you might have the following misconstrued notions:

  • Pottery is an expensive trade that requires expensive equipment
  • A kiln and a pottery wheel are mandatory before starting pottery lessons
  • A successful potter possesses different clays
  • You need store-bought or homemade glazes, sculpting tools, ribs, bats, wires, and trimming tools
  • And most importantly, the key to pottery success is owning a ceramic studio

The above list reflects what most prospective potters think they need before starting. Upon doing a cost analysis, you would discover that the above equipment cost a fortune. So the question is, what do you actually need to start taking ceramic classes?

Surfing a ceramics website or pottery supply brochure can be overwhelming due to the numerous equipment recommended. Keep in mind that success isn’t something that can be purchased. If you think you’re unsuccessful because you need a new kiln or wheel, then you should know that it isn’t the tools that make you an artist.

This article seeks to highlight what you need to get started in pottery. Let’s get started.

"Being creative is not a hobby, it's a way of life."

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Mugs are made of ceramics. Photo Credit: Unsplash.
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Pottery Studio Outfit

On your first visit to a pottery studio, you might ask what clothes would be best suited for ceramics classes. The answer is quite simple: wear something comfortable, old, and easy to wash. You probably don’t want to ruin your designer pants with glazes or clay. Attending ceramic workshops would inspire you to start making your art pieces.

Whoever told you ceramics was a neat business probably knows nothing about the profession. However, engineering and science-based ceramic applications require some level of neatness to avoid contamination. Furthermore, during the production of ceramic tiles, neatness helps to prevent extreme levels of brittleness. Ceramic artists, however, have no business with neatness as they deal with messy mixtures all the time. Consider the following clothing tips when visiting a pottery studio:

  • Comfortable pants and shirts: you don’t want to wear a super tight or extremely loose shirt that would disrupt work. An old cotton shirt with its sleeves rolled up or a t-shirt would be perfect with loose-fitting pants. Tight pants would prevent you from bending over the wheel properly.
  • Older boots: wear a shoe preferable a boot like footwear that you don’t mind staining. This would protect your feet from tools that may slip off your hand. To avoid clay residues staining your car or home, have a separate shoe you can change into upon arriving at the studio.
  • Pottery apron: besides fitting into old clothing, an apron would prove equally helpful. You’ll work with water and clay at the studio, so you may need a waterproof apron that’s wipe-able. Potters own different aprons.
  • Nails: long nails would dig into the clay during wheel throwing. Due to long nails, you might be subjected to building slabs instead of wheel throwing. If you can’t get rid of your long nails, pull up the clay by using your knuckle for the exterior and a sponge for the interior.
  • Hair: for shoulder length hair or longer, wear a headscarf or old hat to avoid hair strands from getting caught in the clay. If this happens, the kiln may burn it up; but visible hair strands would leave a pattern after firing.
  • Rings: when you consider how much you purchased it, you’d consider removing it before resuming work. Even though keeping rings off or on is up to you, you’re advised to remove them. One reason is that the stone can get lost within the clay. Another is the possibility of having clay residues on the ring after working. Additionally, consistent clay throwing with your ring on would wear out the band. Finally and most importantly, rings often leave patterns or prints on your pottery. These patterns make your work look untidy.
  • Hand: having rubber gloves on while handcrafting or throwing makes it impossible to feel the clay. For those with sensitive hands, you can keep your hands soft by doing the following - purchase spa gloves, apply enough lotion on your hands, then wear the gloves overnight. By morning, your hands would feel better.
  • Contact lenses: Using contact lenses during wheel throwing is risky as clay can get caught between the lens and your eye. This can cause irritation which in turn may damage your eye. So visually impaired pottery students are advised to come with a pair of recommended glasses.
  • Dust mask: the pottery production process is incomplete without some dust from the glaze and clay. You would need one especially in enclosed spaces where glazes are sprayed or dry clay is mixed.

Have Realistic Expectations

Imagine getting to your first fine art class with the aim of perfectly drawing “the Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci. While it’s understandable for beginners to shoot for the stars, such expectation is overambitious. Hoping to draw perfect circles and mastering one and two-point perspectives are more achievable and realistic goals for beginners.

In the context of ceramics, don’t expect to perfect wheel throwing in a couple of weeks or months. It looks pretty easy when you see a master potter throw a beautiful piece. But when you give it a shot, it ends up horrible. Don’t let your hopes get dashed; every professional potter once suffered the same fate as you. By setting realistic expectations, you’ll be inspired to do more.

"We are being shaped into form, but no pot is completely round."

- Gentleman of the Light

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Ceramics is all around you; your kitchen tiles, floor tiles, and mugs. Photo Credit: Unsplash.
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Try Various Techniques

Some beginners believe that wheel throwing is the only technique used to create beautiful ceramic pieces. This is untrue as other techniques like slip casting, pinching, and hand-building are still in use. Hand building, for instance, uses coils and clay slabs to create ceramic pieces as against using the wheel. This technique is perfect for making bowls, vases, and plates and it improves your decoration application skill. Additionally, it enhances your ability to add handles to vases and mugs.

Practice

Even hobby potters take some time out to practise their art, how much more a prospective professional like you. Beginners and intermediate learners are advised to take pottery courses to improve their skill set. These classes often give you access to extra studio time for those interested in practising and perfecting their craft. During open studio time, your instructor would be available to guide you and you’d have the opportunity to watch and learn from more advanced pottery students. For classes without extra studio time, you can still hone your skill at home by making little hand-made pieces. Also, you can improve on clay wedging, joint creation, and clay cutting.

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."

- George Bernard Shaw

pottery for beginners
Don't expect your first pottery piece to be this perfect. It takes time. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

What to Expect and Learn from Ceramics Lessons

You might have surfed the net for pottery classes near you to find out where you can learn pottery. Upon starting classes, you would discover that ceramics production goes beyond having some clay, water, glaze, and a pottery wheel. This art form requires hand precision, strategic wheel throwing, careful glazing and firing techniques. Here are things to expect:

  • Hands-on training: watching tutorial videos isn’t sufficient when learning a practical-intensive craft such as this. Thus, nothing beats getting corrected by a professional potter. S/he would be responsible for correcting your posture to ensure your elbows do not begin flying in the air during wheel throwing. Also, expect to hear the order “watch your speed!” while throwing the clay.
  • Wedging and trimming: irrespective of how detailed wedging tutorial videos are, it’s impossible to feel how hard or soft the clay is. For physical classes, however, your instructor would teach you how soft or firm the clay should be before throwing on the wheel. Like wedging, trimming requires that the clay is leather hard before trimming.
  • Learn more about clay: many a beginner feels that clays only differ in colour. But after taking the few classes, they’d discover that clays also vary based on their cone size or firing temperature). For instance, placing a cone five clay on a cone ten clay shelf would melt your pottery. The melted pottery would be smeared all over the shelf; this would compel you to purchase a new clay shelf. Besides categorizing clay based on colour and firing temperature, they can be grouped based on clay bodies also.

Pottery is not about owning the most expensive equipment. What matters is the artist’s creativity level to produce a masterpiece even with the least expensive equipment. You can check for pottery courses online if there's no physical pottery class available. There are various classes you can register for online. It's best to start with the less complex ones for beginners. Intermediate potters can learn the different wheel throwing techniques, firing temperatures, and glazing techniques available.

Focus on honing your skills and perfecting your creativity and the sky would be your starting point. Never give up on your dreams.

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Joshua