Tips for getting started in ceramics

Ceramics & Pottery

Learn to make pottery – 9 tips for beginners

Do you want to learn pottery and don’t know exactly where to start? Especially in the beginning, it’s certainly a good idea to take a pottery class or get some inexpensive pottery clay and get hands-on right away.

Here are 9 tips to help you get started learning pottery and save you time and money.

1. Why Pottery?

Unlike many other hobbies, pottery never loses its appeal. Working with clay is a timeless craft that documents your progress and ideas in the objects you make.

The clay always gives back to you what you put into it. This also means that pottery is suitable for a wide variety of skill levels and is so diverse that it never gets boring. There are so many masses, glazes, shaping, and firing techniques in ceramics that you will discover new challenges even after years of practice.

Apart from that, pottery can also be used in a very meditative way. Seeing how plastic objects can be formed from nothing with the various tools of the trade has something creative about it that serves as a good balance to everyday life.

2. What raw materials do you need?

The variety of ceramic materials and glazes is so extensive that you can lose track of them, especially when you’re just starting out. Many factors affect the look and finish of the clay.

Especially in the beginning, it makes sense to ask a local potter if you are allowed to fire your ceramics in his kiln (for a fee, if necessary). It is important to know at which temperatures the clay and glazes are fired and in which atmosphere the process takes place. If you fire your ceramics in someone else’s kiln, you should be guided by the masses and techniques used locally.

3. Tools to learn pottery

Each clay must be fired at its specific temperature in order to harden. Only when you have fired the shaped clay sculpture is the pottery actually finished. Therefore, you will absolutely need access to a kiln, whether it’s at the local pottery studio around the corner or in the form of a beginner kiln purchased used for very little money.

Even though you don’t need more than your hands to work with clay, pottery involves the use of tools that allow you to form more consistent and intricate ceramics. Probably your most important helper in creating even clay textures is the potter’s wheel. If you want to learn to make pottery on a potter’s wheel, an electric wheel in the lower price range, even used, is the best choice. Make sure that a knurling wheel is not a potter’s wheel. Such knurling wheels can be turned, but are only suitable for the build-up technique or the bead technique by hand, in order to be able to reach the clay object from all sides.

Machining tools of the clay: If you want to learn to make pottery on a potter’s wheel, you will need a few tools with which to loosen the clay from its base or to work out details while turning.A wire to cut the finished pottery from its base is, therefore, a must, as well as some scrapers held carefully to the turning mass to smooth the surfaces of the walls or to remove clay residues at the bottom of the wheel. Such direct processing tools for the potter’s wheel are often offered as an inexpensive set.

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4. What tools do I need?

The most important tool for pottery is, of course, your own hands. But beyond that, there are very useful little helpers that make your work easier. Especially in the beginning, it is recommended to buy a set of pottery tools.

Important elements are:

  • One or more sponges to moisten and smooth the clay.
  • Wooden modeling tool.
  • A knife.
  • Pottery needle.
  • Wire to cut the clay.
  • Box in which to store your tools.

What else you should provide:

  • Towels and an apron.
  • Water to wet the clay.
  • Two to three large buckets for cleaning water.
  • Kitchen roller.

pottery for beginners

5. Pottery at home: is it possible?

If you want to make pottery at home, you should have a neatly separated area in your apartment so that you don’t spread the clay everywhere. A separate room that you can fully dedicate to your hobby is best. If by chance there is no empty room in your apartment that you can use as a studio, you should pay attention to the following spatial characteristics:

  • A sturdy table is needed.
  • Easy access to water to wet the clay.
  • Easy-to-clean, impervious surfaces and floors
  • A sturdy shelf where you can dry your still-wet clay objects.
  • A separate shelf for clay bodies, glazes, and tools, inaccessible to pets and small children.

With the right space, you’ve taken the most important step toward making pottery at home.

6. How do I choose clay to work on at home?

There are three types of clay for home use:

  • Furnace-fired.
  • Polymeric.
  • Air-dried.

Each has its own pros and cons.

Fired has several advantages and disadvantages that you need to consider:

  • Usually withstands higher temperatures.
  • Better for ceramics used in consumption.
  • Generally more durable.
  • The biggest disadvantage is that it is harder to work with.

Air-dried clay also has its advantages and disadvantages, namely:

  • You don’t need a kiln or heat source.
  • You can usually create most products from it.
  • The disadvantage is that it is usually not as strong as kiln-fired clay.
  • It takes forever to dry.

This option tends to be less like the actual process of making clay products, but it is sometimes used when you just want to make something in the easiest way possible.

Finally, there is polymer clay, which has advantages and disadvantages similar to the second option:

  • This is a great clay for beginners.
  • Allows you to work with the mold.
  • Generally sturdy, but not as much as fired.
  • Not the most pliable compared to the other two.
  • Usually used for molding and nothing more.

The ideal situation would be if you had a firing oven and clay specialized for it, but if you are limited in funds and don’t want to invest a lot of money in expensive equipment yet, these are your options.

7. Firing ceramics at home

Oven firing is an option if you work with fired clay. But if you’re willing to spend a little more money, you can buy an inexpensive oven.

Advantages of oven firing:

  • It’s cheap since you already have one.
  • It usually allows you to create decent ceramics.
  • The resulting products are quite durable.

But if you want to make the process more serious, you need an oven, because your home oven won’t produce the desired temperature.

It has many advantages over the oven:

  • Your products can be more versatile.
  • You’ll be able to create the right atmosphere to work in.
  • You will be able to work with a greater variety of glazes and clays.
  • The process is easier to manage because it is slower.
  • Allows you to use a high-temperature (biscuit) firing, which makes the ceramics stronger.

The oven is a good place to start if you’re going to learn how to do it at home. But we advise you, once you’ve learned a little bit, consider buying an oven or firing it in a studio nearby.

oven for pottery

8. Painting clay products

You can paint the clay with acrylic or latex paint, as long as it is air-dried. It is important that you follow certain rules here too.

A few tips for painting:

  • Make sure that if you are firing the clay, the paint is intended for use in an oven.
  • Some paints do not require firing, which can sometimes be a convenient option.
  • Choose a paint that meets the desired temperature, since air-dried clay cannot be fired.
  • Apply the paint with brushes, sponges, or other methods.
  • Allow the paint to dry according to the instructions on the paint.
  • If you are going to kiln-fire food and liquid dishes, use the paint and sealer first, and then start the firing after drying.
  • If you are using a kiln, also use a glaze to completely secure the paint.

The painting will add uniqueness to your pieces, and while it may not be necessary at first, you can really benefit from it if you have interesting ideas for painting. Some people also prefer to paint the pieces already after baking them in the oven, it’s up to you to decide for yourself how you prefer.

9. Precautions when working with clay

Remember to take some precautions:

  • Study the instructions for the materials and equipment.
  • Remember that the oven you are using is hot, and you need to be careful with it.
  • Be careful when molding clay, so you don’t hurt yourself.
  • Research what chemicals are in everything you work with.

Many people take great pleasure in making pottery at home, and in this article, we have tried to tell you how to do it.

If you want to get into pottery and are worried about whether what you do will make a proper impression on someone, just don’t think about it.

Perfect your technique and always create to the best of your ability, and you will have unique clay products that will create comfort and coziness in your home, add color and festivity to your everyday home environment, and emphasize your individuality.

Ceramics for Beginners: Wheel Throwing – Video

Additional Questions

What is the best way for a beginner to start working with ceramics?

As someone who loves and appreciates the beauty of ceramics, I must say that the essential first step is experimentation. Dabble around with different techniques and materials to discover what you enjoy the most and to cultivate your unique artistic flair. You don’t really need a throwing wheel to get started, handbuilding techniques are effective and can be practiced right in the comfort of your home. Remember, in art, there are no mistakes, only creations.

What pottery technique is suitable for a beginner to start with?

Slip casting is an ideal pottery technique for beginners as it doesn’t necessitate the use of a potter’s wheel. In essence, slip is a mixture of clay and water, creating either a paste or a liquid form. This concoction can then be effortlessly poured into a plaster mold and left to dry. Your creation should easily come out of the mold once dried. It’s an enjoyable process and a great way to gain familiarity with the elements involved in pottery.

Is it possible to learn pottery by oneself?

Absolutely yes, it is considerably possible to learn pottery independently. However, it does require practice and a good understanding of the tools and materials involved. I remember crafting my first small pot on my own with very little guidance and it turned out quite beautifully. Handbuilding is an advantageous technique that beginners can start with. Wheel throwing, albeit demanding more practice, provides a more rewarding experience once mastered.

Is ceramics a costly hobby?

The upfront costs of ceramics as a hobby can be quite steep, particularly if you’re considering purchasing a kiln and pottery wheel. However, following these initial investments, restocking won’t break the bank as much. From my personal experience, the cost eventually smoothens out and you find yourself spending less than expected on restocking. So yes, starting ceramics can be a bit pricey but trust me, it’s worth every penny for the joy it brings!

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