Pottery 101 for Beginners

Olympic kilns

Simply stated, pottery is when clay is formed into an object and heated at a high enough temperature in order to remove all water from the clay (this strengthens and sets its shape). This is no news; pottery has been being made this way for thousands of years. One of the most ancient art mediums, in fact, is pottery making, of which the earliest was hand formed clay that was fired at low temperatures in pit fires or bonfires. Today, in addition to hand shaping, pottery can be made by injection molding, casting, or on a potters wheel.

There are three predominant types of pottery: earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. If you have ever attempted to sculpt your own clay masterpiece, you know far too well how delicate and difficult the craft of pottery making can be. So before you embark on honing your pottery making skills (and before you shell out hundreds of dollars on pottery supplies and pottery tools), read this:

  • Consider Your Options
  • You are going to want to first choose the type of pottery clay you wish to work with (high temp versus low temp, for example) and how you want to make it (pottery wheels versus hand sculpting). In addition, pottery supplies will determine how you conjoin separate pieces (affixing the handle to a mug, for example) so be sure you have the pottery supplies you need for your specific project.

  • Firing Your Masterpiece (Hint: Patience is Key)
  • Because ceramic is inorganic and is solidified by heating and cooling, how you heat your pottery is imperative. There are electric kilns, of course, but some die hard old school potters still abide by wood fired kilns. Keep in mind that the temperature should reach 850 degrees for at least 12 hours, and you must allow the temperature to fully drop before removing your pottery (this usually takes about 48 hours or until the pottery has completely cooled).

  • Choose Your Aesthetic
  • When decorating your piece, there many different types of pottery supplies that can be employed. There are pottery glazes (which, depending on the type can be applied prior or after kiln firing), as well as slips, which often requires a second round in the kiln. Of course, if you wish to use pottery supplies to stamp decorative designs or imprints directly into the clay, this will need to be done prior to your first firing, too.

As you can see, from raw clay to finished product takes a lot of patience and skill. But trust me, once you get into it and fine tune your skills, you’ll be hooked. If you have any tips or techniques for beginner potters, please share your thoughts below!

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