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Hello everyone,

Lately I've been keen on getting started on pottery. I guess the creative aspect of it is what attracted me to the concept in the first place, and that I can practically turn it into any piece of art I wish! I haven't begun any practical experience or even laid my hands on clay as of yet, just reading and watching beginner videos every now and then. I do have a local pottery-making studio that offers packaged sessions and they are quite pricy. I'm wondering about turning it into a hobby and I hope I end up liking it when I try it.

I am also glad to find this forum that gathers a community of pottery makers, I could learn a thing or two and discover some advice. Do you guys have any tips and insights, or stories on how you got started? Is it a difficult hobby to master? What's required of anyone getting into the pottery business?  What are the best steps to take when you want to begin and continue along the right path? And in your opinion, whats the best clay to use and technique when designing? 

Thanks! Looking forward to your helpful comments.

Edited by Halyoosha

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Hi Halyoosha and welcome to the forum.

Lots of good questions in your post, think I’ll just start at the beginning and make a suggestion. Ceramics looks deceptively easy when it is done by someone who has been doing it for years. With throwing, the clay seems to flow effortlessly thru their fingers like silk into lovely graceful forms. In reality it takes a fair bit of practice to center, pull and shape the clay. Absolutely you can make some good work early on but to understand the many nuances of ceramics it takes making a lot of pots.  Classes might be expensive but a good instructor is worth their weight in gold, well maybe clay. ;)Try out hand building and throwing to start with and see where it takes you. 

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Hi and welcome,

I am not in the pottery business, but I agree completely with what Min said.  I paid for much of my college tuition in the 70's making tea sets and tea ceremony cups.  Then, I began to work as an English teacher and had no time for pottery even though I did make a kick wheel.

Flash forward 40+years. In 2013, I took classes at a local community college and began to try to revive my throwing skills. The first day of class I thought it would be like riding a bike and my hands, arms, back, and rythym would all come just pick up where I left off in the 70's.  Even with practice, I am still not where I was 40 years ago.  It takes  many long days and hours of practice and analyzing  the work you do.  The first day we threw ten five inch cylinders and cut them in half to evaluate how well they were done.  They were to be the same size and weight.   The other experienced potters in my class are still working at improving, evaluating,  and adjusting their techniques.

In addition I  have had 3 different teachers and each one has taught me different things in different ways. 

This summer I decided to focus on hand building. This teacher's approach and methods are rigorous. She focuses on improving and perfecting technique.  Her requirements build good studio habits.   She has a totally different approach and perspective than the other two.  I am learning so much about hand building and  throwing that neither one of the previous teachers had even mentioned.  

I hear here talk to the students throwing and she is so precise in her comments that I am even tempted to try to do some wheel throwing so she can help me with that.  My first class the teacher said "Center your clay and pull up your walls."  No demo, just words.   

Min's advice is spot on.  I thought I had a pretty thorough understanding of hand building; however, this summer has taught me there's still plenty to learn and perfect.

Edited by Teala62
corrections

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3 hours ago, Min said:

Hi Halyoosha and welcome to the forum.

Lots of good questions in your post, think I’ll just start at the beginning and make a suggestion. Ceramics looks deceptively easy when it is done by someone who has been doing it for years. With throwing, the clay seems to flow effortlessly thru their fingers like silk into lovely graceful forms. In reality it takes a fair bit of practice to center, pull and shape the clay. Absolutely you can make some good work early on but to understand the many nuances of ceramics it takes making a lot of pots.  Classes might be expensive but a good instructor is worth their weight in gold, well maybe clay. ;)Try out hand building and throwing to start with and see where it takes you. 

Thank you Min for taking your time to reply :) I'm off to a good start then!

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In addition to this wonderful forum, there are groups on FB that may be useful to the beginner/hobbyist potter, such as Clay Buddies, and such as Amaco and Coyote glaze groups.  A word of caution-if all you do is check out YouTube or  take classes at a level that does never includes any of the foundational chemistry/science of the materials used for clay work, you will short-change yourself. This is not an inexpensive field (or hobby) to get into--on any level--and you will get more bang for your buck by doing it "right" in the first place, rather than hoping to get a lot of information quickly,  that actually takes years to learn. Any craft --or small business--requires much investment of time, money, inner drive, and willingness to learn regardless of the difficulties/frustrations/disappointments along the way. As does the making of any art. Good books also have a place in the education of the craft, as does making visits to  studios or observing some firings, for example if you are looking to do wood or raku.

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Hi and welcome:

I've found ceramic education varies widely in quality by institution and teacher. The first for-credit ceramic classes I took were a waste of my resources and actually put me off doing ceramics for about ten years. Oddly the 'community learning' non-credit beginner classes were not just more fun but the information given was better also, go figure. My own practice, research (Youtube) and daily experimentation has been my method overall and it works great for me.  If you have the money and time to do the formal education route, make sure you leave room to take your own path as well and don't get railroaded into any particular genre. 

As far as difficulty to master, to a certain extent that depends on what you want to do with it and how far you want to take it. Ceramics spans the breadth of the mundane to the high arts, and you may find your goals expand over time. 

Once I got back into the medium I quickly found that paying to have my work fired was expensive and frustrating. Like most people I wanted my own kiln. When I finally took the plunge I quickly became about 5k poorer, but with the kiln successfully installed it's been a lot like getting my first car: it opens up freedom and opportunities you hadn't even realized were missing.  There are certainly cheaper ways to do it if you're mechanically inclined (or know someone who is) and can fix old kilns and equipment. 

If you want to try your hand as a beginner, you might want to check out some materials lists and tools on Youtube.  Pottery supply stores will usually tell you to buy BC 6 or a simliar white "classroom" clay to start with. Classrooms often have their own clay made from odds and ends that comes out of their pugging machine. 

 

Edited by yappystudent

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I have been in the center of much of public education for 30 some years, and found some interesting caveats about academic classes in the arts, vs hobby classes in the arts. Many times, the academic classes are taught by good artists, or somewhat renowned artists whether potters, painters, sculptors or what ever. Many times they will have strong loyal group of students that are favored either because they are student assistants, grad students, or viewed as talented. Many times they will be able to demonstrate, lecture, and provide knowledge and structure, but all too often they have other things going on that may take them out of the best practices category. I find that often they present what they know, and if they are the only one in that medium, you have a one sided presentation. When schools are larger, and have larger departments, often you have beginners tied to younger less experienced or even itinerant professors. The professors that are older, more established and more renowned usually end up with grad level classes, and a few lower level classes that regretfully fill up quite quickly. The shame of it is, a good professor can become poor over years as his priorities shift, but he is pretty much established within the institution and the institution has a captive audience that pays up front.

If you are a teacher, not connected to an institution, things are different. You earn by your worth in the view of others. If your demonstrations are poorly thought out, your lessons full of inaccuracies, or feel awkward, then you lose students before you have even gotten started. So you have to make things work, build a reputation, and become better providing information in clear simple terms, with helpful handouts and a little humor and heart besides. You have to make it fun, in order to keep the money coming in.  At the same time as a student, if you are diligent, you may outgrow your teacher in a season or two.

In the case of a public school teacher, things are also different, especially in high school. The students in the last 3-4 years have become very savvy of what makes a good teacher. They know when they are winging it, or when they are solidly planted in their subject. Holding the attention of a group of 25 HS students requires savvy on the part of the teacher, knowing the students, knowing what they can do, and knowing what they can get away with. Sometimes it brings one to strange approaches in the classroom like pinch pots in the dark, or even doing a throwing demonstration blindfolded from beginning to end just to get the point across that the sense of touch means so much more than an of the other senses when dealing with clay. . . . .actually had an Assistant Principal walk in during in the middle of the throwing demonstration. . . quietly.  When the demo was over and I removed the blindfold . . . I figured my goose was cooked. She told me it was the greatest classroom demonstration she had ever seen and that I had them eating out of my palm. . . I was astounded. She told me I could only do it with a groups that I had determined it would work. I assured her it was a hand picked group for that demo, but that I would be doing it one more time the next day with another class.

 

In the long run, if you want structure, credit for time, solid knowledge, lessons that include more of skills. . aesthetics. . . history. . .and knowledge go institution. If you are interested in a fun time, knowledge base, and social interaction go with a stand alone teacher, or even a class taught by a good local public school teacher. There are those that supplement their incomes or their school budgets by teaching weekends or after school.

All of this is a matter of personal opinion. I have seen the good and the bad, the excellent and the wanna be.

best,

Pres

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Michael Cardew said it takes 7 years to master the wheel. I think he was correct. I felt very confident after 7 years. I feel more confident after 50 years. It takes practice, observing and persistence. I taught and still teach. I loved teaching throwing and feel I did a good job. Teaching can be trying as administrators required larger and larger classes. Pursuing pottery as a profession requires learning skills in clay as well as kilns, chemistry, firing practices, business savvy, marketing, etc. And lets not forget aesthetics of a good pot, balance, visual appeal, etc.

There are several professionals here who generously share their knowledge, but you need more than a discussion group. If you are in for the long haul, try taking short term workshops on things you want to to learn. There are many venues for this. Search for workshops in magazines such as Ceramics Monthly, Clay Times, or on Facebook sites. Vimeo, Youtube, Periscope, offer good visuals, but individual contact is hard to beat.

Marcia

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On 6/29/2018 at 9:09 PM, Pres said:

I have been in the center of much of public education for 30 some years, and found some interesting caveats about academic classes in the arts, vs hobby classes in the arts. Many times, the academic classes are taught by good artists, or somewhat renowned artists whether potters, painters, sculptors or what ever. Many times they will have strong loyal group of students that are favored either because they are student assistants, grad students, or viewed as talented. Many times they will be able to demonstrate, lecture, and provide knowledge and structure, but all too often they have other things going on that may take them out of the best practices category. I find that often they present what they know, and if they are the only one in that medium, you have a one sided presentation. When schools are larger, and have larger departments, often you have beginners tied to younger less experienced or even itinerant professors. The professors that are older, more established and more renowned usually end up with grad level classes, and a few lower level classes that regretfully fill up quite quickly. The shame of it is, a good professor can become poor over years as his priorities shift, but he is pretty much established within the institution and the institution has a captive audience that pays up front.

If you are a teacher, not connected to an institution, things are different. You earn by your worth in the view of others. If your demonstrations are poorly thought out, your lessons full of inaccuracies, or feel awkward, then you lose students before you have even gotten started. So you have to make things work, build a reputation, and become better providing information in clear simple terms, with helpful handouts and a little humor and heart besides. You have to make it fun, in order to keep the money coming in.  At the same time as a student, if you are diligent, you may outgrow your teacher in a season or two.

In the case of a public school teacher, things are also different, especially in high school. The students in the last 3-4 years have become very savvy of what makes a good teacher. They know when they are winging it, or when they are solidly planted in their subject. Holding the attention of a group of 25 HS students requires savvy on the part of the teacher, knowing the students, knowing what they can do, and knowing what they can get away with. Sometimes it brings one to strange approaches in the classroom like pinch pots in the dark, or even doing a throwing demonstration blindfolded from beginning to end just to get the point across that the sense of touch means so much more than an of the other senses when dealing with clay. . . . .actually had an Assistant Principal walk in during in the middle of the throwing demonstration. . . quietly.  When the demo was over and I removed the blindfold . . . I figured my goose was cooked. She told me it was the greatest classroom demonstration she had ever seen and that I had them eating out of my palm. . . I was astounded. She told me I could only do it with a groups that I had determined it would work. I assured her it was a hand picked group for that demo, but that I would be doing it one more time the next day with another class.

 

In the long run, if you want structure, credit for time, solid knowledge, lessons that include more of skills. . aesthetics. . . history. . .and knowledge go institution. If you are interested in a fun time, knowledge base, and social interaction go with a stand alone teacher, or even a class taught by a good local public school teacher. There are those that supplement their incomes or their school budgets by teaching weekends or after school.

All of this is a matter of personal opinion. I have seen the good and the bad, the excellent and the wanna be.

best,

Pres

Thanks so much for this insight. My journey in ceramic art is taking me toward teaching. I've heard a ton about the pros and cons of teaching at different levels and this so far has been the most clear and instructional. 

 

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I have ended up in teaching many times through my life  kindergarten to adults.   College age to adults were my favorite students, adults were a lot more appreciative of the training and instruction that they received than any other group.   My only problem with teaching is that I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind is that I wanted to working on my projects.   I guess I am too shellfish of a person to teach.     Denice

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Denice, I always believed that teachers set good examples. Not that they  should grand stand, but that they should do projects when there is dead time in class that they start as a demonstration, and continue to completion on their own time also. This lets students see you as a participant, and artist, and someone with knowledge. Seeing finished work often is not really enough as seeing the process is another lesson in ceramics.

 

best,

Pres

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