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Where To Start With Wheel Newbies?

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Where would you start a wheel beginner ?  cylinders or bowls?  I have a friend that want to give it a try and may or may not ever want to get one the wheel again.  He is a hand builder and asked if I would give him a week of instruction to see if he liked it.

So, 3 days, where  would you start with this guy?  I think he wants to have some finished product from this.

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Cylinders. Just about any cylinder can be a usable cup, and a good glaze-test piece. Bowls not so much. Besides, a flubbed cylinder can sometimes be turned into a bowl, but it doesn't work so well the other way around.

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Wedging,Coning, centring and opening for about 2 days , the weight of the ball of clay is important, some people say 3 lbs I'd go for 1lb to 1 1/2lb. the rest of the time the above and as Stellaria says pulling cylinders. Keep these so he/she ses progress over the next days.

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It has been to so long since I was a newbie, I have forgotten what is important to a newbie.  Keeping the first efforts is important, I had forgotten.  Use same size ball every day, I get that.

Would you ever center clay for a student so they can feel what pulling a centered ball is like?  If this was a semester of study, I know what I would be doing, but all I'm hoping for is to give him a feel for wheel work and hopefully get him hooked!

TwinRocks likes this

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My two cents as a recent newbie on the wheel. I am also a hand builder but wanted to try and see if I would like wheel as well, sort of saw it as a progression.

 

Learning to center is NO FUN... Until you do it successfully the first time. I squealed, ran around the studio, punched air and did the Snoopy dance when I managed it the first time. Oh and yes my dogs think I'm nuts but that's another story. The sense of satisfaction when you center for the first time is amazing and when you can do it successfully every time without going through ball after ball of clay its glorious.

 

Pulling the walls is also great, pulling a tall cylinder is HARD. First piece I successfully made was a little bowl, it is very cute and yes I glazed and fired it. Don't plan to ever sell it but it makes me happy just looking at it. I have found bowls are easiest to get right to start with and less persnickety about whether you use too much water or too little water. A cylinder will collapse if you don't have all the variables spot on. I can make successful bowl after successful bowl, not all identical mind you but lovely bowls just the same. I can make small vases as well but a tall cylender with straight sides I have yet to manage, I keep trying though.

 

I've only been using a wheel for about 6 months. I don't count the month I struggled trying to figure it out on my own before taking a class and concentrating on just wheel work. I still say a prayer each time I sit down at the wheel... Please let me get SOMETHING. But I am no longer running through ball after ball of clay with no results from it. I have also gotten to the point that I can easily toss anything I don't think is good enough, at first I wanted to keep each and every little victory piece as proof I had vanquished the wheel. Now I might set it aside to dry even if I don't think its great just so I can practice trimming and then toss it back in reclaim. But nothing gets fired if I don't think its worthy of wasting glaze on it.

 

Terry

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I do remember the difference between what I thought 'centered' feel like and what it really is.  My teacher had me put my hands on what she had centered and open it.  I immediately knew I was not getting the clay centered as well as I had thought.  I don't think this guy will have time for lots of frustration.  This experience needs to be positive, so he can decide whether to buy a wheel .

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I'd have him watch some instructional videos in the meantime, then. Simon Leach or Tim See or youdanxxx or something. He may come away with something he'd like to try, and will at least have a basic understanding of what he's shooting for.

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Marcia, do you mean he does not need to learn to center before he pulls a cylinder?  Please elaborate on your 2nd sentence.

 

I'm asking these questions because I started in a college program that had me struggling with centering for weeks, 3 times a week, and developing skills over many semesters.  This guy is not in that place.  I teach a lot of hand building classes but this is different and I want to give him a good experience.

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 If he wants to throw he HAS to learn to center.

 

 Honestly I don't think it's that hard but...

 

 In the community studio I am working at I have helped a few people, but in different ways.

 

 One guy would sit there and just try and center for days on end. Nothing else. I finally told him 'Just do it' time to pull, you need to finish one piece and work through all the steps. If you only try to center all you will ever have is a lump of clay. BORING=quits. If you jump in both feet first you will have a wobbly cup. What's better? I really well centered lump of soggy clay or a wobbly cup?

 

 A wobbly cup. Why? Because you have experienced throwing from start to finish and you now have points to improve upon. OR, you could have a really nice lump of clay. Now he is throwing some pretty nice large 'bowls' (more shaped cylinders but...). The point is he kept going and now loves it.

  I think that is what Marcia meant. It is better to have a bad center, keep going and learn to pull, to clean lip, etc... and get through the entire process once. THEN do it again BETTER. Then again, etc.. Spending 5 hours centering is not fun. Spending 30 minutes working through the process is. That leaves 4 1/2 hours to try again, and again, seeing improvement, building muscle memory, achieving something.

 

 

 Other people had sticking points. Too much mositure, too dry and sticking hands pulling clay out of round. Foot propped up on pedal throwing off balance, etc...

 Kept using wrong hand positions until I corrected them 20 times in 10 minutes, etc..

 

 ========

 I've been at this for 2 years and have TONS to learn but my advice teaching him is this:

 

1:Cylinders. They are easier. (with grain of salt, a really tall cylinder is harder than a really small bowl). But a cylinder can be turned into a bowl, not vice-versa. (still best to throw bowl as a bowl)

2: Show him the basics, let him work. Watch him closely and catch his mistakes early. Be patient but diligent. Don't let him develop bad technique, that turns into bad throwing, frustration and giving up. Better to be frustrated for the first 3 hours, then the first 3 days.

3: wedge up 5-10 balls of clay (not one). have him throw one, when it fails scrape it away and start over. Everyone wants to keep first throw, yet it's probably not worth it. Install early that it's OK to toss a bad piece and try again. 1 makes 2 better, 2 makes 3 better...

 

 3 days is plenty of time to learn (basics) imo, but that depends on time. 30 minutes a day, NO. 3 hours a day, YES. I guess that depends on student/instructor too. I have seen instructors ramble on for hours telling students how, then walk away when students try. Students get frustrated and I jump in and say... let me help you as you do it... and they end up with a thrown item on their first ball of clay (even if horribly rough).

  Throwing is not hard if someone sits with you one on one and catches/fixes your mistakes.

  It is IMPOSSIBLE if the teacher walks away and leaves you to your own vices.

 

 I have also found strict weights don't matter. Clay is a loose subject. For some 1 pound might be easiest. My hands are fairly large and one pound of clay is TOUGH. My fingers get all bound up on each other. 2 pounds is much easier to handle, I have room to breathe yet it's not too much weight/size, etc... 4 pounds is probably just too much for a beginner though.

 

 Be loose, but don't let bad habits develop, but don't be over bearing. Sometimes it takes mistakes to realize a bad habit needs correcting. Make it fun first and foremost, if he still doesn't like it he never will. If it's fun and he sees it is possible then he can determine how serious he wants to get.

 

 The basics of clay are easy with a little help and fun, almost anyone can teach that. To be really good depends on  willpower and nobody can force that on anyone.

clay lover and TwinRocks like this

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Of course he has to learn how to center. And trying to throw something before getting centering will explain clearly that centering is a necessary skill. But throwing a cylinder IMO is the best place to start with forming.I have taught many people to throw. Centering can be learned quickly using the "hump to cone to hump". However, students often think they have it centered close enough...but you know what happens next.

Marcia

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My two cents? How big is the guy? If he has big hands, less than 3lb will frustrate hiim. Smaller hands 1.5 to 2lb. Start with mastering/coning, and work into centering. Lots of hand on hand instruction, correct throwing positio, use his hands to pull. Hard to do in afew days, but with an adult that is physically aware, it can be done. If he lovesit he'll be hooked the second day. Do you want to create this beast?

Babs and TwinRocks like this

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Centering is my first task/goal for students (newbies). After that the first project is a cylinder. Getting the clay to go upward in a cylindrical form that is the same diameter at the top through the middle to the base of the piece specifically is what I am looking for. I want students to learn to control the clay and the from, as well as, to have intention while pulling up and throwing in general rather than saying "I meant to do that" when something collapses, flares, etc.  

 

I teach my students that there are three keys to success at the potter's wheel.

1- Keep your clay centered.

2- Have full control (of clay, wheel and your body).

3- Have patience. 

clay lover likes this

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so what did you start him out with, cylinder or bowl? what would your recommendation now be?

 

You mentioned that you thought he wanted to have some finished product from these 3 days, did he actually have something decent after 3 days? 

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We started out with cylinders, that went pretty well, the 3rd day after some thick-thin wall issues, he got the hang of it, then 4th day tried rounded bottom and opening it to a bowl.  Predictable beginner humps in bottoms, but opening went well.  He was realisitic about what he was expecting to end up with.  We talked about what he could be able to do with more time on the wheel and he is ordering a wheel tonight.

Everyone's definition of decent is different, he felt positive about what he learned and left with some written reminders of things I saw that seemed to be his personal bugaboos.

A good week for both of us.

Stellaria and Babs like this

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I am stumped!  Why would you encourage him to buy a wheel?  Surely, he needs months--not days--of practice before considering the purchase of a wheel.  If it turns out he's prolific in throwing on the wheel, where is he going to fire the pots he produces?  Are you going to do it for him?  I am always astounded at the number of people who immediately run out to buy a wheel, before considering the purchase of a kiln.  A kiln is far more important to establishing yourself as a potter.  Handbuilding, tiles, sculpture can be produced in clay, but until the objects are fired, it is still mud (dried).  Permanency means a kiln.  As a friend, you owe him the information needed to fulfill his desire to work in ceramics.  Give the lessons, but temper his enthusiasm with reality, or prepare yourself to fire his work with yours or instead of yours.

 

my two cents,  Shirley

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I have a wheel. No kiln (yet). Have no problem getting my pieces fired. I'm sure he has his reasons.

Throwing takes considerable amounts of practice - something that cannot always be done on a convenient schedule when using a shared space or someone else's wheel. Firing isn't a part of the learning-to-throw process, and a kiln need not be a part of someone's practice routine. A wheel is pretty darn essential for that, though.

clay lover and florence w like this

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I had recently taught a small group without putting much thought or preparation in it. The group had a few people who had done high school ceramics but was otherwise total novices. I demonstrated by throwing a bowl and just kind of let them go! A few needed help bringing the clay to center, pots wobbled and fell. Most ended up with a piece they where happy with and one enthusiastic individual made several. I encouraged people to stop if their piece began to get off center and to embrace the asymmetry. Beginners need positive experience, not perfect pots. Aiming for perfection from the first throw leads down a path of disappointment. Wonky pottery feels more creative anyway!

 

It should be a bit easier than starting from scratch since he knows how to work with clay. I'd encourage him to give it more of a fair shake than just a week, throwing and hand building in combination leads to some of the most interesting pieces. I love the look of altered forms but my hand building skills are weak at this point.

 

Go with your gut, you know his personality, plan an experience that compliments his working style, relax and be flexible.

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"Wonky pottery feels more creative anyway!"

 

I would not ever encourage this attitude in a classroom, especially for wheel-throwing.

It shows a need for more practice and skill development, not creativity. I think we do creative people a load of disservice in labeling lazy accidents as "creative" when in reality, they are just poorly executed pieces.

I see the same attitude in sewing, and it drives me batty. No, being too lazy to change the color of thread in your machine does NOT come across as intentional "decorative contrast stitching" - it makes you look lazy and amateur, and I end up offended that you look to me for praise and validation of your "creativity" that is actually just half-assedness.

 

/rant

clay lover, Pres and JBaymore like this

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Every word she ^ said.  I teach my students to make it cleanly , then alter it with a plan.  To call inability to throw a clean pot 'artistic' is an insult to the efforts it takes to learn to throw well.

 unevenly thrown, walls thick and thin, twisted ,bottoms drilled out, are failures to throw a piece, not creative or artistic work.

To me, "embrace the asymmetry"  means congratulate yourself for your lack of skill.  That is a disservice to my students, it demeans their ability to learn the skill and panders to their egos. Well placed critique is fundamental to teaching and learning.

As a student, I would much rather have an instructor teach me how to recover my errors in a pieces than to be told, "It's artistic, leave it like that"

Pres likes this

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I think TwinRocks has been misunderstood. He/she, I think was talking about a one off class of people that had experience ranging from mild to none and she did a demonstration and then let them have some fun on the wheels for a while as an intro to wheel throwing.

 

I don't think in that situation it would make sense to get too intense as the point sounds as if it was to just introduce what throwing is and let folks see what its like to try and make a form.  Sounds like a fun first class to me, plenty of time to start getting serious if anyone is interested in continuing.

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I can highly recommend the Speedball Clay boss..for a moderate price it is a great wheel. I bought mine while at the University and used it constantly there and for the past 2 years after graduating and I am more than pleased with it. There are more expensive wheels out there, but for the money I think the Clay Boss beats them all.

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