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Newtoclay54**

Newbie Discouraged But Persistent---Help!

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Thanks you for showing us your first few pots.  I did not chuckle, but I did smile, since I recognized my first few pots in your pictures! They are absolutely normal early pieces.   Claylover


 It takes practice, discipline, patience, time, mentors, GOOD instructors (some are awful), a support(ive) group, and chocolate--i suggest a fine dark chocolate.  LeeU


 


Newtoclay54, your pots are just great, we have all made them!!  They WILL get better with time....   


LeeU, where were you when I was learning???  Lindt 85% dark is my favourite!


Irene


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I remember my instructor telling me to never get rid of my first piece. It was good advice. I look back on that one now and giggle to myself. Any time I start to get too big for my britches, I look at that forlorn little mug and am humbled. It also encourages me to see how far I've come in what truly is such a short time.

 

Keep at it New. And keep posting pictures of your progress. Before you know it, the rest of us will be ooo-ing and aaaaah-ing over your work too! :D

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Chiming in here with a recommendation to watch Tim See youtube videos as well. He has a great sense of humor and gives pretty darn good explanations of what he's doing and why. 

 

I second that recommendation.  With each of his videos he doesn't change the words he uses or the way he explains things.  I can spend a rainy day watching Tim, then next time I'm on the wheel I can close my eyes and hear him telling me what to do.   :)

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when I first started throwing I weighed 90 pounds and have little muscle in my forearm. By the end of the first year, I felt like I had Popeye muscles on my forearms. just keep practicing. Ask others for tips. Your teacher is spread way too thin. I can empathize with her as the situation is caused by administrative demands. My last year teaching, I had three levels at once in 2 rooms with 23 students. Terrible situation. 

Watch some you-tubes. Do leave more clay in the middle of the cylinder as you pull up. Use finger tips if you can't use your knuckle. Practice with2 pounds of clay, cut it half to check the walls and wedge it up and do it again. I didn't make much on the wheel that would be called successful in my first year. 

It will develop if you keep at it. 

Marcia

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NewtoClay54,   Yes, persistence is the key!  I really sucked at handbuilding when I first started.  Throwing seemed to be easier right off (big hands and strong arms I think).    I read everything I could get my hands on, checked out vids from the library, watched as many people throw as I could...and just kept making seriously ugly pots.   I was 52 when I started and I think I might have been more inhibited than the younger students in the class.   I thought about quitting a lot the first 3 years.....but new mentors will come into your life, and quite honestly, clay is addictive!  Should be on a banned list!  So we all just keep plugging away!  You are so smart to find a place to practice!  That was  a great move! 

 

Roberta

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I had to respond to this because I want to encourage you to keep going and to be kinder to yourself.

 

I've been working with clay for three years now, mostly slab- and hand building and it is definitely not something that I was instantly good at. What you lack in skill you can sometimes make up for in surface decoration like stamping, carving, slip trailing. ;) Who wants a "factory-made" look? My friend always says she makes people pay extra when it's imperfect because then it's more unique.

 

I started seriously attempting to learn wheel throwing in October of 2014. I was so stressed out by this and so upset with myself for not succeeding instantly!! perfectly!! easily!! like all these people who have been throwing for 30 years!! What was wrong with me?

 

I told myself in October when my dad bought his wheel and set it up in my garage for us to use, that it didn't matter how much clay I used. It wasn't wasted because I would recycle it. It didn't matter how much time it took. This was important to me. And last but most important, I wanted it to be F U N.

 

Between October and Feb. 15, I used huge amounts of clay. I just could not center, which mean that in all that time and with all those tries I had one or two items that did not collapse, or break, or wobble. Nothing that was really "nice" and nothing that I could make into something functional and be proud of it. Each week I would watch several videos of different people centering different ways and I would try different things. And I repeated my pep talk to myself over and over and over because I would forget and tense up and get stressed out that I was spending all this time and wasn't MAKING anything.

 

In February one day I went out to throw and when I was done I had three things sitting there that had not collapsed, or ripped, or wobbled. They were my first wheel-thrown mugs. After a couple of weeks of throwing almost centered pieces I finally got the hang of centering and suddenly could make what was in my mind. I still can't quite believe it when I sit down and decide to make *this* shape and end up with *this* shape. It's slightly shocking to me and a struggle to remember that it was SO HARD. Now I'm making the things I've been dreaming of for three years.

 

And I know some of this is going to repeat the things the veteran potters on here have said but it's really important.

 

1. There is not only one right way to throw. My aunt in Kansas commented on a video about how differently I throw and posted a video of herself throwing so that I could see ... every single thing, from the way we held our hands to the way we lifted the clay and finished off the piece, was different. And yet we both throw successful pots. My dad comes over and thinks my knuckle pulls are weird, while I'm trying to figure out how he does his huge five pound bowls. (We're both learners). My best advice, and what is working for me, is to watch lots of different potters in person and on YouTube and take little bits and pieces that work for you to build your own style.

 

2. LET GO OF THE RESULT. The more stressed out I am, the more likely my pots are to be uneven and ugly. Tell yourself that it's a process and you're learning and improving every time you sit down whether you have finished pieces at the end or not. Your brain and muscles will learn from failed pots even if it's an intangible result at first.

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No problem! I know you're going to be fine if you just keep going. :) 

 

It's nice to see artists of every level on here and especially nice to know I'm not the only beginner who has trouble wheel throwing!

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I want to thank all of you for your kind words of encouragement.  I did persevere and I am very pleased with my results.  I did go outside my class to learn more tips and tricks on throwing and did A LOT of reading on my own.  Monday we glaze...so i have been studying up for that.  But a few photos of my work:

 

Thank you all for your help....your words kept me going when I was ready to quit.

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Look at you! :D:D They look awesome!

 

Good for you that you kept going through the rough patch. Recently a potter of 40 years told me that he was not able to center a single thing through his entire first year of pottery. He kept going and is now an amazing and productive artist. I think it is so nice that this community exists, too, for support and information. Everybody was a beginner at one point. 

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My semester is almost over.....but I find that I actually LIKE ceramics after all!  At one point I was ready to drop the class.  I am now set up to take a 3 hour class every Thursday morning for 10 weeks at the pottery that allowed me to rent their wheel.  The class has only 5 people, so I am guaranteed to get some good advice and assistance.  It will be taught by the same man that helped me so much to move through that block.  My teacher at the college was not happy I sought outside help, but I learned what I was supposed to, and I am so grateful for Gary's help.  I am also so grateful for the support I received here...it also helped move me through that block.  I will post my 'new and improved' pieces here so, if you want to remember those good ole days at the beginning of your career, just follow my progress!

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Hiya!

 

Great work. This is my 2nd year in pottery, I am self taught from videos, this forum, and just trail and error. It gets easier. Every time you throw a pot you learn something different, something new, something that makes it easier, and eventually it just clicks and becomes robotic and enjoyable for that form.

 

Pick a form you like, throw tons of them and cut them in half and try to improve them, keep what you think is the best one from that day, and don't cut it. Do this as much as you can.

 

I always start the day with the same exact form. A bowl. Every day the first pot I throw is a bowl. You should pick a pot type and make one every day, then at the end of the week just crush all the bad ones and keep the best one. Eventually you will have a line of your work to look at week to week and see improvement. This helps immensely when your starting out, because you feel like your not making progress when you look at the other beautiful pots on the internet or at your pottery. I like to fire all these pots and look at them on my desk. I just leave them on my desk and everytime I take a break from working or reading I look at the pots, hold them, feel them, look for interesting effects or things I like, then improve my next pots on those aspects.

 

Eventually you will throw all these pots away because they are just hilarious to look at compared to your new stuff, and that's when you move on to the next form. 

 

This is what I have done. It worked for me. I am sure others have their own ways of self learning, but I just thought I would give you my 2 cents. 

 

You are already showing great progress imo. Much more than what I had in a few days. Keep up the practice. 

 

Also I would recommend picking a clay and sticking with it for a while. Something you can always get from your supplier and that you think throws well. I changed clays several times when I was first starting and each clay has it's own problems. Now I am just throwing the same clay constantly and life is much better. 

 

Joseph

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Your description of the ceramics teacher at the school makes my gut clench.  I wish she would find some other way to earn a living.  I teach beginners wheel, and  feel strongly that everyone needs to find the techniques that work for them.  I show the way I do something and then show some alternatives and encourage students to try them and eventually find their way.  I also encourage everyone to take classes from as many different teachers as possible because everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and something different to offer.  I really started to grow as a potter when I moved away from the techniques that my one teacher of several years insisted were the right way and only way. I started watching utube and found other classes in different venues.

 

One route to learning that was helpful to me was to consiously tackle one aspect of throwing at a time, no matter what type of piece I was making.  For instance, I worked on "tall" for a while, then "narrow necked", then "shoulders", etc.  It was easier for me than trying to improve everything at once, although, the more you throw, the more every part of your process will improve.

 

Get your own wheel as soon as you can if you intend to continue.

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You might want to try using a sponge when you are pulling up your clay. It gives you less pressure, but you still have all of the control. You just hold the sponge in your hand against the clay, just as you you would your finger (make sure that both the sponge and the inside of the pot are both wet...too much friction and you'll have trouble), and pull up. Repeat until your pot/cylinder/bowl is as you like it. Remember to keep everything well lubricated, as that may be part of your problem...or, you may just be sitting at the bottom for too long and pushing in before you start to go up, or you're going up too slowly, which is why your bottoms are too thin.

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Something that was touched on - I was fortunate to learn on a kickwheel, not for the excercise but for the greater sense of how the speed of the wheel affects your control of the clay. Not wanting to stop and kick up the wheel again, I just slowed my raising motions to match the rotations. So many learn on electric wheels now and they just "hit the gas" as they might in a car. As mentioned before, you want to match your upward speed to your rotations. That faster speed is great for centering, but causes uneven raising when you hesitate even a little while going fast. As you become more practiced and confident, your raising and rotating speeds will grow to match. I love that s l o w i n g d o w n of the kickwheel for thoughtful refinements of a form. Even if you don't have a kickwheel, you can try working at incrementally slower speeds when raising and finishing your forms. When you find your ideal speed for each action, then the power wheel can be easily adjusted to it.

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Something that was touched on - I was fortunate to learn on a kickwheel, not for the excercise but for the greater sense of how the speed of the wheel affects your control of the clay. Not wanting to stop and kick up the wheel again, I just slowed my raising motions to match the rotations. So many learn on electric wheels now and they just "hit the gas" as they might in a car. As mentioned before, you want to match your upward speed to your rotations. That faster speed is great for centering, but causes uneven raising when you hesitate even a little while going fast. As you become more practiced and confident, your raising and rotating speeds will grow to match. I love that s l o w i n g d o w n of the kickwheel for thoughtful refinements of a form. Even if you don't have a kickwheel, you can try working at incrementally slower speeds when raising and finishing your forms. When you find your ideal speed for each action, then the power wheel can be easily adjusted to it.

. If I'm ever allowed back on the wheel I'll try to remember that. Thanks for the tip.

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Bear in mind your class mates may have prior experience: I enjoyed playing with clay as a kid, and was fortunate to attend the a middle school that was still offering ceramics (sadly, the last school in the district, during the final year of the program...cutting wood shop, home ec and ceramics seems silly when facilities where already in place!). I took an extra class after school, then went to an art magnet for high school and used as much extra studio time as I could....I had a reasonable amount of experience worked up by the time I hit college.

 

When I sit a student down at the wheel for their first time, I tell them to plan on walking away from the wheel without a finished piece. Being attached to an individual piece of work during the early stages of learning is an invitation to self doubt. It take throwing your way through a few hundred pounds of clay to really get the feel for it, so you will only learn successfully if you choose to enjoy the process. It is very easy to set too high an expectation.

 

Expecting a perfect result or comparing is not a helpful mindset. Compare your work to yourself and I am sure you will see you are already making progress.

 

As to the specific issue of thinning and tearing: my suggestion is going to sound silly, but just try to do the opposite! Instead of aiming for an even thickness and ending up too thin, aim to make the wall a wedge with the bottom being thicker than the top. It might bring you into balance, but even if it leaves you bottom heavy, it gives you the chance to pull more successfully until you can fine tune your technique. It is also fairly standard practice to leave slightly more at the bottom to support the weight and strain of the top. Once you are further in your practice, you will be able to trim the excess clay away from this area.

 

It just take practice, and it's easier if you keep your expectations extremely modest as you begin. Turning the learning process into a series of failures will just make you unhappy. Embrace the process. Get use to scrapping work, clay is forgiving: it's not used up until you've fired it. Throw til it flops, wedge it up and try again!

 

Also, music helps IMO!

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Twin Rocks: I love everything you said!

 

My things a few months ago were very bottom-heavy but at least they stayed on the wheel. I would just trim off the excess. Now I do a lot less trimming because I've gotten better at throwing the base the shape and size I want it to begin with. Better to have too much clay, than not enough. You can always trim. :) 

 

I've also found that I throw ten times better if I put on headphones with music I love .... everything I make is freer. 

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I thank you all, again, for your kind words of encouragement.  They kept me going when the going was tough.

My instructor must have thought I knew everything about glazes, or I missed those instructions, too.  I just experimented and played.  Interestingly enough, I was told by the instructor several times that "I couldn't do that", when the process worked out fine.

Thankfully, the class is over.  But I continue to take classes at the pottery center and have learner a great deal.

I have found I really enjoy ceramics, despite my awful introduction.

Here are a few of my finished pieces for the class.  I still received a 'C'.

 

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Good job.  I'm really impressed by your creativity.  You have definately made these pieces your own.  I would have given you an A!

 

And thanks for following up with us.  I hate it when people engage the forum, then just disappear.

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I'm so glad you kept with it! Those are some awesome pieces! My favorite is the slab built sgraffito piece. It has wonderful contrast and lovely detail.

 

When I was first starting out, knowing *nothing* about pottery techniques, I had the idea all on my own to paint slip made from white clay over brown clay and then carve a design, and was told I could not do that. I then suggested carving into the brown clay and "filling" the carving with white slip. I was told that would not work either. A long time later I found out that the two techniques I had described at that time were called sgraffito and mishima, techniques that have been around for centuries and that I frequently use in my work now with great success and satisfaction. They just were not techniques that my teacher used or had any interest in learning. Sometimes you grow more freely on your own when you're not worrying about a grade. (It may not affect you, but if I know I'm being graded my quality of work goes down the tubes.)

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