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Newbie with questions

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Hi Everyone! I've been working with clay for a few years now without much instruction aside from a couple of 8 week classes about 5 years ago (has it been that long??) and youtube videos. I'm working on a wheel mostly (some handbuilding occasionally), using mid-range clays/glazes, mostly functional work. I bought the wheel 2 years ago and I play with clay mostly on weekends. I have an old Duncan Teacher kiln that I got off Craiglist years ago, and I'm considering upgrading to a new electric kiln. 

This feels like a huge commitment. I love making pottery but I'm still new and have a LOT to learn, so I'm nervous about taking the plunge. My questions for the group are:

1. What are some ways that you recommend improving my skills (I live in a remote area and don't have access to classes)?

2. I know I should be cutting cross sections of my pieces to see how I'm doing on the thickness, but I can't stand to do it. Every piece feels so precious and I feel like I'm wasting clay. Is it possible to reuse this clay? 

3. Sometimes things go smoothly and I feel like I'm making progress. And then there are times when I have trouble just centering the clay and I have no idea why. I realize there may not be a single answer to this question, but how much practice does it take to feel like you're in control of the process? 

4. Is there anything I can do with the excess clay that builds up--the scraps that end up in a bucket and in the splash pan? If not, what's the best way to dispose of it?

5. We're on septic. Should I be concerned about clay getting into the septic system? If I rinse clay off outside, should I be concerned about clay going into the ground? Currently, I'm cleaning up most of the clay in a wash tub outside that just drains out onto the ground, and then washing my hands in a real sink that goes into the septic tank. 

Thank you all for these forums. I learn a lot and enjoy reading what everyone has to say.


Edited by Madena
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1. Practice, lots of it. 

2.clay as clay is reusable until it is fired or get contaminated by something. So if you slice up a pot now and again you can just let it dry a bit a wedge it...watch some you tubes on wedging there are multiple methods. Also slice any piece that didn't make it to see what went wrong.

3. Sometime if there is an air bubble in the clay it will be almost impossible to center so that could be one answer but sometimes you are just off kilter and it makes centering hard.

4. Dry it out, wedge it up and use it again.

5.try not to get clay down the drain, you don't want to fill up your septic tank nor clog your pipes. If you dump any clay outside it will eventually will make a clay slick and be very slippery. Also some plants do not grow well with clay bound soil. So if you are allowing  clay to drain outside don't fall in the slick and if you decide to bury it just make sure you are not planning on planting anything  or building anything where it is buried.

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Get a Gleco trap for your sink, or rinse off hands, tools, etc in a bucket before using the sink. You do not want clay in your pipes or septic tank.

Since you don't have classes available near you, try to find a weekend workshop you can attend, or someone who will do a few Skype lessons with you. It's really easy to get into bad habits when working alone. A set of experienced eyes will be able to tell you why you're having problems with centering, etc.

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OP, you'll get critique, if you wish it!

...lots of vids out there; I still go back to some that I've seen many times, for I "see" them differently, given some passage of time, gain of experience, and, perhaps, a smidge of improvement. I have my favs, some listed here 


Each thrower's technique is a bit different.

I'd like to have/get more real time experience watching others work, however, that might not happen any time soon, and as for mentorship, uuuh, travel/expense/time for that isn't top o' th' list; perhaps will find a community nearby ...some day.

I'm still (in my third year now...) working on throwing pieces to the reclaim bucket, getting better at it! ...trying not to waste time, space, and energy bisque firing, glazing, and glaze firing something that's meh. When ready to load the kiln for a bisque fire, it's helped to have way more on hand than will fit - even so, ended up with some pieces that should have been reclaimed. Toss'm! Reclaiming involves some work, which helps motivate toward less trimming - that is, throw better - and less bad pieces (kind of like hiking hills; if it hurts enough, then diet for weight loss has visceral motivation!). Now I'm trying to be very critical before moving drying pieces to the queue shelves, we'll see how that goes, next firing cycle!

Some pieces have served their purpose a) before they're done being thrown b) before being dried for trimming c) after they are trimmed d) before they are fully dried e) before bein' centered, let alone opened! Toss'm!

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medena,  congrats on recognizing that the clay does not own you, you own yourself and clay is just a small annoyance when it does not do what you want.  it takes a long time to reach that comfort level.   many beginners just let the clay twirl around under their passive hands without realizing that they must impose control on the clay by wanting to and doing it.

that first tossed mistake is a high hurdle, it will become easier.   the most important thing to remember is that you are learning a skill, not making a product.   back in high school typing class, we went through lots and lots of paper on the way to learning which way our fingers should go.   wheel work is the same, constant practice and ruthless culling of the attempts.  slicing through with a wire from the bottom up is as necessary as any other step.   do it.

i am self taught except for some wonderful, patient and helpful people whose advice i sought out.   the very best teacher was a book written in the 1970s called Pottery Workshop by Charles Counts.   it is still the best i have seen since it starts at the beginning and proceeds through simple steps toward learning the basic steps to make good pots with handles, lids and with good design.   i know it is available used for less than $10 online.   you might want to try it.   read all the way through it like a novel and then start at the very beginning to learn exactly how to proceed in a logical way to learn the skills needed for successful wheel work.

yes, it is old.   that does not make it worthless.   combine it with videotaping your own work and letting us see what you are doing, that will make it modern.

Edited by oldlady
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On 6/20/2020 at 11:12 PM, Madena said:

I love making pottery

So you're not going to stop.  Ever!

Over that amount of time, you will waste more clay by NOT cutting a few open. Unless of course you have the market to sell, or the space to store, so many "bad" pieces!

Wet clay can always be returned to Earth, I feel it is a little irresponsible for us to transform her bounties without great respect and realization of what it is we are actually doing.

A novice can make a cup. 

An intermediate can make a good cup.

An advanced practitioner can make an excellent cup.

If you have only 8 ounces of clay, and fire it, you can never get better.

If you have 8 ounces of clay, and never fire it, you can become a master. 

I was foolishly proud to have never blown anything up, until I realized, without blowing something up, I don't know what blowing something up sounds like, looks like, smells like, don't know at which temperature it happens. Without that information I always stood the chance of melting glaze all over my kiln and greatly shortening it's life. So when I blew something up, I was more pleased than upset.

There is a Will Smith video on YouTube about Failing. Highly recommended. Ah here.

It makes throwing out weak pots very educational and a bit delightful.

If I threw, I would seek a Zoom Class with Simon Leach. He says he hasn't had much interest so slots are probably open and it didn't seem too expensive. 

"We center the clay, but the clay centers us"...

But which comes first? 

Centering technique.

When Welding I would think, "my hands the CNC machine". I think this applies to pottery as well.  Especially on the wheel.

Oh and....I was in a debate with myself once wether to buy a second kiln for the shelves it came with, I was talking to a friend about it and he said..."git you a kiln".

We should all git us a kiln. Always.







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