Getting Started in Ceramics

How to Get Started.

Most people get started in ceramics through a class in their community. However, some study ceramics in a college setting, and some are completely self-taught. There are many excellent books and videotapes to help you along, but there is no substitute for actually watching somebody do it and being shown what you are doing right and wrong.Please check our list of ceramic workshops and private teachers (to be linked) for just the right thing.

Wheel and Hand building.

There are two main areas of ceramics, hand building and wheel. Most people think initially of wheel-thrown pottery, and think they need to purchase a wheel before they can do anything. However, hand building can be very creative and rewarding in it’s own right, and can be done with simple, inexpensive tools. In fact, the main tool is an ordinary rolling pin. If you really want a wheel, our advice is to buy one new. As a tip, there are always many more people looking for used wheels than there are used wheels available, so it may take a very long time to find a used one. And with a new wheel you can be certain it will be quiet, spin evenly, and make your throwing more enjoyable. Once purchased they seem to last forever.

Kilns.

The next struggle often faced is obtaining use of a kiln to fire your work. In fact, this is one of the reason that many people enroll in community ceramic courses, for access to a kiln. But in addition, there are often local studios where you can fire by the piece or kiln load. Or you can check our ceramic kiln timesharing list to see if there is a kiln owner near you who is willing to rent you space. Purchasing your own kiln may be more of an option than you think. 7 cubic foot electric kilns, about the minimum size a potter would want, can be had for a little over a thousand dollars. Smaller ceramic kilns work well if you are doing jewelry, figurines, etc. and are even less. For a few hundred more you can automate the whole show; press one button and the whole firing cycle is managed for you.

Non-Kiln Options.

Even if you cannot find a kiln, there are still ways to be involved in ceramics. New clay bodies called polymer clays only require baking at oven temperatures, and now there are some that only require air drying. See polymer clay books (to be linked).

Rewards of your own studio.

Although many find it perfectly acceptable to do ceramics at schools or community studios, most find it limiting in several aspects. The basic problem is that you don't have control over your work.

First, you have to fire at the temperatures they want, when they want, with the glazes they want.

Second, they don't care about your work as much as you do. So as kilns are loaded things get dropped, glazes get smeared, etc. There is nothing worse than having the excitement of a kiln unloading dampened by a piece that is ruined for one of these reasons.

Third, many people are using the equipment and materials. Glazes often get mixed, wax brushes get mixed with glaze brushes, pieces even get stolen! Equipment can have a lot of miles on it, and not be the best. I'm sure they do the best they can, but it is difficult to get consistently high quality work from a group setting.

Fourth, for many forms, especially handbuilding, texturing, complicated forms like tea pots, and even trimming, you need to catch the clay at just the right dryness. It's a lot easier to do in your home where you can check it, cover it tighter, dampen it, work on it, or whatever is required. I'm sure they do the best they can, but it is difficult to get consistently high quality work from a group setting.

Finally, there's nothing better than being able to throw pots at 2am in your pajamas (or in the nude as some do!)

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