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What to Expect During Your First Pottery Class

Taking a pottery class is something that I’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t seem to find. Every class that I came across included the painting of ceramics, but there was no mention of the use of a potter’s wheel so the search would continue. Now I feel like I see pottery classes popping up everywhere. I took a pottery class at Stone Bear Studios in Denver a few months ago, and I recently got back my glazed and finished pieces, of course, in true Style Exploration fashion, I wanted to share my experience and what I managed to make.

Expectation vs Reality

Let’s start with a little OOTD. Pottery is messy, okay, let me just say that. I chose some clothes that I didn’t mind getting dirty. An older shirt, some jeans shirts, and closed-toe shoes aka sneakers made do. Dried clay was all over my legs by the end of the class. I feel like I made a good choice. The only issue I came across was my glasses. Maybe it’s because they are a little loose. but they did end up coming off and staying off since I was looking down for the majority of the class. I wore no dangling jewelry and my nails were already short so that was easy.

If there was ever a moment where those expectations vs reality memes came into play, it was the moment when I watched the instructor give a demonstration on what to do and then having to recreate that. Making pottery is harder than one may think. Let me back up for a second and give you a better idea of the tools needed for any pottery class. The equipment we were handed included:

  • Potter’s wheel: this is the base that includes the surface that you use to sculpt your clay and the pedal to do all the spinning.
  • Needle tool: used to check how deep the bottom of the pottery was
  • Scraping tool: used to scrape excess clay
  • A sponge: to help with cleanup
  • Bucket of water: also used for cleanup and to add to the clay if it got a little too dry
  • Clay: if you know you know………….I think we all know

All the necessary tools for success were available and within reach, what could possibly go wrong? Well, at one point I could just imagine the wheel spinning at an insane speed and the clay flying everywhere. Glad to say that did not happen. My clay, however, did detach itself from the plate but it did not fly off thankfully. So, what’s next? Let’s talk about a little process, shall we?

pottery class
Introducing my pottery

Reminder #1: KeepYour Elbows Down

The main thing that I took away from this pottery class was that you have to keep your arms anchored. You also have to apply quite a bit of pressure with your hands and wrists. With these two things in mind, phase one began. It’s important to clean off any previous clay so your clay can stick to the plate. We were given clay that came in the shape of a cube, so with a little patting, you too can turn a cube into a sphere. Now for the fun part, getting to throw that clay. If the throw is a little off, don’t fret, just scoot the clay to the center and pat it down real good to make sure it’s secure to the plate.

When I think of making pottery by hand, three things come to mind: the potter’s wheel, clay throwing, and molding. Turns out, that’s not even half of it. Once the clay is secured to the plate, the next thing to do is hydrate the clay aka add lots of water. No sticky clay hands around here. Now let’s start phase one: centering. Centering was all about exactly what it sounded like. It’s kind of like preparing your clay for what you want to make.

I’ll just like to say I had no plan of what I wanted to make. The method I learned during the lesson was the pushing method. That’s where the pressure from your wrists comes into play. I did have a small issue with my pinkies and putting too much pressure upwards causing the clay to lift off the plate. Spinning the wheel faster also helps with centering. We were instructed to take our left hand and lay it flat against the clay while the right hand formed a fist on top of the clay. The left and right should be touching. The ball of clay I was working with wasn’t that big, but I could imagine that a larger, taller ball of clay might make that a bit difficult. Most of the pressure was placed onto the clay through my right hand as instructed.

Bowls, Plates, and Vases Oh My

I think centering was pretty low-key. The widening and shaping on the other hand is where things start getting creative, but you might also find yourself at a turning point. That was the perfect opportunity for a dramatic moment. but I’m also serious. You have to use your thumb to drill down a hole in the center of the clay. and you don’t want the bottom to be too thin. The needle tool is used to test out how deep the clay is at the bottom. Both hands are used to shape the pottery in a coyote-like fashion with one hand over the other.

Before this step. I had every intention of making 4 drastically different pieces of pottery, but that’s not how things worked out. Everything I made looked vaguely similar to the last thing, so they were pretty much all bowls of some sort. There was a point when I was working on something, and I was trying to get the clay a little wider to make a plate, but the clay started thinning out so that idea was a no-go. It kind of made me a little hesitant moving forward because I didn’t want to rip the clay. Overall, I made 4 pieces of pottery and got to choose two to keep and have glazed.

I know I said no sticky clay hands before, but I have a confession to make, my hands had all the clay on them. During the process, I thought I was adding healthy amounts of water to the clay, but my hands told a different story.

I really enjoyed the pottery class and being able to make something with my hands. I wasn’t expecting the amount of pressure you had to apply with your hands. The instructor made it look so effortless. I thought it was a fun class that allowed me to explore what I can do. Keeping my elbows down was tough. I did find that the more I worked with the clay the more I started to lean into those movements to get the results I wanted.


Photo by Shane Albuquerque

2 Comments

Kristen
Reply
November 25, 2023 at 1:33 am

Hi Taylour,

Pottery teacher here! I came across your post and just wanted to say that you hit the nail on the head! I always tell my students before they even touch the clay: “Lower your expectations. You wouldn’t expect to be good at an instrument before starting your first lesson and the same goes for pottery!”. It is way harder than it looks.

It sounds like you took away all the key items that are important for any new potter. Your pieces are gorgeous – you should be really proud of those!

I hope you continue your pottery journey!

    Taylour
    Reply
    November 25, 2023 at 1:52 am

    Hi Kristen! Thank you so much for your lovely comment! I enjoyed the lesson and I do look forward to making some other pieces, hopefully a plate a vase at some point.

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