4 Stages Of Pottery Making In Pottery Courses For Beginners

pottery making clay preparation

Ever get the burning urge to throw something…on a pottery wheel? 

If pottery classes are on your bucket list, but you’re glazed and confused about where to start, our award winning ceramicists are here to help you get the clay rolling, slabbing and coiling. Join a beginner’s pottery class, where you will learn the fundamentals of pottery making process from hand building, to throwing on a pottery wheel to painting and glazing ceramics. Enter a London studio and have the ultimate artisan experience. Let’s see what bowls, plates and cups you’ll throw on the pottery wheel. Give it a go, soon you’ll be kiln it.

1. Clay Preparation

Pottery is a journey and choosing your clay is like planning out which route you want to take. The type of clay you choose will depend on your what pottery technique you want to try out. This is a something to keep in mind in the several stages of pottery making.

Before you embark on the ceramic pottery making process think about the pottery making method you want to use to create your ceramic and this will tell you what type of clay to use.

So if you want to hand build, you’ll need a clay that is both malleable and strong. The clay should be flexible enough as you shape and mould it. Plasticity is key when using hand building techniques like coiling. But the clay needs to be strong too and not crack under pressure – just like your mother.

If you want to try wheel throwing, the clay needs to be more flexible and easily manipulated – like your younger sibling. The clay used in throwing techniques needs to enjoy a good degree of plasticity so that it can be handled without strain on the pottery wheel. This type of clay can be stretched and elongated into varied shapes. This type of clay will be need to absorb a lot of water, so it needs to be crack resistant too!

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2. Pottery Creation Techniques

  • Hand Building

If throwing on a pottery wheel is sprinting, then hand building with clay is a light jog. Beginner’s hand building classes are a fool proof and friendly introduction to pottery making. It’s a great way to build your confidence as you get to grips with making ceramics. Hand building gives you a chance to try out different ways of shaping and moulding your clay without the speed and pressure of the pottery wheel. 

Hand building can be broken down into three strands, popularly known as pinch pot, coil pot and slab pot. Pinch pot is when you knead your clay and shape bowls and other designs with your fingers. Coil pot shapes the clay into long coils that are then moulded into bowls, cups, pots and similar by stacking the coils. They can be smoothed down or left as coils, giving a rustic look to the finished product. With slabs, you can make more advanced shapes such as boxes. Slabs let you create symmetrical, more advanced finishes when used with other hand building methods. The beauty of hand building lies in your touch, as you get a feel for the clay while you create. 

  • Wheel Throwing

You know that iconic scene in Ghost where Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are throwing a vase on a pottery wheel? Surprisingly throwing isn’t nearly as romantic in real life.

The three most important parts of the pottery making process on a wheel are using the right amount of pressure with your hands, controlling the speed of the wheel with the foot pedal and making sure clay is always wet. The moment you feel friction you need to reapply water. So if there is one lesson to take away from this post it’s that lubrication is key, keep the clay wet and it’ll be putty in your hands. 

Most thrown ceramic pieces start as a cylinder, and then are shaped into pots, bowls or vases etc. The first step is to centre the clay (perfectly positioned in the center of the wheel) by forming something that resembles a Christmas pudding. Next, you need to open the clay by gently pressing two fingers into the centre to create a hole. Widen the hole by pulling outwards. Then bring the walls up by placing two fingers on either side and gently squeeze the clay the up to build height.

Another thing to remember when throwing is that your movements should be firm and smooth like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. Not sudden or awkward like your dad on the dance floor. These types of movement can unbalance the clay and throw it off centre. Pottery is meant to be relaxing, hypnotic and very therapeutic – so exhale and relax every time you release your hands from the clay, this keeps the clay smooth and neat.

So now it’s time for you to give it a throw! Learn wheel throwing techniques from an expert ceramicist and get hands on help with your ceramic creations.

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3. Pottery Firing Process

Lets get fired up! We’re over here kiln it!

We weren’t lying when we said pottery was the hottest class of the year. To transform your clay into a hard, durable and usable ceramic, the clay needs to get really hot. We’re talking hotter than that first sip of your Starbucks coffee to go. 815 degrees Celsius to be precise. Your clay is put into the kiln and the heating process begins. Once in kiln, there is no going back as the clay is altered at its molecular level and the finished product is hardened. Like you may have already guessed, firing clay isn’t something you can try at home. A domestic oven doesn’t reach the high temperatures necessary to bring the clay to a melting point. I know, you’re thinking the clay doesn’t seem like it’s melting, but the firing process actually fuses clay’s particles together changing its molecular structure. At this point it is no longer clay but becomes a ceramic. There are two firing techniques you can do this:  bisque and glaze firing.

  • Bisque Firing

So this technique transforms greenware (newly moulded clay pots and other shapes) to the hardened ceramic end product. The key to bisque firing is taking it nice and slow. The kiln needs to fire the clay gradually to extract any remaining moisture. You can’t rush this bisque firing process, if you do the clay might burst from the rapid release of residual water. So to make sure THAT doesn’t happen, the temperature of the kiln is raised incrementally until the clay is no longer fragile. Finally, the kiln is switched off and the ceramic cooled steadily to prevent cracking. The end result is what you call bisque-ware.

  • Glaze Firing

Unless you want your tea seeping out of your mug, you’ll want to glaze fire your ceramics. To make your ceramics non-porous, they need to be treated with glaze, a coating which sticks to the clay. Other than it’s water proofing purpose, glaze firing involves decoration and colours so the finished product can be strong, practical and beautiful. A glaze is applied to the bisque-ware, then put back in the kiln for the final stage. Again, nice and slowly the temperature is raised slowly then decreased until the product is left to cool, giving a finished product that is tough and practical. 

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4. Finishing And Decoration Techniques

  • Painting

Decorating your ceramic is the exciting finale to pottery making. Using slip, a mixture of clay, water and other ingredients such as stains or oxides, the blend creates different colours. Once the slip is made, it can be applied to the ceramic for decoration by applying different techniques as your prowess develops. If you just want to get creative and decorate some pre made ceramics pieces, pop into a ceramics studio where you can decorate for hours. 

Pottery is a timeless craft that really pushes you to explore the range of your creativity whilst making beautiful ceramic products unique to you. Clear a shelf, you’re going to need space for your new hand built mugs, wheel thrown pots and glazed vases.

Sign up for a beginners pottery class today and start your ceramics adventure. Unleash your POTential.