If you enjoy creating beautiful art with your hands, why not start to make your own pottery as a fun hobby? Making clay pottery generally means using a pottery wheel to make pottery at home. When you make your own pottery, you are using clay, the wheel, and your hands to create a variety of vessels. Popular pottery products include vases, dishes, bowls, mugs, and even lamps.
Making clay pottery also involves learning how to fire a kiln. This means baking your pottery vase or bowl at high temperatures. Kiln firing turns your clay creation into a permanent piece of art that is sturdy enough to be used every day. When you make your own pottery, you also will be painting it with special glazes in order to decorate it to your liking. Your finished work will be suitable for use in your home or as gifts to friends and family.
Pottery shards have been found throughout the world, on every continent. There are debates about when the first pottery wheels were created to make creating clay vessels a faster process. It could have been anywhere around 800 BC or a thousand years earlier. Debates also abound regarding whether the first pottery was created in Egypt, Japan, or Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq and Iran). Pottery was pervasive in Roman cultures and Native American tribes as both artwork and functional cookware.
By 600 BC potters had found that using tension could make the hand powered potter’s wheels turn even faster, leading to more pottery. Pottery benefited from the industrial revolution, when pottery wheels were modernized to include a treadle similar to that of a sewing machine. Now potters could use their feet to set the power of the wheel. Wheels also benefited from electricity, so they could set the speed of the wheel without manually powering it.
Throughout the last few hundred years, pottery has been created by fine china manufacturers, such as Limoges, in France, and Lenox, in America, which feature both superior craftsmanship as well as magnificent designs. Individuals have also taken up pottery as a hobby to create their own unique dishes, bowls, vases, and other clay artwork.
Fun Facts About Pottery
- The white pottery with dark blue glaze often emulated is based upon Delftware. Delftware is pottery that was made in the Netherlands city of Delft during the 16th century. Today, the brand Delfts Blauw (Delft Blue) uses the same techniques as the Dutch craftsmen did.
- Pottery shards found in archeological digs are considered the most valuable artifacts. They can be easily tested for chemical compounds to determine age.
- The term “ceramic” has its roots in the Greek word, “keramos,” which means “pottery” or “a potter.”
- When you decorate your clay pottery with glaze and fire it, the glaze is chemically altered to become a glass coating that both strengthens and waterproofs it.
Make Your Own Pottery – Getting Started
To begin to make pottery at home, you will need the right equipment. Major items include a pottery throwing wheel, kiln, and a variety of hand tools. Use the websites listed in the resources section at the end of this article to find pottery wheels, kilns, hand tools, clay and the other items needed. You may be able to find small hand tools and clay at a craft store near you, but you are not likely to find a potter’s wheel or a kiln anywhere but on websites that specialize in pottery supplies.
When you make pottery at home you need a dedicated space. You will need to fit your potter’s wheel, kiln, and a worktable there. Make sure that your workspace has a sink, since making clay pottery can be a messy hobby. Purchase a clay trap at your local home improvement store to put in your sink’s drain. Clay can cause an expensive clog, so it is important to empty the clay traps into the trash instead.
Your pottery wheel is obviously an important part of making clay pottery, so make sure that you purchase the right one. Potter’s wheels come with different size motors. Depending on the motor size and how sturdy the wheel is, it can handle differing weights. Bigger clay vessels will require more power and a more sturdily built potter’s wheel.
You also will need a kiln to make pottery at home. As you shop for one online, take note of the measurements of the kiln. It will determine the maximum size of the pieces you can fire in it. Kilns may be powered by gas or by electric, so consider which is best for your home. Because of the high level of heat used to fire work, it is important that you check what level of power the kiln requires. Otherwise you may find that you blow a fuse every time you try to fire your pottery.
Other pottery tools will include a sponge and bucket for water. These will be used while shaping your clay pot. Look for a beginner’s package of hand tools that will include your sponge as well as a heavy-duty needle, a cutting wire, wood ribs and a rubber scraper. This kit should cost under $20, and these items are a vital part of being able to create pottery at home successfully.
It can be costly to get started with your hobby, due to the cost of the pottery wheel and kiln (between $1,500 and $4,000), however once you have set up your studio at home, it will cost very little to create each piece. You can buy a 25-pound box of clay for under $15, and glazes are available in a wide range of prices.
You can also try and save some money on your pottery setup by looking for used pottery equipment.
How To Make Pottery At Home
Once you have your home pottery studio set up, it is time to begin to make your own pottery. Affix a plaster bat to your wheel head using a clay pancake (flattened and wet clay) or a rubber bat made for your potter’s wheel.
Throw a lump of clay (about the size of a softball) onto the wheel head with enough force that it sticks to the wheel head. Sit down at the wheel, wet your hands, and lean forward so that you can put your hands on either side of the clay.
Turn on the wheel, and begin the process of centering the clay on the wheel. Do this by pressing your hands on either side of the clay, forcing it into a cylindrical shape. When you are satisfied that the clay is centered, you will begin to open it by pressing your thumbs down into the center of the clay ball. Make sure your hands are wet and be sure to go slowly.
A major part of making clay pottery is to then use your hands to draw up the sides of the vessel. Put one hand on the inside of the clay ball and one hand on the outside. Press the two together slightly while moving your hands upwards. This will thin the walls while raising them higher. Go slowly and keep your hands wet so that your clay pot’s walls remain uniform in thickness.
Often when you make your own pottery the top of your clay vessel will become uneven. Trim it by inserting a heavy-duty needle below the top. Hold the needle still as the wheel turns the pot around it. The jagged edge will be neatly cut off and you can remove the scrap.
When you are satisfied that your pot is complete, it is time to stop the wheel. Remove your bat from the wheel and set it on a shelf to allow the pot to dry until it is “leather hard.” When you make pottery at home you need to be careful to not shake or otherwise cause your ceramic pot to cave in on itself while moving it.
Put a bucket on top of your pot and let it dry for 24 hours or leave it uncovered for faster drying time. A pot is leather hard when it is hard but you can use ribbon tools to scrape away any excess weight in the bottom of the clay pot and to create a foot. At this point in making clay pottery, the clay pot has finished shrinking due to evaporation of water.
To finish your pot, once it is leather hard, you will use ribbon tools to enhance its shape and design and to add a foot to the bottom. Ceramic bowls, vases, and other vessels also should be checked for overly thick bottoms. When you make your own pottery, it is important to be aware that a thick section of pottery may contain an air bubble. When the air expands in the kiln due to the heat, it will cause the pot to explode.
After you have finished refining your pot, it is time to fire it. Follow the directions for your clay and kiln. After it has been fired, the pot is referred to as “bisque ware” or “biscuit.” Now, you can begin to decorate your pot with glaze.
At this step of making clay pottery you can choose to use an overglaze for a cohesive glass coating in a single color or underglazes to paint a design in as many or as few colors as you want. Overglazes often include elements of different colors for a variety of different effects that you will see once you fire the piece. If you choose to use underglazes, fire the piece, and then add a coat of clear overglaze to waterproof the piece and make it more durable.
Make Your Own Pottery – Tips And Tricks
The following tips and pottery project ideas can help you get the most out of your hobby of making clay pottery…
- Working with clay is a lot of fun, but it can dry out the skin on your hands. While some potters try to use gloves to avoid this effect, doing so can make working with the clay more difficult. Instead, invest in Shea butter or another intensive moisturizing cream and use it after every pottery session.
- Before buying a pottery wheel and kiln to make pottery at home check to see if you are lucky enough to live near a ceramics studio that offers studio time. This can be a more affordable way to get started in making pottery.
- Invest in an underglaze decorating pencil or two to label the backs of your sample tiles with the names of the glazes on them. This way you do not have to constantly recreate the same test ceramic tiles.
- Keep a bowl of water next to your pottery wheel while you work. Dip your hands into it frequently so you are able to continue to easily work with the clay. If the clay is getting too wet stop working for a few minutes so it can dry.
Growing Your Pottery Hobby
To continue to make your own pottery but with new challenges and projects, you can go in a few directions. You can work to refine your skills on the wheel by making clay pottery that is taller and has thinner walls, or you can think broadly about how you can use your new skills.
Here are a couple of ideas for ways to expand your pottery hobby…
- Making clay pottery can mean making entire dish sets. Make your new mugs by attaching handles to your clay cups.
- While you make pottery at home, what you have made can become wonderful gifts for friends and family. Candy dishes are easy to make and are always popular gifts.
- Put holes in the bottom of a clay pot to make it into a planter. Challenge yourself to create a saucer whose size fits it.
Related Pottery Resources
Following are some good resources to find a wide variety of pottery supplies and additional information.
Axner Pottery Supply – site offers a wide variety of pottery supplies including excellent instructional books.
Bailey Pottery – visit this company’s website for their specials on potter’s wheels and kilns.
American Art Pottery Association – look through a wealth of information on pottery in America. The AAPA holds events nationally that feature collectible pottery that you may enjoy having the opportunity to see in person.
Related YouTube Videos
Check out the following videos to learn even more about starting this hobby.