Crafting with clay is an interesting and fun activity that can keep you engaged and unleash your creative side. Whether you plan on starting pottery art as a professional or as a hobbyist, you need to understand the basics of ceramics with the best equipment and materials to help you out. Regardless of what you plan on making with your clay, there is a basic protocol that you need to follow in order to achieve success.
Today, we will narrow down the basics of pottery making to ensure your journey becomes easier and you do not make any mistakes in the process.
Select the Right Clay
Clay is no doubt an important part of the pottery-making process. It is fine-grained earth available in different forms and can easily be shaped once it is wet. It consists of minerals, sand, tiny rocks, & other soil components found naturally in varying concentrations. It is available in a range of colors and textures depending on its composition and particle size. Clay with iron oxide in higher concentrations tends to reflect a red, rusty, or orange color. On the other hand, clay that doesn’t have any iron will look grayish or white in color, as seen with variants such as porcelain clay.
You can select from three variants of clay that include:
They can be used for multiple purposes & have various firing temperatures, water absorption, & shrinkage percentages. Stoneware is versatile & easy to use clay variant. In case you have just started your journey as a pottery artist, it is recommended that you get high-quality stoneware clay. This clay is available in a range of colors that include dark brown and white. After being fired, this clay becomes non-porous and can easily hold liquid items without the need for glazing.
Earthenware clay is a thicker and heavier variant but is weaker when compared to stoneware. It can also be molded easily. However, it requires glazing in case you need the pottery to have some permeability. This added step needs the crafters to pitch in some extra time & materials that might be a bit difficult for beginner artists.
Porcelain clay looks amazing after firing, but it can be just as difficult to work with. Moreover, it requires a lot of water to be shaped up the way you want. During the molding process, if you fail to add water quickly enough, it would dry out easily. On the other hand, adding too much water would cause the clay to collapse and lose shape. Mastering the ways to work with porcelain clay can take time & multiple practice sessions. So, it is better that you master your way through stoneware and earthenware clay before switching to porcelain.
|Ideal for beginners
|Ideal for beginners
|Ideal for experts
|More durable and expensive than earthenware
|Cheapest and least durable of all
|Most expensive clay variant with high durability
|Red, gray, or orange
|Mid-fire and High-fire range
|Low firing temperature
|Very high firing temperature
|Difficult to get scratched
|Easy to scratch post-firing
|Strong & hard with minimal scratching possibilities
Types of Clay-Forming Techniques
The forming process you opt for would determine the clay you should choose and the temperature at which it should be fired. There are multiple clay forming methods. However, they can easily be blended and combined to suit the needs of the artist.
- Slab Building:
This is a process where long and solid clay slabs are rolled/pounded flat using your hand or a solid rolling device like rolling pins or slab rollers. These flat clay slabs are next used for the construction of vessels or other objects. Several slab builders tend to embellish their slabs with textures or surface designs before the construction process. It is easy to create the design in the surfaces when they are flat as opposed to after the piece has been assembled.
It is a simple and easy to master technique that is used for making different types of sculptures and vessels made of clay. Clay coils are basically rolled out & built up following a spiraling fashion. Each coiled-up clay is then joined with the one below, following a layering process until you achieve a desired profile and height for the pottery piece.
Coiling is the perfect entry-level technique that helps you master the technique and understand how the clay works when wet.
The most basic technique opted by beginner potters is actually the hand-building technique. It encompasses specific forming methods such as coil building & slab building along with other pottery techniques. Creating ceramic structures falls into the hand-crafting category as it incorporates various pottery techniques.
Most potters opt for the wheel throwing process as it helps create the perfect pieces. However, it needs a lot of time to be mastered with aspects such as centering, shaping, pulling, and whatnot. Potters can use either manual or high-quality electric wheels to create the best designs for dinnerware, decorative pieces, and so on.
For throwing, you need to get the best pottery wheel, and most prefer electric wheels as opposed to manual ones. The electric wheels help speed up the forming process and let you create pieces in bulk with perfect textures and designs.
Get the Best Pottery Wheels
Ceramic artists and pottery enthusiasts use different types of pottery techniques that depend on exactly what they plan on creating. If you wish to create a piece at home, you can do that without a wheel as well. However, the possibilities would be limited without a pottery wheel. Moreover, the designs and shapes might not turn out perfect with overall unevenness.
If you wish to create pottery pieces at home on a regular basis, especially the round ones such as cups, pots, jugs, or plates, it is advised that you make use of pottery wheels to unleash the hidden artist & create your pieces the perfect way. Most pottery wheels can range between $400 and $1500, depending on the features. However, the price might go higher depending on the brand you choose.
One amazing choice you can take a look at is the Vevor Electric Pottery Wheel. This unique wheel comes with an adjustable level pedal that can help you manage the speed as you form the piece with your hands. Moreover, it also comes with a reliable pottery toolset that can help you start your pottery journey sooner than later.
You can surely start with basic pottery models. However, they tend to be slow, less durable, & come with a small clay loading capacity. So, if you plan on crafting regularly, make sure you get a reliable and professional pottery wheel. However, if it is just for a hobby or maybe some weekend activity, you would be better off with a basic one.
Kiln or No Kiln
Now, this is a big decision that you need to make, as kilns can be a major investment in your pottery journey. Kilns can produce high temperatures to fire objects such as bricks and pottery. In simple words, it dries out the clay & the resulting piece is called ceramic pottery art.
Although you can shape up some basic items with air-dry clay, they might not be perfect for every type of pottery work. Other clay variants need kiln firing in order to achieve perfection and permanency. Your kitchen oven cannot achieve a temperature that is high enough for pottery firing. You can create a pit fire at home, but it could be a complicated setup for beginner artists.
Plus, kilns let you determine the exact temperature needed for the firing purpose. If your clay gets too hot, it will melt, and if it isn’t hot enough, the clay might not dry properly and become brittle. The temperature in the kiln would vary depending on the clay variant you plan on firing, such as stoneware, earthenware, or porcelain. A durable electric kiln allows you to adjust the temperature with ease and ensure the results are perfect post-firing.
Before you select the kiln to purchase, you need to consider factors such as glaze type, number/quantities of pieces, & the space available in your home.
Must-Have Pottery Tools
A pottery wheel, clay, and kiln aren’t the only thing you need to craft with perfection. You need to have some essential pottery tools as well. This will help you create a precise, professional-looking, and well-shaped clay piece.
So, if you are planning your journey as a pottery artist, make sure you have the given tools at hand:
- Cutter Wire: It is used for the division of large clay blocks into smaller chunks
- Needles: It is used for the measurement of clay’s thickness along with applications such as carving, piercing, & trimming
- Scrappers: It is used for the final sculpture smoothing purpose
- Ribbon Tools: It is used for carving & trimming of the piece when being shaped by hand
- Chamois Cloth: It is used for compressing the clay as you are forming it on the wheel while creating a smooth surface
- Brushes: It is used for several purposes but primarily for applying slip or glazing
- Fettling Knives: This particular pottery tool is very versatile and is used for trimming, separating molds, carving, piercing, sculpting, & even cutting clay chunks
- Calipers: It is used for measuring the distance of the pottery piece from one end to another
- Sponges: It is used for cleaning and shaping the clay surfaces
- Aprons & Towels: They are an essential part of the process as pottery making can be a messy task. Some towels and aprons will help keep you and the workspace clean
Glaze & Decorative Materials
Every pottery artist is different, and the techniques available for one to master are endless. However, as a beginner, you can work with some basic painting mediums and glaze as you slowly master the art and move over to the complex variants such as transfer printing or carving.
Glazing is a common & easy decorating technique that is easy to master for beginners. The glaze is similar to paint and available in liquid form. It gives your ceramics the glass-like, smooth surface that makes it all shiny and perfect to look at. These glazes come in a range of colors & they can be used for decorating or waterproofing the pieces.
When talking about painting mediums, options such as acrylic paint or liquid latex is the best for pottery decoration at home. You can find some amazing glaze and painting options online or even at your local art store at pocket-friendly prices.
The glaze is available in matte or gloss finish with several varying options available in between. The gloss glaze variants are favored for tableware purposes as they can be cleaned with ease. Certain glazes tend to be of the colored variant. However, they might yet show the clay surface hidden beneath. This works perfectly if you use it on the speckled clay technique.
The best way to prepare a glaze for your pottery work is to purchase the ready-made powders available in the market. There are several color options you can choose from by checking out the list of ready-made glazes. While working with the powdered clay-glazing materials, make sure you wear some high-quality respirator mask to ensure the chemical doesn’t make its way into your nose and then into the lungs. Sieves can be a perfect way to achieve the perfect glaze finish as it helps refine the powder into a finer form and thereby help achieve a uniform texture.
With this information, you should be good to start your pottery escapade. Make sure you practice safety when working with the kiln and the glazes. Your kiln can get excessively hot and cause burns to your skin if you touch it without the right gloves in place. Moreover, it is ideal that you choose to work with a professional or someone with experience in the field while you are starting off the first time. You can also check out some amazing pottery tutorials available online to help you craft with ease.