What pottery techniques? Wedging

How should a beginner learn pottery?

Wondering whether to try making pottery at home or to take your first pottery class? Not sure where to start and what pottery techniques to do? How should a beginner learn pottery? Read on, we’ll outline what pottery techniques you can start with, and talk about the best way to learn pottery, the cheapest way to learn pottery, and if you can teach yourself pottery.

What pottery techniques should a beginner start with?

A beginner should start learning pottery with any basic making technique, these include pinching, slabbing, coiling or wheel throwing. A class is the best place to start, where you can be shown how to do it correctly. You can comfortably throw a pot and create some hand-built objects in a one-off taster class. However, slabbing and coiling really benefit from multiple sessions, taking advantage of clay’s different stages of drying, so a weekly class is recommended. Pinching on the other hand can be too simple, so wouldn’t be recommended for a one-off class, as you can easily pinch a pot with some clay at home without tuition.

All the hand-building methods are much more accessible for beginners, while wheel throwing you’ll usually need an excellent tutor to show you the way. In our pottery taster class you will throw a pot on the wheel and creatively hand-build offering you both ends of the pottery making spectrum. People come out with 2 pots they’re often proud of and didn’t know they’d be capable of making.

Can you self teach pottery?

It is possible to self-teach pottery. However, it is not the quickest route in learning pottery or the best way to start. The quickest and best route is taking a class with an experienced pottery tutor.

When self-teaching you may watch instructional videos, read books and magazines, and experiment with making methods. Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it. Hours of work can result in faults, such as cracks, which are often only discovered weeks later, and can be extremely disappointing. A poor foundation of learning can result in acquiring bad habits, and entire kiln loads of failures. The difference between self-teaching and being taught directly, is a good tutor will outline and show you the important making skills you need to develop, and give you feedback to correct any mistakes. This will speed up your pace of learning, reduce the number of mistakes made, prevent you buying all the pottery gadgets shared on social media and YouTube aimed at giving you quick fixes where longer term skill acquisition is needed, and ultimately save you hours and hours of trial and error learning, which is the slowest learning method.

Eventually all potters will end up teaching themselves, in what is a satisfying life long pursuit of craftsmanship. But certainly in the beginning it is a good idea to engage in some formal learning, and if you can afford it, later on too.

Inside a Pottery kiln

Can I do pottery without a kiln?

Yes you can do pottery without a kiln, but the caveat is you’re restricted to only a very narrow range of possibilities, with a potentially high loss rate. You can, at basic level, make a pit firing, wherein you dig a pit, put wood and or coals, along with your pots in the pit and fire it until you think it has reached 500°C or over. This will mature the clay into hard ceramic. However, the ceramic will have been matured at a low temperature, which means it is not as strong as it could be. You will also not be able to apply a glaze, which makes the ceramic food safe and water tight. There is also a much higher chance of failure of your ceramics in a pit firing than in an electric ceramic kiln.

Can I use my oven as a kiln?

Wondering whether you can use your kitchen oven as a pottery kiln? You can’t. Clay matures into hard ceramic between 500°C and 800°C, and with the highest firing ovens reaching 260°C, it’s not possible to mature clay in a kitchen oven. While clay matures at 800°C, ideally your kiln must be able to melt glaze, of which the lowest temperature glazes start to melt at 1060°C. Otherwise you would not easily be able to make your wares water tight and food safe without glaze. However, most proper ceramic kilns will reach up to 1300°C, which will allow you to fire and glaze at low and high temperatures so you can make anything including Earthenware, Stoneware and Porcelain objects.

You may have heard of ‘oven baked clay’, which is misleading in it’s name. This is because, by it’s name, it gives the impression there is clay that you can bake in an oven. ‘Oven baked clay’ you can harden in a kitchen oven, however ‘oven baked clay’ is not clay at all. It is a substance that behaves a little bit like clay.

What is ‘oven baked clay’?

‘Oven baked clay’ contains no mineral clay at all, it is actually polymer clay. Polymer clay is composed of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a plastic, and has additives that give it gel-like working properties so it is mouldable. It also requires heat to harden, such as in a kitchen oven. It is these similar characteristics to mineral clay, being mouldable at room temperature, that gives it it’s name. However, in essence, it is a very different material with very different workability.

What is air dry clay?

Air dry clay is the same as mineral clay, but with nylon fibres added to it. Sometimes other fibres are used such as paper pulp. The fibres give the clay strength when it dries, whereas mineral clay is very brittle in the bone dry state. Air dry clay can be moulded at room temperature, but it is still fragile when dried, and can’t be used to make durable functional items. Just like dried mineral clay, adding water to it will make it disintegrate and therefore is not good for functional items. As a huge part of using clay is to make functional items that can be used, air dry clay falls short of this aspect of pottery making, and so is no substitute for the hard and durable functional ceramics that can be made from fired pottery.

The nylon fibres also alter the working properties of air dry clay. I wrote a beginners tutorial for the Craft’s Council for using both air dry and mineral clay. I hadn’t used air dry clay previously. While I found that it was very easy to create a coil and to roll out and manipulate air dry clay, it was very difficult to join the clay to another piece. It often cracked. So it is really a material that can be fun to play with, without the need to fire it, but not one to make durable objects.

Can I learn pottery on my own?

You can learn pottery on your own. The quickest and best route to learning pottery however, is through classes and workshops, where you can learn pottery methods the correct way, and get feedback to keep you on track in acquiring skills and troubleshooting issues. However, for some people, if you’re far away from pottery learning facilities, and you have the space and finances to set up a home studio, then learning pottery on your own may be the best route. You’ll want to watch video tutorials, read pottery books, blogs and magazines. You can still take one-off workshops to boost your skill level. We get a lot of home potters coming to our 2-day throwing workshops, where we help correct any bad habits they’ve picked up as well as advance their learning.

Personally I haven’t read a good book for learning pottery (please do send in your recommendations if you have), but getting one is helpful to understand some basic terminology and processes

Why are pottery classes so expensive?

Compared to other activities pottery has much higher setup and maintenance costs. A dedicated space is required with a kiln installed, throwing wheels, and workspace, with good health and safety standards to reduce the spread of silica dust, which is harmful to health. Whereas other creative activities, such as painting or drawing classes, or health activities like yoga can be delivered in a flexible space with lower running, initial setup and material costs. Good pottery classes also require an experienced tutor, whose skills have been developed over many years.

Think of how much it would cost you to do an activity at home and you can understand the relative price of pottery. You can do yoga at home for free, to draw you can buy yourself the materials needed for a few pounds, and get a basic painting set for as little as £20. Yet with pottery you may need to spend between £1000-£3000 to setup a home studio. You’ll also need a dedicate space for you to create pots, such as an outhouse, potter’s shed or garage, ideally with a sink and electric supply.

What is the cheapest way to learn pottery?

The cheapest way to learn pottery really depends on your circumstances. For someone near a city, in the short term it is cheaper to take a pottery class at a college or community studio, than any other route. While prices vary wildly across and between countries, you can take a weekly class for as cheap as £20 per week. Most potteries, like 7 Limes Pottery, you’d want to budget a little more for materials as well, around £10 every 6 weeks.

On the other hand, if you live far away from facilities, your housing and garden space is likely to be more economical than in a city. So you could setup a home pottery studio. You would need a dedicated space, such as a garage, outhouse, or potter’s shed. A spare room is not recommended, as you want to reduce the chance of spreading silica dust around your house as much as possible. Initial costs are expensive. You would look a spending £2000-£3000 on your wheel, kiln and tools to start. This is equivalent to up to 3 years attending a community pottery studio. Although if you’re prepared to spend some time waiting and searching for good deals on auctions and classifieds sites, you may be able to get started with as little as £1000. You’ll also want to install a sink in your space and will need electricity. So if you don’t have that in your potters shed, it could be quite pricy, but once set up, it may be more economical in the long term.

Biscuit fired pottery learned in classes

What is the best way to learn pottery?

The best way to learn pottery is first trying it out in a pottery taster class. You can then decide if you like it and want to take it further. A basic skills course would follow. At 7 Limes pottery we offer 18 weeks of beginner pottery classes that cover all the basic making skills. At this point it really depends on your personal circumstances and aims as to what the best route for you in learning pottery is, and can include joining your local community studio, setting up at home, becoming an apprentice or taking a higher educational course.

1. Formal pottery education at college and University

At the higher end, someone with ample time and financial resources, wanting high skill development and a career in ceramics, would be best taking their time and paying for the highest level of education in ceramics: either through a comprehensive degree program, or college course. This followed by a masters at the Royal College of Art (RCA), who market themselves as being the best art and design school in the world, and are arguably so, would give someone great chances of success in developing networks, defining their own style of contemporary pottery, and starting a career in ceramics. People graduating from the RCA are known for gaining exhibition opportunities and featuring in magazines due to the networks gained through their studies, as well as the quality of their work.

Formal education isn’t cheap and a UK undergraduate degree will set you back (in 2024) £9,250 a year and a masters at the RCA £16,550 for a UK student, totalling £44,300. However funding is often available in the form of student loans and scholarships. An overseas student to the UK can expect fees totalling £124,310.

2. Apprentice with a potter

University can be expensive, and many of you may have already started 1 career, so the RCA may be a long winded route. At any stage an apprenticeship with a production potter would be incredibly valuable, and can boost skill development, knowledge of how to run a business and lead to opportunities and even jobs. There is an increasing demand for handmade ceramics and people are willing to pay for what is now a luxury item. An apprenticeship with a production potter would help develop exceptional skills and be a very rare opportunity to grab. As an apprentice you’ll often receive a small wage as well, so you’ll earn while you learn. You’ll likely need a good skill level in wheel throwing already, in order to be accepted as an apprentice in the UK, and developing this in a community pottery or home studio is likely the first step.

3. Community Pottery Studio

For most people, the most accessible route into potting is at your local community studio. It’ll suit those with more life responsibilities, and/or fewer economic resources. Some pottery studios like Seven Limes Pottery offer long-term courses, open ended classes, and shared studio space, which will suit different goals. Those looking for a more sociable experience, the regular open ended classes we run offer the chance to get to really know your class mates, learn at a casual pace fitting around your jobs and you’ll also receive support from our expert tutors when needed. Our long-term courses are suited for those looking to develop their skills to a high level of craftsmanship, and finally our shared studio is for those who have the basic making skills nailed down, can work independently, and want to hone their skills, and explore designing ceramics with the possibility of selling work too.

4. Home Pottery Studio

Lastly setting up a home studio is a viable option to learning pottery. If you live far from a community pottery studio, you like working alone, you’re self-motivated, and have the the finances to set up at home, this may be for you. You would need a dedicated space, such as a garage, outhouse, or potter’s shed. A spare room is not recommended, as you want to reduce the chance of spreading silica dust around your house as much as possible. The initial setup costs would set you back anywhere from £1000-£3000 for your wheel, kiln and tools to start, equivalent to up to 3 years attending a community pottery studio. You’ll also want to install a sink in your space and will need electricity. So if you don’t have that in your potters shed, it could be quite pricy, but once set up, it may be more economical in the long term. Taking some classes, perhaps a one-off weekend workshop, is definitely recommended before investing in a home studio.

How should a beginner learn pottery?

So how should a beginner learn pottery? Starting with a taster class, followed by a basic pottery skills course at a community pottery studio, like 7 Limes pottery, is the best way to start. From there it really depends on your aims and resources the route that you would take.

Routes can range from formal higher education for those with ample financial resources and time ahead of them, taking classes and joining a community pottery studio, setting up a home studio, and lastly a rare opportunity to apprentice with a potter.

Striped layered clay nerikomi bowl handmade by ceramicist Sam Andrew
Row of cylindrical wheel thrown pots

How long does it take to learn pottery?

How many days, weeks, months or even years, does it take to learn pottery?

Hello potters! Today, we’re diving into the question that many beginners ask: How many days, weeks, months or even years, does it take to learn pottery? You can make a couple of pots in a 2.5 hour pottery taster class, but the length of time it takes to learn pottery varies widely between people and depends on your goals, frequency of practice, complexity of skills you want to acquire, previous transferrable skills to making in arts and crafts, the experience/ability of your tutor, and your expectations and mindset. 

The Importance of Practice

Firstly, it’s important to understand that pottery is a craft of patience and continuous learning. With each piece you create you become more aware of what good craft is, you’ll learn the behaviour of clay, and, in small steps, you’ll acquire the hand eye coordination required to move yourself in space, in relation to your clay object. Experienced ceramic artists are consistently developing their skills and learning new techniques, and information about clay throughout their lifetimes. Personally it took me a long time to learn to centre on the wheel, whereas I picked up turning and hand-building techniques quickly. You can’t throw a good pot if you can’t centre and unfortunately it’s the first thing you need to learn when wheel throwing. As in many other skills, practice and repetition of pottery leads to mastery.

It Takes 10,000 Hours to Learn Pottery

The 10,000 hour rule to master any craft is an idea popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in their 2008 book Outliers, which was based on research by psychologist Anders Ericsson. To a large extent this 10,000 hour rule applies to mastering pottery. I remember Kevin Millward at a one-on-one day at his studio in Stoke-on-Trent, told me before I became a potter, “give me 10 years and I’ll make a great potter of you”. Kevin is consultant for the Great Pottery Throw Down TV Show, setup Clay College Stoke and their 2 year throwing course, as well as teaching at our studio, and had in the past thrown tens of thousands of pots a year as a production potter. In my mind I quietly scoffed at the thought it would take me that long, but the longer I studied and progressed in learning pottery I realised the more there was to learn. At that point I was just interested in selling a few bowls too, but my goals have changed.

Now, my mother Wendy Andrew, founder of 7 Limes Pottery, has been potting for over 40 years and taught me pottery since I was a young child. She was taught by Emmanual Cooper; the founder of Ceramic Review, an author of over 30 books, a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art, and with the Contemporary Ceramics Centre Gallery, opposite the British Museum in London, named after them. So I already had been exposed to pottery a lot. I even made myself a set of thrown plates before going to University to study Clinical Neuropsychology. The 10,000 hour rule would take 5 years as a full time production potter or 10 years along with other potter responsibilities to master pottery. Now that I am past my first decade as a full-time professional potter I can see what Kevin meant, and I feel like I can throw and hand-build what I want, have a full scientific understanding of glazes and clay, yet there is still much to learn. But that doesn’t mean you need 10,000 hours to learn pottery and make a good pots. The plates I made myself when I was 16 year’s old were fantastic, creative and I used them for many years. You can become proficient in a few years at specific parts of pottery, such as wheel throwing.

Your Mindset

Practice alone, however, does not make perfect. Your mindset and perseverance in learning pottery is one of the most important things. It’s quite common for beginners to come in with high hopes of being a natural at pottery, and quitting if they don’t meet this expectation. Firstly quitting will mean you don’t learn pottery at all, and secondly it’s unrealistic to have an expectation about something you have not yet learned. While it varies from person to person how long it takes to learn pottery, having taught over 2000 people, I have never met a natural. So, having an openness and engaging with the learning process is paramount.

Potters are said to be great at dealing with failure, as each and everyone of us has had to experience many fails in the learning process. It’s important to accept failure as part of the process, as there will be many times pots don’t work out, but there is much to learn when pots fail. I like to reframe this, each and every work is a test, something to learn and improve upon until you know how to consistently make it well. With each test you get more information about the behaviour of clay and glaze, with which you can apply to your future work. That way these tests aren’t fails, they are learnings.

Finally in your mindset you must persevere. It’s important that you don’t compare yourself to others too much, as you may see others progressing faster. With an open and persistent attitude to learning you will succeed in learning pottery. We really believe anyone can learn it, with enough time, tuition and practice.

Quality of Tuition

That said, with practice and your mindset at heart, you won’t get far without some level of tuition, and the quality of tuition is going to hugely boost your learning speed. You’re going to make many mistakes in order to learn, but good tuition will reduce the number of mistakes you make by far. My background in Clinical Neuropsychology and working with people recovering from brain injuries, has taught me that trial and error learning is the lowest and slowest form of learning. This is how a self-taught artist may learn, by trial and error. Good tuition will mean you bypass making many mistakes, which your tutors and those before them have made over decades, centuries or even thousands of years of passed down techniques and skills. Good tuition can easily be the difference between days and months of practice for the same progress. An experienced potter may not be a particularly good tutor, and a great teacher may not be particularly good at pottery. What you need is a tutor who has a great level of pottery skill as well as good communication skills; a kind, encouraging and friendly attitude; and experience and understanding of the learning path for different people. So selecting your tutor can be as important as your mindset and practice.

Years ago when I spent a day with Kevin Millward throwing on the wheel, I had already had the practice. Maybe 30 entire days or so over a few months, with little feedback whatsoever. I wasn’t throwing centred clay, but I thought I was. That day gave me the feedback to know when I was centring and my pieces quickly improved as a result. We get many intermediates, who are self-taught or have taken classes at other studios, coming to our 2-day throwing workshop complaining of the same things, that their pots are thick, wobbly or they flop over.

We help them out giving them good tuition and putting them on their way to know how to improve. We often see a big improvement in these 2 days.

At 7 Limes Pottery we focus on quality teaching, with our traditional and contemporary pottery skills having been passed down generations from the leading potters this country has. We also have a great support system for all our tutors with mentorship throughout their career. Wendy Andrew has over 40 years teaching and making experience in pottery, with a teacher training qualification and experience teaching pottery in Manchester’s colleges, adult education centres, and of writing courses for schools. We’ve learned to improve our teaching, get better pots out of our students and in an enjoyable and supportive environment. So it’s a combination of practice, persistence, and feedback that will help you learn pottery in the best way.

The Time It Takes to Learn Pottery

Our pottery courses are designed to fit around full time work, and generally meet once per week for a 2 hour class. We have 18 weeks of beginner courses that cover all the basic making techniques including throwing, turning, hand-building, design, decoration, and how to finish and glaze pieces. These will be the foundation of skills to build upon, which then you can specialise afterwards. During these classes people can make some fantastic pieces, but most pieces can certainly be improved upon and made with a better level of craft skill. It has taken people from 1-2 years in a weekly class to get good at throwing, others have become excellent after 3 x 2-day throwing workshops and set-up a studio at home following their learning success, but most benefit from a combination of extra studio time, workshops and weekly sessions. We’ve had people attending our classes and studio for over 15 years.

The Importance of Community

Going to a pottery class is a communal activity where groups of people from very different walks of life come together. It’s easy to meet new people and make new friends, and everyone gets interested and specialises in different techniques. So you can really learn from the other potters in the studio, get useful tips and learn from each other’s mistakes too. It’s also helpful to hear those mistakes described from different viewpoints, and of the benefits of craft and pottery from people with different values.

Back to my Neuropsychology background, I conducted research on brain training and cognitive decline in old age. The learnings we get from the body of research is that a cognitively engaging activity (such as pottery), community, and exercise are all things that help prolong good health in old age. Pottery is physical: kneading clay, centring, and using fine motor skills to produce beautiful art pieces or functional domestic wares. The physical and communal aspect of a pottery class that makes it such a great activity where traditional communities are declining in the modern day.

So is Learning Pottery Hard and Does it Take Long to Learn Pottery?

Pottery is not just about creating beautiful pieces; it’s also about personal growth and understanding. It can take a few sessions to make some nice pots, but refining your pottery craft can take anywhere between 3000 and 10,000 hours or 2-10 years. Reframing to a realistic and open mindset will shift how hard it seems. The journey to pottery mastery is a personal one, filled with practice, patience, new relationships, and continuous learning. It’s not about how long it takes, if you enjoy learning, which I do so very much, then it’s a worthwhile activity to do with your spare time, and who knows you may one day sell pots as a side hustle, or even go full-on professional. So, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned potter, remember to enjoy the process, learn from your mistakes, and keep creating. Happy potting!

Striped layered clay nerikomi bowl handmade by ceramicist Sam Andrew