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