Making pottery is a hobby that you need to give a lot of time to practice but you will start enjoying even from the beginning. This is the ultimate guide of how to make pottery. Seeing the results and your progress will be enjoyable because you are creating something with hard work and your bare hands, literally. If you want to gain a long term hobby like that but you have no idea how to make pottery, we are here to help you. Enjoy!
What is Pottery?
The common definition of pottery is the process including the products of forming pots, dishes, and other objects with clay and other ceramic materials by firing them at high temperatures to give them a hard, long-lasting form. It is one of the oldest and most popular decorative arts.
Even though there is more than one important material when it comes to pottery, clay is known as the main material used in it. Clay has two important characteristics and these characteristics are the reason why it is the main material of pottery. One, it is plastic and it makes it easy to give shape to. Two, it hardens with a high temperature of the fire and it makes it strong and durable, also almost waterproof.
There are three major types of pottery which are earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. There are very small differences between stoneware and porcelain. Porcelain is usually defined as a transparent substance and stoneware is considered as a partly vitrified object that is not transparent in Western. On the other hand, in China, porcelain can be any ceramic material that makes a ringing tone when you tap it.
Origin of Pottery
When humans of the Neolithic period figured out that they can give shape to clay with mixing it with water and the result can be transformed into a hard from with fire, their life became a lot easier. They started to make basic tools that helped them in their daily lives, they decorated their homes with potteries, they even made baskets that are used for gathering. This makes pottery one of the oldest human inventions. It is actually even older than writing.
Later, the Greeks used clay to create art by making pottery. Then they started to make pots for put drinks in it, they made their own cups and jugs from clay. They put their gods’ and goddesses’ figures in their vases and decorate their homes with them. The people who made these potteries known as potters today but back then in Greece, they were called craftsmen.
It is believed that the first potter’s wheel was invented in Sumer in 3129 BC but because of pottery is an ancient invention, there is no certain information. Around 3000 BC, potters were using slow wheels and it was actually a simple tool that helped them turn the pot as they were shaping them but like we have said before, it was a slow wheel so the progress took a lot of time. When the fast wheels were invented, it became a huge deal because now potters could make three pots instead of one with the same shape and details in the same amount of time they spent while using the slow wheel.
Although there were huge developments in pottery in history, the most important one has happened when potters of the Han Dynasty in China started to make porcelain around 600 AD. This was so important because now the pots looked so beautiful and elegant when potters started to mix white kaolin clay with ground granite. They were not only beautiful but also, they were waterproof. This invention created a huge impact on other countries as well and sooner rather than later, the world started to use porcelain not only for making tools but also art.
Types of Pottery
Earthenware is the oldest form of pottery that was made, dating back about 9,000 years and it is still widely used in the 21st century. All of the earliest forms of pottery were made from clays that can be hardened by fire at low temperatures, for example in pit-fires because the technology, of course, wasn’t enough. Earthenware is fired at low temperatures like between 1,000 to 1,150 degrees. The disadvantage of low temperature is you get a hardened but breakable material as result and because of the small holes on it, water or air can go through so they can’t be used to contain liquids.
Stoneware pottery is made from clay which is being fired at a relatively high temperature, from about 1,100 °C to 1,200 °C. It makes the pottery stronger and thanks to high temperature, there are no holes in it unlike Earthenware so it can be used to contain liquids.
Porcelain comes from a polished clay that is fired at very high temperatures of about 1,200 to 1,450°C. As the result, you get a shiny, very hard material which is often white or translucent. It was first made in China made from kaolin which is white china clay and petuntse, also called China stone.
The main difference between three types of pottery is the temperature which gives clay durability, water-resistance, and strength. With this fact, Stoneware and Porcelain are usually used as tableware at our homes.
How to Make Pottery?
For beginners, making pottery can be confusing because it is a new world with so many new terms, types of equipment, and tools. You can consider taking classes or jump right into making pottery at home but first, we are going to tell you everything you need to know about how to make pottery.
1. Get to Know Your Clay
The most important step of making pottery is to get to know your clay, to know how to prepare it. For the perfect work, the clay should be perfect. The clay should be workable and clean and to make this happen, you need the right amount of water, and don’t forget, no air bubbles! Also, it shouldn’t be too sticky so you can give it shape easily.
Before you start to pottery, you need to choose what kind of clay you are going to use. If you are going to use a low fire clay like Earthenware, you need to know that they are excellent choices for bright colors and details but they don’t have water resistance. On the other hand, if you are going to use a high fire clay like Stoneware or Porcelain, you need to know they’re firm and waterproof but not so good with bright colors.
2. Main Pottery Techniques
After you have decided on what kind of clay you are going to use, you should pick the method which will be perfect for your work.
There are two main techniques when it comes to making pottery and these are hand-built and wheel-thrown. A beginner like you should start with hand-built pottery and since for this you only need your hands and a piece of clay, it is a great start.
- Pitch Pot
This is the most simple and oldest form of hand-built pottery. The potter shapes the clay and gives it a shape of a pot, bowl, or dish. It is the best method for small projects.
This technique is the best one for non-symmetrical and hollow objects. The potter rolls the clay and gives it a long roll shape. Then he places one coil on top of the other and by this technique, he can make different shapes.
- Slap Making
In this form, you basically put the sides of the clay onto a form. So, this method is the best for flat-sided projects.
On the other hand, wheel-thrown pottery requires a mastery level of making pottery. You need to know how to work the wheel and give clay the shape you want while it’s spinning. Yes, it takes a lot of time before you start using a wheel-thrown method but as you get used to it you will see that it is a more efficient technique.
3. Main Types of Equipment of Pottery
As a beginner, you need to know some main types of equipment of pottery to create the work you have in your head easily. Luckily, we are here to help you. Here is the main types of equipment.
The kiln is what chemically transforms the clay into a work of art. It is a simple device for firing and baking the clay into the pottery, and it makes kiln is a must for making pottery.
b. Pottery Wheel
You can find a suitable pottery wheel for your project, it can be both electrical-powered and manual-powered. For beginners, we don’t recommend jumping right into the pottery wheels since they can be hard to handle at the beginning.
4. Main Tools Used in Pottery
While making pottery, the other important step is to get to know the tools you are going to use. There are plenty of different tools, of course, but we are going to tell you the main tools you are going to need as a beginner potter.
If you did a research about pottery, you can imagine how messy it can be. On this road, towels will be your best friend to clean yourself up.
Sponges will come handy when you start to work on the pottery wheel. They will basically help you as you try to absorb water and it will make shaping the clay easier.
c. Potter’s Needles
This tool was made especially for pottery and by using it, you will be able to score pieces of clay.
d. Chamois Leather
Chamois leather will allow you to smooth the edge of pots and pressing ends of thrown ware.
e. Wooden Ribs
You are going to use wooden ribs especially when you want to make a plate because this tool will help you to smooth the base of your pottery.
Beginner Tips on How to Make Pottery
You already know types of pottery, which kind of clay you need to use and main pottery methods and tools, you are almost ready. So, let’s jump into the final step. Here are some basic tips for you to begin pottery.
1. Start Small
Making pottery is a long journey and you will, of course, face some troubles but don’t forget that practice makes perfect. Just start small. You don’t need a pottery wheel or some complicated tools. Just start and see if it’s the right hobby for you. As you get used to shaping the clay just the way you want to, the progress you have been through will make you so happy.
2. The Messier the Merrier
So, you are wondering “How to make pottery?”. The first step is, accept that it is a messy job and it is the one of the reasons why it is such fun. The clay will get on a wall, water will be spilling everywhere. Just wear your old clothes and don’t start making pottery in a fancy room of yours. Everything will be messy and it is so okay!
3. Try Different Techniques
As you get used to shaping the clay, it means that you are ready to try different techniques. Don’t be afraid and remember that practice makes perfect and your progress is proof.
4. Don’t Give Up
Pottery isn’t the easiest hobby in the world, you already know that. Of course, the first work of yours won’t be just like you have imagined but don’t give up. Don’t let bad pieces of your disappoint you. See them as a learning opportunity, analyze what you did wrong and what you could do better.
If you want to start making pottery and this article has became a helpful friend in your journey, it means we did it right. It is time for you to get up and get your hands messy. Don’t be afraid and have fun!
Nazlıcan Ay is a freelance writer for hire who creates original content for websites and blogs. She studies American Studies at university. When she is not working, she is reading poems and her biggest dream is to run her own boutique hotel one day.