Pottery Studio: A Beginner Lesson Working with Clay

Private Pottery lessons can enhance a natural talent.
Private Pottery lessons can enhance a natural talent. | Source

Experiencing working with clay

If you know someone who is creative and loves to work with their hands, perhaps crafts things from wood, or is an artist with paints, they may be interested in expanding their skill in the area of clay.

Clay is a very different art medium to work with and, like all new things, it takes practice to master any new way of expressing one's artistic talents. One way is to work at home with a smaller version of a pottery wheel. These are not professional wheels, but can offer an idea of what it is to move the clay. Of course, they are much less expensive, so if your artist is a child or young teen, it may be just the right size and cost.

However, if the person you have in mind has more experience, or has had a class or two in the area of making pottery, then you may want to buy them a gift of a private pottery lesson in a studio.

In Royal Oak, Michigan, The Creative Studio, is the type of place that offers crafts, including pottery from the beginning of working the clay, for all ages and all levels of skill. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and patient. The hours are accommodating, and the atmosphere is delightful.



Definitions of the beginner pottery class

Some of the words we were unfamiliar with prior to the lesson are listed here:

Wedging: removing the air out of the clay through a process of 'kneading' it on a flat surface.

Wheel wedging: a similar process, only using the pottery wheel with the clay centered.

Dropping the hole: making a hole in the center of your clay by pressing the thumb into it.

Bone dry: drying the completed clay piece thoroughly. It usually is the color of dusky gray.

Bisque: Chrystalized clay-A white, chalky color which is then painted.

Refining: cleaning up the edges and smoothing the outer piece.

Pen tool: a sharp edged tool that creates designs in the clay before finishing.


Multi Speed Pottery Wheel
Multi Speed Pottery Wheel

This pottery wheel is slightly more expensive and durable, but it is still more of a child's 'toy'.

 

A good teacher is important

I bought a private lesson for my granddaughter as a Christmas present. Olivia is about thirteen and loves art. She is quite talented with her sketching, woodworking, and sewing. She paints, she has made set designs for her drama class, and she does jewelry work.

She and her younger brother, Marco, have each owned a pottery wheel for over a year. However, when my daughter discovered the studio just a short, thirty minute drive from their home, she mentioned it as a possible gift. I thought it was a great idea.

All private sessions are $55 per hour and must have advanced booking. A one-to-one lesson is offered with a teacher who they attempt to match in personality. Ricky, Olivia's teacher, was encouraging, patient, and offered many positive comments for her attempts, along with some great information.

Although shy, Olivia is also a very attentive student when she is interested in the subject, and pottery is an area she wanted to learn more about. Ricky explained everything he was doing first, with the rationale behind it, and included the definition of workman's vocabulary. Then he demonstrated it, and lastly, he had her do it.


Phase I of a Pottery Wheel Lesson

The first phase of the lesson included learning to handle the clay on the wheel. Ricky demonstrated how to get air bubbles out of the clay and handed the ball of clay to Olivia instructing her to keep patting and molding it into a ball.

Next, he brought her to the wheel and had her set up the bowl of water, emphasizing the importance of keeping the clay 'slippery'. He explained the wheel's pedal, and had Olivia practice the different speeds. Finally, he had her prepare the wheel by sponging it down. Ricky enjoyed having her as a student because of her interest, ability, and attentiveness.

Next, he explained the importance of keeping the clay symmetrical, and how to reduce the 'wobbly' condition that occurs when one either goes to fast, or has more clay on one side than the other.

They worked together shaping the mound until they were satisfied with the height.

Phase I

Wedging the clay
Wedging the clay | Source
Patting it into a ball
Patting it into a ball | Source
Preparing the wheel
Preparing the wheel | Source
Building it up symmetrically
Building it up symmetrically | Source

Strength and coordination

Besides having a general interest, one must have patience in learning the basic skills. The other two criteria that I observed was necessary was strength and coordination.

Ricky explained the proper position to use at the wheel: Slightly forward, feet flat on floor, but apart-knees separated; elbows slightly flared and resting on the knees.

I watched Ricky move the clay on his wheel and noticed the forearm muscles taut in his arms. Olivia's chest muscles tensed as she attempted to maintain the correct posture. Her coordination with moving the foot pedal, while having the hands do other things was not too difficult for her to coordinate, however. She attributed that to her experience on the sewing machine. She also has worked a wood lathe machine and commented that it was enjoyable being able to compare working with the two different mediums.

Problem solving on the wheel

Two problems arose while working the clay. One was a very thin top edge. It is advantageous to have a thick top edge because it gives you more options on how to mold the final piece. Solution: Remove the thin edge and build up the top edge once more, leaving it thick.

The other was an air bubble that was noticed by her teacher. He could feel it near the top of the clay at one point and again, it has to be removed or there will be a problem with the final firing of the piece.

Phase II

The second part of the lesson consisted of shaping the clay. This included creating a center, called 'dropping the hole', thinning the inside, while building the height, and refining the final project, which included finishing off the top edge, smoothing the outer piece and adding any designs.

One of the important moments in the second phase was when her teacher asked what she wanted to make. He told her it could be anything she wanted...she chose a vase. Later, she had the opportunity to add a design, which she did. Ricky explained how the use of a pen tool would enable a design of thin lines, which was what she wanted on her vase.

This phase was, no doubt, the more challenging of the two. She needed to learn how to flatten the bottom of the inside by applying equal pressure on the outside and inside of the clay, while moving both hands upward. Continuing to do this, while adding water to the piece to keep it moist, was quite difficult and takes immense practice to understand the process.

To refine the edge, Ricky demonstrated the simple use of a wet paper towel hung loosely over the edge to provide just a light pressure on the lip of the vase to curve it. Olivia handled that part quite well.

Phase II photos

An example of 'bone dry' pottery.
An example of 'bone dry' pottery. | Source
An example of 'bisque' pottery
An example of 'bisque' pottery | Source
Dropping the Hole
Dropping the Hole | Source
Hole completed
Hole completed | Source
Working outside and inside at the same pressure
Working outside and inside at the same pressure | Source
Refining the top edge
Refining the top edge | Source
The finished product with design on outside
The finished product with design on outside | Source
Olivia poses with her new vase
Olivia poses with her new vase | Source

Location of Royal Oak Highlights

show route and directions
A marker114 W. 4th St, Royal Oak, Michigan -
114 West 4th Street, Royal Oak, MI 48067, USA
[get directions]

The Creative Arts Studio

B markerDetroit Zoo -
Detroit Zoo, 8450 West 10 Mile Road, Royal Oak, MI 48067, USA
[get directions]

The Detroit Zoo is actually located in Royal Oak, Michigan

Samples of completed work

Click thumbnail to view full-size
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The final steps to pottery

Olivia's vase will not be complete until it dries, has been painted, is prepped for the kiln and then fired. This will take an additional two weeks. One week will be for the complete drying-getting it 'bone dry', then when it has crystalized, (bisque), it will be painted.

The second week is prepping it for the kiln by adding a glaze, and then firing it. The actual prep takes about 24 hours and the fire just one day, however, she has to wait for other projects to be completed and collectively, the pieces are fired at the same time.

Pottery tools

SE 4PT8 8-Piece Pottery Tool Set
SE 4PT8 8-Piece Pottery Tool Set

These are a few of the tools that were used in the private pottery lesson: a pen tool, for design; the water sponge, and the curved tool for scraping the clay from the wheel. This is a great beginners tool kit gift.

 

Equipment

Pottery wheel
Pottery wheel | Source
Foot pedal
Foot pedal | Source
Pottery stool
Pottery stool | Source

My rating:

5 stars for Creative Arts Studio

About the Creative Arts Studio

Located at 114 W. 4th St. in Royal Oak, Michigan 48067

Studio hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday & Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Sunday 12 noon to 7 p.m.

telephone: 248-544-2234

Available for individual or group parties; private lessons; and classes.

More by this Author


Comments 34 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

How very cool! Bev would love to do this, but I don't think she has ever considered taking a lesson. By the way, you have a lovely granddaughter. Thanks for the information and Happy New Year.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 3 years ago from Illinois

What a wonderful gift - sort of like the gift that keeps on giving. Olivia's vase came out wonderful. I would love to try this myself and may see if I can find a pottery place like this where I live.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Fascinating hub, and filled with so much helpful information. I would love to try this, but have always viewed pottery as something I could never manage as I am all thumbs. Thank you for sharing this. :-)


Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 3 years ago from Illinois

Dee, I think this is an excellent hub and truly deserves an HOD award. You give lots of good info and I liked the "Problem solving" sidebar. I also liked how you broke the photos into Phase 1, Phase 2 and Equipment.

I tried to rate this with 5 stars (for excellent layout, info and photos) but wasn't able to. I clicked but nothing happened so I don't know if that was on my end or yours. Even after I refreshed the window when it was open a while.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Happy New Year, Bill. Thanks for your comments and compliment on my granddaughter. She towers over me now and is as skinny as the picture shows here. She and I had loads of fun and enjoyed our day together. I sure hope you encourage Bev to give it a try...I'm thinking of doing it myself.

Kristin-I agree, I am looking forward to trying it myself. As for Olivia's vase, boy was I proud of her. She is a girl of many talents. Tonight she sewed a simple St. Patrick's Day blanket with her new sewing machine, complete with green shamrocks along the border. I can hardly wait to see her vase after its been painted and fired. I'll have to post another photo then.

Genna-I hope you give it a try; I know I am planning on trying this myself now, after watching this. As for being all thumbs-you'll be perfect for the part where you have to 'drop the hole'. It is only done using the thumbs. :)

Hi Danette-wow, thanks for your feedback. Well, we'll see about that, ha ha. You won't be able to rate it b/c it was MY rating for the studio-like a product review, but I appreciate the gesture all the same. I'm glad you enjoyed it and the sidebar info. :)


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

What An interesting hub Denise. The last time i attempted any pottery i would have been about four I think and still have the lopsided little pot somewhere. However who's to say i will never try to again. This hub is very inspiring and I vote up,across and share all around. Enjoy your weekend.

Eddy.


tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 3 years ago from USA

You have a beautiful daughter that is very talented. Do you plan to make a hub on her quilt? I would love to see it. I tried my hand at pottery when I was still in school. It wasn't for me. I didn't have the knack for shaping it. It was a lot of fun though. I never thought about giving a pottery class as a gift till now. I am glad you mentioned it. You deserve an HOD for this one! Loved it!


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Your gift to Olivia was one that will never be forgotten. And your description of the process was clear and understandable. What a wonderful present for anyone, but in particular, for someone who wants to develop their artistic talents. Her project turned out so beautiful. And so is she!

PS. The whole time I was reading I couldn't help singing that song from "Ghost" with where Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore had the pottery scene. So romantic.


KerryAnita profile image

KerryAnita 3 years ago from Satellite Beach, Florida

I learned how to spin on a pottery wheel in high school, but haven't done it in years. It was such a fun activity, one that I would love to try again! Thanks for this hub, you're surely inspiring people to get creative!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

I remember my pottery classes from high school. They were a great bit of fun but yet provided a creative outlet for me. I love the finished bisque pottery you posted here, very lovely. Great hub and very interesting to read.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Eddy-I never really did any pottery, but am so inspired by what I observed that I now have that on my goal list. Thanks for the votes and share.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi tlpoague-thank you for your comments. Olivia is actually my oldest granddaughter and she is very creative. She won an honorable mention from the annual Writers Digest Short Story contest a few years back. It was a humbling experience-I entered her piece along with mine and did not even get an h.m. ha ha. I did write a hub about that one, (A circle of women), but don't think I'll write one specifically about the quilt. Maybe in the near future I'll share some of her sewing work. Thanks for the comment about the HOD (maybe you can whisper in Simone's ear, ha ha). Happy New Year to you...I'm glad you enjoyed this one.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Peg, ha ha. I have to say that was my thoughts when I was there watching the teacher work with Olivia, but the movie, not the song. I wonder if I should add the song to this hub? lol Thanks for the sweet compliments about Olivia. She is a beauty, not just b/c she is my granddaughter. She has done many modeling sessions and was asked to be in a documentary once. Her hazel eyes with her olive skin are quite enchanting.

Hi Kerry-lucky you, I never took any type of art class in H.S. Thanks for your comments. It is a new year, after all...time for something new, or old revisited!

Hi Dianna-thanks for your comments. This studio had so many interesting and lovely pieces in it. We wanted to sit down and do some painting, but had another 'painting' appointment to get to-Olivia's nail appointment, ha ha.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 3 years ago from California

What a nice gift for Olivia. I am amazed at what can be done at a potter's wheel. This looks like iit was great fun for you and for Olivia!


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Audrey-in a word, it was a 'blast'. I had as much fun watching as she did doing. I am now looking into finding a studio here in NC. Thanks!


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 3 years ago from Peru, South America

I really enjoyed reading about this pottery class. It's interesting that they try to match the instructor and student personalities. My parents gave me a pottery wheel when I was a child, but it was just a toy and didn't work well. I've always been interested in pottery and would definitely take a class if I had the opportunity. Olivia's pottery looks great and I'm sure she had a great time. What a nice gift to your granddaughter. Voted up and shared.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Vespa-thanks for your feedback and sharing your experience. I think some of those 'toys' we get as children are right intentioned, but frustrating in the end. They are often ineffective, and although a parent may want to spark an interest, it can easily backfire when the child does not get the right guidance or a positive outcome. Far better that they offer some classes, whether general or private. Thanks for the vote and share.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

Great hub, Denise! I enjoyed seeing picture of your granddaughter at work. She sure looked like she was enjoying herself. Your photos of the potter's wheel, equipment and the steps in making a thrown piece of pottery illustrated your writing beautifully! I hope that you'll post a picture of her piece when it's finished - I'm sure it will be a lovely piece that she'll be proud of. Voted up and tweeted!


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Stephie-thanks! I know she enjoyed herself, and I enjoyed watching her work. I can hardly wait for the finished product and will be sure to post it here whenever I get that photo. :) Thanks for the vote and tweet.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 3 years ago from Hamburg, New York

Trust me, it is not as easy as it looks. You spin a llo of lemons first.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

It sounds like you've had first hand experience with this. I'm sure it isn't that easy, as my granddaughter found out. But, it was fascinating. Thanks for stopping by.


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal

Watching pottery wheel is like meditation for me. Pottery is popular here, there are families who have been into pottery since many generations.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Vinaya-I can certainly understand how it would act as a meditation. It was very exciting to watch, but if ever I take classes I can imagine how engrossed one would be with the clay. Thanks for your comments. :)


Pinkchic18 profile image

Pinkchic18 3 years ago from Minnesota

So neat! I've never done anything in the pottery realm but I always found it interesting!


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Pinkchic18-glad you enjoyed this hub. I find it very interesting as well. Thanks for stopping by.


mary615 profile image

mary615 3 years ago from Florida

This is one craft that I have never tried. I know I would enjoy making vases, etc. My children got into this as a hobby through a local shop whose owner gave lessons, and the kids could use her kiln. They loved it. I still have some of their pieces.

This Hub reminded me of the move, "Ghost". Remember that scene??

Olivia is a beautiful girl!

Voted UP and will share.


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Pottery is such an amazing old craft. I regret not ever having really done it, except for general art classes in school. This really makes me want to do it. Amazing photos!


Ruchira profile image

Ruchira 3 years ago from United States

Great hub, Denise.

I took pottery a few years back and found it very therapeutic.voted up as useful, interesting.


Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

It's nice that you got such great photos of your granddaughter's pottery lesson. This hub makes a great memento of the day too.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Mary-Olivia's instructor & I were joking about that movie while I was taking photos, ha ha. Thank you for the compliment about Olivia. :)

Hi Rebecca-I know I really wanted to do this after watching them. Thanks for the comment about my photos. :)

Hi Ruchira, I'm glad you enjoyed this. I bet it would be very therapeutic!

Hi Sherry-I agree. If I ever get a fee minute I'd make a scrapbook page or two of her doing this. Thanks for your comments.


sallybea profile image

sallybea 3 years ago from Norfolk

Great Hub on a subject close to my heart. Such a lovely tactile thing to do. I love the images and pots are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi sallybea - thank you for stopping by and commenting. I will be moving back to Michigan soon and am looking forward to doing some pottery of my own...with my granddaughter at my side, of course. :)


Arachnea profile image

Arachnea 2 years ago from Texas USA

An excellent hub to refer people to.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 2 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thank you, Arachnea. I'm actually hoping to take my granddaughter for another lesson in Nov when I am in Michigan again. :) Thanks for your comments.

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