In Review

Take the wheel: how to get started with pottery

An expert's guide to getting hands on with clay

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Pottery is becoming an increasingly popular hobby, especially during lockdown when many people are experimenting with getting creative in their own homes.

If you’re keen to try your hand at pottery but don’t know your wheel from your wedging, this is Ashdown Pottery’s guide to getting started.

Getting started

All you need to begin is a bag of clay, which you can have delivered from a pottery supplier for around £15 per 10kg. Scarva, Potterycrafts, Potclays, or CTM Potters Supplies will all deliver, as will plenty of local pottery shops and suppliers.

There are lots of different types of clay, but a good, cheap option for beginners is terracotta, which you can use straight from the bag.

A great first piece is a pinch pot, a classic creation that doesn’t require too much fiddling or technical skill.

To make the pot, you will first need to roll your clay into a ball about the size of an apple - aim for a ball that will fit into the palm of your hand.

Once you have your ball in one hand, start by pushing the thumb of the other hand into the centre of the ball, leaving around 1cm at the bottom to act as a base.

Once you have done that, start pinching the walls of the ball between your thumb and fingers to create a hole - or vessel - in the middle. You will need to go up and down as well as rotating your way around the outside walls of the ball.

Generally aim for an even thickness, but leave the rim slightly thicker than the rest of the wall to begin with. Try to keep your thumb crooked so the you are applying more pressure to the lower part of the vessel, which will help keep the rim thick.

Once you have your basic pot shape, you can swap the position of your hand so that your thumb is on the outside of the wall and your fingers are inside the vessel, then continue pinching.

When you’re happy with the overall shape, you can gently thin the rim so that its thickness is consistent with the rest of the pot’s walls.

Use a scraping tool (known as a kidney) to gently scrape the inner surface, removing lumps and bumps. An old credit card works well if cut into a circle, but kidneys in various shapes and materials are available for a more professional job.

Once you’re happy with the inside, you can place the pot down and on its rim and scrape the outside too. Be careful not to apply too much pressure, which could cause the vessel to become misshapen.

There are hundreds of different tools to shape and work the clay into more imaginative and creative shapes. One of the best bits of equipment to get your hands on is a a potters wheel, which you’ll need to throw pots - not as easy as it looks! You can buy a beginner’s wheel from around £150.

Firing the pot

To transform your pot into a waterproof and usable vessel, it will need to be fired in a kiln.

Unfortunately, your oven is not hot enough to do the job; your pot needs to be heated to over 1000° Celsius to become stone-like and waterproof.

There are many small kilns available for use at home and which can plug into a normal electrical socket. They cost from around £500 upwards, but talk to suppliers before making your purchase to make sure you’re getting the right kiln for your needs.

As a stopgap, you can buy clay which hardens in a domestic oven, but it won’t be very durable.

Decorating your pottery

Although you can decorate your creation using ordinary paint, glazing the pot - to give it a coloured, glass-like and waterproof surface - is a rewarding skill to learn.

You can buy ready made glazes and, and as you develop your pottery decorating skills, you can learn how to mix your own glazes from raw materials.

Having lessons from a professional potter, with the benefit of their equipment and experience, is the fastest way to learn. As lockdown eases, face-to-face lessons are starting up again, but are likely to be 1:1 for the time being. An individual lesson will cost £40-100.

Ashdown Pottery, in East Sussex, offers 1:1 tuition and sells ceramics online: www.ashdownpottery.co.uk

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