Our guide to pottery
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to pottery

First published date January 30 2014 Amended date February 03 2015

Fashioning your own pots, cups, vessels and ornaments using a squishy, squashy material called clay can be one of the most satisfying past times to take up. So, if you want to make like Demi Moore in Ghost (throwing pottery on a potter's wheel shall forever be linked to this iconic film moment) or even Deirdre in Coronation Street (her favourite hobby!), why not take up one of the wide ranging and wonderful pottery courses happening around the country. Whether you are an absolute beginner looking for a brand new hobby or a seasoned potter, there is a pottery course out there for you. So grab your clay and get creative!


Pottery novices

Most pottery courses are generally part time and take place over several weeks. Choose a beginner's course where you can learn the whole gamut of pottery skills including hand building, mastering the potter's wheel, glazing and other decorative techniques. Otherwise, you might want something a little more tailored to your needs such as a throwing workshop focusing solely on the potter's wheel. Make your first thrown pieces, learn how to turn the bases and then glaze your work before taking it home. Combine this with a term of coiling and slabbing and you will leave with an excellent grounding in the three basic ceramic techniques. Why not kick off with a weekend taster course and follow on with longer sessions if your inner potter has been unleashed?

Pottery can be a great hobby for the entire family too, so seek out family pottery courses where children and adults can learn ceramics together in a friendly, creative atmosphere alongside other families and a tutor.


...and pottery improvers

If you have experience of pottery and ceramic arts or have completed an introductory class, try an intermediate pottery course where you can build on your existing knowledge, techniques and processes. You will have the opportunity to experiment with decoration and glazes as well as taking the first steps into mould making and press moulding. If pottery is more than just a fun past time, look into taking an intensive, year-long BTEC National Diploma in Design Crafts where you will be submerged into the world of the designer-maker. As well as pottery, the whole spectrum of crafts are covered including jewellery, silversmithing and architectural stained glass.

There are quite a few options if you want to pursue a career in pottery and ceramic arts too and you could make good money from your craft.


Hand building vs the potter’s wheel

Creating clay pots with your hands was the norm before potter's wheels were used and is still a great skill to master today, which is why some pottery course providers choose to focus on it. The three most basic hand-building techniques are:

Pinching is a basic pot-making method originating in ancient times but still in production today. Simple bowls and cups are created from a single lump of clay using a pinching process whereby the clay walls are thinned by pinching them with thumb and forefinger. Great for beginners and children

Coiling has been used to shape clay into vessels for thousands of years. Basically, you roll out a worm or snake-shape and then build up the coils to the desired size and design. Coiled pots can be thick and tall, or thin and tiny, depending on what you want!

Slabbing is another hand building method used to make pots by joining slabs of clay together. Edges need to be joined with slip to get a good bond. Some experts recommend placing a coil in the corner for extra strength


Throwing pottery on a potter's wheel calls for a whole new skillset. Here are some of the basic techniques to get you started:

Centering the clay is a crucial skill that you will learn on your chosen pottery course. If your clay isn't centred when you begin to pull up the piece it will be off balance

Opening the vessel can be really tricky. Start by using your thumb in the opening, then use both hands to widen the opening. You need to keep your hands really still otherwise the hole in the centre will wobble around. Remember to leave enough clay for the bottom of the piece

Pulling up the walls shouldn't be difficult if the first two steps are carried out successfully. With the speed of the wheel set at slow-to-medium, pull up the walls in two or three pulls Don't try to pull it up all at once


Look out for...

Here are two contemporary artist-designers who have turned the ancient art of ceramics on its head with beautiful, thought provoking creations:


Grayson Perry is a Turner Prize-winning English artist known for his beautiful and challenging ceramic vases and cross dressing alter ego, Claire. His Grecian-like urns and vases are classical in shape and bursting with colour but are decorated with incongruous, evocative imagery such as car-wrecks, death, violence and politics.


Jaime Hayon is a Spanish artist-designer who works in a variety of mediums including ceramics. His concern with conserving craft skills led him to collaborate with a number of traditional brands including 'The Fantasy Collection', breathing new life into Lladro's porcelain figurines.


Top tip for budding potters 

For masses of inspiration on shape, colour and design, don't forget to check out our wealth of classic English pottery brands too. The likes of Portmeirion, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and Poole Pottery have a rich history in ceramics with many designs now sought-after collector's items. These companies refuse to stand still however and are constantly reinventing themselves with guest artists and reworkings of historical prints from their archives.


By Lara Sargent

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