Thinking about Taking up Pottery as a New Hobby?
Being able to work with clay and throw and fire beautiful pieces of pottery is not only a pleasure but a privilege too. Working with one’s hands makes for a satisfying pastime and pottery is just as therapeutic as it is creative.
Traditional handicrafts like pottery are experiencing a resurgence as more and more people experience the benefits of unplugging the digital devices and finding new ways of being productive.
With pottery skills, you can make useful bowls, plates, and vessels or experiment with the kaleidoscope of glazes and firing effects to create beautiful works of art.
Beautify your home with the ceramics you make and never be without a thoughtful hand and heart-made gift for relatives again.
The thought of owning and using a pottery wheel running your own kiln may seem daunting to many, but we are sure that you will find that pottery is an incredibly accessible hobby with a range of methods and opportunities to exercise your skills in most communities.
Pottery has great scope and further on in this concise guide we share a range of strategies for keeping productive at your new hobby in an affordable way.
So, join us in exploring the world of pottery, its origins, key techniques essential gear, and how to get involved. Also, we will share loads of helpful and interesting resources as well as featuring some great ceramics artists for inspiration. Let’s go!
What is a pottery hobby?
Hobby pottery is simply the amateur pursuit of the age-old craft of making pottery. Rather than being formally trained in ceramics at art college or completing an apprenticeship, the amateur potter develops their skills bit by bit through experimentation, learning from others, or perhaps, short courses.
It’s not done as a livelihood, though we think if you become good it can make a great side-hustle. Pottery takes clay and ceramic materials, molding and forming them by hand and with tools to produce durable objects that are hardened by air drying or high-temperature firing.
Firing the shaped clay produces irreversible chemical reactions in the clay that makes the pottery very strong. Also, the finish of the clay objects that have been made can be reinforced or decorated by preparation with an expansive range of vitreous glazes that are fired on to the pottery items.
You can trace pottery across all cultures and civilizations
By taking up pottery you will be joining the long line of craftsmen and artisans who have worked with this versatile medium through the ages. You will enjoy researching and trying out the pottery techniques that are used in different cultures, perhaps recreating earthen items using ancient techniques.
Pottery goes back thousands of years and is essentially as old as mankind. Necessity is the mother of invention, with pottery being one of the earliest forms of manufacturing to supply vessels and utensils for the wider community.
Simultaneous discoveries of primitive clay objects and vessels across the world indicate that the knowledge of how to use and fire clay was understood across a range of people groups at the same time.
Extremely ancient evidence of pit firing and coiling (a technique we will describe further on), has been found in South America, Sub-Sarahan Africa, and China, thousands of years before the instantly recognizable vases and vessels of antiquity made by the Romans and Greeks.
In later times, the expansion of trade and exploration of the globe created a melting pot of ideas and tastes with examples of fine pottery from eras and civilizations like the Ming Dynasty and Ottoman Empire becoming much sought-after.
The industrial age brought mass manufacture of pottery, which gave work and identity to the West Midlands region of Staffordshire.
Contemporary pottery draws on this rich history for what is an incredibly broad discipline. In the West, handmade earthen items are artisanal items and often carry a premium, whether they are made for domestic use or as pieces of art.
However traditional techniques design and uses still thrive in pottery powerhouses like Mali or India.
6 Reasons why pottery is a good hobby
If the thought of continuing the long line of tradition in pottery piques your interest, we think you will be sold on these 6 reasons for getting involved in pottery:
- You will enjoy hobby pottery if you like making things with your hands
It’s hard to deny that in these modern times, we are far removed from the experience of making things for ourselves. Since the industrial revolution, traditional handicrafts like pottery, woodworking, and weaving have been on the wane worldwide, but there have been efforts to preserve these skills.
Undertaking a practical hobby like pottery where you work with your hands is a back to reality experience that is very satisfying.
When you complete your pottery projects, we are sure that you will feel a great sense of achievement and appreciation of the fact that you can make useful things, from scratch, yourself.
- All ages can enjoy a pottery hobby
Dollops of wet clay in the hands of a toddler are not for the fainthearted, but pottery is incredibly accessible for participants of all ages and abilities. Pottery is perfect for introducing children to the great experience of making and is very forgiving on results of all kinds.
It’s all about experimentation and learning what you can achieve with the clay. The whole family will certainly enjoy making objects from clay, as well as using tools, paints, glazes, and varnishes to decorate their creations.
Seniors also can derive great contentment from the slow and steady work of perfecting a pottery piece, letting it dry, or firing it and finishing it with a variety of glazes.
- Great for sensory development/motor skills for the young
A pottery hobby is a fantastic pastime for helping young children build strength and dexterity in their hands. Without even knowing it, their pottery work will be improving their hand to eye coordination and providing a great sensory experience due to the texture of soft clay.
- You can use your hobby pottery to create beautiful ornamental pieces
Once you start to develop your style of pottery you will find that there is a vast range of effects and techniques that can be adopted for creating artistic ceramic pieces. Use them as an outlet for self-expression.
Ornamental stoneware, earthenware, or porcelain will make a stunning addition to any environment.
One of the best things about pottery is that you can take inspiration from your other interests, cultures, or the things around you, like Isle of Wight ceramic artist Sally Woodford.
Amateur ceramic artists and potters often exhibit their work at local crafts fairs and even sell their pieces.
- Create unique practical pieces for the home with your new-found pottery skills
If the salad bowls in your house are never big enough or you want to add a personal touch to your home crockery, you can use your pottery skills to make exactly what you need.
Self-made dinnerware is charmingly rustic with a character that money cannot buy. Put your skills to good use by making one-of-a-kind plates and platters that can even be gifted or become treasured family heirlooms.
- Unwind from the stresses and strains of everyday life by throwing clay
A session of pottery is incredibly relaxing and makes a perfect escape from the 9 to 5 routine. Getting the best results from your pottery project requires patience.
You’ll have to learn to wait for the clay to air dry between stages of construction of your objects and for glazes to have their effect. You may also need to wait for the opportunity to fire your work in a suitable kiln.
As a fledgling potter, you may accidentally mar your work and have to start over again and again, so pottery is certainly a great character builder.
What does pottery involve?
Taking up hobby pottery does not need to be daunting, but it is important to understand that there are a variety of skills, techniques, and materials involved.
Knowing where to start and having a working knowledge of the basics should prove the springboard to pinpointing the type of pottery you will want to do as a longer-term pastime.
3 key types of pottery to try as part of your hobby
The types of objects you can produce as an amateur potter can broadly be divided into earthenware, stoneware, and ceramics. These three types of potter will require firing in a kiln or pit fire, with temperature determining the type of pottery you will end up with.
Heat causes molecular changes in the clay leading to its crystallization and vitrification (becoming glass-like) which makes it extremely hard.
The lament of many pottery artisans is the availability of a suitable kiln and your access to high firing temperatures will therefore be a key determinant of the type of pottery you will be able to work in.
- Earthenware is produced by the lowest temperature firing with formed clay being heated to temperatures of around 600 degrees Celsius (1112 degrees Fahrenheit) and above. This type of pottery remains porous and won’t be able to hold water if kept unglazed. Terracotta with its distinctive reddish-brown hue (due to iron) is a type of earthenware.
- Stoneware pottery achieves far higher temperatures during the firing process, of around 1100 degrees Celsius to 1200 degrees Celsius (2012 to 2192 degrees Fahrenheit). This produces a stronger, non-porous finish to the pottery which makes it hardwearing, especially if it is used for liquids and foods.
- Ceramics are fired at temperatures that are higher still, around 1400 degrees Celsius (2600 degrees Fahrenheit). It takes effort and energy to achieve these temperatures so ceramic pottery took many centuries to become fully developed and utilized. Many early examples of fine ceramics come from China, giving rise to the term china being used to describe this type of pottery. Ceramic items are strong and watertight, meaning that they are widely used in the domestic setting as well as for ornamental purposes.
Can I make pottery without a kiln?
If kiln firing is a hurdle that is too high for you, you can try pit firing clay. The techniques used are often practiced by potters who want to achieve specific firing effects and glazes. A local ceramics artist may be in your neighborhood who can demonstrate this method or the dramatic
Be very careful about constructing an open fire for this purpose as there may be local fire codes or zoning restrictions in place.
Do not attempt to fire your items in a household oven or over a fireplace as you simply won’t be able to achieve the high temperatures required for even earthenware and you will almost certainly create a fire hazard.
There are polymer clays available that can be oven-dried, but you must purchase a specific type of clay that is made for drying in the oven at lower temperatures.
Can I use air-dry clay for my pottery hobby?
If you are doing pottery with children or just want to work from your kitchen table, air drying clay can be used to produce great results. It offers good handling and can be shaped and sculpted very effectively using some of the methods shared below.
As the name indicates, air-dry clay does not need to be fired and will dry in about 48 hours once you have finished modeling.
Working with clay
If you think that you can just sink your hands into some clay and get going with your hobby, you will find that you’re in for a rough ride! Before working with it, clay needs to be prepared so it has the right consistency, moisture content, and remains workable.
The effort that the potter puts into these preparatory stages will have a direct effect on the results of their pottery work.
Kneading, wedging,and de-airing are key first steps as trapped air within the clay will expand when the pottery is fired, causing cracks or explosions. Some people tread down the clay just like grapes! Many pottery studios or classes will have a clay pugger on hand which is a machine that can do these steps quickly.
What is clay made from?
Clay is not just a homogenous squidgy brown stuff, it is a type of mineral-rich soil that develops favorable plasticity when moist. The mineral content of the clay will vary by type and the location where it is found and this confers the clay’s plasticity, shrinkage, and behavior when fired.
Different clay bodies can be combined to get a working clay with the properties required for a particular project. Some types of clay you may encounter as part of your hobby include:
- Kaolin clay: a type of clay that is routinely used for making porcelain.
- Stoneware clay: is used for stoneware and has high heat-resistance as well as good plasticity.
- Bentonite clay: is often added to other types of clay to improve plasticity.
It is possible to dig up clay or re-work clay you already have, but both have to be done carefully to achieve workable results.
Key methods for pottery making you should try as part of your hobby
Most people think of potters sitting at a wheel creating elaborate and elongated vessels. But there are several ways in which you will be able to practice your pottery hobby, perhaps combining techniques depending on the results you want to achieve with your project.
- Coiling is a simple form of pottery that involves taking your clay and rolling it into long snake-like rolls which then can be built up into the layers of a vessel by coiling. The coiled object can then have the layers joined together and reinforced by adding moist clay, known as slip, and the use of smoothing tools. All sorts of objects and ornamental art can be created with this easy to learn the technique. Here are some great examples of coiled pottery from artists in Northern English.
- Pinch pottery is another accessible form of pottery that produces great results. Simply take a ball of clay and pinch and press it into the shape you want to create. You can use this method to produce one-of-a-kind pieces of pottery that then are worked and smoothed with slip and tools of your choice. Many professional potters and artists use the pinch technique to create vessels and hollow objects by joining shaped pieces of clay as shown in this neat demonstration video.
- Virginian pottery artist Kathy Jeffers uses the pinch pottery method in her work.
- The slab method can be used to produce some very visually arresting objects like these burnished and Raku-fired pieces by Sally Woodford. Slab pottery takes smooth flat slabs of clay and rolls or molds them into the larger piece you want to make. It is great for getting smooth results without a wheel! Jon the Potter on YouTube shows how it’s done!
- Throwing pottery requires the classic potter’s wheel, which consists of a motorized turntable on which the clay rotates while it is being formed. The wheel-head, as this surface is known, is turned by electricity or a foot pedal and the speed can be adjusted as the potter requires. As the clay is spinning the potter indents and gently draws up the clay to form a vessel much like this potter in India is doing with a stick-turned wheel. Throwing pots and vases looks easier than it actually is. If not done correctly the walls of the vessel quickly become thin and collapse on themselves. Even the pros have pottery wheel fails
You can make hobby projects your own with a kaleidoscope of decorative techniques and glazes
Once you have completed your clay items you can detail, decorate, and add color to your projects with implements like stamps, paints, and pottery glazes. The sheer range of embellishment techniques that exist for pottery are beyond the scope of this article but let’s take a look at the main ones:
- Glazes not only add visual detail to pottery designs but can be used to waterproof and protect your hard work. Vitreous glazes are applied to unfired pottery and at various stages throughout the firing process. They are commonly made from metal salts and oxides and even wood ash, which was a strong and resilient glaze in ancient times. With glazes, experimentation is the order of the day as environmental conditions and the type of clay and firing will affect the final finish you achieve. Be careful when using or handling clay glazes as come contain poisonous metals such as lead.
- Carving of the clay with a suitable tool produces beautiful patterns and adds texture to a piece. Designs can become very intricate with low-relief carvings depicting scenes or floral patterns. You can transfer the desired pattern or line drawing to the surface of the clay with blades and carving tools. Needle, beveled, and loop tools can be used to carve away the excess clay to perfect your design.
- Burnishing is a polishing technique that is used to create a beautiful sheen on pottery without the need for a glaze. In this demonstration of pottery burnishing with a stone, you can see that this is rather time-consuming but the results are highly effective.
The basic equipment needed for a pottery hobbyist
Acquiring the tools and materials made to make a real go of your pottery hobby will require an investment of both money and time. Until you are confident of the type of potter you want to focus on, it may be prudent to hold back from the larger purchases.
However, if you are fortunate to have space and budget to start a small studio, you may want to have all the staple tools and equipment for most forms of pottery on hand, with clay and glazes being your main consumables.
This list of hobby pottery items brings together the main items you may need on this creative journey.
A suitable workspace and level surfaces are a priority for working with clay. Good lighting too. Many amateur potters set up a garden workspace or studio that can be used for pottery. Within your workshop or studio, you will need:
- Secure storage for glazes and tools that could be harmful to children and pets
- Shelving to rest projects that are at various stages of completion, trestles may be helpful if you need to vary how you use your space.
- Water supply for water to work with the clay. Ensure that you never put clay down drains. Your clay and glaze slops should be dried out completely and thrown out in the trash.
Clay is, of course, your major consumable and will require airtight storage to prevent unused portions from drying out. Wrap the clay in plastic wrap or damp cloth, in a cool dark environment.
Pug mixers and clay mills can be used to recover, mix, and wedge clay so that it is ready to use. They are rated by their capacity in pounds and the rate at which they process clay (pounds per hour).
Glazes can be liquid or dry preparations and need to be selected according to the firing temperature at which they work. You also need to consider the type of kiln firing you will be undertaking and also whether the glaze will be for pottery that will be used for eating and drinking.
Lead is a common component in glazes and if you want to avoid this substance, you should ensure that you choose explicitly lead-free glazes.
Kiln or access to kiln space is key to being able to fire your pieces conveniently. However, kilns are expensive and require a lot of power to run properly. Kilns can be electric, gas, or wood powered.
An electric kiln can draw a lot of power and will need to be expertly installed with grounding and professional hook up to mains power. If owning a kiln is not feasible for you, you may be able to procure firing space in the kiln of a local pottery studio or class for a small fee, or, even better, as a favor.
Aprons will be needed to protect your clothing from clay which certainly gets everywhere. It is probably best to wear old clothes while working so you can move and work freely without trying to avoid getting dirty.
Towels and dishcloths are great for cleaning your hands quickly.
Buckets of water are needed for preparing slip and bringing water into your work area if you do not have a supply.
Soft brushes bamboo or Sumi brushes can be used to apply paint and glazes.
Wooden modeling tools are needed for carving your pottery and you can choose tools that can be used to create specific effects on the clay. A potter’s needle is designed for getting into tight spaces and trimming and scoring the clay precisely. Most clay modeling tool kits will include ribbon tools, loop tools, and cleanup tools too.
Cut-off wire is used to cut the clay of pottery wheels or wedging tables. Interestingly, piano wire is very good for the job and works with even the toughest clay. Keep a length of this spring-tensioned wire on hand, and you should find that it lasts years.
A pottery wheel is required for throwing pottery and you will find that they vary widely in price, size, and performance. There are many children’s and amateur wheels available online, but as you gain proficiency in your craft you will probably need to invest in a professional pottery wheel.
These cost anywhere between $400 and $1500 and will be rated for their clay weight limit. You can purchase portable pottery wheels and choose from electric and kickwheel models.
Learning and Developing your pottery skills
If you are raring to go and get started with hobby pottery, we advise that you start by getting some hands-on experience or at least see potters in action by taking an online pottery class or visiting a pottery studio in your community.
Most pottery studios will offer classes where you can gain hands-on experience working with clay and try all the techniques discussed above. They are also great for potentially firing your pottery when you start out on your own.
Alternatively, you can contact your local community college which usually runs short courses in pottery as well as also potentially having a kiln! A pottery evening class is great for getting to know other hobby potters in your community.
You may also find local ceramics artists in your neighborhood hold arts open days, much like the Open Arts Studios program on the Isle of Wight in England.
Meeting artists is great, because these experienced potters will tell you all the basics and have equipment and techniques to demonstrate too. Ask plenty of questions as these artists are usually willing to share their expertise.
Pottery as a hobby round up
Pottery is an enjoyable practical craft that will exercise your creativity and keep you enthused as you will always be improving your skills. At the heart of building your pottery hobby is experimentation.
Try out new techniques, speak with artists, and visit museums and galleries to keep yourself topped up on ideas and inspiration as you plan new pottery projects. A good scrapbook is a perfect companion to any hobby. Use yours to curate ideas, journal projects, and budget purchases of equipment and supplies.
Your pottery hobby may start off as a smaller interest but as you develop as a potter you may find that this hobby becomes a big part of your life and perhaps even a livelihood.