How to Set up a Pottery Studio and Learn to Throw Pottery
What will your pots look like?
Start with a passion for working with clay
If you’re considering setting up your own studio for making pottery, this article has information that you may find helpful. Hopefully, you have already been working with clay in a class or other “fee-based” studio, and you are ready to make the financial commitment necessary to create your own studio. I strongly suggest you have some hands-on exposure before you begin setting up a studio. You should be so passionate about it that you just can’t wait for your next studio session!
Where to setup your studio
The first thing you need is space for your equipment and supplies. My first pottery “studio” was a corner of a small spare bedroom. I placed protective covering in the corner of the room where my electric potter’s wheel would be located, and a small area rug under it to protect the bedroom carpeting. I used a tall bookshelf for my supplies and tools, and a couple of shelves held my wet pots while they dried.
If you plan to have your own kiln, this arrangement would not be ideal. You would not want the fumes from the kiln inside your home. Kilns can be dangerous if not handled properly. A room or area in a garage would be best for a kiln.
If you don’t plan to have a kiln, a corner or small room will probably be sufficient. You will need a table or surface for wedging and trimming, a place for drying your work, a place for supplies and tools, and a place for applying glazes.
Equipping your studio: Handbuilding or Throwing on the Wheel
If you plan to hand-build pottery, you need a few tools and a block of clay. If you want to throw pots on a potter’s wheel, this will be your first big expense. I bought my Clay Boss wheel in 2002 and it is still doing a fine job for me. These days they cost between $600 and $700. You may be able to find a used one, but be sure to try it out or ask for demo before you buy it. Ask the seller why they are selling it. You want to know if they used it a little while and lost interest or whether they used it intensely until it started to have problems that may not be apparent to a beginner.
The next big expense if you plan to fire your own pottery is the kiln. Mine is electric, and it required its own circuit and receptacle, so you may require an electrician to install it. I got lucky and found an excellent used kiln that a small college sold to me for $350. It was a manual kiln with just the pyrometer. Later, I added a digital controller, and it was still a great deal for the size. I rarely fill it up completely. I suggest that you buy the biggest kiln you can afford (assuming you're on a budget) so that you don’t outgrow it too quickly. Mine holds shelves that are around 20 inches square, and I can stack them to the size of my work, up to about 3 feet high.
Make your own texturizing stamps
If you followed my advice and took a class you probably have a basic set of tools. If you buy a new wheel, it should come with a few bats for the wheel head. You may need extras if you have time to throw more than a few pots each session. Also you may want to try out trimming tools other than those that came in your basic set. It is lots of fun to wander around a pottery supply house and look at all the neat little tools. Which ones you need will depend on what kind of pots you want to make. I like to have extra sponges, wires for cutting the clay, and buffing pads for smoothing rough edges. If you plan to work with different colors you may want extras to avoid tainting one clay with another.
Another item you should have is a wedging board. You can make one with canvas folded and stapled around a large board.
You can make some of the tools you need from found objects. For example, for adding texture to your pottery use jewelry and other things to make stamps so you can repeat the patterns you like.
Supplies for the pottery studio
Supplies include a bucket for water, towels, sponges, plastic bags for covering your newly made pots. A great use for plastic shopping bags. Plastic containers are good covers, too.
A warning about cleanup: never pour your water bucket or tray water into the sink drain. Even when you clean your towels, you should remove as much clay as possible before putting them in the laundry. Pour your clay water outside on the ground to avoid clogging your drains.
If you have your own kiln, you will need witness cones for evaluating results and adjusting your firing schedules.
When you're browsing magazines and catalogs tear out pictures of interesting shapes. Hang these on the wall near your wheel so you will have ideas for shaping your pots as you throw.
A few books are nice to have for tips and techniques. Of course, there are millions of resources on the internet. YouTube is wonderful! I love to look at the work of other potters, even though it can sometimes be intimidating. Once you have the bug, you will find inspiration everywhere you look!
Etsy.com is a fantastic place to see what other potters are making. Be prepared to be inspired and awed by the expert potters who display their work on Etsy. Later on, you may want to setup an Etsy account, too.