What projects can help me jump beyond a beg/intermediate pottery level?
April 30, 2019 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I have three months full time in the pottery studio coming soon, and I welcome your help in developing a syllabus (as it were) of goals/projects to take my pottery game to a more advanced level!

I've been throwing pottery on the wheel for about 5 years, inconsistently. I now have a chance to dedicate three months to throwing on the wheel. The studio is very well stocked on all kinds of equipment, glazes, etc. and offers stoneware and porcelain, and perhaps one other clay.

What are some structured pottery goals and/or projects that will take me from being able to make some simple mugs and bowls that are glazed in one color to more elaborate and interesting pieces?

What tasks or practices could help me improve my current skills (e.g., better centering, better sgraffito work, better glazing techniques)?

I would love your help in developing a three month list of goals, tasks and projects to help me move beyond a beginner/intermediate level in pottery. Like a syllabus, essentially. Videos and how-tos are most definitely welcome.

Thank you!
posted by LittleFuzzy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
What I do when I want to improve my painting or drawing skills is to look at something that I LOVE, that is clearly more advanced than I'm used to, and just *try* to duplicate it. What kind of pottery do you love?

If I were you, I'd be inspired by Junichi Tanaka's works, which I collect.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:13 PM on April 30, 2019

Best answer: Pottery, my favourite! I assume you've already watched the Great Pottery Throw Down series? They have throwing and hand building projects, so you could go through and pick the ones that interest you. You can find it on youtube. I had a lot of fun copying projects from the show. I also like following people on Instagram and trying to replicate work, with my own twist. Punch in various hashtags and try not to drool too much.

Do a week of wax resist, a week of underglaze, a week of sgraffito, a week decorating with slips and engobes. Youtube videos are great too. Watch Simon Leach or whoever you find that you like for throwing style, and then just try and replicate what they do. Plate week, nesting mixing bowl week, pitcher week, butter dish week, lidded pot week, teapot week (ok maybe 2 weeks for this one). Throw a dozen different mugs with the same weight of clay and then pull twelve different handles for them.

Also, don't be too precious about anything. If this is to stretch and experiment then don't get hung up on one piece for weeks and weeks. Let stuff die if it deserves to die.
posted by Cuke at 12:30 PM on April 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've just started pottery in January, so still in the beginner level, but also wishing I could have the time like you to dedicate to throwing! Here's what's on my current pottery learning list right now:

I'd love to go through all of Hsin-Chuen Lin's videos because there's so much he explains! He goes through everything from wedging to glazing techniques.

I'd also love to be able to follow my current instructor's suggestion of throwing 300 cylinders to really start figuring out that form. I've recently finally started throwing taller cylinders more consistently and am moving on to throw more pot-bellied stuff, but the weakness in my cylinders (uneven walls) really really comes through when I try to make my pots start bulging. Plus doing all the cylinders means I get to practice centering/opening/pulling a lot too.

I figure out of those 300, I'd like to trim about 75% of them and then make handles for half of those trimmed. Use all those to play around with glazing.
posted by astapasta24 at 1:31 PM on April 30, 2019

Most teachers I have come into contact with recommend basically throwing the same object over and over and over and over and over again and trashing every single one, cutting into it to look at what your wall width and overall structure look like for each object to see where you have room to improve your wall width/shaping/etc. Once you have thrown a whole bunch of that object, then you can move on to future steps and choose pieces to actually keep. This trains your hands to throw this object and you to develop your own style for that type of object, rather than doing it piecemeal because your main objective is to throw stuff to keep. Start with one type of item, then move onto others.

As a once-a-week potter, one thing I'd really love to take some time to do if I used a studio daily would be to practice decorating techniques that require you to check your pieces' dryness and do at the optimal time, such as inlay (mishima) techniques. I can't really do that as a once a week potter because my dry times are too all over the place depending on whether it's a dry or humid time of year, but if I was going in every day that would allow me more control over the drying speed and let me branch out more.
posted by urbanlenny at 1:51 PM on April 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What a fun question!

I’ve been making pottery for 8 years, and the times I grew the most in skills were 1) when I was unemployed for a few months and had time to mess around with low stakes (sounds like what you have access to now); 2) when I took a class focused on a style/era I wasn’t very interested in and just had to use/learn technical skills instead of making the forms I was comfortable with; 3) when I had a teacher who was really into creativity within self imposed restrictions and taught a whole class where we could only use black or white.

Exercises I’ve found helpful: making a lot of the same thing to learn consistency; making the same shape with amounts of clay that increase by half a pound each time; making things and slicing them in half as mentioned above; practicing attachments by making, say, ten handles and attaching them all to something for practice then smooshing it; seeing how tall I can get a cylinder in three pulls, over and over again; timing myself and seeing how fast I can make something or how many of something I can make in a short time; trying all the surface designs on a test piece or two and seeing what they look like when fired; if you have other people involved, making different pieces of something (like a teapot) and then trading pieces to make Frankenstein teapots and discuss what shapes work; having someone else draw something then trying to make it; deciding not to keep anything I made for a whole day and just making weird new shapes all day; messing with things like layering glazes on small test tiles or simple forms that don’t take you much time instead of high stakes pieces; I’m sure there are more. I took a bunch of surface design classes when I was on the beginner/intermediate cusp and those skills have been super useful and made my work more interesting, also.

YouTube videos are useful, and not necessarily only the ones from renowned potters. I learned to throw hollow handles by watching a video from an undergrad ceramics class on the bus on the way to the studio, for example. Those kinds of videos are useful for basic or new skills you don’t need the masters to learn.

The studio where I take classes teaches one called “begintermediate,” which might be exactly what you want - I’ve never taken it, but send me a note if it would be helpful to ask someone who’s taught it what the syllabus is like. Good luck!
posted by centrifugal at 9:38 PM on April 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since you are collecting links, Helen Levi, whose work I like, posted a link about her Skillshare yesterday. I often watch her trimming videos on insta.

I am filled with admiration for you! How lovely to have the time to dedicate to potting, I wish you a magnificent three months filled with experimentation, successes, and interesting failures.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 6:54 AM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Porcelain is much harder to throw than stoneware. Learn how to throw a wide bowl in porcelain (throw a lot, don't let 'em slump, cut in half, evaluate wall thickness, and toss in the bucket) and you should be able to make anything in stoneware.

Throwing things that are taller than your forearm is much harder than throwing things shorter than your forearm. Learn to throw a good cylinder the length of your forearm, and then learn one to throw an inch longer than your forearm, repeat adding an inch.
posted by gregr at 7:43 AM on May 1, 2019

Response by poster: You all are the best. Thank you for your insights! I'm taking notes from each answer. You've shared some excellent online resources that I didn't know about (a whole pottery SHOW! {gasp}), and you've helped me to start putting some shape to what my three months will look like. I am so grateful. Please keep any thoughts and answers coming!
posted by LittleFuzzy at 8:34 AM on May 1, 2019

Like others have said, throw and throw and throw some more, analyze, keep a few and toss the rest. Attempt a large bowl, and throwing on a hump, and two part vases. Manipulate the rims. Find an element you like and repeat it over and over again.
posted by Sequined Ballet Flats at 7:51 PM on May 1, 2019

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