A Brief Guide To Creating Ceramics – For Work & Play
Pottery is one of the most accessible art and craft to learn. It is both a craft, as well as art depending on what you make from it. That is to say, you make ceramics that are inherently functional in nature (crafts) or decorative (art). That also sets it apart from many other kinds of crafts. In this picture post we will explore some subtle nuances of learning and executing this timeless craft.
How to start a pottery business
It all begins with learning to make ceramics. If you already know how to to do this then you need to jump straight to making a business plan and places to sell your crafts. The best way to learn pottery is to attend a pottery class close to you.
Where to learn pottery skills
The reason is that they will have all the equipment you need to start. Otherwise you will have to buy a kiln, or at the very least a potters wheel along with clay, glazes etc. And there is going to be wastage while you experiment with online pottery lessons. These are best saved for later when you have some solid basic skills under your belt and are confident about going further with this pursuit.
Many pottery studios will give lessons and will charge you a fee but provide you with all the raw materials and equipment. Some will not charge you anything but expect you to buy your own clay, and still let you use the equipment. It all depends of what is around you, or what workshop you are joining.
Here is a link to a web article listing out some very well known ceramic studios across the US where you can attend workshops, both for the aspiring and established potters. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-best-places-ceramics-classes
I know several potters who make rustic stuff. And it is loved by the buyers. See the picture on the left. However, this is a niche market. You should be aware that most people prefer the smooth, glazed ceramics that are more common. The said, niches are always a great idea for a business provided you can tap into one.
Is Pottery Profitable
Potter is profitable. If it wasn’t there wouldn’t be any potters. But like with all other art and craft businesses, the amount of money that you make depends a lot on other business aspects such as what you make and how well you market it. That is the reason why we have devoted a great amount of space to the business aspect of running a craft business on this blog. You can read about various topics like best practises to sell your goods online as well as creating a strong brand image, which is extremely important for an artist.
Certain websites will tell you that a successful potter’s average media income is around $50,000. I usually do not like to go to these figures because they can differ wildly according to your skill levels and business model. If you work in a niche, have collaborations, make pottery art etc. your income can be much higher.
How much does it cost to setup a pottery studio
$2500. That’s my estimated figure. At the very basic level a pottery studio is essentially a space where are you can install your pottery and paint and work in a somewhat secluded environment, or at least private enough for you to focus on your work.
Now you may have seen images of high-end studio spaces of artists. These images can be an inspiration to where you want to get to with your career in ceramics. But this is not what most pottery studios look like.
Ideally, you need a room that is removed from the rest of the house. If complete isolation is not possible then at least some insulation is required so that in the clay dust from the studio does not get into other living quarters. This is considering the fact that you have a pottery studio at home. Of course, renting a space outside is going to add it to your expense. Most potters first set up at home or rent a space at a pottery school or with another Potter for a fee.
So then if it a matter of buying the equipment for a pottery studio, I’d say that you can set up for around $2000, for an electric potters wheel, a small electric kiln, but of professional quality and whatever small additions you might need to do such as new wiring and circuit breaker. Add another $500 for the clay and glazes you might want to pick up to try.
Pottery is a craft. But it can very well be turned into something else as well. Crafts are meant to be functional by nature. But by blending design and functionality, pottery gives you many more options and much more freedom to do more with it. Not only is this creatively liberating but also means you get to target a completely different segment of people with your creations.
How much does a kiln cost
I recommend always starting out with a kiln of high quality, even as a beginner. So you are looking at about $1000 for an electric kiln that is capable of firing small clay crafts like vases, cups, jars etc. But since the firing process is integral to the quality of ceramics you make, you need a kiln to work accurately.
What that means mostly is that it should be able to operate at the right temperatures and heat evenly. It should have high quality insulations as well as circuitry so that it lasts you for long time. If you skimp on the cost now it would cost more in the long run.
A good quality electric kiln should last about 10 years. This is a good investment. So a small electric kiln of professional quality will cost about $1000 including certain accessories like shelves. They come with a controller that allow you to set temperatures and times for firing with a great deal of accuracy.
A major advantage of these smaller kilns is that while being professional grade they draw power from a regular 120V home outlet. No special wiring is required. Their maximum power rating is around 1800W.
If you get a larger electric kiln, the cost will be higher. It will go as high as $9000. These are high powered units that require their own circuit breaker and work on a wattage of more than 10,000W.
What equipment is required to do pottery
At the very basic level, you need a potters wheel, sponges, cutting and shaping tools and a kiln. Some will say that you can avoid a kiln but you cannot make high grade ceramics without a kiln, specially if you intend to use glazes.
Yes, you can bake pottery without a kiln. But then you have to make fire pits and be able to control temperatures which is a difficult task. It is hard to make waterproof hard ceramics without a kiln. Earthen ware, maybe. Stone wear and ceramics, probably no. Glazes definitely not.
If you live in an urban setup where are you going to find natural fuel like husk, wood, straw etc. and where will you make that fire pit. Plus, if you are looking to be ecologically friendly, things get harder. So for a city dweller, fuel and electric kilns are away to go, with the electric ones offering a much higher degree of control and ease of use.
There are certain kind of glazes that work with low heat firing such as the Raku firing. If you are so inclined, you can make a Raku kiln at home yourself. But you will need a kiln. This is how you do it.
More detailed list at the bottom of this post in the Pottery 101 section.
How can you earn as a potter
You can do many things. But I recommend doing just a very few to begin with. You need to find some highly marketable pottery crafts and figure out how to sell them. For most small businesses the sales begin right at home. It’s your family and friends who are probably going to buy from you first.
Do some research. Go for things that appeal to people for emotional reasons. Here is a product link on Etsy : https://www.etsy.com/listing/522780994/bread-pot-blue-glazed-pottery-bread-bowl/. This is a bread making bowl is a best seller. Small ceramics with great designs will always be your friend because you can sell them online as well.
Whatever you do, do not forge to create a brand for yourself before you start selling. Do no sell like a generic crafter. Be a name before you sell anything, even if it’s your own. Make what you love to make but do not ignore the wildly popular categories like home decor.
Finally, get good at what you do. Very very good.
Potter At Work
Seen on the left is a potter using a potter’s table with an electric potter’s wheel. This kind of a setup can easily be propped to allow you to work standing up or sitting on a high seating like a tall stool. This allows you more freedom of movement and overall mobility which results in less fatigue.
How to learn pottery
My first recommendation and perhaps the only option is to find pottery and ceramic classes close to you. If there are no formal classes find an experienced potter who will be willing to teach you even if you have learn by apprenticing.
If you cannot find a good place to learn close to you, I also recommend attending one of the well known pottery schools elsewhere. They have long and short courses and workshops that will teach you a lot. You can learn a lot in these places because of the singular exposure you will get to learning.
We have mentioned a link to the great schools of pottery in the US, earlier in the post, in case you missed it.
Another great advantage of attending a school is that they will provide you will all the equipment like a wheel and a kiln. You can then decide to invent in them later when you have a handle on the craft and are more certain in the steadfastness of your interests in ceramics.
Pottery at all levels
The more skilled you are at what you do, the better it is from the business point of view. You will be able to to do and create more. But learning is a process and it never really stops for the crafter. I know people who have been selling ceramics from the start, but keep learning, evolving and growing with time.
Classic pottery crafts
Pottery is one of those crafts where, by mastering to make one thing, you will learn most of what you need to know to make dozens of others. In that sense it is like learning to draw. One you know how, you can draw anything. The classic pottery designs are evergreen bestsellers.
Is Making Ceramics A Good Business
Ceramics is as good a business as you will make it. For that reason you have to be aware of the business side after craft as well. A large section of this blog is devoted to the subject of how to start and run a successful art and craft business.
Get the experience
As with most small business start-ups, things may, but usually do not start with a bang. The beginnings are slow. But as you can experience and keep getting better at what you do, things are bound to pick up. The important thing is to have the necessary skill and experience under your belt to make your poetry and ceramics Commerce worthy.
Pottery is a special craft in the way that it lends itself to all skill levels. You can learn to make a simple pot in an hour. And after a few sessions even get good at it. But, in order to make pieces worthy of business, you’re going to have to learn much more. Although there are plenty of potters making a good income from selling rustic ceramics and pottery, the crafts have a certain deliberate sense of design and creativity impacted on it. They are not made by accident, or from a lack of expertise.
Collect business acumen
You have to get familiar with things like creating a great brand image for yourself and the work that you do. You should definitely research the things that you are creating and what are the powerful niches therein. You also need to explore all the possible avenues of where you can sell what you make. Explore and have a marketing and publicity strategy in mind. As intimidating as it might sound this is not that difficult.
Some of the things that are important are:
- You should be good and skilful at what you do.
- You should be creating something of interest and intriguing design.
- You should be original, to the best of your ability.
- You should have a niche product.
- Having something original and in a niche doesn’t mean creating something completely new right from the scratch. It simply means that the product has your signature mark on it.
- Classic pottery crafts are still hot selling products. The question remains how well can you make it and whether you can make it synonymous with your own brand name.
- One of the most helpful tips that I learnt about being in the art and craft business is to avoid having a genetic image.
- Your brand name as well as your name as an artist should be a strong indicator of design, quality, guarantee and a personal message that your buyers buy every single time.
- Learn how to make a business plan before you get into there mix of things.
- Practice and never stop learning.
- Become really good at what you do.
These are all hallmarks of running a successful business, be it ceramics or anything else.
Pottery for kids.
It’s a great idea for kids to learn pottery. They love the whole messy affair, but it can be tricky to keep them interested. But then that is true for any skill that you may try to imbibe in them.
But here is something that is good for their physical and mental development, and like most other arts, something that has the potential of becoming more than a hobby is pursued with persistence.
Ceramics & Pottery 101
Tools & supplies needed for pottery
Potters Wheel. There are 2 kinds, electric and flywheel. I doubt you will want the one with the flywheel as they add another dimension to learning pottery. Electric potters wheels are convenient and can be run at precise speeds automatically, allowing you to focus more on the working on the pottery.
A Kiln. You might be lead to believe that you can do pottery without out a kiln, but if you really are learning to make real world functional pottery, you cannot work without a kiln. This is going to a sizeable expense, so it’s a great idea to find one in a pottery school or rent it with another potter, in the beginning. Especially if you are in the learning stage.
Kilns also come in the electric and fuel varieties. Electrics are preferred because they give very precise temperature control. But the fuel ones like the ones that run on propane can be cheaper.
A small electric kiln of professional quality will cost around $1000. I highly recommend saving up for this expense because kilns are supposed to last for a long time. A good electric kiln but lost you for at least 10 years. So while the upfront cost will be more, return on investment will be much higher.
Also the process of firing is your ceramics will hugely impact the end results. The more precisely your kiln can handle this job, the more consistent will be the outcome.
New Kilns can cost as little as $500 and as much as $6500.
Clay: Potters mainly use 3 kinds of clay: Earthenware, Stoneware and Porcelain clay, with the porcelain clay being the most expensive.
Glazes. There is a large variety of glazes available now. And so are the results you can achieve with them. Glazes are the most expensive of all supplies but also the easiest way to make your pottery stronger, safer and beautiful. There are different kinds of glazes for different jobs.
A single pint-sized jar of clear glaze should cost you $11 to $18. A set of various colored glazes costs between $80-200.
Brushes. Brushes are used to paint on underglazes, glazes, and overglazes.
Sponges. They are used for blending water on the wheel and to create effects with decorating. They also carry water to the clay.
Potter’s Callipers. These are used for measuring the pottery’s diameter.
Cutting Wires. They are used for cutting batches of clay and removing clay from the wheel.
Potter’s Needles. You’ll use them for carving and trimming.
Fettling Knives. They are used to trim slabs and cut across pieces. Soft ones can be used to flick away collected clay or glaze.
Buckets to carry hold the water or slurry.
An apron. For obvious reasons of keeping as much clay off you as possible.
How to setup a pottery workspace
Preferably you want to work in a somewhat isolated place removed from your living quarters. This can either be a separate room or somewhere else altogether. Clay can be difficult to clean up with household equipment. Even house vacuum cleaners might not be able to tackle it effectively.
At the very least you will need your workplace to have the following features.
Concrete floors are the best because while they are impervious to water they also have the ability to absorb it a bit and dry faster than smooth surfaces like marble or linoleum.
You will need a water supply. And also to drain water.
A sturdy table, where you do all kinds of preparation and finishing. You may want to put your potters wheel on the table as well, for a more comfortable working position. You will need to ensure that this working surface is also something that can be easily cleaned of clay.
Strong shelves for drying pottery before firing.
A cabinet or other storage area for glazes and tools.
If you are learning pottery, the best way to find a place with all the tools and facilities is to join a pottery workshop.
Look for potters who will let you learn from them as an apprentice.