Pottery Making for Beginners: Here's How to Start Working with Clay

One artist shares tips for getting started.

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Potter are making a bowl in the studio
Photo: Yagi Studio / Getty Images

Pottery stands the test of time. Archeologists have been able to trace it as far back as prehistoric times, and the artfulness and practicality of pottery have contributed to its longevity. But how is pottery made? It starts with a natural material called clay. Clay is made from soil particles that become malleable when wet and hardened when dry. Natural clays were used by ancient pottery makers to create vases, bowls, urns, and more. Ahead, we explain this technique and all the tricks you need to know to get started.

Choosing Clay

When you begin making pottery, you need to start with the right clay. "If you have access to a kiln, traditional fired clay is the best way to make pottery, but it's also an expensive hobby to start. If you want to have a go at creating pottery at home there are other options that are much more accessible. Air-dry clay is one amazing alternative that you can use to create so many different projects right from your kitchen table!" explains Francesca Stone, author of Easy Homemade Pottery: Make Your Own Stylish Decor Using Polymer and Air-Dry Clay ($15.99, amazon.com). "One downside of air dry clay is that it's not waterproof but, in my book, I have a number of ideas to get around this. Polymer clays are oil-based and hold up better against water. These can be a better option based on the scope of your project."

Air-dry clay, like this Amaco Mexican Pottery Clay ($19.47, amazon.com), does not require a kiln. You can shape it by hand or use a pottery wheel to create clay sculptures and pottery without needing to purchase a kiln. Pottery kilns range in price from $300 to several thousand dollars. Your living space also needs to have enough room for a kiln and requires high energy capabilities.

Shaping and Sculpting with Clay

Once you have your clay and a work table, it's time to start shaping it. "The techniques for shaping clay depend on your desired result," Stone says. "Is your piece solid or hollow? Flat or three dimensional? Simple or detailed? You can use molds, cutters, supporting structures, or build the shape by hand." She suggests using molds for more control or consistent shapes but shaping by hand can create beautiful, organic pottery. The material is very versatile and gives you so many options when working with it.

Storing Clay

To store your clay, Stone says that it is fine to put unopened clay in a cool, dry place. What about clay that you have already opened and started using? "If you have leftover clay from a project you'd like to keep for future use place it into a Ziplock bag. Squeeze as much air out as possible and leave it somewhere cool," she says. "Once you're ready to use the air dry clay, add plenty of water and knead the clay until it's an even consistency throughout. You can spray air dry clay with water first to stop it drying out, but polymer clays are better left dry."

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