Working in the Clay Studio

To my readers outside of Santa Fe, you may not know that it is a well renowned city of artists.  Many community members are involved in pottery, painting, jewelry making, or other crafts, and people even relocate here for the art scene.  One of the items on my lengthy New Mexico Bucket List was to enroll in a pottery class.  (After all, When in Rome, right?)  Well…  I did!  And I love it! 

I am about halfway through my seven-week Wheelthrowing for Beginners class at Santa Fe Clay and I’ve been working on a number of exciting pieces already.  I have found art to be an invigorating release from my fulltime job as a physical therapist, a job that I love but that can be stressful, demanding, and sapping at times.  I feel myself activating the artsy, creative side of my brain in the clay studio and finding a new kind of “flow.”  (Although based on my progress so far, I shouldn’t quit my day job.)

A view of the clay studio
In this first post about my new hobby, I bring you: Wheelthrowing for Dummies.  Here is the basic process by which simple bowls, cups, and pots are thrown.   

You start with a big blog of clay.  (Here is the Death Valley, a dark, coarse clay that I have really enjoyed molding.)  Slap it down on the wheel, and the first step is centering.  (Shouldn’t this be the first step of everything in life?)  

It’s such a great feeling when a clay form finally becomes centered and feels as though it’s not evening spinning on the wheel.  Once you have a centered ball of clay, you start forming the indented center.  After slowing down the wheel (I forget this step a lot), you pull your sides up and in to create the walls.   

Next you can pull out or create some shape to the form using various tools, sponges, or just your fingers.  The shape of the inside is the most important part because the outside can be trimmed later.

My largest bowl so far.  I was actually quite impressed with myself!
After a few days of drying, the pots are ready to trim.  I hated this part at first, and in fact my first piece was sent flying off the wheel during my initial trimming attempt.  However, I have come to enjoy this crucial stage.   

Setting up a cup for trimming...

...and here's how it turned out!
During trimming, the bowl is upside down on the wheel and you use trimming tools to carve a foot at the bottom and shape the outsides of the bowl (ideally to match the shape of the inside).  Once you get into a flow while trimming, it can be very relaxing and almost hypnotizing to watch the slices of clay spin off the piece.

Trimming a bowl
When you have finished trimming a piece, it’s time for the first phase of firing.  Here are the kilns: 

After firing comes the complex process of glazing.  I am still cautious and vigilant when it comes to glazing, for many reasons really.  Glazing can be unpredictable as many glazes react differently depending on the type of clay, whether they are on the inside or outside of the form, or based on the day and the particular glaze mixture.  You can make a lovely piece mediocre by selecting a glaze that doesn’t turn out as expected.  However, you can also make an average piece look stunning with the right glaze.

A board of glaze combination samples and a few bins of glazes.    

Two pots anxiously waiting to be glazed.

Allowing the glaze to dry.  Don't worry, they won't actually turn out Easter egg colors.
Three pieces on the shelf waiting patiently for a trip to the high fire kiln.
After a trip to the high fire kiln, the pieces are complete!

Here are my pieces from the first round of high firing...

My very first piece.  This is the one that flew off the wheel during trimming.  I could have scrapped it, but I decided to keep it to test out this Shino glaze.  I created this effect with two dips on the left side.
Cup with Blue Jean glaze.  I can't wait to try this glaze again on a darker clay.
Kaki glaze.  This might be my favorite!  I love how this turned out.
Remember the yellow bowl from before?  Here it is now!  This is a combination of Blue Teal and something else.  The glaze was really thick and I'm surprised it turned out so well.
The outside of this bowl is the natural clay color (B Mix), with Ox Blood on the inside and along the rim.  This glaze turns out especially well when on the inside of the form.  I didn't know that until this bowl was finished!  I definitely want to try some more things with this glaze.

Here is the pink bowl from earlier!  This was going to be a gift but I dripped wax onto the side of the bowl, which prevents glaze from sticking.  I was devastated at first because I like the shape of this so much, but it actually didn't turn out as bad as I imagined.  It looks kind of unique!

My first six pieces!

 Stay tuned for flower pots, ramekins, and mugs with handles, oh my!


  1. Nice feet Betsy! So glad you are enjoying your class & great to see your pieces in person - You are off to a wonderful start!
    It's addicting, isn't it?

  2. I love the dear thing that you dripped wax on...It's real! Mom


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