How To Set Up A Pottery Studio
Pottery Studio 101: Equipment Recommendations & Tips
There is a newfound interest in pottery of late. People of all ages have caught the ceramics bug; I heard even Brad Pitt was found behind the wheel.
I’m often asked if I teach lessons or if I welcome visitors to my studio however, I currently, work out of my home studio which competes with surfboards and golf clubs. I’m simply not set up for visitors. Maybe someday I sell enough handmade coffee mugs and flower vases to outgrow my garage as I dream of a studio/storefront combination where I could offer some sort of clay pottery teaching component. That said, space in California is really expensive and while I always have my eye out, the numbers haven’t made much sense.
So, I’ve embraced being able create modern ceramics and pottery until 1:00am in my pajamas. Clay operates on its own schedule so it’s helpful to have everything in the next room over to attempt to be efficient in a not so efficient field of work. For example, I can wheel throw a pottery vase in the morning, leave it out to dry throughout the day and after I put my son to bed, trim the vessel. A process that would take two days instead of one if I worked outside my home. I’ve also learned over the years the only way to thoroughly enjoy and excel at the craft of ceramics is to, like anything, practice. It’s a lot of trial and error and experimenting. And, in order to hone your wheel throwing or test pottery glazes, the best thing is to have your own, personalized home pottery studio. Lessons will help you decide if you like the art of ceramics and can teach you new pottery techniques, but, in my opinion, the best way to dive into pottery is to have your own fully equipped space with your own tools at your fingertips and the freedom to run as you so choose. Yes, it’s a bit of an investment but what hobby or small side business isn’t? To help save you a bunch of time and reduce any overwhelming feelings, I’ve put together a guide to assist in getting your pottery studio set up and running for as little as $3000+ and in less than a month (based on product and supplier lead times).
- Pottery Wheel – While many ceramists out there solely hand build, what attracts many people to pottery is the wheel. The wheel helps the artist connect with the clay unlike any other art medium. The combination of the wheel speed, hand movements and the amount of pressure placed on the clay helps create the form. Once you feel it, it’s addicting and a lump of clay can become a functional coffee mug or work of art in less than 10 minutes. I bought my wheel over 10 years ago and I don’t think they make it any more or if they do it’s branded under a different name than Clay Boss. Regardless, there are so many of great wheels to choose from. For a great starter wheel I’d recommend the Shimpo VL Lite. It runs for around $700 and is somewhat comparable to my wheel. A well known, higher end option is a Brent. They have a few models and will start at around $1,000. This is what I used when I was first exposed to clay, as my high school was equipped with Brent’s.
- Kiln - I have a Skutt. I love it…it’s all I’ve ever known and I’m incredibly partial to the brand. They make a great product that lasts and their customer service is awesome. I've always used electric kilns as well but they do make gas kilns. The first kiln I bought was a KM-1018. This runs about $2100 plus budget an additional $200 for shelved and posts. At that time I struggled to fill it and would often run a ½ full kiln which I always felt extremely guilty about using electricity when the kiln wasn’t jammed packed with plates, pottery bowls and ceramic mugs. So, when we relocated to CA, I down sized to a KM-818 because of size and cost. This model costs about $1600 (plus shelves and posts). This has had its benefits when I’m testing custom glazes for clients or need to quickly do a glaze fire to replenish inventory. However, now that my pottery business has started to pick up and I’m selling more mugs, ceramic tumblers, pottery vases and more, I feel the size restriction. At times, wish I had my previous, larger model. When I bought the KM-818, I also chose 3” brink, which has been a great decision. If you reside in an area that has warmer climate, this may be a beneficial option for you especially if your pottery studio is a mixed-use space. A standard kiln has 2” brink so by going with 3” I’m reducing the size of my already small kiln but the benefits of it not transmitting as much heat outside of the kiln outweighs any negative for my set up. With my 2” kiln I worried about my husbands surf boards and often moved them into the house when I fired my kiln because I felt so much warmth radiating from the kiln and uncomfortably warming up our garage but with the 3” brink, I don’t worry about that at all. Plus, because of this, it ends up being more cost efficient and thus better for the environment. So, if I were to buy a kiln again I’d stick with what I have if I were just starting out and looked at pottery solely as a hobby. But, if I were creating a pottery studio with the idea of it being a business, I’d buy a KM-1018 model with 3” brick. However, it does cost a few hundred more than the standard 2" model so, another thing to consider. Once you get your kiln and furniture kit you'll want to paint one side of each shelve with kiln wash. Almost any electrician out there can install it for $300 or less based on available amps.
- Clay – I try to use as many California clay related brands as possibly and Laguna clay is just up the road in the Los Angeles area. Therefore, I exclusively use Laguna clay for all my drinkware, dinnerware and vase collections. My ceramics are created with B-Mix stoneware. I’ve played around with Moroccan Sand, which is brown clay. Clay options vary by location. The Laguna clay sold from a supplier in Florida is different than the offerings in California. I’m not sure why exactly but assume it because Laguna has a few distribution locations in the US and since clay is made from earths natural materials, it varies by locations so know that if you’re in New York City, B Mix may be hard to find but there is a equivalent available.
- Glazes – I’ve always been drawn to simple glazes…back in High School I remember my teacher pushing me to branch out a bit but even back then, while I didn’t know it, I already had my own simple, modern and minimal aesthetic. I’m baffled by all the glaze options out there. And, there are so many glaze techniques that I have never tried. You’ll find there is never enough time. I purchase Laguna dry glazes and mix them myself. Glazing is an art in itself and the possibilities are endless so I’d encourage you to run as you choose. Find what you’re attracted to and compliments your design and try it out.
- Tools – The tools I use on a daily basis to create my tea cups, wine carafe and cup set, plates, bowls and vases are sponges, wire tools, pin tools, a few shaping tools and trimming tools. All of these pottery tools together can cost around $50-$100. Grab a bucket for water and you’re good to go! For glazing you’ll need a few buckets and mixing tools but I generally use my hand to mix everything (I really should invest in a mixer) but I often know when my glazes are the right consistency by feel.
- Suppliers – If you live in the San Diego area you’re in luck because you can get everything you need from Free Form clay. Their pricing is competitive and you’ll save on shipping costs. Plus, they are nice and incredibly knowledgeable. When we lived in Seattle I would frequent Seattle Pottery Inc. and in the Jacksonville, FL area, Atlantic Pottery Supply. If your city doesn’t have a ceramic supply store there are several online options like bigceramicstore.com.
So there you have it…a quick reference guide to establishing your own pottery oasis. In possibly, as little as less than a month’s time, (based on product availability) for a $3000+ investment, you could have a fully equipped pottery studio to yourself. Happy making!
Not into creating ceramics and pottery yourself? No worries; check out CLAY and CRAFT’s full modern ceramics and pottery collection. From ceramic mugs to pottery vases, drinkware, dinnerware and our signature carafe and cup set. Simple, modern ceramics and pottery, made in San Diego, California by ceramic artist Nicole Novena.