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Set Up Your Pottery Studio

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It may seem obvious, but creating pottery requires a space in which to work. For some, this may be a freestanding studio. For others, this may be a classroom space shared with other students. For yet another group, this may be a part of their home or garage. In creating this space, you need to consider:

What Is Your Level of Interest?

First, define how deeply your interest in working with clay goes. Are you just trying ceramics out, and you aren't certain how involved you will want to become? Are you just getting started as a potter but you want to really develop your talents? Are you serious about being a potter but you have been working in someone else's space, perhaps as a student or as an apprentice?

Hand Building versus Throwing

If you are building pots by hand, you will probably require less space than if you have a potter's wheel and are doing throwing. You can easily build pots by hand on your kitchen table, and still be able to clean up for dinner quickly.

Throwing is also inherently messier. Inevitably, throwing will leave splatters on your walls, floor and furniture, and really requires a dedicated studio space. In addition, the wheel itself take up more space.

If you are throwing, will it be with a smaller electric wheel or a bulkier kick wheel? How much table space will you need for wedging and modifying thrown pots? If you are hand building, how large of a table will you need to work on your pieces?

How Much Space Will You Need?

You have now defined your level of interest and whether you will be handbuilding or throwing, or both. It is time to ask yourself how many pots or sculptures you will be creating and how large you will be working. For example, if you will only be making one or two small pieces in a month, the best clay space for you will be quite different than if you will be throwing a hundred large pots in a week.

Storage Space

Storage spaces can be broken into two main areas:

  • Materials Storage: Where will you store your supplies? This includes wet clay, clay scraps for recycling, slurries and slips, and glazes. Depending on your needs, it may also include dry clay and glaze ingredients.

  • Shelving for Your Ware: Pots and other clay objects need to dry slowly in a place where they will not be jostled or bumped. Also consider that just-thrown pieces need to remain on the bat until they are dry enough to remove. You will need to have enough shelving available for both your greenware and for bisqued pots that are waiting for their glaze firing.

Plumbing

Frugal potters can find free buckets for use in their pottery.
Photo © 2009 Beth E Peterson
You need access to water for working with the clay and cleaning up afterward. Important: Clay and other ceramic materials should never go down your drain. Clay will eventually clog your plumbing, and glazes often contain environmentally unfriendly chemicals that can be hard for sewage systems to filter out.

The easiest way to prevent clay going into your plumbing system is to use a series of buckets (get them for free!). One bucket should be for the first rinse to wash hands and tools. The majority of particles will remain in it and can be recycled with your other clay. A second bucket will catch almost all remaining particles on hands and tools. If desired, you can use a third bucket as a final rinse before washing hands in a sink.

Safe Material Handling

It is a good idea to always keep all ceramic materials out of the reach of children, pets and wildlife. All toxic substances should be stored in tightly sealed metal or glass containers. Make sure that all containers used to store toxic substances are clearly marked as poisonous. For container storage, locked cabinets or cupboards are best.

Clear labels are essential to studio organization. In addition, certain clay bodies contain toxins, and many glazes are also toxic if ingested or inhaled. Whenever you are using commercial glazes or clay bodies, always check the label for warnings.

Further information:

Lighting

You don't need full-spectrum light, but you must have good lighting in your work space. The best lighting will be ambient rather than spotlights.

When determining your lighting needs, you will need to measure and calculate the cubic footage of your studio space. For example: we'll say your space is ten feet by ten feet with an eight foot ceiling. Multiple all the sides together (10 x 10 x 8) to find that there are 800 cubic feet of space.

One watt of power is considered adequate to light two cubic feet of space. For our example, therefore, you will require 400 watts of lighting. To meet that amount, you could use four 100 watt bulbs or six 75 watt bulbs. (The latter will give you more light than 400 watts, but that is fine.)

Adequate Power Supplies

Do you plan on renting kiln space from another potter, or installing your own electric kiln in your studio space? Most electric kilns require heavy-duty electrical wiring, similar to those used for washers and dryers. Always have a qualified electrician put in the specified wiring for your particular kiln.

Ventilation

Every firing releases some amount of toxic gases from the clay bodies and glazes. Kilns should never be used in an enclosed space unless a proper ventilation system has been installed by a licensed HAC professional.

You will also need special ventilation if you will be mixing your own clay bodies and glazes or using an airbrush. The room used for mixing should have its own ventilation system, and airbrushes should be used only in a vented spray booth. In both cases, you should wear an appropriate respirator.

Further information:

What Space Is Already Available?

It is time to put all of the above considerations together. In light of your needs and desires, take a look at the space you may have available to you right now. If you won't be working intensively, you may be able to create a studio from a spare bedroom. Or perhaps there is a porch on your house that you could enclose and make into a studio.

For higher levels of involvement, you may consider converting outbuildings on your property or perhaps your garage. You may even decide to build a freestanding studio.

You may decide to rent studio space. In some cities you may find rental space that is already set up for pottery, complete with kilns and ventilation systems. Check with local potters, artist associations, and art centers.

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