There’s no way around it: I’m a certifiable, 100 percent, school-loving, honor-student-type nerd. Whether we’re talking about high school or college, I was always in the front row with a stack of color-coordinated spiral-bound notebooks at the ready for the day’s lecture. I preferred writing my notes in pen ink, so I even kept a tube of Wite-Out within easy reach because I couldn’t just cross or scribble out a misspelling! Oh, no…Those notes looked like perfectly typed pages, complete with highlighted headings and immaculate bullet lists.
I know I shouldn’t be admitting all of this, but being in a classroom just made me feel so pumped up! Of course, I had off days and times when I didn’t feel like being there, but for the most part, I loved every minute of my schooling years. So much so that I miss it, and wonder about going back to take some ceramics classes now that I’m one year into pottery and feel like it’s something I really want to do for a living.
In the meantime, I’ve been dabbling in a little casual research of my own here at home using a couple of new books as my guides. I wanted to have something on hand that I could flip through whenever I wasn’t physically working with clay at the studio, and the two books I review below fit that bill to a T. Keep scrolling if you’re even a little curious to know more about pottery and what it takes to bring this type of creative art to life.
Amazing Glaze: Techniques, Recipes, Finishing, and Firing, by Gabriel Kline
One thing I definitely underestimated when I first started taking pottery classes was just how much goes into the glazing side of things. At our particular local studio, the makeup of the 6-week beginner wheel-throwing class is four classes making pieces on the wheel, one class for trimming and finishing work, and the sixth and final class is spent doing nothing but glazing.
The first glazing day I experienced was totally overwhelming to me as a beginner because it’s just as intricate as learning how to throw on the wheel itself. I ended up taking a full 6-week class later on just for glazing, and that opened my eyes even wider to how much variety there is in glazing techniques.
Anyway, my point is that glazing is something that I really respect. I haven’t even come close to scratching the surface (pun unintended) of this part of the pottery-making process, so I was really glad to come across this Amazing Glaze book. The very first line of the introduction calls out the fact that opening a kiln is like witnessing magic, and I couldn’t help but smile when I read that. It’s so true!
The trickiest thing about glaze (at least for me) is the fact that the color you paint, brush, or dip onto any piece of pottery is likely to come out of the kiln looking completely different after firing. For example, black glaze first looks red, white looks gray, and even bright blue has a faintly grayish green tinge to it before it’s fired. I still have so much trouble visualizing the final product as I’m working on glazing, but this book really helped put things into perspective.
Amazing Glaze teaches you how to handle small pieces, delicate designs, how to pour and dip properly, and also how to mix up your own colors. There are sections for troubleshooting, and, of course, tons of photos to show you how it all might turn out if you follow the instructions to the letter. There were multiple times when I wanted to rip a page out to keep handy at the studio! I couldn’t recommend it more if you’d like to learn how to get from Point A to Point B with your glazing work.
Oh, and don’t worry if you’re not quite as into formal learning as I am. This book is really simple to follow along with. Despite all the important information it shares, Amazing Glaze still feel very conversational in tone, which makes it a quick, easy read. Nothing like those stuffy old textbooks you might still have nightmares about!
Handbuilt, A Potter’s Guide, by Melissa Weiss
As you probably know by this point, I started out learning how to throw on a wheel—in other words, spinning a ball of clay on a wheel to create a functional form. Hand-building, on the other hand, is an entirely different process (i.e. shaping clay with your hands instead of a wheel), which is why my wheel-throwing instructors rarely even bring it up in class. To learn how to handbuild, you either need to take a class specific to those techniques, or you could do what I did and kick things off by reading Handbuilt, A Potter’s Guide.
I can tell you right now, this book completely changed the way I look at clay. I learned how to turn a ball of clay into a fully functioning cup using nothing but a few hand tools, how to make my own platter from a slab, and also how to dig and process my own clay. I still haven’t done all that much physically with hand-building, but I honestly feel like I could do it on my own having now read this book from cover to cover.
Melissa Weiss, the author of Handbuilt, actually works just one state away from us here in Virginia (she’s based in Asheville, North Carolina), which makes her feel really accessible in some ways. Her writing style and the way she explains different hand-building techniques in her book, though, is what really makes her feel so approachable and easy-going.
As a visual learner, I loved how she took me through each process with step-by-step photos and numbered actions. Suffice it to say that this book is about to get completely covered with clay fingerprints—I plan on bringing it to the studio for in-person experimenting now that I’ve photographed it for today’s post.
I know not everyone who reads this blog is a professional potter or even a clay hobbyist, but ever since I started sharing more about the process here and on social media, I’ve been inundated with messages from people who want to know more about ceramics.
Today’s post is dedicated to all of you and anyone else who has asked for more details. Pottery is such a cool craft, and I really am making it my mission to encourage as many people as possible to seek out a class (or a how-to book like the ones I mentioned today!) if they’ve ever given it a passing thought. Let me know if you’d recommend any other pottery books in the comments blow.
*I earn a small percentage from purchases made using the affiliate links above. Affiliate links are not sponsored. Rest assured that I never recommend products we wouldn’t use or don’t already love ourselves.