Setting Up Your Pottery Studio | Pottery 101 

Although you may not have the ideal studio space built into your home, if you have a small space with good lighting and access to electricity, you can set up a serviceable work area . Some professional studios are surprisingly small, cluttered spaces. Others don’t even have running water. There are also gorgeous, immaculate, uncluttered workshops reminiscent of fancy kitchens that no one cooks in for fear of making a mess. A studio is a workspace, a place that will house tools and equipment for the purpose of creating with clay­ it will (and should) get dirty.


Probably the first question a person asks when thinking about building a studio is: How large should the studio be? There are no hard-and-Cast rules about what size a studio should be because it depends on what you are planning to make, your budget, and how much pottery you are planning on producing. For the most part, a home studio can be anywhere from 400 to 1,200 square feet (37 to Ill sq). But if you plan on constructing a studio and can create a larger space, by all means do so.


When planning the layout of your studio, consider allotting space for the following:

  • A wet work area with a wedging table
  • and/or work table and room for the pot­ter’s wheel, stool, and a low worktable


Here are some questions to ask  yourself when you’re in the beginning stages of planning a studio.

  • What am I going to be making?
  • How much will  I produce?
  • How often will  I work?
  • Am I committed to one way of working or do I want to experiment with different clays and form1hg techniques?
  • Will I want to make room for future growth?
  • Do I plan on selling work or just enjoy making pieces to give as gifts?
  • Do I  want to share the space with anyone else?
  • Do I want to mix my own glazes?
  • What tools will I need?
  • How do I want to store finished works?
  • Is the clay storage going to keep clay cool and dry and protect it from freezing?
  • A glaze chemical storage and mixing area (This can be as simple as a few shelves in the studio or it can be a separate room, depending on your scale of production .)
  • A ventilated kiln area (in the studio or in another space, such as a See page 22 for more on ventilating your kiln area.)
  • Shelving to store work in progress (The more space the You might have one shelf for wet work and another shelf by the kiln to place greenware that is ready to be fired , for example.)
  • Separate shelving to store finished work (Or you might prefer to store your finished work outside of the studio , in a clean , dust-free enviornment­ )
  • Sink or clean-up area

As you design your studio, try to create a flexible layout. After working in a space for a while , you may want to change its configuration. As you’re planning your studio, there are sev­eral critical components to  factor in, including electricity, lighting, studio location, air quality, water, ambiance, safety considerations, studio flooring, studio furniture, accessibility, posture considerations, and storage for ceramic ware and shelving.


Of course, pottery has historically been made without electricity. Potters around the world still produce wonderful work in very simple work­ shops. Tn fact, some contemporary artists pur­posely choose “primitive ” studios because they believe that the simplicity helps them achieve a deeper connection to their work. Most potters need electricity to run their pot­ter’s wheel, to install lighting, and to power other tools such as mixers and fans. If you have an electric kiln, you’ll also need electricity to power it. How much amperage depends on the size of the kiln. (See Chapter 2.) If you plan on working with a  simple kick wheel and a wood-firing kiln, you can stay off the grid in an unheated  barn studio during temperate seasons.


Lighting is a matter of personal choice, but it is essential and should not be overlooked. There are many lighting options. Some people love dim lights, while others prefer bright lights, and still others crave natural light. lf you install fluorescent lighting, consider investing in full-spectrum daylight bulbs. They are more expensive than standard fluorescent bulbs, but the light is more natural. all three options available. For example, many pottery workshops in japan use natural light and a single bare bulb hanging over the wheel. l prefer natural light and a combination of fluo­rescent and incandescent lights. That way, I can choose to have both types of light on at the same time, or just one.

You have two main types of lighting­ ambient lighting and task lighting. Each plays an important part in your studio and will affect the overall mood.The ambient lighting is the overall light in a room. Light creates a mood in a room , and it can affect many aspects about the work you make. Think about the feeling you want in your studio. For example, you may want to have a brightly lit studio with a crisp, contemporary feeling or instead, dimmer yellow lighting that casts a dra­matic, romantic feeling. Compositional elements of work will seem different under strong or soft lighting conditions. Texture and line quality on the surface of clay will also be affected by the lighting, making them too gentle or too stark.


Aesthetic decisions are made based upon perception.  Consider changing the location of work to see how it fares under different lighting conditions and perspective . That’s why it’s helpful co have ns many different lighting options m your studio as possible, Including natural light, fluorescent light, and incandescent light. This is an important issue because lighting used while working affects aesthetic decisions. Task lighting is light you can direct toward the task at hand. A small lamp can be adjusted to direct light to a specific project, for detailed surface work or glazing. For example, l use a flex­ible gooseneck lamp to illuminate the interior of a piece while I’m forming it. lf you have natural light available in your stu­dio, position your wheel and worktable so it has best access to the light.


just like they say in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Where do you want your studio to be? Perhaps in the dim recesses of your basement is not the best idea. Access to the studio is fairly important because clay is heavy and greenware is delicate, making transporting clay at all stages a key issue. How to get clay into and out of the studio will become paramount when planning the location and layout of your workspace. It may seem hard to imagine receiving a delivery of a ton of clay, but really, it is not that much clay. In the United States, clay is typically available from suppliers in 50 pound  (23 kg) boxes. just forty boxes weigh 2,000 pounds (907 kg). Because clay is less expensive if you purchase larger quantities, it is economically savvy to store quite a lot of it. True, it may be a few years before you order in such quantity, but it is not a bad idea to plan for the future. Clay deliveries are made by truck on wooden palettes and dropped outside the studio. The truck driver usually does not carry the clay inside the studio. If your studio has wide doors and a smooth floor, the driver can just as easily roll the palette of clay into the studio. If not, you will need to bring the clay inside the studio yourself. A hand truck is very useful for this. Carrying 50 pound (23 kg) boxes of clay down steps is definitely a challenge. If you have a basement studio, you may want to store a small amount in the immediate work area and keep the rest in the garage or a room upstairs. (If you go the garage route, though, remember that clay must be protected from freezing temperatures.)


Air quality is often overlooked when choosing a studio space. Ventilation of the work area is important for a number of reasons, the most important of which is your health. Ceramic mate­ rials, glazes, ceramic dust, and toxic gasses such as carbon monoxide given off by kilns can be hazardous to your health. Another reason to ventilate the area is because an open window or door facil­itates air exchange during clean up. A third rea­ son to ventilate the area is because circulating fresh air is essential for proper drying of work.


A kiln venting system is a must. When clay is going through the bisque-firing cycle, it will burn off water and organic materials that are contained in the clay. During the glaze-firing cycle, organic materials contained in the wax used to resist glaze on the bottoms of pieces will be burned off, and heavy metal fumes from colorants in the glazes will emit gases. You don’t want to be breathing any of this into your lungs! You can purchase good venting systems that attach to kilns to draw the fumes out of the room. The ideal situation is to have the kiln in an area apart from the actual workspace, so that the fumes (not to mention the heat!) don’t impede your work.

In my first studio, the wet work area was in the basement and the kiln was in the garage because I didn’t have a venting system. I could simply open the garage door to let out the fumes. Because of space constraints, all of my studios since then have had the kilns in the wet work area. Even though my kilns are vented, I can still smell the fumes. The fumes are noxious enough that I open the window and doors during firing. I also avoid working in the studio until the firing is finished.


Water is an important consideration for your stu­ dio, especially if you are going to mix and apply glazes to a lot of pottery. Ideally every studio would have a double sink to wash large buckets and tools. Another good option is a large, plastic laundry sink. They are inexpensive, and their depth is ideal for clay cleanup. Whatever type of sink you have, make sure it has a sediment trap to catch the slurry (the bits of leftover clay in water) before it goes down the drain. As with electricity, many potters have studios without running water. In this case, you can use a spigot and a hose outside the studio to fill buckets and carry them into the studio to wash tables, tools, and wheels.


If you are cleaning up with a bucket of water, don’t immediately durnp the clay water.Let the clay settle to the bottom, and then decant the clean water.The leftover clay. called slur, can be recycled, or it can be thrown out without clogging your­ plumbing. Even if you have running water and a sink, do an initial rinse of your clay tools in a plastic bucket This bucket catches all the clay which would otherwise be in danger of going down the sink.


An inspiring workspace is as important as having the proper tools. Design your space so it suits your temperament. Fill your creative space with things that nurture you and reflect your personality. For example, many artists have bulletin boards in their studios that they cover with inspiring images and photographs. I make a point of drawing the shapes and sources of inspiration and hang them in the studio to remind myself of proportion , scale, texture , or subject matter. If you like listening to music, get a nice audio system; if you like plants , put a few in the studio. These details will help define your personal workspace and inspire your work.


Certainly, you don’t want anyone-or yourself­ to be hurt in your studio. Here are some safety considerations to keep in mind. Powdered, raw ceramic materials-such as powdered glaze and clay-pose a serious risk to the lungs. It is very important to store these raw materials correctly. Most of these raw materials come in heavy-duty brown paper packages, though some of the dust still seeps out. It’s a good idea to store them inside large plastic stor­ age bins, especially after they’ve been opened. As discussed earlier, it’s important to have easy access for clay deliveries to preserve your back when trying to move boxes of clay. Because you’ll have water in your studio, whether portable buckets or actual running water, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCis) should be installed. These devices protect people from electric shocks. Another major consideration is fire safety. A kiln is an insulated box that is resistant to heat. A kiln itself will not combust because it contains the heat, however, it can create other fire haz­ards. The first, if you have an electric kiln, is incorrect wiring and electrical connection. Hire a licensed electrician to do the wiring. It is not a job for an amateur. Have the electrician read the kiln manual for detailed information about elec­trical specifications.

The other fire hazard created by kilns is its proximity to flammable materials created by (such as cardboard boxes, wooden or linoleum flooring, and the surrounding wall) and com­bustible chemicals (such as household chemicals and solvents and paint thinners) in the kiln area. A fire extinguisher should be available in your work area. A kiln that has been moved incorrectly or used for many years could have damage to the bottom layer. Since the base rests on a kiln stand and carries the weight of the kiln furniture and the ceramic wares, it can pose a threat during fir­ ing because it could give way. Periodically check to make sure the base is not damaged . (1 have heard of this happening only once, but it’s better not to take chances.) Place the kiln on the manufacturer’s kiln stand, which is metal and elevates the kiln for air circulation. Inspect both the kiln and stand for wear and tear during the installation and periodi­ cally during the life of the kiln to ensure parts have not been damaged.

The most important way to prevent a kiln accident is to never leave a firing kiln unattended. Even if you do not work in the studio while the kiln is firing (to avoid the fumes), stay near the studio in order to monitor the kiln.


lt may seem like a minor detail, but the type of flooring in your studio is determined both for comfort and durability. Any material will have a set of pros and cons; be sure to evaluate a stu­ dio’s needs when making a selection. Concrete is easy to clean with a wet vacuum or a power washer. Some potters prefer concrete because of the absorbency and even use it as a surface to wedge and stretch clay. Standing on a cement floor for long periods, however, is tiring. Rubber anti-fatigue mats are used in the industry to provide a cushion. They relieve the stress on your body and are recommended for long periods of standing. ln a pinch, even standing on a couple sheets of cardboard will make a difference . Be sure to wear shoes with good support when working on concrete floors. If you have an electric or gas kiln, you need to have non-combustible flooring beneath it, such as concrete rather than wood, linoleum, or plastic.

Wood flooring is much easier on the bones than concrete, and it’s equally easy to clean. But it is combustible and will show signs of wear and tear from the abrasiveness of clay.

Unoleum and plastic flooring are soft to stand on, but they will show signs of wear more quickly, due to the abrasive nature of clay. They are easy to clean with a wet vacuum, but they can be very slippery when dusty and wet. If you want to use a linoleum floor, invest in industrial-grade flooring.


A few essential pieces of furniture are necessary for a workshop space.\

Studio tables: A ceramic studio should have at least two tables: one used as an all-purpose work table for forming or glazing and another for wedging (which is the process of preparing clay by kneading it, to create a homogenous mound of clay) and clay preparation and reclaiming (which is the process of recycling dry unfired clay scraps into moist, plastic workable clay). The work table must be strong eMugh to hold the weight of clay and the pressure of working with clay without buckling. It should be at a standard  kitchen  counter height-about  36″.


A wedging table must be very sturdy to with­stand the clay being wedged on the surface with­ out moving.The height for a wedging table should be customized to suit your height. When your arms are at your sides, elbows straight, the top of the table should graze the area between the fingertips and knuckles to provide leverage from the body when wedging a mound of clay.Like the work table, the surface of the wedg­ ing table sshould also be absorbent. Some potters like to use a plaster slab as a wedging surface . Plaster is very absorbent and  helpful for recycling wet clay to a workable consistency. Plaster is easy to clean becau se when  the clay is at the right consistency for wedging it pulls away from  the surface. Other potters  like to use canvas-covered tables, however,  the canvas cloth  builds up dry clay and can be a source of dust in the studio. Using smooth plywood  allows you  to scrape the wet clay with  a plastic putty knife and sponge it clean, eliminating a source of clay dust.

If you have only room for one table to use as both your work table and wedging table, consider one of the following two options.

  • lf the table is at standard countertop height, 36 inches tall and 4 x 8 feet in surface area (92 em tall and 2 x 2.4 min surface area), build a small platform to stand on to elevate you for wedging at the proper height. (The table top should graze your knuckles.)


  • If the table is low, approximately 30 inches (76 cm) tall for wedging, you can elevate the clay when working by using platforms, such as upside-down buckets and bowls.

Sculpture stand: If you’re planning on doing a lot of hand building or sculpting, you may want to invest in a sculpture stand or a small table with casters that can be moved around easily. You may even want several sculpture stands.


Setting yourself up to ensure proper posture while working with clay will offset future back, neck, and shoulder pain . Maintaining good pos­ ture for particular work phases will be easier if certain considerations are tended to when laying out your studio. Posture needs will vary from hand building to wheel working.

Hand Building Postures: Most hand-building techniques require that you stand. Standing allows one to work around a piece and step away easily to check for composi­tion.


Use a level to ensure that tables, shelves, and the  potter’s  wheel  are level. Otherwise, your work will be lopsided from the beginning, Also, day pieces stored to dry on an  uneven surface will give in to gravity and tilt to the lower end of the shelf.

It does not need to have a back rest, but it is a nice luxury to lean back and rest a little . Another solution is to purchase a metal stool with adjustable legs. The stool’s height can be adjusted by moving four screws in the legs. Some potters like to have the two front legs a little shorter than the back ones to help with alignment. Tall potters often elevate the potters wheel and work on a tall stool. Some potters choose to throw standing up because it puts less stress on the back and elimi­ nates the possibility of slouching over the wheel.

For hand building, proper table heights are one part of the equation, and proper seating is another. Invest in a comfortable stool or chair at a height that will allow you to work at the table and keep your back and neck in a straight posi­ tion. (A bar stool is perfect for sitting when you are fussing with details.) Avoid sitting with your back rounded and shoulders hunched over work. Remind yourself to keep your shoulders back. Elevate work if you are leaning over it. Wheel-Working Postures When working at the wheel, sit slightly higher than the wheel head with your thighs parallel to the floor and your back straight, not rounded. An inexpensive seating solution is to buy an office chair with adjustable height and removable casters on the base. Take the casters off so that the chair doesn’t move while you’re sitting on it.


If you  have easy access to the outdoors , cons•der using it for gla-zing. drying, or even making. Depending on location and climate , an  outdoor studio can  be  very  effective.


One of the biggest challenges a potter has is mak­ ing room for the storage of work in progress. Having ample shelving is helpful. There are a number of options available depending on the type of work that will be made. Consider the dimensions and depth of shelv­ ing before purchasing or designing . The height of the shelving is important because if you make a lot of small shallow ware you may want less space between shelves. Conversely, if the work is large or tall, larger spacing between shelves or more table surface to store work in progress will be necessary. Ideally, the ware boards (special boards used to hold your work for drying) will be cut to fit the depth of the shelving, so that you can easily move them from the work area to the shelving and back to the work or kiln area. Ceramic supply houses sell ware carts with casters that have racks for sliding ware boards on and off. They can be moved around the studio as needed , which is ideal for studios with lots of floor space, but they can be a bit pricey. Restaurant supply houses sell wire shelves in a range of depths, from 12 inches (30.5 em) to 36 inches (90.5 em). They are versatile because they can easily be moved if you change your mind about layout. The wire shelves allow debris to fall through and don’t build up dust, but attention must be paid to what may fall through the shelf onto the work below.

Large home building suppliers carry several metal and heavy-duty plastic shelving options that can withstand a lot of clay weight. They are assembled easily and are relatively inexpensive. Avoid metal frames with particleboard shelves; they don ‘t hold up to moisture and will warp from the weight and dampness of clay. It’s probably the most expensive option, but sh elvin g can always be custom built.


Onginally, my studio had a lot of shelving designed  for production  of smaller pieces. cups and bowls, and some larger space for vases and large bowls. My  wot k has since evolved  into more sculptural forms and the scale has increased  so the short shelving has become unusable. I  replaced  some shelvmg with  tables  with  storage cabinets  underneath.


As you plan your studio, there are a few critical tools and equipment that need specific locations. This includes your potter’s wheel, kiln, glazing materials, and tools. Here’s how to place them right.

Potter’s wheel: For placement  of  a potters wheel, access to electricity, lighting, space for a stool, and a low table are needed. Other space consider­ ations includ e ample leg room for getting up and down from the wheel and maneuvering around the studio to store freshly thrown pots and get more clay. If the space around the wheel is too tight , it is cumbersome to access with your hands full and can be a tripping hazard.

Electric kiln: Placement of a kiln requires more advance planning than most other pieces of equipment. Kilns require air space around  them, non-combustible flooring such as cement, and access to ventilation . As mentioned earller, fumes from a firing kiln are noxious and toxic, so place the kiln where it can be vented to the outdoors. At the very least, it must be in a room with doors and windows that open. A garage with a cement floor is an excellent location for a kiln. If a kiln must be installed indoors consider lin­ ing the surrounding wall with fire-rated backer board. This material is available from building suppliers, comes in sheets, can be cut , and is commonly used behind kitchen stoves and (ire­ places. lt can even be used underneath the kiln stand to shield the floor. lf an electric kiln is being installed , its place­ment may be determined by the availability of an electrical connection.  If a gas kiln is being installed, the size of the kiln, air exchange,and gas connect ion requirements will certainly determine the placement. (See Chapter 10 for extensive information on kilns.)


You can buy ceramic raw materials and glaze chemicals in small amounts, but you’ll save money by buying in bulk. But of course, then you need to store it! In the beginning, it’s probably a better idea to spend some extra money and buy small amounts of materials. This way you can test many glazes and when you find that you are h appy with a selection of them you can proceed to ordering materials in bulk quantity.The best way to store ceramic raw materials and glaze chemicals is in stackable, heavy-duty plastic containers . They will keep the powders clean, dry, and properly contained to reduce the chance of cross contamination and dust in your studio. Make a habit of labeling everything. Duct tape and a permanent marker work well for labeling plastic containers that could eventually be reused for something else. At th is point, you may be wondering what kind of glazes will you be using? In the begin­ ning, you’ll want to use commercially made.


A kiln closet can be built into a room fairly inexpensively using fire rated building materials and a metal door. The kiln can be hard wtred and enc-ased 1n the closet with proper  space between  the klln and walls as per the kiln manufacturer . A vent system should be lhstalled to draw fumes outside the building and should have access to air exchange. The electrical breaker should be placed outside the kiln closet fot quick access in an emergency. Clreck with the kiln manufacturer  and  local  building  codes  before designating space for a kiln.


Small containers, such as empty coffee cans, are practical for holding clay tools because they can be moved along with the work, from the wheel to the table. Most potters are tool pack rats, collecting far more tools than needed. (You never know what you might need!) These extra tools can end up cluttering the work space. A small storage unit may be a good option.