A couple of years ago I decided to get into pottery. In typical fashion, I just decided to go all-in with no second-thought. I scoured Facebook Marketplace for a kiln for a few months, and when I finally came across a perfect kiln at a good price, I decided to purchase it on the spot.
This was the start of my new addiction.
Once I had a kiln, it was time to dig into the science of pottery. It is absolutely amazing how much there is to learn about pottery before even starting. The first “issue” is that you must find a clay body that will be frost-resistant after firing. I’ll save you the trouble; find a clay that has under 5% absorption when fired. Even lower is better. The clays that I use have an under 1% absorption when fired properly.
I started off not really having an identity or any idea of what I wanted to do with pottery. I was mainly hand-building for a while because it requires almost no equipment.
I realized pretty quickly that I wanted to purchase a wheel so that I could start throwing round pots.
Again in typical fashion, I went out and purchased a higher-end “beginner’s” wheel essentially immediately.
Wheel throwing is hard…
It took a good 6 months to 1 year to be able to make something passable for a pot. In the early days I probably destroyed at least half of my pots on the wheel. Half of the remaining pots cracked during drying. Half of the remaining remaining pots were ruined by bad glazing, kiln explosions, bad firings, and so on.
As frustrating as this process was, even at this early stage, I knew that I loved throwing pots on the wheel. This is where I wanted to spend my time.
In early 2022 I heard that Jack Hoover would be at New England Bonsai Gardens for pot throwing demonstrations. Honestly at that time, I didn’t know Jack more than just hearing his name in passing. I knew that a club member was a big fan of his, and I knew that he was famous for unglazed pots mainly. I decided that I would attend this demonstration to see how it’s REALLY done.
This was easily the best decision of my pottery life. Most people attending the demo would walk through, check out what Jack was up to, and move along to look at the trees. Unfortunately for Jack though, there were chairs set up all around his area. I plopped down in a chair and must have asked him at least 100 questions while sitting there for a few hours. He was extremely gracious in sharing his knowledge, and to this day will answer questions that I have.
Watching the simple things like how fast the wheel was spinning, how he moves his hands, and how wet the clay is while throwing just completely made the whole thing click in my head. He also gave me some methods for getting really cool finishes which I’ve adjusted a bit and made my “typical” finish. When I went home to make some more pots, I was instantly about 80% better just from this encounter.
Now that I had the skills to actually make passable pots, I started playing with different forms, different glazes, different feet, etc.
I found that my pots are infinitely better when I make what I WANT to make. When I make pots that I would want my trees in, they were simply better pots.
I don’t start a pot with anything in mind other than rough size. And by size, really I mean weight. I start with a ball of clay and I almost let the clay decide what I’m going to make. Once a form starts to take shape I then start to think about what type of tree would go in this pot, should the wall be convex or concave, and what size/shape should the rim take. The first key is to let the pot happen, and then just guide and finish the details from there.
As my skills grew and I achieved a level where I believe that I developed my “style”. In hindsight I still had some significant room for refining to work on at this stage but I felt confident enough to pitch my work to Michael at Bonsai West.
Michael was also incredibly helpful in giving guidance on what he’d like me to work on in the future. The main comment was that I needed to make thinner walls. Some pots were rejected (and rightfully so), but Michael offered to sell quite a few (more than I had expected) at Bonsai West. This was a huge confident boost. Another major confidence boost was coming back and finding that almost all of my pots had sold.
Since reaching the point of having a “style” I’ve begun experimenting with some things. I’m experimenting with textures, finishes, new forms, new clay bodies, etc.
One thing I found is that I really enjoy pushing the boundary with size. Making a 14”+ pot just feels awesome. It’s exponentially more difficult than a smaller pot, but that’s part of the fun. It’s a huge rush when these big pots come out of the kiln completed.
In making these large pots with up to 15 lbs of clay for a single pot, I maxed out my top of the line “beginner” wheel. My plan was to wait to purchase a new wheel until I could pay for the new wheel with funds from selling pots, but I decided that I want a new wheel for the winter (when my other passion, bonsai, is on-hold). I ended up purchasing a nice wheel and also a slab roller to help with larger slab-built pots.
We all know that I like collected trees, and even more so BIG collected trees. I want to make BIG pots for BIG trees.
I never thought that I’d be a “potter”, but I think that I may have found my calling in the world of bonsai. I was reminded that in the beginning I had said that this would just be a hobby and that “I don’t want to be known for pottery in the bonsai world”, but I think that might be out the window. I may love making pots as much as I love bonsai now?
If you like my pottery vibe and are looking for pots, reach out on Instagram or Facebook. I always have some pots on-hand.