Starting ceramics in Northeast Ohio: A guide for adult beginners
Streaming on-demand artistic competition shows expose viewers to new hobbies from the comfort of their couches. Sometimes people are inspired enough to get up and try making art themselves.
“We've seen a real upsurge in interest in pottery in the last few years here,” said Barb Rudolph, a ceramics instructor at Cleveland Potters’ Co-op in Cleveland Heights. She credits the reality show “The Great Pottery Throw Down” for much of the increased interest in the studio.
“People just seem to love it because they'll see different ways of making things, and they think, ‘Oh, that's cool. You know, I'd really like to try that too,’” she said.
Rudolph and some beginners in pottery offered advice for getting started with ceramics as an adult in Northeast Ohio.
Find a studio
While it is possible to do ceramics at home, learning in a studio is best, Rudolph said. Studios have the needed materials such as pottery wheels and firing kilns all in one place. Plus, transporting clay pieces to a secondary location to be fired can be messy, she added.
When searching for a studio, Rudolph suggests considering the type of pieces you are interested in making. Wheel-throwing involves the use of a pottery wheel, which results in pieces with more structure. Hand-building offers more freedom in shape, but it can be much more time consuming to create.
Rudolph said she has noticed many of the adults in her classes are drawn to using the wheel.
“Hand-building looks interesting, but I feel like we all did that in kindergarten,” said Connie Skingel, a new student working with Rudoph. “I thought, ‘The wheel seems really cool.’ I really wanted to try that because you see it on TV all the time, and it looks fun.”
Another factor in the decision is how much time you have.
Many studios offer multi-week sessions where classes are held once a week. These sessions usually include guidance from an instructor and time to work on independent pieces. For those who want to try ceramics but not commit to a full session, one-time workshops are also offered at many studios. This option usually includes instruction and materials to make a certain object.
However, it is important to remember that seeing progress takes time, Rudolph said. It usually takes her students six classes to be satisfied with their work.
What to expect as a beginner
In Northeast Ohio, one session of ceramics classes runs anywhere from three to 10 weeks depending on the studio and type of ceramics. Many studios charge a set price for the session with additional fees for firing and clay based on how many pieces a student creates. Session prices range from $120 - $235 with clay and firing fees of about $20. This means ceramics classes in the region cost about $22-$38 per class, including fees.
Those who are interested in ceramics but do not want to commit the time and money to a multi-week session can take a one-time workshop. Those typically range from $5-$45 depending on the studio and amount of instruction.
Starting a new hobby as an adult can be challenging, yet rewarding, said Kim Kanner, another one of Rudolph’s new students.
“A new skill is kind of tricky, and I think as adults it's an uncomfortable feeling to feel like you don't know what you're doing,” she said. “It's a vulnerable experience to be able to kind of put yourself out there and learn something new.”
Beginners who are interested in enrolling in a multi-week class should be prepared to be challenged over time, Rudolph agreed.
“I try to stress that there's a learning curve that everybody has for themselves,” she said.
During the first few classes at Cleveland Potter’s Co-op, students practice basics such as centering the placement of the clay, pulling up the clay with their hands and creating a cylinder shape, Rudolph said. The first objects made are usually small, simple cups and pots. Then students can shape the clay thinner and create larger pieces with more accessories.
Maggie Jorgenson, who has been involved with ceramics for almost three years, still considers herself a beginner. She said some people learn easily while it takes longer for others, so it is important not to compare yourself.
“I'm out there for all those people who can't get it right away,” Jorgensen said. “I'm hoping eventually it will come.”
Tips from potters
The camaraderie of a studio offers a system where people can help and inspire each other, Rudolph said. Classes at Cleveland Potters Co-op are filled with people of different experience levels, so students have a chance to see the techniques of others.
A mix of experience levels allows new students to take advantage of knowledge from students who have been practicing longer. This can create a sense of community, said first-time student Carl Kanner.
“Everybody's really friendly and helpful,” he said. “And everyone wants to see you be successful at it.”
As a beginner, it can be easy to get in your head, so it is important to let yourself experiment, said Alexa Glazer, who has been taking classes from Rudolph for about six months.
“I feel like for the longest time when you're creating things, you're a lot of times not creating what you think you set down to create,” she said. “Just letting yourself play rather than being so rigid.”
One of the best parts is the ability to add your own flair, said Molly Clark, who has been taking classes from Rudolph for about a year. Plus, extra details help hide imperfections, she added.
“I would recommend adding a lot of fun details to things and making them very unique,” she said.
The most important lessons as a beginner are to be patient and keep trying, Rudolph said.
“You can expect a lot of experimentation, some failure and really kind of needing time before you consistently can throw pieces with intention,” she said.
Places to go in NEO
While not an exhaustive list, here are a few places to get started as a beginner in ceramics in Northeast Ohio.
3119 Denison Ave., Cleveland
Art House offers both wheel-throwing and hand-building classes. The six-week, wheel-throwing class teaches students the basics of pottery. The three-week, hand-building class teaches students slabs, coils and sculpting. Once a month, Art House offers Family Clay Day where attendees of all ages can participate in a clay workshop.
Canton Museum of Art
1001 Market Ave. N., Canton
In the Canton Museum of Art’s ceramics class, students learn the basics of hand-building, wheel-throwing and glazing techniques. One-time workshops where items such as mugs and figurines are made with guided instruction are also available.
Cleveland Potter's Co-op
3175 Kensington Rd., Cleveland Heights
The classes at Cleveland Potter’s Co-op are mostly wheel-based, although students have the freedom to create what they want after learning the basics.
Cuyahoga Valley Art Center
2131 Front St., Cuyahoga Falls
Cuyahoga Valley Art Center offers classes in wheel-throwing and hand-building. In the five-week, wheel-throwing class for beginners, students make up to five pottery projects. In the 10-week, general pottery class, students are guided through a series of projects using a variety of wheel-throwing and hand-building techniques.
121 Lincoln Way East, Massillon
Classes at MassMu include wheel-throwing and hand-building. Students can learn the basics of pottery in nine weeks or hand-building techniques in 4–9 weeks. MassMu also offers occasional one-time workshops called Casual Clay, where attendees of all ages can make their own creations with supervision from a ceramics expert.
Wayne Center for the Arts
237 South Water St., Wooster
The Wayne Center for the Arts offers both wheel-throwing and hand-building classes. Students can learn how to make bowls, plates and cups on the wheel and different hand-building techniques. Every student also has access to open studios on Monday and Saturday to work on their projects.