Neil grew up in New England where he received a lot of inspiration from Cape Cod ceramicists. After working in the sports marketing world Neil moved to Santa Barbara, CA, where he deepened his artistic commitment, began working in clay full time and started the search for his artistic voice. Neil then moved his home and studio to Lake Arrowhead, CA where his work was influenced by the natural raw beauty of the mountains and the peacefulness it brings to all who see it. In late fall of , Neil relocated to Sedona, AZ after falling in love with Sedona earlier in the year.
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Neil looks forward to building a new studio here and developing a body of work that is inspired by the spiritual energy and the magical natural beauty of Sedona. His current clay pieces meld thrown forms, slabs, altering, incising and sculpting. The glazes on the functional pieces, fired in an electric kiln, have been developed to give the surface the depth and beauty traditionally associated with reduction firing. Is it hard? Does it cost a lot of money to take a class? What should a newbie expect? I had all of these questions too. That's why I decided to take a beginner's wheel thrown pottery class to see for myself what it was like.
And though experiences will vary, I found out some interesting things about this art form that I'll share with you. If you want to get some true experience with wheel-thrown pottery, then I suggest taking a class. The nature and length of the course will determine the cost and time commitment involved. For example, a college credit course will usually run for a semester and may require you to purchase all of your tools and materials. A continuing education course or a private studio may offer shorter-term instruction for less money, and alleviate the pressure for competition or a passing grade.
I found a class at an art studio that was comfortable for me. It was a 6-week course that met for 2 hours once a week for 6 weeks. The beginner's class was led by an experienced pottery instructor who demonstrated excellent pottery making and communication skills.
If you're like me and never touched a potter's wheel, expect a real learning experience. The first class should instruct you on the type of clay you'll be using and how to cut and wedge it for the wheel. The instructor should take time to thoroughly demonstrate the wheel-throwing process: centering, opening, raising, shaping, and removing a pottery vessel usually bowl from a wheel.
After a demonstration like this in my class, we were allowed to practice what we learned on our own wheels. Again, this is a real learning experience.
A skilled instructor has the knack for making the pottery making process look simple, but a beginner should not expect it all to come so easy at first. Through practice, a willing student will become skilled at demonstrating the techniques shown to them. Your first class experience may be much different than mine. My first class was challenging, messy, and somewhat disheartening. By the end of the two hours I was convinced that I was not cut out for wheel-thrown pottery because each time I tried to duplicate the instructor's steps on my own clay, I fell short.
I grew increasingly frustrated and wanted to give up. Thankfully it was only two hours long. It was through persistence and patience coming back each week that this attitude changed, I became more skilled, and I didn't give up after all! I share my experience with you for two reasons: 1 to give you a realistic perspective on what may happen in your first class, and 2 to assure you that it gets easier.
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I have full confidence that when you stick with something and really put forth honest effort to learn it, it does get easier. If your first class went smooth, you are on your way to becoming a wheel-thrown pottery master. If you struggled, you'll find the second and successive classes easier as you go. After each of my classes, I made progress! By the fourth class I was able to complete two bowls on the wheel that I went on to glaze and take home see above picture. A pottery class with a conscientious instructor should be a continuous learning experience.
Buying a Potter's Wheel
Each of our class sessions had two parts: a demonstration and studio time. Our instructor was available to answer any questions and aid us during the entire class session, which was reassuring. First class on the roster: Wheel Thrown Pottery. So I signed up for this 6-week course one night a week after meeting with the instructor, Alex, at the pottery studio. Alex and I discussed — at great length — the creative process and the therapeutic aspects of working with clay and other art mediums.
Right before my eyes were beautifully crafted stoneware mugs, that once painted, could very well be sitting on a shelf in some high-falutin department store with a crafty sticker on the bottom:. This handmade stoneware was made with the highest quality ingredients and with the greatest care. Marketing manipulation or not, I was going to take this class! Yes, in my naive, grandiose mind I've assured myself, that I too, would be making mugs worthy of gracing the shelves at the Pottery Barn. Okay, this is where fantasy and reality collide. What is not imaginary is that it took only one class for me to come home completely frustrated and seriously contemplating NOT going back to see Alex.
Wheel-thrown pottery making is hard.
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And messy. And out of five students, I sucked the most. I know I'm being harsh. That's the frustration talking. Well, maybe there is. But, yep, that was me. Slowy McSlowstein — the one who kept calling the teacher over and being gently instructed in 10 different ways how to do the same thing. That's perfectionism talking.
I'll slice right in here with my indoor coaching voice and say that wheel-thrown pottery is not as easy as it looks. Nor should it be. The beautiful things we see made out of clay take time to create. After lots of time is invested in learning. And so when I realized that I wasn't going to get very far in six little classes, that made me want to throw my hands in the air, because at that point, if I couldn't master this great artform immediately, I didn't care.
Of course my attitude sucks. Halfway through the evening I fantasized about ditching the next five sessions, which is what kept me there the entire two hours.
The knowing that I wasn't coming back. Yes, I decided to use this experience as a teaching moment, to illustrate how easy it is to struggle when trying new things, and how the voice of quitting gets louder in proportion to the level of frustration one feels when they think they should instantly learn a new skill and go right into The Great Hall of Fame.
Using this as a lesson in patience and perseverance is the least I can do now that the class is paid for. No refunds!
And I also have to be honest about the hard work it takes to accomplish wonderful things even when they look fun and easy at first, like wheel-thrown pottery. Truthfully, it's not always going to be easy.
How many light bulbs did it take Thomas Edison to break to finally get one to work? Wheel thrown pottery? Never done it.