Discovering the basics of pottery with Capital Arts.

As one of the world’s oldest human crafts, pottery has a history as rich and diverse as the shapes it can create. Dating back as early as 28,000 B.C.E., pottery’s humble origins as storage and cooking vessels have evolved vastly in style and technique. In ancient cultures like China and Greece, pottery was used for functional, religious, and artistic purposes. But even in today’s tech-savvy world with supplies available at the click of a button, the fundamentals of pottery making are very much the same as they were 30,000 years ago. 

Helping to carry on the tradition is Karen Stout, a pottery instructor at Capital Arts. Karen applies her master’s degree in art education and experience as a high school art teacher to her pottery classes at the art gallery. Her introductory class is a two-hour course designed to give students a one-time experience in wheel-throwing, and the four-week beginner course teaches students the basics of pottery making, from shaping to firing. 

Shaping pottery involves molding the clay from a ball into a desired well shape, which has a flat base and then extends upward like a well. This can be done by hand or on a potter’s wheel. Carving and hand-building also happen during this first step, which is Karen’s favorite part of the process.  

“This is where you take a simple, basic piece of clay that you’ve thrown on the wheel and transform it into something unique,” Karen says. 

After the clay has been molded and carved, it is set aside to dry, and then it goes through its first firing, called bisque firing, making the clay more porous and durable. 

This process helps in the next step of glazing the pottery. Applying the glaze is the magic touch that turns a plain clay pot into an extraordinary work of art by adding depth, color, and personality to each piece. Whereas paint has a minimal change in appearance on surfaces like canvas, when a dry glaze is applied, it creates a glass-like finish. These components can also cause the pottery to vary in appearance when certain factors are applied, like changing the kiln’s temperature and the amount of time the pottery is exposed to the heat. These factors are often applied during the second round of firing, known as glaze firing. This is when vitrification, when the clay has been fired to a high enough temperature that it is no longer porous, occurs.  

“It can completely transform. You can slather on what looks like a pale pink chalky liquid, and
it may come out bright blue. There’s always a little element of surprise.”

Karen Stout, Capital Arts pottery instructor

“The pots are fired at a very hot temperature and the glaze becomes liquid, like lava almost, and you’re working with a molten form of the material,” Karen says.  

And by hot, Karen is talking over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Picture the face-melting, head-exploding scene from “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.”  

“It’s a little bit of magic because what you paint onto your pieces doesn’t necessarily look anything like what it looks like when it comes out of the kiln,” Karen says. “It can completely transform. You can slather on what looks like a pale pink chalky liquid, and it may come out bright blue. There’s always a little element of surprise.”  

Test tiles are a good option for those who would rather not risk the uncertainty of how a glaze will look after it’s fired. When testing tiles, it’s important to document the glaze name, kiln temperature, and firing time. Once the piece is removed from the kiln after the glaze firing step, the pottery is finished and ready to be enjoyed. 

Stepping into Capital Arts, guests can observe a collection of inspirational work created at the gallery. And with the help of the instructors, creating such quality pieces can be easier than some may think. Capital Arts already has all the tools needed to make pottery, including electric pottery wheels that make it easy for guests to focus on shaping the clay rather than pumping the pedal to make the wheel spin. Most of their glazes are factory-made, which allows guests to see exactly how the glaze will look after drying, and instructors fire each piece with their temperature-controlled kiln, making the process completely worry-free. 

Karen believes the future looks bright for the 30,000-year-old art medium thanks, in part, to pop culture.

“The scene in the movie ‘Ghost’ did more for pottery than any other innovation since the beginning of time,” Karen comments.  

Even celebrities ranging from Seth Rogan to Brad Pitt and Serena Willaims have taken a huge interest in pottery, proving that people don’t have to be trained artists to enjoy the benefits of throwing some clay. Pottery continues to be a popular method of artistic expression, so the next time the opportunity arises, don’t glaze over the chance to give pottery a try.

For those interested in discovering the joys of pottery, visit to schedule a class today!