How to Teach Yourself Pottery Making- Self-Taught vs Self-Directed

UPDATE: Here is a free PDF to help you Build Your Own Pottery Projects
My personal journey … and what an amazing pottery journey this has been!
January 1, 2011, is the date I consider to be the beginning of my “Hobby Potter” life. It’s when I got serious about clay and began creating YouTube videos to “direct myself” (learn) pottery making and ceramics. 2018 marks 7 YEARS! Along the way, I’ve made some beautiful friendships, learned a lot (with still more to be learned), and have tremendously enjoyed this clay journey!
Self-Taught vs Self-Directed:  It’s inaccurate to consider yourself a “Self Taught” potter…because you are always learning from someone else.  A “Self-Directed” potter means you are charting your own course of learning, choosing how and what you will learn. It’s the asking of questions and finding your answers …they doing it yourself!
Since I’ve never officially taken a pottery class and I learned primarily through YouTube videos, books, and the online critiques of fellow potters, I have MANY mentors. There is not one teacher or process strategy I adhere to exclusively though I have my favorites. I’m thankful for every potter I’ve seen and those who went before them that feed my  “Self-Directed pottery path!


From time to time I get asked ?
“How did you teach yourself to make pottery?” or “How do you know what you want to make?” Once you have learned the basics and undertand the unchanging natural laws of clay, everything then becomes up for personal testing and interpretation. Mistakes in the making are expected and sometimes are more educational than a class. 

 Here is the formula I used, and still follow, that continues helping me to grow and improve my skills:
  1. Choosing Projects To Help Learn a Specific Technique or Skill. Books are great, but it’s also crucial to watch skills are demonstrated through live or online workshops/videos. Hobby Potter YouTube Channel is where I’ve shared my journey in clay for the past decade … From when I 1st learned until today. (successes AND fails lol) 
    There are some amazing teachers with online pottery classes (ClayShare with Jessica Putnam-Phillips) that can guide you.  Being in a community with other potters and getting live critiques will also help you improve more quickly. 
  2. Set a Goal with Actionable Steps: Choosing Projects to accomplish a task: (365 Days of Clay Cups, or  30 Bowls, 30 Days, 30 Techniques or 1lb of Clay 25 Ways). These helped me to compartmentalize my learning experiences and not feel like I was all over the place. (Example, I wanted to learn to throw on the pottery wheel with small cracks of time. So I decided to throw one cup a day for an entire year. It gave me a goal and also assured me enough repetition in order to grow.)
  3. Figure out a way to keep repetitive practice fun…this is HUGE on my list! It’s got to be fun if it’s going to get done! (I’m no fan of doing the same thing twice, but I do understand that I can only improve with repetitious efforts). How did I get it done?  The 365 Day cup project allowed me to throw on the pottery wheel every day, but I made every cup look different so it didn’t feel repetitious.
  4. Be accountable to somebody: (pottery group, Facebook friends, the YouTube verse ;). When I had no one around me that worked with clay, I started my Hobby Potter YouTube Channel to create a community where I had none.
  5. Share What You’ve Learned:  My videos are not “instructional” and were never meant to be, but hopefully they are “educational” in the sense that other newbie potters can see another newbie pottery taking chances. If what I’m personally learning is shareable (good or bad) it becomes a reference of realistic application to someone in the learning process.
    Learning & Planning Process
Without the ability to be in a classroom setting and gleaning from those sitting around you, “real deal” videos can be helpful to beginners who might become discouraged if a project doesn’t turn out “picture perfect”.  Some of my biggest disasters go into the kiln and come out as some of my greatest successes. I’ve realized no matter how long I’m into clay, the exciting mystery of a kiln opening is like Christmas because you never know what can happen!
I would encourage everyone looking to grow in pottery to go for it! Figure out what you want to learn, embrace the journey and relax your way through!
It’s a brand new year of discovery! Let’s get out there and enjoy the earth (as the mud on our hands 😉
Tammy Jo

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7 thoughts on “How to Teach Yourself Pottery Making- Self-Taught vs Self-Directed

  1. I need the push from your group to get on the wheel, if just once a month. It has been a wish of mine since high school. I am 65 years old.

    1. I’m so excited you are joining us Ellayne! It’s really be insightful to see everyone’s take on the same projects! I started pottery 25 years after my first interest in it … now I’m going at it like I was still in high school LOL! Love the journey and so glad you are here!

  2. Hi, I really want to get into pottery but the courses offer3d in my area are expensive. I would like to learn on my own but as my budget is small at the moment I cannot afford to purchase a wheel.
    I did a taster course and really like it but as I was the only beginner there, the tutor didn’t really give me the attention needed.

    1. Hi Victoria, Thanks so much stopping by! Just know everything is doable, but you may just have to go about learning a little differently 😉 If you are interested in learning at home, YouTube and the internet is full of wonderful online teaching. Saving for a wheel may take time, (but keep your eye on Craigslist for used ceramic equipment that may go for a lot less). You can learn handbuilding first, and all that takes is clay (air dry works fine if you don’t have a kiln), and willingness to find the projects you want to explore. If you want to make functional ware, the studio where you took the class may also be open to firing what you handbuild at home (for a small kiln space fee). Register for the Hobby Potter Life Newsletter if you are in need of free projects, and also head over to the Facebook group (you’ll get a link to the projects via email)! There are lots of beginning and advanced potters sharing their projects and helping each other learn along the way and they awesome about hospitality! I’ve never attended an official pottery class myself and learned from YouTube and videos … you so can do this Victoria!!! ~ Warm Regards ~ Tammy Jo

  3. I want to learn making pottery, but there are no classes near me. So if I could just learn what I need to get started, and a little push, I’m sure I can learn.

  4. Hi! I love this article. I’m pretty much self taught. I haven’t been on the wheel yet. I had one class in college online during the pandemic. I absolutely love pottery and can’t wait to learn more.

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