Practical Pottery by Jon Schmidt Review – A Great Resource for Beginning Potters

Pitcher finished from Practical Pottery by Jon Schmidt
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Practical Pottery by Jon Schmidt is a great reference book for pottery basics, particularly if you’ve started throwing on a wheel, or are thinking you might want to. You may not be wanting to make your own glazes or buy a kiln just yet, but you want to get a handle on how to throw a bowl or cup or mug, and perhaps on how to add a handle to that mug. As someone who spent a lot of time googling various blogs and videos on how to get started, it would have been nice to have had this book.

The book starts by introducing basic concepts, such as: what tools to use, what are the most common (salable) kinds of forms, and the different kinds of kilns. While most people won’t start out with setting up a pottery studio, there is information on this as well.  

A medium-sized electric kiln

This is followed by detailed explanations of the steps required for throwing clay forms, in the order you are most likely to encounter them. For those starting out, even with an instructor explaining these steps, it is often hard to fully grasp them. This book nicely provides content that will likely fill in the gaps on what might have been missed. There are a lot of pictures that can be referred back to as well. 

Step 1 – Wedging the Clay

Centering, particularly, is a concept that can take a long time to master, and something almost all beginners struggle with. It can take weeks, or even months to get the hang of it. Yet with practice, eventually almost everyone can learn to center a piece. As the book also says: “You can do it; you probably just need more time on the wheel.” 

Coning Down While Centering the Clay

Another area where this book is helpful, is to show not just the steps involved in throwing a cylinder (the first type of piece most beginners learn to throw), but also what happens inside. An instructor will often, but not always, cut the first piece they make as a demo in half. This will usually elicit gasps from the beginning students, who see only that a newly thrown piece is being destroyed. Yet, this is a very helpful step. Not only does it teach not to become attached to any one pot (which is a very beneficial mindset for any potter), but it is essential to seeing how the piece is being thrown. The book includes pictures that show what happens as pulls are made to increase the height of the pot, and what the thickness of should look like from top to bottom. 

Cross Section of the Pot

Additional sections go through the steps to getting a pre-bisqued pot: wiring off, centering and trimming.

Trimming a Bowl

The following chapters then go through the more common types of pieces that are typically made: mugs (and handles), bowls, pitchers, planters, plates, coffee pour overs and berry bowls, among others. There are numerous images, showing what to do at each step. These are pieces often bought by customers as well, so it is helpful to have instructions in one place. 

Finished Berry Bowl

There is a short section on the different ways to glaze, which most beginning potters first encounter at a studio.

Dipping a Pot into Glaze

The book ends with information on the business side of pottery, and a list of frequently asked questions. Of course, you might never want to sell pottery, and always do it as a hobby. Or perhaps sell an occasional piece, but not set up a business. If you are thinking along those lines though, there is a lot of practical advice, particularly around developing a following and where to sell your work. This includes where to sell (and pros and cons of each), how to ship, and how to price your wares.

Packing and Shipping

It is all a process, and this book is a good place to get a little more information while getting started with clay.

Minnesota Mug, a Hit Piece

Buy Practical Pottery 

Website for Jon Schmidt

Photos are courtesy of Jon Schmidt


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