6 Reasons Why Wheel Throwing Is The Perfect Creative Summer Hobby

published Jun 20, 2022
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I first started wheel-throwing this year in an attempt to recover from burnout. During the pandemic, my job dominated my life. I desperately wanted to reconnect with my creative side and nourish the parts of my brain that seemed to be shrinking after constant screen-bound work. When I thought back on creative pursuits I’d enjoyed, I remembered the ceramics class I took in high school and decided to give it another try.

I enrolled in classes at a local studio, where I spend at least three hours a week elbow-deep in clay. Though it’s a time-consuming hobby, having a set window to explore my artistic side and create without pressure has been an incredible outlet.

And I’m enjoying my hobby a little extra now that it’s summer: It feels particularly luxurious to immerse my hands in cold clay while the sun bakes the pavement outside. While wheel throwing may seem daunting or out of reach, it’s actually easier to get started than you might think. Here are six reasons why wheel throwing is the perfect summer hobby.

It’s meditative.

Wheel-throwing is soothingly ritualized, with a sequence of steps that you will do for every piece (wedging, throwing, trimming, firing, glazing). Within that structure, the details are up to you. Once you get into the rhythm of wheel-throwing, you could throw six of the same object in a row or spend an afternoon experimenting with whimsical forms. Working with the clay itself is deeply relaxing as your thinking brain gives way to muscle memory.

Wheel-throwing can’t be rushed: No matter how fast you throw a piece, you still need to wait for it to dry. Working with an organic material also requires flexibility, since you don’t always know how a certain glaze will fire or how much water your clay can absorb. It’s one of the rare activities that actually forces you to slow down and accept a bit of unpredictability — and the outcome is often unexpectedly beautiful.

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You’re physically engaged in the activity.

As all potters know, wheel-throwing is surprisingly physically involved. We spend so much of our time either swiping or staring at screens; in contrast, wheel-throwing engages your entire body. While your core muscles and arms stabilize the clay, your hands shape it, and your foot controls the speed of the wheel with a pedal. That level of connection means you physically feel the weightless joy of a perfectly centered pot, or the obstinance of an unwieldy piece of clay. When you throw, you can’t help but be engaged with the process. That physical engagement is what often allows for total mental relaxation. 

It doesn’t have to be expensive.

While classes can be pricey, they aren’t always — if you look online, you may find low-cost classes at a smaller local studio or at a YMCA. And classes aren’t the only way to learn how to wheel-throw. YouTube videos are incredibly helpful for honing your skills; I’ve personally been amazed at how much Florian Gadsby’s YouTube channel has made some trickier techniques “click” for me. One option could be to take an introductory class or two (either privately or with a group), then find a studio space where you can work. Some studios allow you to use their pottery wheels, purchase clay, and glaze and fire your pieces for a fee all without enrolling in a class. 

Another alternative is to get your own wheel and clay at home to set up your own studio. Wheels can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, but it’s not unheard of to snag a used wheel for $50 online. If you do decide to throw at home, make sure to be rigorous about your cleaning and safety procedures, as dry clay dust can be harmful to your lungs over time. (For example, ensure proper ventilation, always mop and sponge down surfaces, and never sand greenware inside.)

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It’s cooling.

The value of a cooling and calming activity in the heat of summer can’t be overstated. Though it’s a physical and engaging craft, wheel throwing is also very cooling — studios tend to keep things cool in order to prevent clay from drying out too quickly, and while throwing is strenuous, you’re also constantly dunking your hands in water. Though kilns get incredibly hot on the inside, most of the heat is contained, and you’re never going to be working right next to one. 

You get to keep and use what you make.

Many people start wheel throwing because they want to make something in particular: a planter, a vase, a mug. The possibilities are endless, and even if your work doesn’t turn out exactly how you wanted, there’s still a unique beauty in any handmade object. You can make your own stoneware, from plates to teapots, or create beautiful objets d’art. And if you run out of space, you can give away your work or even sell it online or at farmers markets.

It can help you hone your aesthetic tastes.

Whether you dabble in pottery or devote hours a week to it, wheel throwing can really help you refine your eye for design. You’ll start to notice new details about the stoneware and decor you see in the world and pick up inspiration for pieces of your own. You might find artists you’d like to emulate, or discover that you’d like to explore other art forms as well. There are so many different disciplines and forms of pottery around the world, and it’s an incredibly engaging way to learn about artistry and design through firsthand experience. 

This piece is part of Go Slow Month, where we’re celebrating taking your time, taking a deep breath, and taking a step back from it all. From deliberate design ideas to tips for truly embracing rest, head over here to see it all.