Career as a Ceramic/pottery maker

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Paul French hand-throws classical bowls and vases on a potter's wheel in his studio. Once fired in his kiln, he colours and glazes them before selling them to galleries, shops and individual customers.

What kind of ceramics do you make?

I design very simple, classical shapes, but with a rough sort of clay that sculptors tend to work with. It contains a lot of tiny stones and gives a textured feel and look. I do a range of large vases and bowls for galleries and exhibitions, but I also have a range of smoother, glazed pieces that people could use in the home.

How do you throw a pot?

I start by preparing my clay, wedging it to remove any air bubbles so it will be ready to be thrown on the wheel. I form it into a ball and throw it onto the centre of the wheel. The wheel is turned on and I use my hands to keep the clay in the centre. You have to keep your hands wet.

To create the inside of the bowl or vase, I put my finger into the middle of the clay and start to move it towards my body.

Because many of my pots are very large, they have to be thrown in sections. I then join the sections using clay to seal the join on the inside and the outside.

What happens next?

I cover the pot and leave it to dry until it is 'leather-hard'. This would usually be the next day. I turn the pot upside down on the wheel and use tools to create the base – and to sign the pot! When it is completely dry, I put it in a kiln and fire it to 1000 degrees C.

How do you colour your pots?

After the first firing, I glaze the work and re-fire it at 1280 degrees. Glazing means using different chemicals to create different colours and finishes. I mainly use oxides – cobalt to give blue, iron to give a red-brown and copper to give green.

How do you get your work?

By being out-going and not embarrassed to approach people. I got some work by going into one well-established shop and introducing myself. I do not send photographs of my work, because galleries and shops get hundreds of them. I always go in person and make an appointment.

What is your studio like?

Lovely and warm in the winter and unbearable in the summer. I turn the kiln on and leave! It is a small studio, but with a high ceiling so that I can store my work on shelves.

What hours do you work?

My day starts around 10 a.m. and can last into the evening depending on what I am doing. I could have a very productive week by throwing lots of pieces, firing and glazing them, or I could have a week of trying to find new clients or delivering work to existing ones.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I consider myself to be very lucky because I do a job that I love, without a boss and with only myself to blame for any disappointments. I enjoy meeting clients and discussing new ideas.

Paul's route to a career in Ceramic - pottery making

  • Degree in ceramics.
  • Setting up own business.

Paul' pottery making tips

  • Do not be afraid to approach potential clients, galleries, shops and interior designers.
  • You must be positive in your business if you are going to make it work.

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Ceramic and pottery making salary information

  • After training, you may start on around £10,000 working for a company, rising to about £20,000 with experience.
  • If you run your own business, your income will depend on how many pots you make and on the price people are prepared to pay.
  • You have to take the cost of materials and equipment into account.

Becoming a Ceramic / pottery maker

  • You do not need qualifications to train as a ceramicist or potter, but pottery companies who take on trainees may prefer you to have some GCSEs/S grades or a relevant NVQ.
  • There are NVQs/SVQs in craft pottery and manufacturing ceramic products.
  • Many self-employed ceramicists and potters have an HNC/HND, Foundation or degree.
  • Working with an established potter is a good way of getting experience and learning skills.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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