Becoming a Full Time Potter - Time
Doing pottery full time doesn't mean all your time is spent making pots. Far from it.
I'm going to take an example of making a batch of 10 mugs, and give a rough idea of how my time would be spread out across the whole process.
First you have to order your materials. Ideally you'd be buying in bulk (I order a quarter of a ton of clay each time but would order more if I had more storage space) so the time to order, unpack, sort, and store will be spread out over many pieces. Still, it takes time. 2 minutes (total 2)
You have to wedge your clay, and weigh it into the right sized balls. 10 minutes (total 12)
Throwing! This is the fun bit. The time for this will vary massively between potters, it depends on the size of the piece and how quickly you work. For 10 swirly mug bodies I'd estimate 40 minutes or so. 40 minutes (total 52)
I leave my pieces to dry for the day on the batt, then take them back to the wheel to burnish the rim and sides before wiring off and transferring to a sealed plastic container overnight. 20 minutes (total 72)
The next day I trim and attach handles. The trimming would take about 30 minutes (total 102)
The handles would be split up into several processes, to prepare the handles and allow them to firm up before attaching . Overall, it would be about 100 minutes (total 202)
I leave them to dry slowly for a week or so, then they'd be loaded into a bisque firing. 10 minutes (total 212)
Now they need to be glazed. I estimate that mixing up a large batch of glaze takes 30 mins, and might do 100 mugs, but I use a couple of glazes on each piece, so we can add 10 minutes to prepare the glazes and 50 minutes to glaze them. 60 minutes (total 272)
Now they need to be loaded into a glaze firing. The loading here is far more important, so it's slower. 20 minutes (total 292)
They're now fired. For the purpose of this all 10 are fine. In reality, you might be going back to the start here. Possibly even more than once. It happens! So they need a quick sand to make sure the bottom is smooth. 10 minutes (total 302)
Now, this step depends on how you're selling them. I sell direct to customers, meaning I might well be packing each one of those mugs into a separate box and booking a separate delivery. All told, I estimate around 15 minutes per item to pack and ship. 150 minutes (total 452)
That means we've spent around 7.5hrs on these mugs, or 45 minutes per mug. This time covers the making process, but not the time spend reaching and interacting with the customers.
So that's the breakdown for making mugs, (by the way, mug are one of the more time consuming things to make) but what does the overall picture look like?
It's hard to say exactly, but my estimation for the average day is something like this:
15 mins preparing clay
60 mins throwing
30-60 mins trimming
30 mins emails/messages
30-60 mins social media
60 mins other process (handles/stamping/slip/etc)
15-30 mins loading kiln
60-120 mins glazing
60-120 mins packing/shipping
That covers most of the big chunks of time. There will be lots of smaller things that need to be fitted in around those, but I also won't need to do all of those things every day. I would say that the parts of the day dedicated to actually making the work is the majority, but there is a decent amount of admin too.
My day is generally structured with the throwing in the morning, to allow the pieces to dry a bit by the afternoon as I like to let my work firm up before I remove it from the batt. The rest of the processes will be done at a suitable time for the clay. There's absolutely no point in scheduling trimming if the clay is too soft.
So that's the hands-on time, but there's a lot of time waiting for things to dry.
Going back to the mug example, this is what the overall timing might look like:
Throw in the morning, leave 6 hours.
Burnish in the afternoon. Into sealed plastic boxes overnight to let the moisture even out.
Check the dryness the next morning and remove the lid from the box if they need to dry further.
Extrude and shape handles approximately an hour before needed. They can also be put in a sealed box to slow the drying if necessary.
Trim and burnish the foot of the piece, then attach handles. Back into almost sealed boxes for a week or so. The idea is to allow them to dry slowly. If the handles were a similar dryness to the body when they were attached, then all you need to do is make sure they continue to dry at a similar rate.
Once they're dry, they go into a bisque kiln. Even if they seemed fully dry there will be a little water left, so it's always worth holding for an hour or so at 100 centigrade at the start of the firing. This will greatly reduce any losses in the bisque firing.
Then they can be glazed and left overnight to dry out again. This is really important, especially if you apply your glazes thickly. You can often get away with putting smaller pieces in the kiln straight after glazing, but it's not worth the risk with larger pieces. You can prevent glaze issues like crawling and pinholing if they're being caused by the water evaporating through the glaze during the firing.
Start to finish, a mug takes 45 minutes spread over around 2 weeks, and only 4 minutes of that will be throwing.
And as always, I'd love to know your thoughts on the subject, so please contact me with any comments.
Other posts in the mini-series: