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Tips For Teaching A Ceramic Workshop

Tips For Teaching A Ceramic Workshop
It's hard to resist clay isn't it?! There is something about that squish in your hand, the grounding of your senses that happens with you handle a material from the Earth, and the beautiful mess it makes that appeals to so many. Let's not forget the fact that your creation is something that will be able to be used and enjoyed long past the day its made! There is a tricky part to ceramics though, while accessible in nature it is not as accessible when it comes to the equipment and tools needed to finish your pieces, therefore limiting the ways one can experience this grounding medium.
Teaching ceramic workshops is a way for you to be a part of your local creative community, provide a different stream of revenue for your business, and gift a creative experience that so many are in search for but lack the studio set up necessary to complete ceramic work.

Let's work through some logistics and preparations that will empower you to design a workshop of your own.


I have 18-30 sets of common tools like exact knives, sponges, loop tools, clay cutters and ribs that can be rearranged in kits to suit any direction the workshop is going. Ornament workshop? Spoon making workshop? Hand building a mug? We need these same tools for each of these.  

After each each workshop tools I wash and dry the tools and then store them in lidded bins in my studio storage. I don't mix them in with my personal tools so I know when I go to teach the next workshop I can "shop" for the right set of tools and reassemble what we need from my kits.  



I hope you have included pricing for your tools and material in your workshop price, If not is it easy to take chunks out of your profits as you prepare for a workshop. For several workshops when I was just beginning, I budgeted a little bit from each one to be used to improve my tool kits. For my first workshop I knew I needed transportable workboards so I bought MDF work boards we cut into 12x18 boards at the home improvement store.  The next workshop I ordered many of the little tools like paint brushes, sponges and the next time I got matching work bowls. Little by little you will build a collection of tools that will enable you to provide a unique creating experience. 
There are some tools that either I made for a specific purpose or are expensive like rolling pins, high quality shape cutters,  or scissors that I choose to buy a smaller amount of and have then be communal tools we can all share from as we work.
My guests do not keep their tools, ceramic tools aren't very useful outside of a studio setting instead I give them a gift and a few special elements which I share more about later. 






 Making name tags is a nice little touch that isn't necessary but I will tell you a few reasons why this has become one of my top tips for hosting a ceramic workshop. 
1- I mean how special will your attendees feel to see a spot intended just for them?!
2- It helps you get on a first name basis, its always nice to be able to offer personal instruction and call them by their name.
3- You will most likely be working with creative people, people to whom color and texture matter and I use the clay they are working with to give them an idea of what they are creating with and how it will look transformed and fired.
4- Making name tags helps with organization and clarity. When I load their pieces into the kiln I load these name tags in with their pieces to help ensure the right work gets back to the right person.When returning their pieces either by mail or local pick up these tags also help keep the pieces organized and help the right pieces get back to the right person.

5- Bringing a sample of their glaze choices on the clay body you are using is also a helpful visual for your workshop students.




We have to do a bit of clever planning and a bit of the dirty work here in these beginning stages. I find it can be a bit overwhelming if you don't have some creative boundaries surrounding the ceramic project you designed for the workshop. I have found it to be a more accessible experience especially for beginners working in clay if you are able to simplify and be very clear about the project, your demo process, and the quantities they are able to make.
For instance if you are hosting an ornament making workshop you would prepare the same size slab for everyone and say that everyone is going to be able to design and create 6 ornaments and from the extra pieces they could make beads or something extra for their ornaments but if you don't set those boundaries then someone could use their slab to create 18 little ornaments as opposed to the 6 they paid for.  Now you have increased your work load and the time it will take you to clean and glaze each piece as well as the additional material you will need to take into account for finishing the extra pieces like silk ribbons, which wouldn't have been included in the initial price of the workshop.
I usually try to keep the active teaching part of the workshop to be around two hours so sometimes that means I roll and prepare slabs or cut out patterns for them to use beforehand so my attendees have as much time as possible to create in our time together. 
Spoons and Scoops
Jewelry and Beads
Watercolor Palettes
Hand built Mugs
Geometric wall hangings 
Mini dishes 
Charcuterie boards



I ordered boxes that serve as containers for their individual tool sets on the way to the workshop and on the way back to the studio they act as the transportation protection and also a means to keep their work separated from the rest of their workshop mates.




 Will you arrange for pick up at your studio? How about meet back at the place where you had the workshop? Is mailing an option? I have preferred mail for most things in part because many times I have people from out of town who attend the workshop. If you are able to make a piece before the workshop this will give you a good idea how much the piece and its packing material can weigh if you were to add the shipping material to the price of the workshop. 



I always like to imagine ways to make a workshop feel extra special. In my studio I keep a box of bits and bobs, beads and geometric shapes, left over silk ribbon from other projects. I sometimes begin here when thinking of ways to make a little magic. For my most recent workshop almost all of the attendees were from out of town and I wanted them to experience a piece of the desert in the spring, I did a little foraging in my yard and clipped branches from my orange tree that had blossoms in full bloom.  When they opened their tool boxes, the most delightful smell greeted them, a few women even rolled the blossoms into their clay to leave an imprint. For holiday workshops I have dried grapefruits for a bit of festiveness, just a few little details make the workshop feel magical.


In gratitude I like to give a little gift to those who made the arrangements to be with me at the workshop that day. I usually use this as an opportunity to introduce everyone to a new artist or small business. 

 My friend Erika Lenaye made prints of her artwork for my guests and they were so loved. 


Workshops are a huge expenditure of energy in the preparations and the setup and clean up. I have always asked a friend or my studio assistant to help me, this frees me up to save my energy for the teaching and the interacting with my guests.  If I am planning on having any refreshments I usually ask a friend who owns a catering business to help me and my friends who are florists to bring some of that petal energy. This past workshop we had to carry 25 pounds of clay over and over up two flights of stairs and we were laughing about how sore we were going to be the next day. 
There is the number of guests to consider, how many do you believe you can be an attentive teacher to? How many is too many to order supplies for? How much extra work can you take on at the moment? Would it be helpful if you were able to set up the venue and do back to back workshop dates so you could still have 30 workshop attendees but 15 on Friday and 15 on Saturday? I think the golden number is somewhere in-between 18-22 any less and the numbers don't work out in your favor for the investment of time and energy and any more and it become difficult to command that room and offer helpful instructions to each guest. It can be done but you will have to be extra prepared.

Another idea if you'd like a larger workshop but are feeling overwhelmed at the idea is to ask another creative friend to run a workshop with you. For instance I taught a holiday ornament making workshop and I felt overwhelmed at teaching a larger group at the time but the interest in the class was so great that I collaborated with my friend who was a florist and she taught half of the class to make wreaths and I taught half of the to make ornaments and then we switched and she taught the people who had just been creating ornaments and I taught those who had just finished their wreaths. Each person left with a wreath and I finished their ornaments a couple weeks later and shipped them.



I dream of having a workshop outside, in a grove with lights strung overhead. I've run into some logistical issues with this dream, let me share some of the questions I work through when visiting the space in preparation for a workshop:
Have you been able to visit the space? Are you indoors or outdoors? What's the weather going to be? What are you thoughts about the lay out? How's the light? Is the space inspiring and will entice others to share on their social media accounts, improving the chances that you will get to host another workshop with the help of your workshop friends sharing about their experience with you? Will your guests have enough space to work? Are you responsible for the tables and chairs or are those provided with the rental fee? Is there access to water and will you be able to safely dispose of the workshop water? Is there a way to play music, music always helps the mood!


Because your tables and chairs are most likely going to be rented or a surface where after your workshop other events or food will be present, consider ways to keep the space clean or bring things along to safely clean up the mess that was made. Canvas or rolls of muslin used as a table cloth is a look I am fond of and doubles as a workable surface. Vintage table clothes, or linen table cloths that can be washed after the event are also things I have used to cover the work space. 



Consider the things that you do well as an artist and teacher and play to those strengths when designing your workshop experience. Find help in the areas you lack and hire out elements that could help you reserve your reneger for the things you do best. 


Be sure to photograph these moments as you step into a new role or arrange for a photographer to document the workshop so you can remain focused on your guests . This will help you market your next workshop and help you keep those memories. The meeting of beautiful souls and finding a place of connection will be some of the most beautiful moments of your career. 

I say photograph the event but also before you pack up any work photograph each person's work space and their pieces all together so you are able to match or puzzle together the correct pieces for each person when you return back to the studio to begin the firing. I also include a piece of paper for them to write their name and how many piece they made, their address if shipping, how many pieces in total they made, and any specific glazing instructions for me. 



+My work boards are particle board that I asked the home improvement store to cut on site. My boards are 12x18 and I think we got 10 from a larger board. this is the 3/4 " but the 1/2 "works well too and will save you about $10.

+Favorite alphabet letters for embossing and signing their pieces. I prefer these to the kind that are yellow and purple those are hard to cut and separate the letters,  those yellow ones are smaller and you can't join them together like you can these. Also rubber stamps work but they so often leave the shape of the stamp. these are very clean and easy to use. I use them in my own studio.

+Cutters. These pastry cutters are in my opinion the only ones worth buying. I no longer use metal cutters if it can be helped because they rust and later their shape, its harder to get wet clay to release from them as well. These are thick nylon that can hold up to cutting thicker slabs, clean up well and come in their own case. A few other fun shapes.  I personally love the moon shape. I have sets I use for my own studio work too. 

+The prettiest scissors for cutting patterns 

+My favorite ribbon tool for carving and extracting clay

+Compact white sponges because I have a problem with bright yellow sponges when I'm trying to stick with my brand vibe, also we are trying to get them to use as little water as possible so a smaller sponge reminds them that its really just for a little wiping or to clean their hands. 

+My favorite brushes of all time, useful for glazing, applying slip or underglaze or cleaning up hard to reach seams. 

 +One of my favorite finishing touches is a colorful bit of silk, Tono + Co is my favorite place for their brilliant hand dyed colors and one of my favorite tips is to go to their odds and ends section where you can get such good deals on pieces of silk that you can then use to add some color and character to your workshop either tying them around tool bundles or around a gift or a canvas tablecloth to work upon. 

+Large rolls of canvas for cutting into place mat sizes or putting on the tables to help with the clay mess. 

+Linen tablecloths that add such a vibe, a splash of color and help protect the tables you'll be working on. 

+Work bowls. Often my tables start to get a little crowded and in my mind I think one bowl of water per person but when we actually start to set up it works out more to like one bowl in-between work stations so 2-4 people end up sharing a bowl. I would love love love to have the time to create bowls for a workshop, I think it would be such a beautiful touch, but alas I never remember it in time. I recently got a set of these bowls which fit my branding and make the table feel a little special. But first I worked with little clear acrylic bowls I got from the dollar store so this is a place where you can save or splurge but a special ceramic piece on the table for water will be such a moment!

+Dowels do the trick and can be cut down to make make shift rolling pins. I chose to roll my workshop slabs in my studio with my slab roller just to cut out some time and to ensure they were beginning from a nice even clay slab. But French rolling pins are my favorite if you'd like to add some of those to your kit. This is also a chance to do a bit of thrifting and find some older rolling pins that can have a second life rolling clay slabs instead of pie crusts and you can usually pick them up for a few dollars. 

+ Boxes for transporting tools on the way to the workshop and fragile pieces back to the studio. These are only helpful if you will be making smaller pieces that can fit back inside and be protected. I also included a small piece of muslin to wrap the pieces in that doubled as a work space place mat. 



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