Steamboat artist Julie Anderson works on a clay jar Wednesday at her studio.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat artist Julie Anderson works on a clay jar Wednesday at her studio.

Artist takes the wheel

Local ceramics creator explains challenges of throwing pottery

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— Hunched over a bottle-necked piece of pottery in the making, ceramics artist Julie Anderson is keeping herself from getting attached.

There are dozens of things that can go awry in the process of throwing a pot - in centering the clay on the wheel, forming its shape by pushing into the center and then crafting the sides of an evenly distributed mound of material. But with 10 years of experience working in ceramics, Anderson is habituated to avoiding the thought of a potential collapse.

"You have to learn to let go of your pieces," she said, explaining that making pottery on a wheel has a steep learning curve. "It's like snowboarding; you're going to be hurting a lot that first week. It's the beginning part that's the most difficult."

Learning how to use a pottery wheel takes longer than a week, she said, but mastering the first step - centering the clay so that it can be shaped evenly - is a beginning potter's biggest hurdle.

"It's the first step, but it's the most important step, and it's usually the hardest for beginners to learn," Anderson said. "If you start off right, then usually things go pretty well from there on out - assuming you kind of have an idea of what the other steps are."

In a pottery demonstration at today's First Friday ArtWalk and in a six-week series of classes starting Tuesday at the Steamboat Arts & Crafts Gym, Anderson said she hopes to project the soothing, rewarding qualities of throwing ceramics with a wheel, and she chalks up the art form's challenges to part of the process.

"The process itself is so enjoyable that I still love doing it, even if it's not always so successful," she said, explaining that the feel of the clay and the trial of shaping it are more than enough to keep things interesting. "It's kind of better to work quickly, and to see each piece as a practice piece rather than a masterpiece. That's probably the most important lesson you can learn in throwing."

The advice Anderson offers most often to beginners is that she's constantly correcting problems with each piece as those imperfections come up.

"Like anything, the more you practice at it, the easier it gets," she said. "It can be kind of frustrating, because that first step is the most important step, and at any point there are a lot of things that can go wrong."

Anderson plans to cover the basics of throwing in her classes, with smaller lessons in painting and glazing. She hopes any potential students will see past the wheel's initial frustrations.

"There are so many triumphs and so many great things about ceramics. It's so rewarding, and it's definitely challenging, which is what makes it rewarding for me," Anderson said.

"If it were easy, I would probably be over it."

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