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Published Mar 21, 2022

Whether you are a full time potter or just starting to develop a pottery career, chances are your studio time is precious. Not only do you love making pots, but the other responsibilities involved in running a business eat into your studio time every day. So how do you make the most of the precious studio time you get? 

In today's post, an excerpt from the March/April 2022 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Rhonda Willers shares some great time management tips to help you get the most out of each minute in the pottery studio. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

PS. To se this complete article, check out the March/April 2022 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated!

On Sunday, you look at your week ahead and realize you have two hours to dedicate to your studio on Wednesday evening. You begin imagining all the different things you’ll make: throw 20 mugs, pull handles, test glazes, etc. Your mind wildly plans, but maybe not realistically plans, for this two-hour block of studio time.

When we have limited studio time, we can often get worked up with excitement, then paralyzed with too many ideas, followed by feeling frustrated about not having enough time to not only complete tasks, but also have some fun being creative. Let’s envision two studio scenarios and how we could prepare for a two-hour block of studio time. In the first scenario, you have an upcoming studio sale or exhibition. In the second scenario you have open studio time without an external deadline. In both scenarios, you may want to ask yourself, when will I be able to work again? Knowing when you’ll be coming back to the studio will direct which parts of your making processes need to be prioritized and how to plan for storage of the work between sessions.

1 Cut slabs ahead of time for use during the two-hour block of studio time.

Upcoming Sale or Exhibition

Having an external deadline creates expectations: you have a date by which things must be done. Your first task is looking at your schedule and determining how you will meet those expectations.

As you plan, consider the ways in which you can layer the steps in your making processes to make the most of your two-hour block of studio time:

  • Begin with something that needs to be set up before it can move forward. 
  • Next, work on something new or something that you set up in a previous studio session. 
  • Follow by making something smaller, or less time intensive, so you can finish one thing during your studio time. 
  • Wrap up by returning to the element that you set up in the beginning of your session.

If getting started is a challenge, consider building a practice or ritual into the beginning of your studio sessions, no matter how much time you have available to work. Keep this element brief, 10 minutes or less, so that it doesn’t become its own burden. Ideas for beginning: 

  • Sketch new ideas.
  • Pinch small forms.
  • Do a breathing meditation.
  • Write or draw in your sketchbook about what you want to do in that session.
  • Have a cup of coffee or tea and let your mind wander.
2 Use the slabs to make various shapes and parts in preparation for larger forms. 3 Cut coils to make earrings or for other small projects you can finish quickly.

What Planning Looks Like

1. Create a making list: Prepare a list of items you are intending to have for a sale/exhibition. This might look like:

  • Pottery approach: 25 wheel-thrown mugs, 15 wheel-thrown bowls, 5 handbuilt serving trays, 2 handbuilt baskets,
    20 pairs of earrings, 5 wheel-thrown and handbuilt vases
  • Vessel/sculpture approach: 5 handbuilt vessels, 5 mixed-
    media forms, 3 coil-built sculptures

2. Break the list down further in a deep dive: List the steps for each of the objects you need to make. Example:

  • Two handbuilt baskets: a) make 7 clay slabs; b) add texture to slabs for the sides of the basket; c) let slabs set up; d) cut slabs into shapes using paper patterns; e) assemble the slabs into the forms; f) let assembled forms rest; g) refine edges and attachments; h) allow basket forms to slowly dry

3. Estimate the time needed for each step: If you have a standard set of forms that you repeatedly make, track how much time each form requires. Keep this posted somewhere in your studio as a reference. Having the list accessible can help guide future working sessions, whether you have 30 minutes, 2 hours, or a whole day.

4. Choose a path based on your available work session: Determine which steps you wish to complete in your current two-hour block of studio time.

5. Order the steps and add making times: Create an ordered list of the steps you are going to complete and include the time you allotted for each. Adding time allotments adds structure, which helps encourage focus. It will also bring awareness to you about the amount of time your making processes actually require. You might estimate 30 minutes for one step, but find that you only need 15 minutes to complete it. Here is a 2-hour studio session example:

  • Make all needed slabs and compress: 30 minutes
  • Throw 25 mugs: 1 hour
  • Add textures and cut slabs for baskets, tightly wrap remaining slabs in plastic: 20 minutes
  • Make earrings: 10 minutes

6. Determine how many 2-hour sessions you will need to complete pieces planned for the sale or exhibition: By doing this, you will see whether the long-term goal is feasible or if you need to alter the plan.

Note: Clean-up time would also need to be accounted for, so plan for 5–10 minutes of clean up, either within your two hours or afterward, if time allows.

Rhonda Willers is a studio artist living in Wisconsin. She is the author of Terra Sigillata: Contemporary Techniques, published by The American Ceramic Society and available at To learn more, visit and Instagram @r_willers.


Topics: Ceramic Artists