Setting up a Studio
You might be relatively new to pottery—you haven’t purchased many tools or much equipment, but are wondering where to start. Or, you have dabbled a bit in creating pottery but are discovering that your tools, equipment, half-started projects, and finished pieces are taking over your home. Or, worst of all, you are finding yourself tracking dust about your home after time working with clay, which is not only messy, but also a health hazard.
Regardless of the phase in your pottery journey, space is crucial when making a home studio. Let’s look at what factors you need to consider when setting up a studio space in a home that you rent or a space that you are considering renting.
Producing pottery requires some equipment. The equipment you utilize depends on the kind of work you want to make, the volume you want to produce, and the techniques you prefer. Regardless of process or scale, you will require space in your rental to set up large or heavy equipment, make pottery, glaze bisque ware, wire a kin to fire finished work, and store finished pieces. You will also want good ventilation, running water, heat, and possibly cooling.
Here are some suggestions about where you can set up a
- Spare room in your rental home
In the beginning of a career, most potters merely make the most of their available space. Once you have a good understanding of the process and know that you want to pursue pottery either as a dedicated hobby or as a money-making venture, you may want to expand your space and design it to be more useful.
Some pottery spaces are tiny. If your space is limited, you can make it work; don’t be demoralized! Making an effective pottery studio out of a small area is achievable.
Check with the homeowner about the kiln restrictions inside or outside the house. Do some risk analysis about the safety of setting up the kilns in a residential home. Ask an electrician to visit the site for a safety inspection and see if the electrical system is within the code or not. Consider speaking with a lawyer and a homeowner’s insurance company about how having a kiln might affect liability and insurance rates.
Also, speak with your personal rental-home insurance agent about setting up the kiln inside or outside the house to avoid future implications. In this scenario, your insurance might go up a few dollars.
After discussing the possibility of placing a kiln at the rental property with the homeowner/landlord, if they agree to an arrangement, be prepared for an increase to your rental cost as a pass-on cost from their home insurance company. If the landlord denies the inclusion of a kiln in the rental space, but the space is still perfect for your creative endeavors, then you can always look for kiln space to rent at your local community college or community art center.
Space for a Kiln
Choosing the right space to be creative in can be time consuming and mentally taxing. Choosing a space that will accommodate a kiln with the proper electrical hookup and ventilation can be downright difficult, but don’t lose hope, those spaces are out there. If you don’t have the room in your living space, consider renting kiln space elsewhere. Local pottery businesses may have space for hire.
Most potters purchase either a front-loading or a top-loading electric kiln as a first kiln. Price is the most significant difference between the two, but there are other considerations. A front-loading kiln is more convenient and will give you great value in the long run because they are generally extremely durable. Top-loading kilns are cheaper, but could be troublesome to use if you can’t reach the bottom of the kiln or need to replace the top row of soft bricks due to wear and tear.
Most kilns available in the market are top-loading. If you’re a hobby potter who doesn’t have high-scale production, then a top-load model is a good investment. Potters who are planning on starting a business and aggressively increasing their production will find great long-run durability in front-loading kilns.
Kilns that do not come with metal legs that elevate them off the ground should be placed on a bed of cement blocks on an inch-high, raised subfloor, near a window, away from the walls, allowing air to circulate around it. The added height will make it easier on your back to load a low, square, top loader. Keep the room or area housing the kiln very sparse, without anything extraneous cluttering it up: no curtains, packaging material, or things lying around on the floors. Use a fan or kiln vent in the windows to vent out the heat and air, even in the winter.
Lease Agreement and the Law
Most leases and city/county zoning regulations do not allow business or specific manufacturing activities in a residential zone. If you plan to sell your work out of you home studio, check with the local governing agency about their proprietor laws to allow a business to operate, depending on your intent and under what conditions. Renter’s or business insurance covering any possible concerns would likely be mandatory for consideration of approval and a written agreement to change any alterations back when moving out. You may need a permit if there are significant electrical- or gas-line changes for hookup. You do not want the after-the-fact penalties or disputes.
If your apartment does not allow individual barbecues on decks (as many do not), don’t even ask about a kiln. Apartment dwellers must consider potential harm/costs to others in the same building via electric, gas, fire, smoke, or odor problems, so it is less likely to be approved.
Safety Issues for Tenants and the Surrounding Area
Electric kilns are the most common type of kiln used. They have heating elements that heat up the kiln as electric currents pass through them. Natural gas, propane, wood, coal, or oil-fired kilns, which are generally for exterior use, require fire-safety permits before installation and use. For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on the safety of electric kilns in a rental space.
Bisque firing is generally done between 1828°F (998°C) (cone 06) and 1945°F (1063°C) (cone 04). Glaze firing earthenware requires temperatures around 1828°F (998°C) (cone 06), while stoneware will need at least 2167°F (1186°C) (cone 5), and porcelain could require temperatures as high as 2345°F (1285°C) (cone 10). The high-heat temperatures in kilns can expose you and your surroundings to fumes while firing, such as those listed below.
Bisque firing leads to the oxidization of the organic matter held in clay, releasing gases such as carbon monoxide into the surrounding air. Any sulfur in the clay will later break down, releasing sulfur oxides. The breakdown of organic matter in nitrogen- and nitrate-rich clay could release toxic nitrogen oxides. Inside hot kilns, chlorides, carbonates, and fluorides release chlorine, carbon dioxide, and fluorine gases as they break down. When glaze firing, materials such as gypsum, galena, fluorspar, cryolite, Cornish stone, and lepidolite discharge fumes and gases as the firing begins. Lead vaporizes at low temperatures; lead vapors are hazardous, so only use lead-free glazes. (Most glazes are now lead free, but be careful when accepting any old glazes to experiment with or test.) These fumes are mainly released between 500°F (260°C) and 1000°F (538°C) degrees. The amount of fuming depends on the size of your kiln. Maintain good ventilation and ample space around the kiln. If you have a large kiln, the heat radiated by it can ignite combustible liquids or materials that are stored too close to the kiln.
Kilns can intimidate newbie potters. Don’t be shy, and ask for assistance from a veteran potter when setting up and firing your kiln for the first time. Not only will you get a proper setup, but you may also learn a few firing tips in the process.
Kilns are safely being used in countless homes throughout the world. They are low-risk as long as you observe safety standards during their installation and use, and keep them properly ventilated and maintained. Maintaining an electric kiln means regular cleaning of the bottom of the kiln and in the channels holding the elements, and replacing worn elements and broken soft bricks over time.
A good area for a pottery studio is an average-sized room with clear separation for each step of the process: forming, glazing, firing, packaging, and storage. It doesn’t have to be grand or even complete right away. You can slowly add more equipment and specialty tools as you advance—and more significantly, as you have a clear vision of how to perfect your craft.
Your current workspace may serve you for years. So, keep everything organized and get official permission and agreements signed right from the planning stage to ensure your studio promotes efficiency, creativity, safety, and productivity.
Mamta Gholap, a frequent contributor to Pottery Making Illustrated, earned her MBA in finance, and is passionate about handbuilding with clay.