While I'm absolutely NOT an authority on throwing, I do LOVE showing people how to throw pots! And so here are some of the tips I've collected over my years of teaching that seem to make it easier to learn to throw...
Throwing a cylinder
There are basically two ways to open a centered piece of clay when you begin throwing a pot: either as a bowl or as a cylinder. Most all finished pieces of wheel thrown pottery will evolve from these two shapes. The difference between them is that the inside bottom of a cylinder is flat and the inside bottom of a bowl is curved. Simple, right?!
I start my students off with making cylinders, because it's such a basic shape, and I find it to be the easiest way to learn the art of throwing. When making a cylinder, beginners are able to practice many different skills; opening the pot, pulling-up the clay, developing even hand movements, and learning how to assess and adjust the thickness of the walls. Throwing a straight-sided shape necessitates all these skills and more, and is more complex and instructive than one might think at first. Often new wheel throwers attempting to make a cylinder will actually create a bowl with a flat bottom inside, because of hand placement and that thing called GRAVITY - which tends to widen the sides! Learning to throw a cylinder is quite a challenge - and thus a good way to start on the wheel is by throwing one over and over again!
Tip: The clay doesn't have a brain! It's not the clay, but your hand placement and how you leverage the centrifugal force of the wheel that will get you to where you want to be.
I've peppered this article with many videos to illustrate each step of the process.