Creating a finished piece of pottery is a long process, and much of it is done before the clay ever gets fired in a kiln. The artist must first select the type of outcome they want for their piece, and it has to be decided when choosing the clay. Those who want just a simple piece of pottery have many choices, but creating harder pieces, such as a ceramic, require clay with finer grain and few impurities.
Once the decisions are made and the clay chosen, the artist must work all the air bubbles out of their clay. They can then proceed to form their piece on a pottery wheel, or they can mold it by hand. If it will take several sessions to finish their piece, it must be kept damp in storage. Once the clay dries on the outside, it cannot be shaped further.
Drying a clay piece thoroughly before firing is important, and it is one of the longer steps artists must endure. The piece will shrink as it dries, and it can break if there are air bubbles within the clay. It is a dangerous time for a piece of pottery, so it is best to ensure it is stored on a shelf where the air temperature and humidity are constant. A good drying environment will not save the piece if there are air bubbles or other issues with its formation, but it will help.
Drying a clay piece before firing can take a few days, or even a few weeks if the piece is very complex. Experienced potters are used to this, but those who have just begun to learn the craft are often surprised at the time it takes. Drying a piece completely before its first firing will help ensure it does not crack or even explode once it is subject to the heat of the kiln.