I’m smitten. Despite the fact that Patrick Swayze didn’t show up at my shoulder, my pot throwing experience was the most engrossing hour I’ve spent in ages.
My teacher was Jen from The Village Pottery. She has a pottery-cum-tea-and-cake-shop in Clifton Village, Bristol as well as a workshop in Easton-in-Gordano, which is where I went for my lesson. I arrived at the workshop at 11 had a quick look around and was shown the potter’s wheel.
First thing was to be suitably attired. Off with my jewellery, on with my apron and a large shirt was also provided to cover my knees. The potter’s wheel was a sort of all-in-one contraption of seat, wheel and bowl. I was to straddle the seat, and then use my right foot to control the pedal which would govern the speed of the wheel. My other foot rested on the floor or a block.
Jen brought the first ball of clay and plopped it onto the wheel. My first task was to ‘centre’ the clay. This involved cupping my hands around the clay firmly to bring it into shape in the centre of the wheel. I was interested to learn how important it is to ‘anchor’ your forearms on the edge of the bowl, so that your hands can be more weightless and thereby guide the clay delicately rather than push or pull it about. Having made the clay into a rounded lump, I was then taught to cross my thumbs on top of the clay whilst still cupping the outside, until my hands stopped wobbling. This was the sign that the clay was successfully centred. All the while, I had to ensure that I kept the clay wet and smooth by dipping my hands into water and/or scooping water onto the ball of clay.
Next, to make a hole in the centre of the ball. To do this, I was effectively to bore my thumb into the centre of the ball. The tricky bit is keeping your thumb going straight down, rather than at an angle. And also knowing when to stop… I was very careful not to make a hole in the bottom of the ‘pot’ – I was probably over cautious, and had to deepen the hole each time I threw.
Having formed a well in the clay, the next step was to use both thumbs to widen the aperture. If I have understood correctly, this is the point at which you decide whether your pot is going to be short and wide, or thin and tall. The technique is to bring your thumbs up from the base of the well, either drawing them slightly outwards (wider pot) or keeping them straight (thinner pot). In the case of the latter, you might also use your fingers outside the pot to ensure that your thumbs are coming up straight and that the clay is not bulging. For me, this part was the one which seemed to require the greatest skill. It wasn’t easy to ‘draw up’ the pot sides evenly – I would end up with a thick bottom (no clever comments, thanks), which I would then have to work to thin out a bit. I found that there were times when it was more effective to rely entirely on my sense of touch in deciding how to draw up the pot, rather than trying to tell by sight whether I was doing the right thing. I found this a very engrossing experience.
Jen showed me how to achieve a nice shape for a bowl, and we used different tools to ensure that the inside of the pot was smooth and the bottom was flat. We used sponges to remove excess water, which revealed more clearly the shape and any imperfections which needed tidying up, as well as smoothing the top rim. We used a different ‘pointy’ tool (can’t remember the name of it!) to tidy up the base, choosing either a defined base or a graduated one (more like a soup bowl). Finally, I used a cheese wire which I pulled under the bowl to separate it from the wheel so that it could be lifted once dry.
I made one closely supervised bowl, one slightly more independent bowl, one that went wrong – I didn’t draw it up evenly and made one part of the wall of the bowl so thin that it collapsed…and went to the recycling pile- and one interestingly shaped vessel, which was something of an experiment with technique… Jury’s out on how it will look once fired and glazed.
I can’t believe how quickly the hour passed. I really really enjoyed myself and without a doubt this is something I want to do again. I have to wait a week or so until the pots are dry enough to glaze and fire… and I haven’t decided yet whether to have them glazed in transparent glaze by Jen, and just pick them up, or whether to go back to the workshop for a half hour colour glazing session.
Thank you Jen for being an excellent, patient and inspirational teacher. All in all a fabulous experience… and maybe the start of a new hobby!
[27 down, 23 to go]