Today I got to try something that I have wanted to do since I was a child – pottery. We did have a kiln fitted at my high school a couple of years before I left, but for some reason I was never allowed to use it. I think maybe my sewing teacher had spoken to the art teacher and told her I was the one who kept (accidentally) breaking the sewing machines, and I was probably best kept away from machinery. On the plus side, I did get very good at hand-sewing whilst I was at school.
Anyway, back to the pottery. My local learning centre (the same place where I studied Welsh at night school) sometimes organise one-day courses in selected subjects such as arts and crafts, cookery and plumbing. When I learnt that today’s one-day school included pottery, I couldn’t wait to enrol.
Pottery is generally a very lengthy process as you have to wait for things to dry and be fired in the kiln in between the various stages. As we only had five hours, our instructor suggested we try making some slab pieces and plates because they are realistic to achieve in a day.
Slab work is when you cut the clay into pieces (or slabs), mould them into the various shapes you require, and then finally stick them all together to form the final object. So, for example, if you wanted to make a cup you would cut a slab for the main body of the cup, wrap it around something circular to create the right shape, cut another slab for the base and then attach a handle. We made the plates by pushing the clay into plaster moulds.
Making pottery look good really is a skill. The clay is nice and soft when you first bring it out of the bag, but it drys really quickly when it comes into contact with the air and is a lot fiddlier to handle than I imagined. Also, the clay in very sticky. When you’re rolling it out you have to keep moving it around so that it doesn’t stick to the table. Our instructor showed us how to imprint patterns into the clay using scraps of embossed wallpaper. I tried to do this on a vase that I was making, but then as soon as I tried to do anything else on the vase I ended up with my fingerprints all over my pretty pattern!
By far the part I enjoyed the most was decorating my pottery. You paint the clay using slip, which is basically watered-down clay with colourant added. It’s not the easiest thing that I’ve painted with, but I think I managed to pull it off. When working with pottery, it’s hard to tell how things are going to look once they’ve been in the kiln. I get to collect my pieces at the end of the month, so I’ll let you know the results. In the meantime, here’s a picture I took of one of my projects before it gets fired. It started off as a mug, but I was struggling to make the handle and it turned out a bit bigger than I thought. So, I decided to leave it at the pot stage. If it comes out of the kiln OK, I might use it to keep my paintbrushes in.