A Day to Play with Clay

Down by the bay, whaddya say? I just may!

So, a while ago I was quite pleased and excited to talk about a pottery class that I was going to take over a week in the summer. I’m sad it’s taken me this long to talk about it, but happy because I have more than just the class to talk about.

The class was awesome, it was small but that is part of what made it awesome. The greater amount of students, the less time each could spend one-on-one with the instructor. Being that there were only four of us (hey, it’s a small town to begin with), we were each given ample time with the instructor and also with the wheel. We explored different techniques with clay including throwing and trimming on the wheel, pinch pots and slabs. We didn’t work with coiling but I was fine with that,  I hate coiling but that’s mainly because I am unable to keep my coils consistent in size. Another plus to having such a small class was that we were allowed to make as many pieces as we wanted, granted we could finish them all in the time allotted. I wanted to fire (bake in the kiln) all of my successful pieces (some of the thrown ones were disasters, it had been a while), the teacher was kind enough to let us stay after class had ended for an hour or so each day to work on what we wanted.

I was able to complete and fire all of my pieces, although I was sloppy towards the end with some of my glazing (glaze is what adds the color to the clay, kind of like paint).

My finished pieces:


A part of me felt like a liar and a cheater, it was an introductory class to pottery and although I am certainly not a skilled potter, I am not a novice one either. I’ve taken two courses (one in university and the other in graduate school) so I definitely know the basics, but I’ve only worked with two different types of clay and have only worked with a few different techniques. So I felt like a jerk when the instructor asked if anyone had previous experience and I was the only one to raise my hand. I explained that it had been three to four years since I had gotten to work with clay so although I may understand most of the vocabulary she was using I definitely needed to brush up on my skills, and boy, did I.

It’s funny how different people teach differently, just as people learn differently. The last instructor I had was very meticulous. He had a certain way of doing everything, all which appeared to be by the books. I remember he even gave us a lesson on how to clean the wheel afterwards- which is great, don’t get me wrong. I appreciated his attention to detail and technique, and how would we know how to do it properly if he didn’t show us? This last instructor was just the opposite though, she was very free with the formations and didn’t focus as much on technique as she did with the feeling of the clay (which sounds weird, but if you’ve worked with clay, it makes sense). I’m not saying one was right and one was wrong of course, I learned different things in different ways from each teacher and that is certainly something I value.

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to take this class and meet this instructor, I was getting quite sad towards the end of it, a  few hours in a week just isn’t long enough and once I was bit by the pottery bug I just craved more time with it. I was elated to find out that the art school that the class was through rented out the studio space. You can also rent the kiln to fire your pieces when they’re ready. I bought a bag of clay from the instructor and have been back twice since, and plan visit again tomorrow (you see all these things I’m doing instead of working on my Thank You Cards for the wedding? Ugh, I’m so embarrassed to admit that- I started them okay? You can only cramp up your hand so much before you need a break, I consider this my therapy in-between Thank You sessions. Someone told me I had up to a year after the wedding to get them out- I’m aiming for 6 months…) My second trip to the studio I brought my camera, I didn’t take too many pictures because once your hands are covered in wet clay it’s a hassle to clean them off to take a few pictures- that and once you’re into the groove of forming the clay it’s hard to stop.

When I rent the studio, I only use the wheel, we have enough space at our place now that I can clear off a table and use it if I need to make a slab and I can sit down on the couch and watch TV if I want to make a pinch pot (it’s called multitasking). You can work with wet or dry clay on the wheel, wet to form the piece and once it’s dry (after a few days) you can flip it upside-down and trim the bottom. I only had two pieces to trim, so I got that over with quickly because I was anxious to throw new ones.

Centering the clay on the wheel is the hardest part, for me anyway. If your clay isn’t centered, you’re gonna have a bad time. The entire piece will be lopsided, one side will be thicker than the other… no bueno. There are different techniques to center, which I had forgotten about until this summer. I usually take the laziest way and just try to push the clay into the center and hold it steady. Sometimes lopsidedness can be fixed when the pot is dry and you trim it but that’s not always so.

An important thing you need to learn is when to stop and leave the clay alone, I definitely have not learned that yet. I did not intend for this piece to come out this way and was hoping for a tall cylinder. I didn’t stop when I should’ve, my top was too heavy and walls too thin to support it which resulted in it drooping over. Thankfully, I like the way it looked. Sometimes you get lucky with clay, or art in general, and mistakes can turn into masterpieces. Most times I’m not this lucky and end up throwing pieces like this into the scrap bucket, we’ll see how trimming it goes tomorrow, I predict it won’t be much of a picnic.

Another cylinder, after screwing up the first one I decided to use a smaller amount of clay and keep the walls nice and thick on this one. I think after it’s dried and trimmed I’ll add a handle and turn it into a mug.

A new thing I learned this summer is how to pull a handle. In the past I would’ve rolled a coil and flattened it to make a handle but pulling it ensures that the thickness is equal throughout. I trimmed this mug and attached the handle in my last studio visit… it’s actually more of a teacup than a mug, it’s quite small. After some polishing, this piece will be ready to fire.

This is the second piece that I trimmed. It was more difficult because of the delicate scalloped rim. I rounded the bottom out, rather than giving it a foot like the teacup. I went too far and poked a small hole right in the bottom (whoops). Surprisingly I wasn’t even upset, it’ll make a nice planter with a hole in the bottom for drainage.

I was able to successfully throw two more bowls before I ran out of clay, these will get trimmed tomorrow. I am quite excited to get back to the studio with a whole bag of new clay to work with. Tyler has requested that I make two more goblets to match the others that I made in the class. It both surprises and pleases me that those are the glasses he chooses to use every time we have a glass of wine.

I think that’s what I love so much about pottery, it’s functional art. I love drawing, painting and photography but you can’t really do anything with those forms of art besides produce it and look at it. Pottery of course can be formed into sculptures that aren’t functional, that’s something I’ve never really explored. I’d rather make something that we can use in the future when I work with clay. Actually, I suppose that little name plate that I made with the dangling hearts isn’t functional is it? That’s definitely one of my favorite pieces from the class. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be inspired to explore new things but once I get that wheel spinning it’s hard for me to stop.

I’ve got a full day of pottery ahead of me tomorrow- any requests?


2 thoughts on “A Day to Play with Clay

  1. The first set of photos didn’t “materialize” — they show as thin verticle lines (on my PC anyway). Excellent work and I’m very proud to have one of, what I would consider, your finest pieces in my home!!!

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