Where can I do pottery?

Where can I do pottery?

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You might be wondering where you can try to learn how to do pottery right now. Maybe everywhere is closed, you have limited access to transport, love staying at home or you’re a night owl. I’ve always said that you can do pottery anywhere, if you do hand building or pinch pots. Nobody taught me in real life how to make pinch pots but I took online classes, watched videos and studied the process (something I often do). It’s perfectly possible to learn and experiment at home, without the use of expensive machinery or someone standing right over you. For most of 2020, I sat in a shed surrounded by some woodwork. I have just enough space for a small table and a similar sized basic stool which keeps me close to the ground.  The shed keeps me sheltered from the changing weather and birds sitting in the Ash tree (usually above my head). The robins can easily hop to me when they need their feeding bowl topped up. The shed was my background for many Zoom calls when I was ‘shielding’ – the wooden fireplace and giant cobwebs were real and not a screen filter.

My pottery shed is crammed with supplies, plaster molds and materials and has finally been sorted out (though I can’t claim the credit for that). It’s looking much better than it was. Lots of people have pottery sheds and have been able to afford to have kilns in them – not me. A kiln at home takes more maintenance than you realise, and there’s always a risk that your shed will dry out because of the repeated firings from the kiln. The shed itself needs maintaining to make sure that it’s not a fire hazard in itself. I don’t fancy having an electric cable running outside in a garden that’s heavy with clay soil, and then there’s the lovely British wet weather. Here’s a short video of the inside of my shed. It’s not usually a view I’d share but it’s a workspace and not something that’s going to be in any glossy magazine.

It will be a while until I’ll work in a shared space again. I’m enjoying the space to be my creative self without my boundaries being negatively challenged. Or having to clean up after other people. I’m only cleaning up after myself, my partner, my family or the cats from now on!

The only person I work with closely on artistic and creative concepts is a fellow enthusiast that I’ll be spending a big chunk of my life with, while we’re both learning more about the industry (even though we’ve got a few years of ceramics experience under our hoods). The concepts don’t stop. 

In the Summer, I would spread out around the garden, taking over a large outdoor table. As well as having a constant eyeful of greenery, it’s easier to keep everything clean by switching on a hosepipe. Washing everything down means I don’t have to worry about the Silica dust – it runs off back into the ground. Silica being the most abundant material on Earth means that it’s in its’ perfect resting place, rather than clogging up drains.

When it’s too cold outside, I have a table in the back room that I can work at. Any work in progress is stored in thin plastic bags (or if I want something that’s going to last, I’ll use something like this). As long as there is some moisture remaining, the pots can be worked on at a later date. If your clay isn’t bone dry, a light spritz of water will help to rehydrate it. Otherwise, a damp cloth placed next to the pot will work equally (just remember to seal the bag back up). The moisture will be redistributed within the little pocket of air.

I’ve made pots using black stoneware clay, porcelain, parian, bone china (yep) and air drying clay. They all behave differently but they can all be functional. 

I’ve managed to make pots while travelling, demonstrations in public and even in the middle of nowhere. All I had to do was make sure that the pot was safely stored for the return journey home (a sturdy box is useful for long distance trips). I’m not sure if the squelching sound was ever picked up when I was talking and making pinch pots on The ‘Sunny and Shay‘ show back in 2019.  

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can develop your skills in pottery as you have an understanding of the material. I’ve learnt more through making “mistakes” in pottery and life – having to find solutions early on!

There’s no need to rush onto the next method in pottery, clay sometimes has a mind of its own. You might start off thinking you want a particular shape, but the clay wants to do its own thing. If you experiment with different amounts of clay and leave it to rest for short amounts of time, you’ll notice that it’s easier to form the shape you want (rather than trying to pinch a large pot in one session).  

Air-drying clay has been a relief as it has been difficult for me to access local kiln firing services yet I still appreciate the ability to experiment with clay. Air-drying clay gives me a much quicker form of gratification – I don’t have to wait weeks on end for kilns to be fired. It also saves on my carbon footprint. 

I’ve relished more time for my own personal headspace in 2020. There’s a saying I came across at the beginning of the year, attributed to Alain de Botton: “Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough”. I can’t be a teacher if I give up on learning. And I can’t stop learning about ceramics when material science is a whole other universe.

I’ve covered some of the most basic queries about pottery in the FAQs.