And thus, having been reintroduced to the medium of clay, I decided to part from the lovely but clearly uninterested first artist and find myself somewhere/someone who might be more inclined to mentor me in the ways of clay and such things.
I found SB online after a little google searching and contacted her. After a brief exchange of emails I popped over one evening about a month ago and we went from there! Her studio was the exact opposite of the environment of the first artist, clean for one thing, but orderly, bright and well equipped. The kiln and drying shelves are to one end followed by dipping glazes, a slab roller and then two long large worktops running the length of the studio. Underneath said worktops can be found brushes and tools, stamps, sticks and all sorts of goodies. Above the worktops are examples of her work, other studio-goers work and at the far end, pots of paint on glazes, glaze charts and finally a potters wheel.
The first evening I dropped by to meet SB she encouraged me to stay while we talked about my experience and what I wanted to gain from coming to the studio. There were three other potters in the studio, all of whom were much older than I but all were extremely welcoming. We talked about the type of clay we were using – white stoneware – and she showed me pictures of hand built ceramics from a few books to give me ideas. From a precursory understanding, I imagined pottery to mostly take place on a potters wheel, but this SB was not really the case and beautiful, sophisticated pieces could be made from hand-building. In fact, she said normally an apprentice wouldn’t get onto throwing clay for around 2years as a person needs to develop an understanding of the material and the process of turning clay into ceramic before getting to throwing.
I instantly liked SB. She’s warm, but direct, easy going but to the point. I confirmed that I would like to become a regular and SB said she would be happy to show me the ropes!
The first evening stayed and made a pinch pot. Really I should have let it dry, the pot collapsed a little in the middle, but I tried to incorporate this as a feature, textured it with a paddle and a stamp, and cut out a little lid with a dip so it would be easy to put on correctly. The following week, my first full session with SB and the other potters in the studio I glazed my pinch pot with a reddy/orange under stain and a white glaze on top.
The little pot came out ok, I think the red stain was put on too thick as it has come out patchy and completely hidden the stamp work underneath. It’s largely imperfect, but I quite like it nonetheless.
SB showed me how to use the slab roller and how to make a cylinder. I decided to roll lace over the top of my clay to make a pattern in it. It was quite a large cylinder and the pattern leant itself to, what I thought, would be a nice castle for my wee one to play with (it was far too broad to be a vase). After attaching a base, I cut out four windows and a door.
SB gave me a small lump of clay to take home so that I could make a makers mark stamp – I was genuinely so excited – my own makers mark! I worked on the stamp at home experimenting a bit but eventually I found a large embroidery needle to be the most accurate for small detailed work. Having started a sketch pad the week before, I also made a decorative stamp, which I’ll put a picture up of when I can.
My second week with SB I tidied up the bottom of my ‘castle’ and slab rolled out larger pieces of clay to construct a box, under SB’s guidance. As one of the other potters was making bowls, SB suggested I make one too – it was remarkably quick and relatively easy – simply roll out a piece of clay and lay over an existing bowl of your desired shape. I hadn’t thought about making the bowl or what I would do with it, so I did a simple linear texture around the outer edge and in the centre. Some of the edges were left quite sharp and the uneven surface of the bowl probably means that it won’t be practical to use, but I feel that at the moment I am still just experimenting.
SB gave me a larger lump of clay (stoneware with grog added) to take home my second week and I decided to really try and make something more coherent. A few years ago I spent a significant amount of time in Cambodia and I have always wanted to make something inspired by my time there. I had printed off some photos, stuck them in a sketch book and started doing some drawings and decided upon a jug design with a decorative edge opposite the pouring lip. The first pot I made using half a pinch pot and the spout with a coil. This photo is of the pot at a mid stage, before the it was shaped and tidied up. The adornment was raised more vertical, the lip of the jug cleaned and a rim cut into the neck using an embroidery needle.
The second jug I made I used two pinch pots to create the bulbous body of the jug, cut a hole and used a large single coil to make the spout and adornment. I used my embroidery needle to etch in a pattern, but I found the grog to be quite lumpy and make creating clean lines (like when I made the makers mark stamp) more difficult. However as I understand it grog should strengthen the clay and make it more resilient. The two jugs were roughly the same shape but were slightly uneven, however I was happy with them once I had worked on them for a fair amount of time. I knew they weren’t perfect, but that was fine.
Finally last night, when I went to SBs for the third session, both the adornments on my pots broke. I can’t tell you how upset I was!! I had let them dry out at home, wrapped them in bubblewrap and tried to get them to SB in one piece. I had failed, massively. And because they had dried out, there was no way I could reattach the adornments. Mega p*ssed off!! But. Lesson learnt. SB told me how to wrap them and that it’s better to travel with them leather-hard rather than dried out.
Instead I got on and glazed my castle and plate and worked on trimming my box slabs and decorating them with the decorative stamp I had made. I wish I had some more photos to put up of my pieces so far, but they’re with SB now and she’s away for two weeks and then I’m away.. so it’s around a month or so before I’m back in the studio.
HOWEVER! Have no fear! I bought a bag of clay and will be continuing to work on bits and pieces from home, experimenting and seeing what I can create.
Although I’m looking forward to getting back to SB’s to see how my castle and bowl look once they’re out of the kiln… exciting!