Friday, November 30, 2007

My Pot Habit

[DEA agents, relax. I'm talking about clay pots here, not marijuana.]

I have told you before about my love for pottery, and showed you some of my collection. I have always wanted to learn how to make wheel-thrown pottery myself, but never got around to taking classes. Finally, I have taken the plunge into the world of clay. I am currently in the fourth week of a six week class at Scarborough Fair Pottery, and I am loving it.

(Clay-covered clothes are the mark of a potter.)

First of all, the people are so nice. Peggy, the owner, and Rachel, my instructor, are both very helpful, of course, but even the other experienced potters who come in to work are always ready to give a newbie tips or advice. And, everyone is so kind. They never laugh at the sloppy, goofy looking things that the new students produce. When I threw a very irregular pot, Rachel said, "Symmetry is over-rated anyway." If a piece turns out with a big wobble in it, someone will tell you, "I like it. It's organic." And, when I goofed up what was supposed to be a mug, losing half of the clay and ending up with a tiny little pot, Peggy said, "You could put paper clips in it." Isn't that a positive thing to say?

Thursday night I had a practice session (we get one 2 hour class and one 2 hour practice each week) and I actually felt like I was getting it. In fact, I was quite proud of this creation, which I think will be a cereal bowl. (It didn't start out to be a cereal bowl, of course, but that is beside the point.)

A bowl is born.

Here is the main working room at Scarborough Fair. There are eight electric wheels, which are smaller than I expected them to be.

This is my chunk of clay.

It was 25 lbs when I started, and I have used about 2/3 of it so far. You use a thin wire tool to cut off a section of clay, weigh it, and then wedge it. (Wedging is sort of like kneading, except that when you knead bread dough, you are putting air into it, and when you wedge clay, you are working the air bubbles out of it.) The clay is then placed on a bat, which sits on top of the wheel, is centered, hollowed out and pulled up into whatever shape the potter desires (or, in my case, whatever shape it happens to take.)

Here is Carol, one of the experienced potters, working at a wheel. This process is calling "pulling" the clay.

These are the other two pieces I made Thursday night. This was just supposed to be practice making a straight sided cylinder. I think it will probably become another mug.

This piece was going to be a short, wide vase, but it sort of got screwed up. Now, I think I might put a handle on it and make it into a basket. Or, maybe it is a candy dish. See the wobble in the right side? That's organic!

And here are some of the creations which have been fired and are awaiting pick-up by their owners. (None of these are mine.)

These are my first, pitiful little projects - two mugs, a paper clip holder, and two "salsa bowls." (Apparently at Scarborough Fair, anything which is not immediately identifiable is a salsa bowl.) These pieces have been bisque-fired, the first of two passes through the kiln, and are waiting to be glazed, which we will learn in our last week of class.

This is my "lidded vessel." Lids are hard. After you make the container, you have to make a lid that fits it. At first, the edge of this lid was nice and round and symmetrical, but it was too big. When I tried to trim it down to make it more balanced, I was in too big of a hurry and took too much clay off too fast, leaving me with a jagged edge. I never could make it round again. This pot is "leather hard" and has to dry to the "bone hard" stage before it can be fired for the first time.

Potters, working, talking, laughing. This is a happy, friendly group of women. From the right, Ginger (standing,) Carol, Peggy, and ?? (I forget her name.)

Is it any wonder I am having such fun? Next update when I have done some glazing!


Lisa at Greenbow said...

This looks like great fun. Can't wait to see the glazes you use.

Sara said...

Well, I'm glad to know you weren't really using pot behind the wheel but have instead taken up a wholesome hobby...and those blue jeans prove it. Looks like a fun and creative media. Enjoy !

Beth said...

I took ceramics in college and it wasn't my cup of tea, unfortunately, although I made a very nice coil pot which my mom subsequently broke. I could never get to a piece the size of your cereal bowl which looks like it came out really well. Glazing is fun because with the variety of glazes and waxes you can get really creative. Throwing pots is very relaxing when you get in a groove. Do you find your back gets tired after working at the wheel for a while?

I learned in my very last semester that photography was my thing. I was sorry I realized this so late in the game!

KGMom said...

Throwing pots looks like a fun thing to do.
I think all your pieces look fine for a newbie.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad the surprise was pottery. Amazing, isn't it? All the folks who are critical of "temperamental artists" should spend some time will skilled potters.

Susan Gets Native said...

The last bit of pottery I made was an ashtray in elementary school.
I would love to do this....lucky you!
But hey...pot while making a pot might be fun!

KatDoc said...

Beth: I do noticed some back ache, especially the night we were working on those lids - the concentration it took to get it trimmed just right gave me a tight place below my left shoulder blade.

Pottery and tension don't go together, I am finding. The more relaxed one is, the easier the clay seems to move.

At Scarborough Fair, Peggy runs pottery parties - she just had a group of people from her work through last week. Anybody interested in learning this fun hobby might try looking for a pottery that has a "fun night." You wouldn't learn everything in a 2-3 hour session, but you could get a taste for what is involved.

I think when I retire from vet med, I will be a potter. Wonder if I can get good enough to retire in 15 or 20 years...


Anonymous said...

Have you done pinch pots before? Or did you jump straight into the potter's wheel?

KatDoc said...

Anon #2: This is the first time I have ever worked with clay, unless you count Play-Doh. I'm not sure what "pinch pots" are, so I must not have done them. The pottery where I take my wheel classes offers classes in hand-built pottery, too. Is that the same thing?


Anonymous said...

I suppose pinch pots are included as hand-built pottery. Basically, a piece of clay is formed into a ball. Then, you put your thumb in the center of the ball and "pinch" the sides upward to make a bowl or wine goblet, etc.

You have inspired me to take a pottery class myself. Thanks.

holly said...

I am impressed. Even what you describe as 'organic' is still pretty cool to me. Would you throw me a matching set of every day dishes?

Marvin said...

As someone who's been married to a potter for 20-plus year -- we've been married longer, but that's how long she's been potting, all I can say is: Keep On Throwing.