Monday 31 August 2015

Task 44: Throw a pot

Earlier this year I was talking to my friend Jane about my Sixtyat60 challenge. She cast her eye over my then incomplete list of tasks and made the observation that I didn't seem to have any hands-on craft-based activities.  She was right of course. 'Any suggestions?' I asked.  'Well' she said, 'you could always throw a pot......?' At this stage, I should explain that Jane is an artist specialising in ceramics and textiles - and so what better person to help me complete this task?

Last Tuesday I duly turned up at Jane's pottery in Stroud.  Following her instructions to the letter, my fingernails were trimmed, my rings were removed, the sleeves of my baggy old shirt (purloined from Jonathan's cupboard) were rolled up and I was ready for action.  I gazed in admiration at the shelves in the pottery, which were filled with pots of all shapes and sizes awaiting the next stage in production. 

I felt excited, curious and apprehensive in equal measure.  I've seen and admired Jane's finished pots, cups, mugs, plates, dishes, colanders, vases and much else besides for almost 40 years, but in all that time I've never watched her throw a pot (hence the excitement and curiosity). For my part, I haven't touched a lump of clay since I was at primary school, I become completely uncoordinated when asked to copy someone else's movements and I'm a perfectionist by nature (hence the apprehension).   

We got started. Jane demonstrated the key stages of how to throw a pot. As the wheel turned, the clay responded instantly to her skilled handling. Her right hand shaped, her left hand supported and it took her no more than 3 minutes to produce a perfectly even and centred vase. Then it was my turn. An image (not a good one) of the Generation Game popped into my head.  Jane talked me through the first throw. She remained impressively calm as I proceeded to disregard 98% of her instructions. I learnt how quickly a piece of clay on an electric wheel can become an unworkable blob. Jane sensibly left me alone to experiment. Two hours later I'd managed to produce one small pot that had a hint of symmetry to it, although to be honest that was a fluke. But I'd had fun doing it. 

The next morning we returned to the pottery for Session 2. Jane took me through the basics again, once more with me in charge of the clay. Afterwards I practiced coning up, flattening, creating the hole and pulling back the clay. I got through eight pieces of clay and each one turned into an off-centre lumpy mess. I had to bin the lot. At this stage some frustration began to creep in, accompanied by such thoughts as 'Let's face it, you're rubbish at this pottery thing Hunot'.

After a sustaining lunch (nothing like a fine slab of Brie and home-grown tomatoes to regain one's sense of perspective), I decided it was time to square up to my perfectionist tendencies and I returned to the pottery for my final session with renewed spring in my step. Jane gave me a few more pointers and then all of a sudden, oh my goodness, things actually began to click into place. I took hold of the clay and it showed small signs of trying to behave itself. Here I am raising the wall of a pot - hurrah!

Several pots later, the frustrations of session 2 had melted away and I began to understand how pottery could be a pleasurable and frankly quite addictive activity. Here below are the very modest fruits of my labour.  

Finally Jane did another quick demonstration so I could take some photos of her in action.  Not surprisingly I had a much better appreciation of what she was doing this time - I'm now in even more awe of her skills!  

Jane and I agreed that Task 44 was definitely a challenge for me rather than just a pleasurable activity and on the back of it I've developed a formula for learning a new skill, which is:    
Fun + (Frustration/Fear of Failure) x Friend + Fine Food = Fulfillment

A massive thanks to Jane for a wonderful 1.5 day tutorial. My pots are going to be baked in her kiln in October and any that survive the process will then be glazed brown or blue - can't wait!  In the meantime if you'd like to see some examples of Jane's finished work, her website is 

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