Those who know me will already know I’ve been attending a pottery class for a couple of months. I’ve learned so much and come to love the medium of clay and sculpting. It’s not only therapeutic but also highly creative and fun.
I was really lucky when my friend, Ruth, invited me to a special class, put on by Dorothy Morris of Greenspace Gallery, Carmarthen, to learn pottery. Dorothy received funding for a class for Carers and she also runs a Textile class for Carers on Wednesdays. I’m my father’s main port of call as he suffers from disabling Ataxia and as he cares for my mother who has Alzheimer’s and Cancer, so I qualified, and it’s the best thing that has come out of the heartbreak of elderly parental care.
It’s worth noting that this came at the perfect time for me, having just asked for help to deal with crippling anxiety and depression myself. It came at a time when I was as low as I’ve ever been and unable to cope, and I fought my virulent social anxiety to attend and am so glad I did!
My sleeping dragon before and after glaze and firing © Lisa Shambrook
Pottery is, as I mentioned, therapeutic, and I get huge peace from working the clay with my fingers, from considering and thinking of ideas, and from learning techniques and skills. Dorothy has a curriculum and we are learning right from the beginning, which is great as most of us are beginners! We began with pinch pots, moulding a ball of clay and pushing your thumb inside to create a pot shape, then smoothing and shaping into a bowl. The following week we made two pinch pots and sealed them together and created something from our imagination – you know my imagination – I made a sleeping dragon!
Oak Tiles, Clay biscuit fired work, Tree Trunk Vase and some of our work in class © Lisa Shambrook
I sketched it first and began to mould it and this is where learning works, I began to cut out and shape two separate clay wings, to fix onto the sides of my dragon, but Dorothy showed me how to use the clay to sculpt impressions of wings adding ribbing and ridges to show where the wings lay. This worked so well, and I knew I was going to learn a lot.
Bust and Bowls and other class members’ work © Lisa Shambrook
We made busts with two pinch pots and another for shoulders, then we moved onto slab work making tiles and my natural inclination took me to acorns and oaks. A tree trunk vase came next, learning to curve and seal the slab into a cylinder. After that we had time to design our own project using both pinch pots and slabs of clay. I designed bookends. One was an acorn, I have a penchant for them, and the other was a reference to my three books: Beneath the Rainbow, Beneath the Old Oak, and Beneath the Distant Star, a rainbow, an oak leaf and a star. Sadly, these bookends blew up in the kiln.
Acorn and Hope Within Bookends in clay © Lisa Shambrook
Accidents will happen, so it’s best to be prepared for them. Any air inside the clay that hasn’t got a hole to escape from will create a bomb inside the kiln – and any piece could have an air bubble, especially as we are all beginners. There’s no blame, as it could have been my own piece or anyone else’s that caused the explosion, we’ll never know. It did serve to help us be more careful with our rolling out and avoiding air bubbles!
Coil work came next. I had no idea that many, many pots, large and small, are first created with coils then smoothed, but it’s a great way to way to make pots without a potter’s wheel and to vary the shape. My coil work was a little suspect, not very tidy, and it rather frustrated me. But I did learn to use it in a later project.
Castle Turret Box © Lisa Shambrook
Our next brief was to create a box, or at least a lidded item, using slab, pinch pots and coils. I designed a square castle turret using six tile slabs, scored the edges and used slip (clay and water mixture) to seal the sides to each other, and added the pinch pot to the lid, decorated with tiny coils. I wasn’t sure the coils would work, and worried about how they would look, but in the end they actually looked like roses and I loved them! I put battlements around the lid and a smaller square tile to the base of the lid so it would sit on top and not slip off the box. I pushed air holes into the lid beneath the pinch pot – I didn’t want another explosion! A decorative handle, a door and window, and creeping vines finished it.
Castle Turret Trinket Boxes © Lisa Shambrook
I’m quite an efficient worker, so with my spare time leading up to Christmas, I made two more boxes. These were circular turrets, one in brown clay and one in white. Curiosity, I suppose, to see how the two clays differ. I rolled ‘snakes’ of clay and coiled them into discs that I then smoothed out, and they became my bases and lids for my castle turret boxes.
Ruth’s work glazed and fired
I love this class. We meet in a small, cabin studio on a Friday afternoon for three hours. There’s no internet or mobile phone connection and I feel so free and at peace for those hours. I get to chat with my friends and work on being creative; it’s a win-win!
Greenspace gallery and some of our Carers class…
You can find Dorothy Morris at The Greenspace Gallery and enquire about whether you would qualify for this class, there may be a few places left and we’re keeping going through next year too. She is also putting on an evening class for £10 per lesson working with pottery, textiles and art, so take a look if you’re interested.
I’m truly glad I took up my friend’s invitation – pottery has become a favourite outlet, and I’m thinking of playing and working with airdry clay after Christmas (as I don’t have a kiln!). It’s not something I want to give up!
Have you ever tried pottery or are you a potter?
What’s your favourite creative outlet?
Tell me what you’ve made…