Week 48: Pottery Class Minus Patrick Swayze [Score +8]
I've wanted to try throwing pottery at a wheel for as long as I can remember (well before I ever saw Ghost). This experience specifically was one I had in mind at the very beginning of this year-long challenge: I’ve wanted to try it, so why have I put this off?
Fountain Square Clay Center made it easy for me. Owner Chris DePrez regularly offers two-hour, one-night classes for people exactly like myself: those not ready to commit to a long-term relationship (eight weeks or more) but curious to see what all the fuss is about.
Finding the studio was easy, confidently walking in the door was not. It's the kind of nondescript, almost-abandoned building that makes you sure you have the right address but unsure whether you're in the right place. A simple sign on the door proclaimed “POTTERY”, but after entering the front door, I found myself in an unmarked, empty, forgotten old industrial garage. I was faced with two closed doors, neither of which was marked clearly, so I took my chances with Door #1.
A big, cavernous, industrial room held a seemingly haphazard collection of tables and shelves. The only light emanated from behind a wall of shelves filled with in-progress pottery pieces. I was about to call out “Hello?” when a bearded man in a hoodie and jeans appeared and confirmed I was in the right place. He directed me to hang my jacket on a rack to the left, then make my way to the back of the room.
I wound my way through the shelves and discovered the workspace. A collection of ten or twelve low pottery wheels were gathered together in two inward-facing lines in front of a chalkboard, with another wheel at the head. I hung my purse on a nearby hook, selected a clay-spattered apron (which conveniently featured a pleat in the middle for protection even while sitting), and chose the closest wheel. Other students trickled in, mostly in twos, ranging in age from late-20s to retired.
Bearded man introduced himself as the owner, Chris, directed us in how to collect the bowl of water we would need, and invited us to grab our first of three one-pound balls of clay from an open bag.
I smiled as I noticed how each of us unconsciously began playing with our clay like kids. The sensation of having a pliable, new substance in your hands invites your brain to explore it. Chris obviously knew this would happen, because before we got to put our hands on clay ourselves, he instructed us to pound the clay, not fold it onto itself (like I might with dough), because it would incorporate unwanted air that would cause issues.
Our pottery wheels were blessedly motorized: use a foot pedal to find the speed you want, release your foot, and the wheel would spin indefinitely at that speed. Bricks were available on the floor on either side of each wheel for those of us with shorter legs (basically anyone under 5'10”, I would guess) to use to elevate our feet to a more optimal height so we could brace our elbows against our knees for stability while we worked.
Shaping the clay took more muscle than I expected; centering it on the wheel, especially, doesn't work with a gentle touch because you're fighting a dense material moving with motorized centrifugal force. In fact, getting it properly centered is one of the hardest tasks to master and is also key to a symmetrical and stable finished piece. I can understand how this basic, foundational technique would become easier and better with more practice.
Once the clay was centered, the truly fun part could begin: pulling it into a bowl or cup shape. The first piece took perhaps an hour to complete with all the pausing for instruction, and we were on our own to complete the second two in the last hour before it was time to start cleaning up.
I was particularly interested to see how—without any conscious thought or intention—my three pieces turned out remarkably different from one another. One rounder, one taller, one more plate-like. In two of my three, I created a hole in the bottom, creating a drainage hole for my intended planters.
We had the option at the end of class to keep as many of our pieces as we wanted for $5 each (to cover the labor and cost of glazing them). We had no choice in color or style or glaze; each would be dipped in a standard, all-over teal-blue glaze.
I knew going into the class that I wanted all three of my pieces to keep, no matter what they looked like. Even if they were lopsided or wonky, these were my own first pottery creations, and their quirky features would make fun planters and memories. The teal-blue glaze happened to work perfectly for my home color scheme.
The class was fun, and I was thrilled with my three little one-pound planters. Did it make me want to go out and sign up for an eight-week course? No, it wasn't love at first class. But if a friend wanted to give it a try and didn't want to go it alone, I would happily don the apron again.
- Did something outside my routine: +1
- Left the house: +1
- Did something entirely new: +1
- Signed up for an activity without knowing anyone else involved: +2
- Learned someone’s name: +3