Hands on the wheel

A couple of weeks ago, I got some hands-on experience of the potter’s wheel (or Wheel Throwing, to use the technical term). I’ve played around with modelling clay before, but this was probably my first attempt at ceramics, and certainly the first experience of wheel throwing. The result (so far) can be seen in the photo below…

The class was a 2.5 hour introductory workshop, conducted by Little Woods Studio in Collingwood (via WeTeachMe), and I highly recommend it. I don’t think I was any good, but that’s not the point. The only pot I managed to make (shown above) is actually quite small, and wouldn’t have happened without a lot of direct assistance from the instructor, who was incredibly patient.

Learning the physical technique of throwing, fixing and initially shaping the clay on the wheel is a skill in itself that needs more than a couple of hours to achieve a consistent level of proficiency.

Then there are the many variables to consider – the quality of the clay and whether it has been prepared sufficiently; the amount of water to use, and how much arm and hand pressure to apply; the stability and responsiveness of the wheel; the height of wheel and stool; and probably the weather (barometric pressure). Then there is knowing when and how quickly to start bringing up the sides of the pot, what thickness of base to settle on, and what wheel speed to achieve – too often, I ended up collapsing the walls just as was beginning to shape the rim; or I applied too much bracing support from my arms so that my hands ripped the clay off the wheel again. (Is this where the phrase, ‘to throw a wobbly’, comes from?)

And this is all before the two-stage process of firing and glazing, when anything might happen to cause the pot to crack or crumble. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, I’ll be able to pick up the finished item, a souvenir of my first (and probably only) pottery class.

If nothing else, I now have a huge respect for potters, and a greater appreciation for the fruits of their labours.

Next week: William Kentridge – Modern Polymath