Reinventing the Wheel: How to Get into Pottery
Pottery workshops across the UK have reported sell-out sessions, and hypnotic DIY videos have overtaken our social feeds. Want to join the party? Here’s how to get started.
DIY ceramics is a phenomenon that coincided with two significant recent events: the pandemic-induced shrinking of our worlds, and the re-launch of TV’s The Great Pottery Throwdown. Stuck inside, we spent too much time staring at both our televisions and interiors, and lo, the obsession with ceramics and pottery exploded. The Craft Potters Association, which promotes British studio potters and ceramicists, almost doubled its members in one year and #ceramics has 16.8million tags on Instagram alone.
My urge to take to the wheel came from both a practical and emotional perspective. The weight of the pandemic had left my brain frazzled and nerves on edge. I have an underlying creative itch, which I thought I would scratch by filling my new home with some ‘pieces’ of my own.
Feeling a creative itch of your own? Here's how to get into pottery, from a fellow novice ceramicist.
1. Throw Yourself In
There are roughly three methods when it comes to pottery: wheel-thrown pottery (which I chose), hand-building pottery and slip casting (which uses a mould). Focus on the one that appeals to you – you can always combine methods later.
For me, it was love at first throw. The wedging (roughly and rhythmically manipulating the lump of clay to a smooth ball) allowed a gratifying release of pent-up energy. The tricky centering (ensuring your clay is stable and wobble free on the wheel) was, well, centering. The focus and patience required let me enter an almost meditative state.
Some (myself included) will fail, flopping and folding beneath your fingers, but the beauty of clay is that you can simply throw again. And again. Each time learning, each time figuring out your tempo. I left my first workshop with six successful shapes (a few are probably too abstract to call bowls), five of which survived the kiln firing, and an additional requirement for my new house: a garden-shed-cum-pottery-studio.
2. Seek Ceramic Inspiration
The best ceramics accounts to follow for easy inspiration
3. Find Your Wheelhouse
The best pottery workshops and courses to hone your craft
4. Learn from the Masters
This is part of the joy of the DIY potter. I find my own inspiration on the third floor at Liberty. Japanese pottery is world renowned and one brand making waves here is Kaneko Kohyo, which originally began as Japan’s largest producer of sake serving bottles, but is now, over 100 years later, the discerning tablescaper’s go-to for minimalistic but striking tableware.
Vaisselle is designer Léa Zana’s ‘lockdown project’ turned booming, bright and beautiful ceramic business. A footwear designer by trade, Léa inherited a passion for objects from her grandmother ("A hoarder, who has an attic full of wonderful crap") and love of vibrant colour from her travels around India, Sri Lanka and Europe as a child. The shapes of her pieces (designed by her and made by a husband-wife duo in Andalusia) are fairly traditional, based on antique Spanish and Southern French ceramics, but with a "colourful twist".
Lead image: courtesy of Kaneko Kohyo