A Year of Yes, Week 2: Beginner’s Pottery Course

IMG_9682Today I begin my first of three, beginner’s pottery lessons, at Silky Shapes Pottery Studio in Crow’s Nest. When I arrive, there are several ladies finishing up their work and a few others on a sofa chatting, waiting for the next class to start. The room smells strongly of curry and earth. The space is as expected, a basic room with concrete floors, several commercial tables, kilns, pottery wheels, shelving filled with projects in various stages and everything spattered in white dust and splotches of dried clay. An abundance of natural light fills the room to create a warm space to work in. The love of art and creativity is palpable here.

Our instructor, Yegana from Azerbaijan, approaches our group of four waiting on the sofa’s and we introduce ourselves. Her face is kind and she smiles warmly to welcome us all. We ready by first removing jewellery and putting on aprons. Our first task is to weigh 3 balls of 600 grams of clay and wedge each individually. This is the process of kneading the clay to remove air bubbles trapped inside thus preparing it to work with. It is not as easy as kneading dough for bread. The clay is much more dense and it requires some effort and weight balancing to do it correctly. We then shape it into squat cones and voila, we are ready to go.

wedged clay

Yegana demonstrates the process in three steps using the wheel to spin the clay into a cylinder. It looks simple enough as she shows us how to do it. She shares many insights on applying pressure, angle and which fingers to put where according to a clock. Jeez. I hope we go through it all again as it seems like a lot to remember. Luckily, I am not the only one who feels this way as I glance around the room noticing my classmates sharing their own looks of trepidation with me.

When I was younger, much younger, I took pottery lessons from a local woman in my home town. She had her own studio at her house and I went there weekly for class. I vividly remember working regularly with a potter’s wheel, her kiln (which looked home-made and out of cinder blocks in her garage), and a studio that looked very familiar to the one I am in today. I really don’t remember a lot of detail of the actual creation of a piece but as my first day unfolds it’s all starting to come back to me. The first thing to jog my memory was wedging the clay. I absolutely remember doing this. I also recall the feeling of murky water in my hands and how it softened and transformed the clay, cutting it from the wheel with a wire and the unmistakable smell of damp earthiness.

Pottery-Business

I am feeling nervous as I sit down at my own wheel trying to remember it all. Luckily, Yegana sits with us and we work one step at a time, side by side. She is patient and talks slowly. There really is no rush with the wheel, it all comes down to fine micro movements. If you remember to stay slow and steady you are on easy street and even small movements in error can be corrected. The entire act is very meditative and I feel incredibly focused. I love working with my hands and the time flies by as two hours pass like 15 minutes.

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I believe coming back to this as an adult enables me to better listen and fully comprehend the instruction. I think too that it’s a benefit to have the awareness and sensitivity from years of massage therapy and cooking even. My works are far from extraordinary but I catch on fairly easily. I expect it’s a matter of repetition, like anything really, to feel competent. I walked in hoping to leave with a few handle-less coffee mugs but end up with a set of bowls. I am cool with that. It’s hard to tell what the day will bring and that’s the best part. I cannot wait to go back next week for my second lesson and fine-tune my dishes.

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