I recently took myself to my first pottery class. Like those painting with twist classes, this is one of those artsy activities where I can try my hand at creating art, and in the end, the only person who sees value in the finished product is me. I was inspired by binge-watching the fifth season of The Great Pottery Throw Down. Learning the techniques from the creative challenges drew me in, but the contestant’s supportiveness and positivity toward each other’s art kept me watching.
The potters on TV transformed lumps of clay into works of art with minimal effort. This led me down an internet rabbit hole to find a local studio offering an introductory pottery class. I stumbled upon MCS Clay Studios in Clearwater, Florida. They offer an introduction to the pottery wheel class at a discount through Groupon. For under $40, you spend an evening learning just how much technique it takes to make a simple cup or bowl.
Dress To Get Muddy
Preparation for class starts before you leave home. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting mud on. It was hard to imagine the havoc it would create when I was staring down at the spotless wheel and a small lump of clay centered in the middle. But, like a dog shaking off its fur after rolling around in the yard, the potter’s wheel splashes watery clay in all directions. In a stiff surprised posture, my hands tried to contain the mess.
The pottery wheels peddle is not like a car. It’s more like set it and forget it. Once you find the perfect speed to clay forming ratio, you can take your foot off the gas, and it will set a constant speed. Balancing the two was like trying to pat your head and rub your belly. Coordinating my feet to keep the speed consistent and my hands from completely crushing the thin walls of my pot was a disastrous effort. Knowing to keep my foot off the peddle once the wheel speed was set from the start would have saved me from the splash zone every time I revved my engine too high.
The Instructor Demo
The class starts with learning to center the clay on the wheel. This is easier said than done. The slightest off-centered landing of the clay becomes exacerbated by the spinning and an unsteady foot on the peddle. With only six people in the class, the instructor was usually available to rush over and save your piece from spinning out of control.
The instructor then demos the steps to throwing a simple bowl. Watching the walls form from a blob of clay was like watching a magician. She stressed the importance of relaxed pressure, proper handshapes, and the clay will do the work for you. She made a hole in the center of the clay, and suddenly I was looking at a fully formed pot; gives a new meaning to instant-pot.”
The instructor helped a lot with my first attempt at throwing the clay. Surprisingly I formed the walls effortlessly once the clay found its center and I got the hang of the wheel speed. As the first pot was drying, the class began working on our second attempt. The instructor allowed our artistic abilities to shine by not assisting with the second throw. My clay stuck the landing like an Olympic gymnast. I carefully formed the walls into a tall but thin vase. The lip around the top was oddly irregular. I could have sliced the top to make it even, but I decided the asymmetrical shape was what I loved. At the end of throwing two pieces, I wasn’t quite able to master the magic of instantly turning clay into pottery, but I think I could make a useful bowl or coffee cup with more practice.
There’s More To It Than Creating The Form
Painting the pottery is where I start to feel the grip of panic surrounding my brain. So much time was spent carefully crafting these pieces; now, one slip of the paintbrush could potentially ruin them. The choices of colors and options freeze me into not making a decision. Feeling class time ticking away, I figured the best option was to pick one color to work with and worry about decorating it later.
Painting pottery takes time. At a minimum, three coats of paint must be layered over the pottery for the most opaque color. I was starting to feel artist fatigue by the time I felt I’d applied the adequate number of coats. I wondered if I just left my pot a solid white, would I be disappointed in myself for not pushing through. The answer would inevitably be yes. So I persevered to add multi-color splashes of paint all over my organic shaped vase. It was the perfect amount of chaos to complement a chaotic form. In contrast, my instructor assisted pottery was painted in contrast to the bright and cheerful sister pottery. A base of deep black dotted with tiny speckles brings the two together in unlikely juxtaposition.
Y’all Come Back Now, Ya Hear
Five hours had flashed before me from the first throw of clay to putting down my paintbrush. I told my pottery good luck in the kiln, and I would be back to pick them up in four weeks. Upon return, I felt like I was picking up a dog from the groomer. I knew what my pottery looked like, but I was pleasantly surprised by the transformation after the firing. The shiny glaze took my pottery from art project to museum piece (but I’m the artist, so I may be a bit biased).
MCS Clay Studios also offers 6-week classes held once a week for two hours. I’m greatly considering returning to try to expand my skills. I’m confident I could learn the wizardry of making the walls of my pottery levitate from the wheel with more practice.
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