There’s something undeniably alluring about a well curated shop. You know the ones, a certain big blue book store comes to mind. Walking the aisles you pass cups, mugs, pillows, blankets, candles and endless other objects that aren’t books. All of these items are carefully arranged and if done just so, your partner will be looking at you saying “we need this for our place”. Comment as I may as we walk along, I have to admit I like the space and I’m drawn to how it inspires creativity. I also find myself saying “I could make this if I tried”.
Now I realize that that statement sounds incredible cynical and I promise you that isn’t my intention so believe what you wish. In truth, I just admire those that are able to craft with their hands and end up with something they can sit back and look at and say “I did that”. It’s this admiration that drew me to the chance to take a pottery lesson at this great little shop called Play With Clay in Hamilton. My girlfriend and I headed down one Saturday afternoon and took a crack at using a pottery wheel and it was better than I could have ever imagined.
The process was humbling to say the least and from the moment we started I was questioning my previous confidence in my crafting abilities. Setting yourself up on the wheel in the moment felt as though I was trying to straddle a garbage can with my knees while simultaneously trying to put my right foot on the gas pedal of a bus. Comfortable? not in the least but thankfully I either got used to it or my legs went numb. It turns out that you’re actually supposed to position yourself over the clay, not in front of it. From there, my next move was to pitch the softball sized lump of clay at the wheel as hard as I could to make sure that it was good and stuck. If I failed at that, I risked sending the clay across the room like the opening pitch of a baseball game. Remember that image for later.
With the clay firmly on the wheel it was time to shape whatever it was I wanted to make. I quickly realized that my final product was going to be a cup or a bowl or some sort of cup bowl hybrid, I thought it was unnecessary to classify my creation. Cautiously I eased onto the pedal, my mound of grey earth spun like a centrifuge and it was up to me to use my hands and a bowl of murky water to make something tangible, what could go wrong?
I bared down on the clay, it was going to become a great mug, crafted by my hands, that would hold an equally satisfying cup of coffee. The walls of began to form between my fingers, I was frightened, impressed and intrigued all at once. Then, without warning, one finger met the other and the top half of my mug was rocketing towards the side of my pottery wheel. I found myself with half as much clay to play with. Despite this turn of events, I was able to coax the clay upwards and form a great little cup shape, you can see it up above.
We were able to make three different creations during our hour long lesson. Each piece ended up with its own unique characteristics, our consensus was that if it looked like it could hold any volume of liquid it was a success. Removing them from the wheel was a delicate act involving a piano wire but with a swift pull and some faith all six pieces were ready for drying. In all it was a great time and a fantastic date for a winter afternoon. We were told we would have to wait a couple of weeks for our creations to be ready.
Three weeks later, we headed back to the shop, eager to see what had become of our amateur earthenware. Thankfully, all of it had had survived and we were able to glaze our pieces however we wished. If you don’t know, glaze takes on its final form after its subjected to heat in a kiln so what you actually paint on is a much lighter example of what you will see on your final product. In my case, I wanted all of my cups to be blue but when I painted on my glaze they looked to be chalk white. Trusting the advice of the staff, we painted on, not knowing what we could expect once the pieces were fired. This painting required several coats which took us a couple of hours. The end result was another amazing afternoon together and cups and bowls that would be ready in a week.
Anxiously, we returned seven days later to pick up our creations. The kiln had turned each faded white creation into an incredibly unique piece that had brilliant colours and designs. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to hold something in my hands that I had laboured over for hours and to top it all off i was proud to admit that I had made it. Most importantly, the process had allowed me to spend three amazing afternoons together with my girlfriend, chatting and laughing making memories that we still talk about today.
I’ve come to realize that in the end, it was never about the final product. The true satisfaction came from the process of making our pottery and the time spent together along the way. The result happened to be something I liked aesthetically but it could have ended up in shattered pieces and I would still be grateful for the experience. I’m willing to bet you will end up trying something new and making memories with the people you love and what could be more gratifying than that?