A pottery experience day in Salhouse, Norfolk

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Earlier in summer I headed out to the Broads for a most unusual day out; a pottery experience with talented local potter Pat Southwood.
Sometime a couple of years ago I stumbled across the Great Pottery Throwdown which turned out to be a fascinating watch and I thoroughly enjoyed watching slabs of clay being transformed into the most beautiful pieces. Well, Mum was quite keen to give pottery a go herself - the wheel appealed. birthdays are best marked with something fun and a trip out for us both was in order. Mum had a quick Google (and I'm talking about 2 minutes) and announced she had found the perfect idea a pottery experience day for two in the Broads. It sounded exactly what we were looking for so set about booking a date, mid July it was.
Pat welcomed us in to the lovely Salhouse studio and talked through our agenda for the day; hand building in the morning, break for lunch then throwing on the wheel in the afternoon. The last time I handled clay was at middle school and I recalled my distinctly unimpressive work that I produced so it's fair to say I wasn't overly confident about my skillset.
From the books I flicked through I selected a pleasant vase to hand build; around 10 inches high and gently getting wider then heading in again at the rim. Mum chose a jug which bellied out then narrowed to a thinner rim. Pat showed us how to go about hand building which I thought I should be able to manage as it's a gradual building process. Let me tell you it's trickier than it looks. Rolling out sausages then adding a layer up each time, fashioning the shape, smoothing out the walls and prettying up the surfaces. Mine was going a little off kilter on a couple of occasions so Pat stepped in to salvage things before the vase went too awry. The more I thought I was bringing the shape back under control the more I realised the piece had itself longsince decided to be a fruitbowl and most amusingly so had Mum's. In fact they are virtually identical fruitbowls very funny.
They will both be used! I think mine is the taller one.
Lunchtime rolled around soon enough and Pat unveiled a wonderful spread which tasted as good as it looked. Yes, I did have seconds. The serving and dining crockery were Pat's handmade pieces and they were almost too beautiful to use. They were inspiring. My coffee mug was also one of Pat's and was filled regularly throughout the day. I didn't take any pictures during the day; you shall have to imagine the scene. Sometimes total immersion is the best way.
After lunch the wheels were called into action and Mum's eyes lit up. She was keen but I was not exactly nervous but more wary of how complicated turning a fistful of clay into a work of art might be. As a diligent student, and I recognise that I am the kind of person who pays great attention and tries particularly hard to put into practice what is taught, I found the tricky task of centring the clay a real challenge. While I've owned a right and a left hand for my entire existence I cannot recall a time when I asked for quite so much co-operation on one single new joint venture. Left and right having to work together in different ways to achieve a common goal. The look on my face could only be described as gargoylesque which I realised perhaps wasn't the most flattering but entirely reflected my engrossed concentration (furrowed brow, tongue poked out to the left, one eye scrunched up. Beautiful). Pat was an excellent teacher; calm, patient, thorough but doesn't interfere but also knows when to step in before things go too far wrong.
It's a lifetime's practise, honing skills which builds a craft but I was pleased with how much improvement I found in myself from the first attempt at centring to the last (which was nearly passable, but not quite).
Once the clay was centred then it was on to the shaping of the vessel; firstly the base (yes that's my thumbprint in the middle, my bases were all lumpy and swirly - truly handmade my me!) then drawing up the sides and finishing with the lip. These are the seven vessels I made, all looking different. Some different by design, others because things went askew and needed to be cut down. It was particularly absorbing to feel the clay between your fingers and although we perhaps didn't come to much of an understanding, I definitely found a respect for the clay and an enormous amount of respect for the potters out there who work with it.
Looking around the studio at Pat's work was very interesting as were her tales from training in both the UK and Japan. There is so much about pottery that had never crossed my mind and found learning about it enlightening. Pat is known for her wood fired pottery and the complex, long process of the firing was something I hadn't considered but takes a serious commitment. Her beautiful work stands testament to the time and effort she invests. 
I got a little messy, but found the work to be glorious fun. Mum was having such a great time on the wheel but made me laugh with her antics; forgetting to slow down at the right time and whizzing full steam ahead for breakneck speed bowl making. I'm half expecting she will want a wheel of her own now.
As part of the course price you get to pick the 4 out of 7 (I think!!!) creations you like best, plus your hand built piece, for firing and glazing but we liked all our vessels so much that we bought the lot. I chose the turquoise glaze and Mum opted for one piece in the dark blue. I think they have all come out looking glorious; I have far outperformed my expectations and I'm thrilled with what we produced. By the evening when I reached home the efforts of the day caught up with me and I slept very well - there's a good lot of energy goes in to pottery!

We had such a wonderful time at the studio with each other, it was one of those memorable days we will look back on, plus we have the evidence dotted around the house to prove just how well we did. If you would like to take a day or half day course in pottery then take a look at Pat Southwood's website and book yourself a time to remember. I can't recommend it enough!

Have you ever tried pottery like this? What do you think of my efforts?

Take care,
Sophie

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2 comments

  1. I am SO SO SO impressed with your efforts! Truly! What you made is utterly beautiful and reading about it was fascinating!!! I was reading with bated breath to find out how you did. You've really done well and it is so nice you and your Mum did it together (reminds me of the Drum-making workshop my Mum and I did!)

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  2. This looks like so much fun! And I love what you made.
    xx

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Sometimes I am sent items to feature as part of a post and these will be clearly mentioned as part of each post.Everything else is bought by myself. Any sponsored or collaboration posts will be clearly marked. Each post is my own content and all opinions are honest.