Take a seat at a potter’s wheel in Abu Dhabi
By Vanessa Fitter – June 7, 2016
I can’t say that pottery is something I have been fascinated with since I was a little girl. Arty has never been me. Drawing, painting, sketching, I am the master, or rather mistress, of none. Stick figures are as far as I can go.
Having said that, I have only heard good things about pottery from those who have tried it. Friends who have spun the wheel rave about the calm that it washes over them. Therapeutic is the word they use. And since I’m always game for a little calming therapy, I sign myself up for a class at Abu Dhabi Pottery Establishment.
When I arrive at the studio, Grace, my teacher for the evening, informs me that I will be learning two techniques. First, I will try my abilities at hand-building, before graduating to the famous potter’s wheel. I’m hoping to walk out with a bowl for my centretable – one that will hopefully be deep enough to serve as more than just a pretty décor item. So, with my apron tied and sleeves rolled up, I dive in.
There’s no wheel for this touch-and-feel hand-building method. Your tools are your hands. Grace gives me a massive portion of deformed clay. My first task is to mould this very firm, crater-laden lump into a smooth ball. I knock, I roll, pat and do everything within my power to smoothen out the bumps. That takes more than a few minutes, but I get there eventually.
Next, I have to drill a hole into the mass and pinch and pull the edges out wide enough to form a bowl-like structure. As my handiwork starts to resemble a bowl my teacher explains that the hand-building technique is crucial in understanding the construction of pottery. That is true. It is also a test to gauge your upper-body strength. I’m heading to the gym as soon as I walk out of this pottery pad.
At all points, Grace reminds me to ensure the thickness of the bowl is even all around. This is important to keep in mind even when I move to the wheel. Otherwise I will end up with a lopsided bowl.
I then slice off any uneven portions of clay and paint over any visible cracks with slip – a mixture of clay and water – to heal the cracks and prevent them from widening. If only there was such a quick and easy remedy to heal cracks in life. Oh well.
I etch out TOAD (for my favourite magazine, of course) on the base of the bowl and drive in Paisley impressions on the side of it with the help of a wooden stamp. Done. The result isn’t perfect, but I’m pleased. And hopefully the baking and glazing stages
will iron out those little chips and dents.
I wash up and hop over to the wheel. Unlike the previous technique that relied on full arm strength, on the wheel your hands need to be gentle and light, while your arms need to be firm and buried into the basin that carries the wheel. If your arms are wobbly, your structure will also wobble around. With these points in mind, I take my mark.
First, I throw down a chunky piece of clay on the still wheel. This ensures the clay sticks to the wheel and doesn’t move around once you start spinning. With my pedal down on the fastest speed and elbows resting firmly on the basin, I begin to shape the clay into a cylinder.
No matter what shape you need to create, you have to begin with a cylinder. The cylinder is the foundation of any shape and will stabilise the structure.
Once I manage that, I poke a hole into the cylinder and widen out the edges, just like I did earlier with the hand-building technique. Except I need to pay extra attention here and regulate the speed of the pedal. If it is too fast, things could get out of control.
I then use a sponge to smoothen out the sides and level the bowl’s lip gently with my finger. After an approving nod from Grace I loosen the bowl off the wheel and slide it onto my board.
While it doesn’t look the part, I’m pretty pleased with my rustic paisley-print bowl. It will be another six weeks until I get my finished bowl. It needs to be glazed and baked before I can lay my hands on it again. I can’t wait. Even if it can.
I would encourage anyone to try pottery, especially if you’re stressed. Yes, it requires patience, focus and steady hands, but it is very relaxing. Working with clay is by no means easy, but it is obedient and does whatever you ask it to do. And who doesn’t like that?
Abu Dhabi Pottery Establishment conducts classes and workshops for children, adults and families.
Visit www.abudhabipottery.com for an updated list of classes and fees. 16th Street, opposite Khalidiyah Park (02 666 7079).