How to Make a Ceramic and Win a Prize at the First Attempt

‘Walking in the Rain’ detail

It was pouring with rain. My head is bowed down against the torrent, and I am holding my umbrella forward against it like a spinnaker sail conversely going against the wind. The sound of the rain is pattering down hard on the nylon fabric making a comforting prosodic rhythm. It is the sort of weather that makes a lot of people stay indoors – but is a dream to *pluviophiles like me.

I look down, and the heaviness of the downpour is causing splashes from each droplet to dance up, bouncing high off the grey pavement – the water spraying and glistening as it catches the pale light.
I turn into Helmet Row, a cobbled little street that runs alongside St Luke’s Church. The rain is forming tantalising puddles in the gutter that shouldn’t be tempting me, at my age, to paddle through them. I consider doing it… ‘Shall I?’ but, I just leap over them; gambling with landing short and getting wet instead.
I am on my way to my very first pottery class at Hackney Community College.
I have never done pottery before. I have always thought of it as something that other people do.
But hey! I love trying something new, and so here I am squelching my way through Hoxton Square toward the college.
Hoxton Square puddle
The rain doesn’t let up and I arrive in class sopping wet.

The tutor is Maria A Echenique. Yes, she is from Spain! I shake my umbrella and place it against the wall. I ask her if she misses the glorious sunshine of her native land. The wry smile she gives me tells me she does.

“Rain, rain, go to Spain!” She says with a laugh to the rain lashing down outside the window.
It is a small class. There are six of us. Some of them have done pottery before. It seems, I might, perhaps, be the only complete newbie.
After introductions, our tutor presents us with four different types of clay for us to get the feel of. There is stoneware clay, which has a coarseness to it – there is a red terracotta clay – and there is a dark (I forget what it’s called) clay –  and a white clay. I choose the white clay. We are instructed just to take the clay into our hands and pummel and mould it to get ‘the feel’ of it. I have always been good at doing what I’m told, ahem. So, I squeeze it, press on it and knead it, and I like what I feel. ‘Why have I never done this before?’ I ask myself.
Maria, our tutor, then tells us to make whatever we like. This is when I start to feel shy. ‘Make what? What shall I make? What shall I make! Why doesn’t she tell me what to make?’ I am starting to panic a little bit.
Maria tells us to allow the clay to tell us what to do.
‘Help! I haven’t got a clue!’
So, I just keep smoothing and rubbing, pushing and pulling my blob of clay. I look around and see various shapes taking place in the hands of my classmates, who are, by now, working their pieces of clay into some sort of recognisable object. I see the beginnings of a little bowl, and in another’s hands I recognise what may turn out into some sort of a plate. But…
‘WHAT am I going to do?
WHAT am I going to MAKE?’
While watching the others forming their imaginative pieces, I carry on kneading and working my piece of clay without thinking of very much in particular.; then fearing I may get caught staring, I tear my attention away from what the others are doing and from wondering what they might be creating, and cast my eyes back down to take a closer look at what I am doing.
I go crimson.
For I see and realise, with a shock, that my piece has been developing into ‘an object of desire’, or to put it bluntly (and here I struggle with words to try and tell you what I have been creating in as delicate a way as possible without embarrassing myself) my clay has taken on the shape of an enormous… of a… a… ‘Er… um… well, you know…

…It looks sort of… ‘phallic’.

I panic and with an intake of breath, I quickly change it before anyone notices what I have been nurturing between my hands.
I hear Maria telling us that we must use our memory and inspiration from what we have seen and how we feel.

Only yesterday, I had met a friend for coffee in the V&A and I recall a work that had impressed me in the Japanese Room called ‘Blowing in the Wind’ created in 1988  by Kumai Kyōko a leading figure in the world of fibre art. I also remember today’s walk in the rain to class, and how I felt (wet).

I push and pull at my piece of clay (which thankfully, now is just a respectable harmless blob shape). I am calm, and hear the rain which is still clattering against the windowpane influencing me, and under the encouragement of the tutor I allow the feel of the clay in my hands to guide me.
I find myself wanting to capture the mood that the weather can evoke – just like the piece that I saw on display at the V&A that had inspired me so much.
I set to work – and in no time at all I have made a figure that is trudging through a rainstorm.
Walking in the Rain

‘Walking in the Rain’ is my very first exploratory work and I am only just discovering the many choices and exciting possibilities of creating forms with the malleable medium of clay.

 I used white clay and an under-glaze of black iron oxide…
glaze detail
 …with just a dash of shiny transparent glaze for the rain.

When I first see my figure from the final firing, I am so pleased with it that, I, rather ambitiously, decide to enter my first attempt at ceramics into the Inspired by… competition! I am even more pleased when I receive the news that it has been accepted and selected to be included in the exhibition at the Morley Gallery.

Entry requirements for the Inspired by… national art competition state that you must select something from the collection of the V&A museum that ‘inspires you’, and to reflect and express this inspiration in your own unique work.
I had expected to choose some mediaeval work of art in the displays at the V&A as choice for my inspiration as this is one of my favourite periods in history – but, for my first ever attempt into working with ceramics I was to be unexpectedly inspired by a piece of glass work in the V&A Collection titled ‘Blowing in the Wind’ 1988 by Kumai Kyōko a leading figure in the world of fibre art.  This intimate study of grasses bowing before the wind represented to me perfectly the power, drama and beauty of the elements; and the impact it has upon us all, and everything around us.
‘Blowing in the Wind’ by Kumai Kyoko


INSPIRED BY… is a national art competition for students in adult education inspired by the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and will run from the 17th May to the 17th June 2016 at the Morley Gallery, 61 Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7HTLink  Inspired by…exhibition
 My next post will be about how my entry does in the competition!
Back view

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*Pluviophile: urban word: a lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days)


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