Tuesday, November 10, 2015


I'm loving the Great Pottery Throw-Down on BBC2 at the moment.  Particularly the appreciation that this stuff takes time.  

The art teaching I had at school was universally a bit rubbish in terms of inclusiveness.  It was technique-driven, and if you couldn't do the technique, you were left behind.  And "left behind" was definitely the right phrase in one year, where we spent the entire year learning watercolour, with a teacher who wasn't qualified in art teaching, who insisted that left-handers still lay a wash in the right-handed way; which meant we four left-handed kids were utterly scuppered to begin with because you had to lay the wash and paint over it in a certain order. (It's illustrative that I remember there were four of us. One in seven. One in seven kids who may as well not have turned up that year.  It's given me an appreciation of difference. But I'd rather have learnt to use watercolours.)

I've always made things, and combined colours. But the first time I actually did this formally was at a pottery class.  I made something or other in the basement of the Student Union (I think?) at Cambridge, and then some pots during my MSc at Loughborough; I still have one or two bits and bobs from the Loughborough club, and I think a couple of bowls may still be around with my ex-husband.

And then in the late 90s I went to a class at Cottenham with Debbie Cain, who had a completely different attitude to pots; you hand-built (there were wheels, too, but not enough for everyone; and there were lots of things you could do by hand-building); and there was a certain satisfaction in hand-building pots. Everything took a long time compared to Great Pottery Throw-Down - you only had 2 hours a week, you had the time unwrapping and wetting-down your pot, you had to take the tools out of the box again and wonder which scraper you used last time, you probably only had about an hour a week to do stuff, you queued for the kiln - but after a couple of months, you got something.

I have this 24cm high x 10-14cm diameter vase. I use it for stocks in spring, and sunflowers and chrysanths in autumn.


To all extents and purposes, it's rubbish.  I built it over three sessions, and you can see that. It's massively lumpy. There are bubbles and really-not-correct textures in the glaze, and I didn't understand what the pale glazes were for, or what they did.  The top flares out and for some reason I've textured the internal surface of the flare.

And I love it; and I'm proud of it.

By all standards of pottery, it's rubbish. When I take it down off the top of the kitchen cupboard to put flower in it, I smile.

God bless whoever thought of Great Pottery ThrowDown, and all who sail...


Heather said...

I did wonder how they were going to organise it, and I'm also pleased that they have built into it the time things take to make. I've never tried pottery, but I feel like I'm learning a lot from the programme. I loved the idea of working blindfold, because touch is so important!

Martha Hogan said...

Love the vase! Wouldn't want you to change a thing, especially that flare at the top, or the curvy shape. Or the beautiful colours!

Chai (who owes you a letter, but you knew that. . . .)

Unknown said...

Hi there Liz, i'm touched that you remember so much about your pottery classes ( it was Chesterton, but that's a small detail). This pot is a jolly fine example. The glaze is from Lucie Rie and it's supposed to have the little bubbles on the surface and the best lips do go out a bit so that you can pour water out more easily. The decoration in neutral enough to become subordinate to the flowers you put in it. So i'm really not surprised that this has become a loved and used object. It was a really good pot, as was a lot of your work i seem to remember. I'm teaching again on Wednesday nights at Linton Village College, if anyone is interested. But the process is a bit limited: there are no barium or Lucie Rie glazes such as those in our heyday at Chesterton. Very best wishes, Debora Cane.