Brighton Fringe 2017
As it says on the tin… “Come and learn to throw your own pot on the potters’ wheel at the Painting Pottery Cafe! Learn a new skill alongside other beginners with one of our fabulous potters…”
Six of us attended a simple one hour workshop on the basics of throwing a pot.
Warm smiles greet the six participants, including myself and my daughter, who appeared at the 10.30am session of the “Learn to Throw a Pot” workshop at The Painting Pottery Cafe on North Road.
As we sat in the upstairs cafe, awaiting the start, we were able to see all the tables perfectly laid out for those who would come later in the day and paint their own pots. All around the walls are clean, new bisque-fired ceramics ready to be painted. That one is surrounded by a large collection of bare and blank pieces, some plates, some cups, some bowls, and other hand-shaped creations, set me in the mood for creating. Creating with mind and hands.
We are soon lead, in good time, down the stairs to the basement area which is equally well laid out, with pottery wheels, aprons, but also spacious, clean and adorned with (slightly naive) original acrylic landscapes of Brighton town scenes.
Here we are greeted by Holly, shown our aprons, the forms we need to fill-in, to ensure we can collect the right pots another date, and succinctly shown to the wheels… where Holly soon expertly shows us the basic skills we need to form our pots.
The two most basic rules being “slow and steady wins the race “and “quit whilst you’re ahead “.
The first balls of clay have already been thrown onto the wheels (later Holly shows us how to do it again.) and so she deftly gets on and shows us how to turn a tennis ball size piece into a small low pot.
She makes it look easy and, when the first three of us get to sit at our wheels it turns out, actually, it is! These initial three have their “go” whilst the other three watch, take pictures, are fascinated as this blob of earth slowly transmogrifies into a beautiful form ready to hold our earrings, our olives, our… teeth?!
Gently guided, encouraged, urged on, and with just the right degree of intervention (low) by Holly, each of these pioneers, including my daughter, concentrate hard to raise out of rude soil a work… of art, hovered-over by the rest of us, feeling the pressure mounting as we realised that we too would have to do as good a job as these leading first timers.
I have never seen “The Great Pottery Throwdown” on TV, but was told by another participant how inspired she has been by it, and sure enough the tension gently mounted as the appropriately unambitious pots gently raised themselves out of the ball of clay that had once been so lowly upon the once stationary wheel.
My preteen daughter found the whole process very easy, and she calmly managed to create a perfect little piece. She had thrown two pots before in her life in a class about a year hence, but had needed considerable hands on assistance. Or at least have had been given it, whether she needed it or not.
However Holly stepped back, gently cajoled and encouraged, letting my daughter do her thing, almost entirely by herself, lending a brief hand on just one or two occasions. Hence she felt very much in control of the process, and what she created she created for herself. It was a fine little pot and she even used the supplied fishing line on corks to remove the pot from the wheel at the end. Is this a review of how proud I am as a father!? Perhaps… but more a celebration of how this particular teacher gave my child space to gain her confidence.
Once Holly had re-centred three more balls of clay on their respective wheels, we, the second sitting, now went to our wheels, as drivers to their grand prix cars.
The pressure was on, but we all came through, and the combination of simple instructions, our not-too-ambitious first project, and gentle and firm encouragement from our coach lead to yet another batch of successful little turn outs. Although one woman had, at the start, asked whether she could try doing a coffee pot, a present for her father, she was very happy to know the small ramekin-like object that she had more-realistically created by the end would be equally pleasing for him.
This was a well priced, well aimed workshop, with additional benefits of finding out that we could return at a later date to find that our pot had been glazed and fired for us, to be used for gifts or simply to place ostensibly at home to show off new found skills and be amongst our next dinner party’s talking points. (Do people still have dinner parties!?)
On chatting to them, the other participants and my daughter were very happy, eager to do more, eager to come back to the Cafe’s evening classes, and feeling that they were ready to recommend the workshop to most who were up for “having a go” (“Maybe not my husband”, said one) and that they had all had as much success as they could expect.
This is definitely a beginners group. If you’ve thrown a few times before, you would probably find it a bit beneath you.
The group size,, the level of difficulty, the level of guidance, the length of the workshop and the outcomes were all… just right. A Goldilocks moment indeed.
It seemed quite a humdrum, simple pleasure to have achieved this initial level of skill, like how to make a good cup of tea, or learning to plant a seedling. But it took a steady hand, confidence, and self belief to bring this creation into being. Noble echoes of God forming Adam or Eve (to get religious about it) or of the early human condition to turn the raw materials of the ground into usable artefacts. A connection with our oldest ancestors. A very grounding experience, literally being in touch with that stuff on the ground, of the earth. Very satisfying at a deep level.
In that sense it was both beautiful and moving, whilst fun and congenial, the smiles on everybody’s faces palpable evidence of a job well done. My daughter was exceedingly happy.
My only constructive feedback of something I missed, is that much of the work around walls, and the shelves seemed to consist of quite a lot of pleasant, mass-produced, easily consumed, middle-of-the-road pieces, waiting to be painted on with pleasant designs.
Now this workshop was not about what was in the cafe, or around the walls, and of course the cafe is catering to a “family audience” but children and adults can also be fans of challenging art in all its forms, and so some space given over to display examples of serious works, challenging and conceptual pieces (perhaps I missed them?) would have also added to the inspiration, a deeper inspiration to create not just pleasantries, but perhaps something with more permission, a wider and more nuanced spectrum of concepts. Work that might perhaps make us think, that has a touch of profundity about it, broadening to remind us that ceramics can meet many artistic and creative needs.
All in all, with the last caveat in mind, I have no hesitation in highly recommending this workshop, remembering that once you’ve got some of “the knacks”, you can broaden your scope to more than the suggestions around you.