When I was 12 I made a mug for my mum in art class. ‘Wow,’ she said with gritted teeth when I gave it to her, ‘that’s interesting.’ The lopsided object still exists, still resembles a floppy chef’s hat, and it is still a shade of poo brown (I had tried, unsuccessfully, to glaze it all the colours of the rainbow). Yet, despite its monstrous aesthetics I still feel great satisfaction when drinking a cuppa from it.
This is why, when I turn up for Ductac’s evening pottery class and ask tutor Irene Sutton why she loves pottery, her answer strikes a chord with me. ‘I’m of the school that pottery should be beautiful and functional. Waking up in the morning and having a coffee from a mug I made puts a smile on my face,’ she says.
I had expected to turn up to the class, head straight to the wheel and instantly caress clay, turning it into something amazing. But alas, this is the real world, and I have to ‘prepare’ my clay and eliminate air bubbles first by ‘wedging’ it: a bicep busting process where I push the clay up and over 100-times-or-more. Then, after slapping the clay down on the wheel (which is fun) I go through the process of centring it on the wheel. I do this by slowly pushing it up into a sausage shape and then back down into the shape of a block of cheese (during which my clay farts at one point – an air bubble escaping).
I find all of these processes difficult, but watching the tutor Irene work the clay with intuition is lovely, and I imagine the process is much more satisfying once you have her level of skill and knowledge.
Next up I have to make a hole in my clay (all vessels have holes) by pushing my thumbs down and out into the centre of the pot. Then it’s time to give it shape: this is my favourite part. I put both my hands against the clay – one inside the hole and one outside, and push gently to form curves and shape. Before I know it I’ve made my first cylindrical shape that looks like a straight up and down bowl. I’m proud.
By the end of the class (in most classes you make two objects) I’m covered up to my elbows in clay, but I’m happy. I feel like I’ve had a true creative outlet, and in a low key and friendly environment (by the end of it Irene and I are chatting like old girlfriends). The one downside? My manicure is completely ruined.
Origins: Pottery is plain ancient – ceramic vessels from the Japanese Jomon period date back to at least 12,000BCE. The technique of ‘throwing’ clay on the wheel seems to have developed across the world, however the earliest evidence is from Ancient Egypt in 3,000BCE with the invention of a turntable for the potter.
Options: Lessons are sold in packs of four because you have to go through the process of firing and glazing your clay. After four lessons you can expect to have three or four basic pieces (mostly bowls) ready to take home. Everyone’s skill level is different, but Irene predicts that after two months you should be able to work on shapes with handles, and in three to six months you will probably be able to make your own teapot (cool!).
Highlights: The satisfaction of creating something useful and getting your hands dirty. Irene’s friendly teaching style
Lowlights: Some of the steps are quite methodical, and although I quite enjoyed this, I imagine that for some it would be tedious
Cost: Four lessons cost Dhs660, and there’s an initial Dhs200 materials charge
Details: Classes are three hours long (but time flies!) and they run at all times: Tuesdays 10am-1pm (ladies only), Tuesdays and Wednesdays 6.30pm-9.30pm and Saturdays 10am-1pm. Also, due to requests from fasting students, Irene will be holding classes during Ramadan from 3pm-6pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (apparently, the meditative nature of pottery helps fasters to concentrate during those last few hours). www.ductac.org; 04 341 4777