When it comes to pottery, our only knowledge is based on watching Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze throwing clay at each other in the 1990 flick Ghost. So it’s safe to say our level of skill is limited at best. Nevertheless, the famous scene has left a lasting impression on us. Maybe it was seeing a couple at the wheel or listening to the romantic lyrics of ‘Unchained Melody’ by The Righteous Brothers… Whatever the reason, we felt strangely drawn to the idea.
So feeling inspired, we threw on our apron and trialled pottery on the wheel at Ductac in the hope of leaving the class with our very own handmade mug or vase. Led by Irish potter Irene Sutton, who has been teaching the class for more than six years, the course aims to provide students with the basic principles of crafting ceramics using a potter’s wheel. Ideal for beginners, the course normally takes place over four three-hour sessions, with most people attending one class each week.
The first session focuses on clay preparation, teaching students the skill of ‘wedging’, so that the clay becomes stiff and removes any air bubbles. We start by using the cylinder wedging method, which we think is similar to kneading bread – although Irene disagrees. When the clay is ready, we have a go at centering it and making cylindrical shapes on the wheel (in an attempt to form a pot). With Irene’s advice, we make sure we use the palm of our hands and fingertips at different intervals, while simultaneously pouring water on the clay to keep it moist. Irene’s guidance – and humour – is greatly appreciated at testing moments and, surprisingly, we manage to create cylinders without the clay collapsing. Usually students will make two pieces during the first session, but all production is based on ability.
The course offers the opportunity to complete ceramics projects from design to glazing and to experiment with shapes in order to create more personal works. Session two covers clay preparation and centering again, as well as bowl-making, which is a slightly different technique from creating cylinders.
The next two sessions concentrate on trimming and finishing the pieces. In these classes, participants will learn to remove any excess clay from the work and details such as how handles are added. Some students may carve or pierce the clay for decoration. The final touches consist of glazing the work and at this stage, the piece will have gone through its first firing and will be ready for the final stage. Students can choose from a range of glazes and learn about the technique in general, before applying their chosen colours. The work is then sent for a second firing before it’s ready for collection.While the venue layout does remind us a little of our school art classroom, the atmosphere is far from formal. In fact, we feel pretty relaxed throughout the session and enjoy the casual chat with fellow students.
Attendees range from as young as 14 to 87 years old, and from more than 40 different nationalities. Despite the course lasting four weeks, Irene does offer a trial session for Dhs220 to anyone who wants a taste of what pottery on the wheel is all about. However, she recommends completing the entire programme in order to get the chance to complete a piece from start to finish – a tip we fully agree with.
The feeling of seeing your finished product is similar to that of a four-year-old having their picture displayed proudly on their parent’s fridge – sheer glee. And we came home with a flashy new mug.
Dhs660 (four-week course), Dhs200 (bag of clay). Tue-Wed 6.30pm-9.30pm; Sat 10am and 2pm. During Ramadan classes will take place
5pm-7pm. Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha, www.ductac.org (04 341 4777).