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BECOMING A MASTER POTTER… POTTER’S WHEEL TASTER SESSION

Trying my hand at using a potter’s wheel is one of my original bucket list items.

Way back when I was 25, I wrote a big list of things to do, which included lots of challenges and goals, things to experience, things to learn, places to visit, and more. It was initially things I wanted to do before I was 30, but the list got too big for that and very quickly became my bucket list, lovingly referred to as my monster to-try list.

All photos of me taken by Sarah 🙂

I mean, that ever-expanding list even granted me the superhero title of “The Listmaker” back in a 2011 campaign by PepsiCo… You’ll forgive how I often comment on how this blogging hobby of mine has led to strange and wonderful experiences.

Please know that it’s never just been about ticking things off a list, but rather about experiencing what life has to offer and creating some fabulous memories to last a lifetime in the process.

Anyway, that very long preamble is just me pointing out that, despite having learn how to use a potter’s wheel on said list since 2005, it remained unticked, until now.

My Potter’s Wheel Experience in a Nutshell

The short version of this blog post is that I had so much fun over at Eastnor Pottery, courtesy of Red Letter Days. Good friend Sarah and I each threw two pretty reasonable pots following the excellent and friendly instruction of Jon and Sarah; it felt like we were in good and knowledgeable hands.

A Saturday morning very well spent, and an experience I would highly recommend to anyone who fancies seeing if you could be a master potter.

Red Letter Days

I’m no stranger to buy-an-adventure experiences. I think they’re a fabulous way to try something new, to access an experience with instruction you might otherwise not be able to, or simply to have some fun for an afternoon (read more in this post).

Red Letter Days kindly offered to gift me an experience to help me tick something off my bucket list this winter, and I knew exactly what I was after. Not only is it an OG item for me, but Sarah (The Urban Wanderer) and I have talked about doing this together ever since we met, but just haven’t got ourselves organised enough to do it.

There are a handful of pottery experiences listed in the Red Letter Days catalogue, but with Eastnor Pottery being just a few miles down (up… over?!) the road, their Potter’s Wheel Workshop Experience for Two was the one I chose.

Eastnor Pottery

Eastnor Pottery is a family run business established in 1994 by professional artist potters Sarah Monk and Jon Williams (who ran our workshop). As well as making and exhibiting their unique designs, the couple have a combined 50 years’ experience of working with thousands of workshop participants, all ages and abilities, all over the West Midlands and beyond.

With Jon of Eastnor Pottery.

The pottery is located within the Herefordshire country estate of Eastnor Castle, and surrounded by the Malvern Hills. We combined our visit with time spent exploring Great Malvern and walking up to the Worcestershire Beacon (read Weekly Blog Episode 100).

Their introductory workshop is a 90-minute practical taster of throwing pots on a wheel. The aim is that people like me, with no experience on a potter’s wheel, end the session with a couple of pots and a basic understanding of the technique. The emphasis is very much hands-on training; and while those 90-minutes did go very fast indeed, we crammed a lot in.

The Potter’s Wheel

Our session started with a demo where Jon talked us through the five steps of throwing a pot while showing us how to tackle each one. He promised us that if we followed the five steps – centring, creating a hole, pulling out, pulling up, and shaping – we would end the session with a pot we were proud of. We knew right from the get-go that we were going to have a great time; Jon’s style was informal yet instructive and I concentrated hard to make sure I understood the process.

Armed with lumps of clay, bowls of water, and a potter’s wheel between two, it was time to see if I had any natural talent for pottery. Sarah and I shared the wheel (as clearly described in the workshop outline), which was perfect for this type of workshop as it meant we could enjoy watching each other (and take plenty of photographs!).

A Tactile Hobby

The thing that struck me when I first got going on the wheel was how tactile this art really is. I mean, they say it is, but you know, it actually is. Movements need to be gentle but with meaning to persuade the clay to respond as you intend; you really can feel the pot being thrown more than you can see it happening.

Jon provided step-by-step guidance to the group as a whole and to individuals for the whole time, making sure that we were on the right track and could complete our pots. I did my best to follow the instruction and advice he gave, and thoroughly enjoyed my first experience throwing a pot.

There were only three couples on this session, but the atmosphere in the studio was lovely; plenty of chatter and laughter, willing each other on to create something decent.

I wouldn’t say that I was a natural, but it felt like something that I could be good at, which made it all rather pleasant. I’ll happily admit that I didn’t choose the shape of my pot, the shape chose me, but that’s the part that comes with hours and hours on the wheel. The photos Sarah took make it look like I was some kind of pro, but it was all in the angles!

The most nerve-wracking part by far was removing the pot from the wheel. Do that wrong and you can easily ruin an otherwise lovely piece with unsightly gouges. I’m sure that comes with practice, as the whole art of throwing pots does.

Time for Two Pots

Once I’d made my first pot (and cleaned up the potter’s wheel), it was Sarah’s turn to have a go. She did at least as well as I did, and as I watched I could work out how I might tackle my second pot differently. In the 90-minutes we had in the studio we both had plenty of time to throw two pots each, time which seemed to go by super-fast but also in a weird way that felt like we’d been there for hours. Being creative really is a wonderful way to spend time; very wholesome and mindful.

I wouldn’t say my second pot turned out any better than my first, but it was definitely a smoother experience with a smoother finish. I knew what to expect of the clay this time, and how it felt in my hands. Jon said that you can make early progress very quickly in pottery, which I can already see. He also said that should I join them for another workshop sometime, I should be able to pick up from where I left off.

Making my second pot.

The Finished Article

Jon was right; we each finished the workshop with two completed pots, thrown on the potter’s wheel. They were surprisingly obviously pot-shaped, I mean, they were actual pots that would hold things like real pots should. Ours might not have been quite to the standards of the work on display in the pottery, but they were not a bad first attempt.  

We could choose one pot each to take home if we wished. The other pot (or both, if you prefer) was recycled for future workshop participants. There was the option to have one of the pots glazed and fired for an additional fee, but neither were good enough for that!

Of the two I made, I chose to bring my little fat pen pot home, to see if I could decorate it well enough to warrant a space in my home office. And, you know, I am kind of proud of it!

I spent some time the next day trimming the base and smoothing out my thumb prints, left it in my airing cupboard for a couple of weeks to dry out, and have now given it two thin coats of 50/50 PVA glue and water as instructed. I’ll paint it at some point, either using the bright orange emulsion I have left from painting my home office, or maybe using my Uniball Posca Pens I have for painting pebbles.

More Pottery, Please

Of course, now I want more, lots more. This is always the danger of me trying something new, there is always the chance that I will want to go all in and make it my new hobby. A definite downside to having such a long list of new things to try – my time (and money) can become very limited!

Eastnor Pottery was such a lovely environment to learn a new skill and I came away feeling like I had been at least a little bit successful. I’ve put their Potter’s Wheel Weekend Course on my birthday list, and would highly recommend the short 90-minute taster to anyone who fancies giving pottery a go.

Pottery is wonderfully accessible. Given enough time and patience, I could definitely see myself making a cupboard full of mugs, plates, bowls, and other pot-shaped things. It’s probably a good job I don’t have the space to keep a potter’s wheel at home, I’d have no time for anything else.

Many thanks to Red Letter Days for kindly gifting me the Potter’s Wheel Workshop Experience for Two. You can find a few pottery-related experiences on their website.

This experience was gifted by Red Letter Days but this is not a paid-for advertorial. Links to Red Letter Days on this page are affiliate links; if you choose to purchase after clicking my link, I receive a small commission to put towards future adventures (or maybe that weekend course!).   

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