Pottery - Ceramics as a craft and a hobby Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Pottery - Ceramics as a craft and a hobby

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The craft of forming pots or sculpture from clay and baking it to become a strong ceramic item is an old one. Archaeologists dig up bits of old pottery1 and draw the most obscure conclusions about the people who made it.

These days, pottery is a highly developed craft form, and is enjoyed as a hobby by many people. The simplest ways of forming pots are by the pinching, coiling or slab methods. Coiling is what most people remember doing at school - you roll long sausages of clay and coil them around and around, joining as you go.

The most exciting and messy way of making pots is by throwing on a potters wheel. Those over forty may remember the potter in the interval of Watch With Mother (or some such programme), whereas the younger generation will almost certainly have seen the famous scene from the film Ghost.

Throwing on the wheel is Very Hard To Learn. But with a good teacher and bit of practice most people can throw reasonable pots (although those beautiful ming vases may seem a million miles away). There is something very relaxing about forming simple shapes in your hands, but there is more to it than that.

Once made, the piece must be dried, fired in a kiln to around 1000°C, then coated with glaze and fired again, this time at up to 1300°C. The most exciting part of pottery is opening the kiln to see what the final results of several weeks work are like!

If you fancy having a go at pottery as a hobby, first ask yourself if you have a good sense of humour - things can, and will, go horribly wrong. You will get covered up to your armpits in clay sludge and cold buckets of glaze. You will end up with some rather dubious looking items that don't stand up without help from a convenient wall, and certainly have that 'home made' look about them.

But they will be your first pots2, and you will treasure them as a reminder of time spent in a simpler way, with no screens, no stress and no boss.

The best place to start is either a local evening class, or a private potter who gives lessons. Your library should have details of evening classes. Try the yellow pages for local potters, or a local potters association which should be able to help you.

Go forth, get your hands dirty, meet new people, relax, and enjoy yourself!

1Not to be confused with The Potteries which is located at Stoke-On-Trent, Staffs, in the UK. 2Your first pots will most likely explode in the kiln because they were made too thick or too thin to survive the heat. Your second and third pots will probably reach similar fates, as you learn what not to do. After the sixth or seventh time you'll make a lopsided final result that can actually hold liquid and almost look like an ashtray, although you were trying to make a vase. If anything, pottery teaches patience.

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