Annabelle’s Apprenticeship – Happy New Year!

It’s the New Year, and now that I’ve put it in writing it is hard to believe how much I have been doing since my last post.

Over the last three blog posts, I have been trying to increase the weight of clay to produce bigger work. Britta, who works in the studio, told me that in Germany, it’s usual that pottery studios give complete beginners 3 kilos of clay and don’t interfere with the student learning until they control and throw that amount well.  I have been finding it particularly difficult to execute an evenly balanced tall pot. This is because when you go above 1 kilo of clay, the thrower must use different, larger parts of the hand rather than fingertips as you would use for smaller amounts of clay. Every person throws differently because all hands and techniques taught are different. For instance, when I centre the clay I do what my very first teacher and now friend, Kazuya Ishida taught me.

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to go on a Japanese pottery workshop in beautiful, leafy Devon and had a fantastic time learning aspects of their craft and culture while eating Japanese foods and having tea ceremonies. Little did I know that the Japanese throw with the wheel head going clockwise, while European potters throw anti-clockwise! This is an important difference because you can only throw with the clay going away from the fingers – so depending on the direction, your hands will be on the left if you’re Japanese and the right if European. Despite having been retaught going anti-clockwise, I notice my hands have stayed in the learnt Japanese position while centring the clay until it runs true.

I also think of Laurence’s lessons when I start pulling up the walls.  When I began at the Leach pottery, I worked closely beside Laurence so that I could follow his direction until I gained in confidence. We now both go into St Ives to learn trapeze and acrobatic skills for fun (so look out for us when you see the “Man in the Moon”).

When it comes to throwing larger amounts, you have to bend the hand back and push your wrist into the clay to begin to widen the base, but this really is a challenge you have to figure out for yourself.  They’ve taught me the intricate movements in the pottery studio, and now I use my own hand shapes to find the form and required results.  This way, we all use the same techniques, however, by using our own individual hand shape and size we hope for a sense of the maker’s touch in the handmade vessel. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the Germans start off with 3 kilos until they manage this amount well.  I think I’ve almost got to grips with about 2 kilos.

This is a rasped jar that I made for an exhibition in London during December.  It was very exciting for me because my work sat amongst many famous professional potters. Later on I was invited to produce more work because the gallery viewers asked to buy my handmade lidded jars, which, with this great buyers’ feedback, is helping to give direction to my personal body of work.

The Leach Pottery team