In October 2017, Annabelle Smith was selected as our third Leach Pottery apprentice, sponsored by the Seasalt Bursary. Since then, she has been developing her skills with the guidance of her mentors and through the process of trial and error.
One year on from her appointment, Annabelle has been reflecting on what she’s learned so far.
- Clay reclaim is the first thing to learn because clay works best when it has matured. This is a way of saving clay, making sure it doesn’t go to waste. We take all our scraps and soak them in a bucket of water for weeks or months. This breaks down the clay molecules and turns it all to mush. Next we dry it on a slab and put it through a pugmill, which brings it back to a usable state. Mature clay works best because if you use clay straight from the ground, it doesn’t have much elasticity. Mature clay is less brittle and so much better to work with.
- I’ve been learning how wet your clay should be for each job or stage. Clay for throwing is easiest when wet so that it can slip through your fingers evenly when pulling clay up on a wheel. If using dry clay it wouldn’t slip through smoothly and the pot wouldn’t be even.
- I’ve found that the three pull cylinder test is the most important throwing task. You use this method on all weights of clay to practise getting the walls at an even thickness from the base to rim, as high as you can, repeating till each pot is at the same height and thickness.
- It’s important to test your glaze thickness before you use them. I’ve learned that the minerals in different clays and the components in glazes can work together in interesting ways, and sometimes they won’t work at all. Sometimes this means a pot won’t hold a glaze at all so the glaze recipe will need tweaking. For example, a stoneware glaze might not “stick” to a porcelain pot.
- Going from a Leach style handle to a relaxed, “funky handle” has completely changed my throwing style. Now that I’ve been throwing the standard ware for a year, this handle has opened my eyes to a new way of working. This allows each piece to be part of the same family, but still remain unique to each pot.
- Working with clay at its leather hard stage is when you can add most of the texture, whether I use slip or trim roughly. I choose glazes that show and preserve those markings.
- Visiting and learning from other artist potters can lead you around the world. I’ve started my professional pottery journey with Cornwall and once I’ve finished my apprenticeship, I hope to go around the world.
- Next year there may be opportunities to travel to other countries. I’m looking forward to hearing if these come to fruition, as I am very excited at the prospect.