All fired up for throwing a pot
To celebrate this year’s Bucks Open Studios TOM HERBERT visits ceramicist Jeremy White and learns it really isn’t as easy as it looks
HAVE you ever seen something on TV and thought, ‘Wow, that looks easy - I wonder what the fuss is about?’
We’ve all done it, watching skilled artisans and craftsmen create something out of nothing and think ‘I could have a go at that – it doesn’t look too hard’.
Well, I’ve often thought the same about pottery, although really my only experience of ceramic art on the box has been the 1990s classic film Ghost.
So, with Unchained Melody stuck on a loop in my head I was sent off on a rainy Wednesday afternoon earlier this month to the Wendover house of artist Jeremy White, who kindly let me have a go at his craft.
As my guide for the day Jeremy, who describes himself as a contemporary ceramicist, says he has been involved in pottery for the last nine years and take inspiration from unique places.
For instance he showed me works of art that were inspired by the rock markings on the Cornwall coastline and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Following him out to his small workshop, Jeremy talked me through the motions of how to pot and created a very nicely turned out jug - and then it was my turn.
With his artistic direction running through my head in a jumble I slowly lowered myself onto the really small stool in front of the wheel and struggled to manoeuvre myself into place.
‘If I can’t even sit on a stool gracefully,’ I thought, ‘how on earth am I going to manipulate a whirling wet grey blob into a clay-based masterpiece?’
My left foot stepped onto a clutch at the side, too gingerly at first as Jeremy told me to give it some more speed.
The wheel span quicker, the clay that had been placed there by Jeremy earlier on was doused with water and then my hands wrapped around it, trying to mould a slimy wet blob into, frankly, a flatter and fatter slimy wet blob.
‘No,’ Jeremy tells me, ‘use the bottom of your hand’. ‘I am’ I thought to myself through imaginary gritted teeth.
He points towards his little finger and palm on his left and says this is what I must use to ‘centre’ the pot.
The right hand is placed on top of the squidgy – but disconcertingly tough – mess and the accompanying thumb is pressed down to flatten it as my left hand pushes into it to raise it.
I must be honest, I couldn’t see why we were doing this because when we finished it looked remarkably similar to how we started.
‘Do you see the difference?’ Jeremy asks. ‘Yes’ I reply, nodding and grinning inanely (I didn’t).
And we went again, using a using a surprising amount of upper body strength to centre the clay.
Then two fingers were placed inside and one was placed on the outside and both hands were slowly moved up the jug to massage the clay higher, although a more vigorous inside finger resulted in mine looking rather fat bottomed.
We repeated the process, running fingers up the inside and outside slowly until it could make a passable jug.
Creating the lip by pulling the top down was, once again, harder than Jeremy made it look as mine came out looking like it had been punched in the face, all fat lip and bulbous in the wrong places.
When finished it was placed next to Jeremy’s and a trained eye would struggle to tell the difference - unluckily for me a trained eye was, in fact, stood next to me and I got a ‘good effort’ for my troubles.
He has promised to post me the fired version and I cannot wait to see what it looks like, although I should perhaps tell my housemates to expect something fragile through the letterbox.
Jeremy has opened up his studios to the public as part of Bucks Open Studios, which sees participating artists take part in a month long, record breaking event from Saturday June 11 to Sunday June 26.
The annual event, which is one of the biggest in the country, includes 332 entries made by more than 500 artists.
For more information visit www.bucksopenstudios.org.uk.
In a spin: Tom and Jeremy with their finished articles. Left, Tom gets to grips with the potters wheel.
Hand made: Tom’s jug gradually takes form under the tutelage of Jeremy White