Hands on Pottery, Full on Disaster

We walk into the pottery studio and everyone turns to look at us. The middle-aged pottery master acknowledges us with a nod and gives us a form to fill out. Are there really risks involved in pottery that call for an emergency contact? I fill out the form anyways, embarrassed that I have to look up my fiancé’s phone number because I still don’t have it memorized. To say I’m feeling out of place as I hang my Kate Spade purse on a tree branch that’s been re-purposed as a coat hook on the wall is an understatement. I see us from the eyes of those already in their aprons: two blonde girls attending date night together, both wearing a crafting uniform consisting of Converse sneakers, skinny jeans, and v-neck t-shirts.

My coworker Chelsea and I have become good friends through teaching together, sharing our daily woes and also our extremely funny moments, including but not limited to my student asking “is that your dad?” in the middle of Greg proposing to me. She is also artsy in a way my type A tendencies can only dream of. So when she brought up taking a pottery class, I figured it would be a great way for me to branch out from my regular Friday night of movies and take out, and try out something new.

To start off, the only class that interested us was a couple’s night. Chelsea was determined to use the pottery wheel, and I figured I might be able to handle a lesson a little more complicated than modelling clay. Major selling point? It was advertised as BYOB. Go to a couple’s pottery class with my co-worker and potentially be mistaken as in a relationship? No big deal. We would get to drink wine.

The Friday rolls around and I am equal parts excited to actually be doing something with my evening but also mourning the fact that I have to wear pants past 8PM. Chelsea and I have a full “date night” planned. We are briefly hitting the gym (let’s be real, who wants to spend a lot of time at the gym on a Friday), going out for Japanese ramen (to cancel out calories burned during said gym time), and then heading to pottery class.

The class consists of 6 students including Chelsea and I. The other two couples in attendance are polar opposites. Both are young, and while one couple appears very comfortable together, I can literally feel the tension between the other. Is this their first date? Talk about high stakes, having to show off your creativity or lack there of right away! I feel for the guy and can feel my own hands get clammy as I watch him wipe his sweaty palms on his shorts.

Tonight, we’ll be making a bowl. I have never done pottery before. In fact, I haven’t taken a real hands-on art class since middle school. I’ve heard pottery is hard, but the way the instructor brings his wheel to life and throws his clay directly in the middle I figure it is not all that complicated. I mean come on, I teach children for a living. With a few slight hand gestures and strategic pinches of the fingers, he forms a perfect bowl. The entire demonstration takes about 5 minutes.

“It’s magic,” I mutter to Chelsea. The instructor snorts.
“It certainly is not.”

Couples claim wheels next to each other so that Chelsea and I somehow end up across the room from one another, third wheeling on the couples’ dates—literally. This is a total disaster. I have no way to slyly ask Chelsea what I’m actually supposed to be doing, or have anyone to make inappropriate remarks to.

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The instructor gives us five lumps of clay each and with total confidence I throw one onto the centre of my wheel. And by the centre I mean dead left. Good grief. It’s not ideal but I figure I can work with it, and do my best to pull it to the centre. I wet my hands and rev the engine of my wheel. Placing my hands on the clay, I have no idea what is supposed to happen next, but what I do know is that the clay shouldn’t wobble. It’s wobbling.  My weakling arms shake (tired from being at the gym for the whole 5 minutes earlier) as I try to apply as much pressure as I can down on the clay, but still it isn’t completely centred and looks like a giant lump of bad cottage cheese.

In the midst of my failure I tune into the couple beside me. The guy is awkwardly laughing as he tries to coach some commentary from his date, who is either extraordinary soft spoken or is just completely uninterested. Either way, the conversation seems one sided and I get tense just witnessing it. He keeps drawing attention to the splattered clay on his shorts, saying things like “I hope this washes off” while laughing robotically, still with no response from his date. Sir, didn’t you read the e-mail that specifically said to wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty? I can’t help but retort in my mind. Chelsea seems to be doing just peachy across the way, seated beside the perfectly untrendy but trendy couple in their matching Birkenstock sandals.

Eventually my clay seems somewhat centred despite the subtle wobble, so I try out the next manoeuvre. I think it’s supposed to help warm up the clay? All I know is the instructor did it, therefore I will do it. Apparently by squeezing at the base of the clay with the outside of my hands while pulling up, the clay will rise and form a column. The instructor did it with one smooth movement, but I pull and pull at the clay with both hands repeatedly. The twelve year old inside me is laughing hysterically as I elongate my clay column, the process unfortunately looking like a sexual deed gone wrong.

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When it’s time to squish the column back down, it starts bending to the side like a banana under pressure, and I worry it’s going to blow. I call the instructor over and he comes behind me to lay his uneasy hands over mine in true romantic fashion. Somehow he magically forms my clay back into a perfect puck, and I am free to start making my bowl. Digging my fingers in to make the centre, I try to widen the hole and raise the sides to form the bowl shape. It’s lumpy and uneven and I hate it. Chelsea seems to be having a great time across the way, perfectly happy to repurpose some of her “bowls” as little cups. Birkenstock couple is busy complimenting each other despite producing flower pots rather than bowls, and the female counterpart of the awkward couple is basically a pottery master. Naturally, I take a big gulp of wine.

I make a few more bowls. Throw the clay off centre. Try to centre it and get the wobble out. Pull up the clay into a column. Squash it back down. Make a hole in the middle and start forming the bowl. I make a few good ashtrays. But by the end I come out with something that resembles a bowl. While it may not be soup appropriate, you could probably eat rice out of it.

The class comes to a finish and we select our glazes only after we clean our stations. I am covered in silt. I chug my barely-chilled $9 wine as I stand to stretch, mortified that I was so preoccupied that I forgot my drink. My lower back is aching, reminding me that my 20 minute craft time was actually 3 hours, and it’s now past my bedtime.

When I finally get home (after clipping a few curbs driving Chelsea home in her neighbourhood that is so dark at night we may as well be in the forest) I happily strip off my clay splattered clothing and get into bed. I wish I could say I was good at pottery. The truth is that I sucked. But I tried something new, and maybe if I’m feeling brave I’ll try it again. My glazed bowl will definitely earn a place in my cupboard.

pottery-bowl

* In all seriousness, if you are interested in taking a pottery class I would recommend Hands On Pottery without hesitation.

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