Pottery for Beginners: Liana is at the Wheel!

A few years ago, one of our freelance graphic designers asked me if I had ever heard of the potter Simon Leach. Being a devoted fiber arts nerd, I had never wetted my hands with clay—not even in high school or college art classes—and so naturally I had never heard of Simon. But after she showed me a few of his YouTube videos, I quickly saw why thousands of potters were viewing his basic pottery lessons over and over: Simon Leach is a fantastic pottery teacher.

After roughly a year’s worth of conversations, Simon committed to making a pottery book with us, and we're thrilled that his book is on our Spring 2013 list. Pottery is a brand new category for STC Craft. As many of you know, we started out in 2003 primarily publishing knitting books, and then moved into sewing and quilting. Since then, we’ve branched out into printing, paper crafts, and even terrariums, but a large, comprehensive pottery book is new and exciting territory for us. And because it’s nearly impossible to edit a craft book without first understanding the craft, we decided that I really ought to get my hands dirty and take some pottery lessons

 In most pottery books instructions for throwing pots are broken down into a series of subtle hand movements—the left hand centers the clay on the wheel, the right hand lifts the clay into a cone, the middle and ring finger drill a hole into the center of the cone, and then the fingers pull outward to create walls and open the vessel. For each of these steps, there are accompanying how-to photos, and so—as an editor who had never touched clay before—I felt oddly smug reading through the instructions, thinking well this all makes perfect sense, or well that doesn’t seem so hard. But it wasn’t until I sat down at the wheel that I really understood what it takes to put the practice into action.

My first class was three weeks ago, and I must confess, I am not yet an expert potter. Shocking, I know! Oh, it’s true, I walked into that first class harboring some elaborate dreams that I would be a natural, cranking out perfect, delicate teacups every 15 minutes. But those subtle hand movements were a little trickier to put into practice than they seemed. Despite the initial challenges of my first class, I think you can tell from the photo above that I was having an awfully good time.

Truth be told, as a crafty girl through and through, I love the moment when you really gain respect for a craft. Not to say I didn’t respect pottery before I sat down at the wheel, but I do not think that I appreciated the subtle skill involved, nor did I understand how crucial the role of teacher is in this craft. Without the teacher—whether it’s an in-person instructor, a YouTube video, or a how-to book—we would all be lost!

Each of our classes begins with a demonstration from our instructor, Aimee. Watching an experienced ceramicist throw a pot on the wheel is an absolutely mesmerizing sight. (For that reason alone, you should really go check out Simon Leach’s YouTube videos.) When Aimee does her demo, as shown above, all of the students huddle around her as she expertly guides the clay into the most pleasing shapes, and then uses her throwing stick to trim away the excess clay at the bottom, making a perfectly curved shape. While Aimee's pleasing vessels are the ultimate goal for us aspiring potters, my funky little cylinders and bowls are getting better and better each week. But best of all, my understanding of how to edit the forthcoming Simon Leach’s Pottery Handbook are infinitely improved. As I work my way through this 8-week course, I'll be sure to keep you all up-to-date on my latest creations--be they wonky, cute, or laughable! Ta-Da--one of my first creations!