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Pottery Workshop, 8th Floor Studio: Like a delicate hollandaise, handle your clay with careful, tender care

Last Updated: February 4, 2021

Written by Vera Leng

If you don’t already know, I’m on a personal mission to conquer crafts across as many different mediums as possible. Jesmonite and yarn have been struck off my list, and so clay comes as a no-brainer for someone who adores ceramics as much as me.

Store front of 8th Floor Studio

Pottery, like many other forms of crafts, will see you moulding, shaping, and concentrating a great deal, but what many don’t realise is the delicate, precise strokes that lie behind the gorgeous coveted ceramic work that many know and love.

Set up of our workshop tonight

Helmed by OG visual artist Alvin Tan Yuan Kiat, The 8th Floor Creative Space provides a safe avenue for students and learners alike to both express and impress—complete with all the equipment needed for wedging, glazing, and firing; jargon we’ll get into in just a bit.

Getting started — Wheel throwing

Alvin briefing us before we start

Alvin briefing us before we start

We’re hand-coached by none other than Alvin himself—expertise and experience floweth over; and us humble amateurs are geared and ready to learn as much as we possibly can.

Balls of clay have already been wedged—that is, processed and prepared to become more malleable and uniform in consistency, prior to our visit. Each student is bestowed with five balls of clay, Alvin explains, because not every piece of work lives to see success nor survives the firing and glazing process. Think of the other four balls as insurance clay, so to speak.

My long-standing curiosity as to how the process got its name is satiated tonight. For the uninitiated, a hefty clay ball is fiercely slapped against our potter’s wheel that’s first wet with a sponge. One shouldn’t be fooled, however, by this seemingly frivolous step.

Not only does it require a great deal of strength, it also sets the precedent for how centered your clay is in the process to come, which, spoiler alert, should be as consolidated as possible.

Alvin demonstrating shaping to us

Alvin demonstrating shaping to us

Getting the potter’s wheel going can be likened to driving, as Alvin elegants puts it—you want it at a steady pace that’s fast enough to work with, but controlled enough without the clay spinning out of control. Wheels nowadays are often electric in nature, so rest assured that the hand-leg coordination isn’t going to be anything you can’t manage.

Centering

Before the heavy lifting really begins, the foundation of your clay has to be set right because it determines how effortless (or effortful, for that matter) the rest of your pottery journey’s going to be. So trust me when I say you’re going to want to centre your clay as much as you possibly can for a smooth, even moulding process—don’t make an otherwise relaxing activity any more challenging than it has to be.

A ball of clay on my potter's wheel

My centred clay

Without centred clay, your piece will constantly be putting up a struggle as you fight to shape it, and boy do we have enough of resistant children in our lives as it is. You don’t want uneven, imbalanced clay silhouettes in addition to life’s increasing battles.

During my first few attempts, I desperately dial Alvin on the lifeline to help salvage my terribly off-centre clay, but when it’s down to the last two pieces, the process gets seemingly more manageable. It really helps to use your entire body weight to shift the clay in motion; and that’s when I learnt that pottery really involves you using whatever you possibly can to be one with the clay. A full body workout if you will.

Pinching in & shaping

Alvin pinching into clay

Alvin pinching into clay

Now that the first hurdle’s overcome, the second one lurks in wait. Using only the balls of my thumbs, I gently begin to pinch the clay in from the centre out, mindful to keep a gradual pace. Stretch the clay too thin, and it might just tear—at this point, you’re pretty much past the point of no return and the ball of clay is deemed unsalvageable, and has to be processed and wedged all over again before reuse.

Alvin showing us shaping like a pro

Alvin showing us shaping like a pro

Not only is pottery a whole workout, it requires mad multitasking skills too. While your foot keeps the wheel at a steady rhythm, your palms and thumb are ever shaping and moulding, and even the slightest shift in position can send a ripple effect across your entire piece of work, completely altering its shape, depth, and height altogether.

The first few moments at the shaping stage might present themselves as completely stressful—ruining and deeming your clay unusable is the last thing that you want. But it can also be the most relaxing, satisfying portion of the whole process. Once you’ve gotten the hang of working with the medium, you’ll find your shoulders easing up as all that pent up creative energy takes over.

Alvin shaping a tall vase

Alvin showing us how it’s truly done

Quite literally, let yourself be the embodiment of the “no thoughts, head empty” meme. It’s comforting of sorts to be alone with my own thoughts and enjoy the serenity of the studio, where it’s just the clay and I. At this point of the evening, I’m beginning to see why many seek respite in crafting their own pottery pieces—it’s like therapy without the nosy questions, if you know what I mean.

Trimming

As lost in thoughts as one may be, practicing restraint is also a big part of pottery. One too many times, my craft companion conscientiously shapes and moulds only for pieces of her work to tear and break off toward the end because it’s been overworked. Think of it as a delicate hollandaise sauce—you want to whip it just right, but not so much that it breaks.

Our finished pieces

Our finished pieces

When I decidedly agree that the work is done, transferring it off the wheel comes as my very last challenge. Using only a humble string wire tool, I simply cleanly slice the base of my work to separate it from the wheel, and run through it twice because I’m kiasu like that. As the cherry on top, I carve my initials into an inconspicuous corner of my piece for identification purposes, and just like that, I send my newly shaped pottery babies for firing.

Close up of a finished piece of work

Close up of a finished piece of work

Biscuit & glaze firing

You know the part of the consent form when it says “do not sign, for official use only”? This pretty much sums up the biscuit firing and glaze firing steps at 8th Floor. Students like me don’t handle this portion for the simple reason that the pieces are dealt with at extreme high temperatures—950 degree celsius for biscuit firing, and 1200 degree celsius for glaze firing to be exact.

Examples of glaze colouring

Unless you want to feel like the flames of hell are licking you every five seconds, it’s best to leave this step to the pros. After cooling down and setting for more than 24 hours, my pieces are ready to be brought home and settled into their new home.

Final thoughts

A shelf of finished works by students

While I doubt I’ll be rushing to make space for a potter’s wheel and kilt in my home anytime soon, it’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the craft. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s not the last that pottery has seen of me, but I can understand why some would be put off by the sheer logistical nightmare than it can be especially as a beginner.

If anything, trying my hand at it has only grown my appreciation and adoration for potters and visual artists in general—seeing how much effort, time, and skill that go into the work that they do. I might not evolve to be the next John Glick any time soon, but I will always support the ceramics industry; ever admiring, ever purchasing.


For more crafts stories, read our Jesmonite experience with Chokmah and Punch Needling workshop at Hueplay.

Price: $ $ $

Our Rating: 5 / 5

8th Floor Creative Space

37 Lorong 23 Geylang, Yu Li Industrial Building, #08-03 , Singapore 388371

Price
Our Rating 5/5

8th Floor Creative Space

37 Lorong 23 Geylang, Yu Li Industrial Building, #08-03 , Singapore 388371

Operating Hours: 1.30pm - 5.15pm & 6.45pm - 10pm (Tue to Sat), 1.30pm - 5.00pm (Sun), Closed on Mon & PH

Operating Hours: 1.30pm - 5.15pm & 6.45pm - 10pm (Tue to Sat), 1.30pm - 5.00pm (Sun), Closed on Mon & PH
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