On Sunday afternoon, my boyfriend and I walked over to the Sunken Studio for a session of pottery throwing. The studio is located just behind the Crown Point shopping centre, within easy walk of Leeds City Centre. There’s parking right outside for those travelling from further afield.
I’d seen that the studio was offering classes a couple of months ago, but it was only recently that I was able to find a class that I was available to attend and that was suitable. I opted for the beginners’ pottery throwing class and purchased spots for me and my boyfriend, who is also a complete beginner – neither of us had sat at a pottery wheel before.
The first thing we did was to have a look around at all the work that had been produced by other students as well as by staff members. We both loved the iconic Sunken Studio cups and mugs that were simple in their designs and had been glazed beautifully.
Then it was time to begin, so we headed over to our pottery wheels. The session we’d picked ran from 2:30 to 5pm. There were 6 students, each one given a bucket of clay, neatly cut into rounds, as well as a set of tools, a rag, some water and a special pottery apron that also covered the legs.
After a few minutes of chatting and getting kitted out in our aprons, we headed to the front of the studio, where the instructor showed us how to shape the clay, centring it in on the tile in the middle of the wheel, and making sure it was running true. He gave us a demonstration of the steps needed to create a cylinder and he made it look easy. But when we all went back to our wheels and gave it a go, we soon realised it was anything but. I was the first to see my clay fly off the wheel as the wheel span much faster and in the opposite direction to what I expected. Most others also found the initial shaping and centring process difficult, and it took numerous circles of clay for us each to figure out how to get our clay to do what we wanted it to.
As we worked through our clay, the instructor made his way around the group, giving each of us pointers and tips on how we could improve our technique or solve issues we were facing. At intermittent points throughout the class, the instructor also redemonstrated skills and stages in the process of making the cylinder. I was grateful for the repeated demonstrations as there was a lot to take in. Although it was challenging, I thought it was fun working on the clay and figuring out how to get it to move how I wanted it to.
It was also great to chat with other students and see what everyone was creating. One of the students seemed to have developed a knack for bowls, creating a series of differently sized vessels. Another student, who seemed to like to keep the wheel spinning faster than the rest of us, was struggling to get the clay to move as she wanted, but after several goes did succeed, and it was uplifting to see how overcoming that struggle really lifted her mood and boosted her confidence.
After a couple of hours of throwing, the class ended, and we had to pick our favourite two items. These two would be fired and glazed for us. I picked one of my most mug-shaped pieces and a little jug piece which had been made as a happy accident. Neither of the pieces was perfect, but both had been fun to make and I liked that they were unique. My boyfriend picked a small coffee mug that he had crafted as well as his most cylindrical shaped item that he is hoping I will be able to use for hot chocolates.
Once we’d picked our items, we all helped with cleaning the equipment and clearing away. Although it wasn’t the most glamorous job, and certainly wasn’t easy (the equipment was pretty dirty after 2 hours of clay being thrown on it), it was nice to feel responsible for the everything that we’d used, and also to see that all the clay that we’d practiced on could be recycled and used again.
After we’d cleaned up and had a chance to fully wash our hands and arms, my boyfriend and I shared some of the doughnuts that we’d made in the Leeds Cookery School doughnut-making class that we had attended just a couple of hours before the pottery. All the pottery students and instructor were really happy to share our doughnuts and were grateful for the pick me up after what had been a pretty intense couple of hours of learning and crafting.
We will have to go back to the studio to pick up our pieces in a month’s time after they have been fired and glazed, which will certainly be a good excuse to look out for another class in September.
I would thoroughly recommend giving the pottery classes at the Sunken Studio a go if you’re looking for something different to do, or if you want to try out a new creative venture. My boyfriend and I both had a brilliant afternoon and we’re already looking forward to heading back to the studio for another session.
Photographs by Gemma Bridge.