By Nick Pelling

Some people say that working with clay is addictive. They have got a point but at least it is one of the few addictions that is actually good for you. You can handle it. Literally.

I should admit that I have now been to two of Liz Emtage’s pottery classes at Pelham’s on Kings Road. What makes the process so rewarding is hard to define. The experience works on many levels. Ann, one of the pottery participants put it well: “the activity actually engages all the senses.” At one level there is the sheer pleasure of manipulating clay. Not on a wheel, just there, in front of you. You can draw into it, or impress interesting things into it, like leaves or seeds. And there is also the magic of applying glazes: the liquid glaze is not a reliable guide to what colour will emerge when it comes out of the kiln. You just wait for the volcanic heat to create something utterly unique. But beyond that, there is entirely unexpected stuff. One finds oneself working alongside strangers and conversations can go anywhere. Everything was discussed when I was there: from small town politics to big town politics. Or even problems with ex-partners or just simple things, like the meaning of life and cups of tea. Herbal if you prefer. And there is the smell of lavender. Liz works extensively with plants, seeds and herbs, impressing them into the clay. But people can bring their own textured items to make patterns. The possibilities are limitless. 

Liz is a highly skilled ceramicist whose shop is brim-full of beautiful delicate things: lampshades, teapots, vases and handmade tiles. In addition, she is a great teacher. As another student, Maureen noted, “not all artists are good teachers, but Liz has the patience and the skill.” She also has a good-humoured firmness that keeps people moving in the right direction. Having said that, I should confess that I managed to crack my little pot when it was at its brittle bisque stage (after the first firing) but that says more about my clumsiness than Liz’s tutoring. And rather typically, everyone was very supportive about my minor catastrophe.

Looking at the process as a whole, Maureen commented that there was “something wonderful about the experience of starting at zero” and waiting to see “how it turns out after the second firing”. It is not too much, I think, to say, that the class comes close to being a kind of therapy. You can even have a crack up and feel good.

There are classes coming up in November and December offering a range of possibilities, from porcelain jewellery, such as brooches and necklaces, to garlands and even the humble soap dish. One does not have to be “artistic”, but you will probably surprise yourself. With Christmas coming up, now is surely a great time to risk the addiction and have a lot of fun at the same time. 

For information on the classes go to
To book, email: [email protected]

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