Very little of the way humans lived some 50,000 years ago remains today.
They were nomadic hunter-gatherers; we mostly live settled lives. Very few modern humans from those time communicated in writing, let alone had seen any writing in any form. By contrast, our entire world is shaped by words, written or otherwise.
Today, scientists estimate that the human capacity for language developed around 50,000 years ago.
Early modern humans, the first homo sapiens, stood at the dawn of discovery – especially of the world around them. Today, we explore the earth and the cosmos at the quantum level.
For all of the differences – the evolution and discoveries that humans have made along the way, it’s remarkable to note that the methods used to create some of the most significant expressions of the human experience have remained unchanged.
The Lascaux Caves in France are an excellent example of the human need to beautify one’s surroundings and express one’s vision. Astonishingly, many of the pigments and techniques used in creating these works of art are not so different than the ones painters use today.
Another fine example of an art practice that has continued virtually unchanged for millennia is pottery: the oldest clay figurine in history dates back 45,000 years.
Clay was used then as it is today: to make bricks and mortar, to make food safe and as a medium in studio art.
Today, creating works of art out of clay is enjoying a bit of a revival; many who seek to disconnect from the stress of modern life turn to the pottery wheel; a great outlet for tension as well as creativity.
Have you been gazing longingly in the window of your local pottery studio? Have you too wished to get your hands on a lump of clay, be it ribbons forced out of an extruder or slip to pour into moulds?
Have you too watched the pottery scene in the film Ghost and wondered if you could make vases without them flopping?
If any of these situations describe you – or if the thought of making pottery never entered your mind but now you’re curious, Superprof now discloses some of the best pottery courses in the UK.
Grab your apron and clay tools; let's see what we can find!
Pottery Classes in London
The trick to finding the right pottery lessons in London is to know what you’re looking for.
In broad terms, you could say that clay art falls into two main categories: wheel thrown or from a slab. If you had a choice, which would you prefer?
There is also slip casting – pouring liquid clay into a mould that we mentioned in this article’s intro but its processes are very different from the other two.
Throwing and sculpting, the two main categories in terms of clay art, follow the same basic steps:
- Shaping the clay body: whether on a wheel or carved from a slab, you have to give the clay form.
- Firing: this is called bisquing or biscuit firing; you put the dried clay body into the kiln.
- Glazing: you may apply paint (called underglaze) to your bisque or only a clear glaze for more of a natural look
- Refiring: another round in the kiln bonds the glaze to the clay at the molecular level.
There is quite a bit of science that goes into creating a beautiful earthenware work of art or a delicate raku piece. For that matter, the same applies to stoneware dishes and the fine china everyone in the family considers an heirloom.
Before searching for a ceramic studio in London that you can take pottery lessons in, you need to ask yourself: do you want to learn everything about clay composition, kiln specifications and the unlimited potential for artistic expression using clay as a medium?
Or did you just want to try things out to see if a life of clay is for you?
Pottery Courses in Leeds
In lighthearted, fun-loving Leeds, the emphasis in on pottery painting. That’s not to say that Leodensians are incapable of being serious or taking a disciplined approach to ceramic art creation; quite to the contrary!
We suspect that it is Leeds' status as ‘second city’ - being our country’s second centre of finance and law that shapes the need for relaxing, amusing activities.
In fact, most of the ‘paint your own pottery’ venues we investigated placed their emphasis on creating a fun, unforgettable experience for their visitors.
One remarkable standout to these pottery painting offerings was the number of clay artists whose studios feature corporate team building events – a telling indication that the corporate culture dominates life in Leeds.
Naturally, those same venues also host girls’ night out events and birthday parties; not everything in this Yorkshire city is targeted to people's working lives.
There are even wheel throwing classes and pottery taster sessions for those who’ve never had the joy of working with clay; you can learn all about them in our companion article.
Pottery Lessons in Manchester
We are now treading dangerously close to England’s historical pottery centre: halfway between this vibrant city and The Brum, lies the epicentre of clay works for the whole country.
That doesn’t mean that Manchester clay artists all emulate Royal Doulton china patterns; in fact, they are quite unique in their artistic expression... and, for some reason, they seem to love the number seven!
Did you know that Royal Doulton’s original studio was in Vauxhall and only later moved to Stoke-on-Trent, to compete with the other ceramics works based there?
Particularly this time of year, when the weather turns gloomy and cold, it is a fine time to head into the ceramic studio. Not only could you make one of a kind ceramic gifts for everyone on your holiday list but the warmth generated by the kilns is sure to keep you cosy as you work.
You could make holiday ornaments, too...
Our investigation of pottery studios in Manchester turned up several enticing possibilities to learn ceramic art in a working studio. A shining example of such is The Potters Barn.
There, you can find all manner of ceramics classes, from wheel throwing to raku pottery. If you prefer hand-buildling – working the clay by hand, they will be happy to teach you those skills, too.
Manchester ceramic artists do not assume that everyone entering their studio wants to dedicate their life to the visual arts (or maybe they are aware that people might not be sure pottery is for them).
To that end, the studios we looked at all offer tasting sessions, one-off pottery classes and workshops. Discover them all in our in-depth article on pottery classes in Manchester!
Find Your Pottery Tutor in Birmingham
Did you know that, during the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham (and especially nearby Stoke-on-Trent) were known as The Workshop of the World?
Big-name ceramic and porcelain factories fired the finest bone china pieces there; everything from serving platters to teapots were – and continue to be turned out there.
Taking a pottery class in Birmingham does not automatically put you in competition with the likes of Spode; indeed, their very proximity might spur you to create unique underglazes to adorn your ceramic art with.
To find the best classes for pottery making, we direct you to the best resource available: the Midlands Potters Association.
This is a group of experienced ceramic artists who can help you find exactly the courses you’re looking for, be they to learn wheel-thrown pottery, ceramic sculpture or glazing techniques.
Otherwise, you might direct yourself to our expanded list of resources to make pottery in Birmingham.
The Best Pottery Courses in Glasgow
The art and craft of pottery has deep roots in Scotland.
Archaeologists have unearthed decorated pottery that dates back to the third millennium BC in the Orkney Islands. Various settlements, such as Skara Brae and Knap of Howar reveal intricate knowledge of building techniques as well as pottery art.
Two distinct styles of pottery from that region have been catalogued: grooved ware and Unstan ware, each bearing recognisably different markings.
Granted, Glasgow is not exactly next door to Orkney but Glaswegian potters uphold the tradition of Scottish pottery nevertheless.
To find the best adult classes in Glasgow – or, for that matter, classes for kids, you would be well served by checking in with the Scottish Potters Association.
If you’re serious about learning and practising the ceramic arts in Glesga, you may even consider becoming a member!
Plenty of UK cities have ceramic artists, hard at work and keen to share their knowledge.
The five metropoli featured in this article are just the tip of the iceberg; with a bit of luck, you too may fulfil your dream of sitting at a potter’s wheel and reaching your full creative potential.
Let us know how you get on, will you?