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.
Pottery and Ceramics Studios in London
Linda Zeff Pottery and Sculpture Studio
If you live in North London (or don’t mind riding there a couple of days a week), you can take in the teachings of Linda Zeff, a potter and sculptor who has been running her studio for 25 years.
If you’ve never so much as played with modelling clay – in other words, you have no experience in shaping, turning, firing or glazing clay, Linda stands ready to teach you.
On the other hand, if you have any degree of experience, maybe you’ve painted ceramic mugs for family members or perhaps you can competently throw a pot, Linda is prepared to share her quarter-century of experience in clay art.
You could even try your hand at sculpting under her tutelage; she has vast knowledge in this art form as well.
If you have already tasted the joy of creating pottery, you might be interested in learning Nerikomi, the Japanese technique of working with coloured clay.
That word translates directly into English as ‘kneading’. It is the practice of creating patterns of coloured clay; you might be familiar with the result called ‘agateware’.
A little closer to central London, on Blackburn Road, you will find Clay Time, a not-for-profit community interest concern that hosts classes for potters of all ages, including children.
Clay Time is one of the few studios we’ve found that teaches Nerikomi.
If you feel you aren’t quite ready to tackle such an exotic process, you might start your clay learning adventure by first painting your unique design on a bisque piece – anything from the traditional tile to enticing animal shapes, and then pick up more complex skills like hand-building, coiling and carving from a slab.
Naturally, you and your kids can try your hand at the potter’s wheel at Clay Time, too.
Wouldn’t it be great to make clay jewellery for all of your friends and family for Christmas this year? Guided by the instructors at Clay Time, nothing says you can’t!
Besides, pottery lessons are a great gift to yourself and your whole family any time of the year.
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.
Find art classes near me on Superprof.
Leeds Pottery and Ceramics Lessons
There is an ongoing debate over whether the educational model that drives public and private schools all over the world is truly the best way for people to learn. After all, students of all stripes learn differently… so why are they all taught in the same way?
Enter Swarthmore, a centre for lifelong learning, whose educational philosophy entails inclusion of every learner and involving learners in activities that will promote their personal growth and esteem.
It then comes as no surprise that Swarthmore hosts pottery classes exclusively for learners who are other-abled.
If you or someone you know requires a supported environment, rest assured that pottery classes at Swarthmore will accommodate. There, you/they will learn how to work with clay through a variety of techniques.
You/they may gain confidence through the creative process and getting hands-on to make recognisable objects used in everyday life – cups, plates, ornaments and decorations.
Swarthmore provides all of the tools, equipment and materials; all you need to bring is enthusiasm and a desire to learn… and that holds true for its many other pottery courses, too.
You may, for instance, opt for Swarthmore's family pottery course, a series of lessons targeted to caregivers and school-aged children. Here again, everything is provided; all you need to bring is an old shirt or apron and a readiness to learn.
Besides families and supported courses, Swarthmore hosts pottery lessons for beginners and experienced potters. They also have what might be termed limited courses in pottery, for example how to use a pottery wheel.
Swarthmore is located just west of Leeds city centre, on Woodhouse Square. Please be advised that there are no parking facilities on campus during daytime hours; if your class is scheduled before 5:00 pm, you might consider walking or biking from the City Centre.
One remarkable standout of Leeds' pottery offerings is 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.
Other Pottery and Ceramic Classes in Manchester
Like Swarthmore in Leeds, the Arts for Recovery in the Community – ARC Studios focus on wellness and rehabilitation through art. Of course, you don’t have to be in need of rehabilitation to take part in a class with them; seeking wellness and a desire to learn new skills are reasons enough.
ARC’s facility is in Stockport, to the southeast of Manchester on Wellington Road.
If you are purely Mancunian you might consider that, for all that ARC has to offer, it would be well worth the trip there. No need to take our word for it, though; you might try a taster course to see for yourself that making regular trips to Stockport is worth your while.
Those one-off lessons allow you to get your hands just deep enough into the clay to decide whether you would like to pursue clay art as a serious creative outlet or just an occasional pastime that might later turn into a passion.
Most aspiring clay artists take the plunge right away, signing up for ARC's six-week pottery course.
In each two-hour session, you will be exposed to new techniques – everything from coiling to extruding clay, rounding out with painting your piece and having it fired.
The whole family is welcome at ARC! Bring children as young as 5 to for their initiation into clay art; you might be surprised at how well kids take to pinching, moulding and shaping.
Besides, they’re probably much keener to get dirty than you are.
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.
Where You Can Learn Pottery in Birmingham
Tucked away on Hall Street in the Jewellery Quarter, among all the restaurants and shops you will find an oasis of tranquillity: Pavlov Ceramics.
Chris, the resident ceramics artist, takes a holistic approach to creating with clay. He melds form with functionality to yield stunning pieces that, while suitable for everyday use could rightly take their place in any art gallery.
And he wants to teach you his approach to working with clay – not just how to throw a pot but a fundamental way of thinking about the earthen material you work with.
Whether you choose to attend a taster session, a weekend workshop or sign on for a full 6-week course, you will be treated to the talent and mastery of this dedicated artist who holds an almost reverent regard for his medium.
While you may not share his philosophical views of clay, you are more than welcome to pick up on his skills at working it, learning little tips and hacks for rendering the perfect body along the way.
And nothing says you can’t at least contemplate his thoughts on elemental clay. Who knows? You might come to see it in the same light that he does.
In part owing to his philosophy on working with clay, courses are open only to people over 18. Still, for all of his mastery and seriousness, that doesn’t mean you won’t have fun in class.
Perhaps not the same type of fun that you might have at a hen party hosted at Sundragon Pottery, but fun – like ceramics, comes in all different sizes, shapes and colours, doesn’t it?
Besides Pavlov and Sundragon, 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!
Glasgow Lessons in Ceramics and Pottery
As with just about any other art enterprise in Glasgow, you are spoilt for choice when looking for pottery and ceramics lessons; the Craft Pottery studio proves that point.
Within walking distance of the River Clyde, on Washington Street, you will find their brightly lit, cheerful studio and welcoming instructors. Indeed, they welcome pottery students of all ages, six and above.
For safety reasons, the youngest clay artists will not use the pottery wheels but peers two years their seniors might enjoy a sampler lesson alongside their caregivers.
If your child would like more than just to sample working with clay of an afternoon, you might enrol them in Craft Pottery’s 4-week course that starts with learning hand-building techniques and progresses to wheel work.
Should you want lessons for yourself or another adult, the class offerings are the same except the full-on course lasts five weeks. Should you want to prolong your lessons, your next 5-week course would include more exacting work such as adding detail and trimming, and learning how to glaze.
What if you’re looking for a place to host a one-of-a-kind event – maybe a hen party, birthday party or a team-building exercise for your employees? Craft Pottery has you covered, and not just on parties for adults: you could also host children’s parties there.
Coiling, hand-building and painting are typical at such events but you also have the option of renting the studio for a bit longer for your guests to try their hand at the pottery wheel.
Be sure to remind your guests that old clothes would be more suitable than stylish party threads when you invite them!
Unusually, Craft welcomes you to bring party food and drinks but advise that working with wet clay does not mesh well with finger foods, so be careful what you plan to serve!
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?