A Lesson in Creative Retreat: Learning Pottery

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There’s a quiet elegance in a carefully designed coffee mug. The contour of the lip to the base. The trajectory of the handle. The varying essence in basic architecture. Perhaps the real beauty of said mug lies in the contents: coffee or tea. The coffee mug in itself is an archetype for the book and cover cliché: an ugly mug, devoid of leaks, still holds good coffee.

By Sarah Kinzbach Williams

There’s a quiet elegance in a carefully designed coffee mug. The contour of the lip to the base. The trajectory of the handle. The varying essence in basic architecture. Perhaps the real beauty of said mug lies in the contents: coffee or tea. The coffee mug in itself is an archetype for the book and cover cliché: an ugly mug, devoid of leaks, still holds good coffee.

Creating the coffee mug can be integral to the experience.

“Anyone can do it, even when they say they aren’t creative,” says Cindy Gomez, owner of local studio Living Water Pottery. Her statement is further proven by my recent foray into pottery creation. My mug is one only a mother could genuinely love. Conveniently, I am in fact that mother and am proud to say the mug is without crack or leak despite some imperfections. Under the tutelage of Gomez, my hands shaped the contour of the body with raw clay on a potter’s wheel and formed the completely asymmetrical handle trajectory with inept artistry. Its quiet elegance is actually completely silent.

The experience of pottery is universal. Pottery, referring to both the art and the ware, has long been studied for clues to the development and condition of ancient societies. The practice has been well preserved and has been modified enough to keep up with today’s modern advances. Pottery created at Living Water can be created as food, microwave, and dishwasher safe.

“There are so many things you can do and make with clay,” says Gomez, who has been practicing pottery off and on for 36 years. “I still haven’t touched the tip of the iceberg of what I can do with the clay. It never gets boring.”

A ceramic or pottery piece begins its journey as a hunk of clay. Before being ready to mold, the clay is “wedged” to remove air pockets and homogenize the material. Wedging is a form of kneading and can be done a number of ways depending on the amount of clay being used.

After wedging, the clay is ready to put on the wheel. Known as “throwing,” the wheeled process takes some acquired coordination but yields tremendous results. Gomez is incredibly skillful at teaching and lending a helping hand to beginners. The process involves speed, pressure, adding moisture, and general multi-tasking. The slightest pressure can restructure the entire piece and a tiny shaving tool can effortlessly form designs and remove excess clay.

As laborious as it sounds, throwing is largely relaxing and meditative. My mug was formed, hollowed out, and designed rather quickly.

Once completed and adorned with extras and designs, the clay mold is allowed to dry and then fired in a large kiln. Firing changes the clay to ceramic and cements the form. The once dark, dank clay changes to coarse, white ceramic and is ready to glaze.

Glazing is the act of painting with very fine glass, or frit. Multiple layers of colorful frit are applied to the naked ceramic and then kiln-fired again. The second firing causes the frit to create a shell and bond to the clay. This process makes the pottery completely functional, as well as food, microwave, and dishwasher safe.

Gomez’s studio provides more than a place to create dishes and works of art. With students ranging from age 5 to 81, it provides an outlet for camaraderie, support, and creativity.

“The thing about a studio setting, you interact with other people. People inspire you and make you feel good about the work you do,” says Gomez. The studio further encourages interaction and inspiration with a tea bar, landscaped patio, and friendly conversation.

Affordable, rewarding, and relaxing, Living Water Pottery will be the place where a matching saucer will someday be created for my precious, albeit aesthetically lacking, coffee mug.

For rates, classes, events, and more information, visit livingwaterpottery.com or call (979) 820-3864.