Need a Life Lesson or Two? Try Pottery.

Shelly McIntosh
Sep 19 · 6 min read

Arts classes can teach life lessons and form friendships.

Garden wall tree art — artwork and photo by the author.

I do pottery. I love it. It’s very relaxing; it takes me to another planet. Eva Herzigova


Have you ever taken a pottery class? An entry-level class? One where you aren’t graded or expected to magically know about firing temperatures? I never considered it until my 50s.

If I had known how much I’d like having my hands in clay, I could have fit in a community class here and there

Of course, I had a full life before my 50s. I was working, having kids, marrying twice, divorcing once, and all those other things you do in your 20s, 30s, and 40s.

If I had known how much I’d like having my hands in clay, I would have fit in a community class here and there. It is difficult to see where, though. Those years were busy.

Once you are able to carve out time for old and new hobbies, I recommend doing so. I have gotten so many benefits from working with clay.

Stress relief.

Shaping and forming clay with your bare hands is therapeutic. After my mother died, I hesitated to return to my ceramics class right away.

After a few days, I decided to try it. I remember standing in the yard, looking at the door into the studio and thinking I should just go home. I wasn’t ready.

I took a deep breath and walked in with my supplies. My friends in class greeted me with warmth and sympathy. Then I grabbed my clay and put my hands on it. As my fingers moved through it, rolling it out flat, the magic washed over me.

Maybe the Wiccans have the right idea about nature. They like to be in physical touch with it. They value it.

Even though I was in a modern ceramics studio in the suburbs, holding the clay in my hands was touching a bit of nature. The clay was processed, of course, but it could be traced right back to the ground.

At some point in the past, this clay was dug up. Eventually, it made its way to me. There I sat, touching a part of the Earth. That might be it.

It also may be the tactile nature of working with clay. It feels good. Even to a woman who isn’t crazy about dirty, messy hands. Working in clay removes all those concerns. It is fun.

Pottery has an easy entry point.

Who hasn’t played with Play-Doh as a child? Remember the satisfaction in making something with it? Remember how easy it was to smash that something and roll it up so you could make something else?

That is the beauty of clay as an artistic medium. When you draw and then erase your pencil marks, it is impossible to remove all signs of the sketch. When you paint, it isn’t easy to remove a mistake. With watercolor, you may as well start over.

Clay can be thrown on a mechanical wheel. As it turns, the pottery shapes in your hands. Clay can also be hand-built. Bowls, trays, vases and other items can be made either way. Sculpture is usually made by hand building.

Whichever method the artesian prefers, the nature of clay remains. If the work doesn’t create joy or at least satisfaction, the clay can be pounded back into a lump. Then it is ready to be shaped again. No harm, no foul.

Socialization

I began taking a local community class offered by my city a couple of years after years of pain and, finally, back surgery. By that time I was an empty nester. Once I recovered from surgery, I needed a social outlet.

I wasn’t going back to office work. There is remaining nerve damage and a job outside the home would be difficult. I needed something.

Mosaics was my first tentative step into the artistic community in my area. I loved it. As part of that class, our instructor taught us how to make ceramic tiles to use in our work.

I was hooked. The ceramic program welcomed me and I’ve been there ever since.

The students and instructors have been friendly, generous, and entertaining. Going to class is joyful and fun. Everyone helps each other with ideas and suggestions. People joke and share information.

We have introverts and extroverts in class. Extroverts tend to talk more. The introverts joke and chatter, too, though. Just less loudly.

Sometimes a new student will come in with earbuds and listen to music. After a couple of classes, they usually find the conversation is more fun than isolation.

Creative outlet.

How many of us desire a creative outlet? Something to take us away from the everyday.

Writing and hand quilting helps with my need to create but they are solo arts. They don’t get me out of the house to socialize.

Ceramics does both. I am able to be creative and learn new skills on a weekly basis while making and nurturing friendships. There is a sense of satisfaction once a piece is prepared for firing.

Watching that piece unloaded can be a special kind of joy. Of course, if something went wrong, it can be a huge let down as well.

That is part of the excitement, I suspect. We never know if something will crack in the firing, or if it will emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon.

My butterflies have thrilled me. The failures have gone in the trash with regret.

Patience can be learned.

The regret doesn’t last long. There is more clay to be shaped. As I taught the girls in my old Girl Scout troop:

There is no failure. We just learned how not to do it. Time to try again.

Seeing my ceramic pieces move through the process from wet clay to a glazed fired object can help. The various stages:

  • A lump of clay being shaped.
  • The shaped item drying.
  • The dried item being bisque fired. This is a low-temperature firing.
  • The item being glazed.
  • The glazed item fired. This can be low, medium or high-temperature firing. It depends on the firing temperature of the clay and glazes involved.
  • Unloading the finished item from the kiln.

Pottery is not an instant art form. It is not Play-Doh. The final form can be worth every moment spent on the various stages or it can go straight into the dumpster.

Even pieces tossed in the dumpster have informed us and helped on our journey. It has given us the opportunity to try it again.

In that way, the process of pottery can be a metaphor for life. Dump any cracked pieces you don’t want in the dumpster. Try again.

Planter — planter and the photo by the author.

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Shelly McIntosh

Written by

Living my best life as an empty nester. I write of personal experiences, aging, curate my ongoing dialog with my cats, and cover other miscellaneous topics.

The Partnered Pen

MPP friends writing about life, love, and everything else in between together.

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