Are you Different?

While unloading a kiln today, on a holiday weekend, I was thinking about my students attitude towards clay.

It constantly surprises me when new students become "over excited" about clay. 

Sometimes I forget how I first felt over 40 years ago, when I first started my own clay journey.

I began seriously working with clay at a time when I was developing a sense of my own identity as a teenager.

(image: c. 1973)

Initially pottery / clay sculpture, was within Art at school, although somehow I ended up taking it as two subjects.

(image: c. 1979)

Then at teacher's college I specialised in Art and Craft,  but negotiated to major in ceramics, and live across the road to the studio with out of hours access.


(image: Subiaco dining table 1989)

Later I attended evening hobby classes at Subiaco and Applecross TAFE, and also made at home.

Then I went back to university and retrained as a professional, specialist ceramic, or clay, artist

Now, my private hobby is also my public occupation.

A few creations :) at Wellman St Studio 1999

The result is that is impossible to mentally separate myself from my occupation.  

It is what I do, regardless of likely income or day of the week.

It is a ritualistic part of who I am, and what I do.

Consequently it is very difficult to stop myself from doing something "clay-ish" everyday.

Even if I don't go to the studio to doodle, make or fire, I find myself reading, thinking, writing (case in point), uploading,  ordering, researching or talking about clay.  

Clay is just an everyday thing for me.  It is an extension of me.

I don't know anything else.

What's your experience?

The studio artists and students sometime discuss their art/clay experience.  

I summarise some of these below.

Which of these do you relate to?

Are you a neophiliac?

For many students, clay is somewhat different.

 It is a completely new experience.

This is initially, as well regularly as they become more ambitious with the medium and their ideas.

Personally, I have found I have to make a new idea an average six times, before I succeed.

Novel experiences demand our complete attention.

It provides something that appears to be missing from our lives.  I'm unsure whether this is just because the we enter the "zone", or "being in the groove", where we are completely and deeply focused on what we are making.  This is a deeply satisfying experience and when we exit it, we often feel considerably refreshed.  Doesn't satisfying work give you this?

Novelty-seeking is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age,” according to research by psychiatrist C. Robert Cloninger.

TLC anyone?

There is a theory that all art is therapy.

It is a solitary activity (despite often being carried out in a social environment) which forces our minds to settle, and focus more closely on what we're doing, feeling, thinking and then express it.

Creative self expression is seen as beneficial, a sort of uncorking of the bottle.

It may be a lifesaver in an overcrowded, high pressure, time poor, competitive urban environment.

(Spending most of my life making things in clay, I personally have no idea of it's impact.)


Because it is hands on, using both hands and often all parts of them, it must engage more of the brain.

 This is in a contrast to much of our work life where, via the narrow, physically limited pen, keyboard or mouse, we focus only scratching out / typing single letters, words, abstract symbols or ideas.

Clay is tactile, sensual, and sometimes sexual experience.

Plus for those more ambitious with scale, it provides a healthy, and creative physical workout.  Try it.


The majority of people buy everything they need from complete strangers.  Everything  that they eat, wear and use, is coldly standardised and mass machine produced in the millions.

An "alienation of/by objects"?

Potters sometimes use this argument for why people should buy their handmade wares:

we have a personal and emotional (some say spiritual) relationship to handmade objects around us.

I suggest an even better solution to "alienation of/by objects":

Make them yourself.

There must be a huge difference in a life lived surrounded with objects handmade by others, compared to being surrounded with objects you've make yourself.

They might not be expertly made, but you'll feel much better, while making them.

Moreover that feeling may surpass the satisfaction of looking at, and using them.

Escape to the country?

I grew up on a farm where we grew and made much of what we ate, wore and used.  Living on a remote and sometimes isolated farm we grew / harvested / hunted mutton, beef, grain, venison, eggs, milk, trout, salmon, ells, wool, honey, wood and so on.  Moreover, we processed our food and fibre, built fences, gates and even complex farm machines, repaired and serviced them.  so I have no romantic ideas about the long hours and hard labour, that a handmade life entailed.

Third Room?

A studio becomes a space separate from your work and domestic responsibilities and commitments.

This creates a mental window enabling you to bring more space or a refreshed perspective in a hamster-wheel or rat-race existence.

2nd, 3rd, 4th childhood?

Clay may enable you to reconnect with the child within, or revisit your childhood.  Reconnect with a joyful, playful part of yourself.  Regular exposure  rekindles a playful attitude, and develops lateral thinking fitness.

My own primary focus in the studio, is on the satisfaction that comes from making, rather than having and using objects that I have made.  Perhaps, as a child I became addicted to the satisfaction that comes from making things with my hands, rather than possessing handmade things (mind you, in the past I renovated a house, and it was difficult to leave).


When physical contact has become restricted, or overloaded with significance, guilt, tight social codes, conventions and uncertainty, it may be tremendously liberating to push, pull, fondle, stroke, poke, slam, slip and slop clay.

Just zero anxiety / guilt free clay play.

Even more fun, sharing with others doing the same.

Like me?

Classes voluntarily bring together like minded people.

Because I provide a flexible attendance framework, you only come when you want to, just like professional artists.

You only attend when you are feeling happy, healthy, receptive and sociable.

The resulting ethos is more conducive to create activity, compared to more regimented classes.

An environment making you more receptive to learning, particularly self-directed (creative) learning.

My buzz, your buzz?

Of course I get excited when telling others about paper clay.

It has make my life, and others, so much easier, compared to conventional,  “conservative” clay.

Described by past students and writers as a "passion", it excites and inspires others.

Which brings me back to my new students excitement about clay.

I also feed on your enthusiasm for clay,

which reminds me not to take it for granted my own early love of clay, and it's personal impact over 40 years.

What effect has clay had on you?  


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