Working with Clay

I have always loved working with clay.  And so do the participants in the many groups with whom I work.  It is an expressive material, and very relaxing to work with.  It is the most loved material of people who have experienced trauma and grief.  Recently, when I was working with primary school children making tiles, the most common expression I heard about working with clay was “it is so RELAXING”.  Which made me laugh, as I wondered about the level of tension and anxiety in their little lives.

So it is with the two groups of children here.  They love the clay and it brings out their creativity more than using any other material we have worked with, so far.

Bhaktapur is a pottery town.  It is about artisan crafts more than about creativity and about the wheel-work rather than hand-building.

We started our clay projects with the Unatti Girls by creating coil pots.  This traditional hand-building method can be applied to creating large and small pots.  This method of creating pots is a great way to introduce new students to some of the foundations of working with clay, such as, rolling coils and joining clay to withstand firing.  The technique lends itself to a creative touch in shape and decoration.  We were all totally so immersed in the activity that I was totally shocked to realise that we had overrun our workshop time.

In Nepal art materials are not readily available and they are expensive.  We have no clay tools other than our fingers – which in my opinion are among the best tools anyway, and a few sticks shaped with a Stanley knife.  It certainly is Make Do here!

Other projects with the Unatti girls have focussed on using the figure.  Before starting with clay we had spent a few sessions drawing from the figure, so the girls’ awareness of how the body moves, its joints and expressions, were fresh in their minds.  I showed them Antony Gormley’s wondrous and extraordinary community art projects in clay “The Field” as an inspiration to create lots of art works together.

I was delighted to see the children at the art centre bring their full attention to our first clay project together – mask making.  It was the first time we had seen everyone in the group immersed in their project and also the first time we had seen most of the children take an idea and make it their own without copying from my demonstration piece or from eachother.  It felt like a turning point.  Subsequently I showed them how to create a coil pot and as each child had nearly completed theirs, I showed them some decorating techniques.  We saw a wonderful collection of pots emerge – with lids, chopsticks, flowers and decorations – and in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Clay is a very relaxing medium.  I was delighted to see just how calming and focussing it is for these children, some of whom usually take a lot of corralling to keep on task.  I was also thrilled to see their imaginations firing and their creativity flowing into their artworks.

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