What better way to immortalise you fur babies than to create a clay sculpture in their image?
The invitation to join Northcote Pottery Supplies
to make mini pet sculptures, was too good to be true. What better way to spend a Friday night than to be surrounded by photographs of my own dogs, and to embark on the alchemical process of turning them into clay sculptures? Not only is this a great way to immortalise your fur family, but it is a thoroughly compelling artistic-meditative adventure into a truly tactile world.
In this workshop participants made cats and dogs in a variety of poses.
Northcote Pottery (NPS) suggest that you take along photos of your pets. This is solely a reference point. It is assumed that participants are all beginners, and the instruction process takes you through a stock-standard approach to clay craft and artistic representation. There are pet sculpture samples on display of both cats and dogs, which most participants seemed happy to replicate. This is very much a workshop to guide you through the fundamentals. By doing this workshop you will know if tactile crafts suit you. This brief but compelling introduction to Northcote Pottery Supplies is enough for you to either further explore workshop instruction possibilities, or to invest in some supplies and make use of this invaluable and accessible inner-city art resource centre at your leisure.
As well as bringing your own artistic reference points, it is suggested that you wear old clothes, an apron and runners or closed-toed shoes. Throw in a tea towel for good measure. Even though you are equipped for potential mess, the process is fairly clean. Northcote's only other stipulation for workshop participation is that you are double-vaccinated, which you will need to prove on entry. You will be sitting reasonably close to at least one other person, so take a mask and ascertain your own level of comfort.
The Making Process
Sculpture creation is step-by-step process:
1. Moulding the clay and learning about how clay behaves.
2. Form the basic shapes of your sculpture, namely a cylindrical shape for the body and a 'ball' for the head. If you are making a dog, the muzzle is moulded from the ball shape later.
Start with the basic shapes.
3. Once the basic body shape is smooth, you then create even and standardised legs.
4. Then you begin to join pieces together. This is the part where attention is given to stability, leg-body weight ratio, and making sure that all pieces are attached securely with special knives and sculpting tools. Extra clay pieces can be added for enhanced security and aesthetics.
5. Then, with shape, posture and stability assured, you move on to shaping the head and attaching it to the body. When the button-nosed head has been attached, the sculpture suddenly seems to come alive.
Once the head is on- the sculpture has personality.
6. Ears are next, followed by the tail.
There are templates to follow.
7. Finally the eyes are indented- and your pet is 'all smiles'!
8. After initialising your sculpture, glazes, or an underglaze and glazes (choice of 4) are chosen and applied. The sculpture rests for 3-4 weeks, and Northcote Pottery does two rounds of firing for you.
This 2.5-hour small-group workshop promises that you complete a small, glazed pet sculpture. It is more accurate, however, to say that you get what you are able to do in the timeframe allowed. You do not actually 'walk out with the sculpture' as there is a 3-4 week drying period before your piece can be fired. In the group workshop that I attended, time did not allow for us to glaze our pieces but we left the sculptures with one glaze-brief for a Northcote professional to complete. I found this a little disappointing, as it mitigated the sense of accomplishment and compromised the complete learning process. However, Northcote quickly followed up with an email explanation of the drying process, and we all look forward to collecting our glazed-fired pieces in another month. Workshop information and communication from the Small Gallery Department of NPS are excellent.
Teaching Style and Workshop Format
The workshop that I attended was the first of this series to be conducted by Ella Bendrups, who is to be commended on her ability to teach fundamentals and for taking participants through the step-by-step process. I expect, that in time, the teaching style may become a little more attuned to different levels of student inquiry, talent and experience so that while teaching fundamentals remain prime, participants who are ready for greater technique exploration are not held back. Small-group tutorship would be improved if students were given equal attention, interest and encouragement. Positive energy, which would go toward confidence-building and creating a 'community art vibe', also needs to be teacher-inspired. This workshop is particularly recommended for pairs or groups: in fact, specific workshops can be arranged for a family or groups of 4 and more who are looking for activities to share.
What the Sculptures Look Like
Ella Bendrups with the underglazes.
The overall look of the mini pet sculptures that were made are like pet-caricatures or animation-style rather than portraiture. Out of 4 participants, there was a 50/50 mixture of dogs and cats made with 75% of participants opting to follow displayed template designs. Whatever the approach, the results were a whimsical mixture of pet poses, postures and personalities.
Support from Northcote Pottery
Northcote Pottery Supplies not only hosts this workshop and finishes your pieces, but continues to provide an important community resource for ceramic artists and those who want to learn. If you choose to continue to develop skills in ceramic art, use of the kiln is available for low fees. NPS not only stocks most ceramic supplies and run a variety of technical workshops, but also have a retail outlet from which commercial artists can sell their work.