“Have you ever heard of virtual clay?”, asks Sanjay Talwar, 51, a teacher of ceramics at Kalasthali Art & Craft, a fine arts school in Vasant Kunj. He describes himself as a sculptor as he believes that ‘pottery’ is too limiting a word.
Clay culture is the quintessential legacy that has evolved over the years. Talwar, who has been in the industry for almost ten years now, says, “While the techniques remain the same, the introduction of better equipment like kilns and tools has made everything more accessible.”
He has observed that a good number of people are opting to learn the craft. He attributes the sudden influx to stressful jobs. “The jobs today often lead to mental and physical stress. Pottery helps as it balances the five tatwas (elements) of the body – earth, fire, water, air and sky”, he says.
Aparna Choudhrie, 50, founder of The Clay Company in Nehru Place, was introduced to clay when she was working in the corporate sector. Sharing her bag full of memories, Chaudhrie says, “I started pottery and ceramics as a hobby. Having worked for more than 15 years with companies like GE/Genpact, Infosys and PWC, I always felt the underlying pressure and stress of the work. This led me towards pottery because it is immensely therapeutic and meditative. Clay has immense possibilities and allows you to explore yourself in the field. But people don’t have easy access to it, and when I realized this, I knew this is what my calling was!”
She highlights how social media has helped in promoting pottery. “People are looking for new and different things to do that are not only good but also give them some ‘bragging rights’. Pottery has hit this very sweet spot. Not only is it rejuvenating and curative, but also a fun activity that makes you stand out”, tells Choudhrie. The ages of her students range from 7-year-old to 78-year-old. To Chaudharie, it all feels terrific!
Evolution in techniques
In medieval times, ceramic products were mainly made from clay, or clay mixed with other materials, shaped and subjected to heat. Today, table wares and decorative ceramics follow the same method – except for the detailing and designing.
Pottery can be decorated multifariously. It can be glazed using a range of mineral-based colour pigments, hand-painted, or novel techniques – underglaze and overglaze. Slip painting is another decorative technique, wherein a thin combination of water and clay – called slip – is applied to the vessel’s surface.
Engraving or incising patterns on the clay surface is a part of detailing too. Patterns can also be applied to the outer surface of the pot by wrapping the vessel in a mould or with coiled basketry, or by impressing or stamping patterns on the raw clay body.
“New equipment like electric wheels, slab rolling machines, machines to make clay coils and hollow cylinders, electric kilns and much more have been introduced in pottery. The latest evolution I witnessed online is the use of 3D Ceramic Printers. Can you imagine a machine making the pot without messy hands? These are mainly for large industrial production. Regardless, they can never replace the love of handmade stuff”, shares Pooja Verma, 44, who runs Claying Thoughts, a pottery studio in Noida.
She adds that now, pottery is no longer restricted to people who either inherit the art from family or study fine arts. “Love for pottery is natural for us as it connects us with our roots – mother earth. When people approach us to learn pottery, some want to create their signature crockery, while others want to enjoy the feeling”, she says.
With eight years of experience, Verma conducts regular workshops for kids, adults, corporate events and birthday parties. Participants get to learn hand-building techniques and try their hands on a pottery wheel, giving them an insight into pottery.
The charges are Rs 1,000 per participant, and regular classes comprising topics like foundation techniques of hand-building pottery, clay modelling and introduction to wheel throwing are charged at Rs 6,000 for 8 classes per head.
Artist Sucheta Nagpal, 43, likes designing products more than spinning the clay. “Designing is a thoughtful, artistic activity that can open up the mind and relieve you of worries”, she says.
Speaking about the shift in pottery styles, she elaborates, “In Mediaeval times, pottery was very plain, merely used for storage. There wasn’t much designing except for an occasional simple pattern. Later, in Roman times, pottery became elaborately decorative. Roman pottery, mostly made of red clay, was beautiful, colourful and included several details.”
Nagpal, founder of 3-year-old Just Potteries in Gurugram, adds that the techniques have changed with new machinery. Some of the most common forming methods for ceramics include extrusion, slip casting, pressing, tape casting and injection moulding. After the particles are formed, the ‘green’ ceramics undergo a heat treatment (called firing or sintering) to produce a rigid, finished product.
Nagpal says people who take appointments to visit her studio to buy the products, spend time on each piece as it is created with lots of love and passion.
While most clay artists choose to make functional pieces like tea cups, plates, saucers, and so on, Delhi-based ceramist Shweta Mansingka creates unique products like pear-shaped wall-mounted art decor.
When she started her journey almost 33 years ago, she was drawn to pottery and sculpture more than functional ware. “All of my work tries to convey a thought, attempting to make the viewers introspect. Many of my works are a tribute to God’s abundant nature which bears the burden of humankind’s abuse. The silent voice of my ceramics subtly asks the viewer to ‘close their eyes to see’, pause the cacophony and listen to earth’s silent songs”, she says.
Pitampura-based Dipti Gupta conducts hobby classes, and a basic and advanced course in pottery and ceramics. Specialised in hand-building and wheel work, she prefers to structure the course curriculum based on the interest and aptitude of the students.
“I have students who make compelling artworks and it shows their thought patterns. One of my students made bells out of clay and I was amazed by the design. There were cartoon characters and intricate floral patterns. I believe pottery is the best medium for kids to express themselves”, she says.
Deep Singh Rawat, a literature student, says, “I decided to take a trial class for pottery after the pandemic. Making something out of soil is very fascinating. That’s why I added pottery to my to-do list”, he says.
He says that learning to create something from scratch needs patience. “If you add too much water or pressure, it will break. It is an important lesson for all creative people: to be patient and not seek perfection. When you start moulding the clay into a shape, it is important for the clay to be at the centre – like it’s the soul. This also suggests that true happiness comes from within.”
Anirudh Sagar and Arti Paliwal, founders of Naveen Chaya Ceramic Studio in Hauz Khas, are deeply connected with pottery and have conducted several shows across the country.
“We don’t think that we are making the pieces for others; we do it for ourselves. We want people to learn pottery and through it, understand the foundation of our existence, the earth, the soil. It is like modern yoga”, they share.
Paliwal discussed how the pandemic was a blessing in disguise, as the lockdown continued, the urge to maximise joy in domestic settings flourished. When everything is posted on social media, pottery in particular proved to be the activity where people fulfilled their desire to become unique and do distinctive things.
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