“Are you sure that I’m not going to hold everyone back?”
“And this workshop is definitely for beginners?” I asked my close friend Clodagh for the third time.
Clodagh not only introduced me to ceramics but happened to be one of the the organisers for the Cameron Williams Workshop, hosted by the Central Coast Potters Society, recently.
I had never done wheel throwing before and in fact only began, my now genuine fascination with all things clay, this year. I’ve been a beginner in hand-building, slip-casting and now wheel throwing.
This workshop was like nothing I had ever experienced before as a student. There is a wonderful lesson to be learnt within every lesson delivered by clay masters. Cameron Williams is definitely a master of his world. He carries the rare qualities of a quiet strong sense of self and almost no ego. He knows where his strengths lie, whilst at the same time retaining a humility that makes him reachable to students needing to ask questions. (Over and over and over again)
He is renowned in the world of clay as a “big thrower” and has been developing his unique techniques across his 30 years of practise. Watching his demonstrations over the four days was captivating. Seeing someone demonstrating with such a love for their trade was simply inspiring, but not overwhelmingly so.
On my first morning my stomach was filled with butterflies. I talked to a couple of other students, and found out I wasn’t the only one with a bit of nervous anticipation. We began each day setting up at a lovely pace, making a cuppa and easing into the day of satisfying practice and hopeful but not overly expectant production. Our teachers emphasized that the focus of the workshop was not to take home loads of bowls and vases. Practising the steps and replacing the humps of clay onto the wheel repeatedly to move towards an outcome of sorts was the overall emphasis. I found this hugely reassuring. Yet we all did produce and take home some lovely work in the end. It was merely a gentle starting point for all of us to learn without too much pressure.
After set up we would then be given a demo of the day’s focus. The first day was decent sized bowls using Cameron’s unique large throwing techniques, to be applied the next day with larger lumps of clay and larger vessels. We took notes, and digital footage throughout, in order to remember the steps once we moved back to our work spaces.
Then, it was game on. I personally need to “throw myself in” as opposed to sitting and thinking when I feel daunted. So, as soon as I got to my wheel, I got a lump of clay, secured it as we had been taught and began centering. It worked! I couldn’t believe it. Then, I somehow un-centered it…. Looking about the room wondering if Cameron was busy I caught the eye of Cameron’s trusty assistant Neil Fenning. Neil was exactly like a very fit looking version of Father Christmas, including that lovely gentle way that gorgeous grandads have about them. Having Neil catch my eye, and see the “please help” look he immediately came over.
And that is how the workshop ran, with Neil and Cameron circulating the room with quiet, confident and patient understanding, attending to all of us with our questions and skill acquisition phases. Looking around the room at some very skilled and experienced artists working away was also a wonderful part of the experience for me. The work got better, bigger and more polished as the days progressed. I kept thinking, one day I could be producing such work, how amazing would that feel? As it was I was feeling pretty satisfied with my learning curve. I came home with three beautiful bowls and 3 vases. Partly assisted in their creation, but proudly sharing those memorable moments by way of initialing Cameron’s Neil’s names on one bowl and vase each. Both wanted me to just put my name alone on them but I wanted to remember my teachers and my beginnings.
The workshop built upon the previous day’s knowledge in order to have us producing larger and larger pots, plates and vases over the four days.
I’ve left one of the best features of a Cameron Williams workshop until last. This man is not only a skilled artisan, great teacher, but also a fantastic cook. We were lucky enough to experience delicious lunches produced by the man himself from his purpose-built, clay-fired pizza/tandoori oven. Cameron and Clodagh and a couple of others would down tools at 12:30 to prepare the meal, then we would all be eating by 1pm and back to it at 2pm with a few of us on clean up rotation with Clodagh.
Watching Cameron have fun at work with the pizza dough and produce such culinary delights was a moment I looked forward to in the day. I happen to have a very healthy appetite for gorgeous food, so for me this workshop had it all!
I want to say a personal than you to Cameron Williams and Central Coast Potters Society for giving me a wonderful start into the world of wheel throwing. The efforts behind the scenes by some very hard-working volunteers have created such value to my life that words really don’t cut it. But worth giving it a shot.