It all began with an idea to feel better

Picture of Bruno Vinel

My pottery journey was briefly initiated 45 years ago but the last three years offered me the opportunity to meet amazing people who helped me develop my ceramic skills and above all, to have fun.

Exploring my childhood memories, I remember how lucky my sister and I were to attend drawing and painting classes and a pottery workshop. The weekly pottery class was a great experience and I really enjoyed building pots by hand. One day the kiln set fire and burnt down the building. The council decided to stop providing pottery classes and that was the end of my first experience with clay.

Back in April 2018, I was suffering from depression due to illness. In trying to reconnect with my childhood experience, I signed up for a weekly evening workshop at the Islington Pottery in London. The weekly session was a real escape and a great way to feel positive about myself. This was the beginning of a new adventure in my life!

Pottery is a rewarding craft because you can start making nice pots without having to master complex skills; for instance, building pots with the coiling and slab techniques on plaster moulds. During this first period of developing my pottery skills, I tested several techniques to build and decorate pots.

This blue vase was built using a clay slab around a tube and decorated with coloured slip, using a sponge, a trailer and inlay technique.

Throwing fascinated me and just had to learn how to do this properly. I took five one-to-one lessons with Kayley Holderness and I was immediately hooked.

I attended a pottery class at the Camden Art Centre and did lots of reading and research both in ceramics books and online. I also spent some very enjoyable time, visiting museums (V&A, British Museum in London, Musée de Sèvres in Paris) to further develop my understanding of ceramic design and techniques.

As I gained confidence throwing and decorating pots, I felt much more positive about life. Using my hands to build pots, combined with the physical contact with the clay had a calming and soothing effect on me. Making nice pots brought me a sense of achievement that helped revert part of the depression I was suffering.

In July 2018, I joined Turning Earth studio where I had plenty of opportunities to practise my craft. Turning Earth East London studio is an amazing space used by experienced and professional potters, as well as more junior members. Discovering the vessels produced by others, I felt really inspired to learn more.

Practicing a lot is critical to make significant progress: at one point I was spending up to fifteen hours a week throwing and decorating ceramic pieces. I was also fortunate enough to attend a couple of workshops with Lily Pearmain to further develop my throwing technique.

In August 2018, Turning Earth offered me the opportunity to take part in the MakeMore festival in London; to exhibit my pieces and share my experience with people interested in pottery.

A hand building workshop that I ran was attended by nearly 70 children and adults, all very pleased with the experience. The picture illustrates how pottery can bring simple happiness to your life!

A new chapter in my life opened up and at the end of 2018, when I moved to Birmingham and joined Sundragon Pottery Studio in the Old Print Work building in Moseley.

The trustees and members were very friendly and supportive. I enjoyed throwing, attending courses and spending evenings discussing pottery and helping with the studio projects.

In May 2019, Sundragon pottery did demonstrations at the Makers Central event in Birmingham. We offered people a hands-on experience to throw their first bowl. I was pleased to take part in this as it was a very satisfying activity!

In early 2020, I attended a “throwing large” workshop run by Austin Gannon at Sundragon Pottery Studio. Austin is a very experience thrower and teacher. I learnt a lot and made some very nice pieces.

Fast forward to March 2020, with the lockdown in place, the team at Sundragon Pottery Studio was full of great ideas to allow their members to continue playing with clay and to stay in touch, such as holding weekly Zoom video demonstration sessions!

They also gave the members the opportunity to borrow a pottery wheel and take clay home so we could keep making pots.

I seized this opportunity and converted an 8 by 8 feet summer house recently built at the back of our garden into my very own small pottery studio. It was a lifeline to keep positive and motivated during this difficult period of time.

Over the course of the Spring and Summer 2020, I had limited opportunities to make pots, as I dedicated this time to be outdoor as much as possible and enjoy the good weather.

Nevertheless, I managed to throw few nice bowls and vases. I also researched and started making my own glazes from raw materials. This was a new challenge and an exciting skill set to develop.

With the latest addition of a pottery kiln in October 2020, I was able to produce ceramics pieces from scratch and fire them locally. It made a big difference how I approached my creative work and helped me experiment with new glazes in addition to develop new shapes.

In 2021, I joined the Midlands Potters Association and was offered to exhibit at Lightwood House, Birmingham in June and at Rugby Gallery in July.

Preparing work for the exhibitions was a real challenge, as until that time I was making freely without time constraints. Several accidents plagued the project: a bad firing with glazes over fired and pieces falling off the shelves.

I displayed for the first time a large variety of vessels and got some very positive feedback from fellow potters and visitors.

In particular, the installation EXAMINATIONS inspired by my health experience attracted attention due to its unusual characteristics and generated a lot of questions and comments.

(More on this project can be read on this page)

Reflecting on my experiences over the last four years, I was lucky to rediscover pottery. Making ceramics has been an incredible journey, a lifeline that helped me to get out of depression and feel better, but most importantly to develop my artistic side and get recognition for my crafting skills.

I am very thankful to all the people who taught me, shared their experience and encouraged me to keep developing my skills. With determination and a lot of practice, I managed to develop good throwing skills and explored very interesting decorative techniques. But I am also aware that I am only at the start of the journey; more experimentation and practice are required to develop my own style and produce the type of pieces I dream of.

Making pots is a craft and a science, particularly when it comes to preparing your own glazes. It requires a lot of dedication and perseverance. I found that my efforts were greatly rewarded when a beautiful piece of ceramic came out of the kiln.

Pottery teaches you also to accept failures, be humble and start again. There is a sense of positiveness when you recycle your unfired pots and make new ones from the same clay.

The community of potters is a very welcoming and supportive one. I am pleased to have met some of my best friends through making pots in classes and workshops.

How lucky am I to be able to make pottery and share my passion with people. I am convinced I will continue to throw pots for many more years. Keep monitoring my gallery to see my progress!

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