Pottery might be an ancient craft but it really is having a moment. With so many more people taking up pottery classes in Sydney, many others are wondering: what's all the fuss about? Well, pottery is not just one of the best things to do in Sydney because you take home some pretty nifty DIY ceramics at the end, the process itself is actually extremely meditative. The slow pace of working with clay is resonating with people now more than ever, as a creative way to escape the busyness of their daily lives.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact timeline of how pottery came about, because the word includes so many different definitions, we're going to delve into the origins of pottery in all its forms and will show you just how easy it is to get started with this mindful hobby!
Where and when was pottery discovered?
The oldest known examples of ceramics appear to date back to anywhere between 29 and 24,000 BC. A notable discovery was a female figurine in the modern Czech Republic. Early examples include figures and shapes made out of clay. Not the pots and bowls we would use to define the art of ‘pottery’ today. Historians believe that these figurines had ceremonial uses.
Other archaeological discoveries place the invention of pottery closer to 18 to 14,000 BC. as excavators found clay tiles in India and Mesopotamia dating back to this period. This is because not everyone considers the early figurines to be examples of ‘pottery’.
So, the jury is also out on where pottery originated. Some say China, some say Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America. Pre-historic examples of clay moulding have been found in all those places. It’s likely that people from all over discovered pottery at different moments.
Ancient uses for pottery
No one can know how the first humans came to discover that mixing clay and water, then moulding and heating the mixture would cause it to hold that shape. Some historians believe that people would line their wooden baskets with clay, when collecting water, to stop any leakage. Then, when they emptied the water out and left the baskets in the sun, they found that the clay dried out and retained the shape and markings of the basket. Others think that early humans made the discovery in clay fire pits.
Ancient methods of firing clay were similar to modern bonfires. Back in the Medieval age, people would mix sand with their clay so that they could fire it over an open flame. In ancient Egypt, people would use kilns to fire clay into pottery. This is how we distinguish between two types of pottery; ‘Earthenware’ and ‘Stoneware’. The former is usually fired at temperatures up to 1,200 degrees and the latter around 1,100 degrees or higher. There is also ‘Porcelain’, made from kaolin clay and fired at temperatures between 1,200 and 1,400 degrees. This particular type of clay and the higher temperatures are what give porcelain its translucent quality.
Around nine to 10,000 BC, it’s thought that pottery was first used for storing food and other goods. Since its beginnings, pottery has had diverse uses including transportation, storage and decoration. We can guess that the earliest functional uses were transporting and storing fish and grain. Then, seeing how well these creations transported and stored produce, people likely began using them to cook and serve their food.
The invention of the pottery wheel
Historians can agree that the invention of the pottery wheel is much more recent. Evidence suggests that it dates to roughly 4,000 BC. The pottery wheel seems to have evolved from potters using the coiling method on a mat or large leaf. The pottery maker would roll their clay into long strips and stack them on top of one another. But instead of walking around the pot to join the ends, they would rotate the mat or leaf.
From there, people constructed hand-manipulated wheels, and later, rotating wheels. The latter refers to a wheel that rotates on its own using speed built up from pushing or kicking it. Again, historians are unable to pinpoint exactly where this practice started. Evidence of wheel-thrown pottery has been found dating back to Mesopotamia, ancient China, Europe and Egypt.
We do know that the potter’s wheel, as we know it today, most likely originated in Egypt. It's there that workers developed a structure that resembles the modern appearance, including the addition of a flywheel which makers would kick to keep it moving.
One thing we know for sure is that pottery is incredibly durable and lasting. These findings have been invaluable in giving us clues about preliterate cultures. Where we have been unable to find documentation about life so long ago, we can get a window into these early societies through pottery. Its compositions, shapes, markings and colours all show us important aspects of prehistoric life.
Pottery in today's society
In a society so reliant on mass production, there's something truly special about drinking out your own handmade mug, burning incense from a holder you moulded with your own two hands or admiring a clay sculpture that you crafted. Taking pottery classes in Sydney is the perfect way to create something entirely unique and also offers a great chance to connect with your creativity.
Pottery classes, whether it's clay hand building or wheel throwing, have become so relevant today as they offer a fun and hands-on chance to unwind, refresh our minds and make something amazing in the process. In fact, just 45 minutes of clay play can reduce our body's cortisol level, otherwise known as the stress hormone. This tactile craft requires focus and attention, which in turn allows our mind to forget about other worries for a little while and enter a state of meditative 'flow'. Many people use the practice of pottery as a mindful activity and it can certainly offer that and more, even for beginners!
Pottery studios in Sydney aren't just a place to switch off and relax but they can also offer a safe space to socialise and connect with like-minded creatives. Many of us are caught up in the digital world and some human connection (screen-free) is a surefire way to boost your mood and create new friendships. This makes pottery classes the perfect option for team building activities in Sydney or hens party ideas, as you and your colleagues or best girlfriends can really enjoy the company of one another. Spice things up with a clay and sip class or keep it simple with clay hand building.
Get started making your own ceramics at pottery classes in Sydney
There are so many different types of pottery classes in Sydney, so whether you're a beginner or experienced ceramicist looking to try something different, there is something for everyone. Take the pottery wheel for a spin at Silky Shapes in Crows Nest and learn all about wheel throwing, trimming and glazing over three practical sessions. This is the perfect course to get you familiar with clay techniques and practising all the stages of wheel-thrown pottery. If you're just after a taster session, head to Dulwich Hill and try out Glost Studios' hand building pottery class for beginners, which will cover all the basics of making ceramics with just your hands over two-and-a-half hours. No matter your choice, these friendly local potters will show you how to transform a block of clay into whatever you desire!