Clive has the potter's wheel

PUBLISHED: 12:34 18 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:52 20 February 2013

Clive has the potter's wheel

Clive has the potter's wheel

Burning with creative fire, Clive Agran turns his hand to pottery at Tanya Gomez's studio in Lewes

Deep within me lies a powerful urge to create something genuinely artistic and incredibly beautiful. Something my friends will admire. Having admired it, those same friends will almost certainly ask, Did Clive really make that?

There will be a good deal of incredulity in their voices because, although I can honestly claim to be moderately good at a number of things including golf and table tennis, I am not generally thought of as being especially gifted in those activities that require much in the way of artistic talent.

Its very disappointing because I am actually more than averagely creative, I think. What I painfully lack is the ability to give expression to my creativity. Although I suspect that somewhere between my brain and two hands a few vital connections have either been lost or irreparably damaged effectively rendering artistic effort completely futile, so powerful is my desire to create that Ive courageously decided not to give up.

Looking for an easier mode of expression than, say, oil painting where mistakes such as sticking a haywain or windmill in the wrong place, or making the sun too big, are very hard to rectify, Ive opted for pottery because clay strikes me as rather more forgiving than canvas. Although certainly incapable of delicate brushstrokes, I might nevertheless be able to manipulate an accommodating lump of clay into something that could at least be mistaken for art.

And so Ive come to a quiet backstreet in Lewes to receive intensive one-to-one coaching from a truly gifted potter and ceramicist, Tanya Gomez. Thankfully, unlike some who are a tad precious and struggle to relate to non artists, Tanya is relaxed, cheerful and friendly. Perhaps working with clay makes you more down to earth! Anyway, we sit and chat in her sunny back garden over a cup of tea and packet of chocolate digestives.

Enormously encouraging is the fact that, far from being a precocious talent who consistently came top of pottery at school, Tanya took no interest in the subject whatsoever until the age of 24. It was at the University of Brighton whilst taking a degree course in Three-Dimensional Crafts that she first developed a passion for ceramics and so, after graduating, she went to the Royal College of Art to complete a Masters degree in Ceramics and Glass in 2010.

My formal pottery training finished abruptly in the fourth form and I never made it beyond coil pots, which were simply a succession of fat clay worms wound round on top of one another.

The one wheel in the crafts room was, unfairly in my opinion, reserved for those who had displayed true talent by making coil pots that remained upright.

Now, close to half a century later, am I at last to be given my go or will Tanya instinctively deduce that I should not be let loose on the wheel and put me back on coil pots instead? I throw everything, she reveals, which heartens me considerably.

Even more exciting is the fact that she works exclusively in porcelain, which sounds altogether more challenging and impressive than plain old clay. It comes from Limoges in big plastic bags and costs more than three times as much as the ordinary stuff.

Having waited nearly 50 years for my chance, Im understandably a little nervous as we finally enter the studio. Formerly a garage, its remarkably tidy with everything neatly in its place.

Before making anything with clay, the air within it must be removed. This is done by wedging, a process in which the clay is repeatedly sliced in half and thumped back together. As its essentially rather tedious Im very grateful that Tanya has already wedged the lump Im going to use.

She also kindly spares me the next tricky bit, which is centring the clay in the middle of the wheel. What takes her a few seconds could, I suspect, occupy me for at least a couple of hours, possibly days.

Although my heart is pounding when I sit at the wheel, my pulse rate soon drops as I wrap two wet hands around the clay and am immediately soothed. With a pedal on the right controlling the speed of the wheel and Tanya on the left telling me in words curiously reminiscent of President Kennedy, Dont let the clay dictate to you, you dictate to the clay, I set about throwing my premiere pot.

Conscientiously following every instruction, I first make a well by digging my thumbs in and squeezing the clay between them and my index fingers. After that, I pull the base out and the sides up. Although pausing now and again to dip my hands in a bowl of water, Im careful not to make the clay too wet. Tanya gently intervenes now and again to avert disaster.

After using a sponge to soak up surplus water on the inside and a kidney-shaped tool to smooth the outside, I slice the pot free of the wheel with what looks like cheese wire. Although an undoubted triumph, critics will argue that Tanyas contribution was too significant for me to honestly claim the pot as my own. Creative people are often sensitive and doubtless detecting my unease, Tanya invites me to have another go but this time without too much in the way of hands on help from her apart, that is, from centring the clay.

Despite the absence of steam coming out of the top, my pot swiftly develops an uncanny resemblance to one of those cooling towers you see next to coal-fired power stations. Because I dont want it to be mistaken for one, I sort of bend it in at the top with a surprisingly carefree final flourish before slicing it off at the bottom and passing it over to Tanya to be fired.

Whats it worth? Well, since it is both the first and almost certainly last pot Ive thrown on my own, it at least has rarity value. I wonder what Mr Broderick, my old art teacher, would say?

Tanya Gomez

Latest from the Sussex Life