Dog Clay Afternoon

Last night I had a new experience. Potting! Not the planting things in the garden kind but the making things out of clay kind. My friend Carrie had invited me along to participate in ‘Art to the Rescue’ a couple of weeks ago. ‘Art to the Rescue’ is a clay sculpting competition that has been organised by Totem Ceramics to raise money for various local animal charities.

When I initially received Carrie’s text a couple of weeks ago asking me if I wanted to join in I knew it would be fun but I was a little unsure because I had never sculpted anything out of clay before. Yes, I’ve made plates and bowls and other less complicated objects but never a thing that had to actually resemble something if you know what I mean. I reassured myself with the thought that I had two weeks to prepare. I had time on my side! I could watch online tutorials for beginners that would reveal the secret to sculpting a prize winning dog out of clay while my friends would look on in awe. Furthermore I could study my own dog in close detail so that I could model a faithful homage to our beloved family pet, perhaps even creating a future family heirloom that would be passed fondly from generation to generation. Oh yes! This was going to be great! It wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that I would discover a hidden talent. I might even win the competition! My sculpture could grace the front pages of the local papers. I would become well known among the arty types. I would be known as the one who sculpted a prize winning dog on her first go. I would be the darling of the sculpting world. I might even one day, not too far in the future, be able to turn my back on teaching and make a fortune from my passion, my gift! I was going to become a temperamental, creative type! I would have smudges of clay on my face and a wooden modelling tool artfully holding up my fashionably unkempt hair which was styled into a carefree, just thrown together bun. I would spend my waking hours sitting at a potter’s wheel forming wondrous, lovingly created and widely acclaimed marvels out of mere lumps of clay, all the while tucking tendrils of hair behind my ears that had tumbled rather alluringly from my bohemian tresses.
(I had given this just a bit of thought)

“Yes!” I texted back enthusiastically’ “count me in!”

Fast forward two weeks. It’s Tuesday morning. It’s the morning of the competition. I haven’t prepared at all. While getting ready for school, in between drying my hair, slapping on a bit of mascara and brushing my teeth single handedly while my other hand is scrolling through image after image, I hastily Google ‘clay dogs’ to study my options and gain a bit of inspiration. I find a couple of pictures that look vaguely achievable and print them out. Ok, so I’m a bit off track with my sculpting strategy. My dream of achieving sculpting fame and fortune while creating a heartfelt tribute to our family dog that will bring a tear to the eye of anyone fortunate enough to behold it has meandered considerably off the path, but all is not lost.

After school I head off excitedly to Totem Ceramics with the printed picture folded up in my bag. Outside the gallery I meet up with the four others who are on our little ‘team’ and we go inside. There in front of us are shelves displaying the other competition entries. Shelves full of disconcertingly lifelike, detailed clay dogs that are sitting there taunting us, challenging us to even consider trying to make anything quite so artistic.

My rivals.
The competition.
And they are good.

We walk through the gallery and into the studio at the back where we sit at our places around a table. We are greeted by the very lovely lady who has organised the competition and who runs the gallery and gives pottery classes in the studio. We have to fill in a form with our contact details and the number of our competition entry. I’m number 25. There is a box to tick if you want to keep your model and have it fired rather after judging than it being recycled for somebody else to use after the competition. Rather adventurously and feeling that perhaps I’m tempting fate I tick the box. My dog and I are destined to be joined together forever. Then we have to nominate the charity that we want our 10€ entry fee to go to. We all choose Adana. After that we are each given a 1.5kg cube of clay, a very quick lesson by the lovely lady on how to join clay along with a sobering warning that we MUST hollow out any overly thick pieces that we use for our models because anything that is too thick will explode in the kiln with such force that it will annihilate itself as well as wiping out every other clay sculpture that’s in there too. Yikes! Then we are told we have just 2 hours to complete our sculpture. Yikes! And no extra time will be given! Yikes!

Feeling rather like I’m on a cross between ‘Countdown’ and ‘The Great British Bake Off’ I nervously begin.

I fish my printed picture out of my bag, study it momentarily and then start to make my dog’s face. I surprise myself somewhat by making something that doesn’t look completely unlike a dog’s face and so feeling a bit buoyed up I continue on to make his ears. Soon after, while I’m making the dog’s body, one of the pottery experts from the studio walks around the table, watching what we are doing. This makes me feel even more like I’m on ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry have just wandered up to my table to inspect what I’m doing! Nodding sagely as he observes us in turn he then returns to the back of the studio. I carry on.

After about an hour I find that I’ve done as much as I can to my sculpture. While I am now sure that my dream of being a world acclaimed sculptor has slipped away, I do see that my dog actually does resemble a dog! Feeling a bit more confident now and seeing as I still have another hour I decide to make another one! This time I will make a puppy, a miniature version of the one I have already made, to play alongside its dad! This one is a bit trickier to make for some reason and for a long time I just can’t make my puppy’s face look right, especially the eyes. It resembles what I would imagine the love child of Stephen Merchant and Marty Feldman to look like. Oh, wait a minute, the laws of biology would suggest that these two couldn’t make a love child, but anyway, you get the idea. With time ticking away I’m tinkering away with my clay tools desperately trying to get the face right and I’m getting perilously close to running out of time!

Eventually I put down my tools and resign myself to having made a puppy that doesn’t really resemble it’s father at all. In the real world the daddy dog would be on ‘Jeremy Kyle’ demanding a paternity test and questioning where on earth this strange looking puppy had got its bulging eyes from. But I’ve done my best. I can do no more. I’m out of time and I’m in need of a nice cup of tea to soothe my nerves.

I emerged from the studio feeling as though I had really accomplished something. I had turned a lump of clay into two dogs! It was great fun too and I’m definitely going to go back to Totem Ceramics to make something else. Maybe even another sculpture!

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