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Clay time is playtime

Clay workshop part of Revolve CC Conference

This is a piece of pottery in the making at a clay workshop, which was part of the Revolve Creative Collaboration Conference. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — It can be a messy medium, but one that can produce beautiful works of art.

Melissa Sprouse, owner of HOTplate Pottery, located in Marquette’s Masonic Square Mall, led a clay workshop at the Masonic Center on Friday where participants learned basic techniques in working with the medium.

The workshop was part of Friday and Saturday’s Revolve Creative Collaboration Conference at the Masonic Center along Washington Street in Marquette.

The goal of the annual conference is to promote the creative collaboration and networking in the area.

During the clay workshop, participants learned basic hand-building techniques, wheel throwing and even how to build a home studio or clay practice. Sprouse’s techniques also were displayed on a large screen, with a bird’s-eye view so students could get a better look.

Melissa Sprouse, owner of HOTplate Pottery in Marquette, teaches a clay workshop on Friday during the Revolve Creative Collaboration Conference. The annual event fosters networking among the creative community in the area. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

What are the benefits of a clay practice?

“I find that clay is very therapeutic,” Sprouse said. “It’s very tactile, hands-on. You also get to get some aggression out by smashing the clay up and throwing it away if it doesn’t work. It’s recyclable, so if you create something that you don’t like, it’s super easy to just wedge it back down and start over.”

One of the participants in the clay workshop was Maggie Solomon, an art student at Northern Michigan University.

“I normally work in a painting medium,” Solomon said. “However, I do love working with my hands.”

Solomon hasn’t taken a ceramics class yet, she said, but plans to take one. However, she noticed the clay workshop on the conference schedule, and saw a good opportunity to get reintroduced to the art form.

“I’ve done a little bit, but I’ve wanted to do more — and I like learning about art,” Solomon said.

Sprouse explained the basic terms of clay, including low-, mid- and high-fire clay, which refer to how hot a kiln has to get.

“Low-fire clay is a lot easier for a beginner because the kiln doesn’t have to get quite as hot,” she said.

She acknowledged one drawback to working at home and having someone else fire the items.

“Once it loses all its water, it’s very fragile until it’s fired,” Sprouse said.

She did point out, though, that a person doesn’t have to be afraid of working with clay.

Maybe some childhood experience with a Play-Doh Fun Factory will come in handy.

“Don’t let it intimidate you,” Sprouse said. “It’s the same basic concepts as playing with Play-Doh.”

Pottery wheels can be used, she said, but aren’t always necessary. For instance, making simple coils, she said, can lead to creating things such as bowls and cups.

Sprouse then demonstrated the use of coils, but also let participants take to the pottery wheel to get a feel for that technique.

And yes, someone alluded to the famous pottery scene in the movie “Ghost.”

“Many potters will come into it with an idea of what it is they want to create,” Sprouse said. “I think a lot of times for me it’s just active creating. It tells me what it wants to be.”

She called clay a “very grounding medium” in that participants go through various elements such as dirt, water and fire.

“For me, working with clay, whether it’s on the wheel or hand-building, it’s very meditative,” said Sprouse, who acknowledged she has a hard time meditating in the traditional way. “I can throw or create by hand, and that helps me kind of ground into the present. You can’t be anywhere else. Just right here.”

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