Behind the Wheel: Pottery Classes in Bristol

Katie Thomson headed to the studio of ceramicist Liz Vidal for pottery school 101

Thanks in part to the TV show The Great Pottery Throwdown, ceramics have certainly hit the mainstream. Couple this with a huge resurgence in people looking to get hands on with some arts and crafts, and you’ll find someone like me yearning to give it a go.

So it was with boundless enthusiasm I headed to the studio of ceramicist Liz Vidal, at Hillside Studios to the North of Bristol, for a four hour workshop, ready to learn the basics of this ancient art form.

There are three main ways to create ceramics and Liz patiently takes you through each – slab building, coil pot building and of course the iconic throwing on the wheel. Each creates a completely different finish and allows you to get a feel for the amazing versatility of clay. All, it became apparent, are not as easy as they make it look on TV!

First up, it was slab building – taking clay that has become ‘leather hard’ (dried overnight) and using templates to cut out pieces, the seams of which are joined together to form the body of the object. I decided my own pottery collection could do with a milk jug, the surface decorated with a leaf print. Liz was on hand throughout to advise on the shaping and joining and as I got used to the material, the satisfaction of watching the piece take shape was wonderful. We were able to have creative control over the shape and decoration, refining the object as we went.

After that it was on to rolling the coils for handbuilding – the most freeform of the techniques, I was mostly intent on making something that was self supporting, but I was pleased to end up with a very serviceable bowl!

Then it was time for the main event – throwing on the wheel. After a comprehensive demonstration, we got straight to it, centring the clay and then bringing it into any shape we desired. The more advanced members of the course created some fabulous vases and platters, and I was very content to end up with three lovely dipping bowls – all completely different shapes, but all made with love!

At £45 per person for this three hour session, the course represents the most amazing value for money. This includes all materials and Liz fires and glazes your work, ready for you to have something special to take home a few weeks later. You have complete creative freedom throughout too, meaning you can make items you will truly cherish.

Location: Hillside Studios, Berwick Lane, Bristol, BS35 5RU

potteryLike to Give it a Go?

Liz runs regular workshops from the studio – from one-off three hour Saturday courses, ideal for beginners or those looking to improve, all the way to 5 or 10 week courses where potters can practice a whole range of techniques and refine their work. Bespoke classes are also available and can include one-to-one sessions, parties, team building or date nights.

If buying pottery is more your thing than creating your own, Liz takes on private commissions – whether it is a personalised pot, wedding present, birthday gift, dog bowl or just a special something, Liz’s creations are ideal for that thoughtful gift. You can find out more at, email or visit her etsy shop