Fired up by pottery

Ceramic workshops becoming popular with people keen to learn a new art form and make personalised pieces

That famous sexy pottery scene from the 1990 movie Ghost might be the stuff of movies, but the art is gaining new fans here and acquiring a reputation as a hip hobby.

A growing number of young ceramic artists are firing up interest in pottery through their works and classes. A quick check shows that at least five studios here were set up within the last four years by potters in their early 30s. They hold workshops for the public on a weekly or monthly basis.

Pottery is the art of turning clay into ceramic through a firing process. Clay is fired at high temperatures in a kiln to remove all water, which leads to it hardening. After an initial firing, glazes can be added to the hardened clay for decorative and waterproofing purposes.

At workshops, lasting 1½ to three hours, participants usually learn hand-building - making ceramic objects with their hands - or wheel-throwing - making objects on a potter's wheel.

The cost of such workshops ranges from $50 to $140 for a two-hour session. Hobbyists can also opt for in-depth sessions to learn the proper techniques of pottery.

Besides studios, the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) also offers a part-time ceramics course comprising 40 three-hour sessions. Launched in 2013, it costs $1,800.

Potters whom The Straits Times spoke to say the interest in pottery workshops surged about three years ago and are especially popular among those aged 20 to 35.

Ms Michelle Lim, 33, co-founder of three-year-old Mud Rock Ceramics, says: "There's been a craft revival in Singapore, which started in the United States, Britain and Australia. People have that desire to make something and not just buy off the shelf."

Social media sites such as Instagram and online marketplaces such as Etsy have also helped foster pottery appreciation, especially among the young.

Ms Lee Huiwen, 34, co-founder of one-year-old Studio Asobi, says clay is a very "forgiving" medium, as things do not "have to be perfect to look good". She notes that a creation with a crooked handle or asymmetric proportions can look even more personalised.

Ms Lim and Ms Lee are examples of young potters who are making a living out of ceramic art.

Ms Lee left a career in business development to pursue what was a hobby, before setting up her studio.

Her husband, Mr Kenneth Lau, 33, has always loved pottery. He quit his job as an architect this month to join her full time.

Ms Lim has a ceramics degree from Australian National University. She opened her studio in Towner Road with a friend, Ms Ng Seok Har, 47, in late 2012. They recently set up a second studio in Maude Road, near Jalan Besar, to cope with the growing volume of commercial orders, mainly of domestic wares.

While these studios get some income from holding workshops, they rely mainly on commissions from businesses, such as making crockery for eateries or vases for companies.

Ms Lim says: "Production is our bread and butter. We get commissions to make thousands of pieces of ceramics."

Food and beverage companies are starting to show a greater appreciation for handmade ceramic crockery, using them to create artful platings for their food.

Mud Rock is working on customised crockery for Morsels, a restaurant in Mayo Street, for a World Gourmet Summit dinner event on April 20.

Similarly, The Tuckshop in Guillemard Road uses crockery from Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle for some of its dishes.

Its head chef Lim Yi Lian says: "We simply love how every dish - a piece of art - looks slightly different. These ceramic wares complement our dishes and our customers have commented that they are aesthetically pleasing."

While Thow Kwang was set up in 1965, Ms Stella Tan, the 25-year-old niece of owner Tan Teck Yoke, is breathing new life into the family business.

The centrepiece of Thow Kwang, located off Jalan Bahar, is a dragon kiln that has been there since the 1940s. There are only two dragon kilns left in Singapore, compared with more than 20 previously. The other one is in Jalan Bahar Clay Studios along the same road.

Dragon kilns are made of brick and take up a large space. Ceramics made in such kilns are fired by wood instead of gas or electricity, methods which are more popular now because of their convenience.

Due to the size of a dragon kiln, which is about 40m long, it is fired only when there are about 3,000 clay pieces.

As a result, Thow Kwang's dragon kiln is fired only three to four times a year, after amassing enough pieces from its weekly workshops.

It will be fired today. The process of firing is labour-intensive, requiring volunteers to work for 24 hours to ensure that the temperature is maintained at 1,260 deg C.

Says Mr Tan, 61, whose father started Thow Kwang: "We are trying to keep the dragon kiln alive."

Ceramics fired in a dragon kiln acquire an ash glaze because of the wood, giving them a distinctive look.

Since joining the company three years ago, Ms Tan has been involved in publicising its efforts, including holding more workshops and running the company's Facebook account and website. She is the only member of the family's third generation to join the business.

She started dabbling in pottery when she was 16, learning from her aunt and taking courses at Nafa.

She says: "I don't want to let this place go, it would be such a waste. I'd like to preserve the kiln for future generations."

Like many young potters here, she runs stalls at bazaars such as Public Garden flea markets and Kranji Countryside Farmers' Market and also sells her wares on online marketplace Naiise.

A purveyor of goods designed in Singapore, Naiise stocks ceramics from home-grown studios such as Euphoramics and Weekend Worker. It also teams up with Euphoramics to hold pottery workshops.

Ms Cheryl Yong, public relations and buying manager at Naiise, says these ceramic-makers "create modern takes on their products, which helps the traditional art form appeal to modern customers".

Clay's versatility accounts for pottery's wide appeal. While it can be used to make utilitarian objects such as plates and cups, it can also be used to make art pieces and sculptures.

One artist whose work straddles both forms is Ms Ros Lee, 34, a Singaporean based in Tokyo. She makes ceramic pots, plates and cups with dainty rosy-cheeked faces, which she sells under her brand, Polkaros. Her goods, priced from $68 to $250, will be sold at a pop-up store at Isetan Scotts from April 22 to May 5. She will also sell products such as tote bags and purses.

Says Ms Lee, whose family used to own a pottery business in the 1970s and who ran a clay art studio with her brother in Bras Basah Complex in the early 2000s: "There are some technical boundaries, but you can create almost anything with clay... I also like the fact that once it's fired, clay takes on a new form and becomes functional. It feels like the most primitive art form."

National University of Singapore undergraduate Tan Hui San, 23, who attended a pottery class at Thow Kwang recently, says clay reminds her of playing with Play- Doh. She attended the class with her schoolmates and made a vase and a candle-holder. A friend had found out about the workshop from Facebook and Ms Tan researched online for designs she wanted to make prior to the class.

She says: "Even though I don't think I have a flair for the arts, it was still a fun experience. You can do pottery with friends and family and enjoy some bonding time."


Where to learn:

MUD ROCK CERAMICS


Dishes at Morsels restaurant plated on customised crockery made by Mud Rock Ceramics. ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

What: In the four-part introduction to pottery workshops, participants can learn a range of techniques, from wheel-throwing and trimming clay to pinching and coiling techniques and glazing. Limited to 10 participants a session on Saturdays and 18 participants a session on Thursdays.

Where: 126 Towner Road (Saturday), 85 Maude Road (Thursday)

When: Saturday, 11am to 1.30pm or 2.30 to 5pm; Thursday, 7 to 9pm

Admission: $240 for four lessons (2½ hours each) or $70 for ad-hoc lessons (2½ hours each)

Info: www.mudrockceramics.com


EUPHORAMICS

Rediscover Your Dexterity With Ceramics Workshop

What: Learn basic hand-building skills and make a personalised mug in this workshop run by ceramic artist Loy Yan Ling, 42.

Where: Naiise @ Central, 6 Eu Tong Sen Street, Central, 02-23

When: June 4, 2 to 4pm

Admission: $135 a person

Info: www.naiise.com/collections/workshops.

Pottery Workshops

What: Euphoramics also offers three-hour workshops and in-depth classes, costing $120 to $450, that focus on hand-building techniques. E-mail euphoramics@gmail.com for details.


WEEKEND WORKER


One of the founders of Weekend Worker, a ceramics collective, at work. PHOTO: MAKERS OF SINGAPORE 

What: Helmed by ceramic artists Ong Su Loon, 41, Ivan Lee, 33, and Chloe Tan , 29. Learn to shape and create clay vessels using an electric wheel or learn hand-building. Limited to six participants a session for wheel-throwing and eight participants for hand-building.

Where: Weekend Worker Ceramic Studio, 589A Sealand Road

When: April 24, noon to 3pm

Admission: $120

Info: usuallyusual.com/workshop


GOODMAN CERAMIC STUDIO

What: Try out the potter's wheel and learn how to transform clay into a functional piece of art. Limited to six participants a session.

Where: Goodman Ceramic Studio, 90 Goodman Road, Block G, 01-37

When: Saturday, 10 and 11.30am and 2pm

Admission: $58 (1½ hours), additional $10 for the option to glaze works

Info: goodmanceramicstudio.com


STUDIO ASOBI


Ms Lee Huiwen working with a potter’s wheel in Studio Asobi, set up in her home. PHOTO: STUDIO ASOBI

Living Clay Workshop

What: Make a cup or bowl in this introductory workshop by Studio Asobi. Limited to 10 participants a session.

Where: Home studio of Studio Asobi (check website for details)

When: April 9 and 23, 3 to 6pm

Admission: $80, of which 20 per cent of profits goes to Mercy Centre's Trolley Ministry, which helps the homeless in Singapore

Info: studioasobi.com

Breakfast Ceramic Workshop With Public Garden

What: Create a breakfast set of a cup and a plate at this workshop by Studio Asobi in partnership with Public Garden, which organises markets and workshops.

Where: Home studio of Studio Asobi (check website for details)

When: May 7, 3 to 6.30pm

Admission: $139.50, of which 20 per cent of profits goes to Mercy Centre's Trolley Ministry

Info: public-garden.com projects/workshop


THOW KWANG POTTERY JUNGLE


Undergraduates (from far left) Ho Si Rui and Tan Hui San, both 23, trying their hand at pottery at a workshop at Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG 

What: For a session close to nature, head to Thow Kwang, which is near Jurong Eco-Garden. Its dragon kiln is one of only two left in Singapore and is fired about three times a year. Find out more about the dragon kiln firing process as it will be fired today from 9am to 6am, with a potluck dinner from 7pm. Workshops are limited to 15 people a session.

Where: Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle, 85 Lorong Tawas (off Jalan Bahar)

When: Pottery classes, today, 11am; April 2, 2pm; April 16, 10am; and May 1, 11am

Admission: Hand-building (1½-hour session) - $28 (child), $35 (adult); hand-building and potter's wheel (two-hour session) - $38 (child), $50 (adult)

Info: www.facebook.com/tkpotteryjungle

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'Fired up by pottery'. Print Edition | Subscribe