The Not-So-New Kid on the Block || Where’s Patrick Swayze When You Need Him?

Posted in Blogs, Community, Visual Art

September 23, 2015

Into everyone’s life a little clay must fall.

Well, that’s not exactly the saying…but perhaps it should be.

This past week I did something I’ve never done before—I threw a bowl. Not across the room or anything like that—but on a potter’s wheel. From a lowly lump of clay I made a bowl.

When asked if I had prior experience with clay, I answered, “Oh sure.” After all, Gumby and Pokey were good pals of mine in fifth grade. As a kid, I had packages of modeling clay (that seemed to instantly harden once opened) as well as a variety of colors of Play-Doh (man, I love that smell!).

I was informed those things really didn’t count as experience. So, as far as my knowledge of all things clay, I had to admit that I had NONE…other than watching those horrid little dancing raisins.

Nope, no experience. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

And with that, let me backtrack a bit.

Last week I was not quite zipping down Main Street in Freeland behind a motorist going 18 miles an hour—which basically meant we were being passed by bicyclists and speed walkers. However, that leisurely pace also allowed me to window shop from my car. As I came up to The Paint Escape, my car veered off the road and pretty much parked itself by the door. So, what’s a girl to do? I went in.

The inviting paint room at The Paint Escape.

The inviting paint room at The Paint Escape.

I’d been in the shop a couple of times before…pretty much just nosing around. This time, my soul sensed something more—was it a serendipitous moment-to-be or did the attractive window display call to me on some level? Unsure, I settled for more nosing around. It was while doing said nosing that I remembered a charity thing they did last year (that I missed out on) and asked if they were doing it again. The charity event happens to be the Third Annual Empty Bowl Soup Night. I was told by owners Tina Beard and Susan Barratt that I was not too late to participate in this year’s event and we made an appointment for me to come back to throw a bowl.

And so, that’s how into my life a little clay did fall. Well, more like spun around and glopped all over my hands.

The Paint Escape generously donates the clay (and their time and teaching expertise) to anyone who would like to make a bowl for the event. Amazingly, participation is free. Unless you purchase your bowl yourself, attendees to the event then “buy” the bowl for $20 and get to fill it with soup from an all-you-can-eat (or until the soup runs out) soup buffet at the Langley United Methodist Church from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25. (Mark your calendars!)

Fast forward to my appointment. Upon arrival I chatted with Susan and Tina as I wandered the shop getting a closer look at their space. There were shelves upon shelves of ready-to-paint ceramics and tables and work stations for glass fusion, clay building, ceramics painting, a workroom with kilns and a cluster of potter’s wheels, along with an office and storerooms—seemingly room upon room of goodies and joy.

I have to admit I felt oddly anxious—excited to try this wonderful something new, yet apprehensive because I have this thing (not a fear but more like a distaste) for having my hands coated or with anything having dried on them. (I guess I wallpapered too much in the ‘80s!)

The throwing of a bowl...and so it begins.

The throwing of a bowl…and so it begins.

Tina was my mentor and walked me through what we’d be doing. We sat at one of the potter’s wheels—a circular dishpan type container (that looked like a cotton candy machine to me) with a foot pedal-driven rotating pedestal in the middle—onto which she plopped a softball sized mound of clay. More than a little hand, foot, and eye coordination were called for—along with a little finesse. Tina made it look easy. But as I watched, I realized she put a lot more “body” into her work than I had ever expected I would need to do. I was worried my long-ago shattered wrist was going to be of no help once I reached a certain stage of creating my masterpiece.

In a matter of minutes, Tina had transformed that lump of clay into a perfect bowl—just the right size for a portion of soup, chili or ice cream.

And then it was my turn.

A new lump of clay was plopped down and as I got going, I found that throwing a pot wasn’t difficult (I needn’t have worried about my uncooperative wrist) but there was a certain touch required and more pressure needed than I expected. I understood how practice would be beneficial, as well.

Working the wheel...

Working the wheel…

Lump, twirl, pull, push, press, guide, sponge—all the while adding lots of water (also which I wasn’t expecting)—and so it went. I thought the process would be dry and possibly even gross. But it wasn’t—it was lovely. Almost sensual.

Tina guided my hands at times and took over at other times, explaining the hows and whys. While she was extremely helpful, chatty and kind in her assurance that I was doing well for a first-timer, I couldn’t help but wish that I could somehow conjure up Patrick Swayze. The thought of his hands cradling my own, guiding me, was a bit distracting! (Sorry, Tina.)

Guidance during the process is most helpful. Four hands are better than two...

Four hands are better than two.

Plop, whirl, push, spin, shape and…presto, I had a bowl! Tina helped me slide it off the pedestal and onto a drying rack. The freshly thrown bowl needed a few days to become dry enough to turn it over and trim off the thick bottom. (Who knew my new bowl and I would have such a thing in common!) I will go back to trim and then, sometime in the next week or so, I can go back and glaze my piece of pottery perfection. I will then decide if I will donate it to the event or pay a donation and take it home to my own cupboard. We shall see!

The experience was enlightening (who knew making a bowl could be so soul satisfying) and a whole lot easier and more fun than I expected. Tina was great to work with. Unfortunately, my experience was over just as I was getting used to the feel of the clay and the speed of the foot pedal.

Ta da! My finished bowl (left) is set to dry.

Ta da! My finished bowl (left) is set to dry.

But, now I know what I’ve been missing and I’ll just have to go back and play.

And next time, I don’t think I’ll even need Patrick Swayze.

For more information on The Paint Escape go to or call 360-331-2166 for classes, hours and all things fun, glass fusion and clay.

All photos by Les McCarthy.

Les McCarthy is an author, entrepreneur and IPPY bronze medalist for her yearly “Healthy Living ~ Healthy Life: 365 Days of Nutrition & Health for the Family” calendars. She’s been a year on the island and in the NW and loves every gorgeous bit of it. She joyfully tends to her geriatric fur factory and is rethinking her stand on how cute the snails and slugs really are!



  1. Fantastic article… one (or two 😉 ) little changes… The soup night is October 25 Sunday and I am unsure of location at this time or times. There is also the thought that it is the 3rd one but not sure. The person to get this information from would be my sister Shawn Nowlin, community outreach coordinator for Good Cheer at 206-295-4971. She will have to most up to date info on the event. Thanks again for a great and fun article.

  2. Thanks, Nancy, for the correction. The date is correct in the blog now. And yes, it IS the THIRD annual event. — Claire Moore, Editor

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