Does this pottery piece look like a Nian Gao (New Year Rice Cake)?


Cake-shaped clay, handwritten notes


Over the years I have been to a couple of pottery workshops and each time, the experience is different. Who would have thought that the concept of kneading clay to create something could have variations?

(Above photo: Siew Ling taking a picture with her pottery piece — a cake-shaped clay with the handwritten words “Tan Siew Ling SGE”)

In one of my previous pottery experiences, I was given a piece of clay. I rolled that piece flat. With that flat piece of clay, I placed it into plates and bowls so it would take the shape of that crockery. You then take out the “new” crockery so you could further design them — such as pressing shells into the insides or adding other clay shapes like animals or shapes formed with a cookie-cutter. 
 
For another workshop, likewise, I was given a piece of clay. For this, I rolled it into a ball and then flattened it slightly to make a coral. I then decorated this coral by drawing some patterns with a wooden tool or pasting pebbles on it.
 
The one which I went to just a few years ago involved the pottery wheel which is the size and height of a round table. You used the foot pedals to control the speed of wheel rotation. You were given a wet piece of clay. As the clay is rotating on the wheel, you added water or sponged excess water as your fingers are moving round and round on the clay to make a cup or a bowl or anything. The fingers will widen the hole which you have poked in the centre so you just keep “digging” until you get the thickness you wanted. At the same time, you moved your fingers outwards and upwards for the height of your piece. After which, we got a chance to visit the kiln where the pottery pieces would be fired.
 
Last month, it was yet another unique pottery experience for my division’s bonding session.
 
We were given a piece of clay the size of our palm. We patted it slightly and then placed it on a pottery wheel the size of a plate. With a sharp metal tool, we formed a circular base as the wheel was rotating. We then scored the clay with the tool, making random “cuts” on the clay. We used a wooden tool to roll another clay until it is of one centimetre in thickness. We then glued this long thin clay to the base, coiling on top of it. We repeated this with another clay and formed another layer of coil. After which, we used a tool to spread the clay out as evenly as we could. In the process, we could form any shape we liked. 
 
This is definitely a very different experience. I was paired with a colleague who was explaining via text what the instructor was demonstrating to the group. These text messages appeared on my refreshable braille display which I carry around to communicate with people. During the clay-making session, she was guiding me with her hands. When she needed to explain via text, I would be reading the instructions on my device. The instructor also came by to help salvage the mess I did on the clay (Hahaha). 


Siew Ling - Pottery Is Not a Piece of Cake (image2)
Side view of Siew Ling refining her pottery piece, a cake-shaped clay with the handwritten words “Tan Siew Ling SGE”


With my fingers covered in clay powder, the device inevitably was also covered in them too as my fingers were moving all around it. We then gave it a little cleaning to wipe off the powder.
 
Pottery, whichever experience it is, is very therapeutic. You just follow the rotation of the wheel, the repetitive rolling motion. Slowly, a piece of creation would emerge. There is no one same piece even though you are following the same instructions like everyone else. That outcome will come as a pleasant surprise to you.
 
Do give pottery a try if you ever get the chance!


Tan Siew Ling is fully Deafblind, having lost both her sight and hearing to a neurological condition, Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2). She carries a screen reader with a Braille display, which she fondly names it as “Bear Bear”, everywhere she goes. Her humour, wordplay, and love of puns keep friends on their toes. She enjoys reading books in her free time and loves to pen down her thoughts, often on a whim, which can be entertaining at times, on her social media. When she is not writing or reading, she can be seen doing insanely 72kg leg presses or swinging a 20kg kettlebell to and fro. You can find out more about Siew Ling and her journey here.