Fancy giving pottery a spin? Kiln Cambridge offers you the chance to do just that. Frances McNaughton gets her hands dirty
If you’re a creative person living in or around the city, Kiln Cambridge should be on your radar. Founded in 2018 by Bilgin Soylu, it’s a bright, collaborative studio space, designed to support local artists and facilitate their creative process. With 20 running wheels, three large electric kilns, a huge gas-fired kiln, plus a small Raku kiln on-site, it’s one of the best-equipped open-access studios in the country.
Along with offering classes for beginners through to intermediate-level potters, Kiln Cambridge has a membership scheme which allows both amateur artists and established makers to access the studio seven days a week. Many of Kiln’s pottery students are now studio members, and a few have gone on to exhibit and sell their work locally.
Bilgin shows me around the space, introducing me to a couple of Kiln’s members, including designer-maker David Stonehouse (midway through crafting a new crockery collection, which is soon to be available at Kettle’s Yard) and artist Stephanie Hemming (brush in hand, utilising the back room to work on her latest painting). They tell me about what it’s like to be a Kiln Cambridge member, emphasising the supportive environment, opportunity to form friendships and freedom to come and go as it suits you. Both spend much of their time there, and are firm advocates for the studio’s membership scheme – as well as for pottery as a craft.
“Pottery is addictive,” Bilgin warns. “Once you get a taste, you’ll be hooked.”
With that, I’m shown into a seat. As a complete novice when it comes to handling clay – let alone shaping it on a spinning wheel – I’m placed in the safe hands of Kiln’s resident ceramic artist, Tarragon Smith, to get started. We begin with a demonstration, focusing on centring techniques (in essence, making sure the clay is evenly spread and centrally placed on the wheel), and slowly incorporate follow-up steps to transform the mound of clay into a shapely – and potentially even functional – creation.
Everyone interacts with each other – there’s a real community
Tarragon shows me how to do it, and I then show him how not to do it. But, over the course of the session, the prospect of turning a lump of clay into something aesthetically pleasing begins to seem less daunting. My first piece turns out well: a bowl of sorts (albeit one that eschews standard sizing), it’s structurally even, and generally acceptable overall. Then, of course, my ego takes over. As it turns out, clay is a compliant, yet occasionally defiant material, and I realise a shade too late that Tarragon’s suggestion to ‘quit while you’re ahead’ is a reflection of this. My second piece is a shambles.
Despite my 50% success rate on the wheel, I leave feeling encouraged to come and try again. This has much to do with the atmosphere at Kiln Cambridge; there’s no pressure to chase perfection, no competitive friction and a clear friendliness. “At other studios, people will put their headphones in and just keep to themselves, but it’s not like that here,” explains Bilgin. “Everyone interacts with each other – there’s a real community.”
If you’d like to try out pottery at Kiln Cambridge, you can register for an eight-week beginner’s course on Eventbrite. Get in quick, though; the next round of courses is already fully booked, so make sure to sign up to the Kiln Cambridge newsletter to hear about new opportunities. Full details, and more information regarding memberships, are on the website.