The Potter’s Challenge by Bernard Leach

The Potter's Challenge by Bernard Leach Title Page

The Potter’s Challenge by Bernard Leach Title Page

Just started an awesome book called, The Potter’s Challenge by Bernard Leach published back in 1975.  Only up to page 30 and already completely inspired and fully believe I am on the right path.  What he is saying rings so true for me.  This is the tradition I am drawn to and moved by when it comes to making pots and why and how to make them.

Last night at the SF main library I wanted to bring home a stack of 20 pottery books but had to reduce the pile.  In so doing I would grab a book and flip the pages rapidly while scanning for something magical, a photo of a great pot.  No names could be seen so my mind was free to judge the pot for itself without any association to a maker or the maker’s reputation.  I had no criteria I was looking for, no color in mind or particular shape or type.

What kept happening was amazing and affirming to me.  I flipped through one book that had hundreds of pages of pots that did nothing for me until wow… what was that?  I looked at the pot’s form and surface and color and it touched me deeply as good, true, honest, real, full of life, well made, timeless all in that split second glance.  I found and read the small caption and it said Bernard Leach, Globular Pot, 1927.

With the next book the same thing happened, quickly flipping until something grabbed my attention, but this time it was a plate, Michael Cardew, Bird Dish, 1932.  He was a student of Bernard Leach.  I loved his book The Pioneer Potter.  More on that some other time but I also like pots made by his students like Svend Bayer  and  Mark Hewitt.

The next was a tall bottle with gorgeous colors.  Turns out it was made by Shoji Hamada, bottle, 1929.  Again I saw the pot first and the name later.  A few pages over and I saw another amazing pot, a bowl, 1923, same maker.

Then this beautiful green flash went by as the speeding pages closed too fast.  Wait! back up, what was that?  It’s faceted, it’s stoneware, looks like Celedon. It’s a bowl by Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, 1936.  Also a student of Bernard Leach.

In another book full of not much I flipped until one pot grabbed me. I let out a gasp as if I had found treasure.  I knew right away who made this.  It had to be Warren MacKenzie.  I had seen a YouTube video of Warren MacKenzie throwing a bowl like it but could not have imagined how gorgeous and quiet it could have become after firing. It was a wide footed drop lip bowl with Shino glaze with iron brush work.  He was a student of Bernard Leach.

After flipping through 15 books about pottery without exception, all of the pots I was drawn to were made by potters cut from the same cloth so to speak.  All in the same overall tradition, all different and yet all good form, great surfaces and colors and all with something that touched me in some way.  All pointing back directly to Bernard Leach and his students, as well as Shoji Hamada, and maybe even the meeting of east and west.  These are the kind of teachers I want to learn from and these are the kinds of pots I want to make.

I am very much drawn to wood fired pots as well.  Salt, soda, ash, shino, shells, and the stories told on the pots by the effects of flame are areas I want to explore under the guidance of a master potter.  I love that wood fired pots look different from every angle and each side has it’s own personality and reveal themselves slowly.

To study or apprentice with a master potter who makes pots from their heart in this way, would be a dream come true and a once in a lifetime opportunity.  For now I will learn by practice and repetition.  I trust that my experience flipping through the pages of these books skipping the pots that left me cold and landing on the ones that moved me,  confirmed that I know what I like and what moves me and what does not.  The instinct for what makes a pot good is in me already.  I know it by feel and intuition not by study or by book.  I know it in my heart.  So now from my heart to my hands and into the clay I aim to make quiet powerful pots full of life.

ok. now back to my book to see what else Mr. Bernard Leach has to say.

Please comment if you have something to add to the conversation.

Thanks for reading my blog.  If you like it – like it.


More encounters with my new favorite tool, the sawzall blade

The surface of this cup was scratched with a sawzall blade. The background in this photo reminds me of a sunset

Ajira snapped some photos last night of pots I decorated with  the sawzall blade. It was fun to experiment with the light and background.  Check out more of her photography at

drinking cup scratched with sawzall blade

drinking cup scratched with sawzall blade next to my son's wellies

When I made these marks, I held the pot on my lap with a hand on the inside for support and with a firm grip on my tool pushed the blade down and at the same time slid it sideways towards me.  This made the sweeping marks.  On others I used it to make a straighter mark more like combing.  Some I did from both directions.  It was fun exploring what could happen.

a simple design scratched in with a sawzall blade

a simple design scratched in with a sawzall blade

Thanks for looking.


Up all night with my new favorite tool

Sawzall blade tool

My new favorite tool - the used sawzall blade

Scratches made with sawzall blade

Scratches made with the sawzall blade

I found this journal entry from a while ago in February when I stayed up all night playing with clay…

I did a lot last night from 9 pm until dawn when I heard our neighbor’s rooster crow.  I pulled handles for jugs and mugs.  I made a 2 pound bowl.  I kneaded loads and loads of clay.  I trimmed 6 cups and 3 made it 3 did not.  I think my tools were dull so I must sharpen them before trimming next time.  I had 6 balls at 1.75 pounds of some really stinky clay which I threw into shapes that did not make it.  It did not hold up very well during throwing. The other clay I got from John at the Clay Studio seems denser and better to work with, plus it does not smell like a sewer or cow dung.   It’s good practice finding out how hard to push and how far I could go and especially how far is too far.  It’s also good practice letting go and not being tied to the outcome.

I trimmed the lid I made the other day but it was too soft and did not make it.  So, I made a new lid in a different style which will be easier to trim when the time comes and a real improvement in form over the last one.

I used my sawz-all blades to decorate some texture into the 2 jugs and the mugs. I found a way to make a mark by dragging it 90 degrees and sliding it a little left or right at the same time which makes a progressively longer mark.  The sawzall blade is my new favorite tool.  I love the result of the mark left when I just go for it without any hesitation, nice and fluid.  Confident.

Finally I put a bold and thick handle on the jugs.  One of the jugs was still soft at the belly but not the rim.  The rim provided good attachment but the belly caved in a little which made the join look sloppy and contrived.  I tried to save it but it kept getting worse and worse so I let it go. I will make more.  The jugs were 3.5 pounds of clay and could have been a little bigger and less thick in the base.  I was unhappy with the shape of the big bowl I made the other day so I let that go as well by cutting off the rim and creating a whole new design.  I like what it has become as a result.  I figure it is like learning guitar.  Slowly and correct will be the better path in the long run.

My hands and wrists are sore today and my lower back is aching.  I imagine I will get stronger as I practice and it will help heal my wrists.  As long as I am mindful of how far I am pushing myself it will be ok.  I do believe it is about technique and skill and not about physical strength.  Centering large amounts of clay can be physical but it can also teach me patience.

I’ve been resting for hours and I really want to go out there and check my clay.  I think throwing more often for less time is better than one marathon session.  However, during this middle of the night adventure time drifted away from my awareness.  I was doing my thing totally immersed in the task at hand, learning and loving it with passion and momentum, when all of a sudden I heard the rooster crow, and thought, it must be time for a nice little cuppa.

I cleaned up, made some earl grey tea, and greeted the sunrise with delight and gratitude.


First 3 teapots ever

C# first 3 teapots

Cameron Sharp Pottery first 3 teapots

I just uploaded a photo of my first three teapots.  I have been wanting to make some for a while so this is awesome for me.  All three are different.  The first has a deep lid that fits in a gallery with lugs for a cane or wood handle, the second has the lid fitting over a lip with a pulled handle, and the third was inspired by one that Simon Leach made in one of his videos.  It’s for green tea and has no lid with a handle on the side.  I’ll be doing some videos where I talk about the process of making and critiquing my work, so look for those in the future on my YouTube channel at Cameron Sharp Pottery.  I think it is important to be able to do that and decide what worked and what did not or what I like or don’t like to learn what can be done next time.  For example the 3rd teapot has a spout and handle that are too long for practical use.  I think a shorter handle would give more leverage lifting a pot full of tea and the spout could be made to the same length as the handle for balance both physically and aesthetically.  And it would take up much less space on the counter or in the cupboard.

Thanks for visiting.