Having been getting her hands dirty for 20 years, Abu Dhabi Pottery’s Homa Farley knows a thing or two about pots. Having been known to knock back up to seven cups of the stuff on a busy deadline day, Time Out Abu Dhabi’s David Clack knows a thing or two about coffee. Eager for a spangly new vessel for his favourite brew, our man cracked his knuckles, strapped on an apron and sat down for an hour-long lesson at Homa’s Khalidiyah workshop.
Fancy crafting your very own ceramic masterpiece? Follow our step-by-step guide and you too could very soon have a coffee cup, vase or toothbrush holder to be proud of.
Step one: Make a hole
‘Before you begin,’ explains Homa, ‘You need to make your clay as round as possible.’ She slaps a lump of the stuff between her palms with wince-inducing force, before presenting us with something vaguely resembling a giant Malteser. We’re instructed to plunge our thumb into the top of our brown ball, being careful not to skewer it all the way through. Homa seems confident that in just a few minutes, we’ll have something resembling a pot. Recalling the time when we were scolded by our playschool teacher for eating our lump of Play-Doh, we’re not so sure.
Step two: Start pinching
Next, Homa shows us how to hollow out our mug. We put our thumb inside the hole, our fingers on the outside surface and gently pinch the sides, rotating the clay and repeating until it starts to take a more concave shape. ‘The most important thing when making anything out of clay is to make sure everything is the same wetness and the same thickness,’ she explains, instructing us to carry out a second round of pinching, this time applying gentle pressure to large lumps to ensure the sides of our mug are of even thickness. Only this time, we have to close our eyes. ‘Blind people tend to do really well at pottery,’ Homa tells us, and, as we gingerly feel our way around our fleshed-out mug, it’s easy to see why.
Step three: Make it smooth
Next up, a little low-intensity sculpting. Homa hands us a ‘kidney’ – a thin, curved, rubber implement used to smooth over the dents our sausage-like digits have left in the clay’s surface. We’re also handed a brush and a tub of slip; a mixture of clay and water that looks a little like melted chocolate. ‘Clay starts to get dry as you handle it, so brushing a little slip on any dry and cracked bits stops it from cracking any further,’ say Homa, as we delicately touch up the rim of our by now rather handsome vessel.
Step four: Make a design
With the shape of our mug looking good, it’s time to add a personal touch. Picking up a wooden skewer, we get to work on our design of choice – the classic Time Out logo, as seen on newsstands since 1968. Not particularly tricky to reproduce, except that, in the interest of not distorting the shape of our mug, we have to do it upside down. There’s a moment of panic when we realise we’ve not left enough space for the
‘i’ in Abu Dhabi, but with a swift bit of stick work we re-smooth the surface of our clay and have another crack at it.
Step five: Craft a handle
While she explains that there are several options when it comes to fashioning a handle, Homa shows us a method that will make it as structurally sound as possible. Which, given that we like a lot of tea, is just as well. Using plenty of water, we slowly pull down on a long sausage of clay, stretching the piece thinner and reinforcing the clay’s molecular structure. ‘It’s a lot like milking a cow,’ Homa tells us. ‘Or a camel.’ Next, we score hash marks into the ends of the handle, and also into the surface of the mug where we want to attach it, apply slip to both, and then carefully press the handle into place. Then, with a thin coil of clay, we reinforce the joint, smooth it over once more with our kidney, sit back and admire our handiwork.
Homa hosts pottery building and throwing classes every Saturday, 4.30pm-6pm for children and adults, and 6pm-7.30pm for adults only, with the same classes on Sunday, plus an additional 10.30am-noon session. Each session is priced at Dhs150, or Dhs480 for four weeks of classes. Abu Dhabi Pottery is located on 16th Street, opposite Khalidiyah Garden. Call 02 666 7079 for more information.
By David Clack
Time Out Abu Dhabi, 10 May 2011
Watching Homa Vafaie-Farley make a pot is a real treat; the Abu Dhabi potter, who has been in the business for 20 years, has transformed a blob of clay into a large, curvy work of art in no more than 10 minutes. “People always ask, ‘How long does it take you to make a pot?’ when they should be asking how long did it take me to get where I am in order to make a pot so fast?” she says. Vafaie-Farley’s workshop, located in the Khalidiya area, offers classes to students who might one day be able to spin a pot in a flash. She likes to start beginners off with what is called a “pinch pot”, made by pinching the clay into the shape you wish. While pinching, she instructs us to close our eyes and feel the sides, making sure its thickness is even throughout.
After she is satisfied with our pots, she procures all sorts of paraphernalia and tells us to use whatever we wish to embellish our work. From stamps to swabs of lace, she encourages us to experiment with texture. “I collect all things when I’m outside or overseas to use on my pots: leaves, shells, anything,” she says. Besides pinching, there are other methods, including coil (using coils of clay wrapped over each other to make the desired shape), slab (where you create a flat piece of clay using a rolling pin) and throwing on the wheel (in which a piece of clay is centred on a pottery wheel, hollowed out then shaped). But Vafaie-Farley emphasises that potters also have to be chemists: “You are not a potter unless you are familiar with glazing and firing as well.”
Abu Dhabi Pottery offers specialised private and group classes for adults and children. Adults pay Dh150 per class or Dh400 for four classes, with a one-time registration fee of Dh60 and a refundable deposit of Dh100. Children’s sessions cost Dh85 for one class and Dh280 for four with the same registration fee and a refundable Dh50 deposit. Children’s birthday parties and school visits are also welcome, where pinch pots, small teapots, animals or small pendants can be made for a minimum of eight children over a period of an hour. This costs Dh35 per child plus Dh10 each for clay for the birthday parties and Dh35/45 for unfired/fired pots for school trips. Call 02 666 7079 or visit www.abudhabipottery.com for more information. Nadia El Dasher
If you’d like to see Homa Vafaie-Farley’s work, she will be exhibiting for the third time at the Dubai International Arts Centre (DIAC) February 3-17. The centre will be divided into two sections, one in which she will showcase her almost 60 pieces, and the other will hold around 80 pieces by 40 of her students. Vafaie-Farley has won two awards from DIAC at its 2003 and 2008 members’ exhibitions. Here she describes some of the pieces that will be on display:
TEXTURES Up close, textures looks like a hundred tiny little pieces moulded together with gold. It is her favourite piece, and shares the same name as the exhibition. “I love this kind of glaze, the finish of this pot and the way it came out.” SEA INSPIRATION I & II These were inspired by the sea. “I like to walk on the beach and collect shells”, which she then mirrors in her pieces. “The coils on top represent the waves, and I added barnacles for texture.”
VOLCANO I, II & III: They were made on a wheel and coated with an interesting glaze, which gives the pots a rough finish. Vafaie-Farley, who was brought up in Iran, lived by the side of Mount Damavand, a volcanic mountain where she was inspired by the different layers and colours of the mountain and “its rough and rugged elements”. DESERT INSPIRATION: Vafaie-Farley’s homage to the deserts of the UAE. This particular piece is made up of camels, palm trees and sand dunes with minute elements of the desert throughout.
We check out a pottery class in Abu Dhabi. More fun than we could ever have imagined
‘This is your body, your kidney and your rib,’ begins Homa Farley, the brains and talent behind Abu Dhabi Pottery. She stops and laughs out loud: ‘Anyone who overheard us in a pub would think we were up to no good!’ So begins our introduction into the world of pottery, a thoroughly rewarding and relaxing place to be.
Homa’s studio sits snugly among the shops along the side of Khalidiya Park, a gentle cove of calm hidden from the bump and grind of the capital. She welcomes us in and offers us refreshment, meanwhile introducing a handful of students, each busy with their own little projects. There’s Tara, sat astride the wheel, rewiring her brain to make sense of its peculiar rotation (she learned pottery in Japan, where anything with wheels spins in the opposite direction). Claire is making something using a coil technique – we assume it’s a watering can and quickly learn never to assume anything when an artist is involved (it’s a teapot; apologies all round). Across the table, Shelley is doing some slab work, carving intricate designs into what will become a set of incense burners – we’re careful not to call them plates.
Homa flits between the three, mopping up any mistakes with a minimum of fuss. ‘That’s something she’s really good at,’ confides Claire. ‘No matter how bad it seems you’ve messed up, Homa always has a way to make it work again.’ Claire tells us she’s been a student here for two months, cajoled into joining by a friend.
‘I wasn’t really interested in pottery before I came. The only thing I ever made with clay was a dinosaur. It was really good on the one side, but on the other side it looked pregnant. (The room explodes with laughter.) I made him in year seven, but I’ve still got that dinosaur.’
The 90-minute class is merry on new-found friendships and good- natured banter. It’s like a night school that you actually look forward to – largely due to a teacher who encourages the students to go where their muse takes them, keen for them to interact and exchange ideas. ‘I think you should be exposed to all the techniques, and if you like a particular style, you can concentrate on that,’ she explains. ‘Perhaps you can combine a lot of different styles or techniques. Not many teachers teach in that way.’
Homa shows us some elegant amphoral jugs that demonstrate her fondness for combining methods. They are long and thin with unusually sharp bases that hang low, as though weighed down by water. Intricate coil work surrounds the upper body. Her style is influenced heavily (though, not exclusively) by ancient Middle Eastern motifs – she is Iranian, after all – and much of her handiwork is distinguished by animal motifs, which are common to the region’s artefacts. Rams seem to have a special significance, and she explains that the moulding of the horns signified cultural status. ‘If they were straight up, it meant wartime; if they were straight down, it meant farming,’ she explains enthusiastically.
Homa began her life in pottery about 20 years ago, when she first moved to Abu Dhabi. ‘The first time I touched clay, I knew it was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,’ she says. ‘There was nobody here teaching it at that time, so I moved to the UK and started attending courses and spending time with a lot of potters. I taught myself a lot, and then later went to the Glasgow School of Art.’ Her style has attracted plenty of international observers. Her studio is decorated in articles celebrating her work, published around the globe, and two of her pieces are part of a permanent exhibition at the National Pottery and Glass Museum in Tehran. Few people are lucky enough to make a career out of their genuine passion, and the fervour with which she goes about her work is infectious.
Before we leave we’re offered the chance to make a pinch pot (we think it’s a coffee cup, though nobody else is convinced) and take a turn at the wheel. It’s harder than it looks – no wonder Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore got themselves so messy – and within seconds we’ve managed to collapse the delicate structure Homa started us off with. Her husband Michael joins the party later in the evening, chuckling at our lack of progress. ‘Most potters say it takes two lifetimes to learn,’ he laughs. We reckon we could do it in three.
Abu Dhabi Pottery, 16th Street, Khalidiya (02 666 7079). Dhs400 for four sessions; Dhs150 for one session. More details and a detailed map can be found at www.abudhabipottery.com.
By Jon Wilks
Time Out Abu Dhabi, 29 June 2009