Wellbeing and clay
The many positive contributions making in clay has on wellbeing.

I have always been a passionate believer in the wellbeing benefits of making in clay (well, making in general but particularly in clay😁). The number of times participants say something like “this is so therapeutic!” or “I love my clay time each week to relax” makes it hard not to think that wellbeing and clay can go happily hand in hand.

In recent years there have started to be studies conducted into the effects of clay(or pottery) on wellbeing, particularly around mental health, that have confirmed this and the use of clay in art therapy is well established. Indeed working with our hands actually has an impact on brains.

Pottery (ceramics) may be a particularly valuable activity due to the involvement of dexterity; as Lambert herself notes in a 2005 study, “Considering the amount of brain area devoted to the sensitivity and movement of the hands, it is likely that behavior maximizing the use of the hands may be the most engaging.”

https://www.bridgestorecovery.com/blog/neuroscience-could-explain-why-pottery-is-good-for-depression/

The term I most connect with for how I work in clay is mindfulness. The idea of reconnecting with yourself in the moment, the world becoming about you, your feelings, the sensations from the clay and what you are focussed on. Letting go of outside worries and stress for the time of making. Ruth Beech, defines mindfulness as,

…noticing what’s going on right now in the present moment, and not judging anything about it.

www.restorebalancehealingandart.com/2021/04/19/mind-full-of-stuff/

It can be meditative in nature as you focus on the tactile sensations and feedback directly from the clay as we get our hands dirty and think about what we would like to make. Each touch marks the clay, even the lightest, as we transform a lump into something meaningful to us. We work with intent but also with flexibility as sometimes the clay does something unexpected and we need to decide whether to continue on our original path or incorporate this this development/mark/texture/form into our plan.

Making in clay requires a certain level of adaptability, a degree of comfort in the unpredictable. There are so many points in the process where you don’t have complete control that ‘happy accidents’ are not uncommon and imperfections are to be celebrated. In a world that is fast and often celebrates a kind of perfection, ceramics reminds us to be patient, take our time, remember and celebrate our fallibility (after all we learn most from our mistakes!) and accept that we are not always in control.

Making in clay activates your body and mind together in the process. You use major muscles when doing things like wedging up, rolling out or simply carrying a bag of clay (I often joke about setting up a clay gym with people weight lifting bags of clay, extruding coils and wedging clay! 😂) as well as minor muscles needed for dexterity and fine motor skills. Simultaneously you have to make decisions about technical building aspects and the aesthetics of the piece.

Another important aspect of making in clay is of course self-expression on both a conscious and unconscious level. Conscious self-expression is simply the idea you come to the studio with that you want to make. It may be very specific like a sculpture of a sea creature or it may simply be a concept you’d like to develop like celebrating sea life and encouraging people to take better care of the oceans. Unconscious self-expression happens as we make and is often only seen/recognised after a piece is finished. It may even take someone else to point it out.

This unconscious self-expression was part of how I developed my current work. It wasn’t until after I’d made several pieces and put them all together for an exhibition that I realised how much my work is about my experience as a woman and particularly as a mother (I had my daughter not long before). This unconscious expression is no less valid as it is still a true reflection of ourselves and often is a way of acknowledging things going on in our heads that we’ve been ignoring or unaware of.

All of this creates an experience that is:

  • fantastic ‘me time’,
  • helps develop ability to focus,
  • promotes a positive and accepting outlook,
  • develops good approaches to dealing with failure,
  • and reduces stress.*

So you can see why I believe so passionately that wellbeing and clay go hand in hand and, if after reading about all these benefits, you’d like to have a go please do either check out my workshops, courses and experience days or just get in touch and I’m happy to chat through options to find what works best for you. I have in person options with workshops at the studio as well as virtual options both live and video workshops and can cater for all ages and abilities. I love the idea of as many people as possible falling in love with clay so do let me know if I can help 😊

*https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832