Pottery and ceramics

Ceramics with local clays, handbuilding and throwing with Alison Sandeman

Ref: S4D09464


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2 places available

About this course

Clay is a fluid and responsive material to mould into vessels and sculptural forms. Using local clay you'll dig yourself and other clays, explore how to use this raw material to make individual ceramics.

Course Description

Clay is a key player in the material world, its availability is boundless: finding it, testing it out and using it on this exciting course will give you a wealth of new possibilities on this course where sharing resources, pooling of ideas, and individual work will offer you a wealth of new possibilities.

After a short visit to a local site to dig clay, we return to the college to process it ready for use. You will become familiar with the nature and characteristics of dug and locally sourced clays. You will also learn how to make clay slips from different sources local to West Dean, including some from a local beach. You are welcome to bring clay from your own locality or even your garden.

We will be doing test firings throughout the course for all to see how the clay changes in colour from raw to the fired state. Hand builders and throwers will start by making simple forms. Hand builders will make pinch / thumb pots, slab and coil pots. Throwers will start by making simple shapes from which all can then progress and expand their own ideas.

You may choose to decorate you work. The absorbing process of decorating pots goes back thousands of years. This is well illustrated in the repeat patterns of the pre-historic pots of the Neolithic period, and the fine detailed patterns created with cord by the potters of the Japanese Jomon period. The applied and stamped decoration of medieval jugs, clearly show an enjoyment of decorating. Decorative techniques will include: roulette wheels, wood paddling, stamp pressing and incising into the clay surface through coloured slips. When it comes to texturing clay and decorating surfaces, found natural and handmade objects are invaluable.

The tutor has a great interest in local clays and passing on the knowledge for the processing and making techniques along with a healthy obsession for collecting and using found objects.

On the first evening, there will be a discussion in the pottery looking at the potential of the clay samples and found objects that the group have brought, along with the tutor's and West Dean's resource. There will also be a short look at past and present examples of local clays, slips, pots and decorating techniques. Preparing for the outing, on the next day. The tutor will also outline the timetable for the week.

Materials Week: Earth Matters:

This course is part of a themed week, Earth Matters. This set of six courses explore sustainable, natural or re-purposed materials, ranging from raw materials, local clays, natural pigments, foraged dye sources and eco-jewellery. The courses start on Sunday evening and finish on Thursday afternoon. You are encouraged to engage with those on other courses.

On Monday evening, tutors will each give a short illustrated presentation on their practice, 5.15-6.30 pm and on Wednesday morning, 9.00-10.30 am, will be a swapover session where you can sign up to a different course subject and explore a different material or technique.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • The cost of clay/glazing materials and firing costs of work made - large work in size and quantity may be charged extra.

What students need to bring

  • Notebook.
  • Wellies and waterproofs for our trips to collect clay.
  • A roll of white bin liners (biodegradable if possible)
  • Any clay from your own locality or even your garden, you have access to. If you have any questions relating to this or other aspects of the course, please contact the tutor - see email address below.
  • You are encouraged to bring your own finds to include in preparation for the course. Materials that work best with clay are any absorbent surface such as wood, textiles, rope and cord. Small end sections of eroded wood to use as stamps. Metal items, including old rusty saw blades, can work depending on the condition of the clay so do bring them.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Notebook.
  • Available from tutor:
  • Possible small amouts of local clays

Please note: Throwers need to be able to centre their clay. To help the tutor with planning, preparation or to answer any questions you may have about the course, you are invited to email Alison Sandeman at least four weeks in advance by emailing via the bookingsoffice@westdean.ac.uk please include your name, course ref, title and dates and your email or telephone number.


Alison Sandeman

Alison Sandeman is a long-standing tutor at West Dean. She makes functional individual pieces in stoneware, porcelain and Raku. She has a special interest in outdoor firing techniques.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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