August 26, 2021

My Journey from Corporate to Ceramics

By Gauri Oak
Artist portrait of Gauri Oak wedging clay on a wedging table in her ceramics studio

In this first journal entry about my journey to this side, I don’t intend to spin you a heroic tale about how I made this “great transition”. I simply want to tell you my story. The honest truth, and you can takeaway your own interpretations from my narration.

I often get asked this question every once in a while so I thought I’d start with answering the question about how I became a potter. This post talks about my journey so far.

When I stumbled upon a “hand building” workshop back in 2017, I barely knew the meaning of the word “hand building”, let alone what studio pottery means. I had always wanted to learn sculpting to make miniature animals and birds. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the mud outside our ground floor house in my white petticoat frock… Trying to mould wet soil. I always had an inclination towards fine arts since before I can remember. But, after decades of “education” which culminated in me doing engineering and an MBA, I lost that side of me. In hindsight, looking for a workshop like this, was me trying to reconnect with that piece of myself.

So I joined a 2-month Handbuilding weekend course at clay station. I was working then, so weekends were my only option. I touched clay for the first time at that workshop, and learnt the basics of hand building. I was a natural at hand building, and started considering it as a serious hobby after this workshop. We lightly touched upon wheel throwing during that workshop, which piqued my curiosity. Since Slowpottery was super close to where I stayed at the time, I joined a beginners’ wheel throwing weekend course there. And then I joined another three month course and also took up studio time of 1 month to practice wheel throwing. Boy! I was not a natural at this! The fact that clay behaved differently in my hands while I hand built versus when I was on the wheel was unacceptable to me. I wanted to learn to throw better, but I still had no intention of taking this up as a career. 

A few months down the line I had decided that I wanted a designated space in my house to do handbuilding. Which was sort of a turning point. Up until now, I only made pieces during workshops or classes, and never brought this home. But just having a dedicated table with all my tools lined up, helped. If you’re looking for guidance on setting up your own Handbuilding workspace, check out my next journal entry

So, I started working on little hand building projects on my own after work. At this stage, I was thinking that maybe… after 10 years, I may consider doing this full time. When I don’t have to worry about money… That, maybe I should start saving towards this as a long term goal (LOL). 

When I got married a few months down the line, I asked for a pottery wheel as a wedding gift from a generous uncle. I didn’t touch it for months after it arrived. The first time I sat on the wheel, I figured I had no recycling setup. Because hand building almost never required recycling. I understood that just getting a wheel was not enough and there was this list of things I had to get in place to set up my home studio. Barriers to entry are high in this craft, especially if you’re a procrastinator like me. Slowly and over the next few months I set up recycling, and started getting other things as and when the need arose. This had to all be done on the side while having demanding pressures work wise. Regularly hunting for and attending weekend workshops became my thing. Where I started prioritising pottery classes over weekend trips, parties and hangouts. Very slowly, and unknowingly, poetry became an integral part of my life. Coming from a middle-class background, I still did not have the guts to quit a good job. That’s where my partner stepped in. And played a very important role in helping me arrive at the decision of getting into ceramics full time. I quit my job, served a 3 months notice and joined Slowpottery for a 1 year apprenticeship. After my apprenticeship, I launched GOAK Ceramics and set up my home studio where I teach and produce.

To those who want to consider this as a profession, my two cents are this. Keep your mind open. Work at a pottery studio before you decide to set up your own studio. Do the dirty work. Get to know how dirty a ceramics studio can get, help maintain and clean it. Recycle 200 kgs of clay. Doing these (often perceived as) ‘menial jobs’ teach you a lot about clay and ceramics. If you still want to keep going after the grunt work, you’re in love, like I was and am.

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