Award winning ceramicist Sue Pryke reveals what it was like to join this much-loved pottery show as the new judge.
The clay is ready, the wheels are turning and the kilns are firing up. That’s right, The Great Pottery Throw Down is back on our screens, complete with a new judge!
Sue, who began her pottery career over 20 years ago, admits joining the show was scary. However, she’s loved helping to guide the potters through the highs and lows of the competition, which includes plenty of tears and broken pots.
We caught up with Sue to find out what it was like to join the series, what went on behind the scenes, and why the episode with naked model was one of her favourites…
Hi Sue! How was your first day new to the series?
Well, I’m a complete newbie to television, so I was a bit of a rabbit caught in the headlights. I was very anxious but excited at the same time. Keith has been there from the beginning so he was a huge support. I’ve known him for a long time, so it was lovely to have a friendly face who introduced me to everyone on set. Keith is so buoyant, gregarious and fun to be with, he made it easy for me. It’s still very hard to decide who will be Potter of the Week though. Melanie [Sykes, the new presenter] was so funny and a great support for me. She’s always full of beans, generous with her time.
How would you describe your role in The Great Pottery Throw Down, and what does this series promise?
As a judge I hope I come across as firm but fair, and I can say that the quality of the potters is really high. They aren’t always familiar with the different types of clay, the challenges, the cameras. So on top of all of that I wanted to be respectful of what they were going through and what they were presenting.
How did you find being a judge?
The quality of the process is really high, so the discussions that we’ve had have been lengthy because we can’t decide. It’s been really difficult because there’s absolutely nothing between them at all, but one person’s got to win. It’s been really challenging.
How would you describe the potters this year?
All of them brought something different – different characters, different abilities, different interests. For example, when they made a chess set, they didn’t all do the same. Week on week, no matter what they did, each potter brought something different to the table and it was always unexpected. It really does all come out in the clay. They are diverse, strong individuals and I’ve learnt new things from them. To see what they were making in the challenges was really interesting. They adapted their own techniques as they are home potters, so they haven’t gone through a set way of working, which was always good to see.
What have been your stand-out moments?
There have been so many. I think my favourite moment was in the final episode, but also slip-casting week, which is my personal forte. With slip you have to balance the different chemicals, and when some of the potters didn’t know how to understand the different clays, we were scooping some of them up. It got very, very messy in there. My Big Fat Greek Pottery Week was also a great week. You could see that some of them were really struggling and had to go out the room and have a little chat with themselves before coming back in. There were some disasters too, and on top of that there were two naked models in the middle of the room they had to copy from. So, in all, absolutely amazing!
How did you help the potters throughout the series?
I tried to help them at any crisis point and to stop them from derailing. There were key moments where I knew they were going wrong and I couldn’t intervene, but I did raise an eyebrow. Not sure if that helped or not!
Did you enjoy the filming?
Yes, absolutely. There wasn’t one down moment, although I never expected to be a judge on a television show. I loved talking to the potters, looking at their work – that all came very naturally to me as it’s what I do. I have experience of teaching ceramics, so I’m not afraid to talk to people about their work and tell them where they’re going wrong. Hopefully it’s all about encouraging people to think about pottery. All I’ve wanted to do on the show is to make the potters blossom and then the viewers will think, “perhaps I could do that!” Oh, and I quite liked the make-up and runners making me coffee!
How did you get involved in pottery?
I always loved art and English at school, but I chose to do pottery on a whim. I absolutely loved it, purely because the teacher was so engaging, encouraging and energetic.
What’s the best piece of pottery advice you’ve ever been given?
When putting a handle on a mug or cup, it’s like a tree and a twig, the handle has to look like it fits on the mug so it’s almost growing out of it. Also always remember the three Ps – preparation, preparation and preparation. Think about what time have you got and then plan ahead.
What’s your personal best, and what’s your worst pottery disaster?
I made some tableware pieces for a Swedish company a long while ago and they’re still selling well across the world, and I know a lot of people who still have them in their homes. I have loads of disasters, but that’s a life experience and a learning process.
What’s next for you in the pottery world?
Over the last year I’ve been working with chefs, as I’ve always felt that food needs to sit on a special plate.
The Great Pottery Throw Down returns to TV on 8 January at 9pm on More4.
Sue Pryke appears on the The Great Pottery Throw Down, which you can keep up to date with on Twitter. Oh and remember to subscribe to Mollie Makes for more fab interviews and inspirational craft projects.
First image courtesy of Channel 4 / Love Productions