The West Dean College Foundation Diploma in Ceramics is awarded in recognition of the successful completion of the two-year, part-time programme of six, three-day units, self-directed study and making, with a final 1,500 word essay. It aims to offer a comprehensive understanding of the material and will enable you to gain a wide variety of clay techniques from hand-building to throwing, decorating and glazing work, that will develop your skills and build up your own creative language. You will be supported throughout the course, enabling you to create work based around your own research and interests.
The West Dean Foundation Diploma in Ceramics is suitable for potters who have had some experience with working with clay, either at West Dean or elsewhere, and are looking to commit to an extended programme of study and develop confidence within their own personal approach and inspirations.
Within each unit, an in-depth practical process will be introduced by the tutor, as a springboard to exploring techniques with individual direction to aid your development. The importance of health and safety and the running of a studio will be introduced alongside these units. There will also be talks on historical and contemporary issues in ceramics. Each unit will be held in the College’s fully equipped pottery studio that offers regular Short Courses with well-known makers of ceramics throughout the year.
Learn more about the course structure and the breakdown of study blocks.
Unit 1: HAND BUILDING TECHNIQUES – Pinching, coiling and slabbing
26–29 November 2023, Three Days, Beginners/Intermediate S3D13201
This unit will support a foundation of knowledge, with focus on the attributes of different clays and how to hand-build with them. Learning and implementing techniques from pinching, coiling and slab work. Throughout there will be a series of demonstrations that will provide hands-on experience working with clay, understanding its material properties and how it can be shaped and manipulated. You will gain an understanding of health and safety within the studio and how to implement it into your practice. A brief will be set to guide you through the processes, which in conjunction with your own interests, will begin to inform your creative ideas. These skills will be adapted to beginner and intermediate levels guided by individual students’ needs and personal achievements. A short one-to-one tutorial is designed to mentor your ideas, to help time manage your self-directed study and to develop a framework for your research and making over the intervening weeks to bring to the next unit. This tutorial will be held during the time at West Dean College. In between each unit, an interim tutorial on a set date will be allocated to have a 40 minute virtual tutorial on Zoom with the tutor.
Interim virtual tutorial for Unit 1: Wednesday 24 January 2024
Unit 2: THROWING and TURNING
10–13 March 2024, Three Days, Beginners/Intermediate S3D13485
The second unit will begin with a group discussion on one piece of work brought in by each student which they have made in the intervening weeks. This is an opportunity to discuss and share ideas, and any technical hurdles or achievements. Step-by-step practical demonstrations in throwing will follow, covering the skills required to throw a variety of forms and sizes. Repetition of forms and becoming intuitive with the pieces will be practised. Pieces will be progressed by turning and refining the shape. A focus on form, grouping of works and their relationship with each other will be the main investigation. Function will be the grounding of this unit, which can have practical or sculptural outcomes.
Interim virtual tutorial for Unit 2: Wednesday 17 April 2024
Unit 3: COLOUR and TEXTURE - Decorating, relief, slip, sprigs and glazes
9–12 June 2024, Three Days, Beginners/Intermediate S3D13532
An exploration in a wide variety of colour and texturing clay. This will be full of technical practices that involve building a collection of tests. These will be documented individually with tiles and journals. There will be a taster of how these applications are applied, which will allow you to do advance research back home in the studio. These areas will be introduced: Colouring clay bodies with stains and oxides Making plaster batts and sprigs Texture and relief making Tile decorating to experiment with ideas and methods Decorating slip: sgraffito, mono printing, inlay, sponging, wax relief Basic glaze making: earthenware/ stoneware.
Interim virtual tutorial for Unit 3: Wednesday, 17 July 2024
Unit 4: LARGE WORKS throwing with multiples / slab building
8–11 September 2024, Three Days, Intermediate S3D13535
You will expand your technical skills by throwing multiples and adding the pieces together. This will be with larger weights of clay. You will learn how to be aware of the clay consistency, and learn to measure, cut, join and finish the work. Techniques that will be shown include joining pieces together, coiling or using slabs. This unit will be looking at larger pieces of work. You will be expected to self-direct your ideas and inspirations through your own research and two-dimensional references. You will be guided by your tutor and helped to select the best techniques for you to pursue.
Interim virtual tutorial for Unit 4: Wednesday 30 October 2024
Unit 5: ADVANCE GLAZING - line blends, oxides and stains
8–11 December 2024, Three Days, Intermediate S3D13536
Glazing is a lifetime of investigating and research. It will have been touched on in Unit 3. This will be a more advanced course in furthering the glazes into line blends. Colours will be obtained in stains and oxides to investigate colour gradients, and additional raw materials will be tried to create matt and textured glazes. Several firings will be held, so that glazes can be furthered and developed, and you will document tests in your technical books. You will be given a demonstration on how to glaze pieces of various sizes, along with pouring, dipping and the use of a spray booth. There will be the opportunity to bring your own bisque clay to test glazes and experiment with desired colours or textures. You will also look at studio practice and the importance of health and safety.
Interim virtual tutorial for Unit 5: Wednesday 28 January 2025
Unit 6: SELF-DIRECTED MAKING with tutorials
16–19 March 2025, Three Days, Intermediate S3D13538
This is a chance to have one-to-one tutorials focused on techniques and self-directed study. You can bring in pieces to work on, or make a final piece. It is an opportunity to explore challenging methods and to work in a supported environment. You will have the chance to take part in group discussions to generate further ideas. There will also be a discussion about marketing, establishing your practice and how to present your work outside of the studio.
There will be an assessment of the research and technical journals that you will have worked on throughout the two years. The final essay must be submitted following the successful completion of the six units of study. The essay must be completed within two months after completing the final unit.
Between each unit you will be expected to develop techniques through the set projects, interpreting and developing your work in response to experimentation. You will bring this work to the start of the following unit for discussion and dissemination. This can be in two-dimensional and three-dimensional work. Therefore, between courses you will need access to a pottery workshop and be able to spend several days a week evolving your own work – this will need to include somewhere to fire your work. This may be a home studio, evening classes or a community pottery studio. A tutorial session will be planned with the programme tutor between each course on the published date.
It is expected that students also keep a journal of their studies alongside a sketchbook, visual research and technical journal for your own records and interests for the duration of the Ceramics Diploma programme.
By the end of the first three units, you will have built your proficiency and confidence in hand-building and throwing methods, with an introduction to surface decoration and glazing. This work will inform your own pathway in units 4-6, where the work will evolve through self-directed development, progressing into glazing and intermediate techniques.
You will also be required to submit an essay following the successful completion of the requisite six units of study. The essay must be completed within two months of completing all six courses.
The essay will consist of a 1500 word reflective account that underpins your own development and research, and demonstrates the link between your overall experience of the Ceramics Diploma and your future pathway, with evidence of historical and cultural research relevant to your own practice.
The Programme Tutor will discuss how this written work may be presented.
An exhibition of selected completed work will be planned within the college foyer to celebrate your achievements.
The Foundation Diploma in Ceramics while not nationally validated, nevertheless aims to provide students with the ability to identify themes within their practice and to identify the kind of work they are looking to produce and be able to communicate this confidently. Candidates will be awarded the Diploma on completion of all units of the programme on the dates listed, submitted the 1500 word essay on time and contributed work for the exhibition of work held in the College after the final unit.
The diploma is open to beginners who have had relevant experience in making ceramics and are familiar with the terminology, or those with some experience who require a structured course. You must also have:
There is a selection process for this course. Students must complete and return the Application Form and the Questionnaire by 16 August 2023.
An informal interview on Zoom with the Programme Tutor will follow on 6 September 2023. Before places are confirmed soon after this date. Following confirmation of your place, the Bookings Team will contact you to arrange for payment of the course fees for the first year of study.
A specific condition of enrolment is a commitment to attend and pay for all six units, by the due date.
Explore and expand your work in a uniquely immersive environment with its own connections to art history. Our School of Arts students enjoy specialist studio spaces dedicated to painting and drawing, sculpture and tapestry and textile-based work as well as exceptional exhibition space.
The course fees are payable in advance for each year of study
Year 1: Course fee: £1500 (non-residential, covering all three units – payable by 16 October 2023)
Year 2: Course fee: £1500 (non-residential, covering all three units – payable by 4 August 2024).
The course fee (£3000 in total) includes clay/glaze materials supplied for use during each three-day unit held at the College, and the virtual interim tutorials. It will be anticipated that as you have access to firing facilities elsewhere, that you will take most of your work made on the courses home for firing.
Accommodation for a three-day course, including dinner and breakfast, is currently available from £326 (single occupancy). Please see current accommodation costs - specific to the timing of each unit.
By Elizabeth Wells, MA Conservation Studies student, specialising in Ceramics and Related Materials
After complex decision-making surrounding the treatment of an incredible 16th Century Maiolica dish from The Russell-Cotes Museum, the journey from dull, broken ceramic to vibrant, finished object wasn’t quite over...
By Chris Arrowsmith, Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies student, specialising in Metalwork
This spring term the metals conservation students were given a whole suit of armour to play with. It turned out to be a major undertaking over three months, but one challenge in particular interested me – how on earth to mount a heavy, free-standing suit of armour? &nbs...
Each year, students on the MA Conservation Studies programmes undertake a six-week work placement in industry as part of their studies. The College’s extensive links with museums, conservators and professional bodies in the heritage sector across the UK, EU and internationally, opens up an impressive range of opportunities to apply their skills and knowledge in a 'real-world' sett...
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
The contemplative and the intellectual dimension: a mix that helps us to live in harmony with ourselves and with the surrounding world. The ancient Romans were wise!
For the Romans the garden was initially tied to the peasant society, t...
By Elizabeth Wells, MA Conservation Studies student, specialising in Ceramics and Related Materials
Introducing Jack Durling, a new short course tutor at West Dean for 2023. Specialising in creating ceramic animal sculptures, Jack seeks to express his love of animals in his work and through his workshops. Here, he tells us more about his practice, current work, inspirations and where it all began... How did you get started with making ceramic animal sculptures? W...
Course Tutor - Foundation Diploma in Ceramics
Short Course Tutor
Tanya Gomez graduated from the Royal College of Art and is renowned for her vibrant large decorative vessels. She teaches from her studio in Lewes, East Sussex and exhibits throughout the UK and Internationally. Associated with the Craft Potters and Contemporary Applied Arts.