Throwing with Dan: Channel 4 Pottery Throw Down finalist reveals all

DAN Sandham, finalist on the Great Pottery Throw Down, reveals all about the Channel 4 show, over a pottery lesson at his seaside studio.

We met outside his workspace on Weymouth Harbour, a converted garage he shares with two other potters.

The walls are covered with jars and bowls, but strangely for a man known for his eccentric shirts, they’re almost entirely devoid of colour.

“I don’t like painting,” he said. “But you have to do it to take the pot to the next level.

“I bought all the underglazes and practised quite a lot to try and get better for the show, it’s about taking you outside your comfort zone.”

Dan's loved for unpainted pots.

Dan’s loved for unpainted pots.

READ MORE: Great Pottery Throw Down: Dorset engineer stars on Channel 4 show

He’s much more interested in shape and form, evidenced by the huge bowl still sat on his wheel from the night before.

“I don’t want to decorate it, I just want to make the biggest pot I can,” he said.

“I want to be sat behind a moon jar, hidden at the wheel.”

An engineer from Manchester, Dan moved all over the UK before settling down in Weymouth three years ago.

He was drawn to the sea, and spends more time kayaking along the coast than he does moulding clay.

With friends from the rowing club, he paddled to the Isle of Wight and completed routes around Anglesey.

“The coast down here is just so good,” he said.

“Going around Portland when the tide’s gone out, it’s incredible.”

Dan moulding his Animal Bust in week four. Picture: Channel 4.

Dan moulding his Animal Bust in week four. Picture: Channel 4.

Ever the anarchic potter, only handmade crockery is permitted in the studio.

We drank from personalised mugs made by judges Keith Brymer Jones and Richard Miller – every contestant receives one.

Each Sunday, Dan welcomes friends and fellow potters into the studio and they watch the latest episode together.

“It’s so weird looking back on what I could have made,” he said.

“I’ve got so many ideas now for how I could have done things, but in the moment it was tough.

“Especially if you’re coming back to Weymouth, doing one day’s prep, then driving back again.”

One of these haunting moments was his foray into handmade oil drum kilns, used to create his Weymouth-inspired water filter.

Dan during the firing process. Picture: Channel 4.

Dan during the firing process. Picture: Channel 4.

The judges liked his design and it was shaping up to earn him his first potter of the week title.

He just had to get through the firing process without incident, but he roasted his pot far longer than his fellow competitors.

“I’d read somewhere that the salt glaze needed to melt at cone eight,” he said. “We were doing cone six, so I needed another 40 degrees, and I was just pushing it.

“That moment when I look in the kiln and it was broken, my whole stomach collapsed.

“It’s like the second before you die and your whole life flashes before your eyes.

“I had the audition process, all the recording, all the judging, all the spot tests, and I just thought ‘that’s it, I’m going home’.

“I completely expected to be, but you’ve got to take risks.”

Dan refining his Water Filter. Picture: Channel 4.

Dan refining his Water Filter. Picture: Channel 4.

READ MORE: Dorset Dan makes final of the Great Pottery Throw Down

Despite its cracks and imperfections, the judges were suitably impressed by its form and Dan’s throwing ability, to secure him a place in the semi-final.

Online comments have typically characterised the 41-year-old as needlessly lackadaisical, assuming he rocks up, improvises some throwing and heads home, but it’s clear he cares more than it comes across on camera.

A more pure form of pottery, he’s drawn to the art of making the pieces and not necessarily the finished product itself.

“I really, really care, I just don’t always care about that individual pot,” he said.

“Being honest, there’s not as much of a plan as some of the more prepared potters, but that’s just how I work.

“I really respect the show, I love the show, it’s just a different way of doing it.”

For week five’s water feature, he worked on a huge number of designs to try and create a giant conker, complete with spikes spouting from the shell, but he just couldn’t get it to work.

“I’ve got lots of ambitious ideas but terrible execution,” he said.

A rare, painted ceramic.

A rare, painted ceramic.

Then, it came time for our lesson.

Dan has previously taught classes to both children and adults at the Weymouth Park Community Centre andplans to start some at his studio very soon.

He gave a quick demonstration, centring the clay and showing me how to raise the sides – and then left me to it.

“There’s basics, but there’s so much information that it’s important to drip feed,” he said.

“So much of throwing is getting your body used to the feeling of clay moving, so you’re reacting instinctively to what’s happening.”

After an embarrassingly short amount of time, I’d pierced the clay and killed my briefly promising pot.

“Already?” he said. “Do you want another go?”


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After a few more instructions, namely, don’t jam your finger through the side of the clay, I set about my second attempt.

It was going better. Dan noticed it was wobbling and explained how to use the heels of your hands to stabilise it.

“It’s not particularly the classes that teach you,” he said. “But being near people who are good, who have the right attitude.

“I had a teacher in Banbury who was just a really good potter.

“I’d practise for hours and hours, and he’d occasionally be like a Mr Miyagi from Karate Kid.”

Before my third and final attempt, struggling to visualise my end product, I asked “what am I actually trying to make here?”

“A pot you can be happy with,” he said.

For Dan, it’s not about competing, or exploiting commercially efficient designs, it’s about making pots.

“I don’t really care who wins,” he said. “It’s just really fun.”

Dan Miyagi and another happy student.

Dan Miyagi and another happy student.

For pottery content and information about upcoming classes, you can follow Dan at He’s even leading some workshops in Ashbourne on April 6 and 7.

The grand final of the Great Pottery Throw Down airs at 9pm on Sunday, March 10 on Channel 4.

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