"I'm involved in a lot of different styles," she says, "such as coil pots, pinch pots and slab pieces.
"The nice thing about hand-building is you can have no knowledge of clay and you can make nice pieces. With a wheel, it takes a lot longer to get proficient."
Hand-built pieces, once shaped, sit for a couple of weeks to dry, Shelley says. Otherwise, they'll crack.
"The drying process is important," she notes.
Then they are bisque-fired, which is the first firing that drives out the moisture. The pieces then are glazed, or have colors put on them.
"The second firing is at a higher temperature," Shelley adds. "The glaze and clay melt together and form a glass. Then you take them out of the kiln and they are done."
Shelley shows how the slab roller, where student Mary Margaret Heaton is working, functions. It rolls out a piece of clay until it is thin and big. Then that slab is hung on something and formed with the hands, or made into tiles, or shaped in a container of some sort.
She also teaches classes in how to make Appalachian face mugs. "You can design them any way you want," Shelley notes.
She points out short or tall candle holders that she or her students can make, funky serving trays, soup bowls and mugs.
Mugs are her favorites
"Mugs are my favorite things to make," Shelley notes. "When someone holds one of my mugs, (he or she) holds a little piece of my spirit.
"They're all unique and one of a kind. ... And I make the handles (usually) so you can get three fingers through them."
About 80 percent of her work, she says, is wheel-throwing.
"I love making pieces such as slab vases, but I'm really a thrower," Shelley notes.
A couple of her signatures are twisted handles and unusual glazes.
"I'm always trying and experimenting with glazes," Shelley explains. "I keep layering (the glazes) to see what I get."
She points out a pinkish tint to some of her pieces that she is pulling out of the kiln.
"I'm working with pinks for the first time," Shelley notes, turning a piec over in her hands. "This color is 'cherry blossom.'"
Coffee Times Coffee Shop in Lexington has bought some of Shelley's pieces, and put in another order this week. She also travels to shows around the state, such as the Woodland Art Fair and the Keeneland Art Fair, to sell her pottery.
Medical leave from teaching
Shelley became a potter when she took a medical leave from teaching years ago. She says she'd always been fascinated with pottery but never saw herself as a visual artist. She recounts an episode in second grade, when her aunt was her teacher, and she had to draw a picture of "Little Boy Blue." She couldn't do it, she says, so her dad ended up doing it for her.
"From that point on, I thought I could never be an artist. All the way through high school, I didn't take art classes. ... I took one in college."
The college art class was wood sculpting, and Shelley says she found she didn't know where to start with the large piece of wood. Now, she does a little abstract painting for fun. She took classes with artists such as Sarah Culbreth and Joe Molinaro to hone her ceramics skills. Shelley says she still has a long way to go and "things to improve" in her pottery-making style.
When she retired in 2000, she was asked to teach a four- to six-week workshop in pottery at an alternative school. She didn't really want to do it, but the more she prayed about it, the more she felt she needed to do it.
"And I loved it and they loved it," she adds.
"I was so grateful for the opportunity. I like working with small groups. I love for people to find the artist within themselves."
Shelley says working with clay is a good analogy for living life.
"You're making something out of nothing," she says of the clay. "You're molding, forming and making it the best you can be."