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For the past few weeks I have been taking an introduction to pottery class at Lillstreet Art Center. It has been an experience and I have a new appreciation for ceramics as I now understand how damned difficult they are to create. I took the class because it was a b'day gift from my roomie, and I thought I'd waltz right in and start cranking out works of art with ease. After all, it's clay and clay's fun to work with right? And I'm creative, artistic and have a great sense of color and form, right?

Well...erm...not quite right.

Clay is fun and I do think I have a nice aesthetic...but this is not an easy skill. What's more, while I liked the instructors at Lillstreet, I did not find them particularly effective. They're all nice and would likely be fun if you wanted to go out for a beer but as instructors they seem to only have two offerings: 1) "gosh, I don't know what you did wrong and I can't really tell you how to do it right because pottery is all about muscle memory and you just have to learn to do it by feel" or 2) they take over and do it for you. Neither is a particularly effective learning model for me.

After the first few weeks I was frustrated and angry at myself for not "getting it" (and being perfect, let's face it). Hand building was okay, but not as interesting to me as the wheel - and I didn't seem particularly good at it. I hand built "the drunken-footed bowl" and a kala cup - neither of which is pretty. You can see pics of the drunken-footed bowl

I only kept this bowl because I needed something to practice glazing on. I don't care for it - neither in form nor finish, but tarirocks seemed to find it passable so I have given it to her and insisted that she use it every time she eats cereal for the rest of her life.

I had even worse luck with the wheel and at the four week mark was sour-graping to people that I didn't think this was a craft for me, and that it was much to expensive and time consuming anyway (so there! humph!).

Then I went in to work alone on a sunny afternoon when the studio was quiet. I had my headphones playing mellow tunes and there was not an instructor in sight. I wedged six pieces, determined to craft at least one vessel on the wheel - and what do you know? I did it - and I loved it!

They are by no means perfect (and my phone takes crappy pictures) but you can see my wheel thrown pieces

Our class ends this week and I am torn. Part of me wants to try to continue with this art form, part of me knows that would difficult for me financially (if I did go on I could repeat this class, or could spend more money for a longer class with different instructors, or I could just pay for studio time to see what I can learn by doing). Lillstreet also offers oil painting classes (which are cheaper and I have more experience with oil painting)and I wonder if I should sign up for a painting class instead. I'd love to do them both, but due to time and money that's really not possible. Really, I don't have extra money for classes at all but it's so nice to be inspired, to meet other artists and to have a creative outlet with set goals and deadlines (which makes me work more regularly).

To pot or not to pot...that is the question...


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 28th, 2009 08:46 pm (UTC)
Kinda related - you might dig my wife's site (she's a professional potter) : http://www.fireinthehand.com

May. 28th, 2009 08:54 pm (UTC)
Wow - her work is stunning. I especially love the nesting sea shell bowls.

Okay - I have potter envy. ;>)
May. 28th, 2009 09:01 pm (UTC)
Wow! Lovely work.
May. 29th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
her work is breathtaking
May. 28th, 2009 09:03 pm (UTC)
I understand. I took pottery classes for a bit at Pewabic, here in Detroit. I enjoyed them, but not enough to continue on. I do have ungodly amounts of hand thrown pots thought! *g*
May. 30th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
May. 30th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
It's a cool place. I had only been on the first floor until last week when I wandered upstairs a bit and saw some of the other corridors and class rooms. It is a tempting, tempting cornucopia of creativity. If I had unlimited time and money I'd like to take most of the things they offer. Let me know if you sign up for something.
May. 28th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
I know nothing about pottery, but I like your pieces. I'm sure, like all things, it takes practice. *Not* cool that the instructors can't tell you what's wrong. They should at least be able to tell you that maybe you're not steady enough, whatever. Since you seemed to get further on your own w/quiet studio time, maybe you want to do that for a while if its cheaper, and see if the craft grows on you; it could be you just need more quiet practice time.
May. 30th, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
I think I definitely need more practice time. I may pay for some studio time in June - but if I do I have to make myself get in there (and not over book my schedule like a dork!).

I don't mean to say that the instructors didn't help at all. Some did help quite a bit (as they could) and I found that on nights when the class was smaller I got a lot more effective interaction.

I plan to see how these wheel pieces come out and then I think I will have more of a sense of my knack (or lack) with it all. It is fun...sticky one has a ball!
May. 28th, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC)
I love working with clay. And you.

That is all.
May. 30th, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC)
:) I will repeat. I miss you. Just sayin'.
May. 29th, 2009 01:03 am (UTC)
HI! I am roy_batty's wife the potter.

To pot or to paint... that is the question right? Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the effects of centrifugal force, or to put brush to canvas to render your inner vision visible... that's a toughie. Of course I'm not a painter, I'm a potter, so I am naturally biased. :) There are a few easy things you could do to make your potting experience better (which I would be happy to expond upon at length if you want), and as for the expense, three things: you can make more pots in a given period that you can paintings (probably), and once they're done you can use them for something which is nice, and if you don't like how something turns out on the wheel you can re-wedge the clay and use it again. The other thing I have noticed about throwing in particular (that is, it doesn't apply to trimming or glazing) is that the circular motion of the whieel, and the physical nature of the work make it a great mediation. Throwing focues the mind nicely. The process of centering the clay really can help to center the potter... its pretty cool actually, and one of my favorite things about making pots!

Good luck and have fun with whichever you decide on!
May. 29th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
Nicely said. And it reminded me of M.C. Richard's book, Centering in Pottery Poetry and the Person -- which I would highly recommend to anyone, whether or not they were interested in pottery. (link goes to google books, but the book itself is still in print)
Jun. 3rd, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
Interesting...thanks Edge!
Jun. 1st, 2009 10:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your post...I would absolutely love any tips that you'd like to share about potting. I am leaning heavily towards taking another class this summer but some of that will be dictated by cost. Still - I have quite a crush on pottery and would love to hear some of the things that you've learned and how your art ties into your spiritual practice (if you feel like sharing).

Your work is really gorgeous - I'm so glad that roy_batty sent me a link.

All my best and much thanks - Jennifer
Jun. 4th, 2009 04:44 am (UTC)
Thanks! It is pretty exciting to have the website up and running!
It is also pretty scary to be giving up the day job, but I can't wait to be spending more time in the studio. I have like a million things I want to do/develop/make. Like fountains. Whee!

As for tips, I could write pages on centering, which is the most fundamental part of throwing pottery on the wheel (that is both getting the clay centered in the first place, and then keeping it on center as you work)

One of the things I find most useful when centering is to close my eyes for the last stages when it is "close" to being centered. Your eyes can trick you in to thinking that the clay is centered when it's not, or not centered when it is. (I have a bat or two that makes everything look offcenter). Since you can really only tell if your clay is truly centered by "feel" it helps to take the eyes out of the equation. This may also be why your instructors are not giving you much clear instruction about that, or telling you that centering will come with practice. :p

It also helps to use your body weight to help push on the clay rather than relying on your arm muscle. And of course it is essential that the arm that supports the side hand (As opposed to the "top" hand) be braced well so it doesn't wiggle at all.

The pressure from the side and the top needs to be roughly equal, and there is a "sweet spot" toward the front of the side that is just more efficient and easier when you push there. This is where practice comes in, but it *does* help to know that the sweet spot exists! I am sure there is a formula to explain why pushing in a certain place (and it likely has to do with angles) makes it easier to counteract the centifugal force pushing outward against your hand... but I don't know what it is. :)

As for the spiritual aspects, the first thing that comes to mind is the process of centering itself and its effects. There is an obvious parallel between what is happening to the clay and the spiritual pratice of alignment. The process of centering the clay and working with it, slows me down, brings me more into my body and into more alignment. The process encourages me to be careful, deliberate, and intentional with my movements, and increases my awareness of my body and what it is doing. On the other hand, if I am wildly un-centered or upset, it is hard to work and I have totally *wrecked* pots by trying to throw or trim when very upset and off-kilter. Which mean that my mental state and lack of personal "centeredness" becomes glaringly, painfully obvious, and that is usually a sign that I need to cut my losses for the day and go deal with what is on my mind.

2 cents for now...
May. 29th, 2009 02:14 am (UTC)
I think your stuff looks good! way better than mine after my first set of classes. it was hard for me too. I think it takes more than one set of sessions to get the hang of throwing. Mostly it just takes a lot of practice.

pottery and painting are both fun so I am sure you will have a good time either way
Jun. 1st, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks lady - I hope so. I need more creativity right now.

How is all your art going?
Jun. 1st, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)
OMG I finished the Star Goddess! I don't want to post pics until she gets to Sarah though. so I am planning to ship her out this week (I am so paranoid about that!)

Also, I am getting ready to do a collaborative project, exciting stuff
Jun. 2nd, 2009 11:08 pm (UTC)
Wow - that is wonderful. I can't wait to see pics once you feel ready to post them.

Much love to you - Jen
May. 29th, 2009 06:52 pm (UTC)
Pottery easy???
Ah Jen! Pottery is a joy, but it is VERY hard to get. I took an 8 week class with Rain anumber of years ago. I never did get the hang of blancing the damn thing, but I sure did like the feel of it. Very sensual, very earthy, very grounding! You've inspired me, I might try it again. Yeah, after all those other things I've got going on! Ha! Talk to you soon I hope. Love Diana
Jun. 1st, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Pottery easy???
I'm with you - it's very earthy, sensual, grounding work - and I do love it. I wish we lived closer, I'd beg you to take a class with me.

I am thinking of you lady and hoping that you're well. I am in a weird-non-writing mood and have not been up to long emails lately but I promise to write soon.

Kisses - Jen
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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