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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...


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...

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