Saturday, January 23, 2016

pottery 2

We mostly just want to get our hands on our block of clay and get going ... or at Least I Do.
I am impatient to give it another try.
but

there are these drying things from last week that need our attention.  If the clay has dried just the right amount, you can shave edges off like cheese.  If it's too dry, the clay crumbles when you try to trim it, and you dip it quickly into the bucket of water.  The clay responds quickly to water.
These are all things that I kind of learned in my backyard mud puddle apprenticeships with daughters and sons and grandsons.  Who knew there would be such helpful application for those joyous summertime afternoons?

And so we learn the art of trimming a pot that has been drying in a warm and covered location for a week.  We learn about the markings a potter and a daughter of a potter put onto the bottom of a pot, to mark it.  We learn about hollowing out the area that will rest on a surface - so that there is less contact of hot pottery with table or counter top.  Trimming tools are the size of a long pencil, with looped wide metal edges on the ends.
You put the pot onto the wheel again to trim it.
upside Down so that you can trim the bottom.
A second chance to fix what might have been done poorly on the wheel the first time.

I am forcing myself to pay attention.  I just want to spin with fresh clay.

Those who had no pots from last week are already working with new opportunities.
After an opening demo from our instructor, reminding us of the importance of anchoring the arms, giving us a sense of positioning of the hands, reminding us to take control of the clay (hmmmm), and other nuanced wisdom from hours and days sitting with spinning things, we are off to our own wheels.

My initial attempts to "take control of the clay" go poorly as my hands grip too tightly and the clay just lets go of the wheel and moves right off the spinning circles.  Twice.  There seems to be a lot of water, and our calm, good natured instructor looks at me and says something like
"oh yes. mud puddle lady. too much water."

One more time I roll the bit of clay, shape the bottom, smack it onto the wheel, and begin to spin. Instead of gripping tightly to force it to centre and up, I decide to do the other thing, and push it down into centre.  it agrees immediately with me and we have a truce.  

This thing ... this spinning and centered reality ...
wheel does the work
 fingers and hands stay steady, moving slowly
in and out
up and down
can't help but think of time,
and all the things that spin
safely
creatively

a sharp exclamation in the room yanks me from my own spinning
and my classmate's mug has a new shape with a fold

the instructor looks and smiles.  perfect.  she says.
just leave it like that
wabi sabi

the fun thing about hearing a new word while everyone's hands are deep into clay
is that no one can dive for their google device
we throw the word around to find out what on earth it means

we grin at our awkward, crooked, folded, stunted clay vessels

perfect
beautiful
flawed
complete
as it should be

wabi sabi

this word puts me on the wheel
centered
spinning





Wednesday, January 20, 2016

pottery 1

When I was asked to join a pottery class this winter, my yes was a full response to the prospect of hands in clay in the middle of January.
Spinning clay, no less.
I was under no delusion that I would create a beautiful piece of pottery ... though friends try to convince me that beautiful art would emerge.
No.
There may perhaps be a piece of useful, or interesting clay that takes shape, but I have seen enough of first attempts at pottery to understand that this is a long skill to learn.

The class is a wonderful assortment of people - most of us beginners, but not all.
A mother and daughter, a newly retired business woman, several university students ...

The classroom is smaller than I anticipated, with ten wheels close together around the outer rim of the room ...so that you sit knee to knee with people on either side.  

The clay is heavy. Each of us begins with one block of clay, and we cut off a small piece weighing about 450 gms.  The small weigh scale on the table confirmed measurements.

You do not cut with a knife, but with string that glides effortlessly through the dense block.

Clay is kneaded before it lands on the wheel ... but not like bread.  No quarter turns so that it is kneaded in all directions.  Always folding and kneading in the same direction.

And then you turn on the spinning thing  (making sure to have a bucket of warm water close at hand, the cutting string, and a few other utensils for trimming clay)

And then my mother's instructions about "adding enough flour to make a soft dough" become the clue for understanding everything else that happens.
For now science and any semblance of exactitude are nonsense.

The spinning wheel has concentric circles on it, so that you can see centre.
But putting the clay in the centre, and wrapping your hands around it
with the right amount of water is
pure instinct and feeling.
I could have sat there ALL DAY with my hands
wrapped around that lump of clay, with the wheel
spinning, with my eyes
closed trying to fight for centre

and it would have continued to wonk out slightly... off centre
 catapulting outward instead of settling in to the spin
 
the teacher came and said let me show you
and proceeded to wrap her hands around the clay
finding centre as quickly as I could take a breath
and began to shape the pot with her hands
sure and steady
elbows resting on her lap as an anchor
inviting the clay up into a small vessel

there. she said. do you like that? there's your first pot.

No.

How did my inner 2 year old emerge after just 1 hour in a pottery class.
I want to do it myself.
But I silenced my inner 2 year old.
The instructor said we'd have more fun and learn more quickly if we just kept making more vessels and the centering will come.

That is certainly the only vessel that happened on my wheel that afternoon.
the other attempts broke off at centre (hands too dry, spinning too fast),
or developed a strange wonk ... kind of like an unintentional gravy boat that was supposed to be circular but went off course and when I tried to follow that spout the whole thing collapsed on itself

or the spinning lump of clay simply cracked.
when I asked why (now I'm a 3 year old)
the instructor looked at me and said - the clay is too tired
it has collapsed and been pulled up too many times.

oh great.  can it revive?
sure.  put it onto the board and let it dry out a bit and rest, and next week it'll be ready to go again.
seriously.

Stay tuned for pottery 2