Friday, February 19, 2016

pottery 5 & 6

It seems that throwing a pot is a lot more like riding a bike than going fishing.

If you catch a fish in a particular spot on a good morning in June, there is not a guarantee that you will catch another one in that spot on any given morning.  HOWEVER, if you learn how to ride a bike on a good morning in June, chances are good that you will also be able to ride that bike on any given day after that.  No guarantees, of course, but chances are really quite good.  

Finding center seems a reasonable and hopeful task for a Thursday afternoon.

Four pots are now irrevocably destined for my garden (or yours), holes gleefully drilled into the bottoms of wet clay.  It is a quiet glee, in this basement room with one high window where 7-10 people stuff their coats, boots and bags into a corner closet, the better to make room for the steadily growing stacks of clay that fill the shelves.  We leave them for a week, covered in plastic, then trim them and put them onto another shelf to dry.

And then someone takes them away while we are gone, fires them, and returns them as hardened, brittle and bleached looking things.
I met one of those people one week as I was leaving class.
"How was class this week?" she asked.
"Great.  How was yours?" I responded, making a false assumption.
"Oh, I'm not taking classes.  I'm part of the guild.  I came to mix some glazes for you."
Huh.  So many things happen behind the scenes while I merrily sit at my spinning wheel with my hands in the clay.  She threw a smile back as she ran up the stairs to the parking lot.

These are the people who can centre without a thought, and make pots only to slice them in half so that we can see what consistency looks like in a "throw".
So a "throw" is the thing you do to clay on a spinning wheel... not to be confused with a "chuck", which is the thing you make to hold a piece that needs to be held when being trimmed.

A chuck has an hourglass shape with neither lid nor floor.  It's purpose is to hold the clay that matters (maybe a teapot lid, or cream pitcher with an uneven top surface) so that it can spin consistently as you trim and fine-tune the pot's contours.  As far as I can tell, it doesn't get thrown into the fire, because it works best when it is a little wet and will gently hold the piece you are working to perfect.

If you google "pottery chucks", you'll find a site labelled "throwing a chuck".  Apparently it's a thing.

This week I made a plate that looked like it wanted to be a butter dish.  So I complied.
And then decided to try to take charge of the next piece of clay to force it into being the domed lid for the butter dish.   I may have been successful.  I'll post pictures next week.

My last throw collapsed on itself.  It was a mug, then a mug with a more pronounced bulge on the bottom half.  The bulge began to fold and so I widened the top out into a bowl ... with strange and convoluted ropes of clay that were too weak to hold the weight.  So it went back into the bag for next week.

I emerge from 2 1/2 hours of quiet and occasional conversation with others who are sitting at spinning wheels, with mud on my face and clothes, and feel like it's closer to June than January.

My prayers that God would mold and shape me are taking on entirely new meaning.

Outside, the snow is melting.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

pottery 4

Class 4 resulted in 4 muggish looking pieces of clay
similar in width, sides that went straight up for a while
with no wonkiness or trenching

We could talk about mushrooming, though.
And one-handed centering.

There was a different teacher, you see.
You cannot centre clay with two hands.  she said.
The clay bounces back and forth between both hands and never finds the centre.

On the spinning wheel, you get the clay wet
wedge it onto the wheel (more water)
   I am now grinning inside ... mudpuddle lady returns.  perhaps it is my superpower.
and cup your left hand close to the clay.
Your other hand is holding onto the wrist of the cupped hand for dear life,
each arm parked on legs with elbows jammed into hips.
Hunched over the spinning wheel.

All that jamming and anchoring so that your one hand can restrain the clay
as it wobbles in circles,
holding fast
so that the clay gradually
stops    moving.

Thumb on top guiding it.

So. Mushrooming.
She saw it and asked what I was doing.
Why do they ask these questions?  As though we know why the clay is doing what it is doing?  
You'll have to cut that off.

There's a way to do that too,
that has to do with anchoring, jamming elbows
and right hand gently guiding a needled instrument into the clay;
at the moment the needle touches your inside finger you pull the mushroomed clay off.
That was fun.

She proceeded to show me what my hands should be doing.
by mirroring
and then actually putting pressure on my hands and knuckles and fingers
where they should be applying pressure

the walls started to come up straight
all by themselves

Except that when I tried the second lump of clay, it wanted to do the same thing
and again.
and a fourth time.
Nothing particularly beautiful or noteworthy,
but nodding towards consistency.
A victory of sorts
to have my fingers and thumbs begin to understand how
pressure and spin
create shape and height

When the instructor saw them at the end of the class, she congratulated me.
Which one was your last one?  she asked, hopefully pointing at the most beautiful.
Certainly not.  That was the one she had helped me with.  But still!

I have decided that I like them enough to cut holes in the bottom.
Several holes. In each pot.
I have broken pots while trying to hammer holes into the bottom
when they were sold to me in some gardening store with a nice smooth uninterrupted bottom
that does a plant no good.
It yellows and shrivels in damp despair.

But if I make them with holes while the clay is soft,
then they can hold plants in the summer
as long as they both shall live.

Maybe I'll put succulents in them.  And give them away... :)
Beware the gifts of a budding potter!

Monday, February 1, 2016

pottery 3

Last Thursday's spinning wheel resulted in two vessels. pots. containers of clay.

The first one is a study of wonkiness.
It could possibly function as a miniature pourer of cream or milk IF it survives the drying and firing. The bottom ended up so thin that it moves when you touch it.  And the spout - as usual - happened accidentally when the circular clay developed a wonky side.  If you try to follow a wonky side as the wheel turns it becomes even more wonky.  So you stop when it is just wonky enough.  Study in wonkiness (yes computer, add to dictionary).

I sat beside a (much) more experienced pottery student, who was great at concrete directions.  "drop the hole in the middle first".  Right.  (Thus the enthusiastically dropped hole which almost went right through.)

Or "the wheel is turning the wrong way ... it needs to go counter clockwise".  Right.  Minor detail.  (Apparently they are trying to teach software to catch sarcasm in tweets and posts.  They've got some apps up to 85% recognition!)
"And your hands should be at 3 or 4 o'clock".  Now that is helpful advice.

The next pot was a study in angles.
After centering ...
 (Notice how casually I refer to this now ... as though it has become effortless and intuitive?  Nope.  Pure spin.  I smack it onto the centre, take less water than I think I need to pat it into the middle as it spins slowly, and then apply pressure with my hands as the spinning speed increases ... up, down, back up, get more water, smack the clay, watch my hands on the spinning wheel, watch the knuckles wobble just slightly off course at each rotation ... centered?  Close.  
Let's experiment with the speed of the spin with clay that is only mostly centered.  
AH.  right. 
Rejects my directions completely.  Now we have early rebellion of clay.)

So...after centering, I dropped a hole into the middle of the clay.  Then started to try to raise the sides. But a strange thing happened.
The outside got higher, and the inside got a taller ridge as well,
but a trench started developing along the centre of the top.
The leading theory of this development was related to the angle of my fingers
as they applied pressure to the sides.

So, using the handy dandy string clay cutting tool,
cut off the trench.

Now I'm left with less clay,
but well behaved clay.
No trenching.

Rather, it develops an hourglass shape.
And the clay is thinning at the centre.
Not recognizing this as a fatal flaw, I keep trying to force clay upward, to thin the top rim.
Nope.  Whole vessel tears off at centre.

Now I have a very short kind of cute bowl. It doesn't feel like wabi sabi.
It feels like frustration.  And pushing far too hard when I should have just stopped.

Studies in angles and wonkiness.

And it is always about the centre