Lessons from Pottery Class: Week Three

I don’t believe in beginner’s luck.

It’s a myth. If you get something right the first go around, it’s just your starting point, a place on which you can improve. It may be better than your neighbor’s, but it’s rarely better than your next attempt.

In class, we are asked to do things in fours: four bowls, four mugs, etc. Part of this is for practice, and part of it is because so much can go wrong between throwing, trimming, firing, glazing, and glaze firing. You play the odds by making four of something in the hopes that one will survive.

This week, we were asked to make four vases. My attempts were great examples of the evolution of getting better:

Four vases

Four vases

Voila! Vase-ish.

Voila! Vase-ish.

The first one is barely more than a bowl. Then I managed a little bit of a lip on the next one. Then I actually created a shoulder on the thing, and lastly, it kinda looks like a vase. When I threw the first bowl/vase, I was rather pleased with myself. Clay naturally wants to lean out, hence why bowls are great to beginning projects. Attempting mugs next is the fight to get the clay to go up, not out. Vases involve getting the clay to go up and back in. I was quite proud of it until I looked at #4 and thought, “hmm, so that’s what I am trying to do.”

I am hoping I have time in the coming weeks to go back and throw some of the starting pieces in class, just to see what a bowl or a mug look like after I moved on to the more advanced pieces. By the end of this class, we are supposed to be building a teapot. I think I will be just as excited if I have a mug that doesn’t look like my six-year-old made it.

It’s only week three, and I think I have already decided to sign up for classes again. This is the beginning of an addictive hobby.

Lessons from Pottery Class: Week Two

Sometimes, mistakes can be beautiful.

Ok, it’s week two. I am not expecting perfection, but I would be happy if I didn’t slump every damn mug I try. There is a definite mojo when you are throwing, and I can already feel when I am off. Tonight, I was off. I am hoping lab hours are more productive this week than class time.

Since my hands were covered in slip, I was not prone to grab a picture of my latest failure, so bear with a rudimentary artist’s rendering (perhaps crime scene photo may be more apropos):

Depiction of my oops.

Depiction of my oops.

When you are throwing a pot, you can start to feel when it’s going wrong. It starts as a slight wobble, then a big wobble, and then…flump. My grandmother started with pottery when she was my age, I learned. I wondering if she sat at the wheel looking at the blob of clay in front of her that had just collapsed, swearing like I do. The truth is, my grandmother was always a little more optimist, a little more creative with what could be. And perhaps I might be able to see the potential in the carnage in front of me if I weren’t trying to adhere to a syllabus for class. Either way, when I saw the felled pot in front of me, I thought of this little one of my grandmother’s:

Grandma Lamp

Grandma Lamp

I don’t think this was a mistake that grandma turned into a small hurricane lamp (the wick comes up through the small hole from the reservoir of oil), but it might have been. There are plenty of other pieces of my grandmother’s that I believe might have been rescues she just didn’t want to give up on, like her mother with stray dogs.

What I do know is that when a pot slumps on my wheel, I try to see what I might be able to make out of it. At that point, no one has any expectations that it will be a mug, so what could it be?

Lessons from Pottery Class: Week One

When I was a little girl, my grandmother had a studio in a small outbuilding in my grandparents’ backyard. I’m sure previous occupants used it as a garden shed, but it was grandma’s pottery studio, complete with kiln, wheel, and a ton of clay. I walked into my first pottery class at the Potters’ Guild, and that smell of the clay swiftly took me back to that little studio.

bowlsAt our first class, we learned the steps in throwing a bowl. Center. Enter. Open. Throw. Shape. Growing up watching my grandma throw pots, I didn’t realize there were steps. I just thought there was magic.

As I attempted to form the semblance of three bowls, I was reminded of a very simple fact: my grandmother had incredibly strong hands. She was not a tall woman, and she had the most delicate looking hands, hands that belied their strength. As a prolific bread maker and potter, my grandmother had hands that could knead twenty pounds of clay or an entire loaf of cinnamon rolls with ease, and any conversation with her usually included one of her hands gently gripping your arm. But don’t be fooled; she could pull you into a hug faster than anything.

In the picture, you see my bowl attempt #1 (top middle), attempt #2 (right), and attempt #3 (left). The thickness (or thinness, which is the goal) is from drawing clay up between your thumb and middle finger. Let’s just say that my left hand fingers have never had such a workout before.

I was filled with memories of my grandmother the whole drive home after class. looking at my hands on the steering wheel that seem so clumsy and oafish compared to what those mothering, delicate hands could create. I’m enjoying walking in her footsteps in even a small way. I’ll have to attempt the cinnamon rolls next.