Friday, August 14, 2009

Clay Play

Looking back, it's amazing to realize how much learned about myself just by fiddling with lumps of clay for four weeks. I really sent myself through the wringer on this one. It really is a reflection of life and having hurdles to jump at every level of the process.

My first disclaimer: Watching claywork on a potter's wheel being demonstrated just looks oh-so-soothing and oh-so-easy. I'm here to's not!

First of all, just centering the clay is a challenge. Even seasoned potters still have their days where they can't center worth a crap. That definitely helps me feel better. It does help if you have good aim to just plop it down smack in the middle of the wheel. Then you have to hold your hands properly to mold the mound so it stays centered and works out the air bubbles (hopefully there are none). The process involves molding it into a sort of cone shape and then pushing it back down several times. This makes sure the clay is on true center if you do it right. If you don't or you are having an off day, it's just an endless source of frustration. You also have to make sure that your hands are wet enough to make the clay more pliable but not so wet that it's saturated. This comes more into play later. If clay is not wet enough, it's too abrasive and your hands get a microdermabrasion treatment which I can't say is entirely bad. Exfoliation never really is. With practice though, you can figure out the right pressure to use and get your feet to coordinate the speed of the wheel.

So once the centering is mastered then you can move on to opening the mound up so that you can raise into the form of your choice. Our first obstacle was the cylinder. An 8" high x 4"wide tower of clay. Frustrations galore. Too much pressure, too little pressure. Too much water, too little water. Not raising the clay in proportion to the speed of the wheel. Not having your hands in the correct positions. The result was all the same......collapsed towers of clay. There was also the issue of checking the thickness of the walls and the bottom. It had to be the perfect thickness so that it wouldn't explode in the kiln. I had that happen on several pieces. My other problem was that when I was attempting to raise the clay into the cylinder form I would get bowls, plates, candleholders.....everything but an 8"cylinder. However, I do remember the magic of the moment I finally had the perfect combination of water, pressure and hand placement. The clay raised as though it was touched by an angel. Such a fleeting and ephemeral moment. That is when I learned how much the clay responds to what you are thinking, even if you don't know that you are thinking it. Somehow, in that moment, I was in the zone. It fleed as quickly as it came when I came to and started intellectualizing it. However, I did learn to get to that point easier so I could continue to make semi-successful pieces. I can't wait for school to start to be able to go back and start practicing again.

So anyway, I did have some semi-successful pieces only to destroy some of them when trimming them too much or having them be so thick that I had to carve them tremendously to save them or not carve them enough and have them explode in the kiln. The delicacy of touch applies just as much here as it does in the process of throwing the clay.

Even fewer pieces made it past the bisque firing. Once they did, I knew I was pretty safe. The only thing to do now is not to mess up the glazing which I did do on a couple of pieces. Some glazes don't play well together. Even with all of my knowledge on color theory and color grouping, I still managed to make some pretty decent raw pieces look pretty horrendous. Oh well!

So many lessons and obstacles at every point. But I learned so much about myself through this process. I worked really hard and spent a lot of time on it. I came face to face once again with my perfectionism and my tendency to think too much. I have friends that I rag on for thinking too much about things and here I am, just as guilty as they are. The few fleeting moments where I was able to step outside of that and to give up the control and just go with the flow of the clay and the wheel were the moments where the magic can begin to show itself.

I can't wait for school to start again!

1 comment:

chrliechaz said...

I have more recently wanted to learn about this kind of clay work. Some day!