As described in my last post, the first step in pottery throwing is centering the clay on the wheel. My pottery teacher says that it takes students typically four weeks just to learn how to get the clay to stick to the wheel head, to mix the clay by coning it up and down for structural integrity, and to keep it centered.

The next major step is opening up the form. First, a thumb or sponge is used to make a small opening straight down into the clay. This is much harder than it sounds or looks. For most of my pieces, this has resulted in losing center and turning my clay into a wobbly mess. I typically end up taking a wire tool and removing the clay off of the wheel. Unfortunately, the clay has to dry out for awhile and be rewedged to remove air bubbles, before being re-used.

One of the reasons that I have focused more on plate-making is that they do not have to be opened. Yesterday, I arrived at class still not having independently made a decent cylinder, a basic form. I had, however, watched a number of pottery teachers on the Internet over last weekend. What they were doing didn`t look any different than watching my instructor. A lot of pottery is learned through feel and I was just not getting it.

I came into the studio and tried throwing a plate, which ended up going off center in the last step. It was not worth trying to save so I took it off of the wheel, balled it up, and put it back into my clay bag to be used in a couple of weeks. Then I tried to throw a cylinder, which turned into a saucer sized plate. I liked the looks of it so I was not too bothered by the fact that the clay had a mind of its own. Then it collapsed and I wired it off, discovering that the bottom was so thin that it was not viable, anyway. Counting the two plates I tried to throw last week, I had now made four wet clay blobs in a row. I was feeling a little frustrated.

Mikki, our instructor, had other things in mind. She wanted us to learn to make mugs. A mug is a cylinder. We were also adding curves to the form to make it easier to make a handle that would accommodate fingers. I centered my clay, mixed it up and down three times, took a deep breath and poked my thumb into the top of the clay to make my opening. To my surprise, it worked. Then I took my thumb and pulled it across the bottom of the form to widen the cylinder. I had a couple of close calls but there was nothing that I was not able to repair. I had successfully opened up the form without collapsing it.

Then it was time to “pull” the form. Basically, that is when most of the vertical growth occurs in the form. I carefully followed the steps but my form went awry. I asked my instructor for help. She put her fingers in my piece and said, “Oh, you didn’t make your hole deep enough.”

When I opened up, I had not gone deeply enough. I have also ruined forms by going too deep. I have also ruined forms by not having the wheel spin fast enough. I have ruined them by going too slow. As for this form, I was able to fix it and had a break through about what “pulling” a form actually meant and I moved my hands, slowly at the speed of the wheel, just as I had been instructed to.

By the end of the night, I had made two nice looking mugs. No, they didn’t match. I was actually kind of happy for that. I like variety. Next week, we’ll learn how to make and apply the handles.

By going deeply enough at the right speed and by trying over and over, I will have made a vessel from which I can derive sustenance. Opening up leads to many outcomes. Fortunately, life gives us many many do-overs.