Archives for posts with tag: Pottery

I am finishing up my third quarter of pottery class. Due to scheduling issues, John and I have stayed in the beginner’s class each time. The first quarter was a blur. As much as I tried to watch her demonstrations, I left steps out without even realizing it. I thought very hard about what to do next. I had to concentrate very hard to get the clay centered on the wheel, so I was not trying to fight with a lop-sided form. Sometimes I was lucky and made something that I liked. Honestly, though, it was like the clay decided what shape it wanted to be.

Since we’ve stayed in the beginners’ class, I’ve had an opportunity to watch Miki, our instructor’s, demonstrations of basic technique. Each time, I watch what she is doing with less confusion, and each time, I notice familiar and unfamiliar steps. The basic forms in thrown pottery are the cylinder and the bowl. The forms are not just different on the outside but they are different on the inside, as well. Cylinders are flat on the bottom with straight sides. Bowls are well, bowl-shaped. There is a gentle slope to the center on the inside that is to echo the curve on the outside. I learned how to make the outside contour of a bowl before the inside. I am still working on the inside contour.

I have made a lot of bowls. Many of them collapsed. Others were of uneven thickness throughout. Other pieces crack. It took me awhile to notice this and then once I noticed it, I am still learning how to watch my instructor’s technique and compare it to my own. This process has required a lot of practice and close observation with every piece. I observe pressure, clay viscosity, my hand position, and the changing form of the clay.

All of this mindful observation has helped me progress in my skill. At the best times, I feel at home at the wheel. At other times, I feel like I am revisiting a strange land, a land in which spinning clay forms come unstuck from the wheel while they are spinning in my hand!

Mindful observation has such a grounding effect for me. Mindfulness is not solely thinking about the present. It is sometimes thinking about the past within the lens of the present or about the future, with a firm footing in the here and now. I can only live in the present, but I can recognize the past as part of my life and the future as the potential life ahead.

The month of May was a busy one and I strayed into fears about the future. I am working to increase my regular mindfulness and self-care practices back to the level they have been in the past when I felt more balanced. Today it occurred, as it has no doubt occurred to countless others, that I cannot plan a future without knowing where I am right now. It would be like planning a trip with no starting point.

Before you leave home, you need to figure out where you live.

As you may know, I have been taking pottery classes with my husband. The class meets one evening a week. The pottery is also available at other times of the week during “open studio”. Open studio doesn’t cost any extra. It is free time that is available to continue working on projects or getting additional practice. During the first quarter of the class, I didn’t use the open studio time at all. I thought about it, in passing, and then quickly told myself that I didn’t have time.

When presented with a new opportunity, I often tell myself that I don’t have time. I feel stressed and hurried. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, something unexpected and bad to happen. I’d better keep on the look out!

I find, however, that at the times I am most mindful and aware, there is a space between the opportunity and my decision. It is a space that says, “Why not?” It says, “That sounds fun.” Or, “This is a good chance to do x, y, or z.”

These are the times I treat time in a doctor’s waiting room as time to put on my earphones and listen to a guided meditation. I don’t have to spend that time being prepared to jump up for my name to be called. I will hear my name, open my eyes, and go to my appointment.

A couple of week’s ago, I was making yogurt in my pressure cooker. I knew that it had about a half hour left before I had to tend to it. My meditations are 30 minutes. At first I thought, “But I won’t be ready when the pressure cooker beeps!” Then I laughed at myself thinking, “I’d better keep myself ready for yogurt!” So I meditated for the 30 minutes and walked to the kitchen. The pressure cooker beeped as soon as I got to it. See? No yogurt was harmed in the making of my sanity.

As I continue to make meditation a regular practice, I find my life slowing down. I find myself more productive at work because my concentration is better. My first inclination is to fill that time with more work. Aren’t we supposed to be busy and overworked? Doesn’t that make us worthy and competent? Doesn’t this keep the bad things from happening?

I find that it makes me tired, anxious, and irritable. I am happy to report that this quarter, I find myself working at the pottery wheel during open studio about once per week. I even went twice last week, once on Friday afternoon. I had actually gotten my work done for the week so I took the opportunity of extra time to do something fun. Bad things have and will continue to happen in my life but not during every moment or even most moments.

There are opportunities every day and sometimes the sense of having no time is just a feeling. Feelings are real and they have something to say. But they don’t always communicate in the most straight-forward fashion. Sometimes, they are telling you to slow down, pay attention, and enjoy the moment. And having the thought, “I have so much to do!” is actually not the same as getting something done, no matter how many times I repeat it to myself.

When I am throwing a pot, I look down at the clay on the wheel. Sometimes it reminds me of the Earth spinning day after day. My hands and fingers are engaged in every rotation. Today you might get an opportunity to try something new. Put your hands on it, feel it, see it, be in it.

Why not?


My first pot, started in September, was not what I had envisioned but then again, it was a step forward.


Here’s the pot I threw during last Saturday’s open studio.


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.

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