Potter’s Book Club: Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Posted by on Mar 13, 2012 in Books, Inspiration | 0 comments

“Becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.” David Bayles and Ted Orland Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking (A&F) is a book about the difficulties faced when making art.  I have read this book several times because it offered so much insight and hope.  It is a good book for anyone who lives with an unquenched craving to make something beautiful, significant, or valued but struggles with fears of failure or rejection. I used to believe that either you are artistic or not. But A&F exposed this to be untrue – along with several other assumptions I had about artists and the art world.  What surprised me most was that apparently artists believe these same lies.  Making art isn’t making magic; but it is constant hard work.  Therefore, mistakes and failures are inherent to the process.  And, Bayles and Orland contend that there is much to be gained by studying the work that you make because “the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.  Such imperfections are your guides – valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides – to matters you need to reconsider or develop further”(pg 31). I count a book successful if one concept changes how I think about a subject.  Perhaps the most significant change in perspective that I experienced reading A&F was regarding talent.  Bayles and Orland define talent as “what comes easily” – which is exactly what it is!  Although they pragmatically acknowledge that people differ in ability, in the end, “talent is rarely distinguishable from perseverance and lots of hard work” (pg 3).  So, they consider it a waste of energy to worry about how much talent you have. Even though the book deals with conceptual issues, there are many tangible suggestions inserted in the philosophical discussions.  Their understanding of the universal fears common to all artists and their sensible approach to dispelling those fears will encourage artists to keep making...

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Dragon Wisdom

Posted by on Jan 13, 2012 in About Me, Books, Teaching | 1 comment

      “Anyone with the time and inclination can acquire the technical proficiency.  To achieve greatness though, that requires artistry, imagination, and thoughtfulness.”                                        – Christopher Paolini I was listening to the audio book of Inheritance when I heard this reality explained.  Although it was said by a dragon and in the context of becoming a great warrior, this is exactly where I am in my pottery life. For some reason, there is a prevalent belief that anyone can sit at a potter’s wheel and immediately make large bowls (although no one expects to take two piano lessons and play Rhapsody in Blue).  Therefore, I spend a great deal of time in pottery classes assuring the potters that their throwing skills (and subsequently their pots) will improve with practice (and more practice). For some, it can be discouraging to find out how much effort it requires to acquire technical skills.  But it wasn’t discouraging to me – it offered me hope that I could become a potter with time and practice.  Previously, I thought creative endeavors were limited to artistic people.  But after working in the pottery studio, meeting a lot of accomplished potters, and reading several books, I realize that there is no mysterious gene in artistic people.  They are focused and work hard. Since setting up my own pottery studio, my technical proficiency has increased.  But now, I want to do something more with my pots – the trouble is, I am not sure what that something is.  I want to make them more interesting – maybe more complex.  I want the pots to compel people to touch them and bring pleasure for having used them.  I’m just not sure how to get there.  But I expect it will take even more work than obtaining technical skills – a lifetime of...

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Christmas List for a Potter

Posted by on Dec 14, 2011 in Books, Gifts, Holiday, Scale, Tools | 1 comment

During gift-giving season, many people are searching for the perfect present.  So, I have been commissioned by the elves to help.  To that, here are some suggestions that would surely make any potter smile on Christmas morning. Stocking Stuffers: Sherrill Mud tools Dolan Trim tools Metal and Wooden Ribs For the VERY Nice Potter: Wheel Kiln Giffin Grip Under-the-Tree Gifts: Throwing Bats Tile Bat System Clay Scale Set of three sieves Sampler sieves For the Literary Potter: 500 Book Series Subscription to Clay Times Subscription to Pottery Maker’s Illustrated For the Experimental Potter: Glaze Sampler Set MKM Wooden Stamps Gifts that can be bought anywhere: Containers with lids – various sizes Apron Drill with mixer paddle Angle grinder Dremmel Tool Sand paper sponges Buckets Sketch books Camera Kitchen tools – large spoons, spatulas, rolling pin Paint brushes – various sizes Sponges – natural, various sizes Gift Certificates: Bailey Pottery Big Ceramics Store Clay King Local Craft Store Local Art Center (supplies/workshops/classes) You can direct the elves in your life to this entry for quick links or you can print out this Wish List for them to take with them when they go...

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Potter’s Book Club: A Potter’s Workbook by Clary Illian

Posted by on Sep 30, 2011 in About Me, Books, Workshop | 1 comment

If I formed an actual book club for potters, Clary Illian’s A Potter’s Workbook would definitely be on the reading list.  It would be great fun to work through the assignments with other potters and then have a group discussion. Illian defines A Potter’s Workbook as  “a utilitarian pottery workshop in a book…designed to help students who are learning to throw pots, potters who know how to throw but feel the need for greater understanding, and skilled craftspeople who enjoy thinking about the objects they love” (pg 1).   And, I found it to be all of that and more. The chapters are organized by concept and pot shape.  Each section has an assignment and lots of black and white photographs of leather-hard pots are used to illustrate various solutions to that assignment.  Illian provides tangible advice about aesthetics and gives ample consideration to function for each assignment.   She offers beginning potters practical instruction for basic throwing such as which hand should be dominant when making bowls/cylinders and she challenges advanced potters to use proportional relationships to design successful pots.  I think her discussion of handle placement is the best I have ever encountered; and, I have often relied on her guidelines when choosing where to put handles on new pots. When I began pottery, I was overwhelmed with learning basic throwing skills; but, at this point in my pottery journey, I want to make my pots more distinctively mine.  Illian says that “noticing your concerns and continually defining and refining them [will] give birth to personal style” (pg 89); and, that as you are working through your preferences, your style is evolving on its own.   She emphasizes the benefits of drawing and language for learning to see pots and identifying desirable elements in those pots.  She promises that these skills will help a potter “to succeed intentionally rather than by happy accident” (pg 81) – in which I am very hopeful. A Potter’s Workbook celebrates the wondrous complexity of form.  Many of the commentaries have caused me to be more mindful when I am making pots and provided me with vocabulary to I analyze them with after they are thrown.  It would be a worthy read for any potter individually or in a group....

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Potter’s Book Club: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

Posted by on Jul 15, 2011 in About Me, Books, Philosophy | 0 comments

I have craved a creative life since I started my first journal.  And, as artistic skills didn’t come naturally, I concluded that I wasn’t creative.  Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life dispels a lot of the mystery around the creative/artistic life and essentially reduces it to a lot of hard work. The premise of the book is: “Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits” (Tharp).  Tharp is a choreographer who has achieved a lot in her career.  She conceived of and choreographed the musical Movin’ Out as well as several other ballets and dances.  Even though her creative outlet is choreography, her insights and techniques are applicable to many creative disciplines. Tharp says “in order to be creative, you have to know how to be creative…[and] there is a process that generates creativity” (pg 9).  That process can be leant and includes identifying and practicing rituals that get/keep you moving,  ‘scratching’ for ideas, eliminating distractions, generating the ‘spine’ of a concept, and cultivating and improving essential technical skills. I count a book successful if one concept changes how I think about a subject – read this book with notepaper and a highlighter. Tharp’s autobiographical accounts are fascinating and inspiring and her pursuit of mastery has altered my perspective.  A few things that I have incorporated into my pursuit of creativity are carrying a camera to record things that inspire me and compiling ideas/clippings/photos into a resource box.  These are just a few things that I got from the book – there are several others.  The Creative Habit is worth the time investment.  The exercises and commentary are accessible tools that can help anyone cultivate...

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Potter’s Book Club: Throwing Pots by Phil Rogers

Posted by on May 12, 2011 in About Me, Books, Philosophy, Uncategorized | 2 comments

“Throwing has a language all of its own; a pot can be read like a book and the story that it tells should be about the materials from which it is made and the character of the potter that made it.”   – Phil Rogers I love pottery books – they offer instruction, inspiration, and information.  I often consult them for shape ideas, glazing options, alternative throwing techniques, and vocabulary for class demonstrations.  I found a copy of Throwing Pots in a used bookstore; and, I have since read it several times.  It would certainly be a great read for a potter’s book club. The author, Phil Rogers, is a Welsh potter who has had no formal pottery training.  He values simple, traditional pots; and, he believes that in order to understand and answer the questions of form and function, a potter must look at and handle handmade pots. Throwing Pots is a practical handbook that provides concise instruction on technical topics (centering, opening, pulling, trimming, etc.) and ceramic forms (bowls, cylinders, plates, teapots, pitchers, etc.).   Crisp black and white photos accompany the step-by-step directions.  At the end of each topic is an “In Summary” section where Rogers offers hints and warnings that can help improve the quality of pots a potter makes.  He believes that “the only difference between a good and bad pot is nothing more than a professional attitude in the making”. Some of the instruction is very basic (such as working with clean hands/ware boards and throwing with linked hands) and would help a beginner overcome some of the initial throwing challenges and establish good work habits.  But, Rogers also offers instruction on more advanced issues like collaring in, pulling handles, and faceting that intermediate potters would find valuable.  When we began making the dinnerware sets, I consulted Throwing Pots for advice about challenges specific to plates.  There is an excellent diagram for throwing plate rims that I followed and it seemed to reduce rim rebound. Not only does Throwing Pots offer practical considerations, it also provides aesthetic guidelines.  Rogers believes that “the ability to throw a piece of clay into a tall cylinder is only half the battle, knowing what to make and the ‘right’ shape is the other half”.  Therefore, he offers tangible aesthetic instruction on topics such as handle placement (closer to tall pot bodies) and proportions for a pitcher (2/3 pot is belly and 1/3 for neck – avoid too small top).   There are several colored photographs of pots made by Rogers and other potters with commentary and critiques that help the reader understand strengths of the pot design. I found so many beneficial things in this book.  It is quite easy to read; it would be a good reference resource for any potter.  And, Rogers’ philosophical approach to pottery and pottery making encourages introspective and expansive consideration from even an advanced potter. In the next Potter’s Book Club, I will be reviewing The Creative Habit by Twyla...

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