Teaching

Throwing large

Posted by on Feb 27, 2013 in How-to, Teaching | 2 comments

Making large pots seems is a challenge that all potters attempt.  In one sense, throwing a large pot is evidence of accomplished skill because it shows that a potter can maneuver the technical challenges to handling a lot of clay. After I had been throwing for a few years, I got obsessed with making a ‘grapefruit bowl’, i.e. a bowl large enough to contain a week’s worth of grapefruit and worthy enough to occupy the place of honor on my kitchen table.  It took quite a while and resulted in several bad bowls. Now, I am able to make larger pots but they aren’t gigantic like some potters make.  In fact, most of the things I make on a regular basis are less than 5 lbs.  However, I like large platters and big bowls (8-10 lbs) and I do make them occasionally.  As I learned to throw larger pots, I realized there are two main obstacles to making bigger pots: Sufficiency:  This is the easier of the two problems to solve.  Add more clay.  As beginners, we usually start with 1-2 lbs to learn centering and pulling.  But, you can’t make huge bowls with 2 lbs of clay so we need to start with a larger amount.  This can be scary because it challenges the kinesthetic muscle memory that we have been developing.  And, it can be frustrating because it makes us feel like beginners as we re-face challenges of centering and pulling a larger amount of clay.  The best advice I was given was increase the amount of clay incrementally by 1/4 – 1/2 lb.  Keep practicing and increasing the clay until you make the size that you are satisfied with. Efficiency:  This is the more difficult challenge.  When I started throwing 3lb bowls, they weren’t much larger than my 2lb bowls.  This was because I didn’t use the clay efficiently   I lost a lot trying to center; too much clay was left in the bottom of the pot; and, I threw the pot off center which prevented me from get any more out of the clay.  The truth is, there is really no victory in throwing a 2 lb bowl with 3 lbs of clay.  The resolution to the efficiency challenge is practice (and more practice).  Don’t add clay until you throw a lesser amount well; after-all, the challenges that you face making a small bowl become harder to manage with increased clay. Here are some great exercises that helped me increase the size of my pots. Triple Pots:  Weigh three balls of equal amounts of clay within your throwing range (ex. three 2 lb. balls).  Pull each to maximum height within three pulls.  It is likely that your third pot will be your largest.  You should be moving a lot of clay into the body of your pot in the initial pulls. Incremental Pots:  Weigh three balls of clay adding a 1/2 lb to each ball (ex. 1 lb, 1.5 lb, and 2 lb).  Pull each to maximum height within three pulls.  If you don’t see a variation in size, practice again and pay attention to where you are leaving the clay. Salvage Pots:  After you have gained mastery over a volume of clay and you increase the amount, it is likely that your first attempt will result in a wonkey pot.  If you are reluctant to collapse the pot and re-wedge the clay, use this to cultivate a creative solution – carve it, alter the rim, make a chip and dip, oval/square the bowl, add embellishments,  etc.  By attempting to salvage the wonkey pot, you may stumble on an idea that will...

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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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Handmade Holiday

Posted by on Dec 20, 2011 in About Me, Gifts, Holiday, Philosophy, Sous-potter, Teaching | 2 comments

Handmade gifts can express something more than an average store-bought gift.  A handmade present is one-of-a kind.  And, in our lives of homogeneous chain stores and generic gift cards, this is refreshing. Handmade gifts made by you are even more special.  Perhaps because they represent a sacrifice of time and energy; or, perhaps because they are an intimate expression of how dear the recipient is to you.  Even children recognize this.  I really enjoy helping kids make things – pottery, cookies, ornaments, etc.  And, more often than not, as they are working on their craft, they are planning to give it away to some one special.  It seems that the desire to make something creative is intertwined with the desire to share that creation with a loved one. This year, I have been so blessed as I watched the potters at the art center prepare for Christmas.  The theme of the pottery session was ‘Holiday Ceramics 2011’ – essentially, it was an independent study so everyone could have time to make the gifts on their lists.  Every night, class was a busy workshop.  The potters planned and made pots for the special people in their lives.  It was amazing to see how much care went into the each of the projects.  And to me, those pots epitomize the genuine spirit of gift giving. But, nothing compares to the ultimate gift that the Lord gave when He sent His Son to earth to be a sacrifice for our sins.  Christ’s act of love is the true celebration of Christmas. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believed on Him should be...

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Lists and Plans

Posted by on Jul 31, 2011 in About Me, Philosophy, Teaching, Workshop | 0 comments

It is Sunday evening and I am contemplating what I want/need to accomplish this week.  I am a consummate list maker so when a Sunday night falls on the eve of a new month, I can’t resist the compulsion to make another list. Lists help me clear my mind and to keep focus.  I have a list on my refrigerator labeled “Clean Something Obscure Month”.  The thing is, when I clean my house, there are always tasks that I don’t get to before I run out of time, energy, or motivation.  Things like: dust the blinds, clear out the TV cabinet, wash the ceiling fans, wipe down the tops of cabinets, etc.  These are the leftovers – so I thought if I dedicated a month to working on them, they would get addressed.  And, they have. Of the 24 tasks, I have completed all but 4 of them.  That is pretty good and much better than if I hadn’t made the list – even if the actual ‘clean-something-obscure-month’ was May… anyway, there is much more satisfaction for me to set the goals and check some of them off than to arbitrarily do things. The things I need to accomplish this week have mostly to do with glazing.  There is a lot of glazing to be done.  And, glazing takes more time than I care to admit.  In addition to the multitude of pots that need to be glazed, I need to get ready for my workshop at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (that sounds so prestigious – I call it ‘sleep-away-clay-camp’ – which it is).  In preparation, I need to assemble my travel tool kit.  Also, I am dog sitting while my friend is on vacation.  This is great for Braum because he will have a playmate for the next few days.  I have some reports to finish at work; and, I am covering additional projects for a colleague who is on vacation (I am also taking care of his cat, but the cat is not in residence with us during the pet-sitting).  And, a new session of Intermediate Pottery starts this week!  That is exciting but it will require some preparation if I am to have leather-hard pots for demo.  All-in-all a full (but manageable) week – I have a blessed life! You don’t really know about tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes. Here’s what you ought to say: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James...

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Resolutions Reviewed

Posted by on Jun 30, 2011 in About Me, Photography, Pottery, Teaching | 2 comments

As a true Resolutionist, I couldn’t let the end of June pass without a status review of my 2011 resolutions (it is a neurotic burden).  June is the half-way mark after all.   So here it is: Better Pots – The general focus for 2011 is practice and refinement.  The shows that we have planned are providing plenty of opportunity for me to be purposeful and mindful when I make pots.  I feel like I have so many pots to make, so I make the same pot multiple times with the same surface treatment.  It gives me lots of opportunity to refine and tweak things.  I am having a lot of fun because I have a goal and I feel like I have time to achieve it. Improve Classes: I am trying to improve class instruction and bring more interesting projects to the ceramics class.  I am more consistent about bringing finished pots to class to inspire the potters to work on the projects – some of the class projects have been more successful than others.  I have been conscientiously watching how I make pots while I throw on my own.  Then I practice explaining the process – it means I talk to myself a lot but it has increased my awareness of how to articulate movements. Photography:  I want to take photographs that capture the pots as they are.  I think I have gotten better – mostly that is because I shoot in natural light.  I recently hit an obstacle – I broke both cameras.  I am planning to purchase another this week.  I haven’t read a photography book but I will do that after I get the new camera. Drawing:  I have a book that I want to work through to prepare for a pottery workshop in August.  The workshop is approaching fast and the book is unread…. Blog:  I intended to write 2 entries/week to keep the website from feeling stagnant.  I have managed to sustain the goal and I really enjoy the challenge of writing and editing.  It is more satisfying than I would have thought – sometimes it is hard to come up with a topic and other times I feel like there are so many things I could write on.  I am really encouraged by the feedback and critiques I have received which have often helped me see things from a different perspective. Thank you to everyone who checks in with this blog.  I am very touched that you choose to spend time reading my thoughts and...

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Having a Partner

Posted by on Jun 22, 2011 in A Bit Off Center, About Me, Parnter, Teaching | 2 comments

Julie and I met at a community art center while taking pottery classes; and, in 2008, we started working together.  Working with a partner has been great because I have made more pottery, tried more glazes, attended a lot of workshops, and started selling in stores and shows.  By partnering with Julie, I have gone further in ceramics in a shorter time because she pushes me more than I would push myself – if left to my own devices I would lie on the couch for a large portion of my life. Julie is kind, direct, honest, hard working, high energy, driven, and generous.  She is also brave – she will try a lot of things that I wouldn’t give a second thought.  She began teaching adult pottery classes before I did; in fact, she encouraged me to teach before I felt confident.  Julie isn’t intimidated by colors the way I am – she is bold and will try combinations on pots rather than testing them first and she has a great natural sense of aesthetics. She is fun but focused.  I think I am slack but she says she is the slacker.  I guess since we both have that perspective, it works out.  She handles a lot of things that I am not good at – marketing, PR, interfacing with clients.  And, she humors me as I handle the administrative tasks – things she could do but doesn’t enjoy. Our pots are collaborative which means that there is a lot of discussion and compromising.  Having a partner forces me to articulate what I want to do or why I am doing it – which makes my ideas tangible.  Often, this process helps me understand my ideas better and develop new ones. There may come a time when we need to have some space to develop our individual aesthetics but that isn’t now.  For the moment, we have common goals and rely on each other to accomplish those goals.  I have a partner but I also have a friend – and I am very thankful that the Lord brought her into my life.  So today I will eat cake in her honor – Happy Birthday,...

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