Days 4 & 5 & 6: regress, progress and finishing

“What giving up gets you, and what giving up takes away.” – Jimmy Eat World

Hey Carter,

So I’m falling behind here on the blog. As the end of the first week approached on the calendar, and I committed to a salt firing late next week, a bit of productivity panic set in. Because I can’t fire first and make later, I’ve got to do most of the more efficient making now. Maybe I’ll commit more to being experimental and anti-productive once the window to get pots all the way through the kiln has closed. I’d be more comfortable filling up the slops bin with my dumb ideas and mistakes then, especially with a decent pile of fireable pots to take home already in the queue.

Let’s see. Thursday was kind of a clusterfuck; Friday was much better; Saturday was great. A good end to a really good week, looking back at it now. [How has it only been a week?] The time is both flying by and stretching out forever; as weird a loop and distortion of the normal constants as I can imagine. I’m loving it.

After ice overnight and a school snow day — apparently I jinxed it with that “distraction-free” business — I got a slow start Thursday. The Mudpie Dilemma asserts itself once again. But once I got there I had a decent run of work. I started a quick group of tumblers, while waiting for the Ninnas and Nons to get stiff enough for handles. So it was 5 x 11:45 or something ridiculous like that. Maggie and Cindy came to the studio, too, and with her “quiet voice” she got to play with some clay and watch me work a little. (Maggie did, too.) My winter rental studio mates were very generous about that; as any artist/parent (or x/parent) can probably appreciate, that kind of activity option on a snow day is a huge bonus. She insisted on wearing her red dress to the studio:


I finished the mugs from Day 3, one group with my habitual Domino pattern in black underglaze. That felt like cheating somehow, but I think the rationale is sound. If I’m going to build a kiln a lot like one of these here (or perhaps even exactly like one of them), [to avoid my propensity for getting the alterations exactly wrong], it would be a big help to see what my current approaches to materials, form and decoration do in them. Right? Right? I think so… I don’t know. So confused.

Some good news on that front, though, is that there’s a kiln here that everyone seems to love, a salt/soda downdraft that will probably hold about 60 of my typical pots. Built by local potter Mark Peters (whose work I adore); I’m hoping to fire it at least once, get some pots in one or two others, and scour the saved kiln logs to see what’s what before I leave.

Anyways, I threw those mugs deliberately “looser” than I normally do — with slightly softer clay, and using a wooden rib on the last pass {instead of my go-to Mudtools metal slice-and-dicer) to get that casual, slow-wheel spiraling gesture line on the way to the rim. Unfortunately, all of that added up to some awfully clunky pots, as I discovered the next day. I mean: clunky. These mugs would serve well in a barroom brawl; or if I were allowed one pottery-related weapon in my Treadle Brawl with Brandon; but in other circumstances, I’m not confident in their utility or expression of any sort of throwing ability. [eg. I’m afraid they kind of suck.] So that depressing revelation — that, once again, a small change up in my throwing method resulted in pots that are way thicker-walled and heavier than I want to make — lead to all sorts of weary, late afternoon/evening doubts about my skills, my potential to have any hope of improving them, the futility of it all, the gradual heat death of the universe, et al. You know the drill. In short, I think I hit the Day Four wall… face first, arms behind me, at a dead sprint.

This was improved somewhat by a post-Maggie-bedtime session of trimming plates. Which was so weird… I never work at night; I mean, unless the kiln’s running extra long, literally almost never. It was also great, on the last day of January, to just walk back into a heated studio and pick up where I’d left off several hours before, without having to stoke the stove all evening just to keep it that way.

Happily, that lull in the week’s magic triggered a new round of determination Friday morning, to get in there early and aim my efforts like a laser at just one thing. Time to focus on getting some fireable pots made, so it’s not all the way into the fourth week here before I can fill a glaze kiln. So I turned out 14 mugs [eg. 1/3 of a Phillips], in about the same time it would normally take me to do half that many at home. Nice!

I finished trimming that batch of half a dozen chunky plates, the last two with cut and sure-formed rims. “You’ve got to try new things cuz they might taste good!” – Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. And… ah hell; I can’t even remember what else happened that day. It’s all a bulrush blur. I think I threw a few tester cylinders — yeah, that’s right — just to practice/reassure my vertical chops after that mugs fiasco. I decided the needed some serious poking. Kind of like that mug I sent you in our trade, the question is: how many pokes are too many? [It ends up that as many as I could fit on an 8″ cylinder still wasn’t too many. I need smaller fingers… maybe I’ll recruit the kid to do that part.]

And then I realized that I needed to get some of the second clay I’d bought into the bisque next week, so I banged out some test tiles in Highwater’s Craggy Crunch, which is about the grainiest, toughest, fingernail-rippingest clay I’ve ever handled. This stuff stays where you put it, and how. I seriously think they’re missing out on a marketing opportunity here: Craggy Crunch: Finger Shredding Fun. I can almost picture the t-shirt.

Maggie came back to the studio for a bit, after school, and I did some parenting jujitsu multi-tasking, of keeping her occupied with her wad of clay and some not-quite-life-threatening tools [she likes the sharp ones best], while I scurried over to the wheel to knock out a wild, Hindes-Meyers influenced Craggy teabowl in the approximately 2.5 minutes I could take for each one. Talk about imposed constraints on the creative process! An interesting experiment, and one I’d never have thought to put on myself otherwise. (It made me think that Hamada didn’t really need to invite visitors to distract him from his teabowl making; borrowing a local toddler would have surely done the job, and killed two birds with one rock, too.)

And, ah… Saturday was just like at home: a mad dash to finish everything that was wet before closing out the week with family day on Sunday. Everything must go (to bone dry)! I handled all those mugs, and practiced backfilling on a half dozen of them — signs of progress; I didn’t hate all of them. In fact, I might go ahead and fire most of them, just to see them through. Maybe I’ll like that scooping curve a little better after glaze and fire?

I trimmed the craggy teabowls, aiming to be as concise and looney as I was while throwing them (sans childcare), and slopped some white slip and black underglaze on them, to test those on this clay body as soon as possible, too. I popped three little lugs at the rim of each of those poked little vases, wham bam no time to think just do it like you always do and let the engrained habit and muscle memory drive for a while because O Sweet Gawd am I tired and everything aches and it’s been a wild six day haul like none I’ve had in the studio in almost as long as I can remember probably going all the way back to Cindy’s last sabbatical and my first plunge into the ill-fated short-lived full-time pottering thing and.

Damn, am I tired. Everything’s sore. My brain feels like it went through a pug mill. But… yeah. Progress!



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