July 18, 2011 § 2 Comments

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the V & A’s ceramics collection again. It is obviously a totally different experience going round now that I know a small amount about throwing. This exquisite cup, below, with walls thrown so thin that they are translucent, was made during the Tang Dynasty in China (600-700). It is so fine, so delicate and so tiny that I find it hard to believe that it has survived for over 1000 years.

While in the V & A, I made the decision to buy the wheel for the workshop in my cellar. This was Thursday: I rang CTM Potters Supplies in Doncaster, ordered the wheel (which happened to be in their Exeter branch) and it was delivered by Friday lunchtime. My friend, Mike, helped me manoeuver it into the cellar.

Piece by piece the pottery adventure is coming together. I do need a kiln but, as for the moment I am concentrating on increasing my skill level rather than focussing on the end product, I can wait a while and spend a little time getting the right one. And I have built my ware shelves, which will function perfectly well. I built them with the intention of having eight shelves (6′ x 18″) but as I was constructing them I realised that three of them would take some filling, so I left it at that for the time being.

I sat down at the wheel for the first time on Sunday and threw for a couple of hours. It felt like I was in seventh heaven, pure joy. And I threw all day today.

I hadn’t thrown for something like three weeks and so I was all over the place, but that’s fine. I will be throwing all of tomorrow and Wednesday, too; I can’t wait to see what happens over those days and how the form progresses (I plan to concentrate on the beaker shape above). This is what is so exciting, the anticipation of hours and hours spent at the wheel over the coming weeks and months, and watching how my skill level develops.

This is where the hard work begins.



July 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

In about ten days’ time, Kirkgate Studios and Workshops will close for a month or so while it is being refurbished. The changes will be of enormous benefit to the building and Kirkgate should function far better as a space after the changes have been completed. It does mean, though, that the wheel that I have been using over these past few months is out of action for some considerable time.

Over these months, I have been pondering my workshop situation and have been trying to come up with a coherent plan. Everyone I have spoken to regarding the discipline of throwing has told me that the only way that I will approach the required standard, if I want to make domestic ware, is to get my own wheel – for which I need a space. I had done some investigating around workshop spaces, although I had come up with nothing concrete. But the hiatus at Kirkgate and the thought of not throwing for six weeks or more has given me impetus and spurred me into action. I can’t wait for the perfect space, nothing will come of that. Initially, it’s a space that I need, something to get me started, up and running; so I have spent the last week clearing out my cellar.

The space is about 6′ x 7′, with a corridor-sized space through the doorway. It will be a tight squeeze but for the moment it is certainly big enough.

My job for this week is to build a set of ware shelves, like these (minus the wheels) that I found on a lovely blog by Olen Hsu, which hopefully will fill the corridor space. I have found the wheel that I would like to buy and am now hunting for a kiln. Also, I have been doing some research on how to deal with the clay waste from throwing and by all accounts it shouldn’t be too much of an issue (a system of buckets seems to be sufficient).

The prospect of setting up a little workshop (even in my cellar) is somewhat daunting but, by the same token, incredibly exciting.  I aim to be up and running in a couple of weeks. I am going to grasp the nettle and squeeze very hard.


July 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

The balance between experimenting with and learning about glazes and getting time on the wheel is weighing heavily in favour of the wheel at the moment. A point has been reached with throwing cylinders where I have some degree of control and the clay goes roughly in the direction that I want it to. I’m sure that spending concentrated time on this one form, learning to control the clay rather than yielding to it and arriving at a form by chance, has been beneficial. It has also taught me about application, rhythm and patience.

The other week, I found an image of a Bernard Leach Standard Ware bowl and I love the simple, functional, utilitarian feel. It seemed the perfect template or inspiration for learning to throw bowls. So, I started and, in the back of my mind while throwing, I had an idea of this Standard Ware bowl. It’s the control needed to pull the relatively straight sides allied to the life and energy within the form that enticed me and is what I want to learn about and discover, and if I can achieve something of that then I will have learnt some extremely valuable skills.

Over the last ten days or so, I think I’ve had three solid days at the wheel and towards the end I really felt that progress was being made. It’s not so difficult to make a bowl shape on the wheel, if you have a rudimentary knowledge of throwing. In fact, because of the forces generated by the wheel, the clay will generally want to find itself in that shape. But to throw the form that you intend is much harder. It’s tempting to keep the bowls that end up bowl-shaped and say to oneself, ‘Well, that looks OK’, but I have tried to be more disciplined and only keep those which approach my intention. When I say keep, I am keeping them for reference purposes, they will all end up being recycled or given away. There is a group taking a raku course on Wednesdays at Kirkgate, who would like to put them through a raku firing, which makes a lot of sense. At the moment, it is the skills of throwing I am trying to learn and the end result, the finished piece, is less important, which helps me to be less precious in the process of throwing.

Up until really half way through the third day, the mountain of unsuccessful bowls, cut and thrown in a pile, was quite a sight. But then on that third afternoon I began to get a feel for the shape. I discovered that the first pulls are the most important. If the bowl isn’t ‘there’ by the fourth or fifth pull then after that it is really only tinkering and results in weakness, of structure and form. The vitality comes out of the dynamics of those first few pulls, creating energy and vibrancy.

The timeline works from right to left, earliest to latest. There is a long way to go but I can feel the shape coming, I can feel myself beginning to inhabit it. And it’s a good feeling.

Where Am I?

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