Utilitarian

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.

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