October 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have been having a dialogue with myself all week about the nature of ‘handmade’ and ‘mass produced’. It began with watching Steve Booton’s video, which you can also watch in the post below (27.09.11), then became more urgent when I came across Eric Soulé’s blog and this fantastic video of Paul Davis demonstrating throwing.

I love the freedom with which both Paul Davis and Steve Booton approach the clay; the way they use the clay as a material, play with it, manipulate it; in Steve’s case, cut it, poke it, slice it… There are few objects that I use or have used that are treated in this way. Generally, mass produced products are hard-edged, cold, emotionless and made in multiples that look identical. This is my experience of objects as I have grown up, that I have owned, held and used; and I’m sure the experience of many others. I have little experience of using objects that have been made by hand and, therefore, have little understanding of how to read their language, their individuality, their imprecision. So, I am now wanting to make things, pots, that are handmade and I have few reference points. I am wanting to make multiples and am trying desperately to make each one identical to the next because that is what I know. And, necessarily, I fail, which is frustrating.

So, it is a revelation to watch the way Steve and Paul approach the clay. I don’t want to make one-off pots or single tea bowls but I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate that approach within the domain of domestic repeat ware. I want to encourage people to buy a set of bowls or beakers but for the pots they buy to stand out as ‘handmade’, to speak of being made by the hand.

I had my first attempt at this this morning, at thinking differently about the clay, at trying to free myself up and open my mind. Previously, I had been trying to get the body of the beaker to be as straight in outline as I could get it to be and as smooth, and I realise how tentatively I had been approaching the clay. I can still produce multiples of the same size and shape but within that each one can be alive and have vitality.

This thinking coincides with re-reading David Pye and his excellent ‘The Nature and Art of Workmanship’. He is precise in his definitions but in a simplified form he talks about the ‘workmanship of certainty’ (mass production) and the ‘workmanship of risk’ (handmade). I also like his concept of ‘free workmanship’, workmanship that is done at speed but that remains alive and loses none of its quality.

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