April 21, 2014 § 6 Comments
The journey of learning to be a potter has been a fascinating one and the challenges have been various along the way. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know that I started out in 2011 without any previous experience of clay. It was a whim, if you like, or an impulse, an intuitive leap, that prompted me to investigate the realm of clay and very quickly I knew I wanted to make repeat ware on a wheel, and make a business out of it. This is Swarthmore College, Leeds, during my first throwing lesson.
So, my initial challenge was to learn to throw. My partner gave me my first throwing lesson as a Christmas present and set me on my way. I cleared out my cellar, bought a wheel, and threw and threw, keeping nothing. One valuable lesson has been to let things go. A pot isn’t a pot until it is fired and even then it is easily broken. Many pieces get cut, squashed, dropped during various parts of the making process and that is the way it is. Another pot is always made.
In learning to throw, I kept the range of what I made small. I felt that if I concentrated on making a limited number of forms and repeated those then I had a chance to build up my skill level. So, I made primarily beakers, bowls and small jugs.
There have been two significant factors that have spurred me along the way. The first was that quite early on my partner began to use my pots in the house. This was a form of acceptance but also, fundamentally, it confirmed that what I made was for use. This unspoken support has been immeasurable. The second factor was that I applied for fairs that, really, were above my skill level and experience. What this did was to force me to improve and deliver as quickly as I could. I reached up as high as I could and then scrabbled, in a slightly panicky way, to get there. It has been a strong motivating force and driven me on.
My learning curve has been intentionally steep, which is generally a frustrating place to be. Constantly seeking improvement, you are never satisfied with what you are currently making. Then you look back after a couple of months at what you have made and see some improvement leaving you dissatisfied with and reluctant to display the slightly older pots that are sitting on your shelves. Not happy with the present and not happy with the past. But as my skill level has increased this feeling has dissipated somewhat. I am beginning to feel happier with the overall consistency of what I am making. This, I am sure, is natural, the normal stages of development. Thinking about the wider sense of what it is to be a potter has been hugely important to me and a conversation with Kaori Tatebayashi at Made London last year, as well as a trip to see and learn from Stuart Broadhurst, in Cumbria, have benefited my making immensely.
The range of what I make has now increased to include plates, fruit bowls, mugs and water jugs. I have just this last week made a larger water jug for a gallery in York, which measures around 24cm high. It is not huge but it is another step forward. Now it is the business side of things that are providing the greatest challenge. No one teaches you how to run a business. When I studied at art college, no one said anything about what would happen after I left, how I should negotiate the real world. There is absolutely no point in making anything, if you have no understanding of what you are going to do with it. How do you keep being an artist or a maker? What do you do with that painting or sculpture or pot to enable you to make another one? So, the things I am currently needing to get to grips with are workshop efficiency, how to get the orders through the workshop, in what order, to deliver them on time and be able to get a steady flow of money into the bank account. Cashflow is my most pressing concern. Like all the challenges, though, it has its own rewards.
Three years, or thereabouts, I have sat at a potter’s wheel. It feels like a long time and yet nothing at all. It excites me to think of my pots after a lifetime of making – how different will they be and what stories will they hold?