November 24, 2014 § 3 Comments
I’ve been thinking a lot about how one should approach the wheel and the clay when throwing – what technique does one bring, what frame of mind. Whenever I think too hard or attempt to make a really fine pot, I tend to fail; invariably to the extent that I need to cut the clay from the wheel-head. Praise, when it flashes in my mind’s eye, is usually followed, fairly swiftly, by exasperation. I was glazing a plate the other week; I held the biscuit fired ware in my hand and thought, ‘I like that plate’, ‘that is a nice looking plate’. As I lifted the plate to dip it in the glaze bucket, part of the rim snapped off in my hand. Recently, I was making a pouring bowl, something you might beat some eggs in and use to pour the eggs into a pan. I threw the bowl, using a gauge, a chopstick protruding from a ball of clay attached to the tray of my wheel that points to the height and diameter that I am throwing to. I usually use a gauge to make sure I am making the bowls to a standard-ish size. Having thrown the bowl, I thought, ‘I am pleased with that’. I pulled a little lip on the bowl to make the pourer and pressed my foot down on the pedal to turn the wheel-head, so that I could remove any excess water from inside the bowl with a sponge. As the bowl turned, the gauge sliced the lip clean off!
I have come to think of this moment of self-congratulation as a warning sign, a precursor to imminent failure. And I came across this quote in The Old Ways, by Robert Macfarlane, about a woman called Nan Shepherd, a novelist who spent much of her life walking in the Scottish highlands.
“As a young woman, she [Nan Shepherd] had been prone to a longing for ‘the tang of height’, and had approached the Cairngorms egocentrically, apprising them only for their ‘effect upon me’. Over time, however, she learnt to go to the hills aimlessly, ‘to be with the mountain as one visits a friend, with no intention but to be with him’…”
This is a beautiful approach to the mountains and I am trying to take a little of this into my making of pots.