04-01-11 - Pots 1

This is sort of a test of putting some images in my blog. I'm not sure how the cbloom.com bandwidth will handle it...

I've been doing pottery classes for the last number of weeks. It's quite pleasant. We're finally getting some finished pieces out of the kiln so I'll post some pics and notes.

It's very good meditation for me. You sit with the clay and stare into it; you have to really relax and go slow, because pots don't like to be forced around. I like to watch a point on the pot as it goes around, which gets you into a rocking rhythm with the wheel.

I really like the way any one pot is no big deal. There are a million ways you can ruin a pot, and they can happen at any time (surprise air bubbles, off centering, dry spots in throwing, cutting through the bottom trimming, S cracks, etc etc etc). So you can't get too attached to any one pot, you have to be ready to just throw it away and not care. At first I thought that was stressful because I cared too much about each pot, but once you change your viewpoint and let go, it's actually really relaxing and liberating. If you screw up a throw, no biggie, do another, you can experiment with new techniques and get it wrong many times, no biggie.

For one thing, it's important to get out of the house. If you live with someone, it's extremely inconsiderate to be home all the time. Everybody deserves some alone time in their own house, and it's just tacky to impose your presence on them constantly. It's especially good to have a weekly scheduled time when you will be gone, so that they can count on it and look forward to it, so that they can crossdress and eat a gallon of ice cream, or whatever it is they want to do. I know that I am generally pretty bad about being home too much, and I feel bad about that, but I just hate the outside world (when it's gray and wet and cold), so this is my way to get out a bit.

These are the first pieces of crap I made :

You have to make a bunch of crap and get it in the pipeline. Pottery is a lot like a deeply pipelined CPU - the latency from grabbing a hunk of clay to getting a finished pot might take a month, but your throughput could be very high; you can easily throw 10 pots an hour, but not see them come out for a month. So in the beginning my goal was just to get some stuff in the pipeline.

Pro tip : centering : if you are even slightly off center it will be annoying to deal with. The things that really help me are : 1. putting my elbow in my groin, so that the forward pressure is braced against my whole body, and 2. when you release the pressure make sure it's very gradual, and equal with both your hands - you can get something perfectly centered under pressure, and then you release unevenly and it's back off center.

Pro tip : wedging : don't fold the clay over itself, you can create air bubbles; it's not really aggressive like kneading, it's more a gentle motion like massaging. Coning up and down can substitude for good wedging.

Pro tip : fixing to the wheel ; a slightly convex bottom of your lump is better than flat or concave when you slam it down, because it ensures the middle touches. You can press the edge onto the wheel before centering to help it stick.

This is my first bowl :

It's not bad, thought I was messing around with different glazes too much and that just made everything look really messy. I need to glaze simpler and cleaner. I also tend to not leave enough foot on things, which is okay, but it's just a pain in the ass to dip things if you don't have a good foot to grab. A lot of the things you're supposed to do in throwing are really just to make life easier on yourself later; eg. you can always fix things in trimming, but trimming is a major pain in the ass, so it's just easier if you throw it as close to the right form as possible to begin with.

Pro tip : bowls should not get too wide too soon, or they can get weak and fall. Basically you want to throw an upside down cone shape first, and then you can round out the bottom as the last thing you do.

Pro tip : pulling is pretty basic; some notes to self that I forget some times. The most important thing first is that the pot is evenly wet, if there are dry spots they will catch during the pull and fuck the pot. Go slow and steady, don't stop, if something unexpected happens along the way, just keep moving slow and steady. Try to get your eyes directly over the pull and look straight down , if your head is off to one side you won't pull straight. Don't rest your elbows on your body, it makes you pull an arc, get them out in space. Make sure the two hands are well connected. Do not apply much pressure, you aren't squeezing hard, just gentle pressure and slide up. One finger tip should be slightly higher than the other, if the outside hand is lower you can narrow the pot, if the outside hand is higher you can widen the pot.

I like to open "Simon Leach style" against the whole flat of my hand and do the first rough pull that way. One trick I've seen for wetting is potters hold their sponge in the heel of their hand while they pull with their fingertips, so if they hit dry they can squeeze the sponge right there as they go. You can also pull directly against a sponge.

Some little tea bowl type things :

My first attempts at vase shapes :

Necking down to narrow is quite difficult. If the clay gets too wet or too thin, it will ribbon as you neck like the bottom pot. I've learned two different techniques for necking, one is the "six points of contact" technique which is very slow and delicate, the other is to just grab the clay with both hands like you're trying to strangle it and brute force it. The main thing is that it's much easier to widen than it is to narrow, so you want to do your initial open and pull narrow, and keep it narrow at the top the whole time, don't throw out and try to bring it back in.


Michael said...

My cousin went pro; I can introduce you if you ever desire a roadtrip up there to talk pots.



cbloom said...

Hmm cool; nice area up there; it sure seems like a hard way to make money. There are an amazingly large number of potters.

It would be fun to run your own kiln, dig clay in the wild, grind minerals for glazes, all that. Maybe a retirement activity.

Sam said...

Dude... these look great! I love them!

Also that sounds like a great idea for meditation. I'm going to suggest it to my gf; she's been struggling with some anxiety-related problems, and does a bit of meditation to a cd but the pottery thing seems even better (i.e. you're making something, it's very much working with your hands, I can imagine you'd get a good sense of satisfaction out of it).

cbloom said...

Yeah, I can't just stand to sit and meditate, but I can sit and stare the clay going around in circles in my hands. It's good.

old rants