Throwing Basics: Wall Consistency

It can be difficult to make good progress in any skill when you are self-taught. Going it alone does not provide opportunity for constructive criticism from other, more experienced potters. DVDs, books, YouTube videos and the occasional class have all been very helpful, but can’t really replace the rigor that exists in a program, or provide the oversight of an apprenticeship. What to do??

My chief concern is that I might be developing some bad habits in throwing that are only getting reinforced by more practice, and with no one present to tell me otherwise, I might actually be getting good a throwing badly. But a colleague of mine who also throws and actually did take ceramics classes at university told me about a practice of his professor that I’ve adopted.

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Cut everything in half.

It’s a great practice for a new potter for a multitude of reasons. First, you don’t get too attached to work that has emotional significance (look what I made!!) but little design or skill value. Second, it gives you tremendous insight into the part of the process you can’t see while throwing — what’s happening on the inside!

You simply can’t miss the giant chunk of clay that you aren’t moving up the form’s wall. You can’t miss the unevenness of the sides, or the too-narrow neck.claylumpskinny

And third, watching yourself improve with practice is very empowering and inspires more practice. Remember, it takes hours and hours of effort to throw effortlessly.

Potter Hsinchuen Lin has a fabulous YouTube channel with very good instructional videos. I have learned quite a bit from watching them! In this one, he walks you through the process of lifting the clay into the walls of the pot. Watch this video, and then cut some of your pots in half to compare.

God’s Glory in West Texas

bloomingpersimmonGetting out of the suburbs and into the beauty of the created world is inspiring and refreshing! We saw many marvelous sights on our West Texas Journey, including an expanse of the heavens in Marfa with no city lights obscuring the incredible starry skies, beautiful and wild blooms, and the gorgeous granite batholith called Enchanted Rock between Llano and Fredericksburg, Texas.

Jeremiah 51:15 says, “He made the earth by His power; He founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding.”

enchantedrockStanding at the top of Enchanted Rock and looking out across the rough beauty of the Texas Hill Country makes me feel the truth of this verse in my bones. And it awakens a hunger for knowing God more personally and intimately.

So when I read this invitation, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3), I am both exhilarated and terrified! cactus1

We get so excited to meet our favorite artists–whether they are musicians, actors or other creatives–how much more exciting to get to hang out with the creator of the entire universe? It’s stunning, really. And a bit scary! persimmons.drybrushyellowbloom

WT.Greenery

West Texas Adventures

WestTexasTrip
Texas is BIG!

Texas is BIG! We drove over 1400 miles, spent 22 hours in the car, and stayed mostly in the south western quadrant of the state! The landscape varied from flat and ugly to mountainous and gorgeous to dry and dusty to wet and luscious. We made it all the way to Marfa, Texas, anxious to see the famous Marfa Lights, that curious and unexplained phenomena in the night sky. We did in fact, see the Marfa lights … while the man behind us on the platform was explaining to the people next to him that he and his buddies have met up in Marfa every year for the past seven, a reunion of friends. And every year, they come to the platform and hope to see the lights. As the four of us were pointing and exclaiming to each other, “There! See them? There!” this man behind us continued to recount his sad story to the others … “Seven years, and we’ve never seen them. I guess this is another year …” I was flabbergasted! We were looking right at them!! Three twinkling lights that would appear in the distance, a few feet above the horizon, dancing and moving, seemingly advancing towards us, and then retreating, then disappearing, only to appear again a few minutes later. We soon heard the reunion of friends packing up to leave the platform, another year gone by, while we had been entertained by the very lights they sought and missed.

It made me wonder how often I am guilty of the very same thing … completely missing what I’ve sought, and what it right in front of me, because I’d been distracted by myself and my own need to be the center of attention, or otherwise remain unaware. O Lord! Let that not happen! Let me not go through life missing the very thing I am seeking to find.

We also came across the abandoned movie set used in the 1960 film “The Alamo” starring John Wayne. One part of the set was old San Antonio. Here’s the church and general store, and of course, the famous mission entry:alamoset.church.drybrushalamosetbuilding.drybrushalamoset.alamo.drybrush

Representation and Expression

English painter Harold Speed described the goal of the artist as developing command over both representation and expression, in order to create something worthy. This resonates with me. Take for example, this lovely basket by studio potter and artist Joy Tanner: JoyTannerBasket

Joy clearly has command over both representation (we know it’s a basket) and expression, which is what makes me exclaim, “How lovely!” when I look at it. It is her particular expression of the form (basket) that draws me. Though, obviously, in order to create the artistic expression, she also had to have command over creating the form itself.

Though Speed was primarily a painter, he also wrote instructional materials for developing artists. In 1913, he wrote “The Practice and Science of Drawing,” now available in the public domain. In the text, he beautifully describes those invisible things surrounding good art. Like this: “The strength of appeal in artistic work will depend much on the power the artist possesses of expressing himself through representations that arrest everyone by their truth and naturalness.” Right?? So right! Here’s another basket by a different artist, Adrina Richard:

Basket by Adrina Richard

Adrina also has command of representation of form, and a very different expression of creativity than Joy. Same representative form–a basket; two artistic expressions, both of which are highly appealing in their truth and naturalness.

Speed also encouraged the artist to look for the “hidden rhythm” and “emotional significance” in the appearance of any object. By doing so, the artist can capture what moves her (or him) and then express it with their own creative passion. Both Joy and Adrina have clearly done so with their baskets.

So let’s challenge ourselves to look this week for hidden rhythms and for emotional significance as we notice nature, our surroundings, or whatever it is we are looking at. Let’s study form and think about how that form we are admiring might transform into a work of art with our particular creative expression.

Endless Curiosity

I have inherited the investigative gene in my family, and while mostly just useful, it can sometimes get out of hand. Basically it means that when I find myself interested in a subject, I am like a dog with a bone, and can’t let it go until I am satisfied that I understand it. Right now, I have an endless curiosity about the natural world and its ability to provide for and sustain humanity—specifically, in two areas–with fiber spun into yarn and made into fabrics, and clay formed into vessels for use.

Cups and a water jug
Cups and a water jug still wet from the wheel

So I thought I’d just take you along with me as I try to satisfy this curiosity in my clay journey, just in case you were wondering about it, too.

This all started with my own increasing amazement of our natural resources. I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I deeply appreciate clean water, available food, antibiotics and other advances that have freed us—at least some of us, looking at the world in its entirety—from ills that have plagued humanity through the ages. But, I am fascinated by the dual nature of the natural world. I say “the dual nature” because the natural world is both beautiful in its simplicity to provide, and amazingly complex within that provision.

Take fibers, for example. Linen, flax, wool, cotton, silk—all of these various fibers grow and reproduce, and did so and would do so without any intervention from us. Because of their natural properties—the way a fiber is constructed so that when it is spun, because of its natural design, the fibers interlock, become stronger, and can be made into the myriads of articles we need.

Clay is much the same—abundant in nature, and of such a specific construction in its nature that it is the perfect material for creating vessels—pots, dishes, water jugs, insulators, and even panels on the space shuttle. Clay is another natural material with astonishing properties.

Something Else that Spins!

I started this blog 4 years ago to chronicle a journey though the spinning universe … my first post said this:

“Everything in our universe spins, from the tiniest of atoms to the mightiest of planets. Everything spins. Is this why there is so much peace to be found in spinning wool into yarn? In the act of spinning, are we emulating the Almighty’s act of creating and sustaining?”

I suppose, having had those intense feelings about spinning yarn, it is no surprise that I have now found even more peace and contentment in another act of spinning … making pots from clay on a potter’s wheel.

Potter's Wheel
My Potter’s Wheel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clay is yet another natural substance, like wool, that demonstrates the glory and grandeur of our Creator. It’s very nature and molecular structure (more about that later) makes it the perfect raw material for constructing pots and vessels–just like wool contains within its structure the perfect characteristics for making yarn and fabrics.

First pots are much like first yarns —  uneven and somewhat wobbly, with lots of room for improvement! Arabella’s sage advice about spinning wool — “Good, you understand the basics. Now all you need is time at the wheel. Nothing else can teach you what you need” — also holds true for the potter’s wheel. The only thing that improves first pots is the continuous act of making second pots, third pots, fourth pots and so on.

The journey continues!

 

 

Spinning = Happiness

My, my, my … how the time does get away. Life intervenes with plans … and even hopes and dreams. The necessity of earning a paycheck often takes up the time we romantics would rather spend spinning, knitting, creating, or otherwise engaging in activities for which we do not get paid. Thankfully, we have friends who can drag us back into the worlds we love!

Arabella encouraged me to go with her to Mary Berry’s Fiber Retreat over Valentine’s weekend. I am so happy that I went! The entire experience was such a reminder how much I need creative input into my life — and I believe this is true for all of us, whether we realize it or not. It can become difficult to set aside the time, but the peace that a creative experience can bring into your life is so worth the effort.

various fibers for spinning
All happily spun during the fiber weekend

 

I LOVE spinning! But I haven’t done much of it in the last two years. The weekend was an immersion in luxurious and delicious fiber–so many types of wool, silk, camel, alpaca–it felt so good to get them running through my hands again. The retreat also included a multitude of workshops on knitting techniques, spinning, weaving and even dyeing. It was a lovely group (I think around 90 women) with knitting needles, spinning wheels and portable looms.

I was able to spin this gorgeous teal skein (top of pic) that I purchased from Christine, who owns Spinning Straw into Gold. It is a 50/50 blend of silk and a material called tencel, which is fascinating! Tencel is a fiber made from wood pulp, it absorbs dye beautifully, blends well with others, has natural breath-ability like cotton but can absorb a lot more moisture, AND it makes beautiful yarn!

I was also able to finish spinning the fabulous Jacob wool that I got from Cindy’s farm (Jacob’s Reward), and a wonderful art batt that Arabella had made.

The silk/tencel was wonderful to spin!

silk and tencil batt
Spinning silk tencel blend

My mom’s blog is great! You might see where I get some of my peculiarities … and wonderings about the world….

Hill Country Cottage Gardener

“Beauty is as beauty does.” This was one of my mother’s favorite sayings–she had a million! I heard this one often growing up in the ‘50s, whenever she didn’t like what I was doing. If I wanted to be beautiful (like MM?), then I’d better “straighten up & fly right” (another one of her favorites).

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There is great wisdom in the idea that our outer surroundings are a reflection of our inner selves. But as a pragmatist, I’m more interested in the reverse: how our inner selves reflect our environment. Most of us are more consciously aware of our environment than our inner selves, so let’s create beauty in our gardens and our homes and expect that inner beauty will follow.

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If you are not already on Pinterest, you need to get on the waiting list today.  Or, if you have a friend—or a daughter—who is already a Pinner…

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The Creative Journey

Creativity is a fascinating concept. Once unleashed, you don’t know where it might take you. I’ve been fortunate to bear witness to my mom’s amazing creative journey since her retirement from teaching. I wrote about my mom’s creativity a couple years ago when I started this blog. I commented on the way being in her house  in the hill country makes me feel, because her artistic expression is everywhere. Read this post and you’ll see what I mean.

Since she retired, she’s been able to turn her attention full-time to her artistry. Her journey has fascinated and inspired me. She started making mosaic art pieces to place in her garden. It’s wonderful! Here’s one of her amazing stepping stones:

Tropical Flower
Gorgeous in the garden

Then she started making “waterers” for the garden–fabulous dishes that could supply water to the garden creatures:

Cactus Waterer
Drink!

Even she didn’t know that she was only beginning to discover her artistry. She bought a kiln (yes!) and started creating “Cottage Tiles” in her workshop, grouting them mosaic-style onto pots. Her work is original and inspiring to me, as I am on my own creative journey.

The Original Cottage Pot
The original cottage pot!
Turquoise Cottage Pot
Turquoise Cottage Pot