Saturday, February 27, 2010

pottery: week 7 plates and tall vases

This week was my seventh week of my internship. I practiced trimming on Tuesday and destroyed all but one of my pieces. The one that made it was the small tea mug I made and I was not too excited about how it turned out. Nevertheless, I got to practice trimming and experience a very important part of pottery: failure. I was pretty discouraged by how trimming went overall but took the opportunity to reflect on ways I would like to grow. After a disappointing time of trimming I decided to have some fun. I tried to throw a plate without any lesson. Then I decided to throw a bowl without stopping the wheel from start to finish!

Friday morning my family met Patti at the Minneapolis Institute of Art for a tour of their ceramics collection. We did the speed version since Shiloh was with us and has a short attention span. He really enjoyed the ceramics and we did too! I was fascinated to see ceramics from thousands of years ago made with essentially the same elements that I am learning to create with. I am thrilled to be learning a craft that has been around for such a long time. We viewed the collection in chronological order. What a visual lesson of the 'evolution' of pottery as craft and art. By the time we made it to the contemporary/modern section I was overwhelmed with ideas.

When we got back to the Olsons' Patti gave me a demonstration of plates and tall vases. She told me that vases are really fun to make but she does not make very many because, 'How many vases does a person really need?" Nonetheless, she made a vase and then played with it changing its shape with simple movements of her fingers or hand. The final shape imitated vases we saw from thousands of years ago in China.

With that, I wedged four balls of three pounds of clay each. I threw a plate and then a tall vase. The top of the vase got wobbly and I cut several inches off. I decided to keep playing and ended up making a nice vase (see picture at top). I was so excited to recover the clay and make my first vase that I took a small break. I threw another vase (the bellied out one) and then showed Dana and Shiloh how to throw a plate. To conclude my time this week I got to clean the wheel, splatter guard, tools and put my pieces away. These are all things that I knew needed to be done at the end of each session but Patti usually throws when I leave. She did not want to send me to my dad with such bad studio habits! hahaha!

I really enjoy plates and vases. The tallest I got my vases Friday was about 6 inches. I am going to throw more on Tuesday with the same amount of clay. My goal is to throw a vase that is between 7 and 8 inches. I have one more month with Patti before we head on our road trip. I will spend around a month with my dad and then come back to Minneapolis. I am not sure what my internship with Patti will look like after March. I hope to be able to continue learning, practicing and growing in pottery one way or another. Peace

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pottery: week 6

This week of pottery was great! I have been a lot more tired lately so I have not thrown as many pieces. But the encouraging thing is that the pieces I am throwing are much better. On Tuesday I practiced trimming and learned an important lesson. It is okay to destroy some of your work! Up until now I have been very meticulous with my throwing and trimming. On Tuesday I destroyed three of my five pieces while trimming. I learned another important lesson: Stop when you are tired! All in all it was a great day. My trimming has improved a lot and I feel very pleased with the results.

On Friday Patti had me read from Bernard Leach's A Potter's Portfolio. Leach writes about the pottery movement he saw in his lifetime. The section I read talked about the philosophy behind creating pottery. Leach compares and contrasts the styles of East and West. It was fascinating to read this influential potter's ponderings at the beginning of a movement in pottery that is still very alive today. One of the concepts he talks about is how the craft/art of pottery is about shaping the potter. I have found this to be very true in my experience with pottery.

I threw my best piece so far on Friday. It is a small tea mug that attempts to imitate some classic pieces by Warren Mackenzie. I was so pleased with it that I took a break and only threw two more pieces. I had my intro lesson on glazing and got to apply some white slip to two pieces from last week. I am really excited to experiment with design and glaze next week. Patti is going to take us on a field trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Art next Friday so we can look at their ceramic section. It will be fun to see other potters' work, be inspired and have some more experience with potters. I can hardly believe I have been learning pottery for six weeks already. I am getting really excited about what I can create with my hands.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pottery: week 5

This Tuesday I was able to practice trimming the bowls I threw last week. I trimmed three of the five bowls and am excited for how they turned out. The third piece was a little wet when I got there so I set it under the heating duct to dry out. By the time I got to it that afternoon it was very dry. It was interested to feel the difference in trimming with dryer clay. It shaved off almost like chocolate. My trimming improved this week. Part of this was because I took the time to measure the bottom and walls, made drawings and wrote these down. This allowed me to be more aware of how much clay I had to trim. The last piece I trimmed is the best trimming I have done so far. It turned out very smooth and light. I am excited to see how it turns out through the firing.
On Friday I helped Patti mop the studio which is something she does at least once a week. This is to clear out the dust and clay residue. Potter's get an illness in the lungs from breathing in too many particles. I enjoyed learning more about the care of a studio space as part of pottery. After cleaning the studio we sat down for my next lesson. Patti had an array of similar pots thrown by Warren Mackenzie, his student or Patti. They were all a similar design with different variations. We talked about the history of pottery a wee bit. We talked about how folk art pottery was brought to the forefront and how Mackenzie's legacy has been getting pottery into the homes of the masses. My assignment was to throw fast and messy with 1 1/2 pounds of clay and to try to imitate some of the designs.
It was a fun long day. I am happy with the pieces I threw and hope to trim them on Tuesday. It was fun to open up a bit of my creative side. I am encouraged with my throwing and the potential of what I can create. It is humbling to be reminded of how much I have to learn still. At least I know that pottery is a lifetime lesson.
I also got to take home some of my first pots that have been fired. It is amazing to experience the whole process of creating a single pot. I drew in my journal some of the steps beginning with wedging clay which is not even the beginning! I am proud of my work yet can also see areas I can grow in. Learning pottery has been really healing for me. It has also given me confidence in my ability to create. For a long time I have convinced myself that I am not an artist or craftsmen or that I just could not do certain things. Here are some more pictures of what I threw Friday as well as my first two bowls! Enjoy.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pottery: more bowls

This Friday I had the option of learning how to throw plates or to take a challenge with throwing bowls. I opted for the challenge which was a practice in precision throwing. The challenge was to wedge 2 pounds of clay and throw 5 bowls. Starting at 4inches each bowl was to be 1/2 in wider.
The object of the challenge was to practice precision throwing. This is a necessary skill to have in pottery. Up to this point I have been throwing shapes but with no guidelines or limitations. Patti had one instructor that had her make 75 identical pieces and then destroyed all but the best 5. This practice helped her learn precision throwing. Though she will not be giving me the same lesson, I will be doing more small scale precision 'challenges.'

I got to see my first two fired pieces. It is encouraging to see them and what I have thrown since. I am encouraged with the improvements even in the last few weeks. I am planning on taking Tuesday to trim the 5 bowls I threw Friday and hopefully keeping the best ones.

This Friday was fun because my wife Dana and son Shiloh stopped by to watch me throw a bowl. I then did my best to try and teach Dana a few things. She threw one bowl which I juggled Shiloh and tried to give her instructions. We hope pottery can be a family craft/trade in the coming years. Dana is a natural artist and I know she would pick up pottery quickly. I am excited to learn some more aspects of pottery like design, glazing and firing. One step at a time....

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pottery: bowls and trimming

The latest thing I am learning and practicing is throwing bowls. Out of the few things I have done I enjoy bowls the best. The important factor with bowls is to have in mind a shape for the interior from the very beginning. After you throw it and prepare to trim you have to remember the interior shape. The interior determines the exterior.

The process is very similar to cylindrical shape up until you pull the clay out. I have a lot to learn about this process. I was very tired Friday so I threw four bowls. Of these I kept three to practice trimming. I went in this Tuesday and spent most of my time trimming these three bowls. I really enjoy trimming and have a lot to learn. Right now I am getting more used to the trimming process and tools. I am still not very good at 'feeling' out how much clay I have taken off or how much is left. I was very pleased with two of the bowls and hope to fire them.

As I threw and trimmed the bowls I reflected on how life has been lately. It seemed to me that God was saying the last two years have been a focus on our interior life-our character. The last two years have been challenging in many ways. One of the main things we wrestled with was the temptation to compromise our integrity and character. All who have journeyed with us have commented on how we conducted ourselves throughout everything. God has been shaping our interior. We are now in a much different season that I liken to trimming. It seems like we have been 'losing' a lot of things but that it is intentional. God is trimming our exterior like a master potter to match the interior.