Friday, September 3, 2010

The light touch

During the following week, I toyed with the idea of never going back to another pottery lesson.

Perhaps I'm just not cut out to be a potter; I just don't have whatever knack is needed. Perhaps, in my case, it's like juggling, which I've been trying to learn, on and off, for the past eight or ten years. Perhaps I don't need to add another skill to my handcraft repertoire. And besides (and this was definitely a mere side issue) it's embarrassing trying to do something and failing, miserably and in public.

On the other hand, Ed had said he thought I just needed to lighten up a bit. Perhaps it was worth ONE more effort.

So the next Tuesday found me heading to Bristol once again. Ed greeted me in his usual cordial way, then pointed to a different wheel than the one I'd used before.

"That's a much more expensive and better one. Try it," he suggested. I found an apron, filled a bucket of fresh water, chose several of the more essential tools from a large bin, picked up a cube of clay that Ed had sawed from the main block with a piece of wire, and settled in for another couple of what I hoped would not be frustrating hours.

Press hard to center it. With the wheel spinning, I dipped my hands in the water bucket and pressed down hard on my clay. The irregular contours tossed me back and forth as the clay revolved, resisting my efforts to get it all lined up in the exact center of the wheel. Press harder. Bits of slippery, wet clay sheared off from the lump and worked their way in between my fingers. I shook them off into the scrap bucket. Anchor your arms on the edge of the wheel frame. I bent in and tightened my grip.

It will fight you, but you're gonna win in the end. The words of my first pottery teacher, demonstrating the use of the wheel for the class at the seniors' center, came back to me. Hmmm. Is this what the prophet Jeremiah was talking about?

From across the room, over the chatter of the other students, my second pottery teacher addressed me.

"Looking good over there, Barbara."

"Um, I think it's still a bit off-center," I replied, staring at the cone-shaped object going around and around in front of me. I thought I could detect the merest hint of a visual "wobble."
How near perfection is "good enough"?

"Once it's off the wheel," he said, "no one will ever know." Really? That's an interesting thought. I bent over the wheel and stuck my thumbs into the middle of the now-well-enough-centered lump of clay, "opening" it as I pressed down and outward to create a hole.

Remember, light touch. Gently, I drew the hollowed object upward, then eased it outward, enlarging it. I dipped my hands in water again and again to smooth the clay's surface. Water ran down and pooled in the bottom of the pot. Don't let water remain in the bottom of the pot. The clay will absorb too much and then crack during the drying period. I soaked up the puddle with a sponge, then dipped my hands in the water bucket again. The lump of clay was beginning to look like a bowl.

By the end of that class, there were three newly-turned objects on the shelf with my initials scratched on the bottom.

Here's a YouTube video of a Yorkshire potter showing (repeatedly) how to center the clay on the potter's wheel. When I watched this video, I re-learned something my first teacher had taught us but which I'd forgotten: Always take your hands slowly off the clay. Moving quickly can throw it off-center and you'll have to do the whole thing over again.

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