Friday, April 05, 2013

Better than me

I am a competitive person.  I can’t help it.  It’s how I was raised.  The problem with me is that I’m not very good at a lot of things, only a handful.  Any physical tasks, you should pick me last.  I’m good with that.  I do have my quirky specialties.  Those are what get me pretty annoyed that someone else might know more about it or might be just better than me.  It happens.  I am first to admit that I am not the best potter in the world.  I can always find someone else that is better than me.  Which gets me mad, not at them, but at myself.  I figure that the amount of time I put into something, it should equal “better than” on anything.  But time doesn’t mean anything in any given field I’ve noticed. It’s talent.

For me, I think my painting skills are just ok. Sometimes things I do are really awesome, but others, it’s sort of mediocre.  I’m purposely coming up with projects that I can practice and improve my work.  When I was in college, Decoration was far more important than the creation of the piece.  I did some time consuming projects, both in glazing and in the altering of the clay surface.  Over the years my throwing became more of the focus and became stronger (with practice).   One of the things I’ve done was forcing myself to throw things in one piece whenever I can, instead of two.  I’ve figured out some really crazy shapes over the years that in period molds were used because of gravity problems.  Clay and the wheel rely heavily on centrifical forces as well as plasticity of the clay, which is a real challenge to figure out. I’m far from perfect at it, but I am so far ahead of where I was when I started.

I used to be a musician for about half of my life.  I played numerous instruments and was a voice major at Cal State Northridge.  I was ok at the singing part.  I naturally sing slightly flat.  Bothersome.  But I had a very smart teacher that told me, “Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent.”  The idea is that if you practice the wrong thing, not matter how LONG you have been doing it, it’s still wrong AND it’s hard to break bad habits.

I’m not sure if it is just a ceramic thing, but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met over the years that have immediately told me how long they have been doing pottery.  I guess they are doing that in order to justify an opinion. I’m not sure in other cases why.  To me, anyone can have an opinion about my work or anyone’s work (doesn’t matter if they’ve done it or not), but it’s my job to consider whether the comment is valid or not. I’ve been cooking all my life, that doesn’t make me a chef. I’ve learned that just because someone had done pottery for over 25 years, they may not know about period pottery.  Time doesn’t equal perfect, being good at it or knowing more than everyone. 

Talent makes you good.  Studying and learning make you better. Time does give them the opportunity to study and hopefully perfect in whatever their focus is.  In Ceramics, there are myriads of aspects.  I don’t think one person can be a master of all ceramics.  Ceramics has many layers, from the construction of the piece, to the decoration… both of those sound simple, but construction of a piece is not just throwing.  You have many options (throwing, hand building, molded…) and then you have decoration (surface decoration on the clay surface before it is fired to bisque, then you have many ways to color and alter the object after bisque).  Most clay artists seem to gravitate towards one aspect or type of ware and stay there for several years perfecting it… then move along.  However, there are numerous potters that are known for their luster glazes (Beatrice Wood), for their Salt Firing, for their maiolica, for their altered works, their sculptures, their large forms… anything and everything you can imagine, someone does it REALLY well.  Narrowing the field in order to really master it.

I’m confident that I will continue to try new things, try to perfect older techniques and be the best that I can.  I just have to remind myself that other people can do the same thing I am doing… and not feel pressured into competition with them.  The only person I should worry about is myself.  That’s a hard lesson for me. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

It's more difficult than it looks: Cracking & Explosions

cracked pot, cracked ceramics photo crack4BIG_zps8ed14ad3.jpg

Next in my series of posts on "It's more difficult than it looks" comes something very natural to most clay -- cracking.

There are a few things that most people may not know about clay.  First is that "clay has memory"... meaning that the clay platelets that make up clay needs to be completely mixed evenly or else any settled clay may form cracks.  These cracks can form in the drying or more annoyingly in the firing stages.  Unevenness can happen if a piece is bumped, banged or pressed between the forming of the piece, all the way up until it is bisque fired.  Some clays are more forgiving, allowing slight mistakes in how it was handled, but others less plastic like porcelain, crack.

Cracks come in all shapes and sizes.  As with the example I found online, this one looks to be due to possible different thicknesses of the piece (uneven) and possibly a compression of clay wasn't done as well as it should have been.  These types of cracks aren't the type you can usually salvage.  If it cracked as it was drying, you can at least melt the piece down and reuse the clay.  If it's fired, if you have the right equipment, you can grind up the bisqued item into grog which can be used in clay to make the clay more workable.  Most people, however, just throw out those broken pieces.

I bring up explosions.  It's exactly what you'd think it is by the name.  Pots will explode in the kiln with much vigor. When air and moisture is trapped in the clay as it is fired in a kiln, the fast evaporation shocks the piece and will cause said explosion.  Explosions can be small or large enough that the shattered pieces can fly into other pieces, breaking them.  Pieces need to be bone dry before they are fired as well as a slow, even kiln firing.  Too fast of a ramp up can cause shock to the pieces.

So, sometimes someone else can damage your piece without them meaning to.  This just adds to the sometimes unpredictable nature of ceramics.

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