Monday, March 30, 2009

never perfect

One of the biggest nightmares in my life for a long while were the bird cake stands. They are one of my current top sellers, and have been plagued with problems. When I first started making them, it was no problem. This is how it always starts: you whip out a great design, a fab new glaze, whatever, and the stuff starts selling. So you make more. But there is an internal flaw in the system that has not made itself known yet. As you make more, the flaw comes out. The more you sell, the more the problem starts to exponentially multiply.

With the cake stands, the first problem was the birds falling over during firing. This took a while to address, but I finally came up with the solution. Then it was getting the right glaze to fire out on these big, flat surfaces. I had to fiddle with my kiln, my firing style, my cooling phase, and the glaze to get it right.

I was so happy when I finally landed on the right white glaze that doesn't pinhole or bubble. This is a sweet white glaze, so I started using it as my default white glaze. Problem is, as I'm discovering, this white glaze loves to crawl all over the place on round surfaces. I had to ruin about $1000 worth of work before I decided fuck this. Now I have white glaze only for cake stands and straight surfaces (up, down sideways-- doesn't matter, as long as it is straight, no curves), and white glaze for everything else. Sigh...

I was discussing this issue with my good friend, Leah, who is operations manager and designer for a bead and jewelry component company. She said, "I keep waiting for this time when everything can just run smoothly-- when silver prices aren't spiking, when the economy isn't going to hell, when I can actually get the bead back from the maker that is actually the bead I designed..." I laughed, because that's what every single person I know is waiting for: smooth sailing.

I have gradually accepted that perfection is nothing more than an ideal rarely achieved. I have tortured myself-- and my husband-- trying to reach for that state of constant perfection at the studio and done nothing but suffer in the struggle. And when I say suffer, I mean painful, gut-wrenching, can't sleep, don't want to eat, always worried, crying everyday, totally pissed off, suffering. I went over and off the edge a while ago. While I was laying there, all flattened, on rock bottom, I realized how useless my yearning for perfection is. The ebb and flow of our work includes moments of bliss and perfection, and the rest of the time just regular life. Regular life usually means shit is breaking down, because that is the nature of being on this planet: nothing stays the same, things are constantly deteriorating, and perfection--like everything else-- is fleeting. Enjoy it while it lasts.


  1. You have no idea how much I needed to read this tonight. Thank you.

    I'm thinking about writing a book - "How to ruin a perfect piece in one easy step - let Linda glaze it". It's frustrating when your (my) glazing skills don't yet match your building skills. Your post helps me to see that it isn't easy for anyone, and I'm just a beginner.

  2. There are so many variables to clay sometimes it isn't easy to discover what the problem is and that can be so frustrating and now I see from your post there can be multiple problems and for different reasons, yikes. Oh well, that's clay and life I guess.

  3. Well said and so true.
    But in the photos your pieces really and truly are perfect. Beautiful.
    But I would rather see these beauties than crawled and pinholed surfaces. I've seen enough of those in my own studio.

  4. Those last three sentences sum up everything, don't they?

  5. Anonymous7:13 AM

    you got that right... when you consider how many steps have to go smoothly to get perfect pieces, it's a wonder we think it's attainable at all ever. of course, without the illusion that we will someday achieve it, we might end up with a lack of motivation. you know, the anticipation of that next kilnload being the perfect one might just make us live longer... like the painter's next painting or the composer's next song.

  6. Katie2:18 PM

    These thoughts parallel life in general - so true that the point is not to get wrapped up in perfection! Just the reminder I needed today. Thanks Whitney.

  7. uh....yeah!
    It's actually a relief to read the thoughts of another potter whose mind is tortured by universal problems like glaze misbehavior.

    Your scenario of flaws in the system waiting to be revealed by finding a winning formula for success is just my life times 50.

    Thanks for the reminder that perfection is a lousy goal if you also want peace and happiness!

  8. Anonymous12:30 AM

    Wabi Sabi is the Japanese way of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature. Seeing the maker's hand in objects is why we are drawn to them and find them more precious than anything off a production line.

  9. smooth sailing happens at 5:00 in the morning in that not quite awake dreamlike state brought on by a fitful night of problem solving.

    then I get out of bed and start all over again.

  10. Great post, and so true. It's always something, and not just in clay. Seems like I am always waiting for the dust to settle.

  11. My language is so visual saying all the you just wrote is what I spit and sputter about, lots and incoherently.
    Now if only my Damned printer was working. I would print all that onto little cards and hand them out to my Friends and Family to help them understand a wee bit better the My Studio Life.