Thursday, September 26, 2019

identity change

Things are changing around here. For starters, this week I started my first teaching gig at Berkeley Potters Studio. It's just one night a week, an intermediate to advanced throwing class, but for me it's a big deal.

I've been asked on and off over the years to teach, and for the most part I have resisted. Many reasons, the most important one being that I spend all of my working hours making my own stuff, and I don't want anything getting in the way of that. One of my greatest pleasures in life is having complete control over my own schedule. The whole time I was a kid, I just could not wait to get out from under the tyranny of an imposed schedule. As an adult, I'm a bit protective over maintaining that control.

There are other reasons, and this one I'm a bit sheepish to admit, but here it is: the fact that I have been able to make a decent living as an artist for 20 straight years is a huge part of my identity. I'm proud that I can do this, and I have some ego wrapped up in it too. Let's say... a lot of ego.

Being attached to an idea of my own artist identity is something I've been breaking down, a process that probably started after my mom died. There are many scraps of enlightenment and self-knowledge that come from this, not all of them easy or pleasant.

One of the uneasy facts is that I am starting to get tired, and perhaps a little bored with this way of life. I still love making pottery and I am not at all tired of that, if anything I am more obsessed than ever. But depending on it for the sole source of my income is a cycle-- constantly renewing, always repeating, and never-ending. And almost all of my creativity is fire-hosed into this endeavor. And I wonder if there are other things I could do that wouldn't take up almost every ounce of my lifeblood.
And also, give me a different challenge.

The thought of being something other than a solely self-supporting artist has brought up feelings of diminishment and a loss of self-worth, and I'm asking myself: why? It's all about how I want to see myself, and how I want other people to see me. Being an artist means being something of an outsider to the rest of society, and I like that. I have a lot of identity wrapped up in it.

But all of that is also just a story, and the ego loves telling us a good story about who we are. Because as much as I would like to see myself as someone living on the edge, I could also be seen as a servant to capitalism and a slave to social media in my daily hustle to get the pots out of my studio and into people's homes. Was that the dream? And that too is just a story.

I'm moving through all of these feelings toward something different for my life. There is going to be more teaching, there may be a thing called "paychecks", and a new business may be coming out of all of this. I'll keep everyone who is interested in the loop, right here.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

big pots

I've been hitting the limits of my abilities on a few things lately. Hitting the edges of my skills can cause me unnecessary distress. I forget that it's okay that I don't know how to do every last thing with clay, and I can still learn new things. Or, maybe it's an impatience with learning new things, I just want to get by on what I already know. I don't have time! I'm a very busy person! It's an uncomfortable place of not-knowing before I can get excited about pushing myself into expanding my capacities.

I took an order for a big pot. A GIANT pot. When I took it I understood the measurements of the thing, and that it was going to be much bigger than what I usually make, but somehow spatially in my mind, it didn't compute. I was thinking, "no problem". Thrown, it needed to measure at least 19 inches high and almost 14 inches wide. That is a huge pot for me, most of my bigger vases are about 10 to 12 inches high.

I spent hours trying to throw this thing in one go, wedging bigger and bigger chunks of clay, straining my arms, shoulders, and back trying to conquer this pot.  I made some pretty big pots, but not even close to what I needed. I had way underestimated how the width of the pot was going to challenge my ability to get the pot as tall as I needed it to get. By the end of the day I had gone through well over 100 pounds of clay and was in a really, really bad mood. I figured I totally screwed up taking this order in the first place.

I stormed the studio the next morning, determined to try something different, the only thing I figured would work, which was to throw the pot in sections. I did not want to do this, so much so that I wasted hours trying to avoid it. If you throw in sections, you must be incredibly precise to make sure all the edges line up, not just the width but the direction of the piece. A few years ago, I made some extra tall vases where I threw them in two sections, and while the width matched-- I was able to piece them together-- the direction of the top section did not flow with the bottom. It actually made for a couple of interesting vases, and I sold both of them right away, but I wasn't that into it and I never did it again.

This one was going to be even more challenging because having hit my limit the day before, I already knew I was going to have to make this piece not in two sections, but three. UGH!!! Trying to match three sections from  top to bottom was going to take lots of time and precision, which is challenging to my snappy and impatient nature.

The way I did it was to throw each section extra thick and chunky. That way they would be strong and I could  stack the sections while they were on the bat and wet to see how it looked. If I needed to make any changes, I could do it and not have to start over. It was a long process, it pretty much took my whole work day to make two of these.

I went on vacation for 5 days after this, letting the sections firm up very slowly. At night, I would think about these sections, and wonder how well they were going to match up. How I was going to get these huge parts on top of each other without warping them? Did I make the bottom strong enough to hold the top sections? I wasn't sure. Each section was about 10 pounds, and I could easily imagine the bottom one slumping during the firing. These thoughts made for some awesome middle-of-the-night tossing and turning.

When I got back to the studio I was nervous but ready. And it only took a few minutes to stack everything up-- everything matched, the pots lined up. The sections were firm and felt light enough to lift without warping. I almost couldn't believe it:

It was good that I was forced into doing this. I have been wanting to make bigger pots but have been too entrenched in my regular work to actually make the move to do it. It opens up new possibilities, which is always an exciting place to be. Yeah, I can't wait to make some really big ass pots!

Here is the final product: a garden pot with a Germanic family crest: