elizabeth priddy on wed 1 dec 99
This is how I approach it with my students.
(pig production assignment in parentheses)
It is just my way, and it might definitely not
be for you. It is a systematic and scientific
approach to learning to make good pots, not to
"express yourself". That will happen
naturally, you kind of can't "not express
yourself" when you are working with clay.
For beginners, I make sure my students
understand the throwing, then they start
assignments. The first one is usually a series
of ten cylinders 6 inches high and 4 inches
across and 1/4 inch thick evenly from top to
bottom. 3/4 inch thick bottoms for trimming.
This precision takes some of the "fun" out of
it, which is the point.
(Making twenty pigs and setting a standard for
a good piggy bank was the first big assignment
for one of my students. I then had her make 50
handbuilt piggy banks. That was the second
big assignment. Of those, only a few were
acceptable to standards we set before she began.
On the next 15, all of them were acceptable and
quite darling piggies. She just sold her first
order to a gift shop today and I am so proud of
her! She makes one fine pig! They make
everyone laugh when they see them because
they have whumpy butts, sometimes crossed eyes,
and a pidgeon toed stance. Like I said, there
is no escaping your personal expression, even
with 85 straight pigs. She is still my student,
had a lot of fun, and is making money off some
of the hardest handwork practice I have ever
made anyone attempt. The big surprise is for
her when she tries her next project-not pigs.
She will have no problems with attachments,
drying phases, systematic production, glaze
decision making, design as it applies to
function, note keeping, joining, glazing,
waxing, cleaning, painting, or discipline.
She is going to make a fine potter someday
soon, after she can make her own glazes and
fire her own kilns. That is next.)
If you take the focus away from the creative
side to the technical for long enough to
generate these cylinders, it gets your mind
"right" for exercises that will get your skills
in place. All the while your creativity whirs
in the background waiting for its turn.
Then after you can make these cylinders, you
begin systematically glazing them. Store them
all up so that you can glaze them all at the
same time, different patterns and layerings of
the glaze. You mark them and keep a glaze
notebook indicating precisely how you glazed
them so that you can relate what you did to the
final outcome without guessing about what you
"think" you did. Each pot gets its own page
in the notebook. You mark the pots underneath
with a code to tell you which is which because
theoretically, you won't be able to tell one
cylinder from the next. ;^} The idea that I
am getting at is that "iteration" allows for
you to make subtle changes from one piece to
the next and evaluate the work afterwards with
a critical eye for how small differences can
make big impacts.
It takes patience and practice and it is
invaluable. Take pictures and staple them to
the page in your notebook that corresponds to
that pot. You will be able to use this like a
guide for the next time you glaze and need a
The cylinders make a good canvas for the glaze
effects, fit neatly in the kiln, and can be
used many different ways. It also gets the
"tall" thing out of the way first. A very wide
shallow cylinder is a plate. A very tall skinny
cylinder is the base for a curvy vase. A
medium wide, medium high cylinder with a slight
curve is a beautiful bowl. That is why you go
with the cylinder format first, it is easy to
adapt into anything else.
After you do this exercise with the cylinder,
you move on to another form and do it all over
Eventually, as you work through form after form,
you will happen upon a form that you react to
(My student happened to
think that pigs have a particularly comical
appearance and that is why she can make such
funny looking pigs...My own pigs are not
"funny", probably because I think bacon and bbq
when I think pig, not "Porky"...)
But how can you know plates are
your thing until you have made many of them.
The first one might be vile to you as it will
be new. By the tenth, you might have the knack
for it and begin to see visions fo loveliness
that you must pursue. Until then, when something
really strikes you, just make forms by rote and
let your skills build and develop. The
creativity will take care of itself, but the
technical proficiency takes specific practice.
If you work on the skills first, when the idea
you get finally floors you, you will already be
able to implement it.
There are some "practices" described
on my tips and techniques page at my site,
(no pigs, though, sorry) also a juicer demo
that give you a throwing challenge.
(pigs make handy winter/birthday gifts so
they are easy to dispose of when you have
got what you need from them)
Good luck with it...
Clay: 12,000 yrs and still fresh!
On Tue, 30 Nov 1999 10:39:17 Sue Beach wrote:
>I am a relative newcomer to clay work; I have been throwing for about 1 1/2
>years. I have gotten intermittent tips from an acquaintance, but have had
>no formal lessons. I am not in a position right now to take classes or
>attend workshops. I can center fine, throw an okay bowl and manage
>cylinders up to about 7 inches. I find when I sit down to throw, I have no
>real direction and just throw whatever happens.
>I feel the need for some "lessons" or "assignments" in order to move my
>skills beyond the beginner level. Can any of you recommend some "course of
>study" or series of assignments that I could assign myself? Thanks for any
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