Thursday, April 9, 2009


After deciding to embark on this apprenticeship together, my mom and I realized that an overhaul of the studio would be a good idea. I didn't realize as we began the huge task of reorganization how interesting it would be! I was able to think through the entire process and see 30 years of potting from inspiration to finished product.

My mom's studio is in the large, unfinished basement of her house. To the left, you can see my commute to work! The work space is to the right and the kiln is to the left of these stairs.

Since the pottery process has so many steps, I thought I'd give you a simple overview of a pot's journey from beginning to end:

A potter has an idea or sees a shape to emulate. A bowl. A simple, beautiful cereal bowl. The potter draws the shape and envisions the end before starting any clay work (remind me to tell you the story of an apprentice and his "new" shapes).

Then clay is made, either by the potter or a company, and brought back to thestudio. A mass of clay is cut away from the block, wedged (a process to get air bubbles out and align particles. more on that another time), and thrown on the wheel using a variety of tools. Let's pause there. Already, a potter has a pencil, sketchbook, some books, a place to store clay (if not make it!), a wedging surface, a wheel, and throwing tools.

Ok, back to our bowl. So the bowl has been created and is sitting, wet and shining, on the wheel. It is then cut off and placed on a ware board (a board for... ware). After a little while, say an hour or so (depending on the air flow in the studio), the pot is turned over. This is done mostly to even out the drying process but also to ensure a flat rim. After another few hours (or couple days, if covered correctly), the pot stiffens but is not completely dry. This is called leather hard and is the perfect time to trim using a new variety of tools. From here, the bowl dries completely (bone dry) and is fired for the first time. This is called the bisque firing and it readies the pot for glaze.

Pause again. Ware boards, shelves, plastic to cover pots, trimming tools, a kiln... and we haven't even finished. Can you see why this reorganization was such a big job?!

Then the bowl is decorated with any variety of techniques using any variety of glaze materials and must be cleaned and fired again. Following the last few hours in the kiln, firing and cooling, the potter will open the door/lid (better than Christmas) and hopefully find a perfect cereal bowl gleaming and ready for the world.

During the 3 or 4 days that it took to clean and reorganize, I would pick up various objects, books, tools, and drawings and say, "what!?" This lead to stories of where she got a book, what sparked an idea, why there was a book on having a baby in her collection (!), what medieval looking tools are actually used for, and why a certain item had to be kept or put in a certain place in the studio. Every artist has a system for working. And while mine may not be the same as my mother's, glimpsing those 30 years of experience and knowing that I was going to have to work within them was a great forerunner to my humility as an apprentice.

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