This morning, I took a little time in the studio and finished trimming the last pieces of another throwing cycle. I don’t know how other potters do it, but it seems my work flow runs from throwing what I think will be a kiln load plus a little more, to the bisque firing, then to glaze application, then glaze firing, then finally photography and preparation for sales. Then it starts over again. I think I work this way because of limited space in the studio. I can’t really do more than one of the major steps at at time. In any case, it works for me.
The typical cycle seems to take a couple months, give or take a week, depending on how much big stuff I have thrown in the cycle. It’s also in the down-time between phase activity, like waiting for trimmed ware to dry out, that I find time to do glaze research and planning, design sketching, and reading. Remember, I’m doing the pottery thing in my free time, so it stretches out. And to be honest, I sketch all the time.
During this drying phase, I’ve been reading “The Unknown Craftsman” by Soetsu Yanagi. It’s a series of essays on art and beauty and the craft of making . It makes me think about what I’m doing in a slightly different light. I came to read the book because the local gallery where I sometimes show work has a call to artists for an upcoming show with the theme ‘Japanesque’. I wanted to do some research on Japanese art, and specifically pottery. Which brought me back to the word mingei, which means “art of the people”. I had first heard this term in relation to the work of Warren Mackenzie long ago, and the connection to Leach, Yanagi and Hamada, made clear in the introduction to “The Unknown Craftsman”. Yanagi coined the term in the process of defining the concept for the collections in the folk art museum he started in Japan following World War II.
It’s way to many threads to tug in one paragraph. The short of it (I know, too late,) is that I’ve found myself back looking at what I’m doing from the perspective of having done it for 8 years, and the basic premise of what makes good work, that I still try to achieve, is still there in the cycle. I’m still interested in making simple, useful, inexpensive pottery that people can enjoy every day, and develop a relationship to through the simple daily rituals of use. Breakfast coffee in that blue-green mug. Or soup in that brown and white bowl that always gets picked when the weather is cold. There’s something inherent in the work itself that transcends what I had in mind when I centered and opened the clay. Not every piece has it. The ones that leave my vendors table early on Saturday mornings at the Farmers Market usually do. There’s an aesthetic that comes from the tradition that informs the work, a form that comes from a practice of throwing and trimming and firing and glazing. It’s the cycle. The cycle pulls in ideas, pulls in energy, pulls in experience and the result is more pottery and more inspiration for me to perform the cycle again, which now that I describe it, I recognize as another form of ritual, a ritual of making.
This morning, I made it through the trimming and sat and looked at all the pieces on the drying shelves and thought about how they would fit in the kiln and what kinds of glazing I might do. And now, hours later, I’m excited that all will be dry in another few days, so the next step in the cycle can be undertaken. Pottery takes patience. The longer I do it, the more times I make it through the cycle, the more I understand it’s not patience, it’s just the temporal scale on which this ritual is performed. Enjoy your daily rituals and look for the cycles that transport you out of time.