Thursday, May 26, 2011

Having Fun and Letting Go

I've always been a perfectionist. I think that's a good thing in a lot of ways. It helps me keep high standards for myself in what I do and what I create. It's also been a tough thing to deal with at times. Tough when something is as good as it's going to get and perfect is not an option. Tough when there's no such thing as perfect. Tough when I worry that I'll be judged based on perfection and I won't let less than perfect be okay. Tough when just having fun would be the perfect thing.

Over the years, I've noticed myself slowly letting the perfection thing loosen a bit. I'm learning that there's no such thing as perfect in some things. I'm learning that my idea of perfection may not be other people's idea of perfection. I'm learning that others may not judge me or like me based on perfection or lack of. In fact, they might like me better if I just relax a bit. I'm also learning to let go of it sometimes and just enjoy the process of doing. The ceramics class I took with my daughter this semester was a perfect exercise in letting go of perfection.

I learned pretty early in the semester that clay can't always be told what to do. It can be manipulated but I have to learn to let it speak and go with that too. The type of clay, the thickness, wetness or dryness of it, the weather and my skill or lack of have huge roles in what the clay will or will not become. Then, the glazes seem to have a mind of their own. They don't always turn out the exact color that was hoped for. The thickness or thinness of it's application and the way the piece was fired prior to glazing and other forces affect it.'s best to let go and enjoy the ride.

The semester just ended and all of my pieces are done. Here are some of my projects and how my ride turned out...

One of the first assignments was to roll out clay into slabs and create three plates. I cut out a circle and placed a rolled piece of clay underneath the edge to create a raised edge and hold it up while it dried. I decorated this one with handmade leaves and berries. The plate projects were painted with colored slip (wet, soupy clay colored with minerals) and covered in a clear glaze to make them shiney. The colors didn't always come out as planned. The white on this plate, in spite of many coats, came out blotchy. And, the berries that were supposed to be red/pink, came out blue. But, I like it. This one is 9" across...

I decorated this plate with a free-form daisy and vine that I painted on. The background was yellow but turned gray during firing. This one is also 9" across...

I went beyond a circle to create my third slab plate. It's a tropical leaf that is 6" wide and 18" long. I made the small end thick and strong but it somehow ended up breaking during the first firing. I never glazed it and fired it again because I didn't really want a platter that was glued together. It sure would have been a great piece though.

The next project was also constructed with slabs of rolled clay. We were to build a birdhouse inspired by some kind of architecture. I originally thought of doing a Southwest style house but in the end created one with more of a cottage feel. I hand carved all the little tiles/shingles on the roof and the wood grain in the shutters, hand sculpted every little leaf, and the vines were extruded through a little die/press. I loved how it looked when I was finished constructing it. As I glazed it, I had a vision of yellowy walls, a brown roof and shutters, and green vines. The glazes had a different idea...yellow, rust and brown. Oh well. I like it anyway. It's 5" wide by 7 1/2" tall.

Our next project was to be constructed with a coil of clay, twirled around and stacked on itself and then smoothed. It was supposed to be inspired by Native American pottery. Somehow, mine took on a shape totally different than I had envisioned. I'm not really sure how that happened but I really like it. I'm happy with how smooth I was able to make it. People kept asking if I had thrown it on the wheel because it was so smooth. That's cool! The next step was to let it dry a bit and then burnish the surface by rubbing a smooth stone on every inch of the outside surface...for a long time. That pushed all the bigger grains of clay down and left it very smooth like polished stone. It was then fired for about an hour until it was super hot and glowing orange. At that time, I removed it with gloves and long tongs and carefully placed horse hairs on it. The hair would sizzle, curl and twist as it burned and left really cool designs on my vase. After it was cooled and cleaned, wax was applied to the surface and polished. I love this one! I've seen pots like this in Native American shops but never realized what those lines were. Now I know, and I love and appreciate them much more. This is 6" wide x 8" tall.

For some reason, I always thought I'd get the whole throwing pottery on a wheel thing down pretty easy. It didn't look hard. Well, I learned a lesson on that! I didn't do too bad for my first semester but there's a lot to it and I have a lot of practicing and learning to do. Here's my first bowl. It doesn't show in this picture but it has a big hole in the bottom. I'm not sure what I'll do with a holey bowl but, I'm proud of it none the less. It's 5" across by 2 3/4" tall.

I kept at the wheel, practicing and practicing. I wasted some clay in the process. And, I made bowls of many sizes and shapes. One of our projects was to create a "set" of bowls. These don't really match in shape or size and they don't even fit together to be nesting bowls. But...they are all bowls and I made them! They range in size from 4 3/4" across x 2 1/4" tall to 6" x 3 3/4".

Considering how challenging it is to not only create a nice bowl on the wheel but to try and repeat a shape, I'm pretty happy with them. I'm especially happy with the shape of the big white one. I glazed them in colors that I thought might look good together. Most of the colors turned out how I planned. This is my set and I'm sticking to it!

This project started out to be a bowl but when it threatened to colapse on the wheel, I did my best to save it and turned it into a squat little vase. I think it will look beautiful with big rose blossoms piled into it. It's one of my favorite projects. I love how it looks in it's blue/green celadon glaze. It's 5"3/4" wide by 3" tall.

The body of this pumpkin was created by a talented student who loves to make pumpkins. She made a hollow ball on the wheel (amazing!) and showed me how to create the pumpkin shape by gently karate chopping the little grooves. I later added a stem and leaf. The glaze colors turned out great on this. I love it! Thanks, Tanya! :-)

One of our assignments was to create a set of four mugs or cups with handles. I tried to do it with slab construction but frustration with that sent me to the wheel. That went a lot better and gave me more practice at throwing. They're not exactly the same but they're close. I decorated each one with handmade oak leaves and acorns...some of my favorite things!

The colors were supposed to be yellow with little rusty speckles on the body of the mugs and handles and the leaves were to be a rusty color. They came out close. I'm pretty happy with them. I ended up with five mugs that are all about 3 1/2" wide (5" with the handles) x 3 1/2" tall.

I really wanted to make a pitcher on the wheel and thanks to the help of a patient and talented student, I did it! Yay! Thanks, Frank! I applied the handle later and glazed the whole thing in "Stoneware Blue". I glazed it a little thick though and another firing will be needed to allow little gas bubble spots to finish glazing over. It's 6" (8" with the handle) wide by 6 3/4" tall.

I was a little frustrated sometimes through this semester but more and more I gave into just enjoying the process and being excited to see how things were going to turn out. It was a great opportunity to practice letting go, letting be, and having fun. I think it went pretty well because I'm planning to take another semester of this fun next Fall. And, I now have a much greater appreciation for this art form. The best part is that I took the class with my daughter. We got to spend a lot of time together being creative, supportive and having fun. How great is that?!!! :-D


Sandra said...

beautiful stuff! You've inspired me to look into pottery classes myself - a friend and I are going to do it together!

Benita said...

Wow! I am incredibly impressed with your output for one semester. I took one semester of pottery in college and loved it, but, oh my, that was a looooong tome ago. And nothing I did was ever as cool as your stuff.

Erin said...

I LOVE your stuff, Cheryl! I really enjoyed the ceramics course that I took in college and want to take another again. That vase you made is stunning! Everything looks beautiful. I love wheel throwing, but you are right- it is more difficult than it seems and takes some getting used to. lol Oh, and I adore your bird house, too!

jomamma said...

WOW that's awesome! I love the Horse Hair vase and the mugs. Why not make a small saucer to fit under the bowl with the hole in the bottom, plant an African Violet in it.
You do good work!

MompsGirl said...

Oh my gosh! Those are really beautiful pieces! You're so lucky to be able to do things like that with your daughter. I'm so glad my mom got me interested in creative projects at an early age. It's something you can enjoy for a lifetime!

KarenB said...

I love them all! How fun. You made a lot of things. I have a pitcher that my oldest made in a college pottery class. I remember how difficult the class was. Very fun memories!


I loved the pottery class I took years ago, it was really fun. Your piece are fantastic. It's good to let go and enjoy the ride!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely beautiful! I love hand-made pottery and try to buy small pieces during art festivals. Your's looks fantastic. I'll bet you had fun taking the classes.


Sartenada said...

That is awesome, the Native American Style pottery.

Here where I live, people love porcelain painting.

Our world is wonderful with so many possibilities to create beautiful things!