I love making things. For as long as I can remember I have had this love of making. I still remember making little drawings of people with wild looking vehicles. I also made small structures out of sticks, leaves, tin cans and rocks. I also made music, lots of drumming. I went to school to become an art teacher which was a wonderful major for me as I was able to learn about so many different media: drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, fiber, and art history.
I started out teaching beginning high school art and then taught a multimedia class on computers. For the past six years I have been teaching ceramics. The first couple of years I spent most of my energy learning how to run a ceramics studio. The person that helped me most with this endeavor was Richard who runs Free Form Clay where I buy most of my supplies. You just never know where the gifts along the way will come from.
I feel fairly comfortably running the studio now and the clay keeps teaching me new things. My experience with clay has been one of over and over again having to slow down and listen to what the clay is telling me. I listen with my hands which seems wrong but over these past six years I have been having a conversation with the clay. I did not even realize this at first because I was not listening, I was in a hurry.
When I slowed down I could hear the clay, through my hands, telling me to slow down. At first that was all I could hear, slow down, not so fast. Then I began to notice the subtle differences in thickness in the wall of a pinch pot. I began to change the conversation from telling the wall to expand straight up to asking the clay, where will your form flow if I even out these thicker areas. But here is the thing, I had been evening out these thicker areas without really paying attention to what I was doing. Once I became aware of this, I could explain this to my students. Then when I student would bring me a pot to check, I could feel these inconsistencies and point them out so that they could feel them too. The students became a part of the conversation.
Then next major breakthrough was being aware of moisture content. Teaching 180 kids a day, there are large amounts of clay that ends up being recycled. I am fortunate to have a large pugger to mix the recycled clay with new clay. Sometimes the clay coming out of the pugger would be easy to work with, soft with minimal cracking. Other times it was too dry and was difficult to work with. Then I realized at the the end of every period the students put their leftover clay back in the pugger, this was causing the moisture level in the pugger to go down over the course of the day. So I started adding water at the end of every period to keep the moisture consistent. This only took five years to figure out.
Imagine what I will know next year. I know I have not written much about actually making pieces with clay, but it is this conversation I am having with clay that drives me back to make more, to hear more of what the clay has to tell me, to have this inform my adventures in making. This year I have mainly focused on cup forms and earrings. Last year my favorite creation was a set of dominos and a box to store them in. I gave those to my father for his 90th birthday. Each time I pickup a ball of clay I start to slow my breathing, slow my mind, and hear what is next...