Nov 18 2011

Ritual

cylindersAccording to the Oxford Dictionary:

ritual (rit – u – al) noun:   a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone

Growing up I never could fully appreciate the value of rituals and routine.  For example, my mum would always get up an hour before anyone else, have her smoke, do her hair, drink her coffee, put the radio on, contemplate her navel, and let her brain thaw, before waking the rest of us up and facing the world. If someone interrupted that time, boy, it would throw her off for the day…or at least her morning.  I  was able to accept and work around this ‘state of being’ in the morning, but I didn’t quite understand the why behind it, how such a routine could be so ingrained.  A lot of this seemingly impenetrable ritualistic adult behaviour, that not only my mother was guilty of, but many others,  I merely chalked up to these individuals being inexplicably fixed in their ways. I remember thinking “I don’t ever want to be like that”.  Boring (isn’t that just a typical kid response?) .

As I get older, however, I do recognize and acknowledge that rituals and routine to some extent, can be a healthy thing and actually help us function and relate better to the world around us.  I see it most noticeably with my kids. Regular bedtime, regular dinner time, regular school hours and the framework that goes along with it.. I think it actually helps them thrive. They know when things are supposed to happen, what to expect and what is expected of them. They don’t have to think about it.  And, I hate to admit it, but with them in a routine, its a lot easier on me as well.  With certain things predictable and stable, it leaves more energy to learn, be creative, and grow.

I was in the studio yesterday, scraping off bats, and getting ready for a new throwing session. I came to the realization that I am probably more fixed into my routine than I like to admit.  With kids and the many other less than constructive distractions in my life, I have been forced to work ‘smarter’.  Having worked in the studio for a number of years now, I have unknowingly developed a working pattern.  I use specific tools every time, I have a clear vision of what needs to be done/made, and I have a pretty good idea what would annoys and/or distract me as I try to work (like remnant clay shavings forgotten and left to get stuck on my throwing tools ..or having no place to put pots after I throw them, especially when ware racks have been cluttered up with general ‘stuff’ that should be stored or displayed elsewhere.. That makes me mental), so I like things I need close at hand and ready to use, without me having to stop and disrupt my concentration and throwing rhythm.

Anyhow..  as I sat there, I realized I go through the exact same process, in the same order, practically every time I get ready for a new throwing cycle:  clear area of scrap clay, take reclaim out to the clay mixing area, scrape off bats/tiles, if switching from native clay to porcelain clean the tools/wheel area/bats, sweep around my wheel/where i have to walk, lay out tools, make sure I have clay towel, clear tables/shelves, wedge clay and weigh it out into balls then cover them, change throwing water (if its cold outside, use hot water so hands don’t ache), go inside to get a drink/make pitstop/psyche up/stretch, back to studio, put tunes on, sit down, and, finally, commence.  Its not a compulsion, its just something I do.

Going through this ritual, helps me be more centered and focused on throwing.   It didn’t used to be this way. In my old studio, while it was pretty clean, I didn’t have a groove and working didn’t have a nice flow to it.  As a relative novice, I was still trying to work things out and feel comfortable in my space, and with my throwing. There was no continuity, no routine, and lots of distraction, and unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t see it.

These rituals and routines are a necessary thing in order to be more productive.  Repetition of tasks, like scraping bats and wedging clay, over time become second nature and almost mindless, allowing more mental energy and focus to be spent on things like throwing, working out shape and design, etc., so by the time you reach the wheel, you’re mentally prepared.


Oct 29 2007

Favourite tools to have at the wheel

When you first start learning how to make pottery, you follow your teacher’s lead. You follow the same techniques, use the same tools, and emulate your teacher as best as you can. You take what you learn with you throughout your potting career. Lowell’s favourite thing to say to students as they start out is “First you learn the rules, then you learn there are no rules”. Sure, there are other ways to do the same thing, but as with learning a language, getting a good foundation in the fundamentals is important.

Over time and with experience, we all come to find techniques, tricks, or tools that work better for each of us. Its always fun visiting other peoples’ studios. I’ve noticed over the years that no 2 potters work in exactly the same manner. And potters, while for the most part a kind and friendly lot, are pretty quirky. The longer they work alone in their studio, it seems, the quirkier they get too. …but that’s another post for another day!

Right now I am throwing on an old Creative Industries wheel. I had been throwing on an even older Soldner wheel, up until August when, unfortunately, the 35 yr old motor finally bit the dust (hoping to repair it after this next show).

The chair I use to sit at it is actually an old stool from a yard sale, cut to height. The front legs are cut 2 or so inches shorter than the back legs which makes it less of a strain on my back when leaning over to throw. A low-tech and inexpensive way to work smarter and save your back.

There are a few things I like to have around the wheel:
– A straight sided 2 or 3 gallon water bucket – rim ideal for scraping excess slip off of my hands; clay particles settle nicely in bottom and don’t get stirred up each time I moisten my sponge.
– an old cup to hold my main throwing tools – pin tool, sponge, wooden knife
– a plastic rectangular container for ribs – not pictured, but is an recycled old baby wipes container . The size and shape is just right as was the price
bats – on the left side of the wheel table there is usually a stack of 7″ Creative Industries square bats that I use for smaller items. They have 2 sets of notches molded on the underside to fit different bat pin spacings for both this wheel and the Soldner. Also have 12″ & 14″ round CI bats, and a few Plastibats (which are actually superior, very sturdy and don’t bend, but are unfortunately more expensive). Nice thing about these plastic molded bats is they never rot and seem to last forever. The drawback is they are more expensive, limited in sizes (nothing more than 14″ in diameter). The Creative Industries ones have a tendency to bend when pots being taken off the wheel, so you have to be extra careful.
– a kitchen scale – for weighing pieces of clay out for throwing
– a mirror – (not pictured) helps with seeing the contour of pots while both throwing and trimming. I threw for 2 weeks without one, bending to the side to see the profile, and not only did it kind of slow me down and make my neck/back hurt, but my pots looks different too.
– big table – (the one pictured here is an old door on sawhorses with canvas stretched over it). I will throw a series and when the table is full, get up and move the pots to ware racks.

There was one time I had bins of tools. (Can you have too many tools??) Well, I still have them, but I have narrowed it down to a few that I actually use regularly at the wheel:
– a pin tool;
– a wooden knife;
– a sponge (a medium sized natural sponge; cellulose sponges also work great in a pinch);
wooden ribs (a small kidney shaped and larger one, both Kemper);
2 Sherrill Mudtools – soft/red & hard/green (I like these because unlike a rubber rib they don’t break down and have so far kept their smooth edge; rubber ribs tend to break down within a few months in this climate);
a long metal rib;
– a chamois on a fishing bobber – stays floating in bucket so I don’t ever lose it and its easy to see; cutoff wires of different thicknesses;
– a metal scraper from hardware store;
– a Bison trimming tool
– a Giffin Grip
– a Grabber pad attached to one of my plastic bats mentioned above
– a 16″ square piece of plywood (very low tech) for trimming larger bowls and platters on.
– many sets of metal calipers for fitting lids