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.


Jun 8 2009

Welcome Back, Tried & True: Bisque Tile Bats

dragonfly landingI’m afraid its been another long while since I’ve been able to post here.  The end of school year means a whole lot more demands at home and an adjustment period for everyone until we all settle into the new summer routine.  That compounded by a week of being laid up with an intestinal bug (moms are the last to get these things it seems), I am more than ready to get back to the clay.   Well!  Where shall I start?

When I first learned to pot, I learned to throw right on the wheelhead. I remember struggling after running the cutting wire under freshly thrown pots and trying to slide the pot off the wheelhead without distorting it. I wasn’t always successful, I believe partially because I didn’t seem to have the coordination at the time,  I didn’t know the material (clay) that well,  and my newbie pots were usually full to saturation with throwing water, making them particularly easy to smoosh.

Needless to say, I was very excited when my teacher finally let me try throwing using a bat.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a bat is simply a rigid piece of wood, plastic, plaster, tile, etc., that becomes a throwing surface placed over top of the wheel head.  Once a pot is completed, the bat and pot are removed together and the pot can remain undisturbed on the bat until its leatherhard and ready to trim.

Yes, I know, bats aren’t absolutely necessary.  I find it useful to  throw some things off the hump  and other times, I just pick pots directly off the wheel and put them onto a ware board.  No biggie.  I do still like to use bats for some things.  It just works for me.

For the last 9 or so years, I’ve been using, for the most part, plastic bats made by Creative Industries, as well as some amazingly rigid Plasti-bats from Amaco.  Don’t get me wrong, both are great, but if you look at any of the pricelists out there, you’ll notice they are not cheap  ..nor is any commercially manufactured bat it seems, for that matter.  I was noticing just today that the price of some bats out there on the market were more expensive than a kiln shelf!  Hello.   Is it just me or is there something wrong with this picture?  ..regardless

Tile-Batt pottery throwing bat systemIn my last studio,  however, I used less expensive pressed-wood/MDF bats from my local supplier,  as well as a bat system (which I made out of marine plywood and masonite, modelled after one my teacher had ) , with a recessed area cut out in the center to accomodate a bisque 6×6 commercial tile.  I remember being pleased with both at the time.

Last spring, in an online discussion about pottery bat systems, someone had mentioned they had seen one using bisque tiles.  I was curious, so I followed the link.  Sure enough, there was the one I used years ago, only the price was less than if I were to try to make one myself.

Tile-Batt with 6 inch Dal-tile bisque tile insertI went ahead and called Pottery Supply House and ordered one (they have it listed as a “Tile-Batt“) and am so pleased I did.

It only came with one tile, but I decided I would forego the shipping from Canada, and try and get more tiles locally.  I went online and found a Dal-tile distributor right in Foley, not 10 miles away.  Since the bisque tiles aren’t a stock item, they had to be special ordered and it took about a week to come in, but that was okay.

There are lots of reasons why I like this particular bat system. I think the chuck cost me all of $11 USD plus shipping, and a box of 25 Dal-tile bisque tiles worked out to be around $0.75 a tile or so from my local flooring distributor (vs $1.10 a tile from the ceramics supplier over in Gulfport, which is actually an hour and a half away from here).  I really didn’t think that was such a bad deal, especially considering the CI plastic bats around the same size were about $7+ a piece.

I also like using the bisque tiles because they stay rigid and are porous (whereas the plastic bats can bend and it takes considerably longer for the clay to come away from them).  Using these tiles, I can throw mugs in the afternoon and by evening they detach nicely from the tile and are ready to flip over. The mug is a nice even consistency from top to bottom and ready to trim and handle a lot sooner, which translates in less chance of joins cracking and faster production.  The tiles also take less room on my ware boards, and if they break, they are easy and inexpensive to replace.

Modified PSH Tile-Batt with additional pin holesYou may notice here in this photo  that I made a couple of changes to the chuck when it arrived. I had to drill an additional set holes  to accomodate the bat pins for all our wheels in addition to the Soldner (Bat pins on a Soldner wheel are set a bit wider than on other wheels), plus I added a little additional notch to help remove the tiles a little easier, but that’s about it.

Even Lowell seemed impressed,  so  I just ordered a second Tile Batt, only this time for him, and picked up 2 more boxes of bisque tiles.


Oct 26 2007

Working Smart: Potting with the help of Occupational Therapy

Making pots is very physically demanding. Tasks range from lifting heavy bags of ingredients & clay, bending and straining to load and unload kilns, and repetitive movements that can lead to overuse injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Potters need to think ahead and work smart to make sure their bodies can hold up as long as their love for clay does.

Sometimes, though, illnesses and injuries happen no matter how careful one might be. Two of Canadian potter friends of mine haven’t been so lucky when it comes to their health. One has quite serious back problems and has had surgery, but problems persist. My other friend has had epilepsy for years but recently, she has been coping with some pretty serious unforeseen complications relating to her condition. Both friends sought the help of an occupational therapist (O.T.) in hopes that they might help them continue to pot.

In this sort of situation, the Occupational Therapist comes to the workplace, observes the working environment, the working habits, and the tasks that need completing, then makes an assessment and suggests a plan of action.

The occupational therapist recommended to my friend with the back problems, working at the wheel from the standing position. Due to another pre-existing condition, she was not going to be able to be on her feet for any extensive period of time, so the OT worked with her and together, they designed a special “stool”, built specifically to her physical proportions. It wasn’t meant to sit at per se, but it was contoured in such a way that she could take some of the weight off of her legs/feet while still throwing standing up. (Sorry, unfortunately I don’t have a picture.) The other recommendation was that she take on a partner or assistant who would do tasks such as loading the kilns and other such tasks. This worked out quite well for her.

My friend with epilepsy had suffered some major set-backs due to some related neurological conditions, resulting in problems with balance, vision, fine motor skills, hearing, and increased frequency of seizures. Tasks such as throwing, manipulating a brush, and pulling handles were becoming increasingly difficult and sometimes even invoked seizures. A couple of the suggestions that she successfully implemented for working at the wheel were wearing an eye patch while throwing, and throwing with the help of a mirror (no more leaning over). Put simplistically, since her seizures were invoked by certain visual stimuli and physical movements, changing her visual perspective (covering one eye and using the mirror) and way of working, has helped to retrain her brain (much like retraining the brain of a stroke victim) to use different neural pathways to complete specific tasks, including throwing, and work relatively seizure free. So far so good. She is back to throwing again and is doing her first show in as many years this weekend.

I really have to admire my two friends for having the gumption to find a way to keep making pots despite their debilitating conditions and for seeking help from an occupational therapist. I know how difficult it must have been for both of them, after so many years of potting, to have to adjust to new ways of working, but both have made the adjustment successfully and sing praises of their OTs.