Monday, November 30, 2009

Levels of satisfaction

There's something incredibly soothing about working in a closed pottery studio by yourself. With the exception of Lucky the parrot giving an occasional screech and the gas furnace kicking in every so often, the only sound you hear is the rotating of the pottery wheel.

When I began this hobby about 10 months ago, the creation of a coffee mug that was more or less cylindrical was an accomplishment for which I was proud. Never mind the fact that it was too small, too short, and not exactly round; if I was able to finish said cup, it usually found a home in my cupboard.

But now that I've been at it for a while, I've been informed by the owner of the pottery studio that it's time to put childish things aside. According to her, you've arrived at a new plateau, if you're able to discard (or at least recycle) the clay forms that don't turn out at least close to the original vision. Certainly there are exceptions. If you start out going in one direction and through some deformity y
ou arrive at a totally different piece, but one that has some level of excellence in its own right: mission accomplished. But if you start out throwing a mug or a coffee cup and after 15 minutes you know that you are just having an off day, it's okay to slice off a mutated form that's developed on your wheel and start anew.

It's a new level of satisfaction you've attained when you can screw up, discard your current piece, and take something positive away from the experience. Each small incremental step-up that you've taken helps to build your overall expertise. The mug you started which morphed into a poorly fashioned bowl which just wasn't right, goes back into the used clay bag for subsequent drying out and wedging.

Being an engineer, I find myself thinking in percentages. What percentage of the items I'm fashioning on the pottery wheel are discarded versus those I retain. My ability to increase the retention versus discarded percentage will be a clever indicator of my advancement in this craft.
I have no desire to keep a running total on paper but it's not too difficult to gauge percentages on a
day-to-day basis. Whether other potters do this or not I do not know; I hope not. One of the things that I enjoy about pottery is the escapism factor. I can take off my engineers cap for just a couple of hours and regress: I'm a young boy who's allowed to get dirty again and whose mother just rolls her eyes and smiles. That's what little boys do; they get dirty.

I've been known to start a hobby, get all excited and busy with it, and then discard it after giving it a halfhearted try. This is not unlike my father whose short term excursions into painting, breadmaking, or basketball lasted for a short lengths of time. I have discovered that my attention will last longer if the hobby is designed with convenience in mind. That is, it must be easy to get to and easy to get out of; it won't hurt if the overall energy of the place is positive.

So far so good. Want me to make you a bowl?

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