Wednesday saw me making a start on the mugs. I had a very difficult time of it to begin with and only had 14 of all sorts of sizes and shapes by the end of the day. Every conceivable thing that could go wrong, went wrong. If I threw a good shape, I would rip out the bottom when I cut it off the wheel head! There was air in the clay I prepared, and I had bad posture at my electric wheel that gave me shooting pains in my shoulders and neck! Even the aluminum wheel head seemed to develop a nasty personality..... it kept producing an unpleasant black scum that stained the white clay, no matter how carefully I cleaned. I had used the electric wheel for this job, as it looked easier to keep clean (having a plastic tray and all), but I switched to the kick wheel the next day.
Ah, the relief of a man powered wheel! I threw 48 mugs on the Thursday and things went enjoyably well. I also gave handles to the mugs that I made the day before and I found that many of the mugs that I had thrown earlier in the day were also ready to put handles on. So I carried on until after midnight.... (and made an 18 hour working day of it!).
Friday, it was handles for the remaining mugs and preparing the bowls for a bisque firing. I'm not great with handles, so progress was fairly slow, but I had those finished just after afternoon tea time, and then I was on to wiping off lumps and bumps off bowls and making sure they were ready for the kiln. I had hoped to have loaded the kiln with them on Friday, but some bowls still felt rather cool to the touch, and I suspected that they were not as dry as they looked (hard to tell with white clay). So this morning, Saturday, I loaded the electric kiln, and just fitted all the bowls in for their bisque firing which is on at the moment. I have re coloured a picture frame this morning, and sold a tea pot.
End of a long day. Bowls and mugs on the shelves. (Fin d'un jour fatigant. Cuvettes et tasses sur les étagères.)
I have listened to two book tapes whilst working on the mugs and bowls, "Memory of Running", by Ron McLarty, and "Be Near Me", by Andrew O'Hagan (which I haven't quite finished yet). I had read "Memory of Running" before as a book and could not put it down. The book tape, read by the author, was wonderful. Rich with human kindness and human frailty, the characters in the story are so believable that I assumed (wrongly) that the book was an autobiography. "Be Near Me" is also beautifully written and it is delightful to be able to listen to something of such quality whilst working away on the wheel. It confirms that it is worth while trying for excellence, even when repeating, and repeating, and repeating what some would consider a mundane form. (I actually like mugs and bowls very much).
Working at the wheel is hard sometimes. Everything can go wrong. There is such a fine line between getting it right, and humiliation. Using a new clay means making subtle adjustments. The white clay has a much finer and denser particle size than my rather sandy stoneware. I found it slightly hard to judge the thickness of it until my fingers got used to it, but delightful to throw once that had happened.
In some respects two days could appear to be fairly unproductive this week, due to learning new forms and clay, but I simply had to grit it out, work through the failures, and put in the time to catch up, because I am working to a deadline and I don't want to let people down. That's all part of it. It is funny when a beginner asks (on lesson one....) if they can make a big bowl on the wheel, a large platter, or a tea pot, or probably all three! One thing is clear, that they want to do it now, and without too many (if any) failures or difficulties along the way. People often have little or no understanding of just how much practice has to go into being able to make a mug in three economical pulls on the wheel, or a bowl in a few gestures.
So, where is the pleasure in it? Ah, now... if you do get things right, there is a real satisfaction in seeing that shapeless lump of clay spin into life with the touch of your fingers. To see it rise from the wheel head, and take form is a beautiful thing, like a simple melody playing where there was no sound before. (c'est une belle chose, comme une mélodie simple jouant où il n'y avait aucun bruit précédent.)