Saturday, October 31, 2009

Stress Relief (Détente)

Cor de Ballet.

A dear friend of ours practices meditation and has found it helpful and restorative, and I am sure that it is. In our household we are accompanied daily by our own guru, who most earnestly demonstrates advanced relaxation techniques and bodily positions that may help recharge the batteries and bring life into balance.

Rigor... not quite Mortis!

These exercises take up many hours of his day, indeed, there are so few working hours left for him after all that meditation, that there is little chance for stress and strain to develop. I suspect that this may be the secret to his tranquility and health.

Made by Children.

I can be a bit introspective and gloomy at times and I find that children help lift the spirits, and inject fun and perspective into life. Over the last three or four weeks, we have been blessed by children visiting our studio on Sunday afternoons when our studio has been open to the public. Two really lovely girls made these with me whilst their mother looked at the pots and paintings that we have on display. What life and energy these little things have!

Cleaning in the Garden (Nettoyage dans le jardin.)

I have been working this week on an order for bowls and mugs. The items had to be made from white clay and bisque fired only. They will be decorated by the organization that ordered them. As I have been working in stoneware and earthenware clays, I had to carefully clean my studio, shelves, tools, in fact anything that had the potential to contaminate the white clay. I put a new canvas on my wedging table also and finished by cleaning the floor.

Clean and ready for action. (Propre et prêt pour l'action.)

I like a nice clean studio. Sometimes when life is a bit overwhelming, being able to clean the floor is therapeutic. One is able to take charge of something and make it beautiful!

Making Mugs, centering the clay. (Fabrication des tasses. Centrage de l'argile.)

The client wanted 40 bowls and 40 mugs. My first day working on the bowls was very hard. I had not thrown for a few weeks as I have been busy with glazing and firing. The clay was also unfamiliar. After three hours I had only 4 bowls that I would keep, the rest had failed in one way or another as I tried to throw them. I worked a 17 hour day the first day, rising at 4am in order to be able to put in some hours of work before we opened the studio to the public in the afternoon. I also had to write an article for the local newsletter and begin the design of an advert before the end of the day. At the end of the first day of bowl making I had only 14 bowls. The next day I threw 34 bowls, did some more work on our advertisement, and spent some time with customers in the afternoon, our studio being open again. (I only put in 15 hours that day!)

Making Mugs, completing the second pull (or lift) of clay.

Next day (Tuesday) day was picking up clay from Dunedin, visiting a gallery, and turning foot rings of 48 bowls and doing some other work.

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.)

Wood fired stoneware pot with copper red glaze over shino glaze (from the most recent firing).

15 comments: said...

You and I were on very similar paths this week. I decided to hold off on the earthenware for a while and bought some light colored stoneware, Phoenix, from Highwater Clay. This clay body is like throwing rubber and it took some getting used to, I usually have such groggy clay. Then I made myself throw mugs and bowls of different shapes to come up with a shape I like enough to repeat over and over. I have been throwing mostly bowls that get trimmed so, I too, cut the bottoms out of a lot of mugs yesterday. Today it's handles and foot ring trimming for me. I agree with you on having kids around, they are so filled with joy, it's always contagious.

Anonymous said...

hi peter, there's nothing quite like the youngsters in the clay studio... i know it's unproductive but have a great deal of trouble saying no to my own child. the cat pictures are funny and i'm envious as i cannot relax like that anymore. lovely pots in the previous post... particularly those yummy teapots and the mugs with the seashell design and the bird on them.

Kitty Shepherd said...

Your floor is very clean. I am doing the same in my workshop too as I have a worker arriving in a week or so, she is a sculpture graduate and very keen to have a life changing experience…well, what could I say except come. She is with me up to Christmas.

It is interesting reading about you listening to book tapes when you work , I am exactly the same, my favourites are thrillers and in particular the Paul Temple mysteries which I love. I’d model myself of Steve given the chance and I would give anything to have a man who “does” in the house who can mix my Martini’s of an evening! We don’t have a television and so I completely rely on the radio, I have a wifi radio so I can tune into the BBC, Andrew and I sit round it in the evening and listen to whatever is on, it is like stepping back in time. My other favorite book tape is Brideshead Revisited it is an absolute gem that I recommend.

Verification word is Plakerou - what a great word.

Armelle said...

Salut Peter,

Ginger is so relaxing, my cat Miko is not so much, as it seems and do not like being photographed, he is black and white. But Chipie is red, she is a Breton spaniel, she also likes to relax.
We should more often listen to our Guru. Thank you to provide photo captions in french !!!

I never ear about book tape, it's not useful here I mean. What a nice studio and so clean !!!

Bon courage et merci encore pour vos conseils.

cindy shake said...

Peter you have been busy! I don't think I could ever be able to make any two things alike -that's a real talent. I'm always impressed with potters who can make a set of matching tableware or dishes (not sure the proper term)!! The cat is cute! Our Giant Schnauzer, Tauzer will fall asleep on her back (on the sofa) with all her legs sticking straight up in the air! -Pets, they have the life :o)

Peter said...

Dear Tracey, Jim, Kitty, and Armelle, it was so nice to switch on the computer this morning and to read your thoughtful comments, and also to glimpse the wider world.

It is funny, Tracey, how several of us seem to be going through similar cycles of questioning, exploring, trying new things, and trying to find what is who we are in our work. I've just hopped over to your site and seen your new bowls and mugs and read your refreshing words, "I just want to make some beautiful straightforward bowls and mugs. That's all." That's lovely I think. Thanks too for sharing your struggles with new clay. It's nice to know that I'm not alone!

Jim, a child in the studio, "unproductive", possibly in terms of dollar bills, but riches in terms of the living and experiencing of life and the joy of it! Thanks about the teapots and mugs. I'm quietly excited about the mugs as I enjoyed decorating them that way, just with thick shino glaze lines trailed on to the same shino glaze with a home made slip trailer made from a party balloon and a bit of narrow tubing. They may be too 'quiet' for the brash realities of the market place here, my work often seems to be, but you never know.

Kitty, "a life changing experience" in sunny Spain sounds fun..., is it necessary to be a sculpture student to apply, or is that open to aging potters who dwell in crumbling old post office buildings too?

We do have a television here, but I have ceased watching it (Laura does manage sometimes). We can only get one channel these days, and the poor humanoids on it seem plagued with infestations of white midges which irritate the heck out of me, but they never seem to notice. Every 5 minutes there are 4 minute high volume advertising breaks that are filled with a dozen or so adverts for stuff that was advertised only 5 minutes before, and I get furious in a rather short time if placed in front of the box, and have been known to wave my arms and shout (rather in the manner of a hot blooded young motorist in a traffic jam)! A shame really as I enjoyed The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and Frasier.
So books that I can listen to, good radio programmes, and the very occasional really BAD talk back show help fill in the silences. We also have a local radio station, Puketapu Radio (looks like a verification word!), that I enjoy listening to some evenings when I am working. The radio station is a community radio station that is staffed by volunteers, and has an eclectic (and sometimes alarming) collection of records that it serves up. I can sing along to a disturbing number of them, and it is great fun. You can get them on line at When there is no one to man the turntable, they get a feed from another radio station, but you might have fun tuning in sometimes and hearing what the weather is in Palmerston (a small town 10 miles up the road from us) and listening to one of the brave volunteers working their way through the list of records that have just been played.

Bonjour Armelle,
Merci infiniment de votre commentaire. J'espère que mes légendes françaises de photo sont compréhensibles. Je dois employer Yahoo Babelfish!

Dites bonjour à Miko et à Chipie. Je suis Chipie heureux comprend la relaxation.


Peter said...

Hi Cindy,
You must have been commenting at the same time as me! What fun that you have a friendly Giant Schnauzer that knows how to relax properly. Sleeping with the legs in the air must be great if so many of our pets are doing it, maybe there are health benefits... I should give it a try! As to matching tableware... I'm not sure that I can achieve it all that well yet, but it is always something to aim for. Funny enough, I'm having the odd sculptural thought at the moment in that tired gray matter of mine, and may actually get round to making some stoneware masks one day. Stay Warm up there, I see that you are starting to get snow now.

Angie said...

We have a black cat who sleeps just like your gorgeous ginger ... once he is a sleep there is nothing that wakes him except the sound of a tin of food being opened!!!

You have had a hard but hopefully rewarding week. It must be so difficult making so many identical bowls and mugs for a client ...deminishing the pleasure of creating, slightly. I hope the firing was succesful and I wonder what glaze/finish they will have in the end ...good luck.

I think you need a day of just 'chillin'... as the youngsters would say.

Peter said...

Hi Angie,

It is amazing how "selective" a cat's hearing can be. Totally deaf to "here, kitty, kitty!" or "Down", or "Drop", but instant attention to the metallic scrape and rattle of a tin. My Grandmother, bless her, was very deaf towards the end, and would quietly drop off to sleep after family meals. On being awakened she would say "I heard every word, dear!" I suspect that she didn't, but you never could tell!
I did quite enjoy the throwing of lots of similar bowls and mugs. It was a challenge, but there is a rhythm to it, that is quite satisfying once the technical difficulties of throwing unfamiliar clay were sorted, and there is satisfaction to be found in making something useful..
Not sure how the bowls will be finished by my client, but it will be interesting to see what is done with them.

Hannah said...

You keep bringing back memories with your posts, picking up clay from Dunedin - I been there to the clay factory! I feel the need to tick of places as you mention them. Thanks for keep reminding me.

Peter said...

Hi Hannah,
I really must take the camera with me to Southern Clays when I next visit there (I keep forgetting to). Barry still runs the place. but Russell, who you met, left two years ago for Australia and the great world beyond, and has not kept in touch. I'll take my camera for a wee journey around Dunedin soon and post the results (it will be nice to get out and about... I don't seem to have left the studio for quite a while!) I should give Riki the potter in Caversham, Dunedin a visit too. Nice to hear from you.

Linda Starr said...

hi peter ginger is so cute I am learning a new windows and keyboard so am very slow, my cat binky and butter sleep thus and are big cats that take up a big space when they do. I must try these books on tape, years ago I listebned to mysteries on the radio and they were wonderful and I was able to do chores while listening which was wonderful. love all your new work and I am surprised the public would like a loud glaze technique, I was discussing this with another potter the other day abuot different areas and cultures liking different glazes, so hard to predict what people will like.

Peter said...

Hi Linda,
Lovely to hear from you. I was wondering about Binky and Butter, I wasn't sure if they would be traveling with you on your journeying, or would find new homes. The thing of glazing and colour is a bit of a mystery to me. The sad fact is that I find it very hard to sell my work where it is at the moment. At the potters co-op it has to compete with literally hundreds of items, and many of those are very bright and very cheap (like $10 - $30 NZ....). In that environment, if the work doesn't glitter or if it is not explicitly aimed at tourists, it is hard to get people to notice it at all. I like the Co-op, and the other potters there, but it is really not the best place for wood fired work, but there are few alternatives locally. We do much better selling from our studio and are in the process of extending our opening hours and changing our focus to sell more from here. I'm also thinking about a completely new line of work for the Co-op, and similar situations.

Jewels said...

Ginger has it made-lying around while you work so hard for his food and shelter. It looks like he is making the most of life at his new place. Could it be his tummy is a little rounder than before? It is amazing how a change in clay can make one feel like a novice. I don’t know how you throw for that many hours in a day! Will you be firing the bowls/mugs for the client after they decorate them?

Peter said...

I think you are right about the Right Honorable Ginger and his tummy... it does seem to be larger now than it was before. I must look at old photos of Himself and see just how much the old fellow's tum has grown! Maybe a diet is called for.

Throwing for hours at a time is not so bad if you have built up to it. In a way I find that mental stamina is as important as physical, and it is usually that which fails first for me, eventually I find myself making more and more mistakes and loosing my rhythm.

Thankfully the client will do the glaze firing, so all I have to do is make them and bisque fire them. I delivered the bowls today, and they seemed pleased with them, I'm just hoping the mugs will be OK. I'll be unloading those tonight.