Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Fears faced. Clay rediscovered.
I was a failure. When I was 17, I took a clay class and failed at wheel throwing. So, I headed over to the hand building table and stayed there. In the years since, I’ve made clay sculptures and masks using the slab technique I taught myself. I made some nice sculptures, but never showed them alone feeling that they weren’t good enough. My failure haunted me.
Not anymore. Yesterday, I decided to quit letting my fears keep me from living and doing what I wanted to do. I got determined. I got into a dirty pair of jeans and headed to my garage.
There, you see, was a pottery wheel given to me by a very generous and sweet older man. Three years ago, he and his lovely wife, who own several of my copper repousse’ masks, were visiting my studio when he saw my small clay sculptures. He decided to give me his kiln. The day I picked it up, he insisted I take the wheel, too. I took it, remembering my total failure at the wheel and stuck it in the corner of my garage where it’s been gathering dust.
Until yesterday. I dragged it out of the corner, found an extension cord and plugged it in, figured out how to put the bowl together and turned it on. It worked! So, now it was time to play.
I got out my clay, wedged it, slammed it around, formed it into a ball and slapped it onto the wheel head. I turned the wheel on and, well, threw a bowl. Then, a mug. Stunned by success I’d never had before, I took on my biggest challenge, throwing a big bowl. I wedged a bigger ball of clay, slapped it down. Time seemed to stop for a while but the next thing I knew, there on my wheel was this large bowl. It has a nice even thickness, good smooth sides and top with a little decorative edge!
And, I did it!
Here’s what I know now.
First, I’m ambidextrous. Throwing clay on a wheel, this makes a big difference. The wheel spins in a different direction, tools are held at a different angle and hands are placed in a different way. All this created a lot of confusion for me, which hand was supposed to do what? It was a struggle, and I was about to give up, resigning myself to being a failure again. Until I realized that I’m not just learning to throw on a wheel, I’m learning to be left-handed. It’s like learning to write all over again, so of course it’s awkward and my little bowls came out lopsided.
Second, I am doing it right. Many people around me in clay class hand build the same way I do. I’d never been taught to do pinch pots or coil technique, but I did it, too not knowing that I was, once again, doing it right.
Third, I can throw on a wheel. I can make big and small bowls, and nice sized coffee mugs. I succeeded on Monday, right here in my own home because I was tired of living with my fear and failure.
Now I see, I knew what I needed to know, all the time. The biggest lesson the class taught me was I didn’t need a class at all. I just needed to get out the wheel and clay quietly in my own garage and rediscover it.