Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Potter's Act Of Faith


I still get excited at the promise a new batch of clay holds. I think that's a common feeling among potters -- whether we just dug, mixed, or bought a batch. The new ton of clay contains the next month or so's worth of excitement, experiment, pleasure, and adventure. All the pots we've yet to make.


The work begins to take shape. New ideas layered on old ideas. The hum of the wheel. The feel of the clay. The hollow of growing pots and filling spaces.


(music by my new friend, Warren Malone)

I once heard it said that practice is the musician's act of faith. It took a few minutes for that to sink in. When it did, it really stuck with me.

There is almost always a degree of uncertainty in practice. Especially in the early stages. After all, practice is about training your muscles to work in concert with your mind. And between the two, there is lots of room for misunderstanding and mistake. "Did I really understand how this goes?", "Is it really supposed to feel like this (awkward?)?".

But ultimately a musician has to resolve to himself that he does understand where he's headed at least well enough to commit himself to the time and effort for the repetition ahead.

Sure, in the best of worlds that act of faith tends to build upon itself. Each new time stepping out on the limb carries just a little sense of the success of the previous step -- or the lesson learned from the previous misstep. But it's still always an act of faith.

And that's how I see glazing.

The glazes I most favor are those that contain a certain degree of unpredictability in their results. I want at least SOME of the results to be out of my hands and in the hands of the fire, the weather, and the variable kiln atmosphere.

And so I control all I can. I use a hydrometer so that I can control glaze thickness as much as possible. I carefully measure my glazes. I add new batches to old before the old is all gone -- that way I make the change as seamless as possible, and minimize the possibility of things going wrong all at once. I glaze only a few pieces with a new batch ... just to be on the safe side.

But in the end, glazing is still the most gut-wrenching time in this potter's life in clay. The serendipidy of result I wish for in a glaze is the very uncertainty that makes me hesitant to start glazing a whole period of my pottery production, thereby committing it to its final fate.

Eventually, I do it. I commit. In the faith that I've done all I can -- upheld my calculated, practiced, and certain end of the pottery cycle -- I cast my pot's fate to the step beyond that control. I glaze.

And, thankfully, I win more than I lose these days...

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