Thursday, February 3, 2011

Aerial Boundaries

"Sometimes we're blessed with an aerial view of our lives."
--Vance Gilbert, Twice Struck By Lightning

My friend, Shawn, owns one of these paramotors (pictured below). A couple of years ago he buzzed my home and shop and presented me with the aerial views I've posted here.

Shawn is, to my way of thinking, a daredevil. Not just with the paramotor thing -- Shawn was heavily into skydiving when I first met him. I spent a summer afternoon or two at the rural airport/jump zone where Shawn did most of his flying. If I hadn't already decided, I concluded then that jumping out of planes would never be for me.

When Shawn first got the paramotor he explained to me the beauty of the thing (from a safety standpoint). "If you lose out of gas, or the engine just big deal. You're already attached to an open chute. What could be safer?"

What could be safer? about never going up a thousand feet into the air in the first place, where the only thing keeping me from plunging to a certain pancake-like body shape, and non-breathing-forevermore status is a few kite strings strung to some recycled plastic bottles, with a Westinghouse window fan strapped to my back? about lying on terra firma in fetal position surrounded by an armor-plated, lead-lined, sensory deprivation tank with a lifetime supply of oxygen, bacon and beer at the ready? Okay, the bacon and beer have nothing to do with safety, but as long as all the safety bases are covered, I might as well enjoy the stay.

Aerial views are fun though. Especially if I'm not the one snapping the picture (thanks, Shawn), I enjoy the perspective.

As a potter, I crave seeing my work from a different and fresh angle -- to see, without prejudice, what I might be doing right and what I could be doing better ... and even to check to see if I'm actually doing the things I think I'm doing (I think our expectations may be our worst blinders). And though it doesn't always require death-defying flights to gain a new perspective on things, it's still hard to get the distance from one's own work that a fresh look would require. Over the years I've found a few things that do help a bit with a fresh perspective though:

Friendly feedback
Other Potter's work

Between A Hard And A Hard Place

Yesterday I broke into the last three boxes of a batch of Coleman porcelain that I bought earlier last year. Because this clay was hard to work with, I'd let these boxes get covered over by a more recent, softer ton of the stuff. But these three boxes are finally all I have left in the shop for now, so I'm using it up.

This porcelain is so stiff that fresh out of the bag it is already harder than it will eventually be after I fire it up to cone 10. It could not be wedged. It bounced.

So I bounced it until I got a flat side. Then I cut it on the wire and bounced the two pieces together until they more or less joined. Then I cut them into two more pieces and bounced them together.

Finally, after enough cutting and bouncing, I got the porcelain to where I could fold it. Once I could fold it, I then rolled the folds over and over. I approximately wedged it. I divided it up and made these pitchers.

I decorated the rims and put handles on them this morning.


Finally, I was asked in the "Comments" section of my last post "How do you keep calluses on your fingers when your hands are in clay/water so much?"

I'm asked this quite often, and because the answer has a pottery parallel, I'm going to answer it here in a new post...

It's a little-known factoid that more often than not, average-to-good guitar players don't develop calluses. This is because the more experienced a guitar player gets, the more he begins to experience the efficiency of not pressing the strings any harder than is necessary to create a clean sound. And the proper pressure is surprisingly not nearly as much finger pressure as the beginner requires to make a clean sound. The beginner's fingers haven't coordinated together to acquire such efficiency, nor has he achieved a sensitivity to good finger placement (right behind the frets). It's the squeezing too hard, and the subsequent friction, that causes calluses.

It is a phenomenon that is not at all unlike trying to teach a beginner on the potter's wheel that there is a difference between squeezing the clay between your fingers (what you DON'T want to do while throwing), and setting your fingers to a proper distance and firmly maintaining that distance.

Both disciplines (fretting, and pulling up a clay wall) require learning the difference between indiscriminately squeezing, and setting fingers to a proper amount of pressure and maintaining that pressure.


  1. Indiscriminately squeezing things always leads to trouble.

  2. I think Mr Whipple made the same point repeatedly.

  3. Lovely pitchers (and pictures!)

    They are so comfortable in their shape