What potters do best is touch. Thick or thin, groggy or smooth, warm or cool, I imagine most potters’ fingers can feel these differences and know which to adjust for. Beyond practice, potters also know that picking up fired pots—turning them over, circling their rims with their fingers, twisting a lid in its gallery—is the best way that they can learn to make better pots.
Early in my magazine career, I was at a ceramic exhibition of functional forms with my editor and he casually picked up the pots and inspected them. He made no attempt to hide his actions from the gallery owner or the other visitors. He did, of course, exhibit the usual caution one does with fragile forms, but he was not shy about it. I was aghast. Noting my pause, he explained that pots were made to be used, thus it should be expected that we will touch them. That has always stuck with me. From then on, I touch pots everywhere I see them and by doing this I’ve had a whole new education though my hands that my eyes could never give me.
While attending the 2017 NCECA conference in Portland recently, I had the luxury to touch a lot of pots and I didn’t hold back. I picked up everything, rubbed the surfaces, examined the trimming, and often handed the pot to the person standing next to me to share what I’ve discovered about it. I know this can make many people nervous, but this is how I really learn about weights, proportions, surfaces, and mark making by other potters. In order to make better pots, you need to touch a lot of pots that are not your own.
Touching pots also leads to buying pots, at least for me—and no it’s never been because of a “break it, you buy it” situation. Like most of you, I enjoy being surrounded with beautiful, hand-crafted and useful objects and it’s hard to resist a good one when I find one. I have a fairly sizable collection after nearly 18 years, and not everything fits in the cupboard. I find that when I stop being picky about what cup I drink my morning coffee in, I know it’s time to rotate the stock. Using and handling a pot for a second, third, or twentieth time around always reveals something new—weight when filled, how a foot ring glides (or doesn’t) on a table, how a fork rests on a scalloped-rim plate mid-meal, or where your fingers rest when holding a handleless cup filled with hot coffee. I notice these deliberate details differently as I learn more about how things are made and how they are used.
So, I encourage you to pick up pots in galleries and at studio sales. Stick to the rules on paintings and sculptures, but break the rules when it comes to pots. Pots are rarely made to just look at, and how else will you learn to make better ones . . . other than turning the page!
– Holly Goring, Editor