After undergraduate school, I began considering what my studio practice could look like. I identified myself as a potter using the wheel as my primary tool, and a decorator using the banding wheel to map out pattern and design. This back and forth from sitting at the wheel to sitting at the table was hard on my body. I knew this wasn’t sustainable long term and that it was time for a change. When I set up my next studio, I made the decision to raise my wheel so that I could stand to throw and sit to decorate. This forced me to change positions regularly, elongating my spine and rolling my shoulders back before each task. This small shift changed my perspective, it allowed me to step back (literally and figuratively) and actually see the work. It also allowed me to view my work from many angles not just the foreshortened view I had become accustomed to. Once I got used to throwing standing up, my pots quickly transformed from short and squat, to tall and thin. I found myself walking away from the piece in between pulls just to see its silhouette from afar and to confirm the placement of the belly or shoulder. I experienced a sense of freedom in this transition from my seated wheel position as if the chair and the pedal had chained me. Not to say that I don’t experience fatigue from throwing while standing, but this seems more manageable.
1 Lindsay Scypta starting a pitcher form, using the mirror to check that the base and rim are centered.
2 Scypta looking into the mirror to confirm that the excess clay at the base has been repositioned and included in the first pull.
3 Using the mirror to confirm the placement of a division line in the pitcher form.
I was content with this setup for years until one day, in an effort to beautify my basement studio space, I set a mirror in front of my wheel. Just like the transition I made in throwing, having the opportunity to see the piece from a new perspective again changed the work. Rather than looking downward at the top of my hands, now I could look forward into the mirror where my movements could become more refined. I could watch my hands from my perspective and through the mirror, shifting my view form my interior hand to my exterior hand. The effectiveness of each pull now could be realized before leaving the foundation of the piece (1, 2). There was a new intentionality to my forms and to the division line I place in each piece as a starting point for my decoration. Just like checking your outfit in the mirror one last time before leaving the house, I too use the mirror to confirm, check, and question my throwing decisions (3). I was willing to push the volume of my bowls further, and give an upward inflecting inhale to my pitcher forms, which prior to using the mirror had lost their posture at this point of expansion. I also began to implement mirrors into my wheel-throwing courses, where students are still sitting and throwing. With the mirror in front of them, they’re able to sit with better posture, they can self-identify if their clay is centered, and the speed of each movement can be realized. The mirror often allows my students to answer their own questions (“Is this centered? Can I push this belly out further? Does this look ok?”). For beginners, the mirror gives perspective, it opens their eyes to the reality of their movements, and it provides a bit of confidence.
I use the mirror in quick glances, at pivotal points, in stepping back, and when I’m questioning myself. I don’t stare into the mirror endlessly, and often I don’t even realize I’m using it as the tool that it is. I encourage you to give the mirror a try especially if you’re seated at the wheel. Move it around until you find the perfect placement, watch your hands move with the speed of the wheel, use it to check that your piece is centered, and assess and question the silhouette of each form. Enjoy!
Lindsay Scypta is a studio potter and adjunct instructor at Lourdes University and Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio. She teaches community classes locally and workshops nationally. See more at www.LindsayScypta.com, on Instagram @lindsayscpta, and on Facebook at Lindsay Scypta Ceramics.
Subscriber Extras: Images
1 Lindsay Scypta’s pitchers.
2 Lindsay Scypta’s tea service.
3 Lindsay Scypta’s ice cream bowls.