I am famous (or maybe notorious is more appropriate) for working on an idea in my sketchbook for so long that at some point, in my head, I feel like I have already made the piece, and I move on to another idea. While it’s nice that my sketchbook is itself a piece of art, I am a ceramic maker at heart. So I wonder, why do I have so much trouble making the leap from sketchbook to finished form? I had not spent much time pondering the answer until I found myself rereading a passage in Ariana Heinzman’s article where she describes making cuts into her coiled form: “I need to pause and visualize what pattern and what style of rim will best compliment the form. I tell myself at this moment there is more than one right answer.” This is the advice I need to invoke during my process in order to push through the moments where I say to myself, “My next move will either make this piece perfect or ruin it entirely,” which causes me to seize up and stop. Embracing the notion that there are multiple solutions to finishing an object and that each one may be correct can be game changing, freeing, and positively relieving. It’s good practice to stop thinking of these decisions as make-or-break moments and more as opportunities for surprise or discovery.
Catherine Satterlee embraces this element of surprise in her studio practice. She writes, “While cleaning up, I noticed that the negative spaces on the leftover slab had created interesting shapes. I began saving the painted scraps and applying them with thick slip to plates, vases, and bowls. I continue to look for similar surprises that often lead to new directions in my work.” Catherine offers us all good advice here; rather than taking every decision so seriously, embracing new possibilities and being open and receptive as we search out multiple answers for decisions can lead to new ideas. It also reminded me that my first answer may not always be the most exciting. Ariana goes on to write, “Relinquishing control over the final product while setting up guidelines for the process is necessary for me to fully enjoy clay. I do not pretend to know what I am doing, just the next step.” This approach, which focuses on being present, is something we can all learn from.
This issue is all about the ways and means of handbuilding. In addition to Ariana’s article on coil building planters and Catherine’s demonstration of her Japanese inspired, slab-built bottle, Leilani Trinka shows us how to make delicate porcelain perfume vials and Emilie Bouvet-Boisclair gets us ready for spring with a pinch-formed watering pitcher. Shana Salaff returns with a clever soap dish on a catch tray to keep bar soap dry and Amanda Bury press molds a flask to keep our whistles wet. Plus, Mamta Gholap gives advice on working with galleries, Lucy Nguyen details her approach to underglaze trailing, and Antoinette Badenhorst shares tips for success with porcelain. You’ll also find more fantastic ideas for using ceramics to make jewelry by Jen Allen and Maia Leppo.
Every issue of Pottery Making Illustrated delivers a host of creative tips and techniques, while offering vested insight from practicing studio artists who are happy to share their wisdom and trials in decision making with fellow makers. Happy reading!