Friday, August 30, 2013


I'm working on a batch of zigzag pots using my two new ravioli wheels from Italy. By virtue of having been purchased in their country of origin, the new wheels exude a simplicity and elegance that surpasses the Italian import ravioli crimper I bought several years ago at a mall in the U.S.

I've just finished a bag of new (to me) clay: Standard 266. It should fire to a dark gray brown. A friend at Claymakers warned me about its tendency to bloat, so I've been reading up online on how to circumvent that. Hopefully her tip will keep me from losing lots of work.

Having futzed a bit with randomly and lazily mixed slip colors ("hmm, maybe I should dump in some cobalt"), I covered the 266 pots with white slip made from leftover Little Loafers. I also saved 266 slip as I went along, to use as a slip on Little Loafers pots--so I'll have pots that are light slip on dark clay and dark slip on light clay. This appeals to the...what...the math geek in me? Or the color wheel geek? I like the idea of positive/negative permutations.

What's been interesting for me as I work through these pots is how much thought and planning goes into each one. Maybe that's what craftsmanship is. Because the clay ends up getting stretched thin, I want the pots to be correspondingly light; but because the base gets stretched less, and because bases are generally thicker to begin with due to physics, the pots often have a bottom-heaviness I don't like. Since I can't use ribs on the outsides of the pots (they would obliterate the zigzags), there's no making up for an uneven base once I apply slip. This means paying attention, from the very beginning, to making an even and thin base.

So I throw a few of these pots, and each one has some imperfection that bugs me (and probably only me): a bulge at the base, a shoulder that's too flat, a neck that's too short or too tall, a throwing line that disrupts a curve, whatever. So I store up all the things that bug me, and with each new pot, I try to figure out how to avoid making the running list of mistakes. Sometimes this is a lesson in not futzing: instead of "fixing" things, see them as part of the process. Sometimes it's a lesson in surface geometry: if I want a gentler curve in the shoulder, change rib angles and don't apply slip so close to the top. Sometimes it's a lesson in patience: pause for the heat gun, pause for the heat gun, pause for the heat gun. Sometimes, minimalism: more clay doesn't always mean a bigger pot. Sometimes, rebellion: just because logic and tradition say to use a bat doesn't mean I need to use a bat.

Through all of this, while North Carolina is decimating public education and Syria is gassing its citizens, I think about how privileged I am that these are the sorts of problems I get to contemplate a few times a day.

Zig: light on dark
Zag: dark on light
I had to rotate the two detail shots above, since otherwise my eyes/brain reverse the raised/lowered parts of the pot. This is an optical illusion that reminds me of images of lunar craters, which I also tend to see in reverse.

I grok the crater in the middle of this image, but not the one at the bottom.

See what I mean? No? Try clicking on the zag photo to enlarge it. Now do you see it? No? Maybe it's just me.

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