Thursday, October 15, 2009

So This Potter Walks into a Simon Leach Workshop...

It's 10 degrees cooler than NJ in Barryville, NY where the potter Simon Leach (yes, I've mentioned him previously) is set up temporarily, and where I spent yesterday and the day before.

(Here is Simon showing us the basics of throwing a cylinder:)

This is an autumn in the Catskills experience. Water in the pail got cold in mid-October in the not-especially-heated studio. The clay was cold to start with, though it warmed up as I worked it. The seat of the kickwheel I used has a rug on it so was thankfully not cold. And the artist giving the workshop was Simon Leach, who, with the help of coffee, pottery demonstrations, advice, camaraderie and the occasional cigarette, was warm.

When is a workshop more than a workshop? When participants were limited to three and quality time was just that. When Michal from California and Bob from Narrowsburg, NY were working as I was, doing the same task at the same time, finding our ways with clay in a new place for a brief period. When the potter giving the workshop was a pottery daddy of clay today, teaching the pottery children who arrive in little groups, like hippies to Haight-Ashbury, to watch and learn from a potter they know through his videos. (See sleachpots channel on YouTube, people- Simon is about to reach the 500-video mark while regular viewers wait impatiently for him to get down to it. Oh, the pressures of clay celebrityhood.)

I gained.

Did I already know that anything to be done well is a challenge? Yes. Mom used to say that anything worth doing is worth doing well.
-That potters enjoy the company of other potters? Yes.
-That an unfamiliar wheel takes adapting to, that unfamiliar clay may have more scratchy bits in it than the hand is accustomed to, that not every pot is going to be a winner? Knew that.
Did I know I would struggle with forms I believed I knew, which now needed to become suddenly and significantly better? Had an inkling.

What did I learn, then, that I didn't know before? Quantified, these things will seem small. Taken together, they are more than the sum of their parts. There's this: While wedging (kneading) the clay to unify firmish and softish bits, and remove air bubbles, don't push the whole wad of clay around as I have done for the last 24 years, as it will tire you unnecessarily. Push it by its little tail end, and all will come around again bit by bit, nicely kneaded. (Both ways will warm a cold potter considerably.)

This: Pushing in outside the foot of the pot, while throwing,  creates a ridge inside the pot that is a nice bit by which to pull the pot upward, reduce its visual and physical weight, and slim the foot. Simon showed me.

This: Throwing the same form, over and over to the same shape and size, is a powerful exercise towards becoming a good potter. I have been missing this practical approach in my day-to-day, making one-of-a-kinds. It is one thing to know this, and quite another to really 'repeat throw'.

This: A chopstick set into place in a wad of clay on the wheel table will mark the spot where I want to bring the width and height of a pot- a gauge to repeat throw to specifications. Knew this before, but ignored it. Mistake.

This: The continuous curve in the interior of a bowl makes or breaks the piece; subjectively, a line where wall meets floor creates a catch-spot for your spoon; objectively, a bowl with a curved interior makes my spirit roll with joy like a happy mutt in the grass. Explain this? Can't.  Only know that care with small details makes big changes in the soul of a piece. Or does the following explain it-?  Function that is well-considered in the making is also beautiful. Or this- There are no small details-?

In any case, I have some bisqued bowls that are now going to become flower pots, where spoons don't matter and you can't see the broken curve inside.

This: "Titivate" does not mean "potchke," it means make the small corrections that will finish a process nicely.

Or this: I really can put in 8-hour days, and should.

Getting to it, then, the richer for yesterday and the day before. Thanks, Simon Leach and my fellow workshoppers. (-Sorry no photos of us working, but we recycled all the pots we made into nice large reusable lumps.)


  1. Shared experience is fuel for the artist.

  2. Spoken like a singer and musician!

  3. Another enjoyable story and I LOVE your statue.