For me, one of the benefits of working in clay is the wide range of tactile experiences it allows, from squeezing soft butter-like porcelain between your figures when you take it right out of the bag, to forming it as it begins to harden but is still malleable, to carving it when it’s already ‘leather hard’ and still keeps its shape. There’s a point when it’s been carved, is leather hard but hasn’t yet been bisque fired when it’s so fine to just take the piece in your hands and ‘cop a feel.’ Since it still has some residual moisture in the body of the clay, it’s almost always cool to the touch. And so very smooth. And if you have sensitive fingertips, you can feel the slightly raised, almost imperceptible ripples from the carving. Yes, I’ll admit it’s a very sensual pleasure.
So when I mentioned to Scarlett that she might like to ‘cop a feel’ of the piece I’m working on for her, she didn’t hesitate. She and her partner, Marilyn, came by the studio to do just that. To be perfectly honest, this is the first time I’ve ever issued an invitation to ‘cop a feel.’ And to be perfectly honest, Scarlett and Marilyn were the perfect ‘feelers.’
The piece has been bisque fired so it didn’t have the coolness that a greenware piece would. But what makes feeling it ‘naked’ or without any glaze so special is just that – it’s naked. It is just the clay, its form and only its form – the wall and the void that the wall describes – is what’s you have. There is nothing to distract you from the delicate feel of the wall of the bowl, how it gently curves, how it comes up and greets the first of the coils, which sit so unconsciously on its rim and then moves on upward, unevenly to the ragged edged lip. There is no color – no shiny texture – to disturb the immediacy of the form’s beauty.
I remember an instructor once saying to me that if the piece I’d thrown didn’t have ‘life’ right off the wheel, no matter with what or how I glazed it, the surface treatment wouldn’t breathe life into that piece. I spend a lot of time carving and ‘altering’ the pieces I throw. But I understand this statement. I think it’s why I tend not to glaze the outside walls of my work these days – I want the clay to stand for itself – it’s unglazed, inherently beautiful self.
I think Marilyn and Scarlett both enjoyed having an intimate ‘feel’ of their piece in its naked glory. It was Scarlett who said, “There’s something musical in touching this. It’s so delicate, so fragile . . .” And then there were no more words, just hands taking in the wall and the void the wall described as a sightless person might.
Tomorrow, it will be glazed inside with Oasis Blue chosen by Scarlett and this piece of porcelain will be transformed once again. I hope it will still hold its unglazed, ‘cop a feel’ appeal.