Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Back In the Saddle Again . . .

Or How the New Normal Is Just Like the Old Normal . . . Almost.

It’s so good to be back in the studio with regularity. Not that I’m in there daily, but certainly enough to feel like I’m in a bit of a flow. I’ve adjusted my chair so that I’m not constantly looking down as I’m working at the table (what the docs thought might be the reason for my herniated disc – that repetitive downward bending motion). And I try and take breaks to stay loose, walk around, visit my other artist friends who have studios just down the hall.

My MO when I try to start up the creative engine is to get out the clay, pull a small piece out of the 25 lb block in the bag and begin to pinch. I can’t tell you what it does actually, this methodical pinching, this pressing evenly around the wall, then a soft sliding of the thumb up the inside, pulling a bit more of the clay to the lip of the bowl which is being made slowly, ever so slowly, and then beginning another round of pinching.

A palm full of clay
Beginning to pinch
Starting to form the walls

Thinning begins by mostly pinching

It’s like a zen meditation. 

Pinch, pinch, pinch, pinch...pull.    Pinch, pinch, pinch, pinch...pull.
Pulling on the inside brings walls up
I used to be very careful to smooth both the inside and the outside of these pinch pots as I went along. And when they got leather hard, I might carve into the smooth outside walls, leaving an evocative linear pattern.

Nowadays, I push out on the clay wall from the inside, which then makes a randomly cracked surface on the outside. I’m beginning to like this randomness. A lot.

Smooth and scrape the inside.

Push to get the cracks to form on the outside.

There is something very visceral about doing this work. Getting the walls as thin as possible without breaking through. Seeing the cracks form. Scraping the insides to almost thrown smoothness. I let go of any preconceived thoughts about what I “should be” making and just go with the pinch pot where it takes me.

Sometimes I bite off a bit more than I can chew when I’ve started a pinch pot with a wedge of clay larger than a small palm full. Then I actually have to stop before the walls start to collapse. I have to turn the pot upside down on its still even and a bit wide lip so it can dry out just a tad, usually just overnight covered lightly with plastic – not at all to leather hard but rather still pinchable, still where I can pull up a bit on the sides and so forth. But doing these large pinch pots can be a delicate proposition. Too soft and you can’t keep the shape. Too hard and you can’t change the shape.

There is something philosophical in that last statement if you ponder it for a bit. Something about the fine balance we have to find in life (and the patience we must muster) in order for things not to collapse around us.

That’s why, when I’ve successfully finished a large pinch pot, I feel so self congratulatory. I’ve DONE it! Whoo whoo!

One of my larger pinch pots 

Meanwhile, my good friend and young, talented playwright, Jennifer visited me in the studio last week, wanting to “pick my brain” about being a potter for a character in her new play, “Finding Alice”. I was happy to oblige. We talked about a variety of issues for those of us working in clay. As we talked I pinched, of course. And then, as I picked up certain tools, she had the temerity to ask me their names! I mean REALLY?? OK, let’s see. This is a . . . a . . . scraping tool. This is a wire cutter. This is a . . . I use it for trimming so . . .right, it’s a trimming tool. Oh and the scraping tool? – no, it’s called a rib. Whew! It’s embarrassing when you’ve been doing something for years and can’t remember the proper names of the tools you use every day.
My everyday tools
Anyway, as we were winding down the interview, I asked Jennifer if she would like to see me throw something on the wheel. Of course, I asked this without thinking. I hadn’t been on the wheel for what was it – a couple of years? I wrote about envisioning this as I was recuperating from the herniated disc in June 2010 (Viewing Life Through My Mind's Eye . .) when I felt I might never “get back to normal” or that, inevitably, there would be a “new normal”. This is what I wrote:
Wedged clay slapped on the bat ready to throw
“…I see myself effortlessly wedging clay into conical shapes. I take one and slap onto the center of the wheel. With wet hands and a water-filled sponge held lightly in the right, I bend over and with my elbows pressed down onto my thighs for stability, I put all the weight of my upper body into my arms and hands which are cupped around the clay as the wheel turns at top speed.  Very soon, I pressure this lump of clay into the beginnings of one of my lovingly crafted vessels.”

And just as I envisioned it then, I got on the wheel, and in a few minutes, had fashioned this vessel.

Thrown piece - first in almost 2 years
I’ve gone back to reshape it a bit and plan to do some other things to it. But more than just being a vessel thrown as an example, for me it now stands as a testament to my body’s resilience.

When I look at it I am reminded that I am back to my old self. Well, no, not really my old self.

I’m back to my new self. Each and every day is a “new normal” and for that, how can I be anything but eternally grateful?

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