In the collaborative studio where I work, I have the opportunity to interact with potters of varying levels of experience. Part of what makes the place magical is the fellowship that occurs as artists share tips, techniques, frustrations and triumphs. When someone new to the craft remarks on my work or asks for advice, I find myself repeating the same sentiment over and over..."pottery can be a cruel mistress." It almost always results in a laugh and a knowing nod. We've all been there. We've all felt it. And we all know it's true.
What makes the practice a "cruel mistress"? The fact that so many elements of it are completely unpredictable. There are a million things to learn and just when you think you've got the hang of something, you realize there's hundreds of things you're still struggling to grasp. And the learning doesn't happen quickly. Sometimes it is agonizingly slow. Seven years ago, I accepted that there is a cycle to the art of pottery. It will feel like a barren wasteland of crooked pots and uneven rims and then, there is the unexpected acquisition of a new skill or technique. I call them "jumps." You struggle and struggle with something for days, sometimes weeks or more, and then suddenly all the pieces fall in line. Just like that, you have it. Your skill level escalates and in an instant you are making a form better than you made it just the day before. And you couldn't explain how you got it, you just know you did. Finally.
I find that the longer I do this, the harder it is for me to realize when I've "jumped." Perhaps it is because the improvements are more subtle. Or maybe it's just that I'm looking for the imperfections and missing the opportunity to see how far I've come.
This past weekend, it dawned on me that in the past month or so, I jumped. Nothing major, I'm not making vessels of the ming dynasty...but I can feel a difference. A confidence in my ability. I make forms faster, almost in a rhythm that feels meditative. There is a distinct sense of competence that I wasn't willing to claim before. I go into a form assured that I possess the skills I need to make what I want to make. I'm not "hoping" the form into existence. I am "willing" the form into existence. That gives me the courage to experiment and push boundaries. And to consider forms and techniques I used to rigidly and flatly object to making. This latest jump hasn't been in my form, or my technique. It's been in my perception.
That's a jump I never saw coming. But I'll take it. And wait patiently for the next one.