Today was day one of Stan Irvin's workshop focusing on "the how and why of pottery making." Stan is a pottery legend, teaching for over thirty years as a Professor of Art at St. Edward's University in Austin. To have the opportunity to study with him, even for just two days is a real treat. It's also reinforced for me that the time spent traveling and attending more workshops is probably invaluable. There's so much to learn and so many amazing artists to learn from. The gift is really two-fold: you learn different techniques and philosophies about ceramics but you also gain access to bigger and broader potter community that is a rich source of information, validation and laughter. Because let's face it - if you are a potter, you are used to being frequently exasperated and nothing cures exasperation faster than laughter.
Some of the big "between the eyes" moments for me thus far in Stan's workshop include:
Think about WHY you are making your form/piece.
What are you designing it to do and how will it serve it's purpose? This of course includes the classification of functional versus decorative, but it also extends to the finer attributes of the piece. As it's function, what do you want to stand out or to be significant in the way it performs in its intended purpose? Having this firmly established in your mind will help you through the production, as each decision should lend itself to your intended outcome.
I have to admit to sometimes being a bit willy nilly in my approach. Especially when it's a new form. I'm so distracted by my concerns about IF I can make the piece, I don't find myself asking the WHY until I've made the first one...and can determine the long list of what I hate about it. I can't help but wonder if the learning curve would be gentler if I assumed I have the skill level, and spent more time on WHY I'm making the form before my hands touch the clay.
This wasn't something Stan said outright, as much as it was a personal observation of mine as I watched his instruction. During his demo of one of his forms with multiple attachments, I noticed that he was thoughtful, introspective and even experimental as he worked. With spouts and handles and the process of attachment...there was no rush. As he prepared each piece, he held it up to the form at different angles and considered it's impact on the structure. How did it benefit the overall form? Did it enhance? If it didn't...how could the position or attachment itself, be modified to better flow with the piece? Did the placement enhance or detract from the overall function of the entire piece.
I've been moving too fast. Particularly with multi-piece forms like tea pots. I am so focused to the clock and stages of dryness, that I wind up attaching pieces as if I'm on a timer. I don't "sit" with the form and visualize, I'm panicked thinking "I've got to get this on, NOW." Even when I know, logically, that I still have time to assemble without fear of catastrophe. Part of this, I'm sure, is a habit formed out of my status as a "part-time potter." I know I only have the weekend to check on my work steadily. During the week, I'm just far enough from my studio to make it inconvenient to juggle studio work with my "day job." So two days are all I have for alchemy. I need to do a better job of reminding myself that even though it's two days...you needn't work like you're trying to stabilize a ticking time bomb. Breathe. Think through your intention. You always have time to do this. Even when you swear you don't.
Keep your work "accessible."
This was probably my most favorite statement of day one. In discussing the different ways you can enhance your work: giving movement, texture, glazing technique...it is important not to make your work "exhaustive to look at." Stan stressed the value of keeping your work simple. By giving thought to simplicity, you make your work accessible to the admirer. Not only in the literal sense of more hours in labor = higher ticket price, but in the artistic sense. You don't want to overwhelm the admirer with too many elements to have to take into consideration. Keep texture and glazing and any surface work complimentary. Make the piece workable and pleasing. Avoid too many layers of "technique" or affect. Don't busy up the work. Often, less is more.
Those are my big takeaways from day one from the philosophical standpoint. Now if you'll excuse me...I'm about to go fill my online shopping cart with tools. Because that was the other takeaway...tremendous inspiration and the introduction of tools that I'm eager to put to the test. Most of them will come from...the hardware store and the kitchen. It amazes me how many tools we take from their intended use and carry over into ingenious studio tools. Potters can truly make a tool out of anything. I'm proud to call myself one.
Here's a smattering of pictures of today's session.