Thursday, March 12, 2009

teaching and testing...

One of the fun parts of having open studio access for beginner-ish potters, is the chance and challenge to have mini-classes and lessons on demand. The teaching goes both ways, as I get just as much out of watching new hands and different intuitions, not to mention the questions that come up and the pondering that follows.

And it continues even when I'm by myself, each part of making something in clay gives me the chance to find a new approach and learn more about how I've come to where I've come. This is probably most true in the glazing and firing cycles. Although I've happily entered into the phase of enjoying glazing (I used to dread it), it still feels like every load is full of tests, and maybe that's the way it should always be.

The most recent glazing and firing cycle was filled with such 'tests', and the process and the results gave me many lessons to ponder between now and the next firing. I'd be here all night if I list all of them, but to get them out of my head, I'll hit a few. Glazing lesson I already know: give myself more time so I can lay down the wax resist the night before I put on the cover glaze, and don't rush through it. Other glazing lessons were learned only when I unloaded. Less went into the kiln as a whole, and since a good bit of my work was platters or plates, the real estate was not as evenly populated as it could have been.

Basic lesson I should already know but seem only to have the lightbulb moment recently: make work to fill the kiln - so if I'm putting in a bunch of plates and platters, I should have work that will fit in the open spaces on the shelves between them. Lesson 2 on that: if I'm going to make a bunch of plates and platters, I need to invest in plate setters so the space I take goes up, not out, leaving me more options for mixing flat and tall work on the same shelf. Lesson 3 on that too: get my butt in gear and throw to fill the whole kiln, so I can determine more of what goes where. Unloading lessons highlighted by sage advice by generous mentors: some glazes benefit greatly from being sieved before application.

Unload lesson 2: if you're going to dip 24 mugs into the top of one bucket, you better stay off the phone, pay attention and stir that sucker up between every couple of mugs, or you gets what you gets. What we gets here are collector's mugs for the ChoLo - get 'em while you can, this glaze will not be repeated!

And then there are the intentional test pieces, and when something lovely happens, it takes the sting off many other 'lessons'. This platter is made of a Laguna dark brown clay, one that I had used way back when in DC, and I had fond memories of it. I put some slip on it when I threw it, then did the brush work on top of the bisqued form and added a light shino spray. It's toasty, almost wood-fire-esque.

I am so grateful to have access to a wonderful reduction kiln with full glaze studio (thank you Westfire Studio!!), and I'll be firing there as my primary kiln as long as I'm in my current studio, so I'll have some time to really take heed of these lessons. And some of them will no doubt be reviewed and tested again, like an annoying pop quiz where you KNOW the answers yet only seem to spout them out on the bus later, which is all the more annoying because you know the results you'll see when you get that paper back on Monday (hmmm...perhaps I should revisit latent bitterness at public school testing methods...).

So many lessons that unfold all through the process, and now I'm trying to hang on to the most recently learned wisdom so I might find new lessons in the next kiln - it's always an adventure. There were some really lovely results in this last kiln as well as the 'hmmmmm' pieces, and there are lessons in that as well that I hope I retain for the next go-round!

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