extra-curricular activities: pottery

“Why should one reject the perfect in favour of the imperfect? The precise and perfect carries no overtones, admits of no freedom; the perfect is static and regulated, cold and hard. We in our own human imperfection are repelled by the perfect, since everything is apparent from the start and there is no suggestion of the infinite. Beauty must have some room, must be associated with freedom. Freedom, indeed, is beauty. The love of the irregular is a sign of the basic quest for freedom.” – Soetsu Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman

I often wonder what people are actually doing with their time. What are they really doing? What are they doing, and why? They are doing every imaginable thing, I suppose, and a number of other activities I can’t yet imagine…but I cannot help but be curious about the micro-level specifics here.

I wonder, too, what am I doing, and why?

Sometimes it seems to me I am not doing very much, and ought to do—somehow, in some way—more. I am surely right about this.

Here is something I am doing. I began, this spring, to take a course in wheelthrowing. I love it, and wish I had taken one sooner. I have every intention of becoming a competent potter, a title that is far away right now but achievable. [Any of you who have tried your hands at pottery will know how challenging it is, and how dispiriting your first attempts can be.] It is deeply satisfying to create a useful, beautiful object. I appreciate how tightly any art or craft is tied to a conversation about beauty/aesthetics, a conversation I have barely begun here but one which occupies me constantly.

Now, about three months in, I am…let’s call it enthusiastic. To approach a craft with discipline and high standards is a supremely humbling exercise. I thought I would show you a bit, pottery being my current vehicle for expression (expression being always, amidst whatever else it  may be, a matter of style) and the activity taking up most of the time not already taken up by work. Being so new I am still feeling out a style, trying out different ideas of what a plate or cup or bowl or vase might be and focusing on learning good technique. These are not exactly useful or beautiful (not useful or beautiful enough to even give away yet, for example) but they are drafts of those things.


Centering, where it all begins and where it can all go horribly wrong.


I am just now making my first attempts in porcelain. I like its responsiveness but I also like the warmth of dark, rough clay bodies.


The glazes are another world of complication on top of the variety of clay bodies and shapes.


Handles are difficult! I am otherwise pleased with this pitcher, with its squat, toddlerish proportions.


I am drawn to many of the traditional Japanese glazes like this shino glaze.


I also like a lot of traditional Japanese silhouettes, like the tea bowl.


Lately I like to make little creamer-like pitchers. Did I mention that handles are really tricky?? I have a new, powerful appreciation for all ceramic handles everywhere.


Things at this point rarely turn out how I imagine but sometimes there are nice surprises. That red part…I thought that was going to be green.


Wheelthrowing involves beautiful tools and accessories.


Trimming is an art in itself. My favorite stamp at the moment is this oak tree.




trying out: the fresh Umbrian Clay Treatment bar

IMG_5927I like a face mask. I do at least one a week, maybe more, and have a bunch of them to combat the various, manifold shortcomings of my skin. Part of the appeal is the experience, the ceremony of them, which I find relaxing. Sometimes potentially entertaining. Recently added to the selection is the fresh Umbrian Clay Treatment Bar, made of an anti-inflammatory and highly absorbent clay from this one town in Italy that can be used as a detoxing face wash, a mask, or a spot treatment. It’s pricey but it seems like it will last a couple of years, seriously.

It’s a bit messy to use, so if I’m going to bother at all I usually go for the mask, maybe removing with a muslin cloth for added exfoliation.

I am deeply into exfoliation.

So, yes, this gives a very thin layer of intensely absorbent/effective clay, which reminds me a lot of the Aztec Secret Bentonite Clay mask. At a fraction of the price (I picked it up at Whole Foods for around $7) it could be worth checking out first. It comes as a powder and you mix it with water or vinegar [or whatever else you like…I like to add lemon juice and tea tree oil as well, maybe rosewater or some essential oils…] to your desired consistency. When you get the balance of ingredients right, this is an amazing mask: it tightens like crazy, so you look like a maniac when it’s fully dry, and even worse when you take it off as it draws the blood to the surface and makes you bright red for a bit. Twenty minutes later, though, there is a difference. [Part of the appeal may be the experience – imagine would be fun to do with a group.] This is another type of clay that boasts supernormal absorbency, able to absorb many times its own weight in volume, that kind of thing. The ants of the clay world. The nice thing about the Umbrian clay is that it achieves a similar effect with less product and less effort. I find the effort intrinsic to the appeal of the Aztec Secret mask, though, so to each its own.