Doing the same thing – but it’s always different – Always beginning again - Newton St. Studios Newsletter #4 October 19, 2020
To be honest, last week was very stressfull. Frankly, the entire month has found me struggling to find any studio time. As if the news cycle, or cyclone, wasn’t bad enough - there have been major time sucking complications – maybe you can relate to the feeling of treading water just trying to stay afloat when what you’d really like to do is swim to shore.
Anyway I decided I could just spend an hour in my studio. And that’s been a sanity saver! (Hint – put on your own oxygen mask first.)
I decided that it would be nice to make a bunch of little porcelain bowls to give as gifts. Stay tuned on this one – hope to create a way to get them to you. Yup, a real gift for the virtual studio members!
Anyway, I got in an hour here and an hour there – and before you know it I have two dozen little bowls that are identical.
But, I noticed that even though I thought I needed to just make the exact same movements each time to make the exact same bowl, and they are very much the same, the more I tried to be consistent with my movements, the more I noticed I was doing something slightly different each time. I noticed that each ball of porcelain was unique – even though they all had the same weight and came from the same bag of clay.
The balls of clay are never quite the same, they never center exactly the same nor do they open exactly the same, nor does the wall pull the same. And these differences call for slightly different sequences of movements - thus it’s important to have a wide range of skills, back up plans, redundant pathways, that are just different enough to compensate for the small differences in each ball of clay.
Throwing on the wheel is a mediation – it is centering – no joke. You must use your body, mind, memory, and all your senses in concert to focus on controlling a spinning ball of malleable clay. Porcelain is more challenging, because it is very soft. Regular clay has soft clay particles that are shaped like microscope slides or platelets that overlap and allow for stretching and give clay its plasticity. However mixed in with the platelets are gritty particles that act sort of like cell walls to hold up the structure once the clay is stretched. Porcelain does not have these structural particles so it is very soft and slippery and more difficult to work – particularly in larger sizes.
The softness of the porcelain magnifies the small differences between the way each ball of clay balances and calls on me to use a slightly different skill set each time even though in the end I get the same little bowl each time.
No doubt it’s the same way for stage performer – each time you run through the routine there is a new wrinkle, a chance maybe for something with a deeper understanding.
It's all about evolving a variety of techniques for the small deviations of each time space event, and making adjustments in the instant. But strangely, these little changes give pretty consistent results. The bowls are very much the same. And that’s what struck me. I needed to act slightly differently each time to get a consistent result.
Every day is different even as it is the same – it is the crookedness, the derivative, the subtle differences that we look for to find meaning. Seeing the variations, we are always engaged. I suppose the sages would take us back to focus on the consistency and variation in our breath as an example.
I uploaded a You Tube video four little bowls being thrown and two being footed so you can see the small differences of technique. I believe there is a You Tube link in the footer. The channel is Aheidemanart, and its left over from my teaching days. You can in fact, time travel back to room 205 – a place that’s now demolished.
None the less, I suppose the upshot of the observation is that it applies to a lot of routine activities in our lives. And perhaps will motivate me, now in this time that is filled with tasks, to notice and appreciate the differences in each repetition of a routine duty. The subtitles of the shifting skill sets I am using to deal with each and every event that seems both catastrophic and mundane – like passing the time in anticipation, like waiting before this freaking election. It’s hard to stay focused on the now.
I think I’ll make some more bowls soon.
I am now as always grateful for your joining me in the virtual studios!
see the photos and notes below.
I did not get the fun sized ceramics on Etsy this week – but I am aiming towards next Friday. Your coupon – October – is still good for 40% off.
I will figure out how to get these new little porcelain bowls done and a scheme to get one to you. It will involve you paying postage, sorry, there is really no free shipping, that’s a made up thing. Look for them in late November.
Also, I did make green tomato chutney - yum - and some of the green tomatoes turned red on the counter so I put them on some pizza. Always handy to have a sourdough starter around for dough.
The Dahlias are still booming, although each day is a gift – a memory of summer. I am excited to plant more next year! They always make me think of one of my auxiliary moms from Newton Street. I was lucky to have mine and two more to help raise the lot of us.
Please forward this so we can have more virtual studio members.
this section is devoted to what's on my mind - and reflections of the process of being an artist and blogging about it. - Ann Heideman