The past few weeks in the studio have been a reminder of just how challenging working with clay can really be. I've shared some of these moments on Instagram, but didn't really go into much detail because the whole thing was so frustrating as it was happening, I just couldn't deal. I lost more pieces to cracks and glaze issues than I cared to count. Pot after pot came out of the kiln and went straight into the trash. And let's not overlook the dozens of broken pieces that never even made it into the kiln. That's right, dozens plural. At some point I had to mentally check out because the frustration of losing so much work was really starting to wear me down. If I had to put some quantifiable figure on the whole disaster I'd say I had a 25-30% success rate over the last two and a half weeks. Major bummer.
But. Cracks happen. And glazes don't always fire the way you expect. Things need to be scraped, reclaimed, trashed, and then remade. This is just part of working with clay. These issues are all rooted in what I love most about my job, and that is that I work with natural materials that have their own natural properties, tendencies, and variations. I've been working with clay almost daily for nine years now and I'll admit, I've gotten to a point where I feel in charge. I have an idea for a piece and I make it. I dream up a glaze color in my mind and most often I come pretty close to it within the first few attempts at a brand new formula. I've grown familiar with my material and methods and for a while there things were coming pretty easily.
The last few weeks, though immensely frustrating were a (not so subtle) reminder that I am at best working cooperatively with the clay. I am not in charge of this material. I merely encourage it to perform the way I want. So of course, I see in all of this a totally applicable, real-world, life lesson-- sometimes you have to slow down and remember that you're a part of life and all that is happening, not in charge of it. It's important to be an active, encouraging participant, but to try to puppeteer the whole event is just unnecessarily stressful because you can't control something that has its own nature and endlessly complex properties. Once again clay teaches me with zen-like instruction, what it is that life is really all about and how to better enjoy it.
Here's what you didn't hear on Instagram:
The top left is one of probably twenty or so Regency platters that cracked or broke this week. I think most of the breaks occurred because of the rapid humidity and temperature changes in my studio as it went almost instantly from winter to summer weather this week. These pieces were cracking on the shelves while drying, in the bisque, and in the glaze firing. It seemed like inescapable devastation for Regency platters.
The top right was one of the few successful pieces I pulled from the kiln and I immediately filled it with flowers! In a kiln load of about 25 pieces this was one of 4 that worked (so it deserved those flowers, and so did I!). You can make this exact bouquet for only $12 with this step-by-step DIY.
The bottom left is a snapshot that basically sums up the last few weeks: The Poppy orange glaze is one I've been trying to formulate for over year and it finally worked! Hooray! The purple glaze is also new and I love it, but one of the bowls has a glaze defect where a bubble popped under the glaze surface. And the brushstroke bowl was waiting for its companions to complete a nesting set, but the largest didn't fire properly, so it's still sitting lonely on a studio shelf waiting.
The bottom right is the same brushstroke nesting set all glazed and ready for the kiln. The largest bowl fired with a bumpy defect, which had to be sanded, ground down, and reglazed. It is heading back into the kiln tomorrow, hopefully with better luck this time!
I'd love to know-- how do you all cope with frustrating situations at work or with your own creative process? Any tips you'd like to share that have helped you through those rough times?