Many of you have noticed the tips jar at the shop, which was named ‘Tim’s pottery wheel fund’. Last year Mum bought me a term of pottery lessons for Christmas. It was, as much as anything, for us to gain a more in-depth understanding of the actual processes that turned a lump of clay into the pieces we sell in the shop. It is all well and good to know something in theory but having a hands on knowledge is quite a different matter.
I was hooked. Lessons are great but practice is the key to perfecting any newly acquired skill. So, a couple of months ago now, I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and buy a pottery wheel. My beautiful wheel arrived, shiny and new. But not for long, clay has a tendency to get everywhere, if you let it.
When learning any skill, you have days where you seemingly can do no wrong, and others where nothing goes right. There is also the sporadic nature of a hobby to contend with, grabbing snippets of time where you can.
It starts with the clay of course, too soft and you can’t shape it without it collapsing; too hard and you are really fighting to control it. Once the pot is thrown, it needs to dry a bit, to what is called ‘leather hard’ so that the pot can be trimmed and cleaned up, and attachments like handles and spouts can be added. Too wet still and the clay will collapse, deform and lose it’s shape; too dry and it will blunt the trimming tools, possibly crumble while being handled, and handles and spouts will crack after applying as they will then dry at a different rate to the body of the pot.
Next up is drying the pot out completely so it can have its first firing. It needs to be completely dry, or else it will at best crack, but it may even explode in the kiln if it isn’t dry all the way through. When using a shared kiln service (Thanks Northcote Pottery!) you definitely don’t want your pot to explode - you’ll likely ruin other people’s work, and probably won’t get to fire there again, not to mention potentially causing more than a just few dollars worth of damage to the kiln.
All in all, it’s not really a big hurdle to make sure things are dry, but I have a restricted window of time each week when I am able to drop pots off or collect from the firing service. It can become quite a juggle! Combine that with a one to two week wait for the work to be fired, and time can quickly disappear.
Of course, as always, I’ve started down that slippery slope of one thing leading to another. I am starting to feel that I need a kiln of my own.
The part that is most frustrating for me, is the amount of time that elapses between starting a piece and ending up with the final product. I need to produce a certain number of pieces in order to make a trip to the pottery for a firing worthwhile (I’m pretty ruthless with what will get fired, clay can be recycled all the way up to the first firing), getting through the first firing, decorating and glazing and then a final firing.
Making pieces while the previous ones are away for a firing is a recipe for repeating mistakes, but I don’t want to sit idly waiting to see the results of the latest firings either!
The trickiest bit though - I haven’t renamed the tips jar yet. ‘Tim’s pottery supplies fund’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, nor does ‘Tim’s kiln fund’ come to think of it. Mum has suggested The Fiery Furnace Fund.