I still remember the first assignment. It was my first semester in Ceramics in college, and I was super excited to get muddy. After watching a demo on the wheel for the first class (he made it look so easy!) , we were instructed to create 10, 6-inch cylinders; which we would then cut in half to inspect the thickness and consistency.
I remember sitting down for the first time on that little stool, hunching over the bright yellow Brent wheel, and spinning up the clay. It was not easy. My hands had a hard time centering the clay, much less controlling it to the point of making a consistent cylinder. I looked around, and other classmates were having a much easier time.
It seemed like every time I would make progress, I would make one wrong move and the entire piece would collapse in my hands. I began to get frustrated, but I still had a good amount of enthusiasm to keep going.
With other forms of art I had been practicing, the process was much different. Painting, drawing, printmaking… I would see an image in my brain and then do my best to bring it to form on paper, canvas, or plate. With clay, there was something different. It wasn’t a visual image I saw in my head. Once I got more proficient, and became more skilled at controlling that spinning lump of mud, I would close my eyes and use my hands to ‘see’. See the thickness, the texture. There was none of the back and forth of looking into my minds eye and creating a two dimensional replication on my paper. This three dimensional way of creating was very new to me, and I loved it. There was something so calming, so meditative about watching the clay spin around and around and letting my body do the work.
I was not a star student by any means. My professor preferred those type A, perfectionist, calculated, planner type students. I was the messy, carefree, and spontaneous type. I made a B every single semester except for my last. I spent more time in the studio compared to other students, and after a few semesters got the job as the student studio tech. My job was to *make* the clay for the whole class – about 1500 pounds a month – as well as formulate glazes, fire kilns, and keep up the studio. I loved it. To this day it was my favorite job.
After graduating, I got a job teaching Ceramics to elementary age kids. My second favorite job. After leaving there in 2012, I stopped playing with clay. I got into my sales jobs and pretty much stopped doing anything creative, even though I had a wheel at my house.
A few weeks ago, I dragged out my 37 year old Shimpo wheel and gave it a spin. I felt super rusty until I realized it was stuck spinning in the opposite direction! Haha a quick reddit search later, I was spinning in the right direction and finding my groove again.
I love clay. I love how it feels, how it is a material from the earth, and soft and malleable, until it is fired. Then it becomes so hot, it experiences a chemical change and changes into a different material entirely, never to return to its original state. I love making functional, utilitarian items that I can use in my home. I love how even though the pots and cylinders I have thrown the past few weeks look totally beginner and I can hear my professor in my head critiquing them, I don’t care. I am enjoying the process of creating again and returning to a process that I love.