Thursday, 30 July 2009

Reply to a Comment. On Potters and Clay

29 July 2009 12:33
jimgottuso said...

it's so nice to see soubriquet remount the horse. you must have been quite the potter extraordinaire because i think if i had a 9 year hiatus there's no way i'd be able to throw that well on my first day returning. wondering if it was enough to get you longing to do more or not? glad you all are having fun.

---I started to reply to Jim Gottuso's comment, and the reply grew. The reply seems to still be growing, and encompassing more than an answer, so I'm giving it a home of its own.
Reply:Well, Jim, I was a bit surprised that the body remembered the moves so much better than the brain.
I closed down my pottery in 1989, then I did a bit of throwing for a couple of local-ish potters who were not able to make the shapes or sizes they wanted, then.... nothing for a long time, last time was before I moved out of Rosebank Cottage, long before, so I figure nine, maybe ten years.
But seriously, I think it's like bicycles, really hard at first, then it becomes -not effortless, but... it seems to come from somewhere deeper than consciousness.
and yes. I'm going to do more. this.... need to get back into clay has been bubbling under for a long while now.
It's where I am. It is in me. It's embedded. Defining.
Reading blogs of potters made me long for that feel of clay in my hands, I love to see other people's clayworks, how different we all are, yet bonded by a common obsession. And I don't think you can be a potter without it being an obsession.
With the failure of my business, I became very disillusioned, disillusioned that I'd proved myself to be no businessman, disillusioned that people wanted the pots, but wanted to pay paltry sums, i was troubled by the thought that if your washing machine breaks down, or your car, or your drains get blocked, then you're ready to shell out your hard-earned cash to get it fixed, you may moan a bit, but you recognise the tradesman needs to charge a fair rate for his time and skills.
Yet the potter, you, me, the person you might ask to make you something, someting original, tailor made just for you, the only one like that in the entire world. And that something, conjured up from a mess of mud, a heap of powdered rock, transformed, transmuted into a new material, a shining, gleaming new thing, created for you, something which is easily capable of over seven thousand years of existence.
You want to pay the person who did that, for you, a lower hourly rate than a teenage shelf-stacker, or burger-flipper?
I had a customer who'd been enthusing about a mug on my shelf. But she griped about the price, telling me she could get one for a fifth the price at Safeway. I pointed out that the one at safeway was stomped out by a machine that, unattended, ploots forth 12,000 finished mugs per eight hour shift. (they're far more productive now, I'll bet).
I came close to being rude to her, but bit my tongue instead.

So, I became disillusioned. Not with the making, but with the selling, the making of things to pay the rent, churning out stuff I knew would sell, as opposed to making things I truly wanted to make.
I know now where it went wrong and why. I blamed myself for too long, and now I'm ready to make again. Not making was, I suppose, a protest, a pointless one.
Some years ago, I met a potter in the highlands of Scotland. she takes some of her pots up into the mountains, and leaves them there, amongst the rocks, in the murmur of the wind.
I should have learned from that. Make it, and move on, set it free, and let it find its own way. Too much philosophy? Yes, I suppose so.

I'm ready to move on, and to just make what feels good. And you guys out there have helped me realise what I should be doing.
I visited Matt Grimmit and was amazed at what he achieves in small wooden garden-shed, it made me realise that the excuses I was making to myself (I don't have room, no space, ha...)... were nonsense, that though I'd had all the toys in the past -vacuum-de-airing pugmill, dough-mixer.....oh, a big list... I had, I'm ashamed to admit, at one point i had THREE pugmills... well, one was a tiny two-incher I bought dirtcheap, hand-cranked chain-driven.. I stuck an electric motor onto the back, with a 16:1 gearbox I found in a scrapyard. Then there was the 3" vertical pug, I found it in an auction, described as "clay-mixer" I think I was the only person there who knew what it was. I paid twenty pounds for it, but had to have the motor rebuilt.
The de-airer, I got at low price as it was a new line for the manufacturer, who wanted me to be their test-bed, so, i used it, and reported on it, and every so often a heap of revised parts would be brought, and we'd try out the new configuration. What can I say. I like machines. I have oil in my blood.
But. In the depths of me, I know all these things are a distraction, just give me mud.

The wheel, after all these years of storage, gathering dust, worked perfectly, I resisted the temptation to strip it down, grease the bearings, replace and re-tension the drive belt.

The Mule, my muse, encouraged me. A bit like setting a toddler on a bike and seeing it wobble away. First clay ball duly wobbled away. Blobby. Yechh!. Back to the makeshift wedging table, and make a few pounds of clay do some exercises. Pretty soon the clay got the idea that I'd be expecting better behaviour this time. And it behaved.
The Mule, and my mother too, came in and heckled a bit. But hey, I was a tame potter in a tourist-trap town once. I can take heckling. You just have to get the audience to laugh.

How did I feel? Great. The goblets had over-thick stems as thrown, I wasn't happy with the proportions, but I turned them back to a proper size, and was happy that I could still tap a leather hard pot to centre it on the wheel, that hands and eye still co-operate.
And... ouch. my back muscles, and shoulders, and forearms are in need of retraining. I've gone soft.
But changes are a-coming.


  1. lovely post soubriquet, parts gave me chills a bit. i also decry the lopsidedness of how people value things... $100.00+ for dinner for 2 but 45 is too much for a beautiful handmade mug which could be used every day for the rest of one's life and still live on many lifetimes more. it's exciting to hear that you're excited, afterall i had a 22 year hiatus from clay and it simmered for years until i took the leap. it's also curious to me the relationship between taking things apart and putting them back together and making pots but there's a connection there. anyway, good to hear all this... inspiring post.

  2. Now that's the post i've been waiting for and knew it would come given time. I'm so so so so so so happy for you Dave, amazing stuff and alot to catch up with. Just got back from a short trip to St Ives with our Tig.
    More more more!

  3. feel the love, my potterish man, feel the love! you are so deserving of the warm thoughts and encouragement. you have a gift, and I am thrilled you finally are getting your hands be-muddied and be-clayed again. true grit, I say. you have true grit! keep on riding that bicycle!



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