A Potters Day

A Potters Day

‘A Potters Day’ was written and published in CERAMIC REVEIW May/June issue 2011.

I wrench myself from sleep hearing what sounds like radio Moscow emanating from the alarm.

6.30 am. I drift for a moment… I remember my first day at school and being asked what I wanted to be when I grow up. My reply was slow and I had no idea why I said it, ’’I want to be a fireman’’, I was five. I wake and think how ironic that now I work with fires!

6.50 am. Coffee drunk, chores done, boots on, I stride out with Soren Lorenson, lurcher, destination Park. I take this time to prep my head.  Contemplating the unexpected as my teaching day lurks.  My decision to teach came from the sense of worthwhileness I experienced when passing on my knowledge and passion for Ceramics during supply teaching. 16 years on, I am now a practising Lecturer, teaching Ceramics in Further and Higher Education at Weston College, North Somerset.

 

9.00 am,  1st Session.

Today I look down at eager and curious eyes, a new cohort of students anticipating what will happen in the forthcoming Ceramic programme: will they love it or hate it? I launch into my intro. I hear my words echo from WSCAD with Sebastian Blackie talking of Michael Cardew. I add my bit and say. ‘You are one of two things, you are either a Maker, or you are a Painter/ decorator.  You will experiment and explore material, develop process and approach. And some of you will be drawn to the kiln and its firing. Through practise it is your quest to discover who you are?’…Then a Power-point presentation of ancient to contemporary Ceramics, followed by Making/decorating demo. Enticing spontaneity, I encourage exploration and manipulation of the malleable clay to awaken their tactile instinct. As students gather tools and clay a surge of inspiration hums as they throw themselves into practise attempting to work their vision into the mass of clay in front of them. Their dynamic makes me smile. I relish this stage of practical initiation as individuals adapt my ways into their ways.

 

10.30am, Break.

As students slurp coffee my mind turns to my own work. I gather my materials and start dispensing quantities of clays, feldspar rich sand and grog I make from old kiln bricks. I hand mix and wedge my muck: 25 Kgs, 15 minutes later, job done. ‘Practice what you preach’ is a necessity to me, students respect you out of true mentoring; ‘to lead through example’.

 

11 am, 2nd Session.

With fresh vigour Work begins. Students with cognitive control manipulate and transform the clay into shape and pot. Others develop silently evolving their Clay slowly in hand. Some ignore rules of technique allowing primal thoughts to ooze into the plastic clay creating more unique things…. Karl Marx wrote that, “in the domain of art certain important forms of it are only possible at a low stage of development”, I’m aware of this as I witness the student’s fresh spontaneous drive and idiosyncratic thought they apply to their initial creativity process: unhampered, not tethered by rules, even subversive in methodology. This informs my own Ceramic work, demonstrating that too much expertise can blinker fresh approaches; remember to be instinctive, intuitive and use integrity.

 

12.15pm, Lunch.

The studio empties and I start making. Since 2000 I’ve made a conscious effort to make a proportion of my Ceramics at College. This serves me and my students, though as lecturing duties have become more time consuming my making has had to be efficiently managed to be effective. Therefore my making processes are split into multiple parts which fit coherently into a teaching day and days off. Over the years my students have witnessed and benefited from developmental change in my processes and aesthetics from: thrown pots, assemblages and deconstructed forms to the present hand building methods involving the use of wooden press-moulds. On a day to day basis student’s experience me: Making clay, using different tools and methods of making. However, what enthrals the students most is the Firing.

1.15 pm. Students re-emerge and we work together on ideas and practice.

4.30 pm. Sessions end.

Exhausted from the days buzz I come down by loading the Gas Kiln, a time to turn off from the needs of ‘others’ and instead to listen to myself as I evaluate the needs of Pots. At 17 I became obsessed with Fire and building Wood kilns. First sawdust, then Raku, updraft to downdraft, to later Anagama kilns. Now I Saggar fire. This resource has allowed me to share enthusiasm, engaging students with the unique aesthetic and teambuilding qualities wood firing offers. We have built tunnel kilns into banks of beaches, constructed minigama kilns and tonight at Evening Class I will present the idea of cardboard anagama kilns.

11.30 pm, I drift off thinking of kilns.

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