Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Learning to Center

Last night I did something I've never done before. I learned how to throw clay on a wheel. It's a parent/teen class that my nearly 12 year old and I are taking together for the next 3 months of monday nights. He has been working with clay since he was a kindergartner, first learning hand building, and later learning wheel throwing. We have a house full of whimsical fish and impossible creatures as well as small tea cups and work bowls.

I'm good with my hands--I've been a physical therapist for more than 20 years and my kinesthetic senses are very highly tuned, but I've never seen myself as much of an 'artist'. I have a hard time seeing three-dimensionally which makes any kind of drawing, painting, or even photography a challenge.

But ceramics is a different matter. It's an immersion into the world of touch.

We learned the steps to throw a pot: wedge the clay ('kneed' it to get the air bubbles out), center the clay ball on the wheel, open the form, and pull up the walls.


Ha. Not so much!

The first pot I threw became a sacrificial pot--the wobble was so bad, it looked like something Dali might paint. But it was useful to cut it into cross section and look at wall thickness and consistency. (there wasn't any!)

The second pot wobbled, but not quite as much. I pulled the top of the wall too thin and it cracked open. I tried to salvage it, but hit the wrong speed on the wheel and spun the whole thing off the wheel. oops. . .

The third pot worked. I got the centering, the opening, and the shape just right. I just hadn't spent enough time wedging the clay and it still had air bubbles. Back to the clay bucket with it too.

I think my favorite part is centering. There is both a physical and metaphysical aspect to it. Yes, it's all about getting the clay blob to be round and symmetrical in the exact center of the wheel, but it's also about getting your body and mind centered in the moment.

The 2 hours went by in a blink and at the end, I was terra cotta colored and happy. There is something meditative about working with ones hands. When I'm working the wheel, there is nothing in my mind but the clay. Worries about getting the taxes done, the unfinished WIP, the phone calls and emails I have to return just recede into the distance. My breathing slowed and I really let myself feel my hands on the soft clay.

I'm so glad to be doing the class with my son. He didn't laugh at my attempts too much.


  1. Okay. You were able to center After Three Tries!!!

    I couldn't reliably center after three months! But now I've got a wheel in my living room and I've been throwing pots for fourteen years.

    You should check out the March Back to School on FM - it's all about pottery. Welcome to the club!


  2. LOL. I'm hoping it just wasn't beginner's luck! That's so cool that you have your own wheel. Do you have to rent kiln space to fire the pieces?

  3. I take classes at a school with a gas kiln, so firing the pieces is included with the class, whether I throw them at home or at the studio.

    There's also a kiln at the museum where I work, so I could use that. I'd get my own electric kiln, but I don't room for it in my one-bedroom apartment. ;-)