The class forced me to work when I wanted to and it forced me to work when I didn’t want to. You might struggle through an uninspiring writing prompt or might stare at a seemingly impossible chemistry problem. You don’t give up and walk away and I don’t either. No, I get up, wedge some more clay, and throw a better pot. I make sacrifices to work when other things seem more fun or when all I want to do is be outside.
Pot (pot), —n. 1. a container of earthenware, metal, etc., usually round and deep and having a handle or handles and often a lid, used for cooking, serving, and other purposes. 2. Slang. marijuana.
I start at the bottom again and cone up to make the clay into a tall dowel. The clay particles slide by my palms. My hands move to the top. With my right hand I bend the clay to the side and move it down. Coning down. Also known as wheel wedging. Or centering. The pops and snaps of air bubbles escaping are satisfying. I am doing it right. I repeat this a few times. Cone up. Cone down. Cone up. Cone down. Compress. The wheel spins and I hold for a few revolutions. I squeeze hard at the end of this final compression to ensure the clay is centered.
I swing my leg over the stool, start up the wheel, and re-find the center. I begin the process of moving the clay outward. Plates seem easy in theory: rather than pulling clay upward, against gravity and such, you slowly work the clay outwards. But it still takes time and strength and will. I place my right hand on the top of the lump of clay. My right hand’s middle fingertip is on the center. I use my left hand to press down into my right hand, starting at the fingers. I move slowly. The rest of my right hand settles down as it feels the clay mass moving outward. My hands dry. They leave the clay as I re-wet them in the water bucket. I start again in the center. This time, I lean into the outer edge of my right pinky finger’s middle knuckle. I move my weight outwards at a speed that just allows for a consistent spiral depression to develop in the clay—throwing lines, they’re called. I work to establish the difficult curve now.
Sitting on the stool in front of the wheel, I slam the ball of clay onto the bat. I lean forward to dip my hands in the bucket of water. I prefer to use warm water to keep my fingers from freezing. Plus, it helps keep the clay plastic and easier to use. I point my right foot a bit to get the wheel spinning and hone in. My first contact with the clay is like that of seeing an old friend for the first time in a while; it feels good and normal and awkward and a little bumpy at first. I push in with the base of my left palm, almost near my wrist. The clay makes gushing noises. My pinky fingers remain strong as they try to keep the base of the clay blob on center. I squeeze hard at first and then lighter as I follow the clay upwards. Coning up. I plunge my hands into the bucket to re-wet them. I use the rim of the bucket to scrape off the clay slip that has collected on my hands. It feels good, like scratching an itch.
Bat (bat), —n. 1. the wooden club used in certain games, as baseball and cricket, to strike the ball. 2. any nocturnal or crepuscular flying mammal of the order Chiroptera. 3. a thin slab of wood, plaster, or plastic used to support pottery forms during throwing, attached to the potter’s wheel-head by clay body or “bat pins.”
I wedge standing up, 50 or so times per lump. I count in my head. A firm, sharp movement forward. Then I tilt the clay upwards and rotate it before my body weight rocks forward again for another firm, sharp wedge. I am warming the clay, preparing it. When clay is wet, wedging is easy and the rhythm becomes almost enjoyable. When clay is more firm, it becomes laborious. My heart rate picks up. I stop occasionally to let the cramping in my forearms pass. If I were a famous potter, I would have someone wedge my dry clay.
I only wedge one lump at a time. I like to do this because it allows me to see a piece of clay from start to finish more directly. I know what it was like to wedge that piece of clay, so I know a bit more about what it will be like to throw. Plus I get to stand up and move around between throwings. I am currently working on what’s called “spiral wedging,” the way Japanese potters learn to wedge. I don’t know exactly why it’s better—just that it looks pretty cool, like a snail-shell.
I check the plate every once and a while by leaning way out to the right and tipping my head down to see the silhouette. I push a few strands of hair off my forehead. Here, I am checking to see if there is enough clay left under the plate’s curve to later trim out a foot.
Bat and Bat, Pot and Pot November 27, 2016 By Sophie Olmsted During winter semester sophomore year, a visiting potter threw for my studio pottery class. His name was Mark Shapiro and had