“You’re not obligated to win. You’re obligated to keep trying to do the best you can every day”
Marian Wright Edelman
Since last September I have been going to pottery classes, I think you are meant to call them ceramics classes but that doesn’t seem right somehow, after all my aim when I started was to learn to throw a pot.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to use a potter’s wheel. I am old enough to remember the ‘interlude’ clip on the telly between programmes that showed a potter raising a vase out of clay.
At school there was a potter’s wheel that was kept safely out of harms way along with the good paint and paper that we were never allowed to use. It gained a mystic for me, something other people got to do.
As part of my work I have researched the Japanese craft of kintsugi and the tradition of tea bowls. I have been inspired by the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi ( more on that another time maybe).
Last year as part of my degree I went to a talk by Edmund de Waal, the way he talked about his work was inspiring and it gave me the final push, after all I had changed my career and life, surely now I could learn to throw a pot.
You see that’s what is scary about dreams, even small ones. If you don’t ever try to realise them they remain safe. Whilst I had never tried to make a pot I could always imagine that if I did I would be brilliant, people would stand around amazed at my natural genius, by trying I was also risking failure.
Now you don’t often get the opportunity at 48 to try something completely new and I seem to be making a career out of it so I set off to find my pottery class.
It didn’t take me long to find Penny Withers at an open studio, she is a brilliant ceramic artist who has turned out to be a very patient and encouraging teacher.
Her classes have reminded me of the pleasure of learning a skill and are filled with others who create art just for the joy of it. That’s something that is easy to forget when you are coming to the end of your degree and are overwhelmed by deadlines and assessments.
At first when asked what I wanted to try I vaguely said I didn’t mind, whilst eyeing the row of wheels in the corner. It took me four weeks to summon up the courage to try and unfortunately no one stood around in awe of my god given ability – it was difficult! What Penny made look like effortless poetry was a stressful and strength sapping wrestle with this solid lump of immovable clay.
But, and this is where I get to the trying part, I didn’t give up.
Most of my efforts didn’t make it off the wheel, except to be scraped back into the recycle bin. When after what seemed like dozens of attempts I raised a very wobbly and lumpen bowl from the clay the relief was immense. Yes relief, the fear of complete failure had haunted me, I didn’t want to be bad, I might never be good but please just don’t make me bad.
Any pot that had managed to stagger into life, however poor a creation, was fired and glazed, I wanted to chart my progress. Each pot makes me smile, I use them for soup and cereal and as the tea bowls I initially set out to create. They are far from perfect, but their imperfections make them sweeter to me, they remind me that imperfection brings with it its own beauty.
I may never manage to throw my perfect tea bowl but I will keep on trying.
Penny’s website http://www.freeformceramics.co.uk/