Classes are suspended, the studio is empty (almost), the trough up at the top of the gravel parking lot where we dump some of our throwing water on busy days, usually a brimming pond, is now a hollow with smooth mudcracks peeling up as the weather warms. Bisqueware, once collected up and dipped in glaze as quick as we could get it from the electric kiln, now sits waiting on shelves, like a crowd of travelers stuck someplace, halfway through their journey.
With most of our potter’s wheels rented out to students who have set them up on their patios & under portals in back yards, we are taking some time to clean & re-seal our studio floor. I am grateful to our current intern who has undertaken this work. The floor looks great! And it’s so easy to mop now.
Let’s hope it is not too long before the floor is getting tracked up and clay-covered again.
Meanwhile the shut-down is my chance to get back to my own work in clay — to reconnect with my own studio. You’d think this would be easy and simple, sheltering in place, using this down time to catch up and re-gain momentum creatively. Like many people I’m finding it hard though. I’m scrambling at the end of each month to pay bills and this keeps me distracted. And, it’s hard to turn inward and work peacefully during such pivotal and unsettled time in the outer world.
Partly though…when it comes to just working alone & quietly…I think I am just out of practice.
Back when I started my studio I used to have long undistracted afternoons throwing pots, many of which I’d discard later, long mornings sitting on a milk crate wearing a respirator and sifting wood ash and local clays. I took for granted that my time wasn’t worth much and I dreamed and contemplated and shrugged, gazing out the window. If a piece I’d spent half a day on didn’t work out back it went into the bucket — no big deal. This was an initiation, and I also took it for granted — I was kind of in awe of the fact — that doing art involved wasting enormous amounts of time. Not everything you try works. Not every firing is good, and not all of those pieces you threw yesterday are worth keeping. I found this kind of liberating in a subversive way. I found that when someone said ‘product’ or ‘efficiency’ or ‘what-did-you-get-done-in-the-studio-today’ a flag would go up for me inside, and I would stare extra hard out the window the next day, and make sure to waste even more time as I sat on the milk crate. Passing four pounds of wood ash through a sixty-mesh screen — you know, that really takes a lot of time! And, half of that ash might end up on the floor when you add water and attempt pouring it onto a big wide platter.
Wasting time is a talent — more important than centering or matte glazes or the other talents a potter might be proud of.
Like many people this is what I’ve been working on during the down-time of April. Doing little — doing less than usual. Somehow over the years as my studio grew I gave up staring out the window, and I started wanting to keep all those pieces I threw yesterday, and I resented those valuable morning hours sitting on the milk crate. I’ve got important work to do! So this month I am going back to the beginning and getting re-initiated.
When I think of it, in fact, just writing this blog reflects what I’m relearning during the down-time. Usually I write these in twenty minutes, then spend another forty revising and adding images, and then boom – up on the website it goes. This April though I wrote an initial draft, and then the next day I decided it was no good and deleted two thirds, and then the day after that I sat at the computer mid-morning, staring out the window. What am I actually trying to say? I didn’t write anything at all, but that took an hour. A week went by, and I wrote some more, but when I hit ‘save’ all the changes were lost for some reason — now we’re talking! I felt the old thrill.
Now I get it! Now I remember. I’ve needed this down-time, the last six weeks, so I can be re-initiated and start contemplating and staring out the window again.
I’m working slowly this April — I’m tossing a lot of what I make back into the bucket — but that’s okay. I’ve got plenty of time.