I have been doing pottery for more than a year – I'm not great, but I enjoy nutting away at it. I am sloooow. SLOW. And this adds to my growing dissatisfaction. I get about two and half hours a week – one lesson. In that time I might make, on a good day, three pieces. The following week they have to be 'turned off' – which means flipping them upside down on the wheel and sculpting away unnecessary bits and hollowing out the base so it sits on a table without a wobble.
Another week or two of drying and the piece is put through a 'bisque' firing in the kiln. Then it is time to sand it, and do any decorating – I might paint a design and dip the piece in a clear glaze, or I might decide that I'll just dip it in a coloured glaze. A glaze is a recipe made up by mixing various ingredients to come up with a colour, or range of colours when they are fired at a high temperature. No piece is ever the same, as the glaze responds differently on different clay and in different locations in the kiln and, seemingly, in response to the current alignment of the planets.
The piece I have worked on can't be fired for the final time until there are enough pieces to fill the kiln. So it is sometimes up to three months until my things are fired. There are usually up to six or seven pieces I have made. The process is so drawn out that you can imagine my frustration when the blue-green glaze I decided to use doesn't work, and instead only leaves one tiny blob of blue-green on every other piece, leaving them looking otherwise untouched.
The blue-green theme I have had in my head for three months has suddenly gone to hell. “Oh,” says my pottery teacher, “Maybe we really didn't mix that glaze well enough – it might have all settled on the bottom of the bucket when we dipped the teapot/honey pot/bowl/cup in?” I am outraged. “Or,” she adds, oblivious of my rising blood pressure, “it might have been the kind of clay you used.” Neither of these statements are helpful, both scenarios were preventable.
Now I have to pay for the stuff I've made by the kilogram, and I'm so pissed off with how it has turned out that I take 80% of it to the op-shop (being unable to bring myself to throw it in the bin). The thing is, I could never tell my teacher that I get rid of most of my stuff. She would take it personally. I am in a situation where I don't know enough to know that things are going to turn out badly. But I do know enough to realise that I have wasted precious chunks of time and money.
The most rewarding pieces I have made were done without any input from my teacher – they were inspired by a visit to the studio of a ceramicist in Daylesford. I was so transported by her work that the night I got home, I tipped my clay underglaze paint (having previously only used it to paint on designs) into a lump of clay and kneaded it all until I had *gasp* coloured clay. Then I rolled heaps and heaps of little balls and squashed them down into a bowl I liked the shape of. I love how they turned out.
I am at a crossroads. I have a great relationship with my teacher. She has had a tough year. But I am frustrated by my lack of progress, the setbacks that I keep having with glazes and the realisation that I'm feeling my way along. I have such limited time, and very very limited money… We have completely different styles – I want bright, minimalist and modern – she is steeped in more traditional ochres, iron oxides and heavy 1970s designs. These things would not matter if I hadn't spent eighteen months trying to attain a finish that seems constantly out of my grasp.
N.B: There is a little lamp of ceramic hope burning on my horizon, but that will have to wait for another post…