Hi, folks! There has been a really long hiatus from this here blog because 1) Claire and I haven’t made time to plan out photoshoots and 2) I have been neck-deep in Christmas present making for the past three months so I don’t have that many makes to share in the first place.
I have this fairly complicated relationship with the Christmas holidays, as detailed in this article I wrote for Autostraddle, but to sum it up for you, I hate the pressure of the holidays to consume, consume, consume and spend, spend, spend. Because I am not a religious person I wont resort to complaining about the true meaning of christmas or anything (since I don’t really have much of a connection to that), but I do have a real distaste for the idea that Christmas seems to boil down to adding more things and stuff to our lives and the lives of the people we love. To combat this disconnection and try to promote more meaningful gift giving for myself, I started DIYing the bulk of my Christmas gifts a couple of years ago, and I have to admit that it has been a real game changer. It has made me more excited about the gift giving process (and the holidays in general), it has given me lots of time to sit and think merry thoughts about the recipients of my gifts as I make them, and it has made me cherish the relationships with my friends and family in a way that clicking “add to cart” on amazon just doesn’t.
However, DIYing Christmas does NOT come without it’s cons. Making the bulk of my gifts is particularly tricky for me because about 90% of my friends and family member’s birthdays fall in the months of October, November, December and January, which I also tend to celebrate by handmaking gifts, so the tendency to get overworked and overwhelmed during this season is tremendous. By the time December rolls around, I am usually stressed, kicking myself for biting off way more than I can chew, and feeling more than a little antsy to get back to making things for myself. But is all seems to be worth it when I get a text from someone saying how much they loved the package of homemade bath and beauty products that I sent them, or when I see someone open a gift that was made specifically with them in mind and their face lights up with excitement and gratitude (I’m looking at you, Lawrence!)
I don’t intend for this blog post to be a pity party- I know exactly what I am getting into when I commit to making Xmas gifts each year and no one is to blame for the hard parts of that decision except myself! Instead, I wanted to share a new venture I embarked on at the end of the summer which ultimately contributed a huge part to my DIY gift giving: POTTERY!
Claire suggested we learn pottery together because LACC was offering classes that took place at a studio in our neighborhood. I had never taken pottery before, aside from hand building clay pieces in my high school art class. My trycuriosity got the better of me so we decided to sign up, and it should come as no surprise that I was pretty much immediately hooked. Our teacher, Torros, is just LOVELY.
He is the kind of teacher who offers advice when you need it, but who otherwise let’s you experiment and learn and grow at your own pace. I love having that kind of freedom in my art classes. With some artforms, like painting, I seem to have a very rigid idea of what constitutes as “good”, and I am very hard on myself when what I create doesn’t seem to match up to those ideals. But with pottery, I have had such a different experience. Maybe because I started out with low expectations of what I was capable of- I had never worked at a wheel before, and for all I knew I would be terrible at it. And if I was terrible at it, I wanted to be okay with that and still enjoy the process. So I just followed Torros’ simple instructions and figured a lot out on my own. When I made something that fell apart, I scraped it off my wheel and started over. And when I worked on a piece that didn’t seem to be turning out the way I had hoped it would, I wouldn’t give up on it. I would keep my hands on the clay until it morphed into something unexpected and cool or until it had been worked so much that it had no more life left in it. Working this way was SO much fun and it made the end results so exciting because I rarely started making any pieces with a prediction of how they would turn out.
My happy-go-lucky attitude with pottery was working wonders for my own creative fulfillment, but apparently it was not appreciated by everyone. One day I was at the wheel working on something that started out going in one direction, but along the way it lost steam and needed coaxing to be brought back to life. I slowed my wheel down and started carefully re-shaping the lip of my piece, which had folded over and needed to be cut off. It was working itself into a delicate opening and looked like the ripple of a wave, and I was enjoying the process of turning a mishap into a thing of beauty when I heard a man’s voice across the room yell out “Torros! Help this girl! She doesn’t know what she’s doing!” Surely this man wasn’t talking about me, I thought to myself, but still I slowed my pedal and lifted my hands to look up and see what was happening. The man was staring straight at me. He said “You need help! Torros, you gotta help her out!” I was immediately offended and I snapped back “This is actually EXACTLY what I want to be making right now, I don’t need anyone’s help, I am very happy with this!” Thankfully Torros glanced over at my work and backed me up. “She knows what she is doing, she is just fine. It is going to be very nice,” he said to the man, who in turn just kind of grunted and went back to making his beautiful, perfectly shaped containers with lids.
I couldn’t believe the gall he had! It’s one thing to privately dislike someone’s art- everyone is entitled to their opinion and I am certainly not interested in impressing him or anyone else by my participation in class. But to publicly declare that someone doesn’t know what they are doing when they try their hand at making art? I would never have the audacity to tell a fellow student in an art class that they didn’t know what they were doing, no matter how little I liked the work that they were creating. This is STILL boggling my mind. And believe it or not, I happen to have an actual time lapse video of the piece I was making right before he tried to call me out (see below)
Despite this asshole’s unwarranted commentary, I proceeded to make about 20 finished pieces of pottery, and I am not sure that I could be more happy with how they turned out. This was such a unique experience for me, such a departure from the way I usually go about learning a new technique in a class setting, which is usually filled with a bit more self-criticism and bit less lightheartedness. All but two of these pieces I have decided to keep for myself, so this is a spoiler for any of you that got gifted a piece of hand made pottery and haven’t opened or received your gifts yet!
Here is a layperson’s rundown of the pottery making process:
- Get some clay.
- Put it on your wheel.
- Center the clay, which means spinning your wheel very fast and using pressure from your hands to make sure the clay is completely even and centered on your wheel.
- Form it into something you find beautiful, then cut/slide it off the wheel.
- Let it get a little dry but not all the way.
- Trim your piece, which means leveling off the top and bottom with tools to get them even, and smoothing the edges and sides. If you are making a mug, attach your handles.
- Let it dry completely.
- Fire it up in the kiln.
- Sand down any rough edges.
- Wax the bottom. Glaze it.
- Fire it up in the kiln one mo ‘gin.
- Sand the bottom so it doesn’t scratch the surfaces you set it upon.
- ENJOY YOUR CREATION!
The glaze part of the process is definitely the most fascinating, impressive and bizarre part for me. It’s kind of a mixed bag in that you don’t ever really know what it is you’re going to end up with. The colors of the glaze don’t necessarily match up with what the final effect will be, and when certain glazes touch each other, they create new colors and textures that you can’t always predict. For the glazing part, I just kind of give in to the universe and keep my fingers crossed that it comes out looking okay, which so far has worked in my favor. Most of my pieces have three different glazes on them, and some of the glazes really elevate the entire piece of work.
And there you have it! I am so excited to have the basic skills of working on a pottery wheel in my toolbox. In the new year I plan on making a 4 piece table setting for our home! Seems a little ambitious, I know, but I have faith that I can make it happen over time; the possibility of eating off of beautiful me-made plates and bowls is just too amazing to not attempt 🙂
Thanks to Claire for all the amazing non-instagram photos of the pottery!
To all, I hope your holidays, if you celebrate them, were bright and merry as can be! And happy new year!!!