Repetition, Proficiency & The Subconscious

When we get into throwing repeated forms it allows the muscle and body memory to come into play, freeing our minds to come out and play. It takes a lot of hard work to get to that place.

When we start, we throw whatever comes out. Every pot is different because we don’t have enough control to throw exactly (or as close to exactly) as we can.

Once repetitions are done enough times and we hit the limitations of what our conscious minds can come up with… that is when the subtle and sometimes tricky conditions are met where our subconscious can finally take part in the creative act.

When someone gets to the point of high proficiency  (which I have not, but I’ve watched and conversed with enough skilled creators to understand), they are eventually able to “LET GO”! And that is a beautiful thing to watch, someone who can truly let go and just play.

We praise the “masters” for being masterful. We gloss over their hard work with a montage at best and discuss with great enthusiasm the techniques that they must have used to achieve whatever masterpiece is in front of them.

People seem to ONLY show their best work. The perpetual golden sunsets of the best photographers, unintentionally making it seem like anything less is a snapshot of inferior skill. The world renowned chefs whose only real exposure is on the table and in the magazines and creating this expectation that anything less than culinary perfection is not good enough. The potters who pull that bit of vitrified magic from the kiln every time.

This is not to discount the very best at what they do, it is the highlight the drudgery of repetition, the sting of failures, the  struggles and questioning: “Is this what I should be doing with my life?” These are the things that we collectively as humans, ask ourselves.

The concept of showing our best is not intentional, its just what our ego dictates that we do. We like to show our best work, not our failures. But the only place to learn is from failures. If you get something perfect with the first try, there is no place for you to go.

There is always room for improvement which is a highlight of creation by human hands. There is a built in striving for perfection that is not there. It keeps us going. It can also be that aaaaaalmost perfection that we see in something that can really draw us in.

I dream of a place where “masters” have their place, but hard work is also praised and encouraged on a social level to bring more people towards high proficiency. Instead there is a dismissal of hard work and  nobody really wants to be on “the grind”.

So keep on throwing, keep on learning, even when you are on a plateau and not making what you might consider good progress, it still counts towards getting good.


Bat Systems & The Muse

I have learned so much from the online pottery community. There is just no way to know what piece of information might make an impact or make some concept click. So I’m throwing my perspective out into the lake and hopefully it will help someone, in some way.

This post is about Bats!

First off… A bat 🦇 “Why would I want one, don’t they carry rabies? And if so why would I want a whole system based around a mouse with wings?”

A bat, is a board made of MDF (medium density fiberboard), injection molded plastic, plaster, Masonite and possibly other materials or mixture of materials. Usually they are round or square, sometimes textured, sometimes not, and are made to go on top of your pottery wheel via bat pins.

These bats allow you to remove your pots after throwing without picking them up and possibly distorting your piece or leaving fingerprints or marks.

There are all kinds of tricks and tools around removing your pottery from the wheel.

Your hands, if you can get the hang of it, can lightly grip the bottom of the pot, equally at 3 or 4 points and lifted off. If done right this leaves minimal markings, usually in the place where you would trim anyways.

There are flat shovel-like tools that slide under to support the base of the pot while it is lifted.

Some people use a large putty knife and water. While this does distort the pot initially, it is equally distorted in the opposite direction upon placing the pot on the drying board.

I learned and threw on a kick wheel for the first year or so. There are no pins unless I wanted to drill through the small 7 inch wide x 1/4 inch steel plate that serves as the wheel head. I had a ton of problems removing my janky pots from the wheel. I tried all kinds of tricks and ruined a few pots and I learned about bats.

If you’ve looked around on any of the message boards you no doubt have seen post after post about which brand or material is best. Really, in the end, it doesn’t matter. That is what is great about pottery, clay and ceramics; you can find your own way. No doubt there are as many different ways to ________ as there are potters who ______.

Since getting my Shimpo Whisper VL I have been getting away with having only five of the 10” MDF bats for years. They worked out pretty ok and kept me from warping or destroying thinly thrown bowls and cups while I continued to learn.

Really, five is a good number. A prime number at that, but it just doesn’t cut it when you want to do more than just the occasional thing when the muse decides she wants to show up. It’s rare that she even shows up, much less hangs out long enough for you to throw more than five pots. So at that rate 5 is perfect.

I know now that you should be producing ALL THE TIME, as much as possible, given your priorities in life. When the Muse does come, together, you will be able to make more and better. I don’t wait any longer, she is so fickle and capricious, but I suppose that is part of her charm.

I purchased the Wonder Bat System and another 6 of the inserts. I’ve used them for a few days and have to say that right away I’m loving it. The insert being 6” wide and fitting in the center cutout works great. There is no feeling of a gap or bump in throwing when your hand moves across the boundaries.

I can’t speak for longevity yet, but I do have a friend who uses them and has for years without issue.

This is the size of the inserts compared to the 10″ MDF bats.

If the price is a turn off there are a ton of other options including DIY. However I find the price to be extremely reasonable given the amount of use I expect to  get out of the entire system and if storage is hard to come by in your studio, like it is in mine, it’s hard to beat.

Also, Jeff Campana has came up with an excellent alternative  to the WonderBat System. It is the same initial concept except using tiles instead of the proprietary MDF type material.  He also shares a ton of fantastic information on everything ceramics.



Wabi Sabi, Straw Dogs & Footrings

Courtesy of Joseph Luke Fireborn

I was answering a post concerning Footrings & Kodai on Yunomi from a potter friend on Instagram who goes by JosephFireborn. Even with the lack of formatting in the reply posts I gave it my best shot. When I was finished it gave me a warning about the post being blocked by an algorithm to protect the community 🤔

In it I made the point about the aesthetic of the foot needing to match the rest of the pot. It’s not the most important part but it IS important when the potter is creating a beautiful and pleasing cup. (Sneakerheads might disagree with this concept in general)

An intricately shaped and elegantly adorned pot sitting on top of a sterile foot, or the opposite, where a blank vessel rests upon a masterpiece of a foot, for my taste it usually doesn’t make sense. There are always exceptions of course.

Courtesy of Sebastian Shuster

I think that that first the potter must grasp the technical, the rules of thumb & experiment, but ultimately what the potter is trying to hone is their intuition. The ability to bring this intuition into reality, to me, is the soul of the potter and the soul of the vessel merging. You know it when you see it but it is not something that can easily be explained or conceptualized.

This is sort of the same with the concept of Wabi-Sabi. If you’ve studied the term, it’s almost the same type of elusive yet ever present concept. (If you haven’t, I can highly recommend Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers*You know at your very core that everything is impermanent. Even the pottery we make may last a thousand years (some of mine, I hope it doesn’t lol) but it is not forever. And in that impermanence is something… Something that we can either be scared of or something that is incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring. When you see it, you are struck with a certain distinct feeling.

Another concept that I wanted to bring into the conversation was the concept of Straw Dogs from the 5th verse of the Tao Te Ching. These objects are revered and then tossed into dirt after the ceremony is completed. Its funny because they are objects and what we create are objects. The point that I was trying to make is that there is a detachment from what we create so that we are free to experiment without grief and find the ways that we are best able to bring our intuition into physical form.

Courtesy of Cory Lum

We all have our favorites: Something perfect and tight, something loose and organic, something in between, something that is an extension of the vessel, something that is separate and creates contrast and shadows. I only know it when I see it and sometimes seeing it is not enough, sometimes what I see visually feels right but the ultimate test is when you hold it. It contributes to a perfect balance, sometimes it is functional (to hold the rim and the foot when drinking something hot, a precursor to our modern handles on coffee mugs), but always it gives me a that good distinct feeling that is beyond right, and lets you know that the maker achieved something a bit magical.

Anyone have any thoughts on foot rings or kodai?

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