Like most significant events in my life, I was moved by pragmatism when I decided to take up pottery. I was importing tea wares for my online tea shop then only to be confronted with exorbitant customs fees, not to mention the high rate of breakage in every shipment. I thought, why not DIY? Yes, I was that naive thinking how hard could it be? But after my first lesson, I quickly moved from pragmatism to genuine interest, and out of it was an armload of curiosity.
Working with clay is a patient process. It’s the first thing it taught me and the first thing I took to heart. It’s a process of slowly becoming and at its core, is a great metaphorical representation of life and living.
It starts with a clump of earth that you wedge well to remove air pockets and will ensure your piece will not blow up in the kiln. You add a bit of water and begin shaping it into the shape you wanted. Though sometimes, the clay wants to become something else and you have to listen. Listen well. The rewards are great. (Disclaimer: I’m simplifying but the techniques on how to get from point A to point B is not as easy as it sounds or looks. It takes a whole lot of practice and hard work.)
Then you wait, depending on the level of humidity in the air, it can take a few hours or a few days, before the pieces can be trimmed of excess clay, giving you further leeway on its final form and shape. Next, the pieces are bisqued, an important step to prepare it for glazing and then final firing. Completing the whole process is wind and fire which culminates in the kiln. Here, the kiln gods are called upon to ensure the works you’ve put into it won’t be for naught.
Hunched over the ball of clay, feeling the sensation of the wet earth between my hands and guiding it to become a bit permanent, allowing it to take the shape of a cup or a tea pot or serving bowl or a vase, is indeed a worthy endeavor.
Deeper inside me, a becoming is also taking place. Like the clay I was molding or in some instances, the clay I was asked to mold, taught me patience. It made me aware of my frustrations, but most importantly, it taught me how to deal with my mistakes and how to learn from it. Sitting at the wheel demands ‘gran animo’, every movement a state of flow, it clears the mind and it’s one of those activities that unite mind, body, soul & heart to come up with functional works.
But in the end, clay is compassionate and clay is forgiving. It doesn’t judge, it prods. It helps you come to terms with your limitations and yet, provides you with as many chances as you need to correct your mistakes until you are satisfied with your work.
Pottery builds a quiet character; it caters to the non-verbal aspect of our life. It doesn’t need to be talked about, it shows. It doesn’t engage verbally, it’s purely visual as it is emotional. It doesn’t appeal to our intellect, it buries the noise of the intellect. Clay is best worked with an empty mind and a pure intention.
Working with clay means traversing the whole gamut of the Universe’s natural elements: earth, water, wind, fire while creating the fifth element: the void, the vacuum, that holds the form together. The creation is akin to our journey as earthly beings, from dust to dust, as well as the Universe’s journey into becoming.
At the core of the process is a deep tribute to man’s extensive ability to create shapes and forms wherefore there was none. It is this innate creative spirit that continue to nurture our natural affinity with the elements.
The journey has begun. I’m all ready to become.