In the hidden belly of my studio I’ve been working on the One Bowl.
(Noises. Tolkien rolling in his grave)
I fashioned it out of 20 lbs of porcelain.
It took a few tries – and the added joys of re wedging such a big amount of clay so you can thrown it again.
I found that it takes the perfect mood. A mood of quiet alertness. Endless sensitivity in your fingertips, combined with a total lack of fear. A focused, relaxed attitude – taking the time to breathe and regroup after each step.
The right consistency of clay – soft, but not floppy.
Lots of physical force.
A big wooden rib
A small wooden rib
Thierry Fouquet’s pipe
A metal rib
About 45 minutes.
Not to sound too new age – in order for the pot to be centered, I need to be centered. This used to be the case with 1lb mugs, a long time ago, but now I can make them in my sleep. Pushing the boundaries means there’s a high chance of failure, so you need to be On. It’s different from feeling a thrill.
After all that, there’s this:
And you let it be, go do something else. An exercise in self control. And then you come back and still don’t like the rim. In this case you can only open it more, to fit the curve. But this is where bowls die. The ‘one more pass with the rib’. My greed has killed a great many pots.
But if you’re careful, and focused, and had a cup of tea while letting the bowl stiffen up slightly, it works:
And then you clean up and go home. leave the bowl on the wheel – at this point any movement can cause it to collapse. the plastic batt I threw it on can hardly hold its weight without bucking, which will introduce an un-get-riddable-of wonk to the bowl which would end up very warped after the firing.
At this point it’s 56cm at the rim.
The following week is an exercise in meditation. There’s nothing I can do at the studio. My wheel is taken. I come the next day and the rim has stiffened up some. It’s 52cm now, not a surprise – bowls always close up a bit after they’re thrown.
In my considered judgement the rim will survive gentle contact with a physical object, so I drop a piece of light fabric, just on the rim, and go home.
The next day I undercut the bowl with a wire and drop a piece of plastic on the rim, leaving the bottom uncovered, to dry more.
The next day I do nothing and don’t come into the studio.
The next day is the big day: I undercut the bowl four times with a wire. Place my 21″ foam board batt on top of it, and flip it with the rim on the foamboard. Do it too soon and the whole thing will collapse. Too late and the rim will crack from the weight. I gently pry the throwing batt loose – it come off without warping the bottom. I cover the rim again and go home.
After two more days I come back to start trimming the bottom of the bowl – giving it its final shape. At first it’s soaking wet, but I’ve found that with these big bowls, you have to start trimming wet to kick start the drying of the rest of it. So I trim off about 1.5 lb of clay and go home.
I do the same over the next two days, The bottom gradually drying, the rim covered to stop it from drying too fast.
And then comes another moment of truth and self control.
How perfect is perfect. How light does light need to be. When do you say, this is good enough. I’ll let you live. I used to be a terrible perfectionist, and I still am, but looking at the bowl and seeing the small kinks that were left behind, the bulk of it, little points where the curve doesn’t look exactly the way I like it, I decide that it’s done, time to let it go, and let it live.
I take a piece of paper, and a board, and put them on the newly carved foot.
Unusually for me, I take more pictures with my phone.
I know myself, Ulysses unbound, ready to yield to the siren song of more trimming, ending in a dead pot.
I have to leave it alone for at least four days, until it’s too late to even think about touching it again.
So I turn off the lights
And walk out.