Free Your Mind

You don’t stop playing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop playing.

That’s one of my favorite sayings. And it is true for learning as well, especially when it comes to improving or growing forward with your craft.

You don’t stop reading/studying/learning because you’ve read a book/took a class/etc. Your technique, abilities and creative work can stagnate if you don’t keep pushing yourself to expand your horizons.

Recently, while attending a pottery workshop, I was taken aback by another attendee who kept preempting the teacher with comments that bordered on rudeness: ‘You’re going to do x next, aren’t you?’, ‘I’ve done z and that always works better than that’, ‘I took a class with big shot so and so, and he does xyz which is what I do’. All which make me want to ask, why are you here if you think you already know it all? 

I didn’t ask her, of course.  I believe there are those people out there that are afraid of change, who come to workshops to impress others with what they believe to be the one and only way to do things, and perhaps make themselves feel a bit more important.

Fortunately, in this instance, the instructor had the good grace to let a lot of this roll off her back, and it was an informative and enjoyable workshop in spite of the know-it-all student.

I happen to know that the know it all potter has worked with clay for over 35 years, while I have a measly 23 years under my belt. The instructor was a youthful 30 year old, and the information she shared was new and benefited all of us there.

You can learn from young or old,  experienced or not, because everyone has a different perspective on technique. There isn’t always one way to do things right. 

Personally, I enjoy attending workshops. Primarily pottery, but I also dabble in painting and craftwork. It amazes me how trying new things can always stimulate creativity in all venues of one’s life.

Learning new techniques always has a recharging effect. Sometimes it can be a refresher that comes at a time you are ready to absorb and incorporate into your own process. It can become the thing you need to bring your craft to the next plateau.

But your attitude has to be receptive to accept and implement. Having an open mind plays an important role

A sculptor in Tucson,  Arizona, Mary Susan Cate of Reality Check Studio, refers to this as having a ‘teachable spirit’. I define this as being open to accept new experiences, ideas, feedback, and being willing to accept change. 

You must have humility, welcome feedback and criticism, practice new techniques, and keep learning. Honing your craft abilities is a lifelong process.

“You cannot help but learn more as you take the world into your hands. Take it up reverently, for it is an old piece of clay, with millions of thumbprints on it.” ―John Updike


Score No More

Most potters use slurry, a thin mixture of clay and water, when attaching handles, joining edges, or adding a sprig to greenware. Until I was introduced to the “Score No More” (SNM) slip recipe several years ago by Jan Richardson of Windy Meadows Pottery, I used a mix of slurry and white vinegar. Vinegar retards the drying process. Until recently, I used a 50/50 distilled water and white vinegar mix in my work table spritz bottle to keep work from drying out while working larger forms.

While both, slip and slurry are defined as liquefied suspensions of clay particles in water, slurry is generally thinner, while slip has more clay content.

For almost a decade, I have been using the SNM recipe with great success for joining clay surfaces. This mixture allows varied stages of soft to leather clay surfaces to be joined with an almost diminished possibility of cracking or separation at the joint or point of attachment. It is strong enough to be used like a mortar, when you want to keep from blending or altering.

And, while the name tells you that there is no need to score,  I still do, believing it should always precede the addition of slip to create a stronger joint. Besides, good work habits are hard to break!

Can it be used on bisqueware? I have not tried it, but have been told it can. However: you would have to do testing and adjustment to the recipe to fix the issue of shrinkage. Personally, it’s my practice to dump any cracked or broken bisque, having learned the lesson that it takes less time to re-make than to repair.

If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it, it is worth dragging out the Goodwill blender and mixing a batch.

*SCORE NO MORE* slip and repair paste 

– 1000 grams of your clay body in dry form 

– 20 grams Custer Feldspar 

– 20 grams Bentonite 

– 20 grams Gum Arabic 

– 1 teaspoon liquid Darvan  (a liquid deflocculant that is often preferred for use with plaster molds because, unlike some other deflocculants, Darvan does not degrade the plaster.)

It is IMPORTANT to disperse the Gum Arabic. Pour boiling water over. Add distilled water to a slip consistency.

When above is well blended, add liquid Darvan

Can add a tiny bit of bleach to keep odors down. 

As my work has shifted from primarily wheel thrown back to hand built over the past six years, I have also switched from SNM to a version of Magic Mud that is also excellent for handbuilding.

Check back soon, I’’ll tell you about Magic Water and Magic Mud, both of which I have been using for a couple of years with even better results!