Are You Experienced? 10 Ceramic Skills Extenders


are you experiencedOnce I made a cup set in response to a Beginning Hand-building class assignment. The cups were rudimentary root vegetable shapes with wings for handles and I was inordinately proud of my conceit and execution of it. None of them stood up, having those pointy little root ends and all, and – being a clay newbie – when they were bone dry, I bobbled the long skinny carrot cup and broke off a wing. The kiln tech at that time was a most helpful resource for me who has since gone on to be a teacher himself and I naturally went to him to get ideas about re-attaching the wing.

To my astonishment, he assessed my situation and sweetly but offhandedly said, ” Well, you have enough time. Why don’t you just make another one?” As if mine was just a garden variety problem!! (Pun unintended, but claimed.)

I am hard put to describe my chagrin at that laconic suggestion. I blanched to my shoes. It was Outrageous. Preposterous. No, it was Out of the Question! Utterly Impossible.

I could never, ever, ever “just make another one!” Do you know how exponentially lucky I was to forge the first and its fellows?

I can laugh at myself when recounting this story now. I was clearly not well-Experienced in so many ways, but I clearly had no idea what was advisable in attaining it.

How do we get Experienced? By trying lots of stuff, over and over, lots of different ways. As the consummate drawing instructor,  Kimon Nicolaides , said, “The sooner you make your first five thousand mistakes the sooner you will be able to correct them.”

The intrepitude needed to keep “trying stuff” is one thing, but an assorted menu of suggested approaches would be most useful.

I could have used #2 on the Ceramic Skills Extender List at the time, but it turned out I would have to generate it myself ten years down the road. It was a handout I gave to my own Beginning Hand-building students. I updated it and am including it here in hopes it will serve as a jog for clayers of all stages, even those beyond the first five thousand attempts.


Ten Ways to Extend Your Ceramic Skills

1. Keep Resource Files: Sketchbooks, image clippings, Pinterest Boards, whatever helps you build a personal visual vocabulary.

2. Repeat: Make the same piece twice, thrice, a dozen-zillion times. Watch it change.

3. Re-Size: Make something bigger or smaller or eclectically proportioned.

4. Add:  Wings (!), handles,  lugs, sprigs, appliques. Decor: Combine finishing methods, layer, over-layer, decals, slip-trailing. More?

5. Subtract: Cut holes, carve, truncate, minimalize. Decor: restrict your palette, all white, naked clay? Less?

6. Change the Character: Work lighter or heavier, plainer or fancier,  more controlled or looser, more somber or more humorously. Make an unexpected surface. Surprise yourself with the color.

7. Change the Use: Make a non-functional item usable, or a functional work sculptural. Add a lid-top, a spout surprise, a drawer. Render the unexpected.

8. Change Your Working Speed: Really! Do the opposite of what you usually do.

9. Respond to Words, Dreams, Narratives: Make work that is sourced from poetry, quotations, overheard conversations, kids’ books, fantasy.

10. Don’t Keep It: Work knowing that it’s the Experience that matters, photograph it if you like and recycle your results. Or get a hammer and edit previous works because the learning has already happened.

–Liz Crain, who did not re-make the winged carrot cup and did not keep the other three pieces from the Roots and Wings Set, but just today finished a run of 36 Spice Tins with a new lid design.



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10 thoughts on “Are You Experienced? 10 Ceramic Skills Extenders

  1. […] Liz Crain Ceramics: Are You Experienced? 10 Ceramic Skills Extenders […]

  2. Great list Liz! Am going to share it (and your website/blog address) with my workshop group this morning.

    1. Thank You Patricia!!!
      I was hoping this list would fly free and far.
      I envy your lucky students and hope to be there myself one day.

  3. Good list of ceramic words to live by. Love the response to “fixing” the broken wing — I am always having to remind myself to remake things rather than try to fix them! Fixing takes way too much time and very often doesn’t work.

    1. Oh yes, Terry, it is SO tempting to SAVE a piece and is often unrewarding – and expensive in terms of time and kiln “juice.” I need to remember to keep moving.

  4. Thank you!!

    1. You’re welcome Sandra! Make some good stuff!

  5. Favorite post so far…(happy smiley face)

    1. Thanks Carolyn! It was YOU who got me digging through my files to begin with.

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