You Go Back In The Studio and Apologize to That Clay!

Handle ceramic drum
Ceramic Drum with One Piece Handle


First off, a hearty welcome to new readers of the Studio Journal who joined us last weekend at my Open Studio. That annual crush of enthusiasts always gives me a chance to tell old stories related to how I came to make the stuff I do. Here’s one I’d forgotten and I thought to repeat it here because it contains one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received.

Early on in my Make-Clay-Look-Like-Vintage-Metal-Cans Adventure – maybe seven years ago? – I knew pathetically little about the differences between the two materials, particularly their opposing strengths and weaknesses. My approach was basically to treat thin slabs of clay as if they were metal. That often didn’t pan out, so I studied a sheet metal fabrication handbook, asked some pointed clay wrangling questions and improved my translation of form from one medium to another with methods that honored both. But it took a LOT of failures to school me.

Around that time of continued failures, I was working with venerable creativity coach Quinn McDonald. We spent several phone sessions together and she gave me “homework” in between, mostly about watching myself in action, warts, procrastinations, illusions and all. Quite often my problems seemed to be too many ideas and not taking enough time or having the know-how to address them well, which fostered creative blips and tribulations, not creative bliss.

Right before one of those Quinn-calls, I was attempting to make the handle on the big rocking oil drum that you see in the photo up top. I cut out the shape I needed from one piece of clay and basically asked it to bend six different directions in seven inches. It didn’t like that. There seemed to be no perfect supple degree of thickness/thinness/wetness/dryness to take that shape: the clay collapsed, tore at the extreme bends and corners, cracked when rounded too much, became ragged on the edges everywhere. I tried version after version, but that clay just kept on being balky clay. And then I needed to step away for my appointment.

Quinn asked how it was going and I yowled at length. After I had wound down, she softly chortled and said firmly, “When our call is over, I want you to go back into your studio and apologize to that clay.”

And, glory be, that day I developed deeper respect for my materials and I have never, ever considered the clay to be the problem since.

As you can see, I eventually pulled off that one-piece-going-in-six-directions handle and it is strong, elegant in its own way, and looks like metal. Not a tear or crack to be found. It was achieved with love and abiding, reverence and gentility.  I have also, wisely, never attempted another one.

–Liz Crain, who has always said clay taught her patience. She also says thank you to Quinn, from whom she learned this snappy third-person sign-off style.

Note: Just so you all know, even though my in person Open Studio is finished, it happily continues to the end of this month here in my website’s SHOP. I replenished all the sold items this past week and will begin to add in the specially discounted one-offs, oddities and work from the archives (OK, attic) starting soon. Come back again and see what tickles your fancy. Thank you!

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