Help Me, Mother of the Muses, You’re My Only Hope

Jars of Glazes and brushes


File this in the How-To Category. Specifically, “How to Do an Easy, No Paper or Smart Phone Needed, Foolproof End-run Around Your Faltering Memory When It Comes to Being Certain of the Answer to the Question ‘How Many Glaze Coats Have I Brushed On So Far?’ and Other Mnemonic Devices.”

Whether it’s due to deteriorating brain juices, short-term memory overload, or just my habit of serial-tasking while I wait for coats of glaze or underglaze to dry, it’s dead certain I require assistance keeping count of them. (You all recall that brush-decorated ceramic works usually need several coats for even coverage, right?)  And Mnemosyne help me if I’m working on several pieces concurrently, because after that first layer goes on, it’s generally hard to see where one has left off. More pieces just multiply the problem, which is most unfortunate because dis-remembering basic stuff like that invites Unwanted Results.

I don’t quite recall, was that three coats or only two? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kinda lost track myself.

I don’t mean to forget. I always mean to write the count down on a sticky note, or put it on my phone. I earnestly tell myself I will keep it in mind this time, I will! And have to laugh ruefully when I realize the sad recurring truth is I just can’t do it.  Unsurprisingly, those unwritten tick marks and unrealized intentions have failed me artistically as well.

And then, one fine day, a damn-near automatic mnemonic device revealed itself, and I want to share it with you, so you, too, can use your neuron pathways for better things. It’s a seamless way to keep count because it happens insensibly in the course of working. And it’s purely visual: no paper, screen or mind’s eye needed.

The whole method is contained in the above photo. Hint:  It’s the specific placement of the brush when I set it down between coats and it goes like this:

If the brush is in the upturned lid of the open container the piece has either: NO coats – which is helpfully also visible, even to me –  or ONE coat.


If the brush is on the mouth of the open container the piece has: TWO coats.


If the brush is freshly washed and the container is closed the piece has: THREE coats and moves to a different tray for touch-up, clean-up and firing.

It’s just one tiny annoying problem solved for now, but its resolution both affects and represents the whole creative process and carries much dignity. Think of the I Ching Hexagram 62: “Preponderance of the Small” which speaks to honoring the timing and scope of one’s efforts. Not everyday can be Saturday. Not every efficiency adjustment needs to be an overhaul. As it turns out, while there are many ways to make Grand Improvements, there are thousands upon thousands of ways to make small ones.

I have heard these sorts of snags – the stuff you mean to correct or improve and just don’t quite get around to, whether it’s a squeaky door or an imprecise studio practice – called “tolerations.” Basically they’re all the niggling things that chip away at total creative bliss, like so many biting gnats and it’s important to keep swatting and not to settle.

The Score: Liz -1,  Gnats – down a team member.


–Liz Crain, who thanks her lucky Muses and their Mother for the opportunity to be curious, to create, and to keep evolving, AND for the ability to learn ways not to forget.








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8 thoughts on “Help Me, Mother of the Muses, You’re My Only Hope

  1. honestly, I would just paint an intentional line on the table with each coat. I’m messy like that! 🙂

    1. Love that! Whatever gets you through is the best option.

  2. Oh!!!!! Welcome back, Liz….I’ve missed your musings. So glad to see you resurface after a long
    winter’s ‘nap’, and just in time for the first Blue Moon of the year. Looking forward to hearing what you have to share this year.
    *Personally, I use a visual clue in its most basic form….color and number obvious…dice! Used
    it as an excuse to buy some fun, colorful ones at Kaleidoscope…even purple and yellow…and
    enjoyed adding them to the milieu which I always favored/viewed as ‘French intensive’ (NOT cluttered and messy)…LOL This method has served me well with knitting projects and in countless scenarios in my classroom while keeping track of 30+ (other) agendas besides my own. Works quite nicely, unless there’s a rumpus in the setting…(remembering ’89).

    1. Hey Patricia! That dice idea is GREAT. Totally stealing it. I wish Kaleidoscope was still around, but a new parent/teacher/kid store opened a year or so ago at the end of 41st – where the vacuum place used to be – and probably has them. Knitting is another arena where I need help remembering, for sure. Thanks for reading along and chiming in!

  3. Hi Liz- I loved your writing today! I’ve been meaning to let you know that my daughter loved Whup Ass as much as I knew she would- and she had just received all A’s (I hate that apostrophe) for the preceding semester in her Masters of Social Work program, so it was totally timely and appropriate. As for today’s entry in your studio journal, it landed just as I’ve been acknowledging how crappy my short-term memory is becoming. I used to have such mega-retention for even the most irrelevant things, and seemingly without having to work at it; rhings just seemed to flow into my brain and stick there. No longer! But when I read your piece I realized that ‘serial tasking’ is definitely a factor for me. I also realized that I need to stop freaking out about it and simply find ways of accepting and adapting, as you have in your example. So…art -and the wisdom of others- continues to teach us when we open ourselves to it. Thanks for a great read and a re-frame of something I’ve been stewing over. Hope your work is going well and wishing you a great day-

    1. Wow, Linda, congrats to your daughter! Glad to hear that she whupped it good and got “canned” for it as well! My BS is in Sociology and back in the day I realized I needed a Masters for any kind of job other than being a food stamp clerk at the County, but just couldn’t take any more school. After that, life whisked me away…eventually dropping me on the shores of clay. As for remembering stuff, I am glad to be of tiny service. Good luck implementing whatever new methods you devise and pass them along if you find gold! In the words of Baba Ram Dass, “We are all walking each other home.” (If we can remember how to get there.)

  4. Your solution still requires you to remember something, and if you forget, as I am prone to do, you are back in the same conundrum. If moving the brush is natural, then maybe it is an advantage. But there may be other solutions that don’t require memory as much as consistency.

    What I am thinking of is something I do when I mix test batches of glaze and want to keep track of which ones I’ve already added ingredients to. I may have up to 7 containers going at a time, so it makes a difference to keep them straight. What I do is start with the cups in one place and move each one as it receives its dose of ingredient. Usually for me that is moving the container across the table to the left some distance where the separation between ‘done’ and ‘undone’ is obvious.

    For your project of keeping track of the number of paint coats I can see moving everything across the table into designated staging areas. They don’t need to be wildly disconnected, just something that is obvious to you. You could mark sections of the table as ‘1 coat’, ‘2 coats’, etc. If you don’t have a lot of extra space you could just count the leading edge. That is, you could move everything from the right to the left, starting with the left most, then the next left most, then the next next left most, etc. Each piece would take first one step after a coat, then another step after the second coat. You can keep track of the number of coats by how far the pieces have moved along the table, and you could even mark the table to identify the number of coats achieved.

    My memory is a disaster, so I need these strategies to keep it together. Poor memory and a desire for efficiency needs to have solid workarounds. Good luck!

    1. Hey Carter, You’re right: I initially forgot to place my brush as planned, but that was only in the first few times. What helped tremendously was 1. It IS a completely natural move for me – gotta set that brush down somewhere! and 2. I was highly motivated to NOT flub up AGAIN. Consequently the practice – a new behavior linked to an old behavior – quickly became automatic, which is what I wanted. (I know there will still come a day when I space it, but oh well…) And your brilliant suggestions for gross physical placements sometimes work for me when I have a very picked-up studio and optimum horizontal workspaces. In the past six months I have not had that space no matter how much I seem to pick up and organize. Workarounds: learning to bloom in the cracks!

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