“Trying is the First Step Towards Failure”

Group of Cracked Ceramics with Tags of the Reason Why


Thank you Homer Simpson for the wisdom.

Certainly with clay one is trying at every stage in the learning and the making. Try as one might, however, the clay remembers it all, especially in the kiln. Cracking happens. Warpage appears. Or worse.

With failure, one learns to try differently. (Or moves on to something less fraught with it than ceramics?)

With application and repetition, one’s work becomes longer-considered, better designed, meticulously executed, lovingly cleaned-up, patiently dried, respectfully handled, thoughtfully decorated, slowly fired. And carefully assessed. Or not.

The pitfalls of the haphazard are hopefully mostly skirted. Yet, with new work, new hazards await, along with new unknown but certain failures.

Plus, with any keen observation and learning connected to one’s passion,  standards rise, tolerations lower. Old successes are now designated failures.

It’s highly personal, but Perfection is not the goal either. There will always be pieces on a spectrum of better or worse.

If trying is (somewhat humorously) the first step towards failures amid the successes, so be it.

–Liz Crain, who was once told she was “being too hard on herself”  (by a relatively sloppy potter in her opinion) when she did not allow cracked and obviously repaired work into her First Tier. She considers the “failures” in the photo up top evidence of her personal standards of excellence. She’s a QA Team of One. Some of those pieces may be corrected and/or re-fired, but then again knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em is part of this art as well and they may not be worth the time. After patching, grinding, staining, refiring, she may still have just been polishing turds and been better off starting afresh, letting the Failures be just that: a natural part of the trying.


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T Minus 1 Day Until My Most Successful Mistake Yet


I have a fabulous Artist’s Talk and Demo at Cabrillo College Ceramics planned.  Got my talking points, props and handouts in line. Have some great Segment Titles, such as “Failures of Concept and Skill,” a couple of which are shown in the photo.

Even so, I expect my earnestly laid plans to veer off-road – and I truly hope they do!Read More >

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Thistlethwaite and Haste: Failure as a Metaphor for Success


While I’m busy making other plans for aesthetic awesomeness and cultural dominance,  clay unfailingly reminds me to cleave to patience and humility. To aim high, show up in the studio, stay the course and remain grateful for it all: those bedrock opportunities for excellence.

The piece pictured above, the thoroughly cracked Thistlethwaite and Haste, has given me once again an ironically humorous lesson I guess I am doomed to repeat to the extent that I become happy about it.

This re-decorating and re-firing should have been a slam-dunk. I was just adding a fillip or two to a relatively plain piece from last year. It’s something I have done successfully many, many times before, whether as a subtle touch-up or a complete re-do.

Because an important part of my new artistic direction is to make my own brands, logos, slogans and tag lines, I delved deep on the design details and the painting, set it in the kiln, fired it to a ridiculously low temperature compared to where it had already gone…and… opened the lid to an unequivocal failure.

As best as I can figure, there were stresses hiding in the clay. Where, how and why are perhaps unknowable. Maybe they were always there. Was it due to forming issues? (But why didn’t they show up at the first higher temp firing?)  Was it between the tensions of inner and outer surface treatments? (Hmmmm.) The relative speed of the kiln temperature changes? What? While it is good to suss out the reasons for problems, sometimes – OK, often – they just are the way they are…Shrug and go on.

Yet, yet…..The meaning of that title…..

Was there Haste involved? Impatience?  Imperiousness? Maybe.

The clay and the kiln both replied: Thistlethwaite.

Sigh. It’s almost a Jungian dream message.


And there’s more!

Here’s the back.


More evil sproing cracks and that tag line: publishing to the DEVIL.  To do so is to reveal your fond intentions to the wrong person or at the wrong time. Wait, could that mean me? I’ll take it as a kicker, for I think the kiln genie was definitely out dancing with the ghost in the machine this time around.

I will certainly remake this piece in some fashion, maybe a bit more intentionally, with love and laughter. Its ironic title and all the extras I added around the sides make me chuckle, even with those cracks. And that is exactly the Success part of this Failure I am most happy about.

–Liz Crain, who realizes that speaking of all this here may or may not help the Devil calm down and just go along with her plans.

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