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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I Used to Play the Piano While I Waited

Amusing yourself while waiting for the Gatekeeper

I begged my folks to buy me a piano when I was around 9. They got an old upright, a former player piano with doors that slid open behind the music ledge. Mom antiqued it burnt orange, and, hating that, re-antiqued it to avocado green. But the offending orange forever peeked out between each black key.

I breezily rode my bike several blocks to my teacher’s every Thursday afternoon, even in the summer. I quested for her gold stars and especially her big rectangular EXCELLENT stickers awarded after I flawlessly played my practice pieces for her, showing off.

But I had never really practiced them. Oh, I wrote 30 minutes, 30 minutes, 30 minutes each day in the log book I took to her – and got Excellents for that, too. But it was a lie because I didn’t keep track and I rarely spent time with the actual homework of the week until just before I got on my bike Thursday afternoon.

I played the piano for love, devouring my books whole. No one ever had to remind me to practice and reporting 30 minutes a day was probably selling myself short. I played out of joyful curiosity and mastery, for relief, for recreation and while I waited: for dinner to be ready, for a ride, for the phone to ring, for a long Sunday afternoon to wind down.

I quit those lessons in Junior High. Something to do with the annual forced memorizing and fancy recital performances combined with my Ugly Duckling Stage. I just couldn’t do it again and with no dignified way out, quit altogether. But I never stopped playing, eventually seeking the practice rooms in college and in time getting my own pianos and keyboards. Presently I don’t have either and I sure could use one today to help with waiting.

I’m waiting for it to be time to drive up to Ft. Mason in San Francisco. Waiting to carefully set up and present 8-12 pieces of my “finest ceramic work” to a Jury of the Association of Clay and Glass Artists, hoping for admittance to that professional group of artists. I’m more than a little nervous, which is probably good. I care. The work and my display for it is all packed and in the car. I still need to shower, dress, take the garbage/recycle cans to the curb, make sure the dog is fed and happy, get the mail, leave a light or two on. Make sure I have the directions, that my phone is charged, that I have a snack and some water or something. I’m crazy waiting real good.

Just right now I need a distraction. I remember how I played the piano in odd moments as much to calm myself as to ease the antsy-ness and the hyper-awareness of time. Waiting today reminds me I sure could use a keyboard!

Heyyyyyyyy……wait….a……..minute…. I think I just found one.

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