Thursday, April 23, 2015

Throw Your Clay with Great Force and Don't Wait 20+ Years to Follow a Childhood Dream...

A couple of weeks ago my good friend and fellow YA author Natalie D. Richards invited me to come along with her to a ceramics studio.

Nat's latest work in progress features a character who makes pottery or maybe he welds stuff (she's not quite sure yet) but she heard about this place where you could play around with a pottery wheel, and she thought that since she'd never thrown clay before, it might be a good idea for her to check it out--for research purposes. (We're doing a welding class next week.)

Anyway, I was game for it. I'd never thrown clay either. "It's supposed to be kind of difficult," Nat told me on the way there. And I could imagine that would be true. All visual arts seem difficult to me. 

Painting. Sculpture. Photography. Any kind of craft. Whatever. I'm fascinated by artists and visual arts but if there is a gene for that kind of thing, I don't have it. 

I am trying to stop saying that about myself. 

Over the past few months I went through the Artist's Way course again (see here for a fun intro) and it's been a major help in getting me through a difficult revision. It's also turned my life and house pretty much upside down. I had been sharing some of my breakthroughs and epiphanies with Nat, and I guess I got her intrigued enough that now she is going through the course and having her own fun breakthroughs. 

One of the things you do when you are going through the AW, is list things -- things you want, old dreams and new dreams, stuff you always wanted to try but maybe were afraid to. The author of the AW, Julia Cameron, is big time into artsy craftsy things. Doesn't matter if you can hardly draw a stick figure, she will have you painting and decorating and making totems and God jars. Weird as it all seemed to me at times, I just kept going through all of the tasks and exercises, because as JC likes to say, your child artist needs to play. 

The ceramics studio is called Clay Space and the artists running the class couldn't be more cool about beginners trying things out. Each student gets her own wheel and five big bagel sized hunks of clay (but we could have more if we messed stuff up, which, they assured us, we would.) I was the doofus asking five million questions, and the instructor Todd answered every damn one of them. Plus some questions I didn't ask. 

For example, did you know that "throwing" clay comes from the German, which means turning? Yeah. Me neither.   

(Nat is not Patrick Swayze or Whoopi Goldberg)

Todd sat at one of the wheels and showed us step by step how to throw the clay. You do it with great force. And there's important information about how to center it. And lots of instructions about how to place your hands and anchor your elbows and have bad posture, and what to do with your thumbs, and I can't speak for anyone else in the class, but all of those instructions flipped right out of my head. 

Art, when it comes down to it, is not something you can take notes on. You have to do it. 

When it was time to do it, I had no idea what to do. I couldn't remember one damn thing about throwing or centering or where to put my thumbs. But I was channeling Julia Cameron and playing. Also, I was drinking wine. I forgot to mention, you can bring a bottle of wine with you to Clay Space.

Nat was sitting next to me at her wheel and I was getting a kick out of the whole thing, making jokes about Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, and watching my clay collapse, or one time, fly the hell right off the wheel. 

Something strange: Nat kept making these bowl shaped things and I kept making longer vase shaped things. When I tried to make a bowl, it turned into a vase, and when she tried to make a vase, it turned into a bowl. I have no idea what that means about our respective personalities. 

(Bowls, by Nat)
(Vases, by Jody--with LOTS of help from Todd)

This all seemed to go on forever, and I hate to say I kind of got bored with it, but I guess I kind of got bored with it, so I took a lot of pictures with my phone and followed Todd around and probably bugged the hell out of him with questions. 

(a garden of broken pottery pieces)
Later, Nat and I sat at a table and she painted her bowls and I painted my vases. We walked outside and I went nuts over a garden of broken pottery pieces. Somehow I had not seen it walking in. I was all silly from wine and playing with muddy clay and I didn't notice at first that Nat was misty-eyed. 

"I loved that," she said. 

"I loved that too," I said. 

"No," she said, "I really loved that."

She was crying a little and I felt like a ding dong for not realizing it sooner. "What?" I said. "What's going on?"

She smiled and said that when she was a kid one of her cousins had gotten a pottery wheel as a present and she'd always wanted to try it but she never did. And here it was 20 something years later and she'd put it on her Artist's Way list, and now she did it. 

"Huh," I said. "Why'd you wait so long?"  

"I don't know," she said.  


Tune in soon for Part Two: Jody and Nat Weld Things 

Happy Nat is Happy 




  1. Love this! I love to go to places where you can paint the ceramics, but I've never made my own.

  2. I found that throwing very hard - I finally wen tw/hand-building and made strange, small little creatures. But I tried at Riverbend Arts Center in Dayton years ago. I WOULD like to try welding...just saying.

    1. Clay Space has classes and some include working with clay off the wheel. It's in German Village, Kathy-- go check it out.

  3. I did ceramics in junior high and yeah, I remember that doing anything on the wheel was very difficult. We didn't even try it until we'd been working with the clay for a few weeks. Like anything else, it just takes practice! And it's great that your friend finally got to try this, after wanting to for so long.

    1. I know, Jenn! I had no idea that it was a secret dream. It's funny how we forget those and it was awesome to see her go for it.

  4. I love everything about this! I'm very interested in hearing about welding--that sounds really intense and a little scary. I'm going to have to try the Artist's Way soon! :)