Thursday, March 22, 2012

A potter's day

For many years a regular feature of Ceramic Review was “A Potter’s Day”. Always on the last page of the magazine, it was a whole page written by a different potter each month and always showed as much about the personality and lifestyle of each potter as it did about their work. Recently this feature seems to have been stopped so I thought it would be interesting to write one of my own.

I usually wake quite early. I’m a lark rather than an owl and rarely need an alarm. I generally aim to get up around 7.00 - 7.30 on a weekday. A lifelong Archers listener, I now have the luxury of “Listen again” via the internet so listen to yesterday evening’s episode while I have breakfast and start on desk work.

Today I need to finish a newsletter for Crafts In Gloucestershire. I love admin tasks and am a bit of an internet addict so this is an ideal vehicle for my technological skills, which are increasing all the time. The newsletter is fun too because it’s a bit of design that doesn’t need me to be good at drawing. As usual, other arts and crafts folks, who mostly don’t like any kind of admin work, are slow in sending me any news so I try to find work I feel is vaguely seasonal from the photos I already have. If I haven’t got too much admin to do, I’ll probably fit in a household chore at this point, like putting in a load of washing.

By nine or nine thirty I’m in the pottery. Time markers feel important to me so if it’s gone 9.05 then I’ve definitely missed the 9.00 start and continue with the desk work or chores till it’s 9.30.

Pottery work has a rhythm and life of its own. You don’t just pick it up for an hour or two and put it down. Most days the first work of the day is already mapped out by what was done yesterday or the day before and the last is in preparation for the next day. Today the first task of the day is to turn some fruit bowls I made two days ago. They’re just right now but by this afternoon would be too dry without a lot of faffing about. I don’t turn many things (fruit bowls, colanders and lids) but it’s a process I enjoy.  

After finishing the fruit bowls I put them on the ware trolley in the unheated part of the pottery where at this time of year they’ll dry out slowly, along with some large colanders with handles and some teapots that were finished earlier in the week. Then, after a coffee break (more newsletter work) I make some cereal bowls. It’s a lovely sunny, spring day and I want to take advantage of that. You can hurry the drying of most pots just after they’ve been thrown and cereal bowls take up so much room in the workshop until they’re bone dry and can be stacked so it’s good to get them outside to start drying, where today there’s a light breeze as well as the sun.

Once the bowls are outside drying, I go in to the house for lunch. Lunch is usually toast - light, quick, and cheap! With a coffee afterwards I often weaken and have a little chocolate. I spend at least an hour, often an hour and a half on my lunch break. I have an occasional back problem and varying activities is essential so this is a good way to break the day up with more desk work. After my fix of catching up with Scrabble games on Facebook (did I mention I am a bit of an internet addict?) and answering an email from a prospective workshop student I make good progress with the newsletter and leave it at a point where I know it can be finished by the end of the day.

Back in the pottery I put on an audio book. I listen to music in the morning - usually Classic FM or my own CDs - but by the afternoon I often want more distraction. The teapots will need lids so that’s this afternoon’s work mapped out.
 I make the lids “off the hump”, which means you centre just the top section of a large “hump” of clay and throw the lid from that. The lid (currently ‘upside-down’) is then cut off the hump with a length of thread which you allow to twist around before you pull it straight out. The lids are left to dry to leather-hard and then tomorrow or the day after the lids go the right way up, the top of the lid is turned to its final shape and a small piece of soft clay attached, which is thrown into the knob.

By the time I’ve finished the teapot lids, the cereal bowls I made this morning are firm enough to be handled and have their bases smoothed and finished and my potter’s stamp pressed into the base. The day is losing its warmth now, so they can stay inside. I get some clay out to firm up overnight so it’s ready to throw with tomorrow.

It’s about five now and I usually stop for a drink of some sort. Often I’ll go out to the pottery again but today I’m finishing earlier. I pick purple sprouting broccoli from the garden - broccoli cheese for supper - before it gets dark and then go in and finish the newsletter before switching off for the day at around seven.