Monday, March 11, 2013

What price experience?

On Saturday I put the wrong set of pyrometric cones in the kiln when I packed it.  The ones that went in were for my high-temperature firing.  The kiln was loaded with pots glazed in oatmeal, which is fired to a lower temperature.

I only realised my mistake when I was wondering why the kiln was taking so long to come to temperature and I suddenly remembered what I'd done.  Cones are how I know what heat-work has been done to the pots, so they are of vital importance.  I rely on them.  The pyrometer shows climb and fall and what it shows is roughly related to the temperature inside the chamber but recently the figures had been changing dramatically and after a repair to the pyrometer I didn't know whether it would behave as it had recently or before it started to go wrong.

So I had to make a judgement about when to stop the firing, based entirely on my own experience of the kiln, together with some guesswork about the pyrometer.  Too hot and the colour would be wrong.  Underfired and the pots would be unusable.  One can refire but that has its own risks.  There are a lot of pots in a kilnful.

Front shelves

This is what greeted me when I opened the kiln this morning.  These pots look exactly as they should.  The kiln has been fired to the optimum temperature.  Right on the button!

I am, of course, mightily relieved.  But I'm also really proud of myself.  This is the best result I could have hoped for and it comes as a result of my own judgement.  I have a lot more useful experience as a potter than I sometimes think I do.  What price experience?  Several hundred pounds worth of pots in this case. 

As self-employed, sole trading artists I think we often forget the value of experience.  "I could do that" is often heard from visitors to craft markets and the like when looking at handmade products and then looking at the price.  And it's possibly quite true.  However, my experience means I can more or less reliably produce the items I'm asked for, time after time.  It also means I work much more quickly than someone who is not working full time at it and what price experience in this case means that I'm able to charge a lower rate than otherwise for my products because I'm reasonably fast at making them.  And it means that if things go wrong I stand a good chance of being able to fix them!

I run occasional workshops in silk-painting, free machine embroidery and other textiles skills and recently have been doing some tuition sessions on a one-to-one basis and as it happens, I've been thinking about place of experience in this work too.  The fact that even people who have a flair for the work (which my students do) sometimes need tuition is not because I'm better at it (I'm not sure I am) but because of what I have learned in my many years of experience, both of the materials and skills themselves and about how people learn to use them. Experience is what I am being paid for as a teacher.

What price experience?  Possibly more than I'm asking!

Back shelves