Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making It Look Easy

12. Making it Look Easy

Every teacher of ceramics will eventually have a student say, “You make it look so easy.” Well, for the teacher it’s supposed to happen easily, given all their experience. And I, like most people in the role of teacher, just brushed aside such compliments as being par for the course. Until I gave the idea further thought.
Watching beginning throwing students struggle, I realized that, aside from the difficulties associated with teaching their bodies new skills, throwing was hard for them because they were making it harder for themselves. Because they wedge badly, centering is harder. Because the clay is improperly centered, opening and pulling up are more difficult. And so on, until by the trimming stage they have successively added error upon error and must count it a miracle to have created anything as complex as a breakfast bowl with a trimmed foot.
So now, when I’m teaching beginning (and even intermediate) throwers I bring all this up with a generous helping of sympathy. I’ll review the various stages of throwing a pot and how error at each stage makes the following stages more difficult. And we talk about just how one can have trouble getting clean rims because of poor wedging. It seems to help.
It can also help, in cases of great frustration, to give them a correctly wedged and centered lump of clay to open, pull up, and shape. And when we go back over wedging and centering again and again they now know just how that will be helping them to make better pots.
Of course, when you answer their compliment, “You make it look so easy” with “For me it is easy” some of the magic fades out of their eyes. They want your ease to be heroic, even divine. Only with further explanation do their eyes brighten again at the idea that someday, with practice and correct technique, they will be able to make it look easy, too.

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