Playing With Clay

WP_20151108_19_51_06_ProIn February 2013 I told a mentor of mine “I always wanted to take a ceramics class” and she said “What’s stopping you?” That was all the encouragement I needed. She pointed me towards Studio One Arts Center in Temescal and thankfully they had a ceramics session that had just started.

I’m not afraid to be terrible at something new, and the older I get the more I value that trait in myself. I’m finding it can be rare but I get it from being a musician. I learned to read music and play clarinet when I was twelve and by the time I got to college I thought I was pretty good at both. Then I was put into voice and piano classes, and even though the music was simple the ivory keys felt foreign to my hands and I didn’t know how to tune my voice. I would just stop singing because I couldn’t bare to hear myself sound badly. My lovely teacher said “When you were a kid you didn’t mind sounding badly, you were just happy to learn.” I try to follow that advice whenever I feel self conscious.

V__00A7Taking a class as an adult is a lot more fun than when we were teenagers. There are no grades, no “cool” kids to make you feel badly about your attempts or how you look trying, and there’s often wine. When I started throwing on the wheel it was so fun to make an amazing mess and get lost in the focus and physicality of the process. It was totally satisfying to put my first lopsided “pot” on a shelf in the kiln room to be fired and turned into something real.

Pottery is wonderfully meditative because there are so many elements to it over which you have no control. You could throw a perfect mug, and the handle might crack off in the firing. Your glaze might not have been mixed properly so your piece came out murky brown instead of brilliant red. Or, my personal favorite, maybe the stars were aligned and your piece is flawless but the studio technician dropped it putting it on the shelf.


Saadi Shapiro is my amazingly supportive ceramics teacher who humors my crazy ideas. When I was frustrated with glazes not coming out right, he helped me explore new ways to decorate my pieces. I asked him if I could color the clay instead, and while we’re at it, can I marble two colors? He brought in powdered stains and we dyed clay. He encouraged and helped me, and I started to play with colored slips, underglazes and midrange glazes. Recently a friend asked me to make these yerba mate cups in the style of the South American calabash gourdes and I got to experiment more with colored slips and etching.

I’m incredibly lucky to take classes from people like Saadi and explore new ways to make art. It’s refreshingly humbling to be terrible at something and start from scratch. As adults it’s easy to stop learning after we’ve gotten too far into our careers and “grownup” lives. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to try, especially something beautiful, I say go for it, what have you got to lose?


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