Saturday, February 13, 2010


I've taken on my first student and I think things are going pretty well.  She's doing a 7 class course spread out across 3 weeks.

The first day was the boring, not gonna play with clay, just learn and take notes day.  I talked about the different kinds of clay and the benefits and drawbacks of them.  I talked her through the definitions of cones and what potters are asking when they ask what cone you fire to. 

Then I did a full demo of making a mug from start to ready to be fired.  I figured that anything you're learning takes about 3 times to be told or shown something before it clicks so I would get one of those times out of the way before we even really started class.  We went over wedging, centering, opening, pulling, a little shaping.  Then I took a mug I had made the day before and we went over trimming, pulling a handle, and attaching it.  Ok, the handle pulling we did at the very beginning of the session so it would have time to set up.

So the first day of getting dirty, I decided to do things out of order a little bit.  I know that we tend to start from the beginning and work our way in but I kind of figured that it would get frustrating and irritating if we started with wedging and centering.  I really wanted her to have fun and come back for the next lesson so I decided to skip ahead and go straight to pulling.  So I did a little demo of what I was gonna have her do.  After the demo, I wedged some clay and re-demoed the centering part of it (she's now seen and heard me talk through it three times) and then she took the wheel for the pulling part. 

Not only did I want to start her out with the fun part, but I wanted her to be accustomed to the feel of that step when the clay is properly centered.  Too many students rush through the centering and so they are always moving onto the next step with uneven clay and it makes the whole thing harder.  I figured if her fingers learned the next step when the first step is done properly, it would help her learn how important centering is and give her the patience to learn it.

My other theory is that since the clay naturally wants to make a bowl shape, I wouldn't even teach her to make a bowl.  I would start right away with teaching a cylinder.  It's very easy to adjust what you've learned from pulling up a cylinder to pulling out into a bowl shape, but it's very hard to adjust from a bowl to trying to pull straight up.  She was very successful and made a little mug form that first day.

So the next class I decided it would be irritating exercises day.  Tuesdays are the fun stuff, Thursdays we finish what we made on Tuesday and then do skill building exercises.  So I had her make a handle and trim her little pot and had her create a signature for herself.  That all went pretty well. 

We had already talked a bit about wedging and she had done a little bit of it just to get the feel for it.  So I took about 7 lbs of white clay and about 7lbs of red clay and told her to wedge them together until they were a uniform color.  And we wired through it a couple of times to doublecheck if she was adding airbubbles in or taking them out.  She did great!  No air bubbles at all and she got the clays mixed really well!

Onto centering.  I demoed again and then it was her turn.  This took some time.  A whole lot of advising on hand placement and how to use the hands and the whole body to coax the clay to center.  And a whole of reminding not to flex the wrist so hard or to interlace her fingers around the back side of the clay.  So she would get it to where she thought it was center and I would check it with a needle tool.  Then I'd knock it off center and have her do it again. 

Around the end of the session, I let her go ahead and move onto the next step and pull the walls up.  She got them very thin and uniform.  I was really impressed!  Since she wasn't attached to that pot, I went ahead and quickly showed her a few different ribs and how to use them.  While we'll mainly be working with just a sponge and fingers, I still want to give her the vocabulary and other ideas of what to try so if she continues with pottery, she'll have the tools to help herself learn and ask good questions.

Those are the three sessions we've had so far and we have 4 more to go.  She's actually doing really well and I'm a little nervous that I might run out of stuff to teach her.  Her walls come up at a nice 90 degree angle, they are uniform throughout the pot.  Her stuff looks like she's been at it for a year or so.  Either she's naturally very talented, or I'm a kick ass teacher!

So I'm thinking next Tuesday, I'll have her make about 5 mugs or bowls (whatever she wants) and then we'll make one really large form.  I'll sit by and advise but I won't touch it myself so she can get accustomed to the whole process.  Then on Thursday, we'll trim and add handles to whatever she made on Tuesday, and we'll add 12-15 handles to the large form.  So she'll be really good at making and attaching handles!

Not sure of what to do that last week.  Just give her some clay and let her play?

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