A Philosophical Rant

I finally made it back to the studio today, after a four week hiatus. With the holidays and shows, plus a full-time job and several dates with my mom to sort out the crawlspace, I have had very little time to put towards making pots. It has been a depressing four weeks. Today, I finally had a day off and started the morning throwing mugs. I haven't thrown in what feels like AGES, and, because my studio is temporary, I never got around to setting my wheel up the way I would like. I can't get comfortable - I always feel too high or too low. My legs start to ache (not a good sign) and my back tingles. Once we move and I set up the new studio, I may try throwing while standing up. I have taken a break to drink some tea and while the kettle was boiling I thought "I haven't blogged in a while". So here I am.

Earlier this week I gave a workshop on behalf of the Pottery Supply House to a collection of teachers from the Halton District School Board. They have recently banned silica in all of their schools, and so PSH developed a silica free clay body for them to use. My workshop was to introduce the new clay to the teachers, show them some basic techniques they could use in their classroom, go over common tools, how to glaze and decorate, how to load/unload their kilns, and finally, how to use a kiln sitter and computer control to fire the work. All in under two hours.

This was my first workshop, ever. I spent weeks leading up to it playing with the new clay, putting together sample projects and making sure I had examples of each project in its various stages. I am a comfortable public speaker, but I've never taught anyone about clay before (unless you count Jesse, who mostly listens to me ramble and picks up tidbits of information over time). The idea of teaching 30 teachers was strange, and daunting.

I loved it though. Not only did I get to encourage using clay in elementary/secondary schools, but I also learned  several things that night:

1. How to talk about what my hands are doing  - this sounds much easier than it is. When you become so familiar with a task, you don't always think about exactly where you are putting pressure, or how much, or how thick the wall actually is (because, of course, they wanted a measurement and "thin" won't cut it).

2. How to work and talk at the same time - I've always wondered how Tony could carry on a humorous conversation while throwing giant jugs and intricate mugs. Man, it's hard. I can barely work while people are looking at me, let alone during a  discussion on my philosophy of "visual interest".

3. How to answer questions and entertain

and most importantly

4. YOU ARE NOT AN EXPERT

After having to answer so many questions that I wanted to read up on later, I truly felt like I still had so much to learn. This was a humbling point.

I've never thought that I was an expert (I am a babe in the ceramic industry) but I did think I knew a lot.. I went to school right? That should count for something. But, in reality, I have years and years ahead of me of experiences to be had. I've only taught one workshop, to (virtually) non-ceramic folks. I still have a lot to learn.

However (here's where the philosophical bit comes in), I don't think that anyone can ever be an "expert". The world is a big place, it holds a lot of people, and a lot of stuff. There are books written on EVERYTHING, you can look ANYTHING up on the internet and there is SO MUCH of it. There is just too much, to be an expert.

On countless trips to the West coast I heard discussions about Ontarians (or "Easterners") and how "wrong" their ideals were. Wanting to have a big house and a fancy car was the wrong way to approach life. Those Ontarians were selfish and thought they were the center of the universe. And Toronto?! Who would want to live in that city, where it's too noisy and stinky, and everyone is miserable?

And locally I've heard discussions about "them hippies" and the single moms in the townhouse complexes. Those pot smoking, free-love, long haired freaky people, and the low-income families with "too many children they can't afford". They're lazy, and our tax dollars are only supporting their lack of motivation. They think they can get by in life without a REAL job?

Too many people think that they are an expert. That they know something that everyone else in the world is oblivious to. But really, the only thing we're an expert on is ourselves. We've all had different experiences, we've lived in different homes, encountered different people, and had varying financial situations. We know NOTHING about the people we judge.

Even in a work industry, I don't believe that anybody really "knows it all". Sure, there are people who have mastered certain techniques and are well educated, hell some people even have a PhD in clay. There are people (like my co-worker Jon) who are encyclopedias of ceramic materials and processes. There are excellent throwers and skilled handbuilders, there are wood-firing "gurus" and raku celebrities. But I can't believe that there is nothing left for them to learn. There will always be SOMETHING for all of us to learn.

I think it's about time we face that, and look forward to learning something new. The world is a big place.

Sudur-Tingeyjarsysla, Iceland

Rant of the day, over.

Playing Curator

IMG_1733Over the past week my studio mates and I have been anxiously (and frantically) preparing for our upcoming show at the Gardiner Museum, Toronto. An annual event, the Gardiner show is cause for celebration, pride and anxiety among all graduates in the Ceramics program. Not only will we be presenting our current work in public for the FIRST TIME, but it's at the only Canadian museum dedicated to Ceramic Art. Making work for the exhibition, though important, is not the only cause for fluster in the studio. We've also been working on developing our promotional material. This week we have "played graphic designer", fiddling away for hours on Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and diving into the worlds of typography, dimensions and the digital layout. Last night I must have looked at my name in over 200 fonts, in a variety of pt. sizes and colours. The variety never ends, and it is overwhelming.

We have also been "playing curator" in our studio, marking out dimensions of the show space on the floor while navigating around wedging tables, damp closets and throwing wheels. We have tacks on the wall with plinth heights, paper templates of the plinth dimensions on the floor, and an Excel spreadsheet so we can even continue playing with floor plans when we are at home in bed.

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Monday morning we marked out our floor plan in chalk and started to lay our work out, in order to imagine the space. The time change and early morning may have been a factor, but I felt as if I were in a life size version of a Sims game, where the furniture keeps rearranging.  There were nine of us shifting around "plinths" here and there, pulling out the measuring tape and tiptoeing around fragile ceramics on the floor. Our print out of the Excel spreadsheet had us moving around miniature cut outs of plinths and playing lego with them on the table. Chaos would be an understatement.

Though eternally frustrating, the process was helpful. We were able to better visualize the space, and account for room between plinths to move around. After a few hours we had settled on a floor plan, where everyone's work would be and what height they would look best at. I guess real curators do this too.

gardiner logoOur graduate show will be at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Ontario from April 4th - April 18th. The opening (where you can meet myself, my studio mates and have free food and drink) is April 4th from 6-8pm. The opening will be a great time to network, learn about the artists and talk to us about our work!

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