Did You Wax Your Hair?

At the studio where I create my work and where I teach an adult handbuilding class, we have a closet door literally covered in small pieces of paper.  Each scrap features something that someone said that taken out of context is rather … well, strange and maybe, just maybe a little bit funny.

The other week in my class there were so many, “That’s one for the door” statements that I thought I’d share a few of them (recent and past) with you.  Don’t worry, I explain them too!

“Make Sure to Put a Hole in Your Head” – When creating hollow forms, e.g. heads, it is a good ceramics practice to have you pierce the form to allow the trapped air to escape.  Air expands when its heated, so if the air has nowhere to go when it expands (see science in action!) during firing the piece will explode.  Yep, that’s right explode.

“Wipe Your Bottom” – A classic usually heard when glazing a piece.  It refers to the need to have no glaze, at all, on the part of a piece that will touch the kiln shelf during firing.  Glaze is glass, so any remnants will fuse the piece to the shelf destroying the art work.

“Butt Hole” – Truly PG, well, mostly PG, it is a common practice to place the hole for a hollow form somewhere that makes sense in the form.  In the case of an animal sculpture this sometimes means that the animal gains a butt hole.  One never really outgrows potty humor.

“Did You Wax Your Hair?” – Melted wax is an extremely useful tool in ceramics.  It can help keep your bottom clean when glazing.  (See!  That’s exactly how it happens!)  Wax can also keep delicate portions of a piece, e.g. hair, from drying too quickly and cracking off.

“Just Write a Note That Says, ‘Please Fire on Chuck'” – I got no end of razzing the first time a student heard this one from me.  A “chuck” is not a person, but instead a somewhat cylindrical form used to trim the bottoms of narrow neck vases on the wheel.  Since they are made out of clay, chucks can also be used to fire work that needs a broader base to support the piece.

“You Need a Cookie” – Nope, it’s not a chocolate chip cookie.  This type of cookie is a flat piece of clay with a layer of kiln wash on one side.  Cookies are used to prevent rogue glaze drips from making it to the kiln shelf.  They also make it easier to fire super delicate work since the person loading the kiln can pick up the work by the cookie instead of a breaking off a delicate piece.  It throws new students all the time.  Fun fact – the penalty for failure to use a cookie under a glazed pot that sticks to the shelf is to bring the Studio Director a batch of homemade (real) cookies!

There you have it.  A little bit of ceramic humor to brighten your Monday!

Those Who Teach, Can

I began teaching handbuilding classes to adults about a year and a half ago.  Since that time I’ve taught clay techniques to all sorts of people from as young as six up to as wise as eighty.

The decision to teach is, and was, an easy one.  My past corporate life gave me tons of teaching, or training as we called it, and course development practice.

Yet, despite how easy it was to begin teaching, a niggle of doubt pokes up it head up every once in awhile.  “Those who can’t, teach” says that voice inside.  An old saying, so old there is no way it can be untrue says that voice.

It’s a voice that never reared its ugly head when I was in human resources.  Teaching was just one aspect of my job.  Being good at it wasn’t even a critical criteria for achieving good performance reviews.

Everything is different now.

Teaching clay feels like an admission of failure.  Instead of being one aspect of my job (and an aspect I thoroughly enjoy), it feels like I’m giving up on selling my own work or not selling enough.

The reality?  I sell more of my work now then I did before I started teaching.

Teaching students stretches me constantly.

It reminds me of techniques I’d let fall by the wayside and renews my enthusiasm for them.  (My students would be shocked to learn I’ve only recently become a coil building fan.)

It exposes me to new methods and ideas … construction methods I would never have before contemplated, mediums I wouldn’t have sought for inspiration.

It deepens my own knowledge of clay construction tips and tricks.  I learn new ones during every single class session.

It reinforces the playful side of clay and pulls me out of the “blinders on” of production.

In short, it takes everything I thought I knew and turns it upside down.  All of this, and more that I probably don’t even realize, is reflected in the work I create now.

I would assert that the saying really should say, “Those Who Teach, Can”