NYC | Big Wheel Keep on Turning

There are three main things that I’m really proud of that I’ve done for myself since moving to the city. 1 is this blog. 2 is the guitar lessons I took last year (I promise to pick up my guitar again up soon!). 3 is the pottery classes I’ve been taking.  Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, I’ve just realized all of these deal with creativity which is probably hinting at something. Two years ago, when I was still commuting from J Wowww’s & Snooki’s new digs of Jersey City, I signed up for a 10-week pottery class in Hell’s Kitchen at Mud, Sweat and Tears. I really loved it, but I didn’t quite ‘master’ it.  Something about it didn’t click completely. Also, it took about an hour for me to get home from class so I would pack up a little early and only went into the studio for ‘workshop’ time a few times over the weekend. I didn’t take the second course of classes because I decided to start playing soccer in Hoboken which was not as good a decision as expanding my creativity. I was quite the soccer star as an 11-year-old, but my ankle is still messed up, two years later from that last season.

I always promised myself that I would return to the studio, especially when I moved just a few blocks away a year and a half ago. I had no excuse – if I could do this class when I lived an hour away from the studio, I could absolutely take this class when I live a ten-minute walk from it. When I finally signed up, I did so for the beginner’s course again since it had been a while since my last class and since I hadn’t officially mastered it, I figured I could use the extra practice. This time around, my lovely roomie, Nicole, decided to take the course with me. Our class was on Thursdays and we made sure to take advantage of the workshop time and went in on Friday nights, over the weekends, and I even visited on a Wednesday when I had taken the day off from work.

There is just something really relaxing about pottery. When you are in the studio and on the wheel, you think of nothing else in life but that big hunk of clay that you are going to try and make into something awesome. And sure, just as in anything, there are some frustrating moments, but you can recover from them pretty quickly and just start with another piece of clay if all goes completely wrong.

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Some parts of the process are definitely easier / more fun than others. One of the things that Nicole and I seem to dread each time is actually the first step, called wedging, in which you have to take a lump of clay and throw it down hard on a canvas about a thousand times to make it the same consistency all the way through and remove air bubbles. I mostly dislike it because, despite my pilates classes I’ve been taking all year, I’m not very strong and sometimes the clay is just way too rough. But, if you have clay that is not wedged properly, it won’t do what you want it to when it’s on the wheel.

After wedging the clay, you are ready to put it on the wheel and get to work. The first step on the wheel is to make sure you have the clay on the wheel evenly so that your piece is not all wobbly and misshapen and can be consistent all the way around. You have to work the clay up from the bottom, bring it up really tall, and then push it down really firmly.  This step is called centering and is really hard to master. I think this was the main reason I would not have received an A two years ago when I took this class. It finally clicked for me though one Friday night when Nicole and I were in the studio. I suddenly was able to put everything together at once: having my foot down on the floor, bracing my arms, and moving my hands in just the right way. I was all set.

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The next step is definitely fun, when you are actually shaping the piece into what you want it to be and where you are really digging your hands in the clay. In the beginner’s class, we learned how to do cylinder shapes, bowls, plates, and pitchers. There are lots of general steps to follow, for example, when making cylinders, bowl, and pitchers, you need to drop a hole, compress the floor, lift the walls and repair the rim, but there is also a lot of freedom with the pieces. You can lift as high as you’d like, you can tilt your body while you are lifting for a wider piece, and you can add curves in different directions. And, let me tell you, at least at this stage in my progress, nothing ever ends up looking how I actually envision it. I just let the clay do what it wants. If you force the clay to do something it doesn’t want to, it won’t do it well. As my friends from home and I used to say, Just Let It Happen.

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Once the piece gets a chance to dry for a little bit, it is on to trimming. We usually trim our pieces a week after we throw them on the wheel. A lot of people in my class didn’t like trimming, but I actually do really enjoy it. It’s one of the things I “get” and I enjoy being able to make my pieces suddenly look a lot better just by putting them on the wheel upside-down and carving away at them.

Case-in-point, this bowl, nothing special:

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But with a little bit of trimming, it looks completely different:

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After trimming, the pieces are fired in the kiln and then it is ready to glaze them. Some of my glazed pieces didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted them to (one of my bowls that I wanted green all the way through is not a consistent color green – probably because I didn’t mix it well enough) and I experimented with different glazing techniques, but now I think I have it down to get what I want.

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If you want to do pottery (and you should), I definitely recommend Mud, Sweat and Tears with all my heart. The studio is a good size, everyone who works there is just lovely, and the instructors have incredible patience and will work with you through all of your problems. Nicole and I just started the “Advanced Beginners” class yesterday where we will perfect our skills and learn how to work with a lot more clay and bigger bowls and plates, but also learn new projects like casserole bowls and lids, mirror frames, and vases. There will also be a students show in the studio this summer where we can show off our pieces, which I am looking forward to. Until then, here are some more pictures of my masterpieces:

xx

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