Days at the studio start at 9am. Of course, you could go in earlier but the most important time of the day was 9am when Sensei would give a quick ‘briefing’ for the day what he would be doing, and that was when he also checked in on everyone’s progress/what we could work on for the day. The first task for all new students – learn how to spiral wedge the clay, center the hump on the wheel, and aim to throw 10 identical straight cups.
I love how ‘down to business’ it was right from the start. Not one or two, but 10. And not just any cups, but straight cups. Because as F would say so memorably, ‘the straight cup is the mother of all shapes’. With the technique of lifting up the clay to form the straight walls of the cup, all other shapes are just a variation of that. But easier said than done of course.
There is a saying that Sensei is quick to impart – that it takes three years to master wedging and ten years to master the wheel. That really came in handy the many moments of frustration and fatigue that came with trying to learn how to spiral wedge the clay. It really took a lot of energy just trying to not mess up that one mound of clay you had to wedge. M-san was a real saviour. She taught me the basics of spiral wedging plus centering the clay and steps to creating the straight cup. Most times though, when I was done with wedging my clay (or at least somewhat done; there were times when I just needed to take a break because I was too out of breath and sweaty!), I was slightly wiped out already. And the throwing hadn’t even begun. But looking back, that sort of physical activity every day really played a part in increasing my physical fitness and endurance. 😉
That’s why those tea breaks were such Life-Savers. Possibly my favorite part of the day – our 10am and 3pm tea breaks. Usually put together by M-san, it was often a little snack platter of sweet/savory snacks along with green tea. Though 10am is only an hour after the official 9am start time, there were times when it felt really necessary especially when things quickly get out of hand (like difficult centering… uneven walls… the list goes on)
Quickly got my pants all covered in clay despite the apron. It’s always the case that when you use an apron, only the parts that aren’t covering your pants gets dirtied with clay. Go figure.
Walked around the neighborhood to see where the post office was, guided by K, who was also on the lookout for ceramic shards. She was now freelancing as a designer and as part of her portfolio, was looking for shards to incorporate into a design for Seto-themed stamps. She pointed out a couple of visual landmarks that were useful to guide us on the shortest route to the bus stop down the hill.
In the afternoon, Sensei threw about 20 (?) Chawans in what seemed like less than half an hour. Such insanity. He was preparing them for an exhibition in Germany in October. And during that period of half an hour I was probably still working on saving that one cup of mine, trying to get it as thin as possible without it getting warped.
In the end I did manage to throw some cups I thought were pretty decent looking, but on the advice of M-san, I ended up dissecting them in half to do a little post mortem of them. It was quite fun actually, feeling like I was performing an autopsy on those pieces…ascertaining the cause of death. Such an important way of learning though, seeing immediately where I could have thrown better. Often it was a case of the walls near the base being too thick. Something that I would have to learn to improve over the course of the month.
Something that Sensei said stuck to me. That when making ceramics, it boils down to thinking about the user. For example, if a cup looks thin and light but on holding it up is actually unexpectedly heavy, it ends up being unpleasant for the person using it. It occurred to me that that’s another thread running through so much of the Japanese culture. Omotenashi. Consideration for others. Compared to tableware in the West, it’s always used in combination with fork and knife. You don’t have the culture of drinking straight from a bowl, like drinking matcha from a tea bowl. The emphasis then, is on the sensation of drinking from the rim of the bowl. Making the ‘lip’ pleasant for the user.
Was so tired that night. Grateful for the advice given from my fellow course mates who were helping me improve my spiral wedging which I was still pretty terrible at. Slept at about 10pm that night. And felt so grateful for the early night of rest. Muscles ached.