My friend Robin Hopper recently wrote about learning to throw on the potter’s wheel. I thought I would share his thoughts since I am asked often about this skill. Robin has written several books about ceramics. I own all of them and consider them to be some of the most informative ceramic books that I own.
Excerpt from Robin’s post:
“AS I’VE SAID MANY TIMES BEFORE, LEARNING TO THROW ON THE POTTERS’ WHEEL IS LIKELY THE MOST COMPLEX AND FRUSTRATING ACTIVITY THAT MANKIND EVER DEVISED.
THAT BEING SAID, THROWING HAS PRODUCED OBJECTS OF MAGNIFICENCE OVER MOST OF THE WORLD FOR SEVERAL THOUSANDS OF YEARS.
WHEN I WAS RESEARCHING THEE PROCESS I CAME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT TO BECOME A REALLY GOOD THROWER ONE NEEDS TO TRAIN ONE’S BODY INTO IT AS A CHILD, BORN INTO A FAMILY TRADITION AND THOROUGHLY ATTUNED TO REPETITIVE MOVEMENT.
CONTINUAL EXERCISES CERTAINLY HELP, BUT IT IS A VERY SLOW DEVELOPMENT PROCESS. I RECOMMEND REPETITIVE EXERCISES IN SIZES AND WEIGHT VARIATION TO LEARN CONTROL.
WHEN DEVELOPING VIDEOS FOR BEGINNER AND ADVANCED THROWING MUCH ATTENTION WAS GIVEN TO THE VARIATIONS IN THE HUMAN FRAME AND ITS EXTREMITIES THAT TOUCH THE CLAY. COMPLEX ISSUES OF TOUCH AND PRESSURE ARE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO ACCURATELY DESCRIBE USING SPOKEN LANGUAGE. “TRY IT AND SEE” HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY CREDO.
THEN DO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN UNTIL EITHER THE CLAY OR THE MUDPUSHER GIVES IN. IF YOU DO THIS FOR LONG ENOUGH, THEN SOMETIMES THE CLAY WILL GIVE IN AND YOU CAN MOVE FORWARD A NOTCH. THEN YOU DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN! WHEN YOU HAVE LEARNED THE PROCESS OF THROWING, THE NEXT STAGE IS TO KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO MAKE, HOW TO DO IT, AND WHAT ARE THE PROPORTIONS AND DETAILS THAT MAKE IT A PLEASURE, OR OTHERWISE, TO LIVE WITH.”
I replied to his posting saying “Thanks Robin for the conversation about throwing. I get asked often about throwing and long it took me to be able to throw well.”
Robin asked me, “What do you say?” I responded:
I say that it took me a long time to get comfortable with throwing. Instructors would tell me that I needed to feel my hands aligned with one another. Early on, I thought they were crazy. I just couldn’t feel it. But, with years of practice. I had an “ah ha moment” and finally got it. A very good friend said that she watched me struggle for years and told herself that I would never learn how to throw. I was very glad that she never said this to me when I was wrestling with the clay. Now, I say that throwing on the potter’s wheel is like practicing a musical instrument. You have to put the hours in so that your body builds muscle memory as to where your hands are supposed to be. Then, you can begin to make your own pots.
Robin replied to my comment:
“GOOD RESPONSE, CYNDI. THE ANALOGY BETWEEN WORKING ON A WHEEL AND PLAYING A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT IS RIGHT ON. PERHAPS THAT IS WHY POTTERS ARE SO OFTEN GOOD MUSICIANS. BERNARD LEACH USED TO SAY THAT WORKING WITH CLAY IS LIKE MAKING FROZEN MUSIC.”
Love that imagery. “Making Frozen Music.”
Thank you, Robin.