Originally published on jillianodwyer.blogspot.com on January 28, 2013
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
My creative process has been all topsy turvy this month.
Normally, I start out with an idea, “sketch” it out and translate it into clay. Then I make and make and make and make until I run out of time with each iteration tweaked in little … well subtle … okay already! so slightly that I, the creator, can’t typically find them. It won’t be until months later that I return to the form to make major updates to either the form or surface decoration based on customer reactions, actual sales and my own preferences after “living” with the series. Wash, rinse, repeat until I get sick of making pieces in the series and move on.
Every creative person has some sort of process, usually strange to everyone else, that just works for them. The above is mine or was mine until the past few weeks.
It started out innocently enough with a request. A request for planters.
I’ve never made a planter before. I’ve stuck plants in plastic pots into my pieces sure, but those weren’t intentional planters by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not even really an expert on what makes a good planter. The person requesting them gave me suggestions that I couldn’t see worked into planters. I thought they might be too squat and dumpy.
So, what to do? How to come up with a design? I must confess that my typical process wasn’t really working because usually I start with a more nebulous idea like stained glass or trees or scraps before I even contemplate form. I felt like I was running out of time to come up with an idea before my new class session started.
Then it hit me! I’ll be making demos for my class, there was no reason not to demo each technique on a planter form. Two classes each meeting twice a week why I’d have planters coming out of my ears in no time!
Week one found me demonstrating a pinching technique, but my “planter” sides grew out bigger and bigger as I talked during the demo and walked around to help students with their own projects. I realized it halfway through class just before I asked my students to come over to see how to smooth the inside that my planter had become a bowl. A really great, super-sized mixing or salad bowl, but a bowl nonetheless.
Week two, I did better. In demonstrating how to use slab strips as coils I found some simple shapes a rounded square, a circle and a triangle completed a nice trio of planter options. I felt pretty good about the design and even got a few ideas of how to mix it up a bit to make them a little more my style. Maybe draw a tree in some parts for interest, that kind of thing.
It wasn’t quite right somehow though. I still didn’t seem able to simply slip into mass production mode of striped pots. On a break between classes, I tried out a basket weave that I thought might be the ticket.
Week three found me demoing nesting bowls. It really appeared ideal with the creation of multiple pots of the same design just ever smaller in size being produced. My morning class demo came out pretty cute. Drainage holes and feet added after the class left ruined my great fitting nesting efforts, but voila! three matching planters.
My evening nesting bowl demo I got, admittedly, too ambitious. I decided to demo a unique way to make the foot part of the bowl, but while my resulting two bowls nested they aren’t my favorites. Ever hopeful, I added drainage holes just in case.
Week three’s demos ended with cube luminaries. Figuring that wasn’t a good day to coax a planter out of a normally scrapped demo piece, I was surprised to be reminded of a wonderful shape and form that I was really excited about. I think I might even end up making luminaries from this type of form as well.
The very next day, despite going to the studio to set-up more forest luminaries for carving I spent the first few hours I was there setting up cube shaped planters. I’ve got eight total drying on my shelf as I write. My new stained glass designs are right at home on them.
Ninety-nine percent of my class demo pieces last session ended up in the trash. Many were tossed into the clay reclaim bucket and never fired. Some were fired to be used for glaze demos before being thrown out. A few were actually glazed fired. Two, only two, live on after my last class session. One, a kinda ugly tile, decorates the women’s bathroom at the studio and one, a sun dish was given to a friend.
As I take a look back through all of these pieces created to demo different techniques for my students that led me to a pretty interesting new form for my own work, I have to wonder how many of those tossed out demos from classes past had more potential than I credited them with owning. I wonder how many I simply saw as weeds and didn’t look further.