Beginners

When was the last time you were a beginner at something?

I’ve been thinking a lot about being a beginner lately because I’ve been a beginner myself, in a wheel pottery class that I’m taking at the Lillstreet Arts Center. (I highly recommend it to those of you in Chicago!)

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Being a beginner at something can be exhilarating—it can feel like you’re entering a new world of possibilities! It can also be one of the most frustrating experiences, because there’s no shortcut to mastery, and it’s not fun to feel like you’re bad at something.

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Without a doubt, I am quite bad at making pots, even after 14 weeks of classes, plus hours more of extra studio time. Honestly, I’m at the bottom of my class as far as pot-making abilities go. Sometimes it gets me down when, covered in clay, I have to collapse yet another wobbly disaster and start over again. (This part of the process isn’t pictured, because I’m always too busy being frustrated to think to take a photo.)

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If I keep at it, though, maybe someday it will feel like less of a trial and I’ll more often get the results that I want. Beautiful pots for everyone! But even if that doesn’t ever happen, I think this experience of being a beginner is valuable. I think for a lot of us, once we’re out of school and in jobs we forget to learn completely new things, and we forget what it feels like to be a beginner. I’m convinced that it’s good exercise for your brain and for your body—I love that I’m learning to use my hands to make something in an entirely different manner than I do when knitting.

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And as someone who occasionally teaches knitting classes (although not beginners), I think it’s good for me to remind myself what it’s like to be on that side of the learning experience. I’m reminded that what’s important in a teacher isn’t encyclopedic knowledge or some kind of undefinable presence, but patience, good communication, and enthusiasm for the material.

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I’m also reminded of just how many years of practice it took for me to get to the level of knitting and designing that I’m currently at. I’m so glad I didn’t give up when I was still a beginner!

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9 thoughts on “Beginners

  1. I love all three of these pieces. Only you can see the flaws and how it didn’t turn out the way you saw it in your mind when you started. I see 3 pieces with color, shape and nuance that would please me to look at every day. I think you’re being too hard on yourself.

  2. Persistence is such a great trait. Although those look perfect to me. In fact that mug fits my mug requirements perfectly. I love short and fat mugs with big handles.

  3. Hi Anna! I hope it’s ok that I shared your blog on the Lillstreet Clay blog. Please let me know if it is not. Thanks!

  4. Certainly, Nixon!

    Thanks for the sweet compliments, everyone. Unfortunately I won’t be continuing with the pottery immediately—it was taking a lot of time away from my work, and I have to focus on my next book this spring—but I do hope to get back to it before long.

  5. I entirely understand what you feel, Anna! (only i do not verbalise it as well as you do… it is nice knowing that some feelings are universal, so thank you so much for this blogpost!) after having been well-versed in knitting, pottery and sewing, it was nice (and frustrating, yes.) to be back at a beginner-stage at something. I recently tried my hand at Silversmithing, and being a beginner, it makes you feel small but it really works your mind to see things in different perspectives again. i love it. :D

  6. I was a beginner at crocheting toys just last year, it was great! I could crochet anyway but had never had the experience of making something 3 dimensional.

  7. I took a ceramics course during my senior year of college. It was supposed to be my fun, easy class for the semester, and it turned out to be one of the most physically and intellectually demanding courses I have ever taken. I now have so much respect for ceramic artists, and I have made it a goal to collect as much handmade pottery as I can–these incredible people deserve to be recognized and rewarded for their dedication to their craft.

    I agree that being a beginner can be a valuable learning experience. In my case, constantly pushing myself to do things which I thought were beyond my capacity allowed me to do things I never dreamed I would be able to do.

    Please consider keeping up with the ceramics! At the risk of sounding trite: I know you can do it!

  8. Beginning gives you a new perspective…and will make you a better teacher. I frequently try to encourage new retail clerks by telling them that one day they will be teaching the skills they are now struggling to master.

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