Playing with Clay

Last year I blogged about trying wheel pottery for the first time in a class I was taking at the Lillstreet Arts Center in Chicago. It was very eye-opening to be a beginner at something again! I’ve got a small collection of ugly vessels around my apartment now, which have proved to be great for yogurt and also cat food (for the cats, not for me.)


I’ve since moved on the handbuilding, which is definitely more my speed. After a day of typing and knitting, it feels so nice to get my hands into some clay and just push things around! I attempted a few slab cups and coil bowls early on, but I guess you can’t keep me from making creatures for too long, because when I started giving things eyes the ideas came much more quickly.



This time I’m working with porcelain, not because I’m hoping to create anything fine, but because I figured it gave me the most options for surfaces, like starting with a blank canvas. But I still haven’t figured out what I like in terms of surfaces, so that’s why none of these guys are finished yet.


I’m thinking these last guys could be nice all in white, and then making some out of different colors of clay to add to the mix could be neat too…

So I’m still really trying to figure out what I’m doing, but sometimes that’s a good feeling. If I ever get around to finishing something, I’ll share it here.

So that’s what I’m getting up to lately when I’m not knitting!


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!)


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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!