His hands are strong, blunt and square.
He works in silence, for the most part, letting his actions do the instructing, with bare hints of where students should watch and learn.
From a rounded, spinning lump of clay he pulls a graceful mug shape, smooth and even with thin sides.
The Beginner's class gasps when, after separating the beautiful shape from the wheel, he deliberately slices it in half to show the walls of the mug in cross-section, so thin and even with beautiful lines. We exchange glances. It's so EASY for him, after thirty years of practicing his craft, and we know we will struggle to make items that don't either collapse or else have inch thick walls and bottoms.
Several weeks later, I have enough practice on the wheel to only feel mild envy instead of shock when he demonstrates a technique so far beyond my skills that it might as well be rocket science. Still, I watch in awe as he shapes the clay with skill and ease. I notice my mouth is hanging open in admiration and I just don't care.
Grace, skill, and subtle elegance. Clay worked into every fold of his fingers. I want to be able to do that. I will need many more classes and dozens of hours of practice.
Half-accidentally, I pull a beautiful bowl from a lump of clay. I'm not sure how it happened, because I wasn't thinking. Rather, I was living into the feel of the clay beneath my hands, utterly engaged in the slow and mesmerizing process as it changed and opened up.
Just for that moment, in the best possible way, I lost myself.
The second bowl is more of a struggle. The third bowl stretches and warps and collapses.
The following week we are meant to trim our pots, which means to carve away unnecessary thickness at the base and to shape the "foot", or the pedestal our bowls or mugs rest upon.
The first part of the process is upending our greenware and recentering them on the wheel, then we anchor the piece with evenly placed blobs of soft clay. Then, we start the wheel spinning, and carve away at the underside of the piece to form a pleasing and functional shape.
The first of two bowls that had survived the previous week, the bowl I had lost myself in making, trimmed up like a dream.
The second bowl first refused to center, then once I finally anchored it, spun out of control off the medium-speed wheel at the first touch of the carving tool. Of course this knocks a big ugly chip into the rim. Of course the clay is dense and too dry, and so was the anchor clay.
With help from a teacher, we re-center and re-anchor the bowl, and he lends me his own (properly sharp, with a lovely graceful line) trimming tool. What a difference proper tools make! I trim and smooth the base, until again I am looking glumly at the chipped rim.
My friend suggests I even the chip out so it looks intentional, and carve out more chips for a kind of flower edge. I try this, but I do not love the effect. It is part of the learning process, though, so I plan to take even this sad example through the glazing process.
A week later, I am glazing all my recent work. And now? The weird little too-hard wanna-be flower bowl has called for an experimental double-dip glaze with a drizzle of contrasting color across the overlap place.
I have my fingers crossed, because these pieces haven't been fired yet, but I think in the end this may turn out to be my favorite piece from taking this six week class.
Not because it was easy, but because it was part of the process.
Making one, I was in the zone; making two, I struggled, then I failed in the making of the third.
With this specific piece? At first I didn't love it, then I was actively angry at it, then I tried to redeem it, then I found a means whereby it could possibly be beautiful.
Working to transform raw or broken things into beauty is what I've strived for my whole life.
Starting with myself.
I don't claim to understand the concept of shibusa
(2) or how to determine if something is shibumi
(3) or not.
But the older I get, and the more often I try new ways of making things, the more I come to appreciate the beauty in the process, in the struggle, to create. I'm coming to appreciate subtle and nuanced, where once I envied bold and blatant. And I also have come to understand there can be beauty in the imperfections. The creative process, the struggle to find meaning, my life itself are filled with little things gone wrong (and right). What we expect to happen can turn out to be something totally different instead, that may also be wonderful. This is true in life as well as in art.
Redemption, transformation, metamorphosis, and growth come both in big gestures and in small details.
I am not my teacher, with his steady hands, his years of experience, and his refined technique. Still, in my state of Beginner's Mind, I can create something unexpectedly beautiful, or beautifully unexpected.
(1) from http://www.mkdkarate.com/senseis-blog/what-is-shibumi-shibusa-shibui
(2) from http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibui
(3) from http://www.studiokotokoto.com/2013/06/18/shibusa-and-shibui-a-severe-exquisiteness/
This has been my reentry to therealljidol
for week 25 (hello again!), and the topic I chose was "shibusa."