Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pot Aesthetics

What I find desirable in a pot is its ability to snuggle happily in my hand. That’s anthropomorphism, of course, but since my pots are a lot like children to me, you’ll forgive me. What makes a pot “right” is very elusive, and it’s taken me years to get my mind around it. Marguerite used to talk about pots that “sang”--I believe she was describing a similar “rightness” about certain pots. Here are insights clarifying this desirability, this feeling of rightness, happiness, singing, tactile satisfaction, contentment in holding a snuggler:

A pot that is too heavy for its size doesn’t feel right to me--it feels dead. This judgment of correct weight comes from semi-consciously assessing what volume ought to be contained inside a pot’s “skin,” I suppose, based on hefting many pots. I don’t care to hold onto dead pots very long.

A pot that feels too light for its size (a rare occurrence) makes me assume it is fragile, and that I must be careful with it--which makes me less confident holding it--and I’ll soon put it down. I believe pots are meant to be held, not just looked at; and many of my customers approach my pots hesitantly until I tell them it’s part of the process of finding the pot they want. Once encouraged, customers are very happy to pick up pieces and heft them, caress them, turn them upside down, get to know them better. It helps if they have the proper weight.

A pot whose dimensions, proportion, shape, or outline is not pleasing (“bad form” as Dave Stewart referred to it), doesn’t seem right either. My eyes will not rest easy on such a pot--they “fret,” and keep sweeping over the pot, repeatedly getting stuck on the visual error. There are pots too fat, too skinny, too saggy, too tired, too exaggerated. Pots must stand with poise, grace, and confidence. Curves must not be hesitant; they must be bold--yet not overstated. The balance which creates good form is VERY difficult to see--and to achieve.

A pot with decoration--texture or color--placed too low, looks like a man with his pants ready to fall down. A pot decorated too high is not as bad, for some reason. A pot with too much decoration is garish, like an overdressed woman--especially if the form is bad as well! But a well-balanced form can do well entirely devoid of decoration--again, much as a well-proportioned human looks good stark naked.

Tactile pleasure in holding a pot is very important to me: a warm mug cupped in both hands feels vaguely like a baby’s bottom. If the clay is smooth, and the glaze is matte (not shiny), the feeling is like bare skin. If the glaze is glossy, the feeling is as though the baby’s bottom is swaddled in silk.

When one stirs the liquid in a mug, or moves a fork across a plate, there should be no grating sound! Some clay is inherently far too rough and should never be used for ware seeing everyday use--though rough clay has its place in sculpture.

Another thing I look for in a “good” pot--a bowl, especially--when I flick the rim with my finger, it should ring like a bell. A cracked pot or one whose glaze does not fit right will sound dull. Pots that ring melodiously are special to me--it’s a secret treat they reserve just for me and other finger-flickin’ pot ringers.

What makes the nicest glaze differs with each potter, and the personal preferences I have are strictly my own. I have always enjoyed picking up rounded river rocks of various colors. Not the highly polished ones you can buy in tourist shops, but smooth matte pebbles from a river bank or a beach. I believe that one reason I loved Dave Stewart’s dark red matte glaze with black speckles at first sight is because it reminded me of river rocks--jasper, maybe. His pots looked as though they were carved from jasper. Maybe the “stone look” makes a pot look more indestructible and timeless to me, I don’t know--I’m on very intuitive ground here--but the glaze I now prize as my best creation is a smooth, semimatte turquoise with black speckles--it looks like turquoise granite, and I love to look at it.

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