Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Lowly Mug

Four months later, I'm baaaaack!

The art show went well, but afterward I had a long bout with a sprained back. I'm just now this month throwing pots again.

But before I head down to the shop this fine Spring morning, I made myself a cuppa cocoa and reflected on its container.

The lowly mug.

Most potters, after a while, begin to hate making mugs. I went along with that for several years too, since I was supposed to be a potter. But I admit--here it is, folks, the confession--that I rather like making mugs, and always have. Why do potters dislike mugs? And why don't I?

A mug is a simple form. It doesn't take much clay, you can play with many variations on the essential form, and people clamor for them. Putting "pulled" handles on them requires practice, patience, and skill, but no more skill than making anything else well. Once you get the hang of it, it's not that hard or time-consuming.

I think potters "hate" mugs because 1. you can't make money on them (market availability--think Wal-Mart--pressures prices to stay low); 2. you have to make a ton of them to make money (see item 1), and that can get very boring; 3. you have to make a ton of them because your customers without a lot of money will pass by your magnificent opus chafing dish and buy a mug instead--and there are lots of customers without a lot of money!; 4. when your customers pass up your opus for the mug you wonder why it was that you became a potter, and such repeated negative reinforcement makes you get angry with mugs; and 5. the mug is "lowly." It has no class, no prestige. Perhaps it reeks of mundanity (oh, oh, I made up a word on my blog). "Oh, that potter just specializes in making mugs." Meaning, the potter can't possibly be very good, very imaginative or very classy. Any opinion with the word "just" in it makes aspiring artists nervous.

So I like making mugs. And just finally accepting that means to me that I must no longer be an aspiring artist, ha ha. No, maybe that I'm just tired of pretending I'm like other potters.

Even though I don't drink coffee (being a Mormon), I find that cradling a nice hot cuppa cocoa in my hand feels good. And it's not just the cocoa, it's the touchy-feely part of holding the mug. Herein is where the rubber meets the road: is the lip of the mug easy on the mouth? Does it direct liquid into your mouth or down the sides of your cheek (a kloogy lip will do that). Is the handle balanced? Is the handle too small for your hand: do your knuckles get burnt on the mug because the handle's too small, guys? Can you only put two fingers through it? Or gals, is the thing so big it takes two hands to hold it, one of which gets burned? Will it get too hot in the microwave, warm up some, or not get hot at all (getting somewhat warm is the ideal, since it keeps the liquid warmer longer)? Is the glaze smooth or rough? Does it have that nice "baby's bottom" smoothness in your hand? Does it look nice? Is it like a personal friend, someone you can murmur your troubles to?

Okay, okay, I'm getting carried away here. Other good things about making mugs besides the fact that they are friendly, intimate, used-every-day personal items for people: 1. A mug is a simple form. It doesn't take much clay, you can play with many variations on the essential form, and people clamor for them, as I mentioned above; 2. On days when the creative juices just ain't flowing, you can throw a dozen mugs, and thus say you spent time doing something productive (in this context let me suggest to anyone--male or female--who has had a crappy, unproductive day at work, "do the dishes." It will give you the satisfaction of knowing that your day wasn't a total waste); 3. People do appreciate having a variety of objects to buy when they come to your studio--even ten dollar mugs--and they will buy a mug for a friend while they're at it. Thus you get small but repeated positive reinforcements that shape your brain to love making mugs.

Enough for now, or I'll repeat myself, or I'll repeat myself (uh-oh....) Time to head to the shop and make some mugs!