Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mudslinging and Wordcraft

Dianne's hands

Don't you love it when travel and learning and experience collude to make a good experience excellent? That's what's happening to me this week.

Months ago, I signed up to attend a week-long camp for writers of fiction. A handful of us have gathered here on Manitoulin Island to hone our skills at bringing narrative to life. Led by Gail Anderson-Dargatz, the course has already taught me so much. And one of the lessons has to do with mud.

Mitch Krupp, master potter
Gail believes strongly in the value of sensory experience for inspiring writing. She also happens to be married to an artist of the Renaissance variety -- he does everything, it seems, from photography to guitar-making to technology and pottery. So Gail invited us to attend a hands-on pottery experience, led by Mitch. 

Mitch made it look so easy.

Mitch has large hands. Watching him work the clay to a delicate thinness was impressive.

Mitch's vase

When Mitch finished, it was our turn. I didn't get a picture of my creation, but here's what I wrote afterwards. 

Sitting at a potter's wheel for the first time, I was surprised both by how much physical effort it took to shape the clay and by how little force could irrevocably undo it. As with many of my writing efforts, it started off well. I gained confidence as the stiff clay centred itself as I leaned in insistently, chest against elbows, elbows driving wrists, the heels of my hands pressing against the base of the lump, palms cupping and holding the ball. I paused to catch my breath. (I didn't even realize I'd been holding it in.) 

A splash of cool water relieved the friction of sand on the spinning wheel against the tender skin of my wrists. In no time, it seemed, I had a firm column, ready to be shaped. I pressed my thumbs into the centre and pinched against my fingers, thinning and pulling the clay up to form a hollow cylinder free of wobbles and bows. The master potter coached me then to smooth the lip, preparatory to finishing up; he knew the form was as complete as it was likely to get in my novice hands. And then I over-reached: I wanted to shape a slight ogee curve in my vase. Reaching inside, I pressed outward with two fingers. (Did the master cringe?) The vase bellied out and then, in a heartbeat, ripped. 

I tried to push it back into shape, but he told me to stop the wheel. Couldn't I just press it all back down, I asked. No, he said. Once the structure has broken like that, there is nothing left to do but slice off the broken clay and work with what is left. So I did. Instead of a vase, my ball became a ring bowl. 

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