I recently bought a little kitchen timer to use in my studio while throwing and finishing pots. I had been finding that—while I had a decent guesstimate—I wasn’t entirely sure how long it took me to finish the different parts of the pottery process. I knew it took me roughly 10 minutes to throw a mug, and another maybe 15 minutes (or so) to trim the bottom & add the handle. But because I wasn’t certain of the time, I couldn’t be certain of how much I could get done in a day or week. And as I’ve begun growing my ceramics business, honing these details has become critical to gaining efficiencies in the pottery-making process.
So, I started using the timer. It turned out I was a bit quicker than I’d thought when wheel-throwing. And once I understood my average throwing time, then I began trying to shorten it. If I could shave off one minute per mug, for instance, I could throw an additional mug or two each evening.
There’s a business benefit to this, as you can imagine. But, there’s also a quality component. Clay absorbs moisture as you throw on the potter’s wheel, giving it elasticity as you move it into shape. But too much time at the wheel inevitably means more water is added. That, of course, means the longer the piece is on the wheel, the more likely it is to get sodden and flop over. Nobody wants that!
You may be asking, isn’t throwing pottery meant to be a slow, calming art form? And doesn’t speeding things up add stress and pressure? (Short answer: nah, not really.)
Part of what I love about making pottery is the step-by-step method. Cut clay. Wedge. Throw. Trim. Add handle. Let dry. Bisque. Glaze. Fire. Sand. (And there are a hundred more tiny steps in between.) The repetition is comforting, but that only goes so far. There’s something else inside me that craves a challenge. Enter: self-improvement.
As a recovering perfectionist, I’m naturally looking for ways to improve my work and my process—and improving my work means improving my process. In a recent episode of the Wheel Talk podcast, Becca Otis encouraged potters to “zone in, instead of zoning out.” And that’s what I’m doing with the timer. Instead of letting my mind wander, I’m focusing in. Paying attention. Finding ways to correct redundancies and mistakes. To make more pots at one time that are also better pieces of pottery in the end.
Besides, there’s just something fun about a little self-competition!