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what pottery teaches you about failure

I read once that highly driven people have a particularly difficult time with failure. It becomes one of their most ultimate fears, because they tie their identity to their success. I’m not sure if I’m highly driven, but the sentiment rings true, nonetheless.

One of the biggest lessons pottery teaches is a shift in the mindset about failure. There’s so much finesse and skill, so many variables that must go the way you need them to, to succeed in pottery.


Your clay.


Absorption rates.

The way you move your hands.

The pressure you place on the clay.

Whether you’ve moved the clay too much.

The temperature in the air.

Heat work in the kiln.

The speed of your kiln firing schedule.

The delicacy with which you touch your pots in the varying stages of dryness.

The thickness of your glazes.

The fit of your glaze with your clay.

Throwing time.

Drying time.

Kiln time.

Time, in general.

The factors that lead to a beautiful, well-crafted handmade piece of pottery are endless. And if any one of them isn’t optimal, failure is bound to occur. And it’s bound to happen often. You can lose a whole board of recently-thrown pots because you let them dry too much over the weekend. You can discover a warped rim on a serving bowl only after the final glaze firing, because the clay remembered you bumping it in the early stages of making. Cracks appear out of nowhere. Glazes shiver off a piece and onto your kiln shelves because the kiln gods were against you that day.

Failure happens. Many experienced potters encourage beginners not to become attached to their pieces because of the likelihood of failure in the process. As precious as ceramics are, you can’t have a preciousness about them as a maker. It’s something I came to terms with early on, and it’s given me a sense of calm when things go wrong. Because I know I can always try again.


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