I had the pleasure of spending the day in the high desert town of Joshua Tree, CA watching and working with my father. Artist and creator Larry Cush. Over three decades ago as a young man, young than I stand today, my father had his own production ceramic studio in Ocean City Washington. Churning out a rigorous schedule of ceramic cups, bowl, & plates for local retailers, craft fairs and stores like the pottery barn. As a child, we always had clay lying around. My sister and I would mess around on the wheel with no direction or purpose. My father, long abandoned his pottery pursuit as he turned his artist endeavors to fresher mediums. Now some 35 years removed from his work as a potter my father and I stand in front of his classic Japanese Shimpo Ceramics Potters Wheel. Worn with years of work, rust and clay. The old machine stands like a proud warrior from an era past.
Recently inspired by the artistic community in Joshua Tree. Prompted a desire to submit a new art piece to a group art show at the 29 Palms Art Gallery. His new high desert neighbor artist Ed Keesling (www.edsclayworks.com) had been coaxing him for months. Now determined to shake off the rust and revive his old practice with a fresh-eyed approach.
I sat there. Watching my father turn out pot after pot. Mesmerized by the economy and efficiency of the practice. I decided to drop a GoPro on the table and capture a few moments of his work. (see video above)
As the day wound on I insisted on lessons. I had used the wheel as a child and in high school art class. But I always approached it with novelty. So now a grown man it was time to put my hands on the clay and get proper guidance, father to son. The applications and practicality of this practice apply to so many of our life habits. Moving this simple ball of clay into a unit of utility and purpose confounds so much of our life. It is a practice that will redefine your creative approach.
It starts with intention: Many creative and artist pursuits allow you to wander into creation often arriving at your destination by accident. When throwing on the potter’s wheel one must first set an intention. Like a Japanese Kyūdō archer your breath, target and purpose must be set before you draw the bow. Your mind must be clear. Your focus must be narrow. Selecting the right amount of clay. molding, folding and preparing the clay. Always conciseness of the flow and direction of the clay. The clay moves in a circle and you must facilitate that movement.
Breathing Is Movement: It is a physical practice. A practice in movement. Like all movement practice, great movement starts with the breath (yoga or weight lifting). Your breath is vital for balance, stability, and flow. You can not expect to shape or create intention from a ball of clay if you are not in alignment and centered. Your first move before you hands touches the clay must be a centering breath.
Establish Your Center: The practice starts with centering yourself. Mind and body connect through the breath. You establish the center of the wheel as it spins in front of you. Placing the clay at the center. Then as your hands touch the clay you must restore this ball of clay back to balance. Your hands throw and pull in unison as you center the clay in the mass directly center of the flow of the wheel. Working with gravity and inertia. You can not expect to rise with purpose from the ground of the clay if you don’t achieve a centered foundation.
Throwing & Pulling: The hands connect to a single cord of clay. Inertia and energy from the wheel connects the body and breath as you draw the clay upwards. The hands throw and pull away from the center line to achieve shape and style. It’s a dance, hand in hand with the clay always in rhythm and time.
You Can’t Overwork It: You can’t overwork it, you can’t retreat, you can’t stop. Once the practice has been set into motion. It is an artistic wrestling match. Your hands pull and push persuading the clay to flow towards your intended shape. The art is the flow and the caress it takes to coax the living earth to yield to your intention and flow with you. Always maintaining balance you can correct slight sways and bends. You can never retreat. If you fall away from your intention. If you move too fast. If you let the inertia and power of the earth get away from you the practice is ruined. You can’t soar high and then retreat in fear. Once your direction has been set you must pursue that direction with un-abandon. You can not retreat. When you paint you can paint over the same mark again and again. you can change directions you can pivot. With the clay, you only get one battle. And once your intention is reached you must immediately stop. You cannot coax the earth into perfection. this living ball of clay will always win. perfection is unattainable and undesirable. Your clay is alive and you must stop at the moment your intention has been reached. Any attempt to overwork the clay will end with destruction.