Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hand Positions


That is of course worthy of a blog entry, but I also want to respond to your questions on the last post. I don't have images of the bowl handles we discussed on Monday, but they are still in Julie's space for you to inspect. My advice is to see what they look like, try to hand build the shape as close as you can, and attach and modify/fine tune with some water. Maybe try a few without the pot to see how close you can get. There is no one right way of doing it, so see what you can come up with by experimenting along the themes that interest you. One of the greatest skills you can have as an artist is the ability to problem solve- See what someone else has done and try to figure out how they got there.

One of my pet issues as a teacher is that there is of course no one right way to do things. If something works for you, then you have at least one reason to continue doing it. Also, no two people have the same abilities or strenghts or sensitivities. So, what works for one person may not work for another. It is therefore important to explore different ways of working to figure out what suits an individual best. I like Rob's idea of changing your hand position as a way of more effectively muscling the clay out of the bottom of botankerous pots. Using your hands parallel to each other will focus the pressure put on the walls at the finger tips over a small band of the wall. This idea is similar to the way Geoff pulls up walls using a knuckle on the outside. By focusing the point of pressure the ammount of force used is more efficient. The same ammount of force spread out will have more resistance and have more area that it is dispersed over. The result is less work done.

So why do I advise you guys to try it with your finger tips perpendicular? Well, first off, this advice is meant only as an aid to putting beginners in a position to understand the clay better and therefore be able to progress more easily. Someone who already understands the clay has moved beyond the need for that hand position and can simply get away with techniques that no beginner would profit from. Geoff uses his knuckle because it gives him advantages that are lost on someone just starting out. And, quite frankly, Geoff's knuckle is so sensitive and well trained that the rest of us may never be as sensitive with even our finger tips after years of practice and thousands of pots thrown. Rob can throw a good bowl using his feet, but is that a technique that we should start practicing to make our mugs with? Just because a professional can do something does not mean that it is necessarily the best way to learn about the medium.

So what are some reasons for putting your hands perpendicular to thin walls out? Well, If you are trying to learn something about the clay the most sensitive instrument most people have is their finger tips. So Rob's suggestion makes sense in that regard. The one drawback (and the reason I like to suggest a perpendicular finger position for novices) is that it sacrifices some control to gain that greater efficiency. But if control is not something that worries you then a parallel hand position should be fine. Most novices struggle to maintain control, so it makes sense to have a greater band of the clay wall under observation/manipulation. Control is aided by being steady and consistent. Spreading that pressure along a greater vertical area of the wall puts more of that wall under your control. This means that more of that surface is being dealt with in the same way at the same time. If your hands are steady and your pressure consistent the walls should respond in kind. The narrower the pressure the greater the skill required to keep things consistent and steady. Wobble once with a laser and guess what happens....

Also, a parallel hand position is one in which both hands are active. Both hands want to squeeze. This works fine if you know what you are doing, but if you are even a little unsure I have found that it helps to have one of the hands act as a stable support while only the other hand squeezes. I have seen more novices fail to control the pot because keeping both hands active takes the focus off of staying anchored in a stable position. Most people can stand on one leg and swing the other without difficulty. Only really coordinated people can be unsupported and swing both legs with any grace or control. Throwing pots with a parallel hand position only looks easy if the person doing it knows what they are doing. And just because they already have enough conrol over the process to make it look easy doesn't mean that others without that background of control will have the same success.

Remember to always be aware of where you are in your experience with the clay. If you are still learning, what are the things you need to do to get the most out of your practice? If you have moved beyond learning, what are the things you are trying to accomplish? Different techniques are helpful in that they are different ways of reading the clay. Always try to analyze what the benefits are and what you lose by doing things a particular way. If they lead to a better understanding or help achieve a certain effect then they have done their job. In the end what is important is not this technique or that one but how well you understand the clay and how well you can make it do what you want.

One side piece of advice: If you are leaving too much clay on the bottom edge of the walls, just do some extra work there! The bottom of the wall is always the hardest area to read, so don't always trust yourself. An instructor once told me "If you think you are done, do three more pulls". It is better to go too far and learn what the limit is than to never push it far enough and settle for poorly thrown pots all the time. One thing to check is how it looks. Comparing the inside and outside of the wall from above can often show where things still need work. Until your hands have become as sensitive as those of us who have thrown several thousand pots (just to give you some perspective) you may need to trust your eyes more than you might think. Sometimes just the shape on the inside compared to the shape on the outside will be revealing enough. Sometimes you can watch your fingers move apart or together as they travel up or down the sides of the pot. Problem solve what you need to do to make better use of the clay. Sometimes it is a defect in a particular technique that needs to be overcome. Sometimes it is a defect in application.

Hope that helps!

1 comment:

  1. Very inter-esting!!! Thanks Carter! Glad my entry gave you an opportunity to be as long winded and "self-described as opinionated" as you desire. I like the blog in that I can re-read what you said to make sure I got all the info you provided. I've just read it three times (LOL).

    Cups and mug are one thing, there is so little clay to move. Making a bowl with more clay, I did find I need much more muscle to move the clay! What you say really makes sense. I'm wondering if people use more than one position to accomplish different tasks; say as they are learning stability, perhaps use perpendicular to generally pull up the sides, and parallel to refine. Does that make sense? Maybe a progression of moving and learning from one position to another? I wonder if that confuses the clay? I hope not! Great info with your response.

    Here is another hand position issue I noticed I was doing, perhaps you have a comment about. I've been pulling at the the 3 o'clock postion with the perpendicular postion and my first try with the parallel was in the same place. First few times felt comfortable there, then I noticed my hand gravitated more to the 4:30 position, then wavered to 5:30, then got confused and didn't know where to pull or refine. Any insights? I found with the parallel position I could feel the length of the wall and able to detect thickness variation where I couldn't in the perpendicular. Well not that I couldn't, just when I switched positions, in that particular instance, it was like opening my eyes...


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