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There's been way too much flux in the mix lately, and not nearly enough stabilizer to keep things from running the hell all over the place. International travel and discovering the joys of jet lag; flu sickness and antibiotics followed by more sickness that they apparently aren't so good at killing off; more successful results for my ceramic labors in the month of October than I can mentally absorb; pure and simple chaos.
And that's bad, to a large extent, because as a creature of extreme patterns and habit I need a stable foundation to feel like things make sense and are working, but it's good to the extent that a lot of interesting stuff is happening that will seem worthwhile once the ride slows down a bit.
I'm dazed by the longing for some simple studio time, for a weekend at home without massive travel and eventfulness. If I can get well by Saturday, it'll be a grand improvement, because I'm getting to the edge of my tolerance for how many days can go by in a row without some wet clay going through my hands for a while... the business of making pots has a way of overwhelming the actual making of pots. Guess it's that season again.
I just added some newly-read books to my curiously obsessive seen it - heard it - read it list, including one called Emergence, by Steven Johnson. Pretty good read, but his are never quite as good as I want them to be. Intriguing, but they don't wrap things up in a grand conceptual finish. Either that, or I was too tired to catch it.
Anyhow, he always has great vingettes and quotes, and I found this one by Ray Kurzweil really got my attention:"Humans are far more skilled at recognizing patterns than in thinking through logical combinations, so we rely on this aptitude for almost all our mental processes. Indeed, pattern recognition comprises the bulk of our neural circuitry."In addition to being the title of the next book in my bedside stack (the latest novel by William Gibson), this idea of patterns and their innate appeal has been coming back to me pretty often lately -- really, since I began going at my pots with a brush this summer. I've always stamped, cut, marked, etc., but the fear of the brush had kept me from it previously; it was always too easy to make a bad mark. But now that I've practiced some, and have a few tricks (or tropes) up my sleeve, I'm really interested in the power of pattern on my pots, how much it adds to a form. I especially can't wait to do more where the pattern moves around the pot, where one side complements the other without being identical, or where the B side is a negative image of the A side. Adding a smaller repetition of the motif to the bottom of a pot, especially in the soda kiln, where it gets held off the shelf by wads, seems to have this magic power of surprise. The bottom of a pot is usually like a look under the hood, for process reasons, and yet here's this unexpected decorative element I can add there. I even like surprising myself with them, which is one of the few tangible advantages of an extremely leaky short term memory.
Kurzweil's quote struck me because, if he's right about the physiology, now I have a better idea why that appeal exists in the first place. We humans are wired to appreciate novelty because therein lies success as a species; innovation equals survival, even if most of the experiments fail.
Plus, it makes me feel better at being bad at math.
As if all of this isn't already gratuitous self-promotion, I can't help but point to my show preview again, since I just added new soda photos. Check 'em out, ladies and gents!
So I was regaling(sp?) my cousin with some details about my great soda firing last weekend, and he asked a good question: why is one firing better or worse than another?
"Well," says I, "I'm glad you asked!"
First, it really helps to start with good stuff at the bisque stage, that's the foundation. A good firing can help pots get better, but it can't make a bad pot good. Then, most of it for me is in the glazing stage - good assumptions and decisions and technique are a must, and any errors are usually pretty glaring after the fact. And this assumes that you've got good glaze recipes, that they fit you clay and glazing method and firing technique, and that the batches you've mixed of them are good and accurate. Then there's what I actually do during the firing, the rate of temp increase and dozens of little tweaks to burners and the damper throughout. All that matters more in a soda or wood firing becuase I interact with the kiln more, and if the firing is good, it suggests that I've done a good job at that.
But the X factor is everything else; this big uncontrollable unknown area... weather, luck, circumstance, favor of the kiln gods or lack thereof, clean living, you name it. That's where most of the disappointment or excitement comes in, I think. Those other factors, the technical ones, are pretty guessable -- if I've messed up in the glazing process, for example, I kinda have a sense of it before I get to see the end results. But the X factor stuff is perfectly unpredictable. So for a good firing like the one I just had, the planets aligned just right on all those, and I feel lucky. I'm hoping that in the end it's because of good karma, and that if I keep going along like I've been, there'll be more good ones to come.
What time is it?
Yet another example of the world-class benefits that Flash has bequeathed upon humanity. I could watch this for hours. OK... minutes.