#91: The End of Wet Work

Week 6. The end of wet work. There will be no new bowls or cups from here on out, at least not for this ceramics class. Our focus the next two weeks will be finishing the pieces we already made.

In writing, as you go from rough draft to publication you gradually cede control of the story to the story itself. The general shape of the thing becomes fixed – it has to, otherwise it’d be a different story. No longer This Particular Story. Toward the end more of it is off-limits, and those boundaries push you to the surface, or surfaces. You tweak details to echo the story’s themes, smooth out clunky sentences, pick a typeface, design a cover, etc. All aimed at bringing out the already-existing shape of the story. All to make the story more itself.

The thing about clay is this same progression maps to the physical hardness of the material itself. Wet clay can be made into almost anything so long as it obeys physics. When the clay dries a bit and becomes stiff but still moist, you use your trimming tools to pare away the excess, make finer adjustments to the curves. When the clay gets even drier, dry enough that it no longer shrinks – called “leather hard” – it’s ready to go in the kiln. Fired once, it comes out as bisque: pink and coral-like; stone hard while still porous, ready to absorb glaze before a subsequent firing.

That’s not to say there isn’t any leeway in and between stages. If you mess up the glaze you can wipe it off immediately with a wet sponge and try again later. You can dip leather-hard pieces into water to soften them up for trimming again, patch holes by pressing fresh clay into the rupture. But these changes incur their own costs in patience; you have to wait for the new clay to harden or soften, and you have to wait for the bowl to dry. Clay is forgiving, but not too forgiving.

I love that. And I might need to start labeling drafts of my writing bisque and leather-hard.