When I ﬁrst discovered ceramics in my early 20s I fell in love, but soon walked away realising that I was going to let it overwhelm and distract me from my chosen career of writing. However, the seed was planted and I knew it was something I wanted to explore further down the track.
Looking back I’m glad I made this choice – although I do wonder what pieces I may have created in all those intervening years. However, I’m well aware I may never achieved much at all back then because at the time I was suffering from an awful afﬂiction commonly known as “perfectionism”.
I would approach everything with a severe determination that it had to be perfect. If it couldn’t be just right, it couldn’t be done at all. In fact it stopped me trying many things and made me approach those I did with painful caution. With hindsight, I think this may have made ceramics, like it made my writing was for a long time, quite painful. But with age and experience and unavoidable failures along the way you learn that the best way forward is by testing many paths, learning to pick yourself up when you fall and ultimately to walk taller and achieve more as a result. It’s about learning to stop trying to control everything and be more open to learning through failure as well as success.
To my mind, there is no greater way for a creative person to learn to give up control than through the practise of ceramics. No matter how you master the skills you just can’t be in total control. And giving over to chance and being open to possibility is the ultimate test for a perfectionist. I wonder, in fact, despite my deep love of ceramics now, if I would have turned away from it if I had continued to pursue it in my early “perfectionist” years or if it would have in fact taught me these vital lessons much sooner. I suspect the latter, but there is no turning back the clock so “onward” I say.
Now I am open to the idea that no matter how much effort and time I put into a piece, the ﬁnal result depends on so much more than me. The ceramicist has to embrace risk and failure if they want to continue & grow. And embrace it I have. I know when I fail I learn. When a glaze cracks or runs and sticks something to the kiln shelf – I accept it, I learn from it and I never forget it. I am constantly testing and adjusting. Sometimes unexpected results are a disappointment, other times sheer delight. Like for example when the temperature throughout the kiln varies, or maybe other items shade a corner of a piece from the heat and the result is a variance in colour or texture I never dreamed of – good or bad!
Getting a piece out of the kiln is like opening a present on Christmas day as a child. It can be better than you ever imagined, or equally, so very disappointing, but it is always a thrill to rip open the wrapping and see what’s inside.
And my fears about ceramics getting in the way of my writing? It has been quite the opposite. The lessons I’ve learnt about focussing on the process and not the result have transferred to writing and other parts of my life and been very liberating. Everything I’ve read about the power of “mindfulness” and “being in the moment” makes sense through the prism of my ceramics practise and ﬂows through to all aspects of my life now, making me calmer, more focused on what’s at hand and deﬁnitely more creative.
My only regret about not starting ceramics at a younger age is there are so many glaze recipes, amazing clays, (some of which I’ve dug up in my own neighbourhood) and
endless inspiration for vessels and sculpture that I will never ever be able to explore them all. But I know exploring them at this age and stage of my life I do so more openly, with less self criticism, and more wonder at the results.