When You Hate What You’ve Done (Part 2)

posted in: Art, Learning the Craft | 1

You will remember that when I finally saw the fired, finished panel that had taken me months to complete… I hated it! But why such a negative reaction? Last post I talked about time as a reason for my reaction. But here’s a second consideration:

2) The Kiln: My Co-Collaborator

I must remember that this is just my practice. If I did watercolour or wood carving (or just some other art form where you don’t actually put your work in a furnace!), I could probably enjoy a greater predictability regarding the final result. Then I would at least know when I set down my brush that ‘what I see is what I’ve got’. Instead, the ceramicists adage reads more like ‘what I see now will change unpredictably in the fire – cross fingers and hope for the best’…

And let’s be really honest here, any work I produce will always ultimately be a ‘me + the kiln’ joint endeavour. It will bear my name and its fiery fingerprints. The kiln cannot be manipulated or bribed. You can’t promise it future favours if it treats your tiles kindly or melts the glaze evenly. It fires. It finishes. All change. Surprise – for better or worse.

In fact, a number of the potters I admire have a worshipful reverence of their kiln; some even have a ritual fulfilled to ‘the kiln god’ before firing, and most swear that it’s the kiln that works the magic. We do our bit, but it’s the kiln that breathes in the life or burns out the soul. It’s humbling to fire your work. It feels like sacrifice and it’s a miracle when a piece comes out unscathed and glazed into polychrome.

The Joy of Collaboration: In 2017 I choose to face the reality of the firing process and the role it must have in every tile. The kiln, after all, is an obligatory partner in my craft; I can’t disregard or avoid it! I’d do well to stop considering it an enemy, make peace with it and accept its ‘handiwork’ as contributing to the process, not thwarting it. After all, it’s the kiln that reveals the colours, the kiln that melts the glaze into glass, and the kiln that bakes mere painting into solid permanence. Perhaps this year I might even learn some more about what it prefers, which biscuits fire best, and how to appreciate the marks it makes as artistry not accident… May my thankful offerings to its work-elevating power long continue.

(above photo: panel awaiting glass mounting at the local framer’s shop)

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