Studio Ceramics: Zen and the Art of Clay

Dinner Plate still on the wheel

Various coffee mugs, tea cups, and latte cups

self portrait after a morning of throwing on the wheel

freshly made and dry buttons

polished soap dish, leather hard

polished soap dish 2, leather hard

Dinner plate (left) and dessert plate (right), freshly thrown (both will get cleaned up tomorrow)

Years ago, when I was first contemplating opening my own ceramics studio in Hamburg, Germany, we took a ride on my birthday out to the beautiful Niedersachsen artisan village of Fischerhude.  There, I visited the studio of Claudia Craemer, Master Ceramist (Keramikmeisterin) who makes individual porcelain and raku fired pieces. Her porcelain pieces are so fine that light shimmers through them.  Here are some of her light fixtures:

photo: claudia craemer
I asked Claudia what she thought was the most important thing in having a successful pottery studio (other than talent).  She thought a minute, and said that having an established ritual for working is a very important thing. She did not go into detail, leaving me to believe that every potter has to establish her own ritual. Claudia's words  stuck with me over the last nine years -- mostly because I have never really acheived it and never really fully understood the importance of it, until recently.
For me, ritual in the studio is becoming everything.
First, there is the ritual how a person works if having a day of throwing fresh clay on the wheel.  This involves taking care of old clay (getting it back into a form to work with again), weighing out clay balls for different vessels to be made on the wheel, working on the wheel, cleaning up and discarding the excess clay into the clay pile to be reworked again.
Second, there is the ritual of how a person works if having a day of cleaning up pots thrown the day before.  This involves cleaning up the pots, gathering the excess clay and discarding it into the clay pile, cleaning up the tools, and packing the greenware in plastic to be worked, sculpted, painted, etc, when it becomes leather hard.
There are the rituals for hand building ceramics, making mosaic pieces, buttons, decorative tiles, and soap dishes.
The one thing these rituals all have in common are:
Start in a clean studio.
Take care of your old clay.  If you don't you will have mountains of it - none of it ready to use.
Have fun and take breaks while working.
Work as cleanly and as carefully as you can.  You will not have as much clay to rework if you are careful.
Use as little water as possible, but as much as is necessary.
Clean up after yourself so that you can start in a clean studio the next day.
These rituals are absolutely necessary to having a successful studio which is a pleasure to work in.  I think these rituals can translate into any type of creative venture, including cooking.
I am in process of working on pieces for orders, but I am also doing something else -- I am creating my first line of stoneware.  I am busy calculating how many grams of clay need to go into each tea cup, coffee cup, latte bowl, muesli bowl, dessert plate and dinner plate. I am making multiple samples of of each of these six pieces.  It's a fun phase.  When I am through this, I will be selecting glazes and designs for the line, and then making the prototype set.
It would not be possible to even contemplate a project of this measure if I do not follow Claudia Craemer's well heeded and simple advice -- it is all about the ritual.