By Cynthia Simmons

Centering is a word now commonly used to describe achieving harmony with one’s own personal values. For someone working with clay, centering is an active process. It is creating a physical  relationship with a lump of clay. As an action, centering is how a potter work begins to work with clay. And the importance of centering is that it requires your complete attention and your complete focus.  Because in that instant when you stop paying attention, the clay will be as honest and true as your best friend, and it will begin to fight you. There will be a struggle where before there was harmony. Centering is about preparing a ball of clay to be shaped on a potter’s wheel, slapping it down on a potter’s wheel, making it evenly smooth and moving the weight of the clay so that it’s perfectly distributed, with the weight radiating out from the ball’s center.

Blog photo - thrown bowls - mine (08-2000) - cropped - smaller

My porcelain plate, minutes after being thrown.

Centered clay has great potential… If it has been well kneaded to remove any small pockets of air, there will not be air bubbles to fight against the even spinning motion of the clay. It means everything is even, and there are a more limited number of forces to cause the clay to sag or move off center. Centered clay is balanced clay. It knows where it is centered. It respects the core and seeks to maintain its shape evenly.  It acts purposely. With intention.

After the clay is centered, the clay can be opened up, to begin to shape a bowl. Pressure is applied to the center of the mound of clay, first directly down, and then in subsequent movements, the clay is pulled out, up and away from the center and a wall rises.  The clay still requires that you know how to move with it. If you stop paying attention, if you stop acting with your full attention, the weight will shift and your bowl will start to knock toward/against one hand and away from the other one. There may still be adjustments you can make to go back to center. Or this lump of clay may not become a bowl today, but instead go back into the bucket of clay recycling into new clay after some time.

After a bowl is thrown, it is cut off the wheel head using water and a wire. The water will allow the bowl to float after the wire cuts the bowl loose from the wheel. Then your hands, or perhaps a helping tool, will lift up the bowl to place it on a shelf to dry. Later when the bowl is dry enough to hold its shape, it goes back to the wheel, inverted/upside down, and extra clay is trimmed away. A pattern or border may be carved into the clay. The clay still remains faithful. If at any point in the process, your attention wanders, the clay will fight you and the shape may become damaged.

Blog photo - thrown shape - master class (08-2000) top - cropped contrast smaller

Porcelain pot, thrown and incised by a master potter.

When I work with clay, I know exactly what I am thinking. If I remember an angry remark, the even force of my hand alters. I can see exactly when that anger held my attention.  Lines or shapes record emotions on the clay. So as I keep centered with the clay, I am myself centered.

Cynthia Simmons is a publishing and communications professional. © 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

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