One thing you almost never hear potters say is that they like trimming plates. I can’t think of anyone I know whose reason for getting up and going to the studio every day is the prospect of removing half of the clay they just threw (if this is not how you trim plates, then you may actually be making shallow bowls). But I just trimmed about 20 plates, and I have to say that it became quite enjoyable by the end. My guess is that this is because I got pretty good at it about a third of the way in. (One of the reasons I made so many to begin with was to account for this, in case I could not revisit that first third to tighten them up.) Another reason I really enjoyed it is that I have discovered the extra insurance of a double foot ring. I established the outer foot ring, then divided the radius in two and cut another foot ring at that smaller radius. This supports the center of the plate and prevents the flat bottom (because a plate should have a flat bottom—otherwise it’s a bowl) from dishing down during firing and sticking the glaze (and the now-bowl) to the shelf. Can you tell I learned this lesson the hard way on the last batch of plates I made?
Okay, I’m not really that particular about the difference between plates and bowls, but I am still a bit chafed about that last batch of plates sagging and warping. And really, at some point, after a few decades in any given field, these kinds of little subtleties, like defining the point at which a plate becomes a bowl, can become the most important things in one’s aesthetic—everything else having been well established long ago. But it’s nice to be reminded that even these subtleties have their roots in the basic foundations of material, form, and technique. In fact, revisiting a technique on a basic level, no matter how well we feel we have it mastered, can actually teach us something about preferences we didn’t know we had, aesthetic options that we hadn’t realized were available, and mistakes we didn’t know how to stop making. If only it were always as simple as a double foot ring.
Many artists find themselves overcoming issues far more complex than sagging plates, and the creative process that is wrapped up in material, form, and technique is at the center of this kind of problem solving. Eliza Au (page 36), for example, challenged herself to find a way to construct and fire complex sculptural forms, parts of which float horizontally in space, by building them in a box and making specialized clay support structures for building, drying, and firing them. Steven Hill (page 42), after many years of success with high-fired reduction ware, began pursuing mid-range electric firing, and found ways to achieve very similar results in an electric kiln. And though their results are worthy of admiration, perhaps even envy, they most certainly were not easy for either of these artists to achieve. So whether it’s flat plates, defying gravity, or switching firing styles, revisiting the basics is often the place to start—and maybe even the place to finish.