Learning to make sets of things can be daunting.  To throw the same form over and over again with precision takes a certain amount of tenacity.  When a home furnishing store commissioned me to do a set of custom tumblers, I readily agreed, like I knew how to do that.  At first, each tumbler took me about half an hour to make, hardly cost effective.  But I persisted, cutting and throwing away more than half.  Gradually I improved, and reduced the clay weight for each tumbler by 1/4 pound.  Now I can throw them easily and quickly, and I am a better potter for enduring the process.

Pick a time when you have a couple of hours to throw without distraction. Consistency in all aspects is the key.  Measure everything!  Have a notebook to write down all of your measurements, and keep the notes for future orders.  Start by wedging up the clay you want, precisely weighing each chunk, and wrapping them in plastic within reach of your throwing area.  Start with at least 8 balls of clay.  Have all of your bats also within reach.  Center your first ball, and measure the width that you center it to, as you want to do each of them the same.  As you open it up, measure the thickness of the floor with your needle tool.  A fraction of an inch difference in floor depth can throw off the consistency of the pieces.  If you use a rib for throwing, use the same one for every piece, as the shape of the rib influences the shape of the pot.  Measure the final width that you open the pot to, and do each one the same.  Finally, measure the height and width of the finished piece. Finish the rim of each one the same, and trim each foot the same, taking measurement of the foot width.  Even with painstaking efforts, there will be some variation in your pieces, they are handmade!  By glazing them all the same, you can minimize these variations.

The repetition of making sets can be both soothing and annoying depending on your mood.  Nothing will improve your skills more, though, so stick with it!

I remember my first pottery class at Pitzer College in the early 1980’s. Our instructor, Brian Ransom, was a young guy who was missing a few fingers. We sat at our wheels as he talked us through throwing a cylinder. It was a challenge; my pot was small and misshapen, and had taken me an hour to make. And it was precious. Brian then instructed us to cut our pots in half vertically. What? Don’t you know how long it took me to make that? What if I can’t ever make one like that again? I cut it in half. The lesson was two-fold: 1. Cutting it in half enabled me to see how thin and even the walls of the pot were (not at all), and 2. Don’t get too attached.

It’s only clay. To become proficient at pottery you have to practice for thousands of hours. You will make so many pots. Your garden will become filled with your failures. Your kitchen cupboards will overflow with your mismatched little darlings. Your friends and relatives will become sated. One time my sister called to thank me for the bowl I had sent her and stated that she would put it “with all the others”.

So, along the way, you start cutting those pots in half on your own. You reach a level where you no longer want to keep the pots that you aren’t satisfied with. You realize that you will gain more from cutting those pots in half and seeing where you went wrong then trying to trim and glaze them in a way that will hide their imperfections. As you improve, you begin to have a certain resilience about your pottery. You begin pushing your pots to the limit, knowing they may fail. You realize that you CAN recreate them, and that there is always room for improvement.

This resilience has carried over into my daily life. I no longer expect perfection and laugh readily at my mistakes. Though I used to have a certain hesitance about trying my hardest to put myself out there (what if I fail or am rejected), I now wholeheartedly give things my best effort. Because without that effort I can’t fail, and if I don’t fail, I can’t improve.