When I first started working in porcelain to make my ceramic jewellery I was stunned that some pieces would come out of the kiln with a curve in them when they had gone in flat and were sitting on a flat surface. I didn’t understand how that had happened and while I was told it was “memory” it didn’t make sense.
Of course it kept happening, I’d put a bundle in the kiln and most would come out flat as intended while some came out with these mysterious curves.
It took me a while to accept that this is just part of the nature of the material I was working with. I needed to test what I was doing to find out my involvement in it as I wanted to understand it better.
Over time I’ve learnt that it can be how I handle the clay in the very early stages, it can happen if there was something a little irregular in the firing process itself, or a combination with where the pieces are in the kiln and if it suddenly remembers the pressures of my thumb at a key moment.
And all of that is about the very nature of the material itself. Porcelain is renowned for being fussy and Southern Ice Porcelain is particularly pernickety.
At first I was upset about any surprise curves. None were ever particularly large, all were shallow, but without understanding the material properly I didn’t understand what was happening.
Now I smile and greet the pieces that come out with an unexpected curve. I’ve come to see them as showing the mark of their maker, me.
The lesson I didn’t expect from this process is the one around authenticity, of how important it is to let the natural elements of the material you’re working with to come through, to celebrate the beauty and the unexpected.
I fell in love with Southern Ice Porcelain for it’s touch and colour, it can be surprisingly soft and sensual while still being hard and the icy white colour of the porcelain is delicious. But that was first impressions, true love is about loving the whole of something, how it feels to work with it at each of the different stages, the way it fires, how it brings with it memory, the high shrinkage rate and the dust and mess created when working with it.
So now I let the natural elements of my beloved Southern Ice Porcelain come shining through with my jewellery. I make the slightly curved pieces up in to necklaces and explain to customers at market that the curve is my thumb, it is the mark of the maker. I always give an option for a flatter piece but have constantly been delighted when they choose the curved piece. To me it is about respecting the material itself and I confess, I feel their decision is, in part, a mark of respect for me, the maker of the jewellery. I find that quite an honour.
As I’m naturally an over thinker myself and I have time for thinking when I’m making I’ve ponder on the concept of authenticity. To me it’s really important to have authenticity in your life. I love how my cat behaves very much as a cat, as I write this there is a slight protest going on as she wants to sit on my lap but the space is taken up with a stable table and laptop, there’s the silent campaign continues as she watches me intently. She is simply being her natural self and that is adorable.
What happens to my clay in the kiln is in part to do with the kiln fairies, they are completely capable of blowing up everything just for fun, for the joy of the explosion, or at least, that’s how I see the mysteries of chemistry and physics that happens in that confined hot space. But I’ve come to love the changes, to be fascinated by them.
The older I get the easier I’m finding it to live an authentic life, accepting the different elements of my own character, experimenting with experiences and learning ways to live that make me happier. Being able to call out crap behaviour and name it, whether it’s my own or someone else’s, whether it’s just for an audience of one or a few more. I’m finding it easier to accept that I make loads of mistakes, multiple ones each week probably and that it isn’t perfection that I strive for but a combination of something made up of authenticity, excellence, originality and balance. For something quite complicated it really is quite simple.
And this clarity of life purpose has come from accepting that clay that goes into the kiln flat will sometimes come out curved.
All because I’m accepting the authentic nature of the material I’ve fallen in love with and constantly working with.