I have been watching Youtube videos on how to properly do centering on the wheel. There are many styles and techniques; and it seemed like you just got to find one that fits you. Like Harry Potter choosing his wand; or rather more accurately, you got to let the wand choose you.
I went into class and tried to emulate what I saw online. Last week, I watched how my teacher do it and I did not come close to making the clay yield to my will. This time, I reckoned I will try something else and see how it works out. It was a different teacher today and he watched me make an attempt.
“You are doing it wrong. The shape is not correct. Let me show you.” He went on to demonstrate and go through in detail where my hands and fingers should be and where I should be applying pressure.
“The westerners tend to cone up before pressing everything down, but that is inefficient. Asians are also smaller in build so we need to rely on clever shortcuts to get the same result.” I felt sheepish that he saw through my feeble attempt. I was indeed following the steps from a western teacher’s video.
It was my turn to try and I surprised myself that I could get the hang of it much quicker than I did the previous week. For the next 3 hours, I would centre the clay, push it off-center, re-centre, push it off-centre and repeat.
“This is the most important step to get right. If the clay is not centred, there would be a lot of trouble ahead when you start to open and pull. Take your time to practice.”
With Journey to the West playing in the background, I watched my hands and fingers wobble around the clay until they were still in position. Sometimes, I would apply pressure wrongly and get a mushroom shape.
“You have to feel the movement and know when to let go. First you have to push and apply pressure. After that you need to slowly release and just gently touch the clay to keep it in position. If you keep applying pressure, the clay will go off-centre again.”
Sounds to me like life.
When the class was over, I cleaned up the work station with a big sponge and left the miry bits to dry off so that they can be wedged and used again by others later. Every bit of it can be saved and re-used.
I sat down to catch a breather and asked my teacher, “What was it like during the dragon kiln days?” Their dragon kiln from the Qing dynasty days was sadly demolished in the 1980s as the government wanted to take back the land for their own use.
“It was back breaking work. We had to watch the fire through the night and we worked every day. Even on Sundays. I was so used to the motions that I could make over 100 pieces in an hour. It was like clockwork.”
“Yes, the visitors could not believe it. They would turn their head for a moment to look at something and be astonished when they turned their heads back and see my pot completed.”
I cannot relate to what it would feel like to possess that level of skill and speed. What I do know is that everything worth learning and doing in life always take works of practice and practice and perseverance.
It has been a satisfying day of learning. One of the many to go.