Taking the Wheel Outdoors

July 30, 2019

A few weeks ago, my pal Robin came out to visit for a much needed escape from the city. Being a talented DP and Camera Operator, he was in town for work and had his impressively large and expensive camera in tow.

It was the first time Robin had seen me in my element at the potter's wheel. I showed him my tiny studio, and he watched intrigued as I attached handles onto stiffened clay cylinders. I could see the wheels in his mind start to turn. A few minutes later when I finished my mugs, Robin asked if we could take my wheel outside, and if I would be ok to be on camera. I thought, why not bring it out to the deck to throw in the sunshine. It sounded nice.

Next thing I know we're packing that beast into the back of Robin's 4x4 with a few bags of clay, a bucket of water, and my throwing tools. His original idea was to pick up a power inverter from the hardware store, but after a long drive stuck in construction traffic, and an ordeal at Canadian Tire buying 2 inverters and having to return them both because my wheel sucks so much power, we finally secured a generator rental for the day and headed off into an ancient old-growth forest.

With the help of Nathan, I didn't have to do any major lifting ;) and we got the wheel, the generator, the camera, and all our supplies out to the middle of the woods. I sat down to get started, taking in my surroundings. The light was beautifully dappled through the cedar branches and lichen. The air was warm and smelled like wet earth.

I opened my bag of clay and wedged 6 similar weighted cones. I wasn't sure what I was going to make, but it felt calm and earnest to sit there pushing mud between my palms in this majestic natural environment. Next, I threw the clay down on the wheel head, started the motor, and accelerated the wheel to top speed, bracing my elbows on my thighs and pushing in to center the mound of clay.

It is very easy for me to get lost in the moments of throwing. It is a skill that takes so much concentration. Each step must be performed successfully and in order. As I throw I am mentally running through a checklist. Throw the clay down, seal the bottom, accelerate the wheel, water, cone up, cone down, flatten the cylinder, water, push the center down, pull the walls outwards, compress the base, water, pull the walls upwards, shape, clean the outside, sponge excess water, compress the rim, wire off. Presto!

I ended up making 2 wobbly planters and a bowl. I was testing out a new type of clay and was very pleased with the rubbery, flexible texture that it had while throwing. This clay is now in my regular rotation. Robin ended up creating a video that I will cherish for a long time, showing me in one of my favourite places doing one of my favourite things. Thank you Robin! 

If you'd like to check out his other projects. Here is a link to his website.

Photos by Nathaniel Atakora.