Haven't been having many good days recently. Tiredness, relationship issues, creative block, all these things can really mess with one's heart.
Well one good thing about having a pottery studio is that there are these really mundane yet beautiful things to do, perfect for when you just don't feel like doing anything. Here's one - making glaze tiles. Our previous post showed the individual cut tiles, and here's what they look like before being removed from the wheel.
There are many ways to make glaze tiles. Some potters use molds, others roll and cut slabs, we prefer to throw a cylinder with a footing and cut it into equal segments that can stand on their own and look almost the same. It's not the most efficient, nor necessarily the most elegant, but it is still efficient and elegant enough for a studio like ours.
So today I squeezed in some time to make one of these, and it's really quite therapeutic to know that I'm making something useful that needs to get done anyway, but that I still get to experience the peaceful and familiar feeling of soft wet clay speeding through my fingers, silently growing and transforming, not needing to look beautiful or perfect, but still looking beautiful anyway.
I usually make a cylinder big enough for 32 tiles, but today I thought I'd try throwing to the edge of the wooden bat, and ended up pretty satisfied with the 40 tiles that it yielded. Showed off the process improvement to Huiwen, who, noble wife that she is, gave me a very affirming "Wow, good job!"
It's hardly noticeable when they are placed like this, but all of these tiles are actually very slightly curved, as they were all part of a cylindrical band thrown on the wheel and cut into 32 equal segments.
In other words, they look straight on their own but fit into a perfect circle when placed side by side.
Yes we are all taught to embrace and even glorify our individuality, but sometimes it can also be really powerful, and beautiful, to belong....
We would hardly consider ourselves "pro", but over the past 7 years playing with clay, our lives have certainly been impacted a great deal by this humble dust of the earth! If you've enjoyed our workshops, our art, or our writings, we'd love to have you join us for this little online session we are doing with library@orchard. We will share some of the insights we have gained over the years, answer any questions you have about pottery or running a pottery studio, and also throw in a live demo on the pottery wheel! To register, just click on the link in our bio! See you on Saturday!...
PORTRAIT OF AN OLD COUPLE
He stares straight ahead
She gives him a fleeting glance
Both grinning inside
We made this pair of cups for @chronicler.photography and his wife. Jon spent a precious afternoon in our studio, taking our photos and showing us photos of other artisans he had interviewed. I was very taken by the heartwarming portraits he took of this old couple (carpenters I think?), and when these cups came out of the kiln, their colours also reminded me of an old, wizened couple. Their forms are different of course, but their surfaces both have this uneven, almost carelessly aged quality, like two bronze sculptures left exposed to the harsh elements for a little too long.
I wonder what our portraits would look like when we are old. I wonder what kinds of feelings would go through our heads when our portraits are taken. It's good to wonder about these things, don't you think? I think that wondering and musing about how the future might feel like helps us begin to craft our postures in the present.
So right now I have this little scene in my head, for when our portraits are taken decades from now. I'd be standing here, and you'd be standing here, and you'd be thinking, "His lips must be starting to cramp up by now, and he's probably wishing he was doing anything else but taking a photo." And I'd be thinking, "She's panicking about her hair again, that bunch at the side that always curls out of place and sticks out of her head." And we'd both be chuckling inside, knowing how awkward the picture is going to turn out, and thankful for yet another thing to laugh about afterwards :)...
In this secret place
Time freezes to a standstill
And we come alive
I remember, in the middle of our honeymoon (wow 10 years ago), we hiked up Fox Glacier and met with the most breathtaking sight. A flock of kea cloaked in brilliant orange and green, circling overhead and then descending all around us. White snow on the slope peppered with orange dust carried across miles of ocean by Australian sandstorms.
And then, stooping down, we stepped into a little nook carved into the glacial ice, and looked up to see a wondrous, glowing blue hue spread out above our heads. I never knew that ice turns blue until I found myself surrounded by ice for the first time in my 30 years of life. I stared and stared, and were it not for our guide bidding us to move along, I would have huddled inside and just sat there till it hurt.
These days, life seems to have lost a little of its colour, hasn't it? Could we all, once in awhile, peel our minds away from what is right in front of us, and let our spirits be swept off the ground like that dust of the Australian earth, drifting across the ocean into the land of our dreams, wherever that may be?...
Things we took a really long time to get done, and then wished we'd done them a long time ago:
1. CUTTING OUR KILN SHELF IN HALF.
For years we had to bear with the inefficiency of firing tall matte vessels which had to be placed at the bottom of our kiln where the temperature is lower, but which also occupied a lot of previous space. We always felt we needed some half shelves, but nobody sold them for small kilns like ours. One day we randomly ventured to ask one of our suppliers if he could saw our extra kiln shelf in half, and to our surprise he readily agreed and cut it perfectly! Now we use them all the time.
2. BRINGING OUR WEDGING BOARD INDOORS.
For years our plaster board occupied different awkward spaces in our exposed balcony, getting worn down by the elements and making wedging (so fundamental to a potter) a sweaty and frustrating process. Until one day we decided enough was enough, and moved our entire tool cabinet and wedging board into a convenient corner of our living room, securing an upcycled plywood top against the wall so the heavy wedging board doesn't cause the entire cabinet to sway. What a difference it makes, to be able to wedge in comfort!
3. INSTALLING A BALCONY AWNING.
It might seem like the most no-brainer thing for a west-facing home like ours, but we worked under the annoying glare of the afternoon sun for years before we finally decided to ask for a quotation. Completed in a few hours, and now afternoons have become our favourite time for work!
4. INSTALLING A FLEXIBLE SINK TAP.
Just bought this from the hardware store and fixed it up today (I'm really proud of myself) after 10 years of living with a fixed tap that couldn't wash our pots and pans nor our large pottery equipment properly. Volunteered to do all the dinner washing tonight because it felt so good!
Pockets of turquoise
Swirling as the sea retreats
Till we meet again
One of our friends is leaving his department, and commissioned these little cups as gifts for his colleagues. As I photographed them, they reminded me of tidal pools - those tiny bodies of sea water left behind as the tide goes out.
It's quite an apt image for farewells right? The currents of time ebb and flow, and throughout our lives we are momentarily sorted and re-sorted into different tidal pools of work, friendships, interests. We dwell in these little ecosystems for a time, and then the tide comes back and lifts us off and deposits us somewhere else, an endless waltz. Some people we meet again, others we don't, but it's just so marvellous to think about this vast vast ocean that we all belong to....
Made this on a whim, during a long but really uplifting and relaxing photoshoot with @chronicler.photography . Listened to each other's stories, encouraged each other, and just generally had a great time.
Honestly, there are days when we forget why we do what we do. Some days are spent worrying, or busying, or doubting. But days like these help me remember why I am grateful to call myself a potter, and why, God willing, I will continue to be one....
LANDSCAPE OF US
Were these rivers here
Before, or did you carve them
In me, while I slept?
10 years ago, when we started our journey of marriage together, we had each already spent around 30 years discovering ourselves, building our convictions, and forming our habits. And so we spent our first few years together very much trying to change each other to be more like ourselves, while resisting each other's attempts to change us.
10 years later, neither of us has won this game, but rather we just found ourselves slowly evolving together to a point where, when we look at our son's personality, we can't really be sure where he gets it from!
A few weeks ago we ran a small pottery retreat for two couples, and we felt it was quite apt for them to try out the Japanese technique of nerikomi, where different coloured clays are layered together to form unique patterns on the surface of a vessel. So apt, in fact, that we decided to be participants in our own workshop and make our very own vessels as well!
It was quite a moving experience for me - exchanging our clay bodies and patiently trimming each other's pottery surfaces. And I just love how ours turned out! The browns and whites merging together in beautiful and unique ways on each vessel, each still distinguishable from the other but neither able to claim dominance.
May it continue to be like this for us in the years ahead! That we acknowledge and always give thanks for the fact that we are who we are because of the presence of our spouse in our lives....
Two strong and confident hands easily rolling out a large coil of clay on our studio floor.
These hands belong to a migrant worker who was responsible for testing the waterproofing in our home studio as part of the Home Improvement Programme undertaken by our town council. I asked him if I could take a photo of his hands, because as potters we work with clay too, and he graciously agreed.
I was reminded of the monthly pottery workshops we conducted at @healthservesg 2 years ago (before Covid-19 happened), and how proficient many of the injured migrant participants were at creating clay vessels even with minimal guidance. And artistic too.
And I couldn't help thinking that we are where we are today not particularly because of our skillful hands, or even our artistic minds, but mostly because we happened to be born in a particular place, at a particular time.
I'm not proud to be a Singaporean - I'm deeply grateful....
Far is the ocean
Faint the song of lapping waves
Till you hold me close
Our latest double-walled Bubble cup, made with the longing for a cool, quiet morning just sitting by the sea - listening to the soothing whispers of the waves, feeling the gentle radiance of the sun while the cool breeze brushes lightly across my skin.
I don't have a big craving for travel, really. I just miss the feeling of waking up to an unhurried day, surrounded by the beauty of God's creation and giving myself permission to watch time trickling away like sand in an hourglass without doing anything about it.
Can holding a slowly-made cup bring me into this bubble?
I received news of my aunt's passing while I was making this vase today. It wasn't the form I had in my mind when I first started on it, but it evolved while I was making it. When it was completed, it reminded me of how I viewed her - someone who embraced and held things together.
I have only met 姑姑 once in my life. Seeking a better life here in Singapore, my grandparents moved with the two youngest boys here when they were little and due to various circumstances, the two older children didn't make it over. The family lived apart till the end of my grandparents' and my dad's lives.
I was struck by her warmth when I visited her many years ago. We left each other in tears as I waved goodbye through the glass window on my ride at the end of my trip. Over the years, she always remembered our family and would reach out in contact; for that I am grateful.
A precious memory I have was told to me by my cousin, who shared that when he was young, he had a world map in the house and 姑姑 would point out Singapore to him and tell him that he has family there. It touched me as even she didn't really know us, but yet she always had us in her heart all this time.
Decided to get flowers on a whim this morning to accompany our pottery retreat session as the passage that came to mind for today was from Matthew 6:25-34. I am glad it was a word in season for the participants :)
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
Two weeks ago we stumbled upon a beautiful book - Wabi Sabi, written by Mark Reibstein and illustrated by Ed Young.
We had brought our boy to Sengkang Library mostly so that his parents can sit down in a quiet, air conditioned place, and this book was sitting on a display shelf at the children' section. Being potters with a child and two cats, who write haikus for their pottery, it seemed abundantly clear that this children's book about a cat with a pottery related name, which is also full of haikus, was written and placed in the library just for us!
So of course we had to borrow the book, and Doudou has been using it as her personal cat square for the past two weeks!
There must be some profound life lesson in this, but for now here's one more cat photo on social media for everyone who likes cat photos!...
TAKE ME TO THE SEA
Toes gently sinking
Into glistening stardust
Before the next one
This is a commissioned tea set for an old friend who has walked with me through a significant portion of my life!
If you look closely, you might notice that all the cups have a slightly different colour on the inside. Each shade of blue-green represents the last character of each family member's name, and with the white sea foam providing some harmony for the entire set.
Looking at these vessels make me want to just sit at the beach and stare into the distance for a few hours! And talking about staring into the distance, we have some interesting announcements coming up soon so stay tuned!
Ok not really, more like whatever we had time to make... 😅 Yesterday afternoon my sister Nicole took leave and came over to our studio for her birthday present - a one-on-one private pottery workshop. She was really good at the wheel, maybe because her fingers are well trained from all her late night gaming. Even then, you're still going to get some out-of-control swirly cups, but as long as you tell yourself, "I intended it to look like this," everything's good!...
We often hear about the 5 love languages - quality time, gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch. Honestly, none of these ideas really resonate with me. I suppose if someone pointed a gun to my head and asked me to choose one, I would probably attempt to sit him down for some quality time, but this concept of love languages has always been somewhat of a mystery to me.
But recently, in the midst of a rather tumultuous patch, I am starting to discover what might be a "love language" that greatly impacts me, and that is A Joyful Spirit.
Why is joy a love language?
First, while it may come naturally to some people, I suspect that for many of us it takes some effort. Sometimes Great Effort, especially with our loved ones.
Second, it's a choice, and something that can be done for someone. One can say, while in a difficult situation, "I choose to be joyful for the sake of myself and the one I love."
Third, it is different from all the other 5 love languages. You could do all 5 without expressing joy, and very often it renders them pretty hollow. Conversely, I have experienced so much love and gratefulness just from the presence of a happy person. Like when Tobie sings to himself, when Huiwen writes a happy post, or when my parents share that they had a nice outing with their dog. These have such a profound impact on me that I can't even properly describe it. It makes me feel like everything is ok in life, even in those times when everything isn't.
Fourth, it is not universally received as a love language. I know people for whom seeing others being joyful deepens their misery, and for whom having sombre people around brings peace and comfort. And that is perfectly natural. Joy is beautiful, and so is sorrow.
But for me, I'm so grateful for the times when Huiwen and Tobie have been unfazed by my dark clouds, continuing blissfully along their merry way until those clouds helplessly dissipated.
Anyway, really wanted to write this down but I have no pottery image to accompany it and so here's a lovely (and apt) picture of our son smiling with his eyes in front of his favourite flower - 新加坡花!...
Teapots and double-walled vessels are still the most nerve-wrecking for me to make. Even after completing the forms, so many things can still go wrong. Will the spout pour properly? Did I narrow the air pocket too much during trimming and squeeze out all the air? Will the air pocket explode during firing?
This project has both a teapot and a double-walled vessel, and I'm making it in the midst of trying to figure out what exactly went wrong with our recent matte glaze formulas, causing them all to turn semi-glossy. Was it a measurement mistake? Was it a variation in the raw materials? How long will I take to fix this?
Sometimes I wish I was an excellent potter, who can make the perfect spout, whose vessels don't break or warp, who can look at a defective glaze and know exactly what's wrong. But only sometimes. Tonight, I'm just going to switch off and go play Lego with my son!...