Incidental Mobius Mandala

Sometime I just love parts of the process that don’t actually get to be in the finished product…. Such as:


Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but sometimes also what we take as the whole is much less than what went into it. Sometimes we overlook or miss out on what got left behind….. We see the finished pot but not the magic of creation.


Sometimes the background is important. Sometimes the process is just as interesting as what comes out….

Learn to love the secrets that are revealed. The incidental things…. Secrets that only you may ever know…. A glimpse into the side of creativity that lasts only a moment, then is gone, wiped clean as the process is carried beyond that moment of magic, or picks back up from the beginning and iterates yet another time….


Learn to embrace the ephemeral things. How perfect your pot seems fresh off the wheel, glistening with sweat, brimming with potential….. The subtle marks of your hand and tools…. The transition from one shape to the next as the pot unfolds a new articulation…. The scraps the didn’t make it….


The world is full of things that matter yet have only temporary existence and brief duration: A baby’s sudden rapturous smile… The laugh of a friend at the joke you just told….. The elation of understanding how lucky you are to love this person beside you…. The smell of fresh mowed grass…. A parent’s joy at their child’s own joy…….

Three cheers for the ephemeral, the incidental, the serendipity of process, and that the making is sometimes an end in itself!

Peace all!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Beauty, Ceramics, Clay, Creativity, Ephemera, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Incidental Mobius Mandala

  1. For some funny/odd reason this reminds of advice given to one who is caught staring, “Take a picture, it lasts longer.” 😉 ah the ephemeral! I have a new exercise to warm up for slip combing. Pouring slip on my table and smearing it around with rib and/or fingers. It all informs the hand when decorating the actual pot. Maybe the ephemeral does remain in the process? But disguised as experience?

    • Scott Cooper says:

      Sounds like sketching, but in a medium closer to the final one. Why not?

      “disguised as experience” is fascinating. Kind of like “15 seconds + 60 years”?

    • Echoes of the ephemeral! I like it! It seems important to consider how ephemera live on, sometimes ‘disguised as experience’, as you say….

      About the “take a picture” idea, I actually have reservations. It makes sense to ‘capture’ experience, but sometimes I wonder if its not also sometimes important to let things have their day and disappear on their own…. Not everything need be destined for immortality. And sometimes you have to recognize that the attempts to ‘save the moment’ actually spoil it. While you are busy living and enjoying things how strange would it be to have a documentary film maker there keeping track of it all? And we can loose the moment ourselves when we go reach for that camera. “Hold that pose! Just like that!” However great images are, they are not a substitute for experiencing some things. Sometimes they are better. Sometimes they are our only access or record. But not always…..

      • I couldn’t agree more. what does this say about out “our” obsession with documenting every little thing? I think of the image of the super bowl campions all holding up their iPhones to take pictures of “the moment” of their victory. anyway, good points.

        • Back when I had TV and occasionally watched a hockey game or two I got sucked into my Philadelphia Flyers attempts to reach the Stanley Cup. That year they were playing the Pittsburgh Penguins, and one of the all-time greats, Mario Lemieux, was playing in his last season. If the Penguins lost the series he is done. Career over. Well, I was rooting for the Flyers, and my team eked it out in the end. And when it was all done, every player from both teams and probably all the fans stood and cheered this magnificent hockey player. It was a great tribute. It should have gone on for long minutes as each of the players got the chance to shake Mario’s hands and offer him their words of appreciation. It lasted maybe 20 seconds before some dumb camera team and hairdo launched themselves onto the ice, slipped and slided over to where he was, and corralled him into a televised interview. “Capturing the moment”. It was shameful. It was disrespectful. It ruined a moment that should have been all Mario’s, and turned it into a televised spectacle. Instead of just witnessing the moving tribute of the fans and players who had been a part of Mario’s long and storied career, the hairdo jumped in and proceeded to dissect the moment for public scrutiny. “What are you feeling right now, Mario?” As if they couldn’t just let him experience the moment, but needed it all down on record……

          Something infinitely precious was lost in that moment. Too often we steal from these moments themselves when we make posterity more the priority…… I wonder if this is possibly related to the ‘seize the day’ ethic I posted about the other day? Maybe we need to adopt the motto: “Let the day happen”…….

  2. Scott Cooper says:

    Love it. Expertly stated, and the series of images drives your point home perfectly. (And, for what it’s worth, while we might take things like the slip on a bat as ephemeral, capturing it as an image sort of fixes that problem, no? Especially sharing them like this. And heck — I’ve seen large swaths of “museum quality” contemporary photography that is less interesting to me than these.)

    This will sound unlikely, but I swear I was looking at wet finger swipes on my bats the week before last and thinking something very similar. Same thing with trimming scraps, especially when there are a lot of them, and they wind off in those perfectly imperfect long curls… I often look at the plates or bowls that I shaved them from and wish they had as much vitality and character as the thing I just cut away and tossed in the slops.

    Sometimes the part I love best about making pots is just being in the studio, with a rough idea of what the hell I’m doing there, and soaking in the ambient sensory experiences: the hum of the wood stove fan, the click-clack of the wheel, the time of year where the morning sun hits me in the eyes as I lean over that first cone of clay on the wheelhead. I’d like to think all of it goes “into” the pots somehow, but if so I can rarely see it there once they’re done.

    • Thanks Scott!

      And its comforting to know that our minds work in parallel at times!

      There’s definitely a lesson in there somewhere! Something about the limits of intentionality and the value of serendipity?

      As far as the ‘into the pots’ dilemma, I wonder if our fixation on the finished product isn’t sometimes an obstacle. We divide our priorities and the virtues of the finished pot usually comes out on top. In other words, that we put so much weight on the permanence of the finished product that we tend to lose sight of the only temporary importance of incidentals and ephemera. Its as if we are sometimes so focused on the immortal end all that way down the road that we don’t fully consider or appreciate the fleeting mystery and splendor of the unfinished and partial expressions. We tend to ignore and devalue the incidentals simply because they disappear, or are hard to discern in the end product.

      Maybe we should learn to look backward rather than forward…… Instead of feeling disappointed that the ephemera are not represented in the finished pot, that they are not also ‘permanent’, we perhaps need to learn to value the merely temporary for its own evanescent virtues. If we lessen the need for value to be represented permanently we get to cherish the fleeting for its own brief existence…..

      Something else for me to think about!

  3. “What if happiness is the practice of a slow calligraphy of these small gestures?” Ze Frank

  4. MUCH better and Etch-a-Sketch. Not a snarky comment.

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