The podiatry of making pots

Michael Kline just posted on his blog a step in a different direction and made the connection that pots are sometimes like shoes. Of course that’s something I have to get my grubby little fingers on and ramble away with! If I can’t steal other people’s good ideas and run amok where would I be on this blog?

Here’s what Michael said:

As I pulled the little handles off the side of the pot I literally flipped the attachments above rather than below the attachment in a fit of spontaneity and experimentation. It was quite a little thrill. Β [private wooohoo moment]

Michael Kline's new pair of shoes, er, handles for his vase.....

Michael Kline’s new pair of shoes, er, handles for his vase…..


I know, ha-ha, sometimes I can be a little full of myself or melodramatic.

Anyway, all this just to say that I went with it and kind of like it! But like a new pair of shoes (which I really need, btw) it takes a while to get used to it. This ain’t exactly Catawba Valley shape language anymore. I even hesitated to share this little odd pot with you! But, hey, it’s just pottery, right?

This was my response:

I like it MK! Its different, for sure, but like those new shoes if you give them some wear it will start to conform more to your ‘feet’ and you will quite possibly start to ‘walk’ with a new freedom. I sometimes feel the ‘shoes’ I’m wearing have become threadbare and have holes in the toe. They might smell a bit funky at times too.

I guess you can’t just pick up any old size new shoe. There has to be something of a minimal fit. We can even layer on more pairs of socks to make the fit better. Winter boots may even require that we buy our shoes with that in mind. We may actually NEED shoes that don’t fit us properly.

But the style of new shoe we can learn to be comfortable in will often surprise us. There will be shoes that tell you immediately “Its not me”, and others that you won’t even dare to put on, but somewhere outside our comfort zone there are still so many shoes we can explore and try on. Walk about in them a bit and see what they do for you. Is your posture any different? Do you feel like you are walking on clouds? Do you feel like you can outrun the dogs in your yard? Are they such a natural fit that you hardly even notice that you are wearing them? How will we know until we try them on?

And if it sometimes means we need to change that bit about ourselves to fit the way the new shoes work, then maybe that’s alright too. Having dancing shoes in my closet might mean I’d go dancing more often. Maybe I sometimes DO need to wear dress shoes. Maybe I sometimes also need to wear flip flops. Where would I be without my soccer cleats? The interesting thing is that we can put ourselves in different situations where wearing different shoes is entirely appropriate and eventually even becomes natural.

For instance, when I teach I take it as an excuse to try on as many new shoes as I need my students to see me in. I might even change shoes during class. I can’t just wear the same old shoes to every class or they will feel the only shoes that are right are the ones I’m wearing. I’m supposed to be setting an example for them, so why would I only show them a narrow version of possibility? There is no rule that says you can only wear THESE shoes when you are in the studio. If you show them the variety of possible footwear they will have the confidence to explore their own aesthetics in what they like about shoe designs. They will learn to express themselves with more freedom when they are wearing shoes and making pots.

I may do this mostly for my students but I also do it for myself. If I feel I’ve been stuck wearing the same old shoes for too long its a perfect opportunity to explore something different, without the burden of feeling that these familiar shoes are the only ones I can walk out to potential customers or students in and earn my living. It often turns out I can be wearing all sorts of shoes and my customers and students will still respond to me. I can teach in different shoes and my students will still learn valuable things.

Isn’t that a great thing about shoes? We CAN wear different ones at different times and in different circumstances. And we can be adaptable and learn to follow our own instincts outside our shoe wearing habits. We can do this without the fear that we are necessarily alienating our friends and our audience.

I sometimes worry that the comfort of old shoes carries with it a funk that is hard to scrub clean. Some customers I interact with see me standing there in the same old shoes and walk back out the door. They don’t even look around, because they already know what they are getting. Maybe they scent that inevitable whiff of pungent overuse. The habit of wearing this one set of shoes accretes stains and spilled coffee just from the longevity of having been on my feet through so much and for so long. Some customers look at my feet and are turned off. They can’t see what I’m trying to do with my pots because their focus is on the lazy commitment to this one pair of shoes. They’d sometimes actually prefer me wearing something new, something fresh, and maybe even something that wasn’t yet a perfect fit. I can’t let myself be ruled by the folks who expect the same old same old, and who would prefer me going to my grave still wearing these ancient shabby sneakers…….

I’ve also noticed that as I get older my feet have changed, and I now have to wear slightly longer shoes. Wider as well. There are evolving things about me that require bigger shoes, like my arch starting to flatten out and the bunions and heel spur that I’ve grown. I’ve gone from a size 7.5 to a size 9.5 in just a matter of years.

We can’t just keep wearing those same old shoes year after year, can we? Don’t we naturally evolve as we age? If we attempt to freeze time isn’t that pretending something unnatural? Isn’t it important to put our own needs ahead of the fixation on wearing simply one set of shoes? Who is leading whom? Which is the cart and which the horse? Don’t we have the obligation to ourselves to wear many shoes if that makes sense to us? Or a selected few that give us a range of motion? Who are we wearing these shoes for in the first place?

Gotta love shoes! Pots are pretty cool too (heh, heh)……

Peace all!

Happy potting!

Hope you all get to treat yourselves to some new shoes, start dancing in different ways and discover new things about yourselves!


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, Creative industry, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The podiatry of making pots

  1. Linda Starr says:

    switching the handles give the pot a spark of energy, the best things happen when you just let go and go with the flow with clay.

  2. Tom Johnson, Jr. says:

    Duckfoot Johnson writing here:

    After looking at Michael Klines’s handles and contemplating all my interactions with podiatrists – and clay, I testify that the search for perfect shoes is unceasing. So are searches for the perfect glaze, pottery form, kiln, drawing and color. And scooter.

    Carter, you already found the perfect turquoise glaze, but abandoned it in the search for the perfect micro-crystalline glaze or set of glazes. And then . . . next month or in a year or three, there will be something else that surprises me about your work – and with others searching too.

    What’s with that? I think I know, in part. The quest for mastery does not stop until we are halted by something like Parkinson’s or the funeral home. And perhaps not even then, depending on one’s religious views or take on what some call ju-ju.

    Those handles appear to work on several different levels. And that’s good. I have no idea how it would be to get your ‘old’ turquoise glaze to work in conjunction with your new set of glazes, or if they are even compatible chemically. The late Ezra Sellers used to say if you are stumped with a drawing or painting or some other sort of composition, “Turn it upside down.”

    Simplicity with complexity at the same instant, the universe in micro, no right up or down.
    Or best pair of shoes forever. Sigh.

    And thanks for blogging.

    Duckfoot, over and out. 13.5 EE and counting.

    • Thanks Duckfoot! πŸ™‚

      Talk about having big shoes to fill…….. That was a great response! Thanks also for the kind words! Maybe that Sellers idea is an unconscious metaphor for the idea of wearing ‘flip flops’. Upside down is a particular kind of difference. Glad you pointed that out! And knowing your history with foot issues I just knew you’d have some insight on the podiatry of pot making. Any thoughts on the parallels to a corrective boot? As some of the potters I talk to are experiencing, the physical limitations of stuff like back pain often force us into different procedures or processes. Scott Cooper is now throwing pots standing up at an electric wheel after having potted for most of his life on a sit-down treadle wheel…… David Morgan had to adjust after he injured his hand…….. As life goes on and time takes its toll, how we adapt to things needs to evolve. Just physically it seems we are called on to ‘wear new shoes’………. Such an interesting metaphor to explore!

      Thanks for adding to the conversation!


      • Scott Cooper says:

        It’s actually kind of amazing how compelling “the quest for mastery” can be. Sometimes you get to pick out the new pair of shoes; sometimes the universe comes along and hands you a pair of roller skates and you make what you can in them.

  3. Tom Johnson, Jr. says:

    Well, “on the other hand”, another rule of thumb or aphorism is the job description for the small business owner or administrator of a tiny non-profit described simply as “whatever it takes”. People continually surprise me in adjustment or eventual adaptation. Due to physical limitations, life for me is a bit different than I expected. To my surprise, “just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in” – the creative process that is, and especially clay. As a child, my granddad (1890-1971) amazed me with his low tech, low energy flower, fruit, vegetable, bush, and tree accomplishments on his retirement farm. He adapted to lack of $$ or loss of prowess to his situation. Remembering him, I’ve come to think think the physical part of clay is NOT as much of a hurdle for the somewhat gimpy as I once thought – though the ability to dig a simple hole in the ground eludes me, personally. I think our physical part – to a point – will eventually “turn it upside down” for us. Your revelation about the origin and transformation of your electric kiln is a good example. What?? No kidding. Do tell. About Michael Kline’s handles: am quite glad he put those handles on sideways. Those sideways handles will show up on other folks pieces as part of positive group think, then likely adapted in quite different ways. Best Spring to you, Duckfoot.

    • To get carried away with the references and allusions flying around here I’ll skip ‘Don Johnson’, go from the Godfather to Miami Vice and simply call you Duckfoot Crockett from now on. πŸ˜‰

      Gotta love the groupthink available to us now in these internetted times. Its especially interesting and important when we get to tell our stories and share our passions with people who then take what they learned and run with it. Sometimes its those little tid bits that are the right calorie for us to lift off and surmount the challenges facing us. That was a nice story about your grandfather!

      I’ll save my kiln genesis for a later time. Its probably just you and me reading these comments by now….. So the public unveiling is probably better left to something that other people will potentially actually get to see. Thanks for the prompt though. Yet another way the internet is crazy valuable: We can get cajoled and chivvied into doing things we might not otherwise have even thought of doing. You are a good provocateur, Duckfoot Crockett!

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