When I was growing up in international school in China, one of my art class projects was to create a Chinese porcelain design on a paper plate.
I remember looking at reference photos and trying to emulate the intricate patterns with my pencil on that slightly ridged paper plate.
There was frustration that day. Mostly because I couldn’t do a good job, and I thought my porcelain plate patterns weren’t pretty, but also because when it came to painting the watercolour blue that we were using symbolically as glaze, I couldn’t paint within the lines (I developed this ability very late in my life).
That disaster of an art project was the beginning of what has become a very long love relationship with all things porcelain, and by extension, ceramics.
If you have ever tried your hand at creating ceramics, you might come to appreciate how hard it is to make a piece.
To create that simple blue and white rice bowl you eat out requires much effort, and incredible amounts of skill.
From that moment of little girl frustration of not being able to copy a pattern, to my current grown-up attempts to centre the damn clay on the wheel, I feel like the symmetry of a cup, the sturdy posture of a vase, and the squat loveliness of a plate have come to mean so much more.
At 九份 in Northern Taiwan, I wandered into a pottery lab, and quivered a little at all the different bowls, plates, jugs, cups, and other ceramic pieces that were being created, or that were on display.
It motivated me into ceramic workshops, learning how to slab, to cut, to score, to pinch, to spin … I could go on.
Ceramic-making is the combination of types of clay, varying degrees of heat, and different mixtures of glaze.
It is a process built in stages, and requires proficiency, knowledge and skill at all levels before the perfect-looking object emerges – an object that in fact, has a very mundane, practical quality about it.
I identify very much with this clay-making process, as it is a way for me to think about how I would like to come into being again and again.
It is very much in my interests to continue to be mundane and practical, in the sense that I don’t want to be a decorative piece in a spotlight in an exhibition somewhere. I would like to be used at a dinner table, or to hold leftovers in the fridge. I would like to be washed constantly at the sink and reused again. This is the kind of life I want to have lived, to be engaged with, to be surrounded by, to be functional and used.
It is also in my interests to be a good cup or a good bowl. I would like to be spun meticulously from a centre that holds, and shaped by firm hands that imagine me into possible use.
The glaze is the fun part. The glaze is adornment that serves different purposes: a simple clear glaze to make me waterproof, or a layering of colour to achieve effects.
Maybe someday, I will even possess the intricate patterning of porcelain and its beauty in full.
Porcelain is tough, despite being breakable, because it is long and tedious loving and working that puts it together.
I am always constantly both my own potter, and the clay in someone else’s hands.
Every day is a process of being molded by a Potter, and figuring out how to do the same.
May that process always spin new life and purpose in me.
Dress from loveandbravery
Shoes from Aldo