Novel Construction – Week 13

August 28, 2014 § 2 Comments

handmade chunky clay house - 1962

My hand built clay house – 1962

The summer before sixth grade I got to ride the bus by myself to the University of Washington campus to take an art class. This was a really cool thing. I felt very important, and confident that I would learn how to do everything -draw, paint, sculpt- perfectly. First time. After all, the instructor was a trained professional. One who knows everything.

Each class we worked with a different medium. When we got to clay I built this house. It had an awning over the front door supported by two pillars. That was the first thing to go wrong. I didn’t understand how to secure built-on parts so they wouldn’t break or collapse in the kiln. But the rest of my house held up well. Our professor warned us about rolling our slabs too thin…I made sure even the Big Bad Wolf wouldn’t crack mine.

super sturdy slab construction weighs a ton

Super Sturdy Slab Construction – weighs a ton

We were encouraged to make decorative impressions in the clay with tools. I used a pencil and my fingernail, eager to get on to the next step: painting. I don’t remember now if we fired our clay creations first and then applied the glaze, and fired them again (since I never made slab house construction my career), but I do remember how surprised and angry I was at the looks of the exterior of my finished house.

My favorite colors together were pink and orange – never mind the popular opinion that those two colors you NEVER put together, ever, because of The Clash. I didn’t care about popular opinions. They were all stupid. I wanted half my house pink and the other half orange, with an alternating pink and orange striped awning. So I dipped my brush into the shiny bright pink glaze and slathered away. Thrilling! Then I did the same with the orange glaze (also very bright and shiny in its liquid form). Whoo! Going to be the most beautiful clay house in the land.

The following week we watched while the professor unloaded the kiln. Nothing shiny about my home exterior colors, first of all.  Second – and worst – the orange had been obliterated by the heat, leaving behind this putrid, ash charred dirty white. I was sure the professor had tricked me on purpose. For a good laugh? So I’d never be as great a slab house builder as he was? Who knew? I didn’t have the guts to ask any questions at age 10. And if I had, I wouldn’t have known what to ask. Maybe he assumed I knew what I was doing (going at those colors with a passionate purpose). Maybe he told us all about the colors changing and I didn’t hear him, couldn’t hear, wouldn’t hear. Maybe he even had sample glazed & fired squares dangling on one of those silver ball chains, and assumed I knew what they were, why they were there on the table with the jars of to-die-for rainbow liquid glazes. I don’t know.


I do know this: “It’s best to have failure early in life. It wakes up the Phoenix bird in you so you rise from the ashes.” – Anne Baxter

TIP: Keep failing. The Phoenix bird still lives…even After 60!!   xo Pierr


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