Monday, January 26, 2015

Slow and Low, That Is The Tempo

We're back in the studio rocking out to Gen X Radio on Pandora, and making pots. It feels thrilling after a big break for moving in and setting up.

I had the great pleasure of hanging out with Kyle Carpenter and friends in Asheville the other night. We had an interesting conversation about mugs, speed, work practices and our course our tender feelings.

Stepping back.... last Fall, I was fretting how long mugs took me and trying to go faster. I was trying hard to make more and be more efficient. I think I got up to about 4 mugs per hour. That's every step of the process: throwing, adding the handle, refining some edges, slipping, painting underglaze, some carving, the bisque firing, wax and glaze application, glaze firing, drawing the artwork, preparing and applying the image transfers, the final firing, and some final quality checks and sanding.

Hitting four per hour was big improvement for me. I had been averaging about two per hour when we first headed to the hills as full-time potters. I was so focused on getting faster. Then Kyle and I got to talking, and he telling me he is at 2 or 3 and happily trying to slow down. He's reveling in taking it slow and getting pulled into each detail. It was really kind of shocking to hear.

But it shouldn't have been. I mean if you know Kyle's work, you know his stuff is really TIGHT. Meaning very consistent, appealing, and ergonomic. I love how his big tankard feels in my hand.

Thinking about all this I made the effort this while starting a big run of mugs to get the new year off and running. I really relaxed into them and made the effort to slow down. It was great, the mugs got a little taller and straighter, the rims more refined. I was super-focused, obsessing really, about perfecting each handle.

Instead of being a little stressful, it was a lot of fun. And the mugs turned out GREAT!

So I gave Kyle a call to talk about the experience and say thanks and we had a great follow-up conversation. We talked a bit about the flipside of how speed matters too, we are trying to make a living with our art after all. It is an interesting tension between wanting to be relaxed and perfectionist, and the financial pressure of having to get the work made quickly enough that you can keep your prices at a reasonable level.

For now let’s ignore the question of what makes a price “reasonable” as that will be a future fun post.

Anyhow, as an experiment I decided to then alternate between speeding up and slowing down over several iterations in the studio. This was a fantastic experiment and I highly recommend it. The slowing down phases of really intense focus are obviously going to help move the work forward. Then when your comfort level and muscle memory build up a bit, you can safely accelerate and hopefully keep a hold on the quality improvements but be more productive.

The final result of all this: I do think making a conscious effort to go against the grain and force yourself to switch up your pace is incredibly beneficial.

I guess the trick moving forward will be developing a good intuitive sense of when to speed up, and when to dial it back a bit.

So give it a try, and please comment and let me know what you think.