Adventures in Miniature Pottery

To cope with the Covid-19 quarantine, my ceramics class being canceled, and being stuck at home with almost no clay at all, we ordered a miniature pottery wheel. If you’ve ever looked at buying one of these, you might have noticed as I did, that most of them are from sketchy online sellers, have terrible product descriptions, and next to no reviews. You’d think this would be a deterrent. For a wise human being, perhaps it would, but I am not wise.

When it arrived, I was impressed with the snug, secure packaging, excited by the prospect of playing with clay, and my hopes were high. I was itching to try it out, knowing it wasn’t going to fully compare to the feel of “real throwing” of a proper sized wheel, but optimistic. My troubles began almost immediately, and I’m not sure if the problem is me, or the wheel.

First off, I got really caught up in the “full scale principles” of the craft. How to center, open, and pull up, etc. I should have known that in a similar way to throwing large, throwing miniature has its own set of rules.

A chaotic set of rules.

Where throwing large is like dancing with a hippo - you get what you see and try not to make it mad, throwing small is like wrestling a pixie. It's mad from the start, and it dances and shakes like an optical illusion. Then, when you stop the wheel, it looks nothing like it did when it was spinning. Throwing small is positively topsy-turvy.

These differences between full-sized and mini were the seat of my problems. On the other hand, Theresa had much better luck right off the bat (heh), in a way because she didn’t know what she was doing.

She managed a vase on her first attempt at the wheel, and I had two flops and a mediocre bowl under my belt. Frustrated, I took a break to go talk to a friend while she continued to experiment.

When I returned, she’d produced a small pitcher, a mug, a teeny jar that she would eventually turn into a teapot, and a couple other eensy weensy vessels. Rubbing my hands together, fully expecting failure but hoping for success, I traded places with her, ready to try again. And lo! A vase! And then another bowl! For a moment, I felt as though “this isn’t so hard!”

My success was short-lived. I thought I would try another vase. But pulling up didn’t want to behave, nor did collaring in, and neither did forming the neck, and my two successes were quickly forgotten as I got more and more frustrated with the growing pile of soggy flops off to my side. Once again, the full-sized principles were coming to haunt me.

At that point, we were planning to do an Easter campfire, so I had to clean up, and it was a bitter cleanup. I hadn’t enjoyed myself at all. Most people that know me also know that throwing on the wheel is something I deeply love; I had hoped that I would love miniature throwing too, but I didn’t. Maybe it’s just that I don’t like working on such a minuscule scale, or it could be the wheel itself made things more difficult than enjoyable. (Being so small, the motor will slow down when you apply pressure, causing the wheelhead to stutter. I think this caused a lot of my centering issues, but I probably just need more practice.)

After an afternoon of puttering...I decided it was safe to say I hate the miniature wheel, and making miniature pottery. I might even say it's my new least favorite activity. Whatever the reason, the scale, the wheel, or just personal preference, it took the joy right out of playing with mud for me, instead turning it into a frustrating chore, and that’s the last thing I want my relationship with clay to be.

Theresa is having fun with it so far though, and I'm really glad she's getting some use out of it, because I'm not sure I will be. I'll give it a second chance, but we'll just have to see. Stay tuned, I guess?

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