The Mark of the Maker

I'm inlaying the black lines in leather-hard cups today, and it seems like every time I touch one, I put a tiny finger nail mark in it. This doesn’t bother me much, because I can probably smooth it out with a sponge, or rely on the glaze to fill it in. However, it’s got me thinking a lot about my style of work and the expectation of perfection.

Each of these little cups is made individually by hand. They look nearly identical, don't they? Nearly.

The style of my work is simple, stark, and modern. The sides are smooth and unadorned. The lines are laid with a ruler to make sure they’re straight. From a distance, they look perfect. But they’re still handmade. Sometimes, the line is wavy. Sometimes, I leave behind a fingerprint. Sometimes, there’s an unevenness to the color or the glaze.

And sometimes, I wonder if I’ve done myself a disservice by not accounting for those imperfections. Because sometimes, someone will pick up one of my pieces and point to that wavy line, or that fingerprint, and say “Oh. There’s a mistake here.” I make things out of clay because I love the material, and I love making beautiful things that are also useful. I make things in this style because I love simplicity and I believe that a simple object can possess great beauty by having a pleasing shape or the right proportions.

But, I wonder If I need to telegraph the hand-made-ness of my work. There are a few ways I could do this. I could stop using a ruler. I could stop using a metal rib to smooth the outside of every shape into a perfect curve. But, If I let go of those essential elements, and I still making the style of pottery that I want to see? I’m not sure I am.

But, what about that thumbnail mark? If I keep putting pottery out into the world that looks almost perfectly machined, but with an "imperfection", is that the kind of pottery my fans want to buy? Should my goal be perfection? Is anything less than perfection failure? It doesn’t feel like it while I’m in my studio making, but sometimes it feels like it when someone points out that a cup warped and isn’t perfectly round.

I’ve heard other artists talk about this push and pull. About having to decide when a piece is “done” rather than drive yourself nuts incessantly perfecting it. How do you make that determination? When is the mark of the maker a desirable component of a handmade piece, and when is it a blemish?



Whidbey Island, WA

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