My mom has always been creative and driven. Perhaps I should have said driven and creative, because it’s her drive that has made so many of her creative endeavors successful.
When she came to visit us last month, she showed me some of the pictures of a project she’d worked on with my sister. Although I wasn’t really surprised, I was completely and totally impressed by how awesome it was. I asked her to write about it, and today, I get to share her story with you.
If it’s too long for you, take this lesson: Try. When you fail, try again. And try again after that. Success isn’t the result of talent, it’s the result of hard work.
Hook, Line, and Sinker
By Tina Litster
Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn is famous for saying, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
This is a picture of my first pottery creation. It has an honored place in my home—in my laundry room, in fact, and holds the things I remove from the dryer that didn’t get taken out of pockets before they were washed. I am not exactly embarrassed by it, but judging by my placement in my home, I’m not showing it off to too many people, either. It is, however, a great reminder of the road I have, and we must travel to achieve excellence in anything.
My road in pottery started 37 years ago, with a desire. I wanted to take a pottery class in High School, but since I played the clarinet in Band (musical art), I couldn’t take a visual arts class. My fascination with thrown pottery stayed with me, but life interfered, and I just couldn’t add pottery to my life. Fast forward through 34 years of marriage, raising a family, and dozens of other responsibilities and interests and hobbies– I found myself talking to a friend and discovering that we both have long wanted to learn to make pottery, specifically wheel thrown pots. So I looked online and found Belger Crane Yard Studios in Kansas City that offered all sorts of pottery classes. We signed up for the beginner wheel class, and in October 2017, I realized my 37 year old dream. I was 53 years old, and literally up to my elbows in mud.
It was great working with my hands, something I have always loved, and I didn’t mind the mud, since working in the dirt is one of my happy places. But after hours of trying, I couldn’t get that ball of clay centered consistently, and that is step number one if you want to make anything at all on the pottery wheel.
With the class came access to the studio as often as you want to practice, so I spent many days there that month, trying to learn how to throw pots. With only one week left of the four week class, I was at the wheel one day trying to center and was failing, miserably, and seriously considering calling it enough—I’d tried and it wasn’t my thing, when a woman approached me and asked, “What are you doing?” Embarrassed, and wanting her to just leave me alone to my pathetic efforts, I said, “I’m trying to learn to center”.
She proceeded to tell me everything I was doing wrong, but then, to my relief (and eventual gratitude), helped me find the right height of stool, learn how to position my elbows and hands, how much water to use, etc. I don’t know who she was, and I never saw her again to thank her, but from that day on, I began to progress, and quickly.
I began to make little butter dishes in different shapes and even made a set of bowls. Pottery had me, hook, line and sinker. In a few months I took an intermediate wheel class, and spend a great deal of time on YouTube, looking for inspiration for what to try next. I decided I wanted to try to sculpt “Wind and Fire” from a thrown pot. The teacher for this class told me that I was setting my sights a little too high for my level of skill, but I am more than a little competitive with myself, so I persisted. I failed a lot, but I succeeded enough to keep myself motivated. Every time I crushed a pot that didn’t suit me, my family or other students would gasp, but I found a strange satisfaction in the process—”after all”, my teacher reminded me, “you can make something even better on your next attempt”.
I was about 6 months into this new passion of mine, and one of the teachers at the studio asked me if I’d be interested in a hand-building class. “I don’t think so,” I said, “I like throwing”. But he persisted, and knowing how I love texture, he showed me how hand-building would give me options for texture that throwing can’t. So I told him I’d take a class if he would combine more advanced throwing with hand-building. It doesn’t happen often, but I am so glad I was proven wrong!
From the first day of that class, I began to really create—I would rush through every other duty in my life so I could get back to working with clay. Christmas was coming up, so I started thinking of things I could make for my kids with my new skills. My first idea was to create some snack trays for 5th Level Nerd. They were a hit!
Next was a Harry Potter snack tray for my daughter, Sonja. She is a great Harry Potter fan, and I have created several things for her from the HP world. Another win!
Sonja got an Art degree, and had a little experience working with clay, so we decided, since she was going to be with us through New Year’s Day, that we should try to create something together for her Harry Potter collection. We set our sights on the TriWizard Cup, and began to plan how it should be built.
Unlike me, Sonja has had art training, so she figured out the proportions of base, cup and stem–something I would not have thought to consider, and would have figured out by trial and error—too much error, I think. Sonja created the base and I made the cup and stem. That was the foundation, and the easy part.
We decided that I should do the detail on the cup and stem, while she sculpted the serpent/dragon handles. After a little while, she couldn’t seem to get them the way she wanted, so we switched. For the next several hours, we carved and molded, adding the parts at that magic moment when they were still soft enough to bond to the cup, but firm enough to hold their shape.
It was incredible to me how seamlessly we worked together (we had never created anything together before), and how our combined skills and our fearless creativity worked together to create this masterpiece. When people ask me how we figured it out, I can only say, “one step at a time”. Neither of us had done anything close to this complex before. We didn’t really know what we were doing, we just knew we could figure it out as we went along, and hoped we’d be happy with the outcome.
There are so many things I have learned from this experience. Among them is this– it’s never too late to start; in fact, I believe that all the years in between my first desire to do pottery and my first touch of a ball of clay were a big part of why I am capable of creating such a variety of ceramic pieces. I had spent those 34 years going from interest to interest, and creation to creation, including sewing, tatting, knitting, floral design, framing, woodworking, pattern design, cake decorating, papercrafting, costume design, printing, digital graphic design, landscaping, and even construction. All of those things taught me how to work with my hands and a variety of materials, design in nature, the tactile, together with the visual quality of an item, the hard work of learning something new, perseverance, and most importantly, to never fear failure.
Of all the things that make success possible, I am convinced that is the most important. Never fear failure. If you have a strong desire to learn or do something, only fear can stop you. Time gets in the way only temporarily, money (or the lack of it) can slow you down, physical handicaps can make it much more difficult, but only fear can stop you.
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it! Begin it now! “ (Goethe)
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