Mugs. A basic, utilitarian, functional piece. I had actually, until recently, not enjoyed the process for making mugs. They seem to be too practical. Basic. Tedious. In the past year, though, my opinion on this most humble of pottery forms has started to shift.
I had never been fond of making mugs until last fall, after being approached by a friend to make mugs for his local coffee shop. I was excited for the work, but nervous about the process, as I had never done “production” work before. Making the same type of piece over and over was daunting for a number of reasons.
My inner perfectionist was concerned with not being able to make each piece identical, while my creative side was worried about being stifled in the process of producing similar pieces over and over. I could not have realized at the time, though, that I would learn not only to appreciate the process of creating repetitive work, but to also learn to enjoy it.
I start with cutting lumps of clay, weighing them, wedging them to remove air bubbles and imperfections. Then the one-by-one process begins. Each piece gets its own time and attention. Each piece is centered, pulled, pushed, and thrown into the basic shape it will be. Each piece is cut from the wheel, moved to a tray, and then continued on through the process of trimming, handle attachments, and stamping, cutting, carving, etc. until it is ready to fire for the first time.
As I worked through this process this past year, first starting with a few mugs as time allowed, then moving up to dozens of mugs in a sitting, I learned that no matter what I did to try to make them similar–same weight of clay, same amount of water, same throwing techniques–each piece held on to a certain amount of uniqueness. Each piece kept its own identity.
I find it fascinating that in this simple shape, so much personality can exist. I learned early on (but not after fighting it just a bit!), that each piece needs to keep its own uniqueness. It may have many similarities to another, and may be a part of a group that look so similar that they make a lovely set. However, if you look closely, each piece is its own. Each mug speaks to its owner just a little differently.
The creative outlet I have found through this process of making mugs has been most rewarding. I never tire of hearing how someone found the perfect one, and enjoys using it. A mug. Simple. Predictable. A morning companion or evening friend. This is what mugs have taught me this year. Beauty is found in the most humble of forms. And those forms can bring such delight in the most simple ways.