How I Fell In Love with Ceramics: A, uh, Love Story

How did I start taking ceramics classes, you may be wondering? Well, it started out with a grudge against a building.

When we first moved up here to Michigan, Mickey and would spend a decent amount of time just driving around and exploring our neighborhoods. One of the building we passed with regularity was a small building with a simple sign that read “Nadga’s Ceramics.”

I, in classic Jacki fashion, mispronounced that name hardcore in my head before hearing out loud for the first time. I got the contsantants swapped – another thing that happens pretty frequently.

So, we would drive by this place for a full year and it never looked open. The windows always seemed dark and the signed read “closed”. Now, we chalked this up to us living a weird third shift life and simply not driving by at the times the ceramics business was open.

But I’d check every single time, because I watched “The Great Pottery Throwdown” a lot (it makes me feel warm and happy) and I was fascinated by the ceramics part of things. The pouring, the leather hard stage, the firing, the glazing. All of it.

The raku!

The reason I was drawn to this style of clay work vs. wheel throwing is because of my aphantasia. Wheel throwing is hard for my brain, cause I don’t have any idea of what a finished piece ougtha look like, you know? I can’t plan it. Also, I don’t much like having my hands dirty, so…

In my brain, I was kind of mad at this building, because it was never open and I wanted it to be. Irrational, I know.

And then one day the sign read “Open” and Mickey pulled a full on u-turn and we pulled into the parking lot.

I made the 3d version in ceramics class, than used Procreate and my Apple Pencil to make the framed version for Nadga for Christmas!

As we were pulling in, a mysterious hand was flipping the sign from “Open” to “Closed” and my shoulders began to slump in sadness. Then the rest of the body attached to the hand exited the door and looked at us.

I was smiling, of course and said, “I am so happy to see you open! I feel like we drive by all the time and you’re always closed!”

This got a sort of cranky reaction, which I now understand a bit better, now that I know Nadga a bit more.

We asked her what her hours were and said we’d be sure to return tomorrow.

She said something along the lines of, “That’s silly, just come in now!”

So we did. And it is like a wonderland in there, y’all. There is art everywhere in various states of completion. There is not an empty flat surface to be found anywhere. Even the work space is covered with newspaper and old yogurt containers and tools and the ever-present sleeve of saltine crackers (store brand, though, because they taste better).

We talked a bit about how long she had been there and her work as a ceramicist. Then I asked, “Do you have classes?”

She said yes!

Then I asked how much they were. Cause, I don’t know if I mentioned it, but this place is CLOSE to the Professor Haus. Like, walking distance close.

She told me the cost of the class – $35 for 10 weeks of ceramicsin’.

I was in! It happened really fast, before my brain got a chance to catch up and come up with all these fears and stuff. I said yes, let’s do it and arranged which class I would join, as a session was already in progress.

I showed up, all shy and nervous, on a Wednesday morning. As mentioned, we live that 3rd shift life up here, meaning I’m not normally awake before 11am, which is when my class started.

It’s okay, though, waking up early is worth it.

I didn’t know what I’d be getting into, what I would be doing on my first day.

When I arrived there were some other folks there already and an empty space at the table, obviously for me, the newbie. And, as a newbie, I was extremely nervous. My brain likes knowing what it’s getting into and this was a huge unknown, agreed to on a whim.

I’m 99% sure if I would have went home and thought about it, I would have not started these classes. I’m so glad I joined on the spot.

In the empty space on the table sat a selection of unfinished project options.

Nadga asked me if I wanted to clean or paint and I didn’t really know, so I said clean! She showed me which pieces were at the cleaning stage and told me to choose one.

I honestly don’t even remember what the rest of the options were, cause I saw this snowman (now named Dan) and didn’t look back.

My first class I spent two hours cleaning him up. What does that mean? Well, when the ceramics come out of the pour, they are at the leather hard stage. Since they were poured into a two-sided mold that is tightly banded together, there is a thick seam left where the two sides meet.

Here is what my squirrel friend looked like after the cleanup process:

At this stage, it’s my job to make that seam disappear. I use a variety of tools for this, inclduing a two sided scraper thingie, a white brush used ONLY for this purpose and an slightly wet sponge. This part is so satisfying, y’all. The scraping sound doesn’t make my teeth feel on edge like most scraping does. Plus, it feels good to make everything uniform.

Here’s what he looked like pre-cleanup:

It works well with both my autism and OCD is what I’m saying.

What I am not saying is that it is a dusty proccess and I come home covered in ceramics dust after every clean up session. That’s okay though, because like a fancy rug, I can just beat on whatever I am wearing and the dust comes right off.

The next class was my painting class and gosh, I loved that too. It was like a 3d in person coloring book.

I, of course, had to be weird and not paint normal snowman colors. I think before I decided to give him a yellow and black scarf and hat, Nadga had no idea what she had gotten into with me.

Here is the latest thing I 3d colored:

As the weeks progressed, she understood me a bit better.

Likewise, I understood her a little bit better.

Let me tell you the things I love about her, in a quick list:

  • She was just married for the first time last year. She is in her early 70s, I believe.
  • She loves candy, which is a thing we have bonded over. I gifted her some freeze dried candy for Christmas and she was delighted.
  • She truly loves and cares for people and I love to see how that love and manifests for different humans.
  • She is addicted to saltines like I am addicted to sour skittles.
  • She cannot wait to die because she is looking forward to being a ghost and haunting people.

She is also one of the most gentle, supportive teachers of anything that I’ve ever had. If you screw something up (which I do a lot), she knows how to fix it. She has had years of experience, so the tricks she has for ceramics are as deep as a Mary Poppins carpet bag.

The best part is that she manages to correct my mistakes without making me feel small, or dumb, or talked down to. The mistake is a thing that happened, here is how to fix it. No need to make anyone feel bad for it, right?

Wednesday mornings are my favorite mornings of the week. I don’t feel pressure to talk, I can just work on my project and listen to all the words swirling around me.

And I get to make pretty (or weird) things. Got any ideas for me? I’m up for anything.

I just found out I can make my own porcelain-faced Cabbage Patch Kids eventually. OMG!

4 Comments

  1. Bre

    Cabbage Patch faces?! I love how fun all the people and the parts are of this for you.
    (does that sentence make sense? I feel like I need to rearrange it, but I don’t know how…)

    • Jacki

      She has the faces! Hands! And feet! So I just have to make a stuffed sack of a body.

  2. woozxyl

    How is “Nagda” pronounced? In my head, it sounds like “Magda” with an ‘N.’ I am so happy you discovered a new way to art 🙂

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