Interdisciplinary Learning: What pottery taught me about commitment and my creative process


Bisque fired bowls

Interdisciplinary study in any subject has the potential to provide new perspectives, inform processes, and adjust priorities.

I love art, but as a mixed media painter who is also a full-time higher education administrator, I sometimes struggle to prioritize creativity; painting doesn’t pay the bills, it requires time to set-up, space where I can be messy, and dedication to consistently return to the work.

When I began my first pottery class in January 2015, I learned that throwing on the wheel was more technical than I anticipated and the clay much more temperamental. In my first four classes, I made two very small and very heavy bowls. I also decided to never try pottery again; it was too hard and not very enjoyable.

A full year later, in February 2016, I signed up for a semester-long class in the same studio with a different teacher. I attended my weekly 2 ½-hour class, learned new techniques, and scheduled independent studio time outside class. Sometimes I would eat lunch at my desk, run over to the studio, and spend a quick 30 minutes of lunch trimming a pot or glazing a cup. In other words, I put in the hours. The consistency and dedication began to pay off. Five months into the process, I’m consistently surprising myself.

Floating Blue Bowls

For those who are unfamiliar with the process of creating a wheel-thrown piece, here are the basics. In my studio where the kiln runs every few days, the above process can take 3-6 weeks:

  • Throw something on the wheel
  • Allow to dry for a few days
  • Trim
  • Bisque fire in kiln
  • Glaze
  • Final fire in kiln

So what does pottery teach me about painting? Pottery reminds me that it takes time to become even slightly skilled at a new activity. On the surface this is an obvious lesson, but think back to the last time you tried something completely new: learning a new language, trying a new physical activity, or making a new friend. It’s easy to rely on activities in our comfort zones. For me, 2D art is comfortable; 3D art is in stretch territory. By embracing that I knew nothing about pottery, I allowed myself to fail, put in the hours to get better, and celebrate small wins. Imagine the possibilities if we apply these principles and techniques with something that’s already comfortable? If I embraced failure, commitment, and recognizing success at work, for example, I would be a much more effective leader and team member.

Furthermore, throwing on the wheel reminds me how crucial space and time are to my creative process:

  • Space = the physical place where I create and the mental space to focus on it
  • Time = consistent times in my schedule devoted solely to art

I paint with acrylics, often using a watercolor-like application, and incorporate materials such as graphite, paper, or thread. As the paint requires time to dry between layers (just as the stages of clay work require time) I paint three or four pieces simultaneously. By committing to this process, I am eager to see what I create and how my painting experience may change.