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nancylee

Help! I Can't Center Anymore!

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Hello, I'm new to this forum and I am seeking help.  I have been a potter for almost 20 years, I've thrown thousands of pieces and pride myself on meticulous work.  Over the past two months I haven't been able to throw a pot to save my life.  Not even a cup.  I'm using the same clays I've always used.  Many times I simply cannot center the clay.  But even when I successfully center the clay and pull it open I end up with either a thick side or walls too thin to hold up.  I've gone through about 200 lbs of clay over the past couple of weeks and managed to throw one uneven pot.  It's as if I've never thrown a pot in my life.  I'm to the point of giving up.

 

I'm asking other potters, Is this just a stage?  Have I lost my mojo?  Do other potters go through this and how do they recover?  I'm frustrated to the point of putting my wheel at the curb. 

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5. center by watching and focusing on something other than the clay, your hands, and centering.  Center while singing aloud your favorite song.  let your muscle memory take over on its own.

 

Ditto this. Being confident in centering clay has alot to do with feel rather than focusing on the actual symmetry.

There have been days I sit down and wonder what the heck I'm doing because I am somehow 'off', making no sense at all.

This can happen in the middle of a production run, and if I feel it happening, I often 'just look away' and hink about something else and just feel what I'm doing.

I don't know if this old age or what, but it happens.

Agree with this statement too...

 

Center while singing aloud your favorite song.  let your muscle memory take over on its own.

 

I've considered the age question.  My hands are not what they used to be and arthritis has kicked in.  I will try some of your suggestions listed above and thank you. 

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Hello, I'm new to this forum and I am seeking help.  I have been a potter for almost 20 years, I've thrown thousands of pieces and pride myself on meticulous work.  Over the past two months I haven't been able to throw a pot to save my life.  Not even a cup.  I'm using the same clays I've always used.  Many times I simply cannot center the clay.  But even when I successfully center the clay and pull it open I end up with either a thick side or walls too thin to hold up.  I've gone through about 200 lbs of clay over the past couple of weeks and managed to throw one uneven pot.  It's as if I've never thrown a pot in my life.  I'm to the point of giving up.

 

I'm asking other potters, Is this just a stage?  Have I lost my mojo?  Do other potters go through this and how do they recover?  I'm frustrated to the point of putting my wheel at the curb. 

 

Hi JimO and welcome to the forums.

 

I'm wondering if you are having dexterity problems with other tasks? Sounds very unusual to just not be able to throw anymore after 20 years of it. Have you been to a physician to see if something is going on medically wise?

 

Hope you get it sorted out, must be incredibly frustrating.

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Thank you for the welcome Min.

 

Frustration would be an understatement. I'm supposed to be making christmas stock right now and I have a new gallery expecting work in two weeks.  I'm a little beside myself on what to do. I've noticed that I've been dropping things lately so you may be on to something.  I spoke to the doc about my hands and joints last visit but he did not seem concerned.  I consider it may be the wheel. I am starting to have issues trying to keep the kick wheel going and concentrate on my throwing at the same time.  Could be time for an electric wheel or I could just be scapegoating my poor wheel..... 

 

My wife though, and she knows me well after 40+ years says I've jinxed myself and have created a "potters" block. I'm beginning to wonder.  How does one recover from that? 

 

Cheers

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your ordinary doctor may not be as knowledgeable in this area.  see a neuro specialist.  i saw one years ago and he tested my hands.  i have slept with a brace on each wrist for years.  it really helps a lot.  i don't want to think what comes next.

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Hello and welcome JimO.

 

I had a few thoughts about this. Have you checked to see that your wheel is still level? I used to have a kick wheel but gave it up many years ago and switched to electric. If something was not level or became misaligned, it was difficult to center and keep the pots even. Have you moved the wheel recently or could the wheel shaft have somehow gotten bent? Maybe there is a screw or bolt that has gotten loose or worn out. If so, just the act of kicking the wheel could be enough to cause a little wobble to throw things off center.

 

I hope that your issues are just some easily fixed mechanical ones with the wheel and not complicated physical problems with your body.

Best of luck to you with this.

 

Susan

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Thank you for the welcome Min.

 

Frustration would be an understatement. I'm supposed to be making christmas stock right now and I have a new gallery expecting work in two weeks.  I'm a little beside myself on what to do. I've noticed that I've been dropping things lately so you may be on to something.  I spoke to the doc about my hands and joints last visit but he did not seem concerned.  I consider it may be the wheel. I am starting to have issues trying to keep the kick wheel going and concentrate on my throwing at the same time.  Could be time for an electric wheel or I could just be scapegoating my poor wheel..... 

 

My wife though, and she knows me well after 40+ years says I've jinxed myself and have created a "potters" block. I'm beginning to wonder.  How does one recover from that? 

 

Cheers

Schedule a meeting with a neurologist asap. Unlearning something like throwing is more than unusual. You may have had a small stroke or other event that has caused damage to your brain. Explain to the doctor that not being able to center clay would be similar to suddenly being unable to zip your jacket up.

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Hi Everyone, and thank you al for your comments. Regarding the kick wheel, in fact I recently disassembled it and moved it to another state.  Off level was the first thing I considered and making sure it was level was the first thing I did.

 

I took a few days off and purposely avoided the studio.  Went for a hikes, sat in the woods all day, cleared my mind. Last Monday I got back on the wheel, threw two awful bowls which I scrapped and had lunch.  After lunch I got on the wheel again and lo I threw 5 perfect mixing bowls.  The next day I threw 15 perfect cups.  I've been throwing perfectly since.  As quickly as it came on it went away.

 

I'm not sure what the lesson here is. Not sure why potters block hit me like it did, but now I believe it was as the missus suggested, all in my head. 

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I got stuck like that a couple years ago. I finally went out in the dark (my wheel is under a roof but open), Had a glass of wine while simply making a ball with the clay, then closed my eyes and went with what I felt - not what I saw. I made a lovely mess, but when I came out the next day I had my mojo back.

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Hey,

I center my clay before I start. I used to toss it on the head, then muscle it in the center. I found out a long time ago, that when throwing 10-15 lbs. it was easier to center the lump of clay first.

So my method now is to start with the lump of clay in the shape of a large Hershey Kiss with the bottom slight convexed, and place(not slam) the clay down. Then center using the index finger, scratching and pushing the clay in place. Then, once it's centered,

I seal it to the bat, before any water is added...that keeps it from sliding

off. This is how I center everything. Its a little OCD, but it works for me.

 

Another reason I started centering this way, was because I didn't like starting with an 8 pound unit of clay, slam it down near the center of the bat, push it in the center, then take a rib and scrape off the excess clay leaving 7 3/4 pounds to work with. I weigh everything before I start so I can incise the weight on the bottom after its finished...starting weight. So if someone says, I like this form but like one smaller or larger or the same I don't have to guess how much clay to start with. :). It border lines Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but again it works

for me.

 

Alabama

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nancylee:

 

As I got older, I learned that I have to be smarter with any ball size of clay that I work with. When I was young, I could use force and technique in combination with each other. The turning point for me came when we came to the USA in 1999 and I was faced with a totally different sitting position at the wheel and ended up with lots of trouble with my arms. I was forced to adjust. Mel Jacobson taught me during a workshop to make sure that I sit at a comfortable level with my knees and  arms; for me that is level with the wheel head, so that I can use the leverage of my body to help me center. I also use the leverage of the wheel to help me.  In my video on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lY_zumG3jE I demonstrate the coning technique that works very well for me. 

 

My guess is that your hands and the wheel speed does not keep up with each other. There is a possibility that your wheel  may have a technical problem, that it is slower/faster than it used to be, while you still use the same pressure, but it is also possible that you have anxiety because you are under pressure to deliver and you became like someone that must walk faster than your legs can carry you ( that is a Afrikaans saying........hope it make sense to you)

 

I want to suggest that you simply take a deep breath and go over your procedures again. If you centered before, you have the know how and you will be able to cure the problem yourself. 

 

 

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I'm having problems coning down into a centred piece of clay.   

I can cone up without issue.  When pushing down, the middle of the spike is starting to twist and torque as other people in the thread have described.    I'm using my left hand to put a bit of pressure into the clay sideways with my right hand pushing down.   I was able to do this with my tutor, but at home I can't avoid that twisting.  Coning up and trying again isn't helping.

That means I have to brutalise the clay into place to the wheelhead and then centre again once it's in shape.

Any ideas?  When I was with the tutor it was fine; coning down it felt like the clay was falling away underneath my hands.  Can't replicate that.   I don't know if I should wedge for longer, use water instead of slip or what.

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20 hours ago, hantremmer said:

I'm having problems coning down into a centred piece of clay.   

I can cone up without issue.  When pushing down, the middle of the spike is starting to twist and torque as other people in the thread have described.    I'm using my left hand to put a bit of pressure into the clay sideways with my right hand pushing down.   I was able to do this with my tutor, but at home I can't avoid that twisting.  Coning up and trying again isn't helping.

That means I have to brutalise the clay into place to the wheelhead and then centre again once it's in shape.

Any ideas?  When I was with the tutor it was fine; coning down it felt like the clay was falling away underneath my hands.  Can't replicate that.   I don't know if I should wedge for longer, use water instead of slip or what.

I think you're creating the torque by using two hands at the top. I find that just the right hand pressing lightly down and in towards the center lets the clay center itself. You will have to experiment a bit to find the right angle and pressure. I use enough moisture to keep the clay from dragging.  You can use your left hand to keep the right hand steady - my left pinky rests on the wheelhead while the thumb sits lightly on my right wrist.

Hope this helps, you don't want to waste energy and clay!

Edited by Rae Reich
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Thanks for the replies, though I'm not sure I've described this properly.   I'm not able to upload my own photo, so I've found one online.

This is the kind of shape I'm talking about.   Pushing down and having he clay centred at the end of the motion.  My spike would be thinner and have a more rounded/pointed top.  When I push down from the top, the centre starts to twist.  It looks a bit like the nail in the bottom picture until I squash it into shape.

 

maxresdefault.jpg

 

3etue.jpg

Edited by hantremmer

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On 11/4/2017 at 11:10 AM, hantremmer said:

I'm using my left hand to put a bit of pressure into the clay sideways with my right hand pushing down.

If your wheel is spinning counterclockwise then I would suggest reversing which hand is pressing in the downwards motion.  Left hand, the fleshy part where your thumb joins your palm press the cone downwards and slightly towards the right. The right hand is just stabilizing and containing the mass to keep if from spreading out.

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Which ever direction that you have the wheel going. . . the clay should be moving into your palm, not away from it. This allows you to put the most pressure on the clay with a bracing against the body. If you are torquing the clay(corkscrew looking) then you are trying to tighten up on the clay too much. Use less pressure, and a little more water moving the clay downward slowly. You may find that the hand on top may work better as a fist, pushing down with the underside of the balled fist when held vertically on the clay. Allow the fist to be slightly lower closer to your body so that you keep the clay going down in a cone shape instead of digging into the center. As you get closer to the wheel head, your fist will naturally flatten out.

 

best,

Pres

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