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QotW: What are some basic things you can do to avoid needless failures and disappointment?

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Hi folks,

Recently Chris Campbell posted this question recently in the Question of the Week question pool: What are some basic things you can do to avoid needless failures and disappointment?

Oh could you jump on a lot of answers to that one! I have a few I could use as answers.

  • Take the time to do things right, as in: dry pots thoroughly, take time to score before applying slip or Magic water, Water Smoke every load, Use a cool down cycle, center well before opening up, compress the bottom before making your first pull, wedge all your reclaimed clay when not using a deairing pugmill, clean the bottoms well before bisque and before glaze firing, take time to double sieve glazes after formulating, after Winter storage, or when getting crumbles in your glaze ware .
  • Clear the avenues, or make certain you have clear range of motion to get around the studio without stumbling over, glaze buckets, piles of bagged clay, pots on bats, overhanging bat boards or other things.
  • Don't jump to far ahead in your expectations of your skills: When throwing make certain to master the smaller amounts of clay before jumping to larger pieces as they will not be as successful and often work best as door stops. Draw, draw, draw if you want to add sgraffito to pots with slip and scratched in decoration, drawing gives you the skills to work freely over the slip without belaboring the design. When hand building start out by drawing/planning the pots out; use front, side and top views to get an idea and get a feel for the form.
  • Don't be so critical that you are never happy!
  • Remember that pottery is hard work, and that improper lifting, carrying or studio activities can really mess you up physically and mentally if you really hurt yourself. So many variables are here to hurt you, machinery, heat, white light, heavy materials, wet surfaces, loose clothing, and many many more.

 

So what would you do to answer Chris' question.  What are some basic things you can do to avoid needless failures and disappointment? 

 

best,

Pres

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Don’t compare your progress to your peers. Doing so will always give you a reason to feel like you are “behind.” The truth is there is no such thing. Everybody learns pottery at a different speed, and everybody started from a different place. Stay on your own path, and travel at your own speed. 

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Sorry GEP, but I have been living/working in a vacuum for so many years. . . never had much in the way of peers to compare myself to since college or grad school. When I finished my MS in Art Ed, I had not taken and ceramics class in over 15 years. We had very few potters in my area, even though Penn State is just over the mountain. I often wonder if I was better off, or not having no one to really bounce ideas off from. I guess that is one of the reasons I value the forum so much, for folks off in a vacuum, it is a place for knowledge, understanding, and empathy.:)

 

best,

Pres

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Having peers to bounce ideas to and from, and comparing your progress to others, are two very different things! I didn’t mean that it’s good to work in isolation. I should have made that clear. I’m mostly talking about classroom situations where pottery students, at different levels, are all working together. I always stressed that this was not a competitive sport, and that it was important to evaluate their own learning progress as individuals. 

This idea applies to everyone including professional potters. If you are a professional, you can always find someone who is doing better than you. It’s a meaningless comparison, because every other potter is on a different place in their arc. It’s important to always measure yourself by your own definitions of success. 

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I find it useful to record for each piece what materials and technique I used, what I liked about it, what I didn't, and what surprised me. Keeping track and then occasionally reviewing helps me not repeat some errors. I know to vary what I did before if I did not like the last result.

I think not working longer than feels comfortable is also a protection against errors and issues borne of fatigue.

Mostly, though, it is useful to have an open definition of failure and disappointment, particularly in trying something new. We build strength by working at the border of what we know, what in ed theory is called "the zone of proximal development." Even if we make fewer errors by staying in the safe zone, we are better off doing a combination of things that are straightforward for us and things at the edge. Those disappointments at the edge can be reconsidered as indications we are working on a path that can lead to growth.

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Being more patient with glazing. For more years than I care to think about if I thought a glaze application wasn’t ideal I would try and fix it up then put it in the kiln with my fingers crossed. (tricky to do) I was too impatient to wash off the glaze, let the pot dry out and start again. Invariably the pots came out of the kiln and into the shard pile. Seems very basic to wash the glaze off and start over but in practice it took me a while to do just that.

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My biggest tip is ... use witness cones in your firings ... so often when a load fails people have no idea of the answer to the most basic questions which are ...what temp did the kiln reach and where was it hot or cold? Without knowing this you are basically just guessing at whether the problem was glaze formula, glaze application, firing cycle etc ...  and this leaves you no good way to advance. Buy and use the whole set on every level of your kiln ... one cone under, one cone over and one at the temp you want.

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Part 1....Take good, legible notes, don't use abbreviations acronyms you have to try to decipher later.

Part 2....the hard part, (for me at least) Actually read the notes when you fire/glaze/etc. again.

Edited by Up in Smoke Pottery
Incomplete

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43 minutes ago, Magnolia Mud Research said:

When encountering a failure, mistake, or "surprise" always conduct a thorough failure analysis (FA)  and/or a root cause analysis (RCA) instead of jumping to a conclusion of what happened. 

Could you write out an example of how you use this process? Sounds interesting to adapt industry terms to our craft.

 

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I experiment a lo,but I usually have the advantage of an educated guess. I really love discovering new ideas from others too  My advice is stick to the direction you want to go and explore as much as possible in the direction you are following.Some things will lead to brilliant results and others, not so much. But it is all part of the learning curve.

Marcia

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Don't forget to clean the slip off the hand blender before churning up the soup broth. Don't confuse a heat gun with a hair dryer.  Don't ever indicate to a relative that you will be discarding "that piece".  Don't try to carry too many pieces in a basket with a weak handle. Don't put the cat on the slowly spinning  wheel if there are pots within a 10 foot radius.  Don't tell your offspring she isn't getting a new iPad for her birthday like you promised because you spent too much on clay and glaze.  Don't wash your greenware to remove dust.

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Research and study before diving into a new technique you want to try.  Work at your  own pace. Take good notes of everything.   Label tubs/buckets promptly and correctly when putting things in them.  LeeU, the cat on the wheel made me laugh out loud!!  Always remember nobody is perfect; take the "failures" and learn from them.  Remember why you started on your clay journey, and hold that love in your heart while you work.

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On ‎2‎/‎28‎/‎2018 at 10:18 AM, Chris Campbell said:

Could you write out an example of how you use this process? Sounds interesting to adapt industry terms to our craft.

Chris,
You asked: Could you write out an example of how you use this process? Sounds interesting to adapt industry terms to our craft.
 
Been pondering an answer that is simple enough to illustrate the process without being trite.  Ain't quite there yet.  However these definitions might be useful.
 
Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a fact based organized process of investigation that starts with questions about observable deviations from expected observable performance.  The primary questions are of the What, Why, and How type. The What, Why & How questions are recursively applied to each of the answers.  All answers are backed by data - preferably sound data from reliable sources (all of which are backed by sound data from ...).
 
Failure Analysis (FA) is process of investigation routinely used by the materials disciplines to understand exactly what failed and what were the conditions at the time of failure.  An example could be doing a Failure Analysis on a crack in a fired glazed bowl to understand when in the firing program the crack formed – was the crack formed early in the “heating up” segment or in the “cooling down” segment? 
 
The RCA process focuses on a wider range of causes and is not limited to a specific discipline domain.  Many RCA's include FA as a subset of the investigation of a specific item failure.  RCA is often applied to problems in non-engineering (management, finance, ...) disciplines.  It can also be adapted to understand successes where failure was expected. 
 
The key to successful application of either process is to set aside opinions and connect the dots between data (facts) that you know for certain and the observed outcomes.  It is OK to answer the question with an "I don't know". The next two questions of course become "Why do I not know .... " and "where can I get more information".  [Your question to me in your Feb 28 post is an example of RCA thinking.]
 
The processes are not about laying blame, but they are about learning.  Facts are better than opinions, but opinions can be used with caution when facts are not available.  Clear logical thinking is emphasized. 
 
Both processes have been around for almost forever.  The specific naming began being hyped (as I remember) in the last quarter of the 20th century.
I'll continue think about how to discuss application to the studio ceramic domain.  For me, both techniques are so embedded in my background that I use them both automatically as part of my problem solving skills -- but then "Ik ben een ingenieur"!
 
Any further discussion probably should be in a separate thread.
 
LT

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