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Nelly

Guilt and the sponge

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Nelly    16

Dear All,

 

I am a potter who does both hand built and wheel thrown vessels.

 

This week I found myself thinking long and hard about my use of the sponge in throwing. More specifically, I thought about what I was told in an earlier course I took in pottery and that is to use the sponge sparingly.

 

When you look at old videos or those of real master potters, you will see they only really use the sponge to mop out the bottom of the pot. The rest is done with their hand.

 

I notice increasingly, as I watch You Tubes of different potters, that the sponge has become a tool used in almost all stages of wheel formed vessels (i.e., centering, pulling walls, pushing the clay outwards, lubrication and sopping up water and even lip compression and formation). It is no longer used as simply a lubricating or sopping up device. It is central to many potters technique in throwing.

 

I must say, in using the sponge myself, I do feel a little bit of guilt in using the sponge as part of my throwing process and formation. I rationalize this by saying it is like tennis--it doesn't matter how you get the ball over the net, just do it.

 

Does anyone have any hard and fast rules they use when it comes to the use of the sponge?? Am I right in saying that it used to be that sponges were used sparingly in the past and we have evolved into a state of dependence on them to work out small kinks in our throwing technique??

 

Nelly

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Marcia Selsor    1,301

#1 Hard and fast rule:

There are not hard and fast rules in clay.

 

Whatever works for you is what you need to do. I use a sponge when pulling up especially with porcelain to avoid getting the porcelain too wet. Inside and out.

so be it.

 

I never heard of this rule about sponges. I have been in the field since 1966. Get over the guilt. There shouldn't be any.

If you were buying pre-centered clay, you could feel guilty for buying a short cut. But for using a sponge? no.

 

Don't anyone dare ask where to get pre-centered clay, or I'll sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.

 

Marcia

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Chris Campbell    1,088

Darn it Marcia, I was going to ask for some for Christmas!! Surely Santa has a source.

 

Yes, it is really weird how these "RULES" of clay get to the point where they are set in stone because no one questions them. These rules make the lives of the instructors easier and keep them sane in a shared studio environment. Its kind of like parents saying "because I said so" if they don't explain the rationale. Not knowing the why is what messes up the students heads.

 

hmmm ... too boring to remember all the "RULES" I was taught that were not valid ... lets just say that anything that begins with YOU MUST is most likely a studio rule.

 

Behave and follow the "RULES" of whatever studio you are sharing but ... your processes at home, in your own studio will and should vary because it all depends on what you are going to do next.

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I would not see any problem using a sponge while making a pull or centering.

 

My high school teacher ('78) had a problem with it and she nearly had to slap my hand to make me stop. lol.

 

If it works for you, then have at it. :-)

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I am so excited by the idea of pre-centered clay I am befuddled. Please put be down for a thousand pounds of the never-needs-wedging, pre-centered clay. The one that works well with all glazes.

 

I use sponges to throw a lot.with large pots requiring more hand strength, sponges spread the pressure of my fingers over a larger area. I tend to have a problem with my fingers sticking to the clay, and I sometimes will use a piece of chamois rather than a sponge.

 

No guilt. It's just mud.

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Nelly    16

.... must add pre-centered clay to wish list....

 

 

Dear All,

 

My internal thoughts as I use the sponge do reflect comments heard from teachers many years ago. Nelly, "don't use the sponge, use your hands to move the clay." I see this occasionally in you-tube videos where people mention that students often arrive at workshops with their sponge in hand waiting to do that first pull. The instructor then gets them to put the sponge down, use it only for lubrication and the sopping part. Their intention is to get the student not to take short cuts and really feel what is happening under their fingertips.

 

The majority of potters I have determined from my study of the You Tube videos use either a knuckle or claw grip to pull up and make the walls straight or conical on at least their first draw. Some use a palm push grip while connecting their hands in a solid manner to prevent wobbling.

 

I find that I like the sponges. I have small hands. If the clay is a little on the hard size it helps with consistent lubrication. You don't want the sponge dripping wet but you do want moisture to prevent jerking on this initial draw. If your initial draw is off, I find that the whole vessel can be a mess. It is very tactile work. You have to be extremely sensitive to the clay and what it is doing.

 

Just something I thought about when going through all the steps in creating a vessel the other day. I play a mental tape as I center and pull. This tape has come from many, many teachers over the years.

 

Having said that, I think it is like skiing or golf. Sometimes we get so caught up in the technical that we can lose the creativity in the action.

 

At this point, I go for "get the ball over the net anyway you can." I use the sponge and sometimes two, both on the inside and outside of the form for uniformity of wall thickness.

 

But I do suffer sponge guilt. I wish my hands, with the usual lubrication, could simply pull up the walls in exactly the way I want it without the sponges. As I said, I think we all compensate for those areas in throwing where we may not be as good at as others. My sponges help me with these kinks.

 

And obviously, I am not using too much water on the sponges as I have no S cracks and know to compress as I work. So something is working for me. I just hear those teachers in the back of my head and wonder if using my fingers alone would make me a better potter.

 

Nelly

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JBaymore    1,432

Don't anyone dare ask where to get pre-centered clay, or I'll sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.

 

Wasn't it "Captian Ceramics" back in the 60's that was "selling" that stuff? (and wasn't that Rimas?) :lol:src="http://ceramicartsdaily.org/community/public/style_emoticons/default/laugh.gif">

 

best,

 

.....................john

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neilestrick    1,381

I teach my students to only use the sponge for adding and removing water, or cleaning a rim. But never between the fingers and clay when pulling. I think it gives them better control, allows them to get into the clay at the bottom when making the 'pinch', and lets them feel what's actually happening with the clay.

 

I used an elephant ear sponge for years, and always felt a little bit guilty about them being harvested from the ocean. I also disliked spending $5 on a small sponge. When I opened my shop and began buying the round yellow sponges for around 18 cents wholesale, I quickly trained myself to use them. Because they are so much thicker than the elephant ears, there are things the yellow sponges can't do as well, which caused me to use the sponge a lot less.

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Marcia Selsor    1,301

Don't anyone dare ask where to get pre-centered clay, or I'll sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.

 

Wasn't it "Captian Ceramics" back in the 60's that was "selling" that stuff? (and wasn't that Rimas?) :lol:src="http://ceramicartsdaily.org/community/public/style_emoticons/default/laugh.gif">

 

best,

 

.....................john

Yes. I was reminded about that at a great NCECA lecture last year.

M

 

 

 

 

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TJR    359

I teach my students to only use the sponge for adding and removing water, or cleaning a rim. But never between the fingers and clay when pulling. I think it gives them better control, allows them to get into the clay at the bottom when making the 'pinch', and lets them feel what's actually happening with the clay.

 

I used an elephant ear sponge for years, and always felt a little bit guilty about them being harvested from the ocean. I also disliked spending $5 on a small sponge. When I opened my shop and began buying the round yellow sponges for around 18 cents wholesale, I quickly trained myself to use them. Because they are so much thicker than the elephant ears, there are things the yellow sponges can't do as well, which caused me to use the sponge a lot less.

 

Neil;

I went through a lot of elephant ear sponges in art school @ $5.00 a pop. I used to pick them up off the floor from other people and hoard them. My prof. used to have the sponge in the palm of his hand to dribble water onto the clay. I used the sponge between the clay and my fingers to reduce friction. Very hard on a sponge. When I worked at a production pottery in Scotland, they laughed at me derisively for my sponge. I had to completely relearn my throwing technique, which was a bit humiliating. I did learn it though. I now knuckle my pots with the best of them and throw with a wooden rib. I use fairly soft clay, so this helps to move it around. I couldn't tell you where my elephant ear sponge is. Maybe somebody grabbed it off the floor!:osrc="http://ceramicartsdaily.org/community/public/style_emoticons/default/ohmy.gif">

Tom

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Nelly    16

I teach my students to only use the sponge for adding and removing water, or cleaning a rim. But never between the fingers and clay when pulling. I think it gives them better control, allows them to get into the clay at the bottom when making the 'pinch', and lets them feel what's actually happening with the clay.

 

I used an elephant ear sponge for years, and always felt a little bit guilty about them being harvested from the ocean. I also disliked spending $5 on a small sponge. When I opened my shop and began buying the round yellow sponges for around 18 cents wholesale, I quickly trained myself to use them. Because they are so much thicker than the elephant ears, there are things the yellow sponges can't do as well, which caused me to use the sponge a lot less.

 

Neil;

I went through a lot of elephant ear sponges in art school @ $5.00 a pop. I used to pick them up off the floor from other people and hoard them. My prof. used to have the sponge in the palm of his hand to dribble water onto the clay. I used the sponge between the clay and my fingers to reduce friction. Very hard on a sponge. When I worked at a production pottery in Scotland, they laughed at me derisively for my sponge. I had to completely relearn my throwing technique, which was a bit humiliating. I did learn it though. I now knuckle my pots with the best of them and throw with a wooden rib. I use fairly soft clay, so this helps to move it around. I couldn't tell you where my elephant ear sponge is. Maybe somebody grabbed it off the floor!:osrc="http://ceramicartsdaily.org/community/public/style_emoticons/default/ohmy.gif">

Tom

 

Dear All,

 

Yes, absolutely, guilt is a wasted emotion as has been posted. Glad to see though that a few of you have had experience without your sponges that have left you, as they say, humbled. I was also interested in the ecological note about sea sponges. That is another important point worth considering.

 

Thank you one and all for your responses. I will stop the guilt tape--somehow.

 

Nelly

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TJR    359

I teach my students to only use the sponge for adding and removing water, or cleaning a rim. But never between the fingers and clay when pulling. I think it gives them better control, allows them to get into the clay at the bottom when making the 'pinch', and lets them feel what's actually happening with the clay.

 

I used an elephant ear sponge for years, and always felt a little bit guilty about them being harvested from the ocean. I also disliked spending $5 on a small sponge. When I opened my shop and began buying the round yellow sponges for around 18 cents wholesale, I quickly trained myself to use them. Because they are so much thicker than the elephant ears, there are things the yellow sponges can't do as well, which caused me to use the sponge a lot less.

 

Neil;

I went through a lot of elephant ear sponges in art school @ $5.00 a pop. I used to pick them up off the floor from other people and hoard them. My prof. used to have the sponge in the palm of his hand to dribble water onto the clay. I used the sponge between the clay and my fingers to reduce friction. Very hard on a sponge. When I worked at a production pottery in Scotland, they laughed at me derisively for my sponge. I had to completely relearn my throwing technique, which was a bit humiliating. I did learn it though. I now knuckle my pots with the best of them and throw with a wooden rib. I use fairly soft clay, so this helps to move it around. I couldn't tell you where my elephant ear sponge is. Maybe somebody grabbed it off the floor!:osrc="http://ceramicartsdaily.org/community/public/style_emoticons/default/ohmy.gif">

Tom

 

Dear All,

 

Yes, absolutely, guilt is a wasted emotion as has been posted. Glad to see though that a few of you have had experience without your sponges that have left you, as they say, humbled. I was also interested in the ecological note about sea sponges. That is another important point worth considering.

 

Thank you one and all for your responses. I will stop the guilt tape--somehow.

 

Nelly

I think everyone has to find the best way of working for themselves, without the guilt

Tom

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Mark C.    1,808

I never really thought about what I do with a sponge so today while throwing some 6#-8# bowls I paid attention to it instead of my music being piped it the studio.

Turns out I use the sponge to keep areas wet as I hold it between fingers while throwing the later stages of the bowl. I also grip i on my finger tips instead of a rib. I got away from using ribs long ago and just use my fingers for bowls as the lines they leave are pleasant for me and remind me of who its made-I was taught the makes from the makers are good things and I tend to not try and cover them up-my work is loose and fast and finger groves are part of that-I mash sponges and use them up so I buy them in big batches and if we have 20 we are low and will need more soon. I cut them up and wax with them as well for feet. I have zero guilt about any apart of ceramics with the exception of not passing enough of what I have learned over a lifetime with it as a living to others-thru the mentoring program I have been able to share some of this.

sponge guilt no way-I kill them just as much as the next guy.

Mark

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Nelly    16

I never really thought about what I do with a sponge so today while throwing some 6#-8# bowls I paid attention to it instead of my music being piped it the studio.

Turns out I use the sponge to keep areas wet as I hold it between fingers while throwing the later stages of the bowl. I also grip i on my finger tips instead of a rib. I got away from using ribs long ago and just use my fingers for bowls as the lines they leave are pleasant for me and remind me of who its made-I was taught the makes from the makers are good things and I tend to not try and cover them up-my work is loose and fast and finger groves are part of that-I mash sponges and use them up so I buy them in big batches and if we have 20 we are low and will need more soon. I cut them up and wax with them as well for feet. I have zero guilt about any apart of ceramics with the exception of not passing enough of what I have learned over a lifetime with it as a living to others-thru the mentoring program I have been able to share some of this.

sponge guilt no way-I kill them just as much as the next guy.

Mark

 

 

Dear Mark,

 

Thank you for your posting. I appreciate your response. It interests me that you took the time to really pay attention to your sponge technique instead of your music. It is curious how we get into a rhythm of doing things and simply forget how we use different tools. I liked your comment about how you like to see your finger lines in your pots. Maybe it simply has to do with fashion or the aesthetic we ascribe to as individuals in how we use our tools?? Not sure?? But thank you for your time in paying attention to how you use your sponge. ;)

 

Nellie

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trina    20

Ok Ok I did the sponge test as well. Apparently I am a sponge o holic. But I can stop anytime I want. (please notice my empty hollow eyes) hahaah

 

but seriously I did a bowl and used it quite a bit to clean the wheel head and then I have an extra little homemade sponge on a stick to get any excess water out of the bottom BUT and this suprised me the most I am a cronic hand washer with the sponge in the bucket. I keep my hands really good and clean. Never thought about it till now.

 

Guilt still none, nothing....

 

T

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Pres    896

"Guilt and the Sponge"

Sounds like the title of a new TV sitcom.

 

 

That comes on right after "As The Wheel Turns".

 

 

I use a sponge when centering, opening up, and when making the first pull and usually the second pull. It is in my hand, not on the clay. After I have established a cylinder to my elbow I walk away from the cylinder for 30 min still allowing the wheel to move slowly. I return, and throw the rest of the pulls without water of any sort. I usually dampen any tools during shaping, so to cut the drag.

 

With students I explained that the less water, the more strength in the form. Use the sponge, but don't rely on it. In the beginning extra water helps with centering, and with opening up and pulling, but as you get more skilled cut back on the water to suit your style of working.

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Nelly    16

"Guilt and the Sponge"

Sounds like the title of a new TV sitcom.

 

 

That comes on right after "As The Wheel Turns".

 

 

I use a sponge when centering, opening up, and when making the first pull and usually the second pull. It is in my hand, not on the clay. After I have established a cylinder to my elbow I walk away from the cylinder for 30 min still allowing the wheel to move slowly. I return, and throw the rest of the pulls without water of any sort. I usually dampen any tools during shaping, so to cut the drag.

 

With students I explained that the less water, the more strength in the form. Use the sponge, but don't rely on it. In the beginning extra water helps with centering, and with opening up and pulling, but as you get more skilled cut back on the water to suit your style of working.

 

 

Dear Mark,

 

Thank you for your reply. I am making goblets right now. I will try your method. I like the idea of waiting 30 minutes with the wheel spinning. It will be interesting to see how this works. I do worry about my over reliance on the sponge. I can see I use it a bit too much. I do dampen my tools before they touch the surface of the clay. To ensure extra strength in the vessel in formation I also compress with an appropriate rib or similar tool. Know I will try your method tomorrow in making one piece goblets. They are tricky. They wobble. Your pulls and use of water have to be fairly precise and you have to compress the upper cup portion before you squeeze the stem. Squeezing the base again requires water to make the three point pull up. But this stem pull is only on my hands and not the sponge. So, like others, I am paying close attention to what I am doing with the sponge. I do agree, the less water you apply, the more strength in the form as you alter. Thank you for your response.

 

Nelly

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Chantay    101

I use one of those cheap yellow sponges. I cut it up and use a quarter piece of it. I started because the clay I used had grog in it and was grinding my finger tips off. I've switched to a really soft clay but still use it to do the first two pulls.

 

-Chantay

 

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Pres    896

I use one of those cheap yellow sponges. I cut it up and use a quarter piece of it. I started because the clay I used had grog in it and was grinding my finger tips off. I've switched to a really soft clay but still use it to do the first two pulls.

 

-Chantay

 

 

 

I remember the painfully the summer I took Ceramics from Don Tigny. The 50/50 clay grog mix was H on my hands. for 10 weeks I had permanent open sores on my left hand on the hand/thumb knuckle, little finger and pointer. All where appendage connects to hand. I like to open narrow and expand, does not work with raku clay without beating you up.

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Natania    6

I have sponge guilt too! But it isn't as bad as my Versa Bat guilt. Versa Bats are big white plastic bats with cutouts for Masonite tiles so that one can throw individual things like cups and tumblers, etc. and interchange the tiles instead of using a million big bats for small objects. It is an extremely handy tool, but so ugly, and such a thick hunk of opaque white plastic (talk about un-ecological), that my sensibilities are offended by it, but I use it anyway. Recently a potter friend visited us from England and I hid the versa bat (although the sponges were in plain sight). He is a person with strong opinions about sustainable living which i generally respect. It seems that pottery goes against the world of prefab plastic, but convenience won over aesthetic / handmade sensibilities in this instance and I bought the whole system which, it must be said, works like a dream.. Shall I continue to use it, and hide it when potters of moral integrity visit? Seems a flawed plan...

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Nelly    16

I have sponge guilt too! But it isn't as bad as my Versa Bat guilt. Versa Bats are big white plastic bats with cutouts for Masonite tiles so that one can throw individual things like cups and tumblers, etc. and interchange the tiles instead of using a million big bats for small objects. It is an extremely handy tool, but so ugly, and such a thick hunk of opaque white plastic (talk about in-ecological), that my sensibilities are offended by it, but I use it anyway. Recently a potter friend visited us from England and I hid the versa bat (although the sponges were in plain sight). He is a person with strong opinions about sustainable living which i generally respect. It seems that pottery goes against the world of prefab plastic, but convenience won over aesthetic / handmade sensibilities in this instance and I bought the whole system which, it must be said, works like a dream.. Shall I continue to use it, and hide it when potters of moral integrity visit? Seems a flawed plan...

 

 

Dear Bianca,

 

What an interesting reply. I know, I too have an aversion to plastic given my affinity to clay. Having said this, I do use a giffin-grip, but have refused to use the interchangeable tile system yet. I am happy with my masonite bats and those made with hydrocal.

 

I do know the masonite can hold bacteria and warp but given that I do not throw enough to ever run out of bats, I have stayed true to my old system.

 

What I think is interesting is that we all have little areas where we use different things to help us in our process.

 

Great posting.

 

Nellie

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