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QotW: How has the physicality of making pots effected you? Please include Positives and Negatives.

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This week we have another question from the pool for the QotW:  This comes from two folks on the forum, @Min and @Kelly in AK . . . brought up an Issac Button video and just how much physical work was involved in his making pots. My suggestion for a QOTW comes from Kelly's thread and would be how has the physicality of making pots effected you? Positives and negatives. 

QotW: How has the physicality of making pots effected you? Please include Positives and Negatives.

This is something I have often considered in my own life of teaching, and working with mostly clay while teaching and working at home. I am a small man, even more so than when younger weighing in at 180 at my heaviest for about 6 months. These days I weigh in at 150. I used to wedge 15-25# of clay at a time in the classroom, and at home.

This would allow me to demonstrate the effectiveness of different wedging techniques, Kneading, Rams Head and Cone. It was because I worked with the clay so much that I was able to do this. However, the process of wedging, as much as it is maligned for its wear on wrists and joints, it was a blessing for me. I found that days when I was feeling large amounts of soreness in my back making it difficult to get out of bed that wedging would make me feel so much better.. I believe it was the rocking motion along with the shoulder pushing my torso upwards would stretch the spine. So a Positive. 

Negative, over the years the throwing has reshaped the joints in my hands, left hand fingers 1 and 2 now naturally bend to fit together as when pulling on the inside of a pot. They never straighten out unless forced. Right hand fingers want to always rest as if holding a sponge in the hand and making a pull.

All of the work has made my hand strength surprise folks that shake with me, and  others when they find that I can lift and move much more than they would have expected for my size and age. All good!




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Thanks for posting this question Pres.

Like anyone, working with clay for many years has given me more strength in my shoulders and arms than I would probably have had otherwise. Wear and tear injury of tearing off long head of a bicep was probably the worst I've done (exacerbated by tubing with a niece and not letting her beat me, my fault). Back aches don't happen much now that I stand while throwing and am more mindful when loading kilns and getting help for the really heavy things like loading stock into the vehicle etc.

So far no arthritis anywhere which I'm very grateful for! 

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I wore out one wrist and a thumb bone in left hand. Missing three bones now in right wrist (PRC) and left thumb bone taken last year in left hand. The Wrist is also from some injury long ago (unknown) and throwing for so long did not help.

This is 50 years of heavy production  throwing so others need not worry.'Yes arthritis in all fingers and hands-but alas its also an age deal.

The plus sides-its kept my back and body in good shape. Its made me strong (age slows this down a bit)  . I had a one time incredible hand grip.

I move clay 12 times from pick up to sale. Pallet moving into truck then hand offload to clay shed) You do 8-12 tons a year for many many decades you either get strong or quit.I got strong

The biggest positive I can say is lifestyle. its given me freedom and focus and more learning than one could ever ask for. I had a lifetime of fixed dates I had to work the rest of the time was mine to work or play when I wanted.

Its also had some great side effects as I needed to master plumbing (to build kilns-I have done 12 at least)

I needed electrical skills so I worked with my best friend an electrical contractor back when I had an off season-learned those skills. I need more space so I worked witha carpenter friend and we built some more pot shop space and a few outbuildings.

Early in my carrier I did not have two dimes to rub together . Later after figuring out my markets (shows and outlets) It gave me financial freedom. 

Yes its taken a toll on the body but the mind and spirit have has tremendous uplifts

You learn to be humble as clay/glaze/fire always will lay you out sooner or later-whether its a ruined load of pots from bad clay or pitted glaze or some other large mistaka. You lewarn to move thru it and move on. I just throw the laod away and throw another and try to understand the whys.

I love being a potter and the same fire I had at 18 with clay is still there in this old mans body.


Edited by Mark C.
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I’m not a regular potter in the sense of day to day occupation. Summertime, weekends, and holidays are bursts of work. I’ve had to learn to pace myself better physically. If I’m doing it right the work helps keep me in shape and things are fine. If not, something will hurt and take a long time to resolve. Digging my own clay really brought it into focus. I can carry ten pound loads to my truck all day or try and carry two or three fifty pound loads and pay for it later. Doing too much in an hour leads to being able to do nothing for two weeks, the opposite of productive. So, accepting a sustainable pace has probably been the biggest thing for me. 

I have to do regular physical exercise. As much as I wish it, clay alone doesn’t keep me fit. Even in the summer when I’m doing a lot, it’s not all heavy lifting and wedging. I exercise and that makes the hard work easier. 

Also, I do everything I can think of to make clay less physically taxing. Use softer clay, arrange the space for economy of movement, throw standing, get tables the right height, things like that. Thinner kiln shelves. I’ll get that right next time I order some, haha! 

Speaking of videos, another favorite of mine is this one of Michael Cardew. Plopping down ten pounds of clay on the wheel, he says, with a laugh, “What a merciful lovely life it is that you, at the age of eighty one, you can still do it! I say, you get weak, but improve in cunning. You get to know where to not waste your energies.” Absolutely charming. Hope I can still jam like that when I’m eighty one. 


Edited by Kelly in AK
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My ADHD brain needs the clay.  Wedging is a straight dopamine hit (which surprises the heck out of me because it’s basically the OPPOSITE of everything that usually makes my brain happy) The physical rhythmic movements and seeing and feeling the clay transform soothes my brain when it’s chaotic. 

The clay forces me to slow down and be intentional at every step.  It is a constant exercise in mindfulness.  I have to pay attention to my physical body and align it with my mental state.  I’ve never had anything require that physical part before and I think that’s the magic.  (I’m still in my first year of pottery) 

My 50 year old body lets me know if I wasn’t paying attention to my posture!   I’m actually motivated to strengthen my core so I can achieve longer times in the studio.  

I notice that standing to throw has been mentioned a lot.  Maybe I need to look into that. 

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Many folks in my age group also experience this: that their body "lets them know" when they've done anything outside their usual routine, e.g. a light pruning session in the yard with hand shears - next day, hand and forearm screaming, upper arm, shoulder and back moaning. This started for me well over ten years ago. Maintaining a wide variety of activity can really help!

So, the variety of physical tasks associated with pottery is good! Moving clay, handling ware, wedging, throwing, getting up and down, walking about, all routine, it is good, and I had ramped up gradually enough to avoid debilitating pain, so far...

I'm a part-time hobby potter. Doesn't seem like I've been doing it long enough where worn out parts are because of pottery activity.
That said, the maladies I brought with when first sitting at the wheel require some adjustments - both thumbs are compromised, I've some nerve damage to a few right-hand fingertips, there's shoulder damage, vision limitations, knee and hip damage, etc.

Big picture, I feel very fortunate to be able to do just about all I want to, pottery wise, where the main obstacles are skill and knowledge, not so much physical limitations.
My elders say, "Just wait!" which my experience and observation supports; meanwhile, if not quite "Do not go gentle into that goodnight" then a hearty use it or lose it is what I'm trying for.

Regular aerobic activity has been a big part of my strategy, mostly road biking, supplemented by lap swimming.
It's really helped!
Almost twenty years ago my physical condition had deteriorated to the point that the walking my job required was daunting, and I was very overweight.

I am fortunate, which I'm trying to remember and be thankful for!

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I’m not gonna diagnose anyone over the internet. But I’d lay good money the number of us that have ADHD of some flavour is pretty high. Hitting that flow state that @Juxtaposie Jendescribes is really, really good for us. I’d also bet good money that neuroplasticity changes brought on by hitting that flow state on the regular have had a very positive effect on my own mental health and resiliency. 

I’m 46 and can still lift more than I thought I could. Just this weekend, the elevator at the one day show I was at decided to crap out right at load out. I and the rest of the vendors had to pack our remaining stock and display down 31 steps to the main floor and our vehicles. I did not have assistance, but managed it in about 8 trips. I was expecting to be super sore the next day, but I didn’t particularly feel it. It surprised me, because I don’t do much in the way of structured exercise. I haven’t had a gym membership for a couple of years and I didn’t think just walking my dog counted. 

I will say that I’m glad I didn’t set up the mug tree with the cement base. 

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6 hours ago, Callie Beller Diesel said:

But I’d lay good money the number of us that have ADHD of some flavour is pretty high.

Really? I haven't thought that before, hmm, I wonder?

Do people who work with clay have a tendency towards certain personalities or ?... (nudge nudge @Pres, maybe a QotW in there somewhere?, not that it could be a loaded question or anything ;))

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I'm 52 and was recently diagnosed with ADHD. So much about me makes sense knowing this. I can work on something like pottery where I'm using my hands for hours at a time, and then forget the rest of the world exists. That's both good and bad, as I don't get around to doing other things that need to be done, and my back or shoulders will get stiff. Thanks for bringing it up and discussing it in this topic. I've got a lot I'd like to learn about this.

I've had back injuries where I have to be very careful when I'm working or carrying things, so it doesn't get exacerbated. Sometimes just leaning down the wrong way will have me hurting for a week or more. I got an adjustable seat for my wheel but I know I still need to take breaks and get up every few minutes anyway. I need to keep up with my PT exercises, but ugh it gets boring! I used to rock climb up until about 5 or 6 years ago, and I was really strong. Unfortunately, I also had chronic tendonitis in my forearms and tears in both shoulder cartilage. I went through surgery for one, and once the other one tore I decided I was done. It's too bad I haven't found an activity I like as much as I did climbing. I became even more of a homebody during the pandemic lockdown so now even carrying a 50 box of clay is difficult. 

I started doing hand building a few years ago out of necessity when I hurt my back again. It was months before I was fully recovered, but I still wanted to do work. I got a slab roller and now that's what I use probably more than my wheel. 

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ADHD, Flow states, having the world disappear when hands are in clay, those all hit home here too. With clay I don’t have to think about what to do, I just do the next important thing. All clay activity feels that way, not just the making of pots. Glazing, measuring materials, stacking bricks, digging clay, all of it. It’s one part of my life I feel total focus and connection. Otherworldly. My normal state of being does not feel the same.

@kswanThere is a climbing gym in my town, it’s been my savior for fitness. I can see why it’s difficult to find something you like as much. I’ve never ever been a gym/athletic club guy (till now). It has some mild routes I haul my portly self up three times a week. Definitely worth looking into if you haven’t. 

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@Kelly in AK I've been lucky to live near climbing gyms for the past 20 years or so. Unfortunately, that's where I manage to injure myself because it's too easy to just keep pushing myself! Outside, you have to drive or fly to the destination, hike the approach to the climbs, set up and organize your gear, descend back to the base, and you don't want to do that in the dark. My local gym on the other hand is ten minutes away and is open from 6am to 11pm! My husband still climbs, though. I'm not an athletic or competitive person either, but climbing is a mental challenge that appealed to me. 

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