Three lessons I learned from completing a long-time creative goal, fig spread + pottery

Three lessons I learned from completing a long-time creative goal from Dear Handmade Life

They say the third time is the charm and as far as pottery and I am concerned, it couldn’t be more true. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with pottery and the people who made it. Maybe it all started the one time I saw my fourth grade art teacher outside of the classroom. It was a Saturday and my mom had dragged me to school so she could make a tuition payment and my teacher was there to pick up her paycheck. I was sitting in the office waiting for my mom when my teacher walked in wearing a tank top and blue jeans that were splattered with dry clay and her hair all wild and curly. Usually her hair was tied back in tight pony tail and I never imagined that she owned a pair of jeans since all I’d ever seen her wear were skirts and polyester shirts buttoned all the way up. That day, even though she was dressed more casual than I’d ever seen her and wasn’t wearing lipstick she looked… radiant and really happy. I immediately became obsessed with pottery.

Cut to 23 years later… I finally signed up for my first pottery class. I had been counting down the days to the first class since the day I’d signed up for it a few months before. Then came the actual class, which involved a three-hour slide show of pottery the instructor had photographed on 20+ years of vacations. At that time I was juggling running a brick and mortar shop, teaching craft classes, running a wholesale and retail business selling clothes I designed and made, graduate school and all the personal commitments that come with being a 32-year-old. I decided that I didn’t have time to follow my pottery dream.

Then a few years ago I signed up for another pottery class. Sadly I picked the worst possible time. On top of the work commitments (similar to the ones I listed above) I was also planning my wedding, a series of Patchwork Shows and Craftcation Conference. I managed to make it to only one of those classes and then realized that I had to drop one of the plates I was juggling and pottery class was it.

A few months ago I walked into the first session of my third attempt at taking a pottery class. On the first night I told the girl next to me that it was my third time trying to find time and honor my commitment to finally learn pottery but chances are that I wouldn’t be back the next week. Nothing spectacular happened that first night. I didn’t touch a pottery wheel but I did make a few small hand-built dishes. They were not what I wanted to make but they were all that I could make with my limited skills. I thought about that Ira Glass quote about creativity and fighting your way through being a beginner. The thing that was different this third time is that I forced myself to go to the second class and then third and by the fourth week I was hooked.

It’s hard to explain why it took this time around except that I showed up and was present. I never have trouble keeping a work commitment so I tried to treat pottery class as such. I made this weekly appointment with myself and my creativity ‘a must’ instead of ‘a maybe’.

The actual making during pottery class feels amazing. The hard thing for me is allowing myself to take the time away from work to do this thing that makes me feel so good and teaches me so much. The three biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past few months of pottery class are:

1. Showing up is 98% of making a goal happen.

The funny thing about goals (like mine to take a pottery class) is that showing up is 98%. I know if I can get myself into the pottery studio that the chances of me leaving after 10 minutes are greatly reduced. The same thing goes for the gym. In the morning I don’t wake up and tell myself I have to go workout. The only promise I make myself is that I will drive to the gym and walk through the door. Once I get there I’m free to get right back into my car and go home and spend the morning drinking coffee and reading instead of working out. BUT this weird thing happens when I get to the gym where I don’t want to go home because I’m already there and I end up working out. The same thing is true for pottery class. I tell myself all I have to do is walk through the door of the pottery studio and then I can leave if I want BUT once I’m there, I stay there.

2. Good things come to those who wait.

The crafts I’m usually drawn to are ones that can be finished in one session. Add an applique to an old skirt… I’m on it! Sew a make-up bag… Yes! Collage something in my sketchbook… Done! I’ve never been a fan of the kinds of craft projects that require 24 hours of drying time between steps or waiting for materials to arrive that I had to special order. I like to see the finished project as soon as possible. Sadly this has not only limited the types of craft I do but also causes me to rush through even quick projects and not fully enjoy the process of making. With pottery, immediate gratification is impossible. First you make something. Then it needs to dry for several days. Then you trim and finesse it. Then it goes into the kiln. Then you add color through glaze. Since I’m working in a volunteer-staffed studio the time from when I make something to when I get it back is a few weeks or sometimes longer. It’s forced me to learn to not only be patient in waiting for the finished product but also to take my time and truly be present during the process.

3. Let go of your preconceived notions.

I not only want to see my finished product within a few hours of starting it but I also have a specific idea of how I want it to turn out. I’m sure that a more experienced potter is able to sit down with an idea in mind and have the finished product come out pretty much exactly how they hoped it would, but as a beginner it’s all up in the air. I sit down at the wheel thinking I’m about to make a bowl and by the time I have the clay centered I’ve lost half of it and it ends up being a tiny cup. When I first started painting many years ago I’d grab a blank canvas, paint and brushes and just paint. Once I sold my first painting, the whole idea of letting my mind or the paint or the music I was listening to or my mood dictate what ended up on the canvas was gone. I needed to create something that someone would want to buy so I could pay my rent and doing that meant having at least a general idea of how it would turn out. Since I’m not expecting to sell my ‘looks like a second grader made this’ bowls anytime soon, the pressure is gone and when my bowl turns into a cup I let go and go with it.

Whether your goal is to finally take a pottery class or to quit your day job and start the business of your dreams or to start keeping a journal or a sketchbook or to start eating healthy or exercising… remember that the first step is making that commitment and showing up! Big dreams start with small steps, which reminds me of my friend Annelies Zijderveld who I met while she was working for one of our Craftcation Conference sponsors for our first conference. When I met her she had a 9 to 5 job with a large but awesome cereal company and then she took a leap and followed her passion for food and words and wrote a cookbook Steeped: Recipes Infused with Tea.

Annelies emailed me a few weeks ago and said:

“Craftcation changed my life for the better. Seriously. Who knew I would be working for myself several years after my first Craftcation? Seeing other creatives making it happen by having a passion, working hard and finding it within them to be their own boss was completely inspiring and exhilarating. I think what you and Delilah have created is nothing short of revolutionary.”

WOW! One of the best compliments ever! Right!? So much goes into what we all do as creatives and hearing that it’s changing people’s lives and perspectives is beyond awesome. She also mentioned her newest endeavor which is working with Valley Fig Growers and offered to send me a few fig spreads and cheeses. Ummm… Yes please!

Valley Fig Spread + pottery + Three lessons I learned from completing a long-time creative goal from Dear Handmade Life

When I thought about Annelies’ path to where she is now coupled with my own creative journey in pottery class, I knew the perfect way to showcase the delicious fig spreads she sent was… on one of my pieces of pottery! I brought the fig spreads, cheeses and a piece of my pottery down for a weekend at a beach house in Ventura that I was staying at for a bachelorette party with some of my oldest friends.

All the cheeses and fig spreads were awesome together. As a hardcore lover of juxtaposing sweet and salty flavors in one bite, I always have something sweet on my cheese plates and my top two things are truffle honey and fig spread. My friends and I tried out a bunch of different cheese and fig spread combos that weekend. My favorite pairing was Point Reyes Original Blue with Valley Fig’s Organic Mission Fig Spread.

Valley Fig Spread + pottery + Three lessons I learned from completing a long-time creative goal from Dear Handmade Life Valley Fig Spread + pottery + Three lessons I learned from completing a long-time creative goal from Dear Handmade Life

My friends loved the story of Craftcation inspiration, learning to let go, be patient, show up and go after what you love that brought the cheese, fig spread and my pottery to Ventura. AND… even though it’s been decades since I though about my fourth grade teacher, she’s a part of this story too. She’s probably retired from teaching elementary school art classes and I can’t help but picture her sitting at a pottery wheel with her wild curly hair a little but grayer but looking just as radiant and happy as she did that day that I saw her in the school office.

-Nicole S.

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