#36: Let's Talk About Seconds, Baby
An Ecstatic Revival blog
This week I had planned to do my Black History Month newsletter, but it needs more time. Luckily, every month is Black History Month and I’ve also been wanting to write a pottery blog, so that’s going to be my sole focus for this newsletter.
For the last couple of months, I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired at the pottery studio. I think it all started after the sale I did in December, which felt like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up but also something I hadn’t planned to pursue until I had a more developed body of work.
Almost everything I make right now is what a professional potter would call “a second.”
Formally, a second is an “imperfect” piece of pottery that can’t be sold as a regular piece. But practically, a second is whatever a potter decides it is. Many potters, especially those who do what one calls “production pottery”—that is, making large quantities of a particular piece for the market—consider even a piece with very minor flaws a second. An out-of-place drip, a crooked handle, or even a slightly miscolored piece (often due to where it was placed in the kiln during firing) can designate a piece a second.
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Potters don’t have the luxury of creating things like sketches or studies for their pieces as other artists do. We make “test tiles,” to try out glaze combinations and prevent things like “crawling,” “crazing,” or “pin holing.” But ultimately, one never knows what a piece will look like until it comes out of the fire.
Like writing, pottery is one of those art forms that straddles the line between art and commercial product. A painting is a painting is a painting. But most pottery has to be comprehensible, functional, and replicable.
Perhaps counterintuitively, seconds feel like more of a resistance to commercialization than a capitulation to it. Many potters hold seconds sales, proving that these pieces are, in fact, fit for sale. But they’ve been disowned in a way. Like a bad draft.
Since that first sale in December, I’ve felt pressure to make salable pieces. But I’ve felt even more pressure to declare some of my pieces salable when I should really consider them seconds.
However, when I examine the work of the potters I admire most, I see that it is all in search of something—one thing. Every piece is another study for a masterpiece in their heads that may never appear.
And as that masterpiece becomes more refined in a potter’s mind, more pieces start to look like seconds, even if their flaws are invisible to others.
I thought this year of pottery would be about exploring forms. I had a grocery list of things I wanted to make, including a bedside carafe, a lamp, a tissue box cover. I’ll still make these, for myself, friends, family…and subscribers ;)
However, much like this newsletter, what I really need is focus. I think that’s the thing to get me out of this creative slump. I need to make the same thing over and over again until it becomes the thing I’m searching for. In the meantime, there will be plenty of seconds to share.