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one thousand pulled handles--suggestion one(1)

updated fri 28 feb 97


Hiro Matsusaki on wed 12 feb 97

--------------------------Original Message-----------------------------------
I also have problems with this stuff--pulling handles. Here are some two
bits worth of ideas and suggestions. I haven't tried them yet, but I trust
you will let me know if they work or not. In the clayart tradition, just
e-mail me a private message. I am too weakhearted to stand for public
rebuke. I have seven (7) suggestions. And I will not be able to continue.
Here goes number one. Others must wait.

Letr's face it. Some of us are born gifted at handling clay. Others are
not. It's like, let's say, there are many who are good at pulling animate
objects, like hair. They inherit the trait. Still others are good at
pushing animate large objects, like other people around. Inanimate matter
like clay is not interesting enough for them to pull or push. They have
learned fast how to use their knowledge. No shortages of talents there, in
my observation. Moreover, if any of us are gifted in clay, we would probably
use the talent in other directions like throwing and decorating, instead of
pulling or pushing.

To be blunt, the handle is not worth a s... without a good pot to go with
it. It is hard enough to make good pots the way things go with us. I for
one have made only a few that meet the prior expectations or seals of

Funny. Come to think of it. The easiest handle to pull is for a larger
pot, which I cannot throw. A tall pitcher with an organic handle, growing
from the top, i.e., pulled upside down, is a cinch to make. Can use soft
clay and make it thick. Can pull it in no time. Thicker the better. I mean
better looking. It makes the pot heavy, but it's the look that counts, isn't
it? In contrast, a small handle for a coffee mug is a hard one to pull off.
Not that a coffee mug is easy to throw,,,,, Especially in sets.

A smaller teacup made of porcelain needs delicate touch, literally. Matching
handles one by one in a like manner? With the more delicate touch? For a
set? Forget about challenging your skill. One thousand or not. Whatever
you do, the handle will be heavy, in contrast to the paper thin teacup, and
some nice ones will warp or sag at high fire. A clever potter will use a
mold of one's own design to lessen the financial burden and the attendant
environmental damage to one's ego and family wellbeing. The mold permits
the handle to be hollow. For a large pot, however, the modlmaking for the
handle will be suicidal. It's utterly brutal, for a variety of reasons.

Seriously, for a coffee mug, if the mug is sufficiently large and thick, a
good handle is aesthetically pleasing. There is hope at this range. If one
wants a thin mug with a thin handle, I would recommend them use of a
styrofoam cup. It needs no handle. But it weighs paper thin. You can blow
it off the top of table. Thin and small is good. Or, suggest a tiny cup for
capuccino. Or, cafe americano in a non-descript large looney (Canadian
dollar) mug, as offered in Mexico, if there is resistance to the Italian

It is hard to pull a large mug. It is harder still to pull a good looking
handle to go with a smaller and thinner mug. It is a technical challenge.
For, as the diameter of the handle is reduced by half, the volume of clay
gets smaller by a factor of six or more. Without water, the clay refuses to
cooperate, but the water does not discriminate, and makes the small pulled
handle unmanageable in short order. The longer you fiddle with it, the worse
it gets. Never improves. We still do it, because there is some hope for
thrown mugs. But not much hope for the wet handle. Rescue 999 falls short
by one and cannot make it to one thousand pulled handles. The volume of clay
you pull gets far smaller, while your fingers or hand stay the same in size.
And our brain ceases to function. Or believe that the handle can still be

I love to throw teabowls. But not coffee mugs. I cannot stand the idea of
throwing handles to go along with them. I make ten handles, and one is
barely useable. Still I guess this is better than one thousand to get one
hundred good handles. I have never had a chance to try out this challenge,
anyway. So I don't know. I cannot even throw a tall mug out of which a
thousand something can organically grow.

In order to minimize the amount of water absorbed by the clay, I suggest that
you work quickly and be ready to accept imperfections in aesthetics. I
believe this is why I seldom see a good pulled handle on a small coffee mug
produced by an experienced potter. I suspect they know better. The bottom
of the mug, in contrast, is no problem. Take only a second to smooth it out.
You can do it before and after firing. Unless, of course, you
conscientiously trim and form a nice footring, or cheat with a sort of coiled
wad. But...the handle cannot be re-done and the mug with a bad handle is
ruined. Well, here I talk like an experienced potter. Actually, I am an
experienced window shopper of coffee mugs.

When I pull handles, organically or not, I often place too much force, pinch
out, deform, or simply make it too ugly. Instead of redoing, I simply try
another one, and another. My batting average is not even close to 200. That
is why I am not in the majors. As I said it's 100. Even minors wouldn't
take me. But I draw a lot of walks. I am blessed with a pair of good eyes.
Aesthetics. Remember? A small mug looks large to me. A good baseball
player have slumps at times when the ball appears small and not stationary.
A coffee mug is made large and thick by me, as a way of staying within
rules, and it always stand still. The reason I can still bat 100. You see,
I quit to strive to be a perfect 300 player a long time ago. At least I can
go to the first base, occasionally, and sometimes even steal the second, and
eventually come home. I guess I can still manage.

Hiro Matsusaki