Formation Slow throwing avec Joelle Swanet
23, 24, 25 novembre 2019
a mix of eastern and western approaches of throwing
“Slow Throwing” is Joëlle Swanet’s innovative approach: she gave this name to her personal mix of eastern and western approaches of the art of throwing clay on a potter’s wheel, after her numerous stays in Asia.
Her first aim was to involve the whole body in the throwing process in order to reduce the tension one can feel in the wrists and elbows and also because she realized that throwing slowly gave her a sensation of peace. She could eventually perceive that her creativity was enhanced by throwing slowly.
In order to transmit and develop creativity for other people, she emphasizes the importance of breathing, full consciousness, “playing many games” with the wheels: it’s her way to guide others in “breaking the molds” of the traditional use of this tool.
Joëlle Swanet discovered in 2004 some of the wheels in use at Jingdezhen China: a simple disk, motioned with a wooden stick.
Back in Sanbao, a well-known ceramic center in the suburbs of Jingdezhen, she could observe another potter and was given the opportunity to try the wheel and new feelings rose in her body and in her mind.
t was hard to keep the working position as the water bucket was on the side, moving the stick was a challenge… At the time, that short experience left her with a strong impression.
In 2008, during her second residency in Japan, besides the electric wheels, she had the opportunity to try the Korean kick-wheel and was advised by other participants who were Korean potters.
This type of traditional wheel fascinates her for different reasons,
- The working position is closer to the way western people are used to sit, and that makes it less challenging for the back and the legs
- The position involves the whole body
- It is completely silent (at that time the electronic wheels were not very common)
- It is very slow compared to the electric wheels, and that changes completely the relationship with the clay.
- The contact with the wood differs from the contact with metal.
And – of great importance for her – this type of wheels has been used during centuries. Using them means being connected
with the potters who made amazing pieces in this
- It is very different from European non-motorized wheels - as these are in a heavy metal frame and equipped with a broad footplate, allowing a fast and strong motion you cannot get with a wooden kick-wheel.
She could produce some simple functional pieces on a kick-wheel, and they appeared different from what she was used to obtain with an electric wheel, having something vibrant and a touch of life – enhanced here by the wood-firing.
Later, while attending ceramic festivals in Korea, she could notice that the Korean potters use a very soft clay and also that they use little water. There is no water-splash attached to their wheels: obviously the wooden kick-wheel has none, but when using an electric wheel, they also remove it.
Their approach is very different from her initial training in Belgium, with a potter who had trained her to throw very quickly, using a lot of strength and plenty of water.
She began to use the electric wheel adopting the Korean technique:
- throwing soft clay, allowing to throw clay with thick grog
- using the smallest quantity of water, allowing to remove the splash pan from the wheel, and it was nice to work clean.
Malaysia, 2014 S.Korea, 2016
Observing what happened in her body while throwing this way and also observing the pieces that were born this way on her wheel, her work could evolve.
She began to combine some techniques she learned at her tai chi training and observed that when using her breathing according to the motion of her hands, her strength was increased.
Also simply being aware of the action of the belly muscles has a deep and easy effect on stability and in consequence it gives more power in the hands.
Working with the bodyweight instead of using muscular force is also a huge help when being a woman with less natural strength compared to a man – and women as well as men will gain in the quantity of clay they will be able to throw.
Being aware of the fact that not only the wheel but mainly the whole body of the potter is the instrument, and that it is the mind that moves the body, implies a change in the relationship with the clay. From a dominant approach, it is a move to “listening to what the clay has to tell to the thrower”. This second approach gives a deeper understanding and connection with the material, a satisfaction to use the body on a subtle way and not “in strength”, and even a feeling of happiness while throwing. It can unlock the mental attitude and allow reaching a new world of volumes, born with sensations.
Since she wanted to share these feelings and the creative potential of “slow throwing”, she began to teach her method. The name refers obviously to the speed of the wheels, but is also an allusion to other slow movements.
Workshops: “Think out of the box with Slow Throwing”
The workshops are dedicated to people who are not beginners. They must be able to center and throw easily at least 1 kg clay. Most of them mix professional and non-professionals.
Learning the technique during workshops:
all the participants are quickly able to throw easily bigger than usual + some of them try without the water splash, appreciating to work clean.
The participants are given a variety of exercises to put them out of the comfort zone with the wheel: it places them in the situation of a beginner with the wheel. As examples and without being exhaustive or unveil all content, deforming the work, make parallels with vocabulary used with other materials, using self-made tools or natural tools, using found materials… are ways to expand the possibilities. As this workshop is addressed to people who already have mastered the basics, they feel again as beginners but already possess a good technique: a big advantage that will allow them to progress quickly. The content of the workshop is very dense and it takes a while to deepen in the individual practices, as it joins a philosophical approach with the technique.
Even though it is based on Eastern practices, the western approach is used while teaching as explanations are “given to the brain” – I mean the workshop is not based only on observation. Addressing to the brain allows saving time and is adapted to the way we are used, as western people, to learn. Explaining what we should observe also allows saving a lot of time. The method is consciously a mix of “ways of teaching”.
Joëlle Swanet now creates what she calls her “sculpted on a wheel” pieces. She gently encourages the participants to her workshops to let their full creative potential express not only in functional pieces, but also – for those who wish – in more sculptural pieces. As she says: “Not copying her own pieces but showing her way of making as an inspiration for their own ceramic path and playing with clay on the wheel, or playing with the pieces when they are soft-leather hard, instead of being very quickly installed in a productivity logic – what happens very often when being taught wheel throwing”
During the workshops non-electrified wheels from all over the world will be showed during a short presentation, to introduce that there are various ways to use this very old tool.
Many exercises, sometimes collective, with the wheel, will help to play “like a child” but with the advantage of having technical skills. Due to evacuating the body tensions, natural movement of the wheel, a new creativity rises, often lost or forgotten under lots of tensions, self-injunction and (negative) self-appreciation.
Aim of the training:
Develop other paradigms in front of a potter’s wheel, as
- the wheel can be used in different ways
- the working position can be changed
- the aims have to be clarified: production or creation
- the mental attitude: working or playing, as creation often rises from a playing approach.
With these extended visions, unlock the creativity.
Develop a self-critical analysis of individual practices, in order to explore new personal creative paths.
The aim is NOT to produce pieces that will be fired, but to experiment and develop new ways of working. Most of the pieces will be recycled – even if some participants usually like to keep some of their experiments.
By creating a strong link with the initial motivation that has pushed them to be attracted to wheel-throwing, the participants are usually relaxed and confident in their own potential.
The first exercise will guide them in developing an “outside eye” on their own work.
Afterwards various exercises lead each participant out of their comfort zone and habits. These exercises are funny and joyful.
During the whole workshop, attention is given to technical skills, proposing hands, fingers and body positions at work, and in parallel a deep attention is given to the feelings as they are the access to the emotional world from which meaningful ceramic works can emerge.
A short PowerPoint presentation shows various non-electrified wheels.
Group discussions at the end of each day allow sharing individual experiences. This expands the possibilities of new paths for the individual work after the session.
1 electric wheel per person (if possible wheels on which the watersplash can be removed). The wheels will be placed in a large circle for participants to be able to see each other.
+ small wooden pieces or other materials to adapt the height of the wheels.
Non-essential but appreciated: one non-motorized wheel.
1 heat gun per person.
Bats: rounds (6 to 8 per person) and square (1 per person).
Very soft clay, to be worked during a rather long time on the wheel (like a sandy one): approx. 50 kilos per person
Very soft grogged clay (medium grog): 10 kilos per person.
Usual individual tools, napkins (1 per day), towels (1 per day).