“Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.” Jerome Kern*

By Donna Greenberg

Moving back to the city of my birth after 58 years has prompted an unforeseen desire in me to ‘start all over again’. It seems to have pushed some hidden button that has made me want to reexamine things that I thought were done and gone. Most unexpectedly, in my own artwork. This will be the first in a series of blog posts concerning my recent forays into reaching backwards to push my work forward. Welcome and thank you for visiting “ Up From the Well.”

After 3 intense years of making thousands of pieces of jewelry for my business, ( I kid you not, just check my Flickr page ) I was feeling burned out on the whole notion of ‘wearable’ art. I love jewelry making, but I had been spending so much time thinking about chains, and findings and bracelet mandrels etc, that I began to loose sight of what originally drew me into polymer clay in the first place.

I missed the mushy, squishy feeling that comes from holding a lump of fresh clay and letting your fingers guide you into the unknown. I wanted to reignite that ‘flow’ that comes from working on something that has no rules yet. So I took a step back to that simple and honest place where many artists begin and where children are always so brilliant. The pinch pot.

Frilled Mini Vessel

Before jumping in, I gave myself 2 loose guidelines. The pot, or mini vessel , should fit comfortably into the palm of my hand, and, it should be able to hold something. A ring, a penny, a drop of water,anything! I have one pot so small the only thing it can hold is single pea. My eyes still haven’t forgiven me on that one…

My first attempts yielded a lot of pancakes with frilly edges. Pretty, but I wanted a vessel, not a jellyfish.

Pancake Frilly Edges

I needed to find a way to build up before building out. I began to recall skills I employed 4 decades earlier as a potter throwing on the wheel. An odd combination of pushing in and steadying from the outside, while pulling up from the inside. 40 years! Talk about stepping backwards! I wondered if could I apply a similar line of thought to create my mini vessels.

My hands became a sort of a defacto potters wheel. Holding the ball of clay in my left hand and twisting it towards me while using a fondant ball tool in my right hand to push the clay up and away from me. The ball tool is like an extra thumb with no fingerprints.

By working the clay around and around like this, I was able to thin and raise the walls to a towering 1 and 1/2 inches tall. Then carefully, while still turning the clay, I pulled open the center with the tips of my fingers to widen the shape. A rudimentary vessel was coming to life.

And what about pinch part? Using methods somewhat similar to cane reduction, I could pinch a tall piece to go even taller and create a bottle neck. Or pinch the sidewalls together to give my pot wings. I could completely change a form with a well placed squeeze.

Narrowing the Neck

Once I got the hang of it, I was able to move quite quickly between various shapes with one piece informing the next. Here was the good, yummy stuff I had been hungry for. And once these basic shapes were cured, I had a world of choices on how to finish them. The options are endless.

Recently, I had the chance to showcase my new collection in an alumni show from my alma mater, Pratt Institute. More going back! I was delighted with the response and sales. And oddly enough, more than a few customers held one or another vessel up to their chest and told me, ‘ You know, this would make a great brooch or necklace” Yes” I smiled, “Yes it would!”

Pratt Alumni Show Fall 2014
* A gift for my readers.


And, a final gift for my readers before we part today.

Somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain, I remembered the first book I bought myself when learning ceramics.  FINDING ONE’S WAY WITH CLAY Pinched Pottery and the Color of Clay, by Paulus Berensohn. I still have it! This well loved, well read, dog eared book was my touchstone. Berensohn’s respect for the simple gesture of making a pinch pot is still speaking to me across the decades. Long out of print, you can find old copies on Amazon. I recommend it for all artists working with any kind of clay.


FINDING ONE'S WAY WITH CLAY Pinched Pottery and the Color of Clay, by Paulus Berensohn.
FINDING ONE’S WAY WITH CLAY Pinched Pottery and the Color of Clay, by Paulus Berensohn.


21 thoughts on ““Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.” Jerome Kern*

  1. What is most fascinating to me is that I NEVER would have guessed from the oceans of outstanding work you have posted that you were ever experiencing anything remotely like a creative crisis; If this is artistic angst, sign me up!


    1. LOL Randee. I admit to being a bit of a workaholic. I think it was more like putting the breaks on that for a bit. After the store I was working with closed down, it sort of left me with unexpected time to ponder where I wanted to go now, with no one but myself to tell me what to do. Setting aside jewelry for a while was the first step. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing that we come from a similar ceramics background. I have to check my attic for my copy of Finding Ones Way With Clay. My fav and inspiration was M.C. Richards’ Centering recommended by Daniel Rhodes at a 1976 Kiln Building workshop.
    No worry about building kilns anymore, although I do miss real Raku .


    1. Lawrence,I miss a lot of what ceramics gave me. I recently downsized my living situation, and of all the things I had to give up, giving away the kiln and wheel was the hardest. I did keep all of my clay books though. Still feeding me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love the shot where your vessels are all lined up. It’s hard to get a sense of scale from a single picture. I find myself drawn to the small ones, like little gems that beg to be picked up and fondled.


    1. Thank you for you input Nora. Yes, perspective is hard to achieve in single shots. I put the lined up shot in there for just that reason. I’ve been enjoying working small. It actually helps me think big thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Welcome to the blogosphere! I look forward to reading your every word! As you know, I too had a “jewelry” crisis a couple of years ago and went back to my roots of painting. I don’t have any regrets. Figuring out the findings and connections was making me nuts as well!


    1. Roberta, I well remember you work and your frustration with all of that. i am gaining something about myself every day in the backwards/forwards journey. Whether I stay with polymer or not. I have been flirting with my pencils again. It’s all good. We are artists, our medium does not have to define us. Thank you my dear friend.


    1. Thank you so much June! It feels great to know I am reaching you and others. You never know what will happen when you put yourself out there. All the best!


  5. What I like about earthenware clay and polymer clay is what CAN be done with both mediums as in your pinch pot vessels and I’m so glad that you have shared what you’ve created with the rest of us in the polymer clay world. I remember seeing some porcelain clay work that had to have involved cane work. Wish I had an image of what I saw to show you right now ( it was a lizard dish with additional repeat patterning). When I saw it I was so delighted that I wanted to do something similar with the porcelain clay I have allowed to dry up. A friend of mine let me play with slab work using her stoneware clay and I want to do more but can’t right now. I’ve got some ideas for combining polymer clay and enamel on copper that’s in my head as well as some designs on paper that I’ll have to share with folks on FACEBOOK when I get around to it. Keep sharing and I’ll pass it on as I see what you’ve shared. Remember what I wrote about why I post/share my art work and other folk’s art work on FACEBOOK? It’s all good. Maybe I’ll start a blog…. 🙂 Best! Judith N. Ligon/Ligon Art My FACEBOOK page is Judith Ligon though and I post what I create on my Ligon Art page (please ‘like’ it for me). Looking forward to readying more of your blog.


    1. Wow Judith. It sounds like you have some great ideas in the hopper. I wonder where you take them? And yes, there is something universal and pleasing about a porcelain piece. Some of my best memories are of feeling the silky clay between my finger.I always appreciate your reposts of my work and look forward to seeing more or yours! Thank you. donna


  6. Thank you for sharing Donna. Funny enough, I was using my palms the same way as you to make these type of “cup” shapes )))
    Your work is always beautiful! My deepest admiration!


    1. thank you Olga. I think it is a natural ancient skill we humans are born with. it’s just a matter of accessing some of those ancient ideas!


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