Being a Novice

The events of the past three years have shaped many of us into different versions of ourselves. Over this time I rediscovered the joy of being a novice in a new discipline.

Early leaf piece with Hummingbird nest, 2021

During the cautious re-opening of life after Covid shutdowns in mid-2021 I was seeking creative exploration. Painting was, and continues to be, a major part of my life, but I was restless after months of isolation. 3 dimensional form became of interest, as did the learning gained from having a teacher and being with fellow students. I was ready to try something new. A ceramic studio* near my house offered lessons. I signed up, with no experience. A complete novice.

Learning form, handles, structure 2021

Being a novice is an extremely valuable experience. It is humbling, and exhilarating. It is a period of intense growth where mistakes are expected, and new skills developed. This is a freeing, and frustrating, part of the creative process. As a novice there were seemingly limitless new directions, and I found that at times I lost sight of which questions to ask. Everything needed exploring, and presented new problems to solve. And yet, each solution provided a sense of satisfaction. It kept me coming back for more. A novice is on the edge of being overwhelmed most of the time. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to know.

Learning surface treatment from an article by Dawn Candy, 2022

In this stage a new world opened up. Ideas began to form, and new concepts fed my curiosity. Ceramics were viewed with expanded appreciation as I discovered previously unseen details, and began looking at new sources of inspiration. Gaining new skills is a clumsy and yet gratifying adventure. There is an expanding appreciation of the work of experienced practitioners in the field. Skill-based questions such as “What makes a good result?” “Why do certain techniques produce better results?” and “How did they do that?” became more informed. 

Plaque, 2022

At the same time, there was a growing appreciation of the aesthetic, history, and philosophy associated with my new endeavor. I began to ask, “What defines quality work?” “What is the context of my discipline?” and “Where do I want to take my work?”. My visual aesthetic for ceramic has changed over the past year and a half. During this time I have explored many directions that developed both skills and visual insight. I am increasingly aware of the complexity and interaction of form, function, surface treatment, and spatial relationships. The more I learn about the nuances of these facets, the more I appreciate successful pieces, and am able to define for myself what represents interesting results. Currently, I am drawn to curved and organic forms and surface design.

Learning the firing process with my home kiln, 2022

Understanding where your own work fits within a larger field of study, and considering the purpose and goals for your work, also helps to define your approach. Increased exposure to other’s work helps us find like-minded people, and formulate a direction of inquiry. Resources for exposure to experts in your field may include museums, histories, lectures, websites, classes etc. Seek them out, one thing often leads to another.

Current piece in progress, experimenting with form, finish, and surface design, 2022

Eventually the lessons, research, and skills begin to come together in more sophisticated work and more informed development of personal goals. This is where we begin to leave the truly novice stage, and move toward the roll of practitioner. I continue to be challenged by both technical and aesthetic issues, but am feeling a growing confidence, which is gratifying and helps me stay with the journey.

Current piece in progress, 2022

The novice process applies in any new field. Creatively entering business, science, the arts, etc. leads to vulnerability, excitement, and a quest for knowledge. It feeds growth, expression, and discovery.  This immersion makes being a novice an extremely energizing and fulfilling stage. It is one of the cornerstones of the creative process. As we enter a new year, I encourage you to experiment with being a beginner. 

Three pots, early efforts with the Slip Trailing technique, 2022

*Many thanks to the generous instructors and students at the Tucson Clay Arts Center for their help with my journey.

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5 thoughts on “Being a Novice

  1. This is so inspiring and well written. Your creations are lovely, Helen. Thank you for such an appropriate New Year’s greeting.
    Love Mary Jo


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