I like to do things with my hands. Admittedly, I’m not very good at it. I’m good at having ideas and envisioning things, but executing isn’t my strength. I’ve painted, built, restored, worked on, and created too many things to count in the last ten years or so. Each project starts off the same way: a fleeting idea or the glimpse of an image in my head. Each project ends the same way: me looking at it and wondering where I went wrong. But sure enough, a few days or weeks later, I’d be on to something new.
In November, I learned about air-dry clay. It’s exactly what it sounds like- clay that air dries naturally and doesn’t need to be baked in a kiln. This blew my mind. I immediately had ten different ideas about what I was going to make and each of those ideas looked amazing in my head. I couldn’t decide what to make first so I googled ‘cool air-dry clay projects’. I decided to make a rectangular plate that would have a candle holder on one side with a matchstick holder and strike-plate on the other side. I even watched a video of someone making it which is infinitely more research or planning than I’ve ever done for anything else. I was ready to start.
To say this project did not go as planned would be an understatement. I knew I wasn’t great with my hands but working with clay taught me the difference between “not great” and “terrible”. The first few attempts I made ended before I even got to the next step of the process. Every piece I made cracked in several spots while it air-dried. It takes 48-72 hours to dry so it’s not like I could sit and watch to see when it was happening. Every morning, I’d run downstairs to see if it survived the night…and every night, I would start all over again, changing things slightly hoping for a different outcome. One morning I ran downstairs and couldn’t believe my eyes. Nothing cracked! It survived the first night of drying. By that night, it cracked in several different places.
I started over. Again, I did things differently. I used some tools instead of trying to do everything by hand (I’m positive I used the wrong tools for the wrong things but whatever) and took a different approach. I had already decided this was going to be my last attempt. If it didn’t work out this time, air-dry clay and I were officially taking a break. I felt so confident in this attempt- my plate was thicker, it was more proportionately shaped, and I decided to use an actual candle to help mold and shape the candle holder. How could this go wrong? It didn’t! Until it did. We survived two full days of drying without any cracks. On the third day, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The mold for my candle holder had cracks throughout it. I accepted defeat. After a few weeks of trying, I realized I would not have the very cool looking candle plate that someone on YouTube made in ten minutes.
I didn’t throw it out though. I kept looking at it. Nothing about it looked how I wanted it to look, hoped it would look, or expected it would look, but unlike the others, it hadn’t cracked so badly that it was beyond use. So I kept looking at it. I decided if it was going to be cracked, it was going to be cracked on my terms. I broke the candle holder into several pieces and completely detached it from the base plate. Instead of trying, again, to have a perfectly sized and shaped circle to place the candle in, I was going to use some of the broken pieces and make a ‘broken circle’. The smaller pieces are different in shape and size from each other, but they all came from the same original piece and it’s mostly clear that they form a circle for the candle to sit inside of.
I spent weeks trying to create, or really re-create, something that looked perfect. It didn’t matter how hard I tried, or how badly I wanted it to look exactly how I imagined it would, it wasn’t going to happen. I’m glad I kept looking at it instead of throwing it in the garbage with all of my other failed attempts. I’m glad I realized that it didn’t have to look how I wanted, expected, or hoped it would for me to find value in it. It’s true that a big piece of it broke, but I’m glad I took those pieces and put them back together in a different way. Like I said, it’s not what I wanted or expected or hoped for – but it was the best I could do right now and that’s ok with me.
– Jen Schwartz, COPE Co-President