It’s all about process

Most of you know, I’m a transit marketer and PR chief by day. By night and on weekends, I spend hours in my studio, cleaning and organizing; measuring, wedging and throwing clay; hand-building pots or warrior goddesses; slowly and evenly drying my work; trimming, smoothing and applying textures; recycling clay; and constantly learning about my craft.

It is, after all, a process, this work we potters do.

Few similarities exist between my two worlds, save one: Process. It’s a must for both.

For my work as a transit communicator, whether the task at hand is to change, update or tweak our services; create a simple poster; write an op-ed; or partner with municipal, state or federal agencies on a major campaign or, more often than not, all the above, processes exist in all the departments I oversee. Customer Experience receives ‘plaints and plaudits, they enter them into a database, status them by type; if warranted, they assign them to street supervisors for investigative purposes; supervisors have 14 business days to complete their investigations. In Marketing, we apply the same tried-and-true processes to most tasks and assignments – who is our client? What is the current situation or problem to be solved? What is the client’s ultimate goal? Who is the target audience? What are the obstacles? What’s the budget? Deadline? Recommendations to help the client achieve his/her goals, within budget and on time? What’s our execution timeline? How will we measure success? Who are all the parties that need to be involved in order to help our client successfully implement the project? Who on my teams will champion the project? We fine-tune our brief and review it with our client, kick it to our creative folks and wait for them to share their concepts. Once we approve a concept, we traffic all assets, on time, every time.

My two worlds tend to collide at the end of a particularly challenging work week. And, let’s just cut to the chase: Every work week is particularly challenging in transit – and in public service in general. Sure, we pride ourselves on operating on time, according to defined schedules and routes, but work as a communications pro is completely unpredictable, with one exception: There is always, always more to be done than there are resources (time being the most fleeting of all). It takes discipline, persistence and patience, plus a certain je ne sais quoi to love this line of work and excel at it.

Being a potter, on the other hand, is solitary work. Yet, it requires as much discipline, persistence and patience. As I’m whiling away the hours, listening to a podcast or a playlist, my mind drifts to my day job, contemplating the past week, anticipating the weeks ahead, projects, deadlines. At some point, muscle memory takes over, and without a conscious thought, I’m wedging, centering, opening, pulling, shaping, compressing … following a prescribed, fine-tuned, step-by-step process. Am I paying attention? Absolutely. Attentiveness in a clay studio is a necessity, for safety’s sake. Allowing my thoughts to wander, helps me let go of the stressors and pressures of the world outside my studio nest.

I’ve had the honor of learning from many of our region’s most dedicated, creative and prolific clay artists, as well as those from faraway places like Maryland, Connecticut and Pennsylvania; and farther-away places like Japan and Italy. Every potter, I’ve found, approaches the making process in his or her own unique way. There are also preferences, like whether to reclaim clay scraps in a plastic bin or throw them out (alas, I do know potters who don’t recycle clay); whether to dry reclaimed clay on a plaster bat or in the legs of an old pair of denim jeans on a concrete slab; whether to wedge clay using the spiral, ram’s head, or cut and slam method. To each his own. The point is, clay must be wedged, and wedged properly to rid it of pesky air bubbles; to facilitate the melding of the clay body itself so that it can be thrown and fired. Clay must be centered on the wheel before it can be thrown. There’s no getting around some steps of a process. It’s laborious, to say the least, yet understanding and adhering to tried-and-true processes is a critical part of every successful potter’s journey.

Refining plate rim.

In a word, the secret to my success in the office or studio (kitchen, garden, craft spaces) is process.

“Follow the Crow” – B. B. Griffth

Published by Lolo Robison

Crackin’ Crow Pottery is a Greater Lansing clay studio owned and operated by ceramic artist Lolo Robison. What’s a crackin’ crow? Simply put, it is an alliterative translation of “good crow.”

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