Yellow Swan

My childhood was different from the rest of my peers. I only realized that when I was in 3rd grade after I answered a question about pottery in Social Studies class like it was a normal thing. The teacher was discussing about the ancient earthen jars excavated from a cave and asked us how those were made. I stood up and answered “they mold the clay and cook it in an oven.”

Our teacher, with her arms crossed and skeptical look, slowly took small steps towards me and asked why I came up with that answer.

“That’s what I do when I make my vase.” I innocently replied.

At nine years of age, I spent so much time around my parents’ small clay factory that I know the entire process of the production of ceramics by heart. What’s funny is that I thought every single one of my friends has the same factory and that they learn the same thing too, just like in school.

Clearly, it’s not. How foolish of me not to know that. But I was a just a 9-year-old kid.

Shelves filled with a variety of “fired” vases ready for painting.

It was my playground when I was young, that small clay factory, and I loved every second of being there.

My eyes widened every time there’s a “job order” because everyone would be working simultaneously and I get to see everything from start to finish. I could still remember during weekends, I would wake up early and take some leftover clay from the potter’s wheel and form it into a tiny ball, press my thumb on the center, pinch the rim, soften the edges, and create a small bowl. I would then ask the workers if they have something scheduled to “fire” on that day so that I could have my small bowl cooked in a giant oven.

It’s always exciting to see the transformation of a greyish-looking lump of clay to a formed, hardened, peach-colored bowl. I had countless experiences seeing those things go in the oven, we call it a “kiln,” and get out looking great, ready for painting.

Some days I would have the opportunity to take out an extra vase from the shelf and paint it while the rest of the people in the factory were busy with packaging and deadlines. After I finished my work, I’d have it dried in a corner and find some other stuff to play with like using the air spray, or clean the molds, or add some decals to some glazed ceramics. I was in awe with what was there and what was being made.

An unpainted wedding-themed piece.

There are also some days that I would get to see how the designs were developed. I could recall some varied sketches being placed on the whiteboard, some cut outs of patterns from scrap cardboard, and a sample of an unpainted yet cooked piece.

Special days are the best since I get to have a hands-on tutorial from the resident artist on his free time. I get to use his tools in creating details for an existing work – like a hat for the swan collection or a strawberry for the fruit basket collection. Sometimes we would use the manual wheel to make a one-of-a-kind vase and sometimes he would use the electric potter’s wheel to demonstrate to me how form can differ on a vase in one flick of a finger. It was fascinating to see how small changes in hand positioning could affect the entire project.

Bottle-shaped ceramic items with the integration of indigenous materials.

All the people that worked for my folks were so good to me that they always let me do what they do. My favorite part of it all is creating the molds from plaster. It’s different from the rest because it’s not made of clay. Those plaster molds are very special because they create a uniform look in all products especially those that are in bulk orders. To me, at that time, it was something worth making for without it, 500 pieces of ceramic items would not look the same.

Growing up with a clear memory of those magical days teaches me how important it is to always bring out that enthusiastic 9-year-old self in everything that I do. As an adult now, it’s very difficult to get inspired especially if there are deadlines and people to discuss outputs with in an industry that demands all-out creativity to flow both in design and in art.

Children’s minds work differently than ours. They have that sense of wonder, curiosity, and eagerness to produce something without anything more to be concerned about. They think out of the box, explore their imaginations, and start without hesitation. They are carefree, spirited, and expressive. At least that’s what I know based on my formative years.

The “yellow swan” ceramic I proudly did in 1999 from start to finish. Yes, a 9-year-old could definitely think of a yellow-feathered swan wearing a red choker. Haha.

I dug deep in my past just to remember how happy and ecstatic I was in creating things. I wanted to feel those same “butterfly-in-the-stomach-like” feelings again when doing my work. I have lost touch with the child in me which makes my work less enjoyable and more constricting instead of just unleashing ideas and concepts on the spot like what I used to decades ago.

My childhood is different as my vivid recall of experiences will let it remain different. Eighteen long  and memorable years after those days playing with clay and paint, I still find myself working closely with art and design. I just fear that “working” too much in the creative field, and exhausting myself to meet my own self-imposed standards would then become a regular chore that I might soon get bored of.

Somehow it pays off to revisit those years of young, innocent, fiery passion. Maybe then, with the help of that child within, I can incorporate something magical in my works, derived from that special memory of the nostalgic small clay factory.


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