Making with clay and the perfect imperfect.

There is no real beauty without some slight imperfection.

James Salter

Perfect imperfect In my social media this last week or so I’ve been looking at repairing ceramics and the Japanese concept of kintsugi/kintsukuroi where a broken piece is repaired with the repair highlighted with gold or other precious metals. The repair is seen as a part of the piece’s story and is considered to add to its beauty. I love this idea that just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful or valuable. Even broken the piece still has a story to tell and, in fact once repaired, it has even more of a story to tell.

This idea of the perfect imperfect is one that I bring with me into my own work with clay both in creating my sculptures and my teaching. I think trying to make something perfect is just going to cause heartache in the end. Clay is a malleable medium that has a memory and often seems to have an idea of what it wants to become so approaching a make with a need for it to be perfect is generally asking the impossible. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in quality and intention in making but I also believe that we learn most when things don’t go our way and I am always open to the idea of ‘happy mistakes’. I love learning from clay and it is one area of my life where I can accept failures as a learning opportunity (I’m not so good at it in other areas but I try 😉).

One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…..Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.

Stephen Hawking

When I teach I offer this idea to my students and emphasise that their first makes are all about learning and playing with clay to begin to get a feel for – how it moves and builds; where it’s strength is and where its weak points are; how it sticks to itself and where it needs to be reinforced etc. It’s not about making an amazing piece of art straight away but is all about the learning that comes from having fun with the clay. It takes away that precious feeling and frees them to experiment and play without the fear of failing. We’re not trying to make something in particular but are using the technique to explore clay and what it can do. This idea takes the pressure off (usually) so students can relax and enjoy.

We all enjoy doing things we’re good at but this idea that we need to be good at something straight away baffles me although it seems to be quite common. My 7 year old daughter already feels this way and quickly loses the enjoyment and therefore interest if she doesn’t feel like she’s good at something quickly. If you can relate to this please give yourself a break when starting to learn something new, take the pressure of expectation off yourself, live in the moment and enjoy the learning process. If you feel good and relax while you’re making, the outcome becomes secondary to the process and the benefits it brings. Easy to say I know, sometimes not so easy to do.

 In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.

Alice Walker

I’m inspired by nature and the natural world for the forms, textures and patterns I use in my work. Nature is an amazing artist and isn’t constrained by the drive for perfection. The beauty in a flower isn’t marred by a lack of symmetry or a shape that different from all the other flowers. I approach clay in much the same way and have always believed that the imperfections inherent in the handmade only add to their beauty and value. It shows the mark of the maker and tells the story of the piece giving it a uniqueness that is human and relatable. This doesn’t mean I don’t take care or value skill in making but it allows me to be more flexible in my approach to making as well as in my appreciation for other people’s work. For example in my making it helps me to look at pieces that sometimes don’t go according to plan with fresh eyes, to assess, review, learn from and appreciate the happy accidents more easily.

There is beauty in the imperfect that is appealing, relatable and real. Even if perfection were achievable it wouldn’t seem real, more like something unattainable on a high pedestal out of reach simply to be admired. Enjoy the imperfections.

“Imperfection is perfection to a beautiful perspective.”


pThe perfect imperfect