Clay and the ceramic process will throw curve balls at the most unexpected times. No matter how long you've been working in clay, sometimes things will come out surprisingly different than you had planned. There are happy surprises, but also gut-wrenching disappointments.
An Attitude of Patience
Clay is not about immediate gratification, at least as far as completed projects are concerned. Shaping the clay can itself take days, or longer. After the initial shaping, many pieces need more work done once they have reached leather-hard: trimming, piercing, incising, and so on.
After the form is complete, we then have to be patient as our pieces slowly reach bone dry. Potters have to be patient as we load our bisque kilns; hurry almost always results in broken pottery. We have to be patient during each firing, too. Pushing a kiln to heat or cool too fast destroys the pots we are so anxious to complete.
Through it all, we must wait patiently for the final physical manifestation of our inner vision.
An Attitude of Fortitude
Accidents happen. The unexpected (and sometimes almost inexplicable) can happen. It takes internal fortitude to face a "Halloween kiln", where your ware has come to disaster. It takes fortitude to have put your heart and soul into a piece, only to have it come to grief. And that can happen at any stage of this game.
It is an attitude of fortitude that keeps potters going in the face of catastrophe. That, and the glory of the piece that gels beyond expectations, or the thrill of opening a "Christmas kiln", where the ware sings glorious melodies of visual delight.
Acceptance Plus Planning
Potters know that disappointments will occasionally rear their ugly heads. There may be times of true grief, anger, and loss. As potters, that does not stop us. No. We accept that bad things can happen to good pots, even though we don't like it when it happens.
Having said that, I have found that every potter I have come across has taken on an attitude of planning. We plan for disasters. We plan in the attempt to circumvent them, many times quite successfully. We also know that in order to beat the odds, especially if we have to have a certain piece by a certain time, it is prudent to hedge our bets. For example, making three pitchers instead of just the one we need. We increase our chances of success, through creating multiples.
An Attitude of Risk-Taking
Potters are not truly gamblers; as I mentioned above, many of them hedge their bets and gain as much advantage as possible for their pots. At the same time, many potters have an attitude of controlled risk-taking.
The vast majority of potters I have known see working with clay and the ceramic process, with all its potential for disaster, as an ongoing adventure they are sharing with the clay. For myself, the knowledge that the kiln may open to reveal a tragedy makes the anticipation sharper and the rush of success even sweeter. I don't begrudge clay's quirky and sometimes uncomfortable voice in all of this.
After all, if it were all totally straight-forward and utterly controlled, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun!