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The Art of Throwing Pottery on a Kick Wheel

*This is a guest blog post, edited by Joel Cherrico and written by Macy Kelly: CSB/SJU Marketing Intern at Cherrico Pottery. In this post, Macy addresses fan questions from Cherrico Pottery Facebook Live videos about why Joel uses traditional kick-wheels instead of electric, motorized wheels like most potters. 

You may be wondering why Joel Cherrico kicks his pottery wheel around and around, instead of simply pressing a motorized pedal and letting the wheel do the work. He learned to make pottery on an electric wheel in high school and understands that it might be easier, faster and less stress on the body, but he chooses otherwise.

There’s more to art than the end product. 

All Cherrico Pottery is crafted on two different types of kick wheels: the Karatsu-style wheel and the York wheel. Both have advantages and disadvantages, like portability and weight, that are taken into consideration before any clay is “thrown” (the term “throwing pottery” comes from the Old English word, “thrawan” meaning to twist or turn.)

Karatsu-style Kick Wheel

The Karatsu kick wheel was handmade by a local woodworker who used wood from a local Maple tree. Sanded, finished wood is beautiful, which is often why Joel decides to perform his pottery craft on this wheel. The bench was made from White Cedar from the Minnesota North Shore.

Joel bought his 20-year-old Karatsu wheel used, after working as a production thrower at Prairie Fire Pottery in 2014. After two weeks working at Prairie Fire Pottery, the studio generously paid him enough money to return home with profit to purchase the Karatsu wheel from his former pottery mentor Sam Johnson. The wheel was built to last a lifetime.

When Joel broke the Guinness World Records title for “most pots thrown in one hour by an individual” the Karatsu kick wheel was a key factor. Previous potters who attempted the record all used electric wheels, and the previous record holder used an electric wheel to throw 150 pots in one hour. You can watch Joel set the new record on his Karatsu-style wheel here, breaking the previous record by nine pots.

Unlike electric wheels, you can’t just crank the motor and power through the clay. It takes training, balance and a deep understanding of how to throw pottery while kicking at the same time. Artistry and athleticism are equally important. 40 pounds is extremely light for a pottery wheel, so there is no momentum to keep the wheel spinning unless it is constantly kicked. You can learn how Joel used meditation and intense physical training to accomplish this epic feat.

The wheel is so lightweight that it must be anchored to a board, held in place by the potter’s body. Downward force makes the potter and the wheel joined in the act of throwing.

Karatsu wheels are rare. It’s tough to buy or find one anywhere. You can learn how they’re made by reading “Body of Clay, Soul of Fire” or finding a local wood worker who might be able to craft a replica. You might even be able to reach out to the St. John’s Pottery directly and respectfully inquire about the process of learning how to use and obtain one of these rare wheels, which were originally brought to the Minnesota area by renowned potter Richard Bresnahan.

This awesome YouTube video shows an artist crafting an Onggi kick wheel, which is a type of precursor to the Karatsu wheel. Onggi wheels have been used for centuries for larger pottery, generally over three feet tall. There are similarities between the two, but both are hard to find for purchase. Any talented crafts person could design and create a gorgeous, functional Karatsu or Onggi-style kick wheel.

York Kick Wheel

The second wheel used to craft Cherrico Pottery is the York kick wheel, shown below. It’s only about 16 inches tall, made from a cement mold around metal bearings. To raise the wheel to a proper throwing height, Joel crafted a Black Walnut top with White Oak risers, which are secured to the wheel like a pottery bat. The 24 inch height helps improve throwing posture, since older potters commonly struggle with back pain from bending over low wheels for decades.

The York weighs around 80 pounds, which is twice as much as the 40 pound Karatsu, but it’s actually more portable. It sits on three steel feet, so it does not need to be bolted down. It can be picked up, moved anywhere and taken apart in two pieces. Easy assembly and light weight make it extremely portable, compared to commonly used Lockerbie kick wheels weighing around 300 pounds each.

The York wheel has been great for performing pottery demonstrations all across the Midwest. In 2013, Joel used it up to five times weekly at local farmers’ markets and art festivals (left photo) and he brings it to Duluth Art in Bayfront Park in front of Lake Superior once annually (right photo).

It was created by Roger York in 2008. Joel purchased it from Mr. York during his sophomore year in college, after they spoke on the phone a few times about Mr. York’s career as a potter and his decision to make wheels. The wheel took him four months to craft and he only charged $250. He was 87 years old. Mr. York published the patent online here for free and you might be able to find one on craigslist someday. If you find one available, please email us here: contact@cherricopottery.com. Most people don’t know how to use this wheel and would gladly sell it for cheap. Joel was recently gifted a second York wheel for free, so he can put it to good use.

The York wheel is considered the “work horse” of Cherrico Pottery because of how this durable tool can travel easily. Rope is wrapped around Joel’s wheel because he used it so much that the thin middle piece (shown below) began to crack. The middle, cement section was wrapped with an entire roll of duck tape for strength, followed by rope for aesthetics.

Left: York kick wheel without rope. Right: York kick wheel reinforced with tape and rope.

Both Karatsu and York kick wheels are currently used to create all Cherrico Pottery. Next time you see Joel spinning pottery live on the Cherrico Pottery Facebook page, try and guess which kick wheel he is using.

Electric Pottery Wheels

If you are looking for a simple, easy wheel for learning pottery, Joel recommends the Brent electric wheel. It’s affordable and practical for beginners and advanced potters. High school Joel actually made his first pots on a Brent in 2005. He used the same style of Brent to create a 400+ pound planter in under 5 hours back in 2012.

Renowned potter/sculptor Don Reitz used Brent wheels to make his signature Abstract Expressionist clay works. Reitz powered through hundreds of pounds of clay with ease. Joel captured Reitz throwing two wheelbarrows of clay in two days during a workshop in Arizona titled, “Potters as Sculptors, Sculptors as Potters.” You can learn about Joel’s direct experience learning from Don Reitz in his American Craft Council Authorship here or view the artwork that Joel created since soaking up inspiration from Reitz in the BIG pots section of the Cherrico Pottery store.

What is one thing that you have learned from watching Joel throw pottery on his kick wheels in his YouTube or Facebook videos? Share your newly acquired art knowledge in the comment section below.

Giveaway 

Thanks so much for reading this post and for following Cherrico Pottery. Please subscribe to our email newsletter here and leave a comment below before this Friday telling us one thing you have learned about Joel’s pottery or Cherrico Pottery in general. Joel will pick the best comment about the best lesson one person has learned, and pick them to receive one free Cosmic Mug. To enter, you must leave one, genuine comment about something you have actually learned from us, or the moderator will not approve your comment and include you in the giveaway. Please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Please allow 24-48 hours for your comment to appear. You must also be on the newsletter distribution list to qualify. Joel will pick one winner Friday around 6pm Central to get one of our best Cosmic Mugs, totally free. Thanks!

Where Will You Be One Year From Today?

One year ago today, the Cherrico Pottery Team and a group of close friends documented me setting the World Record for ‘most pots thrown in one hour by an individual.’ You can view the official record here or actually watch a video of me setting the record here:

A lot changed in one year. Tens of thousands of new fans started following my artwork and our Facebook live videos have been “going viral,” which is just a fancy term for getting popular. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly gratified that so many people are inspired by my art and career. The Cherrico Pottery Team and I are doing everything we can to serve these new followers and customers (make sure you are signed up for our email newsletter to snag any new pottery when it emerges from the kiln). It’s just that popularity doesn’t seem like a good goal.

Better goals entail crafting gorgeous art, serving customers in a thriving business, supporting an artist lifestyle and making the world a better place. Building something long-lasting and beautiful seems more helpful and honorable than building something popular.

With that that mind, this is my goal for the next year:

“One year from today, my goal is to break ground on a new pottery studio that supports future pottery production with 100% solar fired pottery.”

This goal is ambitious and has never been done before. It has that in common with setting the pottery Guinness World Record on a Kickwheel (the previous record of 150 pots was set on an electric, motorized wheel).

I might not accomplish my goal, and that’s okay. This is the mindset I had when attempting the pottery World Record and it served me well. If you have an ambitious goal and fall short, you’re still headed towards success. Anytime I embraced this mindset, my efforts filtered into other surprising successes, like when celebrity Tim Ferriss made new YouTube videos and a Cosmic Mug popped up in the background, or when I got a personalized letter from Neil deGrasse TysonHe’s the Director of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC and host of StarTalk Radio and StarTalk on National Geographic Channel. He was one of the initial people who inspired creation of Cosmic Mugs back in 2014.

You might fall short with an ambitious goal, but you often fall into a higher level of accomplishment than you might have ever thought possible. Plus, the “worst case scenario” probably isn’t that bad. Tim Ferriss has a great TED Talk that illustrates the incredible power of questions like, “What’s the worst that can happen?

Journaling helps. These bullet points are a summary of my journal entry from a year ago. They describe my “worst case scenario” plan for a failed GWR attempt:

  • Try again in one week. The record requires 350 pounds of clay and I have over 1,000. I can try again at least once more without consequences.
  • Determine exactly what went wrong. Remove the hindrance through practice for a minimum of 1 hour, twice daily.
  • Fire the practice planters and sell them for $5-10 each to cover costs. People bought nearly all 1,000+ practice planters in 2015, so they are a guaranteed sale.
  • If you injure your back (side note: I threw out my back practicing for the record) then add one more week for a recovery period and attempt the record in two weeks.
  • If you run out of money, sell more Cosmic Mugs to the waiting list of people who didn’t get one during Kickstarter.

That’s it! There was literally nothing else to worry about, even if I failed. That was comforting. Stress and fear melted away, my focus returned to the record and I conquered it.

What are your goals? Where do you want to be one year from now? Leave a comment at the end of this post telling us something you want to accomplish, a place you want to live, a career or personal goal, any goal.

(GIVEAWAY RULES: Leave a comment on this post telling us about your “one year goal” before Friday, March 10th, 2017 at 5pm Central and we’ll enter you to win GWR pot #101 totally free. One winner will be chosen randomly and announced in these blog comments the same Friday around 6pm Central. To enter, you must leave one, genuine comment about your “one year goal” or the moderator will not approve your comment. Please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Please allow 24-48 hours for your comment to appear. Thanks! *ENDED. Giveaway Winner: Comment #105, Christa”).

This post was published March 7th, 2017, but it might live here on the internet for decades. Whenever you happen to read this post, share one goal you hope to accomplish one year from now. Put it in the comments below, visible to anyone. Mark your calendar to check back one year from now. What’s the worst that can happen?

To accomplish great things, it’s often important to selectively ignore popularity, red notifications and the intoxicating smart phone buzz. Focus on setting and achieving goals.

Musical Gold Mine Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day! I just wanted to let all of you know how thankful I am that you are following my artwork and supporting our small team here at Cherrico Pottery.

As a full-time potter, I really appreciate all of your support. Whether you purchased pottery for your home, as a gift for someone else or if you simply shared a pottery Faceboook videothank you so much.

This blog post is dedicated to the five musicians featured in all of our Facebook live videosWriting and recording original music is incredibly difficult. Even just finding enough good music for one song requires countless hours of practice, sifting through a plethora of junk for just a few minutes of beauty. It’s like mining for gold.

These five bands pour their hearts into their work. They are all friends of mine and I’m honored to be able to throw pots to their groovy tunes so often. Please consider snagging a CD from them so you can support and enjoy their music too:

Blookah

facebook.com/blookahmusic

Dylan Mcfarling

facebook.com/dylanmcfarling

Paul Spring

facebook.com/paulspringmusic

The Gibby Hibbies

facebook.com/gibbyhibbies

Ucis

facebook.com/ucis13

As far as new pottery goes, I’m busting out fresh pots daily. Please stay tuned for upcoming deals, like our $49 Random Cosmic Mugs coming later this month. Please make sure to double check that you are signed up for our email newsletter here if you want to guarantee that you get a notice as soon as new Cosmic Mugs are available, as pots tend to sell quickly.

Thanks again and Happy Valentine’s Day! – Joel and the Cherrico Pottery Team

Photos by Caitlin Brutger and by Nicole Pederson

“…a good design in pottery is the product of tension or ‘dialectic’ between the demands of pure utility and those of pure beauty, and only a long experience and continual struggle enables you to achieve a successful fusion of the two.”

– Quoted in “Michael Cardew, a portrait” by Garth Clark, pg. 46

Follow the Leaders: The Search for 1,000 True Fans

Enter the Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway (active until January 27th, 2017) and you could win one of 5 Random Cosmic Mugs paired with one of 5 copies of “Tools of Titans” by Tim Ferriss totally free. Tools of Titans is a compilation of nearly 200 interviews that I had already heard before reading the book. This story tells how the lessons and strategies from “Tools Of Titans” have helped the Cherrico Pottery Team and I during our search for 1,000 True Fans.

The reason we are giving away five copies of “Tools of Titans” is because the real world stories in this book have helped me and maybe they can help you. They’re incredible.

“The Tim Ferriss Show” podcast was the precursor to Tools of Titans. I’ve listened to almost every episode. Here is what I learned:

“Don’t take advice from anyone who has not been able to implement the same advice successfully themselves.”

– Tim Ferriss, quoted in his Podcast Episode #144

The reason we’re giving away five free Random Cosmic Mugs is because we simply want to spread more cosmic love here on our Pale Blue Dot. Over 100 Cosmic Mugs have already entered the world for free through our blog giveaways, by giving them out to my friends and by shipping free pots to important people.

You could call giveaways a “marketing strategy” but in some ways they are totally inappropriate and irresponsible.

“Money is to a business what oxygen is to the human body. Cash flow is the lifeblood of business. The bank pumps cash in and out like the heart pumps blood. Sales bring in money like the lungs bring in oxygen. In 2013 I experienced the terror of running out of money, which was akin to feeling suffocated.”

Quoted in my American Craft Council authorship: A Potter’s Journey: Launching a Pottery Business Venture and Fighting to Keep it Alive”

Businesses need revenue. Plain and simple. I’ve felt the suffocating pain of running out of money before. Why should we spend so much time, effort and money giving away free pottery when we need pottery sales to survive?

Since 2014, we have been shipping free Cosmic Mugs to people you might refer to as “celebrity influencers.” Our goal was to get our best pots into the hands of people who are already impacting millions of people in powerful, positive ways.

Here are just a few replies from folks who received Cosmic Mugs as gifts:

Many of these replies brought me to tears. Giving away free Cosmic Mugs let me directly connect with my heroes. If you own a Cosmic Mug, you are in the company of all of these people.

Giveaways are expensive, but they create incredible connections that impact the world in powerful, positive ways. Even with the high expenses, that seems like a worthy goal.

“You are the average of the five people you most associate with.”

– Tim Ferriss, quoted in Business Insider

P.s. Thanks for reading this far! I’m curious…who are people who have impacted your life positively? Scroll down to leave a reply here on our website and we will give you 3 more entries to the Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway (active until January 27th, 2017).

Image sources:

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chris Hadfield, Seth Godin, Ryan Holiday, Bryan Callen, Tim Ferriss

How Meditation Helped Me Break A Guinness World Record

Enter the Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway (active until January 27th, 2017) and you could win a copy of “The Obstacle Is The Way” by Ryan Holiday and World Record Pot #28 ($194 value) absolutely free. Back in February, 2015, I read “The Obstacle Is The Way” just before setting the new pottery Guinness World Record, which you can watch in this Facebook video. This story tells how I trained my body and mind to achieve this epic feat.

“That looks so calming and relaxing…absolutely peaceful to watch… so soothing…”

Thousands of people watch my Facebook throwing demos and typically say things like this. I really appreciate the sentiment. Unfortunately, they can’t feel how pottery making is actually really tough. Ridiculously tough.

Yes it’s hard because it requires a lot of skill, but it’s also hard on your body. Hands, arms, back and leg muscles are tight. Slouching posture feels natural, but must be corrected to avoid back injuries. Intense concentration keeps pots flowing off the kickwheel, but the slightest error ruins the entire pot. Even when I get into a meditative rhythm after 10-20 pots, my mind instantly begins wandering, requiring even more intense concentration.

All of those stresses were amplified during the world record attempt.

For one full year, I practiced by creating over 1,000 of the required “planters” slowly and methodically (on top of another 3,500+ pots that I needed to create and sell to make a living). Three weeks before the record attempt, I trained like I was going to run a marathon. Training began the day after I returned from Japan.

Tokyo, Kyoto and Mount Fuji were incredibly inspiring. Happily back to work in my pottery studio in Minnesota, I began training for the world record. The previous gentleman from the UK beat it on an electric wheel, but I planned to use my traditional, Japanese kickwheel. With no motor, you can’t just crank the engine and move your hands. It requires your full body.

“Awesome!” I thought. “It will look so cool breaking the record with a kickwheel. Let’s do this!”

I prepared 100 pounds of clay, sat down at the wheel and immediately, painfully threw my back out.

Handstands at Mount Fuji might have boosted my ego just a bit. Fortunately, the lower back tweak was minor. I recovered in two days and returned to training more carefully. 350+ pounds of clay were required for the record attempt. No more screwing around.

21 days after returning from Japan, I set a new Guinness World Records™ record for ‘most pots thrown in one hour by an individual. Here was my daily regime during that three week training period:

  • No alcohol
  • 10 minutes daily mediation using the free Headspace App
  • 2 hour workouts: 1-2 miles running before full body exercises guided by the free Freeletics App
  • 1 hour stretching: 15 minutes before workouts, 45 minutes after
  • 3-4 hours pottery practice

The mental strain was stifling:

  • “What if I throw my back out again?”
  • “What if I fail in front of 8 volunteers, photographers, reporters, kids, friends who drove 60 miles?”
  • “What if I miss a requirement and GWR rejects us?”
  • “How do I get 350 pounds of clay measured into 2 pound balls and moved 6 miles, up 3 flights of stairs. What if THAT throws my back out?”
  • “Not drinking sucks. I want a beer.”

Three things helped me conquer my mental demons:

  1. Meditation
  2. The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday
  3. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Stadium Arcadium, Jupiter and Mars

During his TED Talk video, Andy Puddicombe’s juggling and public speaking skills make the benefits of meditation self evident.

The Obstacle Is The Way was a “quake book” for me. Streaming it on Audible three times in three weeks helped me optimistically explore every possible way to conquer the record.

150 pots in one hour was the record to beat. One day before the attempt, I set up a stopwatch and threw 48 pots in 19 minutes. Do the math and you get one pot every 23.75 seconds. Beating the record required one pot every 24 seconds. I was barely scraping by and had to triple the throwing time.  Those margins were too close for comfort.

“When America first sent astronauts into space, they trained them in one skill more than any other: the art of not panicking.”

– Ryan Holiday

When I sat down to attempt the record, I had no idea whether or not I could beat it. Eight volunteers needed directions, 30 people were patiently staring at me and the 375 pounds of clay was sitting next to me, beginning to dry.

A stroke of good fortune hit. Someone randomly put on my all time favorite album: “Stadium Arcadium” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers blasted through the loud speakers.

The clock started. I wasn’t worried. I got into a rhythm and the flow started. For the next hour, the benefits of meditation were obvious. It was easy to ignore the huge influx of distracting sounds, questions, gaze of the crowd and bullshit doubts in my own mind. I found myself singing along to the Chili Peppers tunes. The rest is history.

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

– Archilochos, quoted by Tim Ferriss

P.s. Ryan Holiday is also featured in “Tools of Titans page 334, which we’re giving away in our Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway (active until January 27th, 2017). More than 80% of the nearly 200 people featured in Tools of Titans cite meditation or some form of mindfulness as a daily practice. Enter the Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway and you could win one of 5 Random Cosmic Mugs paired with one of 5 copies of “Tools of Titans” totally free.

The “Wow Factor”

Enter the Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway (active until January 27th, 2017) and you could win one of our best Cosmic Mugs paired with a copy of “Purple Cow” by Seth Godin, totally free. This story tells how “Purple Cow” inspired the early formation of Cosmic Mugs back in 2014.

Seth Godin describes a “Purple Cow” as an example of something truly remarkable. Any person on the planet who happened to pass by a purple cow would exclaim, “Wow!” It would be worthy of remarking on.

The “wow factor” was how I described my art during college, before I ever heard of Seth Godin. It needed to help people feel a sense of awe. College professors urged me to explore abstract, sculptural art and the result was Mindscape: an art installation with over 1,000 abstract sculptures.


Sculpture doesn’t currently pay the bills. During college, I discovered that pottery could, but needed to change my path. One of the biggest challenges since has been trying to craft truly remarkable pottery that is capable of communicating a comparable, “WOAH!” as stepping inside 1,000+ sculptures.

Purple Cow helped me filter this energy into an original, gorgeous coffee mug, which evolved into the “Cosmic Mug” over years spent finding my artistic voice. Communicating the “wow factor” through photography was another obstacle we had to tackle, while switching from local pottery sales to online sales all over the world.

This photo has the “wow factor” thanks to talented photographer Nicole Pederson.

“If a narrative isn’t working, well then, really, why are you using it? The narrative isn’t done to you; the narrative is something that you choose. Once we can dig deep and find a different narrative, then we ought to be able to change the game.”

– Seth Godin, qtd in “Tools of Titans” by Tim Ferriss, Page 239.


P.s. Seth Godin is also featured at length in “Tools of Titans” starting on page 237. Enter the Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway (active until January 27th, 2017) and you could win one of 5 Random Cosmic Mugs paired with one of 5 copies of “Tools of Titans” totally free.