by Eleanor Hendriks
When I make a batch of things the same size I use something stuck into a blob of clay on the edge of my splashpan to mark the height and width so I don't have to measure each piece as I work.
For about 10 years I used a twig plucked from a bush outside the door of my old studio in Fergus. It was just the right length and thickness and, most importantly, it had a bit of spring so that if I made something a bit too wide it would bend and ride on the surface of the clay instead of digging in and making an unwanted groove in the piece. It was a very special twig that I always used and that had a place of honour in my toolbox. The bush it came from succumbed to a combination of cold winters and my lackadaisical gardening efforts a few years after I plucked the twig, so there was no ready source for more of the same.
One day, a friend was sitting in the studio and chatting with me while I worked (something I had been begging him to do for ages). He is an incurable fiddler and can never have his hands empty. He picked up this very special twig and, much to my horror, proceeded to snap it into teeny weeny bits as we talked. I didn't dare say anything because I didn't want to chase him away. I hoped to find a replacement twig without telling him what he had done.
I have never found a suitable replacement.
I tried broom straws from traditional style brooms, twigs and grasses from wherever I could find them but never found something that worked as well as my original twig. For the last 8 years or so I have settled on bamboo skewers as my new clay marker. They work reasonably well. They are long enough, thin and come to a nice sharp point for marking but they just don't have the spring that made my original twig so perfect.
Then one day, not so long ago, I couldn't find any bamboo skewers as I prepared to make a set of mugs. Not wanting to waste time looking I grabbed the nearest long thin stick-like object as a substitute. That object happened to be a thin paintbrush. As I was sticking it into my lump of clay, I realized that the pointy brush end would be a perfect marker! The handle was long and thin enough and the brush end could ride along a too wide pot without marring the surface. Why hadn't I thought of this sooner?!?
This brush is now my new twig. If you come to visit my studio and see me scurrying to hide something as you come in, don't worry, I'm not up to anything illegal, I'm just hiding my twig!