Sunday, August 23, 2015

Making Art, and Making Money

Check out this list. I'll wait.

Top 25 Fine Craft Show ranked by average sales

These are the top craft shows in the nation. I am a little bit comforted in a misery-loves-company way, because I always thought my take, back when I did these sorts of events, was way below average. It was, but not ridiculously so. And I'm a potter, my raw number is always going to be lower than the jewelers or clothing folks.
But: think for a second how much it costs to do one of these shows, between booth fees, gas, hotels, and meals. Take, just for a ferinstance, the Smithsonian Show. The lowest booth fee is $1265. Might as well add in the application fee, that's a cost of doing the show, too. Now think about getting a hotel room for five nights - in or around Washington DC. Even the Super 8's and the Motel 6's are spendy; let's say $150 a night. You could maybe get a room for less but you can't write luck into the plan. And food: realistically, you aren't going to eat peanut butter sandwiches in your room every meal. And food vendors at the event are always overpriced. You could maybe - if you are super-frugal - get away with spending $25 a day on food & drink, but I think $30 is more realistic. I've got a travel day on either end so that's about $180 for six days of bad food. It's about 1200 miles, plus some noodling around town to go to Lowes and buy lights or duct tape or whatever, and back & forth from the show to the hotel every day - might be pretty far if you need a cheap hotel. I'd have to be driving a truck or van so let's say 18 MPG. So we've got about $250 in gas.
It looks like this:

  • Application fee $50
  • Booth fee $1265
  • Hotel $750 and you know there's gonna be some bullshit hotel tax in there, too.
  • Bad food $180
  • Gas $250
  • Probably some bullshit parking costs, too, let's say $40
 $2535. That's all money you have to spend whether you see a dollar from the show or not. Most of it you have to come up with well in advance. Now, the average take from the Smithsonian is $5983. (When I was your age, a show didn't even count as "good" unless we made ten times the booth fee. That's not even five times the booth fee! The fees have gone up a lot more than the sales. The venues, they still get their money. The organizers, even the non-profit ones, their share hasn't dropped. When shit falls, it always fall on the little guy.) It's important to remember, too, that half of the artists will come in below average - although that's not for sure, there may be someone pulling the average down with a ridiculously low number. More likely, though, is that there's someone pulling the average up with a ridiculously high number. We've all been at that art fair where the artist in the booth across the aisle makes $20,000, whereas the low can never be lower than zero.

But I digress. Let's pretend we went to this show and sold a little less than average, because we know the jewelers tend to make the most, and not by a little. Let's say $5000. Subtract $2535 and get $2500. (ish) Most sales are credit or debit cards now, so let's add in conservative processing fees of $100, or 2%, on our 5k in sales, leaving $2400.

Half of your retail will cover your making costs and overhead, so now we've got $1200. This is not a terrible number, if you think of it as pay for 5 days' work; but if you think of it as your paycheck for the six weeks leading up to the show - the time it took to make the work and prepare for the show - well, now it is less impressive. And that's not including opportunity costs: the work you could have made in the six days the show took up.

I guess my point is, this shit is hard. It's not just me. These numbers matter, because I am still weighing a transition to doing art fairs more than wholesale/ consignment, and I need to assess it in a hard-headed way. I haven't yet bought a van, and before I do I want to make sure I'm not following faerie lights.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Designing Women

After weeks of prep and worry and more prep, it's time to saddle up. Whatever I forgot (ahem: business cards) I'll just have to do without; the weather will be whatever it is; people will come and buy, or they won't.
If you are in Central Maine, come see me!

Longfellow's Greenhouses
81 Puddledock Road

Oh, and I almost forgot: today is my birthday! That's got to be good mojo, right?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ready to Go!

The firing went well, the booth is finished (more or less), and I borrowed a canopy because I was stuck like Buridan's ass between the EZ-Up Eclipse or Envoy options. (The one is so expensive! But what if the other is a cheap piece of shit? But what if it would have been fine, and I wasted all that money...?) My friend Karen Dicenso took pity on me and lent me hers, so I could see the difference between that and my old canopy (which perished some years ago in and unfortunate encounter with a strong wind and a stronger police officer.)First impression: if I do well enough at this show, I'll buy the Eclipse. The Envoy is adequate, but the Eclipse is much, much sturdier.

I may have opportunity to fully test the canopy, as rain is expected this weekend. It is, in fact raining now, with intermittent showers predicted for tomorrow. I'd be bummed about that but earlier in the week the forecast for Saturday was "torrential downpour," is intermittent showers doesn sound so bad. Besides, every time I check it's a little less threatening. 

I had a bad moment just after I took this photo, when I decided to try out the offline mode of my Square credit card reader, and discovered, after much crying and gnashing of teeth, that the device I have is no longer supported. NICE OF THEM TO LET ME KNOW. I could have gotten another for free but since I need it tomorrow, that wasn't going to work, so I went to Best Buy. There was exactly one person in the store who knew what The Square was and where in the store to find it; and when I did find it, there was only ONE left, and I had to buy a case with it, because they didn't have any without. It was a case for an iPhone, which I don't have, but whatever. I have since tried it out, and yes, thankfully, I can now take credit cards again. Disaster, averted.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Countdown: 3 Days

This Saturday, my first art fair in forever. Between now and then: so much work! I've got the display about 80% done - or, more accurately, 80%-as-done-as -it's-going-to-get-before-Saturday, because I am now recalling: the display is never done. I used to say that pottery is my business and the booth display is my hobby.

Here are the shelves so far. This is the main piece of the display I used for many years, updated with paint, crates, and quarter-round shelves. It has a couple of advantages: it's lightweight, it folds down flat to take little space in transport, and it sets up quickly. It has some disadvantages as well: you can see right through it, so it doesn't hide of the spare stock, packing materials, or other items you bring along to an art fair, that you don't want on display. It's also a bit unstable: it won't tip by itself but if somebody comes along, say, and leans on it, well, all bets are off.

I can solve these two problems with lattice panels and a cordless drill. I cut them to size and then just tack them with a couple of small screws to the back to the vertical shelf supports.

With the lattice tacked in place, to make sure it will work

Two screws on each end hold it in place to lend stiffness to the shelves.
I started painting it, so now I have to finish...but man, painting lattice? is a pain in the ass. It's all edges.

I hope to finish this today, and then unload the glaze kiln.

Monday, August 17, 2015


So, my firing was cruising right along: 012 by 9:30 AM, out of body reduciton by 10. But when I pulled out the damper a bit for climbing reduction, something unexpected happened: the bricks around the damper slipped outward just enough that they were no longer entirely supporting the bricks above them!

Well, this can't be good.

At first I thought AAAAAGH THIS THOUSAND-POUND STACK OF HOT BRICKS IS ABOUT TO FALL ON ME AAAAAGHH!!!! I figured I'd have to shut 'er down, dammit dammit dammit. I really did not want to do that: I have a fair coming up next Saturday; these pots are for that, and without them I wouldn't have much inventory at all. After the panic passed I remembered: the soft brick is only sort of an outer sleeve, to keep people (people like me! Exactly like me, actually) from brushing against the hot hardbrick of the stack. There's an inner hardbrick sleeve which is not being supported by that one lintel brick. It has its own lintel brick, which had not shifted, because if it had, I'd know it; I wouldn't be able to move the damper anymore.

The damper was, luckily, in a pretty good position when the shift happened, because while I could still move it, I didn't like to do anything that might cause any more shifting. Crossing my fingers, toes, and everything else I have two of, I decided to just keep firing.

All those crossed body parts must have worked, because other than this (rather significant) one, the firing went without incident: ^10 fell around 3 pm. Unloading is Wednesday, Designing Women is Saturday.

And next week? Rebuilding the stack.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Art Fair Booth Project

Remember the 90's? I do. I lived in St. Paul for most of them, weighed 20 pounds less than I do now, and I mostly sold my work at arts fairs. And made a living!

I've been saying for years that I am should go back to doing art fairs; my obstacles have been vehicular and boothal. (Do you like that word I just made up? It means "of, or related to, a booth.") Recently, as I've mentioned, I was invited to do a local art fair, one close enough to make multiple trips to bring the wares and the display, so the vehicle part is solved: now I just need a booth display.

The display in my head is awesome, and I was holding out until I had time and money to build it, but with less than three weeks left before the show it's time to admit that the awesome booth is not going to happen, and to settle for the adequate booth: a rehabbing of my old display - the one I used in the 90s.

So, let's see what needs to be done.
  1. After a decade of schlepping and another of unheated storage, the stain and urethane are looking pretty shabby, and even flaking off in places.
  2. The hinges are rusty and ugly
  3. And, last but far from least, one of the ladder-supports has been cannibalized for another project, and will need to be rebuilt.
Surfaces first - I can get some sanding discs and re-purpose the angle grinder I bought to clean the kiln shelves.
To save time, I decided to paint rather than sand right down to the wood and re-stain and vanish. Ain't primer wonderful? Sticks to anything, and covers a multitude of sins.

Now, I've got to make a decision for the final color. Everyone tells me I would be wise to paint it white and keep it simple, and I'm sure that's true...but I can't help wanting something more fabulous than conventional wisdom allows.

When I think about what draws me in at a fair, honestly, at first, it's not the work. I get pulled in by the booths that are appealing, the booths that
are themselves artworks, and then look at the work once I am in. Am I alone in this? I think not. On the other hand, hasn't this resistance to conventional wisdom lead me to some spectacular failures? Why yes. Yes it has. Sometimes the fabulous in my head does not translate, and even other artists don't see what I was trying to do.

Still, like Popeye, I yam what I yam, and even though this will not be the awesome booth in my head, I am leaning toward some and pattern that harks back to the colors and patterns on the pots.

I've got until tomorrow morning to decide.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cats and Clay, a (Very) Brief History

Yup, that's a paw print alright.
It appears cat have been wreaking havok for clay workers for at least a couple of millenia! Paw prints were found on 2000-year old Roman roof tiles, perhaps made when the tiles were laid out to dry. The tile was fired and used nevertheless - for all we know the marks were considered an embellishment! That wasn't the way of it when my own feline friends - kittens at the time - contributed to my work, but who knows? More likely, it just didn't matter, as the fairly shallow prints didn't interfere with the function of the tile.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

At Last an Art Fair

The last art fair I did was 12 years ago, the now defunct Maine Festival. A few months before that I did the ACC Baltimore wholesale/retail show - the year the city got three feet of snow. It sucked, as you can imagine, and I ate out of vending machines for three days. I didn't swear off art fairs, exactly, but between this, that, and the other thing, I haven't done any since 2003.

Partly I just got spoiled, living in St. Paul, a few hours drive from a score of top-shelf art fairs. It's disheartening to do the same amount of work for the small local festivals and come home with a tenth of the money. And, perhaps most importantly, my van died, and I didn't have the money to replace it.

This summer I've been invited to participate in the Designing Women show in Manchester, about 15 minutes from where I am sitting. The proximity makes it possible: I still just have a compact car - a Kia Optima, if you're wondering. (Okay, you probably weren't wondering.) I can make multiple trips, and I'll almost certainly have to make at least two - one for the display and one for the ware. Or rent a van for the day. Or buy a pick-up! I really want to buy a pick-up - honestly it's harder to be an artist without a truck - but that's probably not in the cards.

Anyway! I need to do a firing for the event - I have some inventory but am trying to create a more unified body of work, for display purposes - so I've been making, making, making, like a mad thing, to fill a kiln for my August 15th firing. But! I still need to build a display! I'd like to build this one, but I probably won't have time for that, so I will most likely either reconstruct my old display or purchase some pre-made folding shelves. I hate those - they look so generic - but I've often been guilty of letting the awesome be the enemy of the serviceable, and thereby missing opportunities.

This morning I need to finish up some wine chillers and sugar bowls, then it's off to class with me.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Might Take a Train, Might Take a Plane

...but if I have to walk, I'm gonna go there just the same.

Just got some exciting news: I've been selected to be a demonstrator in the Process Room at the 2016 NCECA conference in Kansas City! The Process Room features artists doing 30-minute demos of building or decorating techniques - if you were in Providence you recall the room was constantly full to overflowing.

I'll be demonstrating the thrown-and-stretched butter dishes I wrote about a few years ago.

If I were in my depressed/cynical mode, I would make note that this is not a paid gig, and that it's surprising to me how many organizations are happy to ask artists to work for free, including organizations of and for artists. (*cough*Ceramics Monthly*cough* ) But hey! I applied knowing it was not paid, save for my NCECA membership, and I am damn glad to be doing it. This might be the ONE time that the exposure really is the important part.

Muddy Waters has more to say on the subject:

Saturday, July 11, 2015

New pots!

Sorry to go dark for so long - several of you have emailed me to see if I'm okay, since my last post was about depression, among other things. Thank you for your kindness. I am okay - wouldn't exactly say I've got my groove back, which is why I can't seem to get a post past the draft stage, but doing alright.

And making pots! I unloaded a kiln on Wednesday. Many pots have already been delivered, but I photographed a few today. I'll post them on the website later & update here with links when that is done:

It was one of those firings with a higher than usual number of WOW pots, and a higher than usual number of seconds: warps, cracks, soda-foam-globs. I delivered many of the best ones to Handworks Gallery in Blue Hill, Maine, yesterday. Doug and I made a day of it and visited the reversing falls there, and found the most beautiful starfish!
We don't see starfish much. I mean, we live inland, but I grew up right on the coast, in Scarborough, and I can only remember seeing starfish once, on a trip to Mount Desert Island. I'm told they prefer deep water, and the water at the reversing falls gets very deep at high tide.

I think of starfish being kind of a tan-brown color, but they were amazing jewel tones: amethyst, peach, ruby, charcoal.
All in all a great day.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dementors and Grindylows

 J.K. Rowling has said that when she wrote the dementors in the Harry Potter series, she meant for them to describe what depression feels like: the despair, the hopelessness, the replaying of bad memories. That all sounds about right, but when I visualize depression, I think of another dark inhabitant of Rowling's fictional world: Grindylows.
For those unfamiliar, Grindyows are water demons that grab the ankles of unsuspecting swimmers and drag them to the bottom. This, to me, is depression: you know you are going down, and you fight, and maybe you break free; but the longer you have to fight, the less able you are.
Here's another rendition
If you haven't guessed, I've been kicking at my own personal grindylow for some months now. It was a loooooong winter, and a cold one - those things matter - and once the spiral starts, any disappointment seems to contribute. It can be difficult to tease out what is a symptom and what a cause. It got bad, this time: I was able to rally for my classes, and to organize the pottery tour, but outside of those obligations,  I pretty much just went to bed. And then, in that cause-symptom spiral, felt even worse, because I must be a lazy piece of shit, right?

And so on.

Most of the time I felt no desire to make things. I feared, as those of us in the creative professions sometimes do, that I had lost it: lost the mojo that made me who I am, because that drive was as gone. Terrifying and depressing, awesome.Not to mention the economic consequences: one more anxiety, one piece of evidence that I am not a competent adult, blah-blah-blah, did I mention Grindylows are chatty? They have opinions about me: hateful opinions, all of them.

I've been managing this illness (more or less) with exercise and relaxation techniques for 15 years, but I finally - finally - decided after being unable to kick free for months that it was time to go back on meds. I've contacted my doctor's office but haven't been able to even set an appointment yet (long boring story) I wait. I've been waiting over a month, just to set an appointment. (No wonder people go to the emergency room for stupid things! They probably just give up waiting for their own doctors.)

In the meantime, I've started to feel its grip weakening. Remission, too, is a spiral: if you can feel a little better, you can be a little more active, which makes you feel a little better. If you can address even a small thing that seemed overwhelming, you can feel empowered to address another. And so on! Like this:

(There's a great post at Captain Awkward about breaking the low mood cycle, where I got that "chart.")

My remission is still fragile but it does seem to have some momentum: I spent a few hours at the wheel yesterday, in the summer studio, and a few more decorating.

 tl;dr: I've been feeling low for a while but starting to feel better, and look! I made some pots yesterday!

Friday, May 8, 2015

$1 Shipping Sale

Finally, I listed new pots on my website! I have been needing to repopulate that pages since December. I thouhgt I was going to be very very clever and offer a promo code to FB fans and blog friends. but that...was an unmitigated disaster.


Okay, maybe not unmitigated...but who ever heard of a mitigated disaster?

The html I found for making your own paypal promo codes, just made up its own shipping rates. And then charged handling, also seemingly randomly. I'm sure there's a way to alter it to make it work right but if I knew how to do that I wouldn't have to borrow someone else's code in the first place!

Anyway! The promo code thing is out (and why don't you get on that, Paypal?) but I can still have a $1 shipping sale! All stoneware items ship for $1 anywhere in the continental US. Here are the new items:

See them all here.
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