Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Year of Yes OH WAIT

True Story: In 1996 I had a spectacular year. I won a big grant, I published an article in Ceramics Monthly, and I got into every show I applied for. I bought a house, I was hired to teach at the Northern Clay Center, I had two solo shows and took on 10 new wholesale accounts. Everything was coming up roses and daffodils, everything I touched turned to gold; I couldn't lose.

I may be gilding this a bit, in memory - but it was a hell of a winning streak. Then my life fell apart, from the marriage outward. The marriage was probably dead in 1997, but it took 3 years to fall down (and another for us to bury it.) During those 3 years I had far less time and energy to devote to business, and while I kept making and selling pots, and I kept teaching classes, I really wasn't able to build on the successes I had in golden 1996. The culmination of the collapse was when I gave up, ended the marriage, sold the house, and moved back to Maine, where I essentially had to start over again. In spite of that gloomy sentence, this was a good thing! I established my studio, got a teaching gig or two, met Doug, bought my house...put my life back together, remembering to build in a lot more laughter and joy, this time.

But, professionally, I never had another year like 1996, when I just couldn't lose.

Until now.

Who knows why? (Random, I guess? But I am tempted to credit my 19 for 2019 goal list.) For whatever reason, 2020 was shaping up to be another Year of Yes. All the doors were opening, all the lights were turning green. Remembering 1996 I had a bit of superstitious dread: what shit would the universe throw at me this time?

Although I admit I did not have "global pandemic" on my bingo card.

So, the Year of Yes has morphed into the year of hold on, just hold on. My classes have been suspended, some sales events cancelled, stores are OBVIOUSLY not selling as much. I have postponed the pottery tour, and I am still in hopes that by June we will be returning to normalcy...we'll see how that works out. Doug & I are hunkered down for a long spell of isolation. It's not so bad together, but of course we are worried about money - us and everyone. In Maine the governor & legislature are working on unemployment packages for people like us - if this had to happen, thank God it happened under Governor Mills, and not her predecessor. We aren't getting any leadership from the federal government, so the cities and states have to step up.

Anyway. At least I can make pots, mix glazes, and do kiln maintenance. I've also been journaling this experience - if you're bored, you can read about it here.

Be well. Stay home.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Things to do while Social Distancing

Though I remain moderately freaked out by the speed of current events, like everyone else, I am muddling through. Both my teaching gigs, Portland Pottery and Hallowell Clay Works, have put classes on hold. I fully support those decisions; which is not to say it doesn't suck, because it does!

I'm getting my mind around it, though. I am lucky, in one way: even if I can't work my teaching jobs, I can still work in my studio. My to do list for the next 2 weeks:

  1. Replenish glazes
  2. Rebuild bag wall
  3. Grind kiln shelves
  4. Finish orders
  5. Make fun pots
  6. Reclaim clay
  7. Make soap
 I have lots of projects around the house I can work on also - notably it's getting warm enough to start spiffying up the deck & the yard. Maybe finish painting the bathroom!

Here is how I am thinking of it: in wartime, soldiers risk life & limb, and they do it far away from their homes & families. All we have to do is stay home and chill. Yes, the money part sucks, but we can make that up later. For now, staying out of public spaces is the best way to keep ourselves & our more vulnerable neighbors, friends, and loved ones safe.

Be well, clay friends, & keep washing your hands. We'll get through this.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Pottery Tour Postponed

I want to post this everywhere I can, to get the word out:
Due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus, and following guidance from the Maine CDC to socially isolate for a period, we have decided to postpone the Maine Pottery Tour until June 6 & 7. This was not an easy decision but we are prioritizing health & safety. 
Eternal optimist that I am (when I am not in the grip of grindylows and dementors) I immediately jumped to the silver lining: my garden will be so much more beautiful for my guests! And now I have 5 extra weeks to get the word out.

I am optimistic, but not stupid - I know that epidemiologists' projections may be wrong, and the outbreak may drag on longer than expected. I will review this decision in May; if things still seem too risky, I will cancel the event. But we'll cross that bridge if we come to it.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

8 Weeks Out

On Leap Day I saw a crocus. Not blooming, yet; just the pale tip of growth poking through the frozen earth. A sign of spring! It seems far off, still, but in truth it will be here before we know it.

In fact there are only 8 weeks left before the Maine Pottery Tour! I organize the tour every year (well, mostly) so I know: that is a very short amount of time for all the stuff that needs to be done! We have 50 studios on the tour this year - more than ever! - and there are postcards to order, maps to create, and signs to distribute. That's in addtion to my own studio event to plan - I'll be doing a kiln opening Saturday morning May 2, have plates available for people to paint, and a tabletop potter's wheel if anyone wants to give it a whirl, so to speak - not to mention making pots for the sale part of the event.

Whew.

I don't have full maps ready yet, but if you are looking to plan your pottery road trip, we do have several new studios on the tour this year. Here's a list, with web links, if you want to check them out:

Common Street Arts - Waterville
Top of the Hill Pottery- Augusta
Jeffrey Lipton Pottery - Litchfield
Dragon's Breath Pottery - Warren
Maine-ly Pottery - Belfast
Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts - Newcastle
EC Ceramics - Blue Hill
Tim Christensen Porcelain - Portland
Adrian King Pottery - Portland
Bentley Pottery - Portland
Heather Abt - Portland
Muddy Toes Pottery- New Gloucester
MEC Pottery - Cape Neddick

Thursday, February 27, 2020

New Rollers, New Classes, New Stores!

Hello, yeah, it's been awhile...Not much, how 'bout you?

Whenever there's a long pause between posts, I get emails asking after my well-being. I suppose this is because I have been open about my struggles with depression. I love you guys for being such kind & caring people, to someone you've never met!  But, not to worry! - in this case I have simply been busy in the studio.  I have three new stores carrying Fine Mess Pottery! Remember Dotopia? Buyers seem to like it. I have three new accounts! I've delivered to Lisa-Marie's Made in Maine,
and will be delivering to two others shortly. In addition I have two sales meetings scheduled for spring. I've stopped making the ask, for now, because I want to make sure I don't over-book myself: a nice problem to have.

New classes begin next week! I have four at Portland Pottery - I think all of those are full - and two at Hallowell Clay Works, where I think I have room in my Monday night beginner's class.

Other new stuff: I made myself a couple of rollers!

While I do enjoy manufactured rollers - MKM wooden rollers are such beautiful little objects! - the resulting pattern, with its perfect regularity shouts "machine made" from across the room. This isn't always bad! The wheel is a machine, and leaves a similar unmistakable quality. I often enjoy the tension of crisp precision vibrating against the squishy, human qualities of handbuilt work. Sometimes, though, I want a pattern that millions of other potters don't also have, or a pattern with a softer quality more harmonious with the handmade vibe.

I demonstrated making rollers for my handbuilding class last week. This week they came out of the kiln, and we got to see what patterns they make! It's funny but you can't always envision what the roller will do, so even though I made these myself, they are still a surprise to me. I was pleased with my results.

Looky looky! 👀


Anyway! Thanks to all for asking about me, I am doing so well it scares me! (Moron that later.) Now I've gotta get dressed & head to class. XO L

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Resolution: Less Waste

When I asked a young friend of mine if she made New Year's resolutions, she told me no, but she had made a New Decade's resolution: to cease using single-use plastics by 2030. This is an ambitious and laudable goal! Though I'd like to think I could do this, it feels overwhelming; but it did inspire me to think about the ways in which I could reduce waste in my life.

Here's an easy one: I can remember to bring a ceramic cup with me when I get coffee out! Coffee is one of my small indulgences. Every day at home, naturally! If you are like me, several times a week you also find yourself with a disposable cup in hand, enjoying a java out in the world. Take a second to picture the pile those cups would make at the end of the year! Disposable coffee cups aren’t good candidates for recycling, because they are either Styrofoam or lined with a thin layer of plastic.
That’s a lot of waste, but there’s good news, friend! A ceramiccup requires only 18 uses to break even with paper in terms of water use andenergy consumption. After that, every time you use a ceramic cup instead of paper, you are helping to save the planet. Once or twice a week I get a coffee out - usually at my favorite Portland coffee shop, Coffee By Design; and usually because I am between classes or other appointments in Portland, killing time. I am a potter! It is an easy matter for me to bring my own mug.

Think about it: after only 18 uses, a ceramic mug is gentler on the environment than paper, in terms of energy consumption, water, and waste. Everything after that is basically an environmental freebie! Plastic breaks even with paper after only 8 uses, but plastic will get brittle &; crack much, MUCH sooner than stoneware - a stoneware mug's useful life is basically forever. All the forever we have, anyway.

You probably already have a stoneware mug - I know my readers are mostly potters! - but just in case, here's a link to my new ones online.


Friday, January 10, 2020

Rolled the Dice

...Or else I set $40 on fire. I applied for the St Louis Art Fair, which happens in September. Every year I have an argument with myself about whether I should apply to the top-shelf fairs I used to go to, when  lived in St. Paul. I didn’t know how easy I had it, back then! At least 10 of the top 50 best art fairs are within a ½ day’s drive of St. Paul. The closest one to me here is the Smithsonian, which I don’t apply to because it’s very unlikely I could get in. Also the jury fee is $50, the lowest booth fee is $1300, and getting a hotel and food in DC for 3 or 4 days would be a crazy expense. Also, the *average* sales total is about 6k. Since jewelers always make the most, and since there are always a few big studios that make like 50k, that means the little people like me are making between $0 – 3000, for a show that costs about 2500 to do.

Anyway. The last time I did St Louis, I made upwards of $5000, and would have made more except I sold out of everything! I had one pot left at the end of the show. Can I expect to sell almost literally everything, again? Probably not, but I can bring more pots! One good thing is, the organizers of this event did not get greedy, and the show still has less than 200 booths. Also, St Louis in  September? I could probably find camping nearby, or a hostel. (I also have friends in St Louis, having lived there many moons ago; but it seems rude to ask for hospitality, when I know the art fair will be so much work that I will not be able to spend any time visiting my hosts.)

Of course, I might not get in! I have a better chance than with the Smithsonian, but any good fair, you have to assume you might get juried out. I probably could get into the Uptown, but the last time I was
there I grossed $2k, which was great for a fair I did not have to travel to, not so great for one 1500 miles away. I still do have a lot of good friends in and around the Twin Cities, some close enough that they wouldn't mind housing me even if I basically just slept at their house & drank their coffee, so I could eliminate that expense, but travelling 1500 miles is still going to be a spendy proposition, in terms of both time & money.
  
I also applied to 3 local shows, one is June, one in August, one at the end of September. There are not a lot of great shows in Maine, and it has taken me some time to make the mental adjustment that most shows here are going to mean weeks of preparation and three days of flat-out backbreaking work to net a frustratingly small amount of money. 

Why did I choose this stupid field*? I should have become a visual merchandiser. Or idk, a dentist, a money manager, an engineer.
Just kidding, we all know I never had much choice in the matter. Clay chose me, and I'm lucky it did. 


*Again, I know it is bad branding to admit I don't make much money! I know we are all supposed to pretend to be super-successful all the time. But fuck it, somebody has to be honest, otherwise we all secretly feel like losers. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Wow Already? Again: Time to Apply for Next Summer's Fairs!

Last year's images


This year's images
This year's images
A potter is always living in the future. (Well: and also the past, in a different way. But that's a ramble for another time.) From a making point of view, for sure: the things I throw today, in my mind, they are already glazed and fired - I have a surface in mind for them, although it is fair to say the kiln often has other ideas. In business terms as well - in snowy January, I must decide which art fairs I want to swelter at next summer. Some of the fairs are even further out than that - two I am applying to are in September and October.

Last year I got a rude surprise when I didn't get into two big events I was counting on. (See, this is why I am terrible at business and possibly also life; I know I am supposed to pretend to be amazing and always successful; just openly failing like a common person, that is not good branding! But it's just you & me here...well, us & the whole damn internet...)

Anyway.

I got a surprise, not the good kind, when I got juried out (well: wait-listed, which in the end is the same thing) of two good shows. I made the best of it & actually had a great summer with no pressure of upcoming events, but I would not like a repeat for next summer! Getting juried out is not the end of the world, it happens to most of us at times, but it shook my confidence a little to get the boot twice the same year. Maybe my slides sucked? Maybe the pots suck?!? MAYBE I SUCK?!?!?!

So I am having to do a little work here to push those doubts aside. There's an element of the random; this was probably just that...but it couldn't hurt to be extra deliberative when choosing my images this year.

At the top of this post are the 4 images I used to apply last year; below them are the 4 I used on some applications this year, and 4 more I used for other shows. I was trying for a greater unity among the images this year. There are still lots of shows to apply to, so if you have some insight on which set of images might work better, I am all ears!

So far I have applied to the Common Ground Country Fair, The Portland Fine Craft Show, and started the complicated application for Belfast Arts in the Park, which requires filling out an in-site form, emailing images separately, and sending a 2 checks by snail mail. I'm also considering Art Providence - would love to hear from anyone who has done that show if it was worth it.

There are some smaller events, like the Winthrop Sidewalk Art Festival, whose applications are not yet open. I'm considering giving that one a try - it's only a few miles from my house, the booth fee is tiny, and I have heard good things about it. 

ETA: A reader commented that there is a Facebook group, Art Fair Reviews, that might be helpful. (Thanks, Susan!) Boy was she right! I joined the group and immediately got the information I needed specifically about Art Providence, which was , don't. Or that was my take. I saw comments like, "We almost made our expenses" and "we made our expenses, but only because we didn't need to get a hotel" and "It was our worst show of the year." Everyone says it's well organized, with excellent quality vendors; nobody says they sold well. So, I am crossing them off my list.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Wow, Already? Time to Think about the Maine Pottery Tour

Though the ground is still covered in snow, we know spring is on the way. How do we know? Well, I mean, I guess because it always has, and the earth is still moving around the sun on the same trajectory it always does; but also because potters are starting to email me about the Maine Pottery Tour!

The 2020 Maine Pottery Tour is off to a very promising start - this is maybe the earliest I've received inquiries, and I have received a lot of them. It won't work out for everyone, of course - timing or conflicts or production or costs, there are always things that can stand in the way. Probably some will be joining the 40 or so studios that are already a part of the Maine Pottery Tour, so yay! I already have confirmation that the Watershed center for Ceramic Arts will be on the tour this year, a nice boost because that organization has a huge reach among people who are interested in clay, in Maine and elsewhere.

So! It seems an excellent time to mention it here, to my mostly-potter readership: Do you have a pottery studio in Maine? Would you like to be a part of the Maine Pottery Tour? The tour happens May 2nd & 3rd this year...I've never been completely happy with the dates, as they land just before our yards & gardens begin to look nice - but the following weekend is Mother's Day, and lots of potters are mothers. Or have mothers. Or their children have mothers. So, lots of conflicts there. I might consider a later weekend some year, depending on input from studios. But for now, the first weekend in May is it.

But I digress. Are you a Maine potter? Wanna be on the tour? Give me a shout at info@finemesspottery.com and let me know. (Ditto if you are a Maine business (or any business, really) who would like to sponsor the the tour.) The cost for studios to be on the map is $25, and includes a link on the website, a place on the online map and on the thousands of flyers we print & distribute, 50 postccards to send to your mailing list, and, if you get me images, a mention on our facebook page. There's also the opportunity to buy-in with us on a Maine Public Radio sponsorship - I think the interest this year is so much higher because we started that program last year.

If you are just a pottery aficianado, help spread the word to your favorite Maine potters & ceramics sculptors.
Yes, I'm gonna say it already: Can't wait 'til spring.

Roar like a Rat

The Roaring 20s are opening in the Year of the Rat - the Metal Rat, to be exact. Don't @ me about the 20s actually starting next year. Years are real, as they represent an astrological event; decades are entirely a cultural construct. And we don't really know exactly when the Common Era began, so this year, last year, next year, whatever; you go ahead and start your decade whenever you like.

Back to the Metal Rat. We have some pretty negative associations with rats - filth, disease, poverty - but that is not the case in the symbolism of the Chinese calendar. The Rat is a symbol of strong vitality, intelligence, cuteness (!), success, leadership, and prosperity.

I was born in a Year of the Dragon, so:


In 2020 the Rat will bring luck and money for those born in the year of the Dragon....The Dragon horoscope 2020 predicts that this year, you will become more sure of yourself and assert your originality, especially in your career, where your qualities will be acknowledged by your superiors and colleagues.
Assert my originality! That sounds good, right? There's some other, less awesome stuff there as well, but let's accentuate the positive.

Here I am, ready to roar like a rat!