Saturday, November 21, 2020

Adapt or Perish: The Covid Edition

 


One thing I've learned in the Time of Covid is that I could really stand to up my online game up. I try, but there's just so much I don't know! 
Like a lot of artists, when I first started selling online, I kinda thought it would be easy-peasy. List the items, then watch the sales roll in! As we all know by now, there ain't no free lunch for nothin. Getting a website is like opening a store in your basement; nobody is gonna know it is there unless you get the word out. That's where I really need help. 

Luckily there is a solution to not knowing much about a thing you need to know, and that is learning about it. I've been meaning to get this book for a while now: Guide to Marketing Art & Crafts Online. Milly Welsh, the author, is a friend & the webmaster for the Maine Pottery Tour.  

I skimmed through it briefly upon arrival - it is absolutely packed with helpful information - enough, even, that I felt a little overwhelmed. I took some time to digest it, reminded myself that I don't have to do everything, then started reading again. As I said, there's tons in there, but let me share a couple of bits that I found especially helpful: 
  • In the section Make Your Customers Repeat Customers: 
    Provide a great unboxing experience....Sellers who do this right make opening their packages part of the experience. Some examples of improving your unboxing experience are: packaging your products with branded materials inside, including swag (think pens, stickers, & otehr useful items with your branding on them), you can even decorate the outside of your boxes with stickers or graphics.
  • On photographs for retail sites: Show your product in use
    (Honestly that makes sense & it's something I almost never do. Look for that to change!)
  • On Keywords: One thing to consider is that you probably won't be able to compete right away for highly competitive keywords. I'm pretty good at SEO, but even I wouldn't necessarily go after a really broad term like "pottery." Instead I might go after a really specific keyword like "Pottery Coffee Mugs" (because even a term like "coffee mugs" is likely just oing ot be a little too competitive.) 
    Again: makes sense! But I wouldn't have thought of it. 
There's a section on keywords generally & how to use them, a big section on Etsy. You may remember that I hate Etsy (at least as a seller) but I know it's a good option for many people, especially if you are just starting online sales. Milly also explains the strengths & best uses of the various social media platforms, how to use Google Analytics, how to create a Facebook ad, and ways to drive traffic to your website. 
If you, like me, are looking for ways to expand your online sales in these pandemic times, I really recommend it. It's $20, + $4 shipping, at this link.


Sunday, November 15, 2020

Procrastination Energy

 

I haven't fired as often this year as other years, because obviously. I am gearing up to do a glaze firing soon, though, and for weeks have been putting off grinding my kiln shelves. I enjoy nearly every aspect of #claylife - even stuff like mixing glazes, although it took years to appreciate the calm zone of concentration that requires - but I can't really feel the love for kiln maintenance, so I put it off. And put it off, and put it off. 

So I don't feel guilty for not doing the dreary job that I know needs to be done, I do every damn thing else. I can get a crazy-lot of stuff done when I am procrastinating kiln shelves! I built websites & took photos, posted items online, packed & shipped orders, raked my lawn, cleaned my house like crazy, even applied to refinance my mortgage. Anything, anything other than grinding kiln shelves!

Which is silly. So today I put on my big-girl pants & did the deed. The whole thing took less than an hour, and I was extra thorough! Will I remember that it's really no big deal, next time? 

Probably not. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

A Lot to Learn: A tale of Some Ridiculously, Laughably Terrible Photos

 In olden times, before the internet, I only needed photos of my work (in slide form) to apply to art fairs and send to stores. The photos were representative of the body of work, not necessarily intended to sell that individual piece. Once or twice a year I'd take five or ten pieces to a photographer who specialized in ceramic art, and pay him a hundred bucks or so, and he'd shoot the photos I'd use for my applications. 

Then along came the interwebs, and online sales, and suddenly I needed photos to sell individual pieces. Getting a pro to shoot these was out of the question, in terms of time - I'd have to schedule a shoot after every firing! - and money. Luckily digital photography appeared on the scene at the same time, so I learned to shoot my own photos

I'm not Peter Lee, but I can shoot adequate enough photos of pottery to get me into art fairs, and that's been good enough for me. Today, tho! Today I shot some Christmas ornaments, with the intention to list them online. Damn these were hard to photograph! The first shots were so ridiculously, laughably terrible that I had to show you. 



These were shot in a south-facing room on a sunny day, with three true-white photo bulbs around them. They look like they were shot at midnight in a mine shaft! I think my mistake was choosing a white background for them - just some freezer paper I had around. The camera tried hard to balance the reflected light, and this dreadful gloom was the result. Next time I will choose a grey background.

These are just some fun little doodads - I plan to list them online, but I won't be applying anywhere with ugly sweater ornaments, I assure you, so I don't plan to reshoot; I'll just "fix it in post," as the cool kids say. 

Was it Jimmy Buffet who said, "If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane?" I think that's especially true for laughing at ourselves. Anyway, enjoy my terrible horrible no-good-very-bad photos. I've got some editing to do. 

ETA: You can see the listings, and the photos after editing, here

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Just Saying Hi!

Checking in with my peeps! What is going on with your lives? I hope you are all staying safe out there, wearing your masks, social distancing, all that. Like a lot of families, we have atomized our Thanksgiving plans: each household celebrating individually. Doug & I will have a scaled down dinner; not the whole nine yards, but turkey plus the extras we like best: stuffing & mashed potatoes for him, garlic parmesan brussels sprouts & pumpkin pie for me. 

Though it seems like we are coming into an even worse covid-19 spike than we have seen yet, we all continue to learn how to keep our businesses afloat when in-person events are risky. The Central Maine Clay Artists* , a professional group I belong to, has for the past 11 years rented a vacant storefront for the month of December to hold a pop up shop, the Holiday Pottery Shop. None of us were entirely comfortable with that level of public interaction this year, so we accepted an invite from Clare Marron, the proprietor of Monkitree, a handmade good shop in Gardiner, to host us. 

We'll be setting up late Saturday afternoon, and on Tuesday, the shopping will begin. 

Portland Pottery will forgo our usual end-of-year bash - that one is a no brainer - but is still planning to hold a show & sale. That event happens December 14th - 17th. 

In addition, like many artists, I am trying to do better about my online presence. I know what to do - basically - I just need to do it. Staying afloat during Covid-19 has also required me to be a little creative about my income stream: I make a lot more cat urns now (RIP kitties; sadly just as many die in pandemic years as any other time) and I have been building websites for artists who, until now, didn't think they needed one. If you need a website, BTW, give me a shout! A basic site starts at $300. 

Today I have some pots to ship, some photos to shoot, a website to update, and a class to teach, so I best get going. 


*Go ahead! Click the link! I built the site. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

At Last, New Pots!

 

It has been sometime since I listed new pots in the online store. I actually took these photos at the end of August, meaning to get them listed, but only just finished up today. Without orders and art fairs to propel me, I have been enjoying (?) a slow making season. I put in the question mark, because while I have been doing more hiking and biking, and I very much enjoy those things, I miss the rhythm of make-glaze-fire-sell, make-glaze-fire-sell. It feels weird to have no particular reason to make stuff! And it has ever been my curse that I have difficulty getting motivated when the shelves are full. 

But there I go, wandering off topic! What I came here to post about it, New Pots In The Shop!! It's not too soon to think about holiday shopping! Here are a couple of my favorites; click the photos to shop. 


You may recognize this one from a post a few weeks ago, naming it my fave from the firing. I have a
policy to sell my favorites (unless they are seconds) since the whole point of being a potter, for me, is for the pots to be out in the world making people happy. I confess I did use this one for a couple of weeks! 

 
Dotopia! Dots, stamps, slip trailing, a mantle of silver soda glaze...this little sugar bowl has it all. 


Candy strip sugar & creamer! The white glaze got that satiny sheen. like the icing on a danish, that it sometimes does. I love the animated quality, especially of the creamer. 

I also included a few smaller items this time - soap dishes, mini vases. I sometimes hesitate to include lower end items, because my pricing includes shipping, which can make the lower priced items seem disproportionately high. I was recently reminded that I am not my customer, and the world is full of people for whom $22 is not a huge amount! So I listed a few, just to see how it goes. 

You can find the whole lot at this link

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Pottery Stairs Are Out!


Hey all! I've been away from the blog, did you miss me? I wish I could say I was busy doing fabulous things but more just overwhelmed with the state of the world. We are hanging in; I hope all of you, are, too. Money is tight, because all my events were cancelled due the the pandemic, and because the stores that sell my work have not had a great season, either. Nevertheless, I am not complaining! we have everything we need. The pandemic has touched everyone in some way, and my heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones to it. 
Anyway, covid, blah-blah-blah. Really I am posting today to let local folks know that the Pottery Stairs are out! I have loads of mugs this time - I know everybody loves mugs, and they are only $5. All transactions are contact-free! 

This will probably be the last time this season for the pottery stairs (although, never say never! If we have a warm fall, maybe once more.) It's not too early to think about Christmas shopping! 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Kitty Update: Oreo & Fiona

ETA: Oreo has been adopted! Fiona is still waiting for her forever home. 

Our cat dish fundraiser was successful! I tried to go in on Tuesday to sponsor a cat, but I forgot about the Covid restrictions, and failed to make an appointment. The shelter is closed on Wednesdays, so today was the big day! I had intended to sponsor a cat named Oreo, who has been at the shelter for 5 long months. 
Let me tell you a little bit about Oreo: she is a 3 year old tuxedo cat. Staff describe her as a silly girl, who is playful and curious, and loves attention from her people. She needs a prescription diet to prevent urinary tract infections, but the diet works well for her & she has not had any problems since starting it. She also needs to be the only pet in the home. But, good news! Between last week & today, someone else had already sponsored her!


So I asked the staff to suggest a cat, and here she is: Fiona!

 Fiona came in as a stray, and staff described her as having "lots of personality. She is 2 1/2 years old, and when I met her, she tried to play through the plexiglass of her cage. (She actually looks a lot like my cat, who - weird coincidence - was originally named Fiona, though we call her Noodle now.)With the proceeds of the fundraiser I was able to sponsor Fiona, plus a little extra to support the shelter. So now there are two kitties at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society whose adoption fees are covered! I want to thank everyone who purchased a dish or shared the post - we did it together! 

The dishes are all on their way to you now. 😊
 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

It's that time again: Help a cat find a home

You may know that I am something of a cat lady; not entirely on purpose, I have six feline friends who share my home. My capacity to care for cats is maxed out! But I still want to help. Every year for the past couple of years I have done a fundraiser to allow me to sponsor a cat at Kennebec Valley Humane Society. I try to choose a cat whose stay in the shelter has been long, to help them get out of the cage & find a family. 
I got  lots of great cat dishes out of the firing I unloaded last week, so it is time once again for a Cat Dish Fundraiser! 

If  Oreo is still available

Oreo! Isn't she adorable? 
when the fundraiser is over, I think she will be the one. He has been at the shelter since April! If she finds her home before that, well, there are lots of lovely cats waiting. No matter what we will help someone! 
The dishes are $15 each. If I can sell 10, that will cover Oreo's adoption fee (or whichever cat it ends up being) as well as shipping & packaging materials. Check out the dishes here! 

Thanks for looking! If you can buy a dish this time, great! If not, maybe you could share to your social media? The more eyes this reaches, the better. 

Thanks! I will keep you posted. 

We did it! On Tuesday I will pop in to KVHS to sponsor Oreo, or, if she's been adopted, whichever cat has been there the longest. Thank you thank you thank you!!

Monday, August 17, 2020

My Fave from the Firing

 Pretty much a drive-by post, but I wanted to share this: 


It's porcelain with slip trailing. It got only the barest blush of soda, and I just love the delicacy of the color. Being porcelain it has a bit of sheen even without glaze or soda glass. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Not Another Learning Experience! The Pop Up Photo Booth Edition

 I unloaded a firing on Friday. It was supposed to be Wednesday, but my laptop was stolen Tuesday night, so Wednesday & Thursday were burnt up in all the process involved in that - police report, contacting my banks & credit card companies, all that stuff. Boy do I have a lot to say about that experience, but I'm gonna save it for later, because, new pots! It was kind of a shitty week, but at least the kiln didn't let me down.

I spent today photographing pots, some new out of this kiln, some that I've been planning to shoot for a while. I tried a different photo set up: one of those nylon pop up tents. A friend - Libbey Seigars of Whitefield Pottery - gave me one of those pop-up photo tents last year. She wasn't happy with the results she was getting, so didn't want it anymore. It takes me a while to get around to things, but today I finally gave the it a shot. The advantage, I hoped, was that I could just pop the tent up & start shooting, as opposed to my indoor setup which requires me to re-arrange my living room, pin up a backdrop, and set up three lights. I usually don't want to do all that for just a few pots, so I wait until I have a bunch, and then shooting & processing the images - never mind listing the items for sale - becomes an all-day deal.

That was a learning experience, and what I learned was, those pop up photo tents suck! I eventually gave up & just set up my backdrop & lights as usual. The point of the pop up booth was supposed to be that it was easier - just pop it up on a sunny day & start shooting. Well, the pop up part is easy, that much is true. Getting the wrinkles out of the backdrop - even though it was stored carefully - was not. What eventually worked (kind of) was putting it in the dryer on high heat for about 10 minutes. 

Once the only-a-little-wrinkly (me: I'll fix it in post!) backdrop was in place, I had to find a block or something to place the pots on, because the opening for the camera was a lot higher than the floor of the ten, so the camera was looking sharply down on everything. (I put bricks under the backdrop, but the angle was still not great. All of that would have been tolerable if the photos had been good but - guess what? - they weren't! 

Here are two photos of the same pot, one taken in the pop up tent, one taken with my usual photo set up: 

Taken in the pop up photo tent

Take with backdrop & lights

To my eye the second is just infinitely better. I did my best with editing but the pop up photos all had a bluish quality, and correcting it made the color of the pots wrong.

Anyway, I gave up on it. I like to learn new things but I just had too many pots to shoot to mess around much with it, and anyway I already have a system that works. 

Anybody want a free pop up photo tent? 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Facemask Fun

Part of our new normal in these pandemic days is the wearing of facemasks to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We all want to get back to our jobs or schools, our sports and concerts, church services and idk, dart leagues. Trivia nights! Car pools! Movie theatres! All that stuff.

One of the easiest and most important things we can be doing is wearing face covering every time we are in public. Do I love wearing a mask? Why no! No I do not. Do I do it anyway? I do indeed. Because masks work!

If we want our economy back, and to resume our normal activities, we gotta wear the masks. So we might as well have some fun with it! I even have a favorite Etsy seller of masks - I've bought two from her so far.
My current fave mask
I decided to get in on the designing fun with Teespring. I've used teespring in the past to design t-shirts; I enjoy playing around with ideas, then I post them and every few weeks somebody buys one & I get ten bucks. It's like money for nothing, because creating the design was just playing anyway.

I designed a few masks! One is a plaid I made using an online tool, the others are images I had stored on my laptop from other, long-ago project. Check em out! Or, even better, design your own. We're potters (most of us here, anyway) but our creativity squirts out in all kinds of ways.

Have fun, and wear your masks! XO

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Social Distance in the Studio

6 feet between wheels! 
Monday was our first day of classes at Portland Pottery after our long break due to the pandemic. Classes are smaller, only 9 students, and everything is rearranged to allow 6 ft of distance, and - of course! - masks are required in the studio. Bottles of sanitizer and liquid soap are everywhere, and the garage door and windows are thrown open. Maine. like several other New England states, is going in the right direction on Covid-19 infections; the number of new cases has been falling for some time now. That said, within Maine, Cumberland County (where Portland Pottery is located) is still the hottest spot for contagion - unlike Kennebec where I live, which has few cases and no know community transmission. The students, bless them, were all co-operative in wearing masks and other precautions.

Am I a little anxious about being in close-ish quarters with groups of people I don't really know? Yeah, a little bit. Masks are imperfect, aerosol contagion, blah-blah-blah. I don't know if there are enough precautions in the world to make me feel 100% safe, but rationally we are about as safe here in Maine as it is possible to get, in the US anyway, and we can't stay in forever. Portland Pottery closed even before Governor Mills order to do so, and I trust if things go south they will do so again.

Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how do you feel about being back in class? Gotta say, I LOVE being back. I didn't know how much I missed my community until I was back in it. A beginning student made a breakthru in class yesterday (small, hard to describe - had to do with centering hand position) and I had forgotten how much I LOVE being a part of moments like that. So, yeah: happy and excited, in addition to anxious.

My art fairs are of course all still cancelled, and the stores that carry me are not, by & large, having a great season, so I am still not sure how this winter is going to work out, but for now we are ok; more than OK, moving forward. I did get tired of reminding people in public spaces to distance, so I designed a t-shirt:
6 feet distance please and thank you

I have an order to deliver (YAY) and a firing scheduled next week. I continue to keep the rest of the country in my thoughts as we all struggle towards the light at the end of the tunnel.