Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pots By the Pound, Part II: Valuable Input

I've had some feedback about the Pots By the Pound equation, and it illustrates the value of listening to people who  know what they are talking about! (Listening is a skill I had to cultivate. I used to get defensive about my ideas and push back on perceived criticism; it's hard to learn anything, that way.) Some input I will put in place, because it is a genuine omission which would ultimately have caused the approach to fail. Others were just things that I needed to think about: if they needed to be in there, and if not, why not?

To review, the pricing equation looks like this:

2 x BM(Bare minimum of household expense) + UFE (15% of BM, for unforeseen expenses) + S (20% of BM for savings) + BE (Business Expenses) divided by PC (pounds of clay I purchase annually) = wholesale price per pound for pots. 

Firstly, someone pointed out that I have not accounted for failed pots. My numbers assume that 100% of the clay that I buy will result in a finished, salable piece. That is so not true! I lose at least 10% of my ware, though most of those become seconds rather than shards, due to normal parts of the clay process, like cracking and warping, accidental chipping of greenware or bisqueware, and glaze flaws; and a few more which are specific to vapor glazing: big crusty blobs of soda in the middle of a plate, for example, or a pot that received so little soda glass that the surface is dry and unappealing. There are also some pots that fail because I try something new and it doesn't go well.  I don't know if 10% is high or low, but I know all potters have some percentage of kiln-god sacrifice. So the PC part of the equation will now be amended to PC = pounds of clay purchased annually minus 10%. This pays for the inevitable expense of making pots that then fail.

Another important point mentioned was that I should build into the equation expenses that are not unforeseen but not annual, either. Someday I will have to replace my kiln. Someday I will have to rebuild the kiln, whole or in part. That will have to be part of BE; I am thinking ten percent every year of the initial cost of those items, and any other big purchases I can think of that come around rarely but predictably.

A point that required more reflection: a friend pointed out, correctly, that this model contains no profit for Fine Mess Pottery itself. There's compensation for me, and (now) money that will be saved for future predictable expenses, but Fine Mess (in theory if not in practice) will have zero dollars on the books at the end of each year. It will generate enough to keep me happy and afloat, but no extra to expand. No future larger facilities, no apprentices, no second kiln. Apparently businesses are supposed to do this, plan money to grow.

Seems obvious, so why did I leave it out? I realized: I don't want to grow. I'll need to expand my market to reach the numbers this equation generates (will eventually generate, when I stop talking about it and put some actual numbers instead of letters into it) and presumably my expenses will go up a little each year, and I may discover some needs I didn't know I had, but I don't want or need my business to grow beyond how many pots I can comfortably make, with enough time to make them well. In a sense, if you think of my compensation as a salary, an expense which Fine Mess Pottery incurs (if we can for a moment separate the potter from the Pottery), Fine Mess is sort of...non-profit. Not in the legal sense, of course, but I have no interest in building an empire, however small.I have no shareholders to satisfy.  I just want to make good pots and have a life free of oil-bill and car repair panic attacks. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pots By the Pound

One of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about is business practices for artists. To my mind these are necessarily different from other sorts of businesses; every seminar and lecture on the topic I've attended - admittedly not that many - has started with the Make What People Want to Buy approach. That ain't gonna work for me, but I still look to conventional models for other aspects of my business. Pricing, for example, and the related and very important Getting Paid part of working.

I've mentioned before in this space my friend, Mr Business Guy. With regard to pricing and salary, Mr. Business Guy recommends a backing-in approach: decide how much money you want to make, figure out how much pottery you can make, and price accordingly. While I was trying to think of a way to translate that into a practical approach, another friend mentioned wanting to work out by-the-pound pricing, to solve the pricing problem once and for all. Two great thoughts that taste great together! (Metaphor fail. WHATEVER, don't judge.)

So an equation to figure out part A - how much money do I want? might look like this:

Total of all household expenses per year: utilities, mortgage, groceries, insurance, taxes, all those. Let's call that BM, for Bare Minimum.

We are going to add 15% of BM, for unforeseen expenses (UFE). This is largely arbitrary, because unforeseen expenses are, well...unforeseen. But I had to put something in for them, and if I think back on past UFE, I think 15% is reasonable.

Now for savings(S). This is hard for me, because I have a history of lowballing this number; my current savings, for example, are in the high single digits. Most of the reading I have done says between 10 and 20%, but of course there are multiple factors influencing the number, such as how old one is, and the absolute number we are taking a percent of. I'm going on the high end, because I'll be 50 this year, and because I suspect my income will always be on the low end, even if it's plenty for me.

So now we have:

UFE = BM x 0.15
S = BM x 0.20

BM, coincidentally, can also stand for Bowel Movement; and life at the bare minimum can be pretty shitty. I need, and you probably need, to add something on top of this to have a little fun, buy a new shirt, contribute to causes you care about, maybe get the name-brand ketchup once in a while. Here's the sticky part: how much disposable income do you want? In some ways that's an easy question: as much as you can get, right? But remember every upward tick of the final number makes the people who will both want and be able to buy your work harder to find, so there's a trade-off. My BM number is relatively low, by design: no kids, a relatively small mortgage, no car note, no cable package or cell phone plan. I'm going to do my initial calculation by doubling BM, to account for disposable income. I feel nervous just saying that, but what the hell, it's an exercise. Let's find out what it would take to get there.  So now we've got:

2BM + UFE + S

That's how much my salary would be. That, of course, doesn't account for how much it costs me to make the pots; fortunately I have this number readily available, as my schedule-C deductions. Let's call Business Expense "BE."

(2BM + UFE + S) + BE = the total amount of gross income I would need to bring in from all sources to make this equation work.

Now that I have a number, I need a way to connect what I actually make to that number. That's where pots by the pound comes in. I know how much clay I buy each year. Well, actually, I don't. But Karen at Portland Pottery can probably look into my account history there and tell me. If I divide the number of dollars I need to make by the number of pounds of clay, I then can take that number, and arrive at a price point for any given piece: if it takes six pounds to make a bowl, and the per-pound number is $10 (just pulling that one out of my butt - haven't done the math yet), then the bowl is $60. That's would have to be the wholesale price.

But now it's time to pack up and head for Portland to teach my class. No time for math! Will follow this up later, gator.

UPDATE: I've added some features to the equation, after talking with people who know more about these things than I do. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Thursday Inspiration: Jeff Oestreich

In some ways it feels like cheating to feature Jeff Oestreich; surely this is a potter who is already an inspiration to you! On the other hand, who doesn't want an excuse to look at some Jeff Oestreich pots? See lots more here.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Everything Happens for a Reason But Sometimes it's a Stupid Reason

In ceramics, everything happens for a reason.

Like, the interior of this otherwise-very-nice sugar bowl is dry and rough, and the reason for this is, some dumbass (ahem) forgot to glaze the inside.

And sometimes, in clay, you never figure out the reason, and that's okay, because you can solve things without knowing it. For example: I have a yellow glaze, Old Yellow, that's always been a little funny about what bisqueware it likes. If the bisque was a little too cool, it wouldn't adhere well, so I would get crawling, and sometimes sheets of glaze falling off. Uncool! But a simple fix: bisque higher. I used to bisque to ^010; I upped it to ^08. Problem solved, for years. Now this firing, I am starting to see evidence of that old crawling problem again.

But why? Same glaze, same clay bodies, a good solid 08 bisque...all the variables the same ones that have been working for years. There has to be a reason; everything happens for a reason. I just don't know the reason.

I see two possible solutions here: water the glaze down a bit, or fire the bisque a little higher. I'll probably try option 1 first, cheapskate that I am.

Lucky for me the crawling was slight, not really enough to create flaws. 

Otherwise a very good firing! These pots are bound for Monkitree, and also for my yard. Maine Pottery Tour is coming up.
PS: Also in the category of "Everything happens for a stupid reason" I submit my latest soap batch!

Goat's Milk, Oatmeal and Honey...looks like a loaf of poo, smells like ammonia. Ugh! It was worse when I first unmolded it, covered in a thick layer of oily brown yuck.Apparently honey is very prone to make soap overheat and separate. It can be rebatched but won't have the nice gold-brown color one hopes for with goat' milk soap (the round cakes are okay, though.). I plan to try again, but sadly the new batch probably will not be ready in time for the Pottery Tour.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Three Legged Tour

In addition to preparing for my firing - which is starting to remind me of those kind of recurring dreams where you are trying, trying to get somewhere and things keep interrupting you: a long, slow train, you forgot something, your car door won't close, and so on - I have been working on promotional materials for the Maine Pottery Tour. I've finally finished up the tri-fold flyers, which contain on the back the map that is the primary way people find us. Now that there are eighteen studios participating, it seemed wiser to split the tour up into three legs, because the map became overwhelming and hard to read. They look like this:

The map above is the Central Maine wing of the tour:
  1. Fine Mess Pottery – 131 Cony St, Augusta, ME  
  2. Malley Weber – 6 Orchard Lane, Hallowell, ME 
  3. The Potter's House – 82 Stevenstown Road, Litchfield, ME
  4. A Lakeside Studio Pottery – 12 Cedar Point Road, Wayne, ME
  5. Maple Lane Pottery – 36 Greeley Road, Windsor, ME 
  6. Loken Pottery -26 Bowman St, Farmingdale, ME 
  7. Mudgirl Pottery – 846 Memorial Drive, Winthrop, ME 
  8. Whitefield Pottery – 442 Howe Road, Whitefield, ME 
  9. Rob Sieminksi – 63 Bog Pond Road, Philips, ME 

    Here's the Southern wing:
    1. Gallery on the Green, 11 Oak St, Alfred
    2.  HomePort Pottery, 131 Beechwood Ave, Kennebunkport
    3. Heather Abt, 30 Everett St, Portland
    4. Peg's Pots, 51 Woods Rd, Peaks Island

      To use an interactive online map, click here.To download a .pdf, click here.

    And, finally, a mid-coast leg:

    1. Liz Proffetty, 118 W Old County Rd, Newcastle, 
    2. Ash Cove Pottery 75 Ash Cove Rd, Harpswell
    3. Alexsondra Tomasulo, Clark's Cove Rd, Walpole
    4. Tyler Gulden, Clark's Cove Rd, Walpole
    5. Fireside Pottery, 1478 Camden Rd, Warren

    6. To use an interactive online map, click here. To download a .pdf, click here. 
      My bum is tired of sitting and my eyes are screen-sore.  So happy to be spending the next couple of days in the primal world of loading and firing!

To Honor an Inspiration: Don Rietz

The ceramic world has lost another legend: Don Reitz passed away this week. Such as he hardly needs some blogger in pajamas to post images in order to be an inspiration; nevertheless, I will.

Everybody dies. If we live long, well loved, admired by many, and having left the world with a great and tangible legacy....well, that is as good a passing as one could hope for.

I hope there's clay, in the next world.

The Reitz family has asked, in lieu of flowers, that donations be send to Archie Bray or the Watershed Center in Don's name.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Students are Awesome, Part a Million and One

Ellen is reaching for the sky!
Patricia is calling these "butter temples" because "dishes" just doesn't seem to cover it!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Joy-Zings and Murmurs

A few weeks ago I heard that The Artisan's Barn in Readfield is closing. Today I was told that the owners of another Central Maine store that carries my work are looking to sell their business. I'm not going to name them here because I don't think it's public yet, and anyway I wouldn't want a google search to reveal something that I said that might affect their situation; they are getting out because they just aren't making enough money for the time they put in. Or practically money at all.

Honestly, I don't think this reflects badly on either store. It's just a marker of how very damn hard it is to make any money selling handmade goods. If my understanding is correct, both stores would have been out of business a long time ago were it not for the owners essentially providing free labor, and labor donated by artists in exchange for a lower commission percentage.

It isn't really anyone's fault. It costs more to produce handmade things, and not just a little more. That makes handmade harder to sell to the majority of people, who work for their money, too, and have to choose how to spend it in the way that best benefits their families. I'm not even necessarily talking about people like many artists, who might be choosing "pay the electric bill" over "handwoven dishtowels." Even people who are very comfortable financially might not see why they should spend $28 on a dishtowel, even if the money would be insignificant to them. Why should they care if a weaver somewhere worked for two hours to make it, if their experience of drying dishes seems no better, to them? If we charge enough for both the maker and the seller to get paid a living wage, the price is out of most people's reach. And if the people who could  purchase handmade don't see what they get out of it, well...

Find them here!
 I myself have handprinted dishtowels, a treat for myself a couple of years back, and you know what? It does enhance the experience of drying dishes, for me. I also have hand-dyed pot holders, a purchase at CraftBoston one year. I bought them because I loved the quilter's work so much it felt like I just had to take some part of it with me, and though they were only $30 for three, I remember thinking it was a profligate purchase, for me. They give me a little zing of joy every time I see them. Years of joy-zings, for only $30! A bargain, as it turns out. I've had mugs that seem to murmur soothingly on some subsonic level, and a pair of salad tongs that make my heart sing. If only everyone heard that song, felt those zings.

I guess I'm feeling a little down with this news; starting to get the feeling that I am a wheelwright in a hovercraft world. So, blah, let's talk about something happier, like NCECA.

Oh, wait, that's not happier, not for me, because I'm not there. Wasn't there; it's over now. Every year I promise myself I will get there next year, and every year there just isn't money to make that happen. But next year is the real next year; NCECA is in Providence, RI, only a four hour drive from Augusta. If I can't get to Rhode Island, I might as well give up. But I can. I'll wear a red carnation so folks who only know me online will recognize me.

See you in Providence.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Signs of Spring

I'm told that meteorological winter ended over a week ago. That's the three months period in which the temperatures, on average, are the coldest. You couldn't prove it by 2014, not by a long pull.

There have been, however, some promising signs. The first green tips of crocuses came up about a week ago; I also saw a large group of robins, huddling for warmth. And, not least, preparations for the Maine Pottery Tour are underway.

At my house that means not just making pots, but making maps and sending emails. I've just finished the online version of the Central Maine portion of the Tour, which you see above. Click a marker for info about that studio! You can see a printable version of the map here as well; and I expect to soon have PDFs available, with addresses and contact information. Until then, here's the list:

  1.  Fine Mess Pottery - that's yours truly
  2. Malley Weber - Hallowell Clayworks
  3. The Potter's House - Mary Kay Spencer
  4. A Lakeside Studio Pottery - Martha Hoddinott
  5. Maple Lane Pottery - Robbi Portela
  6. Loken Pottery -Barb and Neal Loken
  7. Mudgirl Pottery - Diane Harwood
  8. Whitefield Pottery - Libbey Seigars

Friday, March 14, 2014

Quick Hits

First, here's the fired piece from my earlier post. It's a measure of how pleased I am with this plate that I don't even mind that it cracked on the edges - I know why it cracked, and I know I achieve this glaze result again.

Second, I recently had occasion to make a cheesecake. I used to make cheesecake pretty regularly, but that was before merely thinking the word "cheesecake" caused me to gain five pounds. Those were the days, my friend! But never mind that. For the first time when making a cheesecake, I had a standing mixer to help, and boy did it help. A much lighter result.

I swear I am going somewhere with this.

In addition to making a better cheesecake, the mixer made a beautiful pattern in the cake batter. I want to capture this somehow with slip:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thursday Inspiration: Sue Dunne

See lots more of Sue's botanically-inspired work here. Come on, spring!!

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