Saturday, November 22, 2014

It Finally Happened

No, not the zombie apocalypse.The Cubs didn't win the World Series. I didn't learn how to use an iPod. No, the true long awaited event is this: the bill basket is empty.

It went down like this:

I deposited a check into my household account. I try to treat my business like a business, and give myself a monthly payday; in addition, I get paid for teaching at Portland Pottery. So with all that there are five or six paydays of varying amounts every month. Usually I deposit my check and then reach into the bill basket to determine which envelope most needs my attention, and which can be deferred. And lo, there were no envelopes.

I'd caught up.

I've heard of that - people who have money they haven't even spent yet! - but thought it was mythical, like the Yeti. It didn't last, of course: bills came in, I wrote checks, and so on. But then on the next payday, there were again no bills waiting!

I'm not rolling in clover, mind you; there are big expenses in the offing. My car is making a funny noise, and one of my cats has a tooth that I think needs to be removed; and Portland Pottery takes a five-week break through December, so those paychecks will soon be suspended. But I still take it as proof that the scheme I arrived at (with the invaluable help of business consultant Maureen Renner, for whom arts businesses are a specialty: just sayin) is working! It works! (And it isn't, actually, even fully in place yet; I flinched at the last minute and didn't increase my prices as much as the equation called for, fearing a total sales-stall. I did have a scary moment in the spring when I thought I was going to be buried in a mountain of unsold pots but then things evened out and even picked up.)

Also necessary has been the work-without-ceasing piece of it, but I can handle that, as long as it doesn't come with a side helping of poverty.

Speaking of work, I am trying to squeeze in one more firing before Portland Pottery's big Holiday Sale, which opens on the 11th of December. This will be a big mug-and-bowl firing,  with a few taller vases, because those are things I can make quickly without compromising on the aesthetics. Here are the pots on the drying board:

The red poppies, in the back, are Amaco's Radiant Red, which I have had good luck with even at ^10. These will be the first real pots I have used it on, as opposed to tests. Keeping fingers crossed!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

So, you saw this, right?

Bon Appetit magazine recently ran an article about restaurants using handmade ware in place of the chilly, manufactured white china you usually find when eating out. Awesome, right? Awesome, right!! The article seemed to be written by someone not particularly familiar with handmade ceramics, or maybe just written for people less familiar. (For one thing it makes no distinction between stoneware and earthenware. You can put high-fire stoneware in the dishwasher all day long. Not that you'd want to. But IF you did want to. Anyway.) It's a brief article, that contains a shout-out to Portland's own Eventide.

Here's hoping this is, in fact, a trend! But here's the funny part: Since this article came out, I've received two emails asking me to DONATE pottery to newly opening restaurants, for the exposure, dontcha know.

Let me think about 

Now, I'm happy to donate ware to a handful of charitable auctions every year. That's one way I can support charities. But I don't do it for the dubious benefit of exposure, and I'm damned if I am going to start donating to businesses.

I wanted to write back saying that a business I am associated with holds a huge social event every December, and would the restauranteur care to cater this event, for free, for the exposure? How many takers do you think I'd get?

You know what I do for exposure? I write this blog. I market my work in stores and galleries. I advertise. I go to trade shows (or at least, I used to, and may again.)What I don't do? Give it away and hope somebody sees it and wants to buy it.

Artists are notoriously bad at business, and I might be the poster child (er...poster lady of a certain age); but jeez, even I ain't falling for this. I hope nobody does.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Clay All Day, Soap All Night

 Although sometimes it's the other way around. Timing is everything. And in November, time is short.

I finished loading the kiln last night around 7:30. I won't have a full day to fire until Saturday, so I am considering doing an overnight firing tonight.

There was a time when that would have been no big deal...those days are gone! On the other hand, it's not like I wouldn't get any sleep; it would just be fragmented. Still, just thinking about it makes me tired.

Usually I have lots of ware leftover after filling the glaze kiln, because I can fit so much more in the bisque. I had several items explode in the bisque this time, though - when was the last time that happened? I can't even remember. That's what comes of hurrying. This time I only had these few pots to left out:

I've also been making soap whenever I get a chance, so much that I ran out of coconut oil, which is my signal to go online and order new scents and colors at the same time. Shopping for soap scents is big fun! I've got several fruity scents, some sweets like Buttercream Frosting, a sea breeze type,and a more masculine musky fragrance on the way. For the first time I have a soap order, which is obviously cool - selling things keeps me in business - but also a little nerve-racking: what if the batch doesn't turn out well? Same concerns, I suppose, that I have when I take orders for pottery.

So, assuming that I do actually fire overnight, I'll be unloading this kiln Sunday morning. Much of it is off to Rochester, NY and to Blue Hill, but I'll still have plenty for the Holiday Pottery Shop.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

PLATE is Live!

PLATE: A Celebration is live online at MudFire! So excited to be a part of this show. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you see the works that have already sold. None of mine yet, but I'm just pleased as punch that wares are selling from this show. And it only opened yesterday!

So, what else is new? My ongoing flirtation with burnout continues, and it's still working, sort of. I am teaching a raku workshop today, and glazing with the hope of firing the soda kiln on Wednesday. I need to send wares to Belfast, Rockland, Portland, and Rochester, NY.

Plans for this year's Holiday Pottery Shop are chugging along: we have a location! We will be at 184 Water Street in Hallowell. The shop will open early this year; the plan is to have the doors open by November 14th.

Also looking forward to Portland Pottery's First Friday event, which will feature works by faculty and staff. That's November 7th from 5-8.

And in between clay work, I'm still making soap. Because the bars need to cure for a few weeks before they are ready to use, I need to be making now so they will be ready for December. Here's a peek at the curing rack: the green soaps in the center - Mango Sage - and the white & blue ones to the right - Cool Coconut - will be ready by Cyber Monday.

 Keep on keepin' on.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Yellow Copper Lusters, Beading Glazes, and Other Special Treats for Raku

I am more or less of a recreational raku-er. Ceramics can be a solitary pursuit; raku - for me at least - is a team sport. I regularly offer raku workshops for Portland Pottery, and occasionally do a firing with my classes. In a communal studio like Portland Pottery, students have little exposure to the hot side of things. They make the work, put it on a cart and then...well, it goes away for a while, and comes back changed. It's not practical to involve students in the firing of the stoneware kiln, apart from peeking into the spyholes on occasion, but we can load, fire, and unload the raku kiln all in one evening. It gives students a chance to be directly involved and take some of the mystery out of the firing process.
The workshops are a bit different. Often they are folks who already know and love raku, but don't have their own kilns, sprinkled with a few beginners who have heard about it and want to try it. It's been a great season for raku, with the workshops filling up quickly and we've had some gorgeous results. I've got one last workshop to teach, and I want to shake things up a bit, with new glazes and some terra sigs to use with horsehair and feathers.

Our last raku of the season is Saturday November 1. Give Cooper at Portland Pottery a cal if you want in; 207-772-4334. 


Colemanite  75% (Sub. Gerstley Borate)
F/4 Soda Spar 25%
Copper Carb 3.0%
Manganese Dioxide  1.5%

Lemon Luster

Gerstley Borate 1500
Copper Carbonate 45
Manganese Dioxide  20 

Glass Bead Raku
 50 gerstley borate
 40 borax
 10 flint
 50 magnesium carbonate
 10 zircopax

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014

To That Beginning Student

You know the one. Maybe it's you. The student who struggles time after time, collapsing pots and making misshapen lumps. The student beside you seems to sail effortlessly forth, her very first efforts round and smooth. I've seen you both before, and I am here to tell you, it's okay.

Hand-eye coordination is not talent, and should not be taken as a measure of your potential as a potter. I've taught clay for twenty years, and I can say, early skill makes no difference to the kind of potter you'll become. The truth is that anyone with sufficient patience can master the skills of throwing, handbuilding, glazing, firing. If you want those skills, they are yours, if you devote the time to it. For some it will require a greater tolerance for frustration. That steep initial learning curve looks daunting, and it is steeper for some than others, but it is the least part of your life as a potter.

The differences I see between students who go on to become fine potters and students who either wander off into other interests (nothing wrong with that!) or become makers of dull ware are: a love of the material and intellectual curiosity about it; a deep interest in process; and a willingness to make the extra effort to make the work good. The detail work, the exploration, the mindfulness, the willingness to risk failure: these are the things that lead a potter to fine work. Early skill? Not so much. It's not a hindrance, I'm not saying that. It just doesn't matter.

In fact I kind of hate the word talent. It implies a kind of some-got-it, some-don't fatalism. There are the Picassos of the world, people whose minds work so differently that they change the way we all think about something, but they are so vanishingly rare they need have no part in this discussion. If you think you need to be the Picasso of clay - or if you think you are the Picasso of clay - you're wrong. Okay, technically, somebody reading this could be the Picasso of clay: see again vanishingly rare. And that's okay.

Keep throwing. Keep making. A little extra time in the studio makes a big difference. Comparisons are odorous: they stink. So don't side-eye they person beside you with their tidy little board of sleek pots. They could go on to make incredible, engaging, fascinating work. Or not. So could you. At this point nothing points to the one over the other.

Hang in there. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Resourceful Artist: What Can You Monetize?

Being a potter sometimes means finding yourself in a tight situation, moneywise. (Oh, sure, I can think of potters who never have that trouble. I hate them, don't you? KIDDING. Really I want to BE one of them.) To stay afloat, we have to be resourceful. Who among us hasn't torn through their house muttering, "Surely there's something here I can sell on Ebay...!" haven't? You either?? Okay, it's just me then.

This time what I turned up is a k-cup coffee maker, a fancy-schmancy one, the Keurig K75 Platinum. I feel a little twinge of guilt selling this, as it was a loving gift, but we received it in July and still haven't even opened the box, and to be honest, are unlikely to. Better to sell it to someone who will use it, and use the cash to keep on keepin' on.

Which brings me to: Want a coffee maker? It's brand new, literally never even opened, and comes with 72 k-cups to get you started.  Starting bid is $85, which is a mad steal over the lowest price I found for it elsewhere, which was $149. And that didn't even include the k-cups!

Check it out here, share it if you can think of someone who might like it. Thanks!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Maine Craft Weekend, Day Two

So, Day One didn't suck, or not too badly, anyway; which is to say, at least I'm in the black on this event. We got about seven visitors, all of whom were either students of mine, previous customers, or drive-bys. Knowing that I won't actually lose money puts me in a much better mood to appreciate that events such as this often need some time to grow, and I can hope for improvement every year. Also, I've still got all of today! At art fairs Sundays are usually the least-good day, but not always, and today is much warmer and sunnier than yesterday - a great day to get out for a drive, maybe visit some studios.

The craft beer - Gritty McDuff's - was a huge hit. With Doug. I favor the hot spiced cider, though I learned it's best to enjoy it also in moderation. Otherwise, surprise juice cleanse! Not to be all TMI.

It's odd to do a post-mortem before the event is over, and I don't wish to disparage anyone's efforts; I know a lot of hard work at the Maine Crafts Association went into the creation and planning of this event. They are taking a different approach than I have in organizing the Pottery Tour, which happens in the spring, and it's valuable for me to look at what they've done and see how it compares to my approach. So, a few thoughts:
  1. In creating this event, MCA went with the-bigger-the-better. They probably didn't have much choice really, since they are a huge statewide organization. I've been taking a grow-as-we-go approach, the idea being to grow the audience at the same time we grow the event - I don't want 100 customers to have 80 studios to choose from. My thinking is that I'd rather the participating studios all have successful events, and then invite nearby studios for next year, instead of everyone having a slightly crappy event in the hopes of growing into success in following years. As it happened some people had crappy events anyway, so starting small was no proof against that. 
  2. Not sure the craft breweries are a logical pairing. Sure, there's bound to be some overlap in the audience, but a brewery tour seems like a very different event than a craft tour. If you are on a brewery tour, do you really want to stop at the pottery studios? Alternate? Also, not to be a pearl-clutcher about the whole thing but is a beer-tasting road trip really a good idea?
    I sent a few people to The Liberal Cup yesterday - though they were looking for lunch, not brew - but got no visitors who came to me from there, or any other brewery.
    Also, I can't say the word "breweries." It keeps coming out "brurries."
    Ooops, customer, gotta go.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Pot for Every Chicken

I think of pottery as artwork that is not finished until it is in use, so once in a while I like to post image of my work, truly finished! This is an oversized casserole - four quarts? I forget. Big enough, anyway, to cook a whole chicken, with carrots and basil, and stuffed with an onion.

I put the chicken in the oven in the morning, so I wouldn't have to fuss with preparing lunch or dinner. I spent the day instead preparing for Maine Craft Weekend, which starts tomorrow. I'm all set up, got Paypal at the ready, threw a bunch of earthenware plates for visitors to paint, and got mini-kegs of Gritty McDuff's IPA and Best Brown Ale. Still, I admit I am not optimistic about this event. Every time I mention it to anyone (who is not another potter!) they've never heard of it. I haven't seen posters around or read any press about it. Maybe I'm wrong; I've been accused before of living in a Lori-and-Doug-sized bubble, so I could be missing the buzz. We'll see.

And, really, it's all good. Worst thing that happens is I have to box all this stuff up again and haul it inside. With no more money than I had before. But with two mini-kegs of really good beer! No matter what the outcome, that won't go to waste.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Did I Mention Maine Craft Weekend?

This weekend, October 11th & 12th, is Maine Craft Weekend! Craft studios, galleries, and craft breweries are holding events for the public to visit, see what we do, and shop! My studio will be open Saturday 10-4 and Sunday 11-4, and, getting in the spirit of things, I'll be offering craft beers to visitors while they last (which, truth be told, might not be all that long at my house...fair warning!) We'll have pottery, handmade soap, photography, and my husband will be signing copies of his book! I'm also going to throw a few earthenware plates to give folks the chance to paint on themselves (for a small fee, of course!)

My studio is only open to the public twice a year: once for the Maine Pottery Tour and again for this event, so don't miss it! I'll be looking for you, brush in one hand and an amber bottle in the other.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Great Idea!

You can never tell where your next great idea might come from, although Pinterest is a good bet. That's where I got this one. It was on a blog dedicated to Christmas projects - I think?? It's in French and I am, sadly, unilingual despite growing up in Maine where half the population speaks French. (Well. Not half. About five percent of families speak French at home.) I've often wondered why nobody here wigs out about all the signs reading "Ici on parle Francais" the way they do elsewhere about the Spanish equivalent. I guess it's just what you're used to.

ANYWAY. Enough about my linguistic deficiencies, moving right along. THE IDEA! is this:

In the original, it was a suggestion to make your own gift wrap. I think it would be great for texturing slabs or
printing with slip or glaze.
Quick, somebody try it & send me a photo!

Today I am throwing. Lidded casseroles for sure, perhaps those days-of-the-week mugs I mentioned, some jaunty jars and a cake stand for an order. Though yesterday still felt like summer (until the sun went down!) I am beginning the last of my Christmas orders. If they don't get 'em by mid-November, they don't want 'em!

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