Saturday, January 17, 2015

Coming Soon: March, April, & May

Every year - in April, right after the end of the NCECA conference - I vow I will make it to next year's conference, come hell or high water. And then next year rolls around, and money or logistics (just kidding, really it's always money) prevent me from attending.

March looks ALOT closer on this side of the holidays (as do April and May!) and now is the time I would usually be deciding that, alas, it's Just Not Going To Happen. However! NCECA is in Providence, RI this year - a mere 3 1/2 hours from here. I am slightly less broke than in past years...all the stars are aligning! Looks like I will finally make it to a conference.

Thinking I was ahead of the curve, I went to the website to register and found I was half right. Though plenty early to receive the advance discount, all of the hotels near the conference are booked up! Kind of bummed about that, as it's fun to have a room right in the heart of things, but it may still turn out that way; it's possible someone I know booked a quad with the expectation of sharing. Or it might be time to learn how Expedia and Priceline and AirBnB work. Or, I dunno, sleep in my car! (Wouldn't be the first time but also wouldn't be my first choice.)

Point is, one way or another, I am going to NCECA. See you in Providence!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Flawed Halos

Like clay, my efforts at soap making sometimes produce surprises. While I love me a good learning experience*, I prefer one that results in a usable product.

I recently unmolded two batches of soap. When I first sliced them into bars, they looked pretty much as I expected. Over the next few weeks, though, I observed a change occurring around the tulip-red inserts: a pinkish halo was growing! Look:
Cherry Moon

The red colorant was bleeding into the soap around it! It is, of course, a colorant specifically for soap, and I've used it before. Maybe it was in a higher concentration? Maybe I put it in earlier or later in the process? Hmmm.

Like a lot of clay surprises, this one does not affect the function of the soap at all. The colorant does not come off on your hands, for example, or color the lather. The halos are even kind of's just that I would have liked to have chosen to put them there.

Next time I will try a red colorant from a different supplier. 

Ah, well. Won't stop me selling them. They are ready now, and I should have the listing up well before Valentine's Day.

Speaking of selling, I am rebuilding the sales page of my website. Still using the paypal buttons; I didn't feel like trying to figure out a new system tonight. I am going with larger photos this time. There's exactly one pot on the page right now, and it is this one:
$48 - click here to purchase.

Well, one is better than none, right? I'm off to watch a couple of episodes of Firefly.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Take on a Classic

Everyone knows what a gravy boat looks like, right? There's a classic shape that we see reincarnated in different materials. I've made this shape out of clay in several ways - an ovaled bowl with a turned-in rim, a bottom-added ewer shape with the rim cut in a swoop - but I've never really loved my results. They always seem...contrived, I guess.

Luckily, the classic is not the only form that will serve to transport gravy to your potatoes. I kept the oval shape - so helpful in channeling the liquid - and obviously the spout and handle are indispensable. Maybe it will become the new classic!

Open all the way down to the bat, then pull up and in.
Collar in until the form is closed; pinch off the top.
Rib off slurry, and slightly flatten dome.
Press into an oval shape. IRl this is a 2-handed operation!

Have patience! this works much better if the piece is leatherhard.
Using food coloring, plan out the shape of the opening.
Cut the opening. The wall will be a bit thicker where the piece was collared in.
Trim away the excess thickness.
Smooth and shape the edge
Throw a small disc, about 3 inches in diameter
Cut a gibbous moon shape away. You will be using the larger piece.
 Attach to piece
You will also want to attach a bottom (Thanks, Captain Obvious!) and a handle. I tried a few handle shapes; I am liking the high loop best, I think. That may change after I have had a chance to test drive these. An alternative way to make the spout: throw a small bowl and cut a broad scoop out of the wall. You can get three spout out of a 1-lb flat bottom bowl.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Yesterday was our first day back to classes at Portland Pottery! Every year, in December, I am sooooo ready for a break, and every year in January I am soooooo excited to be back.I have five classes this session: a handbuilding class, beginning wheel, intermediate/advanced wheel, and a couple of mixed-skill level classes. I was going to Instagram some student projects via my new toy but I found I didn't like to interrupt the flow of class.

Today I will also be teaching classes but this morning I am working on rebuilding part of my website. In December I pulled the shopping page, because I needed the inventory for real-world sales, but it left my site with few images of ware. I still don't have enough inventory to rebuild the store, but I am creating a gallery of "archived" images - pots that are already sold, but give visitors an idea what I make. I will eventually have pots for sale online again - thinking about building a Square store for that. UPDATE: Check out the gallery page here.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow I am thinking I will visit Bethel, Maine, home of Sunday River ski resort, and also of a store which has asked to carry my work. It's a bit of a drive and I am hesitant to do consignment at distance, so I want to have a look before I decide. The advantage here would be the ski resort: it means that this store would have a winter sales season. Sure would be nice to get some checks coming in February and March!

Hopefully I will have some studio time Wednesday night, because I am still aiming to fire end of January/early February.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Lookit Me In the 21st Century!

With the filthy lucre (is there any other kind of lucre? I wonder) from December sales, I bought myself a used iThing - an iPod Touch. I spent $100 for this iThing, which turns out to be more than I had to; it has more gigabytes or whatever than I actually need. (Am I gonna buy 8000 songs? Probably not.) I'm sort of glad I did this before I knew my car was going to shit the bed (as we say in Maine) because I certainly would not have, had I known. I've been meaning to get one for awhile, though, in order to use The Square credit card reader.

I'm certain 98% of you are already using the Square, or some similar device. For those of you who aren't, you should: the percentage taken - 2.75% - is less than most credit card processing systems, and it's so easy even I got it set up without a single curse word.

That is more than I can say for the iThing itself, which has been a fertile source of iFrustration and iAggravation. If you've not yet bought your device, let me warn you: many of the most commonly used apps will no longer download if you're using an operating system lower than ios 7. My device runs ios 6.1.6.   While I am able to use The Square and Pandora, which were the primary reasons I got the dang thing, many other apps which one takes for granted an iThing will do - Facebook, for example, and Pinterest - NOPE, sorry, povs, shoulda bought new! In truth, if I were in a position to buy a new one, I'd go with an Android device - I no longer trust Apple not to pull functionality out from under me, because of this issue. I'd be really ticked off if I bought this new just a couple of years ago and suddenly it won't do the things it's meant to do.

Like I said: iAggravating.

I've also been unable to persuade it to connect with my email, which probably has something to do with POP or SMTP or IMAP or some other acronym. None of these are critical failures, just annoying. There is never anything in my email that I need right this instant. Actually, maybe it's a feature! Like not getting calls. If I can't get my email I can't be distracted by it.

Previously I was using Paypal's Virtual Terminal, which cost $30 for each month of use, plus 2.9% and 30 cents per transaction. I typically only had one event at which to use it in a given month, so after three events, the iThing will have paid for itself.  It automatically deposits the day's receipts into the bank account associated with your Square, which you set up ahead of time, no waiting 3-4 days for the transfer, as with Paypal. I also have the option of creating a Square Store which I can embed into my own website. I am of two minds about this though: purchasing online is an act of faith. Your money is out the door, who knows where, and then you just wait for the invisible stranger on the other end of the transaction to make good. If they don't - if they just vanish in to the ether - good luck getting your cash back. Trust is crucial. People know and trust Paypal - or at least, as many as trust any online transaction at all. Will they trust the lesser-known Square? Hard to say.

All that will have to wait until I have some inventory to sell, however! With that goal in mind, I'm off to the studio. I got my car back (ouch, but could have been worse) and with it the clay I was transporting. Time to make pots to pay for all these expenditures!

Update: I figured out how to Instagram! You can follow me here.
My 1st (ok, 2nd) iThing photo. So misty and romantic!Or blurry.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Goal Setting 2015: Prospero Año y Felicidad

As you may know, I like New Year's resolutions. I know it's not fashionable, but my thinking is, if I resolve to go to the gym three times a week, and only keep it up through February, that's still more gym visits than if I had never made the resolution, so it's a no-lose.

This year, though...I sort of feel like, I'm already doing the best I can. I could resolve to go to the gym three times a week, but I can't magically create three more hours in each week. It would necessarily mean I'd spend less time doing something else, and the balance is already pretty precarious. So this year, I'm tempted to just resolve to keep on keepin' on.

I do have some goals, though:
  • I'd like to gain a couple of accounts, and will probably have to say goodbye to one. I'm learning to be selective: it's a not a straight more-is-better equation.  
  • Every year I am tempted to rebuild my art fair display, and every year I find I don't have the cash available. I'm not ruling it out, but this year I am setting a more doable goal in the form of a portable display cart that I can bring to First Friday and other outdoor events. Bonus points if it can double for soap!
  • I didn't get my bike out once last summer, and I greatly missed it. I hope that I can keep on keepin' on without sacrificing the things I love to do. 
Can't work today, because though I bought clay on Wednesday, my car broke down on the way home. Timing belt, wouldn'tcha just know it. The car & clay are still at the shop...making some peppermint soap in the meantime.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Week of Reflection, 2015

There were many weeks in 2014 that I felt like this tree. 
I think it's telling that I questioned whether I even had time to do a week of reflection this year.

On the other hand, this is the first year that I haven't had to put heating oil on my credit card. My business is in the black! This is largely due to two factors; I've blogged about both before:
  1. A new pricing equation, that starts with how much money I need, divided by how much I can make, to arrive at a per pound price. 
  2. Work more. Work all the time! like this:

That is only a slight exaggeration. It's so nice to be profitable, however slightly, that I hesitate to change anything, but common sense tells me this is not sustainable. That is a blog post for another day, however.

I did make a change to the way I work in 2014, as well: I shifted the balance of my working hours between long-term business activities - blogging, research, networking, social media, and experimentation - and short term ones - teaching, making, and sales events. In short, I spend more time making stuff and trying to sell it, and - surprise! - I make and sell more stuff. I would never delete teaching from the equation, because so much of my joy in clay is sharing what I know; but though I could probably find more teaching opportunities pretty easily, I don't want to shift the balance any further in that direction.

One thing that I am still dead set against is trying to produce what I think will sell: as I've said before, that only results in pots that even I don't like, and I am no better at selling bad pots than good ones. But I do allow myself to sit with a good idea longer. Whereas before when I made mugs, say, I'd make a dozen of the same shape, and then decorate them all differently, now I decorate all twelve the same; then make another twelve for my next decorating idea. I trust the process - and the kiln - to produce variation. I make more pots this way, and I explore ideas more fully.
A board of pots following a single design scheme
I sit with a shape for longer, also; instead of making five casserole dishes and then moving on, I'll make fifteen. Keeping my mind in the same groove makes a smoother work process. I hope this is in part due to my aesthetic maturing: I've reached a point where I am pleased with more pots than not when I unload the kiln. Even as I type that, my mind flags a danger, of the work becoming too rote, but some of my very favorite potters return to decorative schemes repeatedly, and the work does not get stale. Instead the ideas ripen and mature into a fully realized body of work. That is what I am hoping for.

Next up for the Week of Reflection: 2015 goal setting!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

8:5:3:1 Plus Honey

As you will have noticed, my joy in making things does not end with pottery! Soap has been a major interest for the last couple of years, and now I am trying my hand at lip balms.

Lip balms are both simple and complicated: you can just melt beeswax and coconut oil and get something that will serve. Because I can never do things the easy way, I've been trying out various proportions and kinds of wax, oils, and fragrance to get a balm which is, in the words of the infamous Goldilocks, "just right." Not too hard, not too soft, not too oily, not too strong-smelling. Also important: doesn't melt if you keep it in your pocket!In some ways it's like formulating a glaze: I need the right balance of flux and refractory at ^body temperature.

This batch is made of beeswax, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, vitamin E, and honey. The proportions of the first four are 8:5:3:1; the honey a half-teaspoon in 60 grams, I'll have to figure out later what that comes out to in parts. I'll probably also switch out the grapeseed oil for sweet almond oil next time, only because the grapeseed oil has a shorter shelf life.

I am starting to have a fantasy of a retail store selling handmade home goods.(I even have a name for it: Nesting Instinct.) In my dreams I make all the pottery and bath and body products...and somehow also manage the store. Guess I'll have to ask Santa for an extra 48 hours in every day.

Happy Festivus, all. Keep on making.

Update: Like Papa Bear's chair, this batch was too hard. Need to increase the proportion of liquid oil.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The After

I can't remember whether I promised to post the "after" photo to go with the "before" here or on my facebook page; in any  case, here it is. The gravy boat halfway up on the right was my favorite from this firing; if it doesn't sell over the holiday shopping season, I'll photograph it so you can have a closer look.

This was Wednesday, a rough day at my house: we had to have a cat euthanized. William was almost 17 and in some ways the heart of our household. He greeted visitors, spent every possible moment in a lap, and the other cats adored him. (not exaggerating: one in particular followed him around like a shadow.) It sucks to lose them but it's the price of loving them, and well worth it in my book.

Folks who only know me online probably think that all I do all day long is say goodbye to pets because I always mention it. We do have a lot of pets, so we lose a lot; and it feels...not right, I carry on as if nothing happened. Rest easy, Sweet William; I'll see you on the other side.

Back to our clay story, already in progress:

This firing reminded me how very small differences can make a big difference in results! There was a tiny gap between the bag wall (recently rebuilt) and the back wall of the kiln. I stuffed it up with a bit of wadding, and thereby addressed this issue I was having that there was an area in the center of the kiln which seemed a little dry. Some of the soda vapor must have been being sucked straight up the stack.

Lesson 2 of this firing: salt is not soda! I tried adding a small amount of salt this time, and discovered that some glazes that perform just fine in soda do not like salt much! I had a few pieces get blistery and bubbly. Not so badly that you can't use them but they are definitely seconds.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lisa Orr on Ceramic Arts Daily

I'm sure many of you subscribe to Ceramic Arts Daily, and if so you know how they just deluge your inbox with videos, book suggestions, and I-don't-know-what-else. It's really out of hand, so I just have them go to a separate folder; otherwise they will fill up my inbox and maybe cause me to miss important emails. As a result, I have a folder with hundreds of emails from them, that I almost never open. Hint, CAD: send a few less and people might actually see them!
It's churlish to complain, though, when much of the content is so valuable. You can't possibly watch all the videos - or anyway I can't - but I have a little time now that my classes are on their December break so I am watching a few this morning. This one is really cool:
I was doing something like this with porcelain slip on paper, to make snowflake Christmas ornaments (yeah-yeah, ornaments: so sue me); but I never thought to use them to build with, or to slip both sides. So clever! As I was typing this it occurred to me that they would make good sprigs also. I'm off to deliver pots this morning; but when I get back I need to make pots, so I can try this.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Holiday Show! And a dumb story

Last night was Portland Pottery's big holiday party! Every year I tend the bar for this event, and I like to overdress for it, just for fun. This got a lot harder last year when I reached size 12, officially plus-sized. Here's me shopping in Goodwill for this year's dress:

Me, flipping hangers: Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. HEY THERE'S ONE THAT DOESN'T LOOK LIKE IT WAS MADE FROM THE CURTAINS AT MOTEL 6!! Oh, wait, it's a size 6 that someone put away wrong....[Keeps flipping] Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.

I did finally find a pretty fabulous dress, that fit...size 14. Even though I'm no heavier than last year at this time! Whatever, looks great, I'll take it.

I get dressed, get in the car, and....rrrrrrrip. Right up the back.

So I went in my dowdy office-party dress.

FML. Going to the gym. 

The show's still up until Sunday. You should go!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Full Kiln, Full Day

Few things make me happier than a kiln filled right up to the arch. Sorta gives you that I-done-good feeling. I'll brick it up in the morning - I had to bring the doormud inside to thaw overnight! I'm working at the Holiday Pottery Shop from 10-6 tomorrow, so will candle this load from 6 - 10 pm, then fire it off overnight Sunday into Monday morning. That will allow me to unload Wednesday morning, so I'll have all day to grind, sort, price, and pack the pots for Portland Pottery's big holiday sale which opens on Thursday. That will be my last event of the season - good thing, too, I'm pooped! Sort of tempted to spend the last two weeks of the year alternately cleaning my house - that's been pretty neglected -  and sleeping.

That's not yet, though. I'm not even done with today yet! Still have to make a batch of soap - lilac, by special request from my mother. I suspect that lilac will be sort of an old-lady-ish soap scent but then my mother is, well, an old lady. Not that there's anything wrong with that! I'll make this batch hot process so it will be ready by Christmas.
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