Friday, November 13, 2015

Straight Up

Looka that stack! That stack is straight as...straight as...well, straight as a thing that's really, really straight. Better than last time, anyway.

Right now the kiln is cooling; first glaze fire with new stack went without incident. Not that I expected an incident: if the dimensions are the same as the old stack, there's no reason why it would fire any differently. But kilns are weird.  And the dimensions are not precisely like the old one: the new stack is one layer shorter, because previously the kiln always drew a little too hard. Not enough to get up on the roof and fix it ( I HATE HEIGHTS) but since I had to rebuild it anyway....

The firing was a little slower than I expected; which might have been a function of the weather - kinda windy - or the changes in the stack. And the damper positions are noticeably different now: I have to push the damper further in to achieve the same reduction. Possibly, in building the stack straighter, I created a slightly larger cross-section? Dunno. Don't care, actually, expect abstractly, as long as I get good results.
...which I shall know soon! I pulled the spy to peek, and not only do things look good - what little I could see - but it seems cool enough to unload. So I'm off to do just that.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

This Train's Running Right on Time

Been mostly hunkered down in the studio with my trailing bottles and buckets of glaze, dipping, drawing, waxing, dipping some more. I expect to come in juuuust under the wire, and deliver my order on its actual due date, November 15th.

When he placed the order, the shopkeeper asked me, "Are you a typical potter?" By itself it's an unanswerable question, so I hesitated. "Potters are always late," he clarified.

Did not know that! If that's the case, I used to be a typical potter. I wanted the orders so badly that I would underestimate my turnaround times: Want a full-kiln order four weeks from today? Sure!! I wasn't lying, not on purpose; I was telling myself I would pull all-nighters and neglect all my other responsibilities to keep my promise. I meant well, but as a practical matter, that just ain't happening. Sleep is only briefly optional, and the rest of la-la-la-la life goes on as well.

During my brief stint as a store owner, I discovered how damaging a missed deadline can be. You have an extremely limited retail season, in the winter, and every day you don't have work is a day you can't sell it. You also have a limited buying budget, and you've committed a chunk of it to buying this person's work, and you'll be expected to pay for it whether it arrives on time or not. By the time you know it will be late - often you find out when it just doesn't arrive on the due date - it's too late to purchase someone else's work to fill your store. If you are on a tight margin, late orders can be the difference between breaking even and not. (Never mind making money. That part never happened to me, not as a store owner.)

I can sometimes do four weeks, for a smallish order, if the order comes in at just the right time in the firing cycle. Six weeks is more likely, and eight weeks is optimal. Better to give a realistic timeline, and meet it, than to promise the moon and lose the account. I'll deliver partial orders if necessary, but I'll never deliver late. Not anymore.

Glazing is the step that bumps right up against the deadline. By the time I am glazing I know when I have to fire in order to unload, sort, and price the work and get it to where it is going on time. My glazing days are often long ones, but once I get in the glazing zone, I lose track of time. I put on Pandora - yesterday I was listening to what I think of as sad-sack radio, a station built around Dwight Yoakam and similar musicians - and crooning, " your broken dreams dance in and out of the beeeeeeeeeams...of a neon moon...." For hours. Poor Doug, having to listen to that.

Loading today, firing Wednesday, and unloading Saturday for Sunday delivery.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Well, This Explains A Lot

This isn't my old cubicle but it sure looks like it. Minus the windows.
One of the things that I disliked about my old office job was that I felt not just bored with my tasks, but that I literally thought less interesting thoughts* the more time I spent there. Maybe it wasn't a function of the job, but the environment! A study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has found that even normal levels of carbon dioxide and other compounds found in indoor air have a negative affect on thinking ability and decision-making. The headline at the link implies that it's office environments specifically, but if you read the article, it's almost any indoor environment.

Most of my claywork is done indoors also, eight months out of the year, but I am rarely inside for more than three straight working hours. I walk to the store, I go check the mail, I stand on the deck and watch the birds at the feeder. (Ha, and I thought I just lacked discipline.) Some jobs - waxing, sometimes glazing, loading, firing, kiln maintenance - are outdoor work. Maybe my more interesting thoughts are a sign of a better-functioning brain!

Wherever you work, take a break and get outside! Your brain will reward you.

*More on this later

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Do the Math

Me, in class, explaining all this last night.

A friend of mine has often give me this good advice: Don't guess at anything, if you can help it.

I get the advice often, because I tend to forget it: eyeballing and seat-of-the-pants are much more my natural style. So when I had a request for 20 ounce mugs - and they had to be pretty-damn-close to 20 ounces, not "20-ounces, give-or-take," my first thought was to make a few mugs that looked like they would shrink to about the right size, write on the bottoms what the wet dimensions were, and see which one worked out best, and proceed from there. That approach will get the job done,  but maybe there is a better way?

Enter arithmetic! Or maybe this is algebra? Actually it's geometry, but it is algebraic geometry...? Or arithmetic geometry...?(OOPS SORRY, DERAIL. Back on track now.)  All of the necessary information to tell me how large this mug has to be is available.

Q: Okay, Google: How many cubic inches is 20 ounces of water?
A: 36.1 cubic inches
So far, so good. Now, so I need to make a mug with an interior space that will shrink to 36.1 cubic inches, plus a little so the liquid is not right up to the brim. How might one do that? Well, starting simply, the equation to determine the volume of a cylinder is
π r2(H) = V
where "H" is the height, and V the volume. Now let's put in the numbers that we know. Well, π is 3.141etc, etc. V is 36, plus a little, right? Plus how much? If I want a half-inch of space between the rim and the liquid, that number is 3.5 (which I arrived at by doing the above equation, but skipped that part so I wouldn't be repeating myself.) So, let's put in 39.6 for "V". To get the radius, we need to decide on a diameter, and after measuring a couple of mugs of different sizes, I decided on 3 inches - doesn't sound like much but is actually a pretty wide mug. That makes the radius 1.5. One-point-five squared is 2.25, so now we have all the numbers except one, H; this is the number our equation will give us. Like this:
3.141 x 2.25 x H = 39.6
Now we need to cancel out some of those numbers. We could say the same thing like this:
3.141 x H = 39.6 ÷ 2.25
...which equals 17.6. So now we've got
3.141 x H = 17.6
Cancelling out the π, now it looks like this:
H = 17.6  ÷ 3.141, which equals 5.6 and some change.
So our mug (assuming it was a perfect cylinder, which it's not, but we'll get to that) should, after firing, measure 5.6" tall by 3" in diameter; that's the interior space, 'cause that's where your coffee goes. On the interior. Usually. On a good day. So while I can easily measure the interior diameter with calipers, I'll need to tack on 1/8 inch in height for the bottom, and the clay that stays on the wheel.

My claybody shrinks something like 13%, but that is plus or minus 2%; and these mugs really shouldn't be too large, but they absolutely cannot be too small, so I'm gonna assume 15% shrinkage. (Also makes the math easier to do in my head, when I need to.) So now we have wet dimensions of 6.5 (adding the 1/8 inch and rounding down a hair) by 3.5 - again with a slight round up of .05 inches. 

Well, now we're cooking! If I start with this cylinder, and then add some curves, if I am careful to curve in at one spot about the same amount as I curve out at another, I should still arrive at my 20 ounce capacity. I will be guessing - let's say estimating, sounds nicer - how much clay to use, and then if it doesn't feel right - too clunky, too flimsy - adjusting up or down. I don't mind that, because that only takes a few minutes to work out, as opposed to having to wait a whole firing cycle. 
I am going with 1.75 pounds of clay. These mugs will be in a restaurant setting, so will be frequently washed, and will mostly serve beer, so users may be less than dainty with them. I am thinking a little thicker than usual might do well. On the other hand, I don't want a behemoth, since 20 ounces of beer is a little weighty all by itself (weighs exactly 20 ounces, in fact!) so I am only going a tiny bit thicker than usual. 

I wish I could make these mugs today, but alas, I have to go pile brick on  top of one another: I've promised myself the stack will be finished today so that weight - all 1000+ pounds of it - will be off my mind. And when it's done I will enjoy another kind of pie, as a reward. 

Yay math.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

What's Up

Foliage is late this year here in Maine, but incredibly beautiful. I had a good chance to see it as the sun was setting yesterday, while I limped my car home at 15 miles per hour on Rte. 201 through Topsham, Bowdoinham, and Gardiner. Beautiful! My favorites are the peachy maples, especially when they still have some green, or are right besides the flaming red ones.

Oh, what's that? I buried the lede? I guess I did, but I thought that anything - even a gushing foliage review - would be more interesting than another story of my car maladies.

Yeah, my car has issues again, which caused me to miss my evening class - Week 1, at that. Sorry, beginners! But the ever-capable Karen Dyer Dicenso jumped in for me. VIP Auto has the vehicle, will find out later today what's up with that. Whatever it is is bound to be spendy - the best I can hope for is "not over my credit card limit."

But, better things are coming:
  • First Friday! Portland Pottery is hosting an opening for Faculty and Staff during Portland's November First Friday event. That's November 6, from 5-8.
  • The Central Maine Clay Artists group have chosen our location for the Holiday Pottery Shop! This is the tenth year, and the shop has come full circle: 100 Water Street, Hallowell is where the group held its first meeting in 2005. We hope to open in by mid-November.

  • The stack is half rebuilt. I am taking it easy, doing just a few courses a day, to avoid dinging up my elbow, which didn't like the repetitive motion involved in taking all those brick down.
 Aaand, just had a call from the mechanic, saying they don't know what it is but it's going to be expensive. Well, that's not exactly what he said, but close enough.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Screamy Feet

Ugh, this GETTING OLD thing! Amirite?

I'm on my feet a lot. Throwing days are mostly sit-down, of course, but decorating, glazing, loading, firing, packing, pricing, teaching classes - basically every work activity other than throwing (or blogging!) - is a standing one. For months now I've been literally hobbling when I wake up in the morning, barely able to put weight on either of my feet. It loosens up after a few excruciating minutes, and then I am able to walk normally, but then starts hurting again in the early afternoon. If I still down for any length of time, I go through the morning limping routine all over again. Turns out that what I had been calling "Screamy Feet" has a more official name: Plantar fasciitis

But for every curse, there is a blessing,* and right around the same time I started falling apart, I was able to get health insurance. So I told my doc about this foot problem, and she had a great suggestion:
  • fill a two-liter bottle with water
  • freeze it
  • in the evening, when reading or watching netflix or working online, place your feet on it like a little footstool. 

This ices the injured fascia and reduces the swelling. After one treatment, I was amazed at the improvement: no limping at all this morning. We'll see how it holds up over the course of the day.
In other news:
  • Still in the throwing/decorating part of the making cycle; I expect to fire a bisque in about two week, and a glaze about a week after that. 
  • It's already time to talk about the Holiday Pottery Shop! Fellow potter Mary Kay Spencer, Barb Loken and I checked out a space in Hallowell this week - the big red building on the north end of downtown, for my local readers. Still a couple of details that need to be nailed down but I am optimistic about this space. If it doesn't work, there are possibilities in Gardiner or Augusta, but we seem to do best in Hallowell, so we look there first. 
  • Soda firing workshop at Watershed next week! Still a few spaces - give Portland Pottery a call if you're interested: 207-772-4334. We'll glaze and load on Saturday, fire Sunday. Bring two cubic feet of bisqued work, I'll bring slips, glazes, and wax. $125
  • Putting the pottery stairs out front of my house one last time for the season. It's a bright sunny weekend, if a little cold; hoping to catch a few late-season bargain hunters.

 *HAHA as if

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Turn, Turn, Turn

Ready to roll

No foliage color yet, but it really feels like fall now; today we brought the wheel in from the "summer studio,"aka the kiln shed. It always feels way too soon to do it until suddenly it is time. Some places in Maine, places not too far from here, got frost last night. Funny: last week we had a 90° day. That's Maine for ya.

So, the season is turning, and so is the wheel. I am finishing an order, and when I have thrown the last piece, I will throw the order over again: this way I guarantee I will have the ware, and any I don't need, well, those are inventory. 

Because there's another season coming, right after this one, and I am gonna need inventory.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

New Items in the Pottery Shop!

I actually posted these a while ago but only just getting around to sharing.These were pots from my August firing, which would not be available for purchase from were it not for my less-than-stellar art fair. Glass half full, etc.
Click here to purchase.

I love the bottom of this one.
Click here to purchase!
Click here to purchase!
And, in fact, the glass is more than half full. Because I have inventory, I was able to pursue new accounts. This holiday season, Handworks Gallery in Acton, Mass (not to be confused with Handworks Gallery in Blue Hill, Maine) will be carrying my work. More appointments on the docket; will keep you posted.

Thanks for looking. XO

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Down Comes the Stack

Play this 210 times, and that was my day yesterday.Notice I am wearing my bike helmet! I don't care for heights.

Spent a couple of hours pulling down the stack. I had hoped I'd only have to take down the softbrick shell, but that didn't work out; the upper courses of hardbrick were laid partially on the outer softbrick sleeve, so they had to go before I could work on the softbrick.

That was the bad news. The good news is that, looking down into the opening, I don't think the inner hardbrick sleeve has been affected. I had to remove 30 courses of hardbrick above but I think hte res can stay in place while I remove and then rebuild the outer sleeve.

It was much shorter work than I expected, once again proving the truism that begun is half done. Gravity was a great assistant in this venture: after warning Doug, and then the neighbor kids, to stay out of the kiln yard, I just tossed the bricks down from the roof. I could only throw down about 20 before I had to climb down and stack them out of the way, because while the soft ground did them no damage, striking another brick definitely would. I think I broke three bricks that way.
Hmmm...Seemed higher when I was up there!
Which is fine, because I decided that when I rebuild it, it will be a little bit shorter. It draws like a mad bastard (or it did, when it was standing!) and so I think a shorter stack will serve me better. I just can't decide how much shorter. One course? two?

But none of that is for today. Today is webwork, and then canoeing!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Silver Lining

Yeah, so, that art fair? The one I was so excited about? Kind of stunk for me. And by "kind of" I mean I missed making the booth fee back by $1.

I'm told this was a good fair, until this year. It's that Reverse Midas Touch thing again!Or else some other factors, like a new, larger fair this year - the MCA put on a fine crafts show this year, for some reason choosing the same weekend as the established Designing Women show. (Actually I know the reason - they are piggybacking on the crowd that already comes out for the 50-year-old WSCH 6 Sidewalk Art Festival, which features mostly fine art. (Mostly paintings of lobster traps and lighthouses, honestly. Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Still, sucked for the people who counted on the Manchester show.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining, and I was lucky enough to find two: 1) I had been meaning to rebuild my art fair display for years, but something else was always more important; now it is done and 2) I now have tons of inventory to get to my various accounts for the tail end of summer, going into leaf-peeping season and beyond to holiday shopping. Some of it is already at the Portland Pottery Cafe, and more on its way to Quench in Belfast, Mudfire in Decatur, GA, and my website, if it is a bright enough day to take photos. 

Moving right along!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Making Art, and Making Money

Check out this list. I'll wait.

Top 25 Fine Craft Show ranked by average sales

These are the top craft shows in the nation. I am a little bit comforted in a misery-loves-company way, because I always thought my take, back when I did these sorts of events, was way below average. It was, but not ridiculously so. And I'm a potter, my raw number is always going to be lower than the jewelers or clothing folks.
But: think for a second how much it costs to do one of these shows, between booth fees, gas, hotels, and meals. Take, just for a ferinstance, the Smithsonian Show. The lowest booth fee is $1265. Might as well add in the application fee, that's a cost of doing the show, too. Now think about getting a hotel room for five nights - in or around Washington DC. Even the Super 8's and the Motel 6's are spendy; let's say $150 a night. You could maybe get a room for less but you can't write luck into the plan. And food: realistically, you aren't going to eat peanut butter sandwiches in your room every meal. And food vendors at the event are always overpriced. You could maybe - if you are super-frugal - get away with spending $25 a day on food & drink, but I think $30 is more realistic. I've got a travel day on either end so that's about $180 for six days of bad food. It's about 1200 miles, plus some noodling around town to go to Lowes and buy lights or duct tape or whatever, and back & forth from the show to the hotel every day - might be pretty far if you need a cheap hotel. I'd have to be driving a truck or van so let's say 18 MPG. So we've got about $250 in gas.
It looks like this:

  • Application fee $50
  • Booth fee $1265
  • Hotel $750 and you know there's gonna be some bullshit hotel tax in there, too.
  • Bad food $180
  • Gas $250
  • Probably some bullshit parking costs, too, let's say $40
 $2535. That's all money you have to spend whether you see a dollar from the show or not. Most of it you have to come up with well in advance. Now, the average take from the Smithsonian is $5983. (When I was your age, a show didn't even count as "good" unless we made ten times the booth fee. That's not even five times the booth fee! The fees have gone up a lot more than the sales. The venues, they still get their money. The organizers, even the non-profit ones, their share hasn't dropped. When shit falls, it always fall on the little guy.) It's important to remember, too, that half of the artists will come in below average - although that's not for sure, there may be someone pulling the average down with a ridiculously low number. More likely, though, is that there's someone pulling the average up with a ridiculously high number. We've all been at that art fair where the artist in the booth across the aisle makes $20,000, whereas the low can never be lower than zero.

But I digress. Let's pretend we went to this show and sold a little less than average, because we know the jewelers tend to make the most, and not by a little. Let's say $5000. Subtract $2535 and get $2500. (ish) Most sales are credit or debit cards now, so let's add in conservative processing fees of $100, or 2%, on our 5k in sales, leaving $2400.

Half of your retail will cover your making costs and overhead, so now we've got $1200. This is not a terrible number, if you think of it as pay for 5 days' work; but if you think of it as your paycheck for the six weeks leading up to the show - the time it took to make the work and prepare for the show - well, now it is less impressive. And that's not including opportunity costs: the work you could have made in the six days the show took up.

I guess my point is, this shit is hard. It's not just me. These numbers matter, because I am still weighing a transition to doing art fairs more than wholesale/ consignment, and I need to assess it in a hard-headed way. I haven't yet bought a van, and before I do I want to make sure I'm not following faerie lights.
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