Saturday, January 11, 2020

Resolution: Less Waste

When I asked a young friend of mine if she made New Year's resolutions, she told me no, but she had made a New Decade's resolution: to cease using single-use plastics by 2030. This is an ambitious and laudable goal! Though I'd like to think I could do this, it feels overwhelming; but it did inspire me to think about the ways in which I could reduce waste in my life.

Here's an easy one: I can remember to bring a ceramic cup with me when I get coffee out! Coffee is one of my small indulgences. Every day at home, naturally! If you are like me, several times a week you also find yourself with a disposable cup in hand, enjoying a java out in the world. Take a second to picture the pile those cups would make at the end of the year! Disposable coffee cups aren’t good candidates for recycling, because they are either Styrofoam or lined with a thin layer of plastic.
That’s a lot of waste, but there’s good news, friend! A ceramiccup requires only 18 uses to break even with paper in terms of water use andenergy consumption. After that, every time you use a ceramic cup instead of paper, you are helping to save the planet. Once or twice a week I get a coffee out - usually at my favorite Portland coffee shop, Coffee By Design; and usually because I am between classes or other appointments in Portland, killing time. I am a potter! It is an easy matter for me to bring my own mug.

Think about it: after only 18 uses, a ceramic mug is gentler on the environment than paper, in terms of energy consumption, water, and waste. Everything after that is basically an environmental freebie! Plastic breaks even with paper after only 8 uses, but plastic will get brittle &; crack much, MUCH sooner than stoneware - a stoneware mug's useful life is basically forever. All the forever we have, anyway.

You probably already have a stoneware mug - I know my readers are mostly potters! - but just in case, here's a link to my new ones online.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Rolled the Dice

...Or else I set $40 on fire. I applied for the St Louis Art Fair, which happens in September. Every year I have an argument with myself about whether I should apply to the top-shelf fairs I used to go to, when  lived in St. Paul. I didn’t know how easy I had it, back then! At least 10 of the top 50 best art fairs are within a ½ day’s drive of St. Paul. The closest one to me here is the Smithsonian, which I don’t apply to because it’s very unlikely I could get in. Also the jury fee is $50, the lowest booth fee is $1300, and getting a hotel and food in DC for 3 or 4 days would be a crazy expense. Also, the *average* sales total is about 6k. Since jewelers always make the most, and since there are always a few big studios that make like 50k, that means the little people like me are making between $0 – 3000, for a show that costs about 2500 to do.

Anyway. The last time I did St Louis, I made upwards of $5000, and would have made more except I sold out of everything! I had one pot left at the end of the show. Can I expect to sell almost literally everything, again? Probably not, but I can bring more pots! One good thing is, the organizers of this event did not get greedy, and the show still has less than 200 booths. Also, St Louis in  September? I could probably find camping nearby, or a hostel. (I also have friends in St Louis, having lived there many moons ago; but it seems rude to ask for hospitality, when I know the art fair will be so much work that I will not be able to spend any time visiting my hosts.)

Of course, I might not get in! I have a better chance than with the Smithsonian, but any good fair, you have to assume you might get juried out. I probably could get into the Uptown, but the last time I was
there I grossed $2k, which was great for a fair I did not have to travel to, not so great for one 1500 miles away. I still do have a lot of good friends in and around the Twin Cities, some close enough that they wouldn't mind housing me even if I basically just slept at their house & drank their coffee, so I could eliminate that expense, but travelling 1500 miles is still going to be a spendy proposition, in terms of both time & money.
I also applied to 3 local shows, one is June, one in August, one at the end of September. There are not a lot of great shows in Maine, and it has taken me some time to make the mental adjustment that most shows here are going to mean weeks of preparation and three days of flat-out backbreaking work to net a frustratingly small amount of money. 

Why did I choose this stupid field*? I should have become a visual merchandiser. Or idk, a dentist, a money manager, an engineer.
Just kidding, we all know I never had much choice in the matter. Clay chose me, and I'm lucky it did. 

*Again, I know it is bad branding to admit I don't make much money! I know we are all supposed to pretend to be super-successful all the time. But fuck it, somebody has to be honest, otherwise we all secretly feel like losers. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Wow Already? Again: Time to Apply for Next Summer's Fairs!

Last year's images

This year's images
This year's images
A potter is always living in the future. (Well: and also the past, in a different way. But that's a ramble for another time.) From a making point of view, for sure: the things I throw today, in my mind, they are already glazed and fired - I have a surface in mind for them, although it is fair to say the kiln often has other ideas. In business terms as well - in snowy January, I must decide which art fairs I want to swelter at next summer. Some of the fairs are even further out than that - two I am applying to are in September and October.

Last year I got a rude surprise when I didn't get into two big events I was counting on. (See, this is why I am terrible at business and possibly also life; I know I am supposed to pretend to be amazing and always successful; just openly failing like a common person, that is not good branding! But it's just you & me here...well, us & the whole damn internet...)


I got a surprise, not the good kind, when I got juried out (well: wait-listed, which in the end is the same thing) of two good shows. I made the best of it & actually had a great summer with no pressure of upcoming events, but I would not like a repeat for next summer! Getting juried out is not the end of the world, it happens to most of us at times, but it shook my confidence a little to get the boot twice the same year. Maybe my slides sucked? Maybe the pots suck?!? MAYBE I SUCK?!?!?!

So I am having to do a little work here to push those doubts aside. There's an element of the random; this was probably just that...but it couldn't hurt to be extra deliberative when choosing my images this year.

At the top of this post are the 4 images I used to apply last year; below them are the 4 I used on some applications this year, and 4 more I used for other shows. I was trying for a greater unity among the images this year. There are still lots of shows to apply to, so if you have some insight on which set of images might work better, I am all ears!

So far I have applied to the Common Ground Country Fair, The Portland Fine Craft Show, and started the complicated application for Belfast Arts in the Park, which requires filling out an in-site form, emailing images separately, and sending a 2 checks by snail mail. I'm also considering Art Providence - would love to hear from anyone who has done that show if it was worth it.

There are some smaller events, like the Winthrop Sidewalk Art Festival, whose applications are not yet open. I'm considering giving that one a try - it's only a few miles from my house, the booth fee is tiny, and I have heard good things about it. 

ETA: A reader commented that there is a Facebook group, Art Fair Reviews, that might be helpful. (Thanks, Susan!) Boy was she right! I joined the group and immediately got the information I needed specifically about Art Providence, which was , don't. Or that was my take. I saw comments like, "We almost made our expenses" and "we made our expenses, but only because we didn't need to get a hotel" and "It was our worst show of the year." Everyone says it's well organized, with excellent quality vendors; nobody says they sold well. So, I am crossing them off my list.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Wow, Already? Time to Think about the Maine Pottery Tour

Though the ground is still covered in snow, we know spring is on the way. How do we know? Well, I mean, I guess because it always has, and the earth is still moving around the sun on the same trajectory it always does; but also because potters are starting to email me about the Maine Pottery Tour!

The 2020 Maine Pottery Tour is off to a very promising start - this is maybe the earliest I've received inquiries, and I have received a lot of them. It won't work out for everyone, of course - timing or conflicts or production or costs, there are always things that can stand in the way. Probably some will be joining the 40 or so studios that are already a part of the Maine Pottery Tour, so yay! I already have confirmation that the Watershed center for Ceramic Arts will be on the tour this year, a nice boost because that organization has a huge reach among people who are interested in clay, in Maine and elsewhere.

So! It seems an excellent time to mention it here, to my mostly-potter readership: Do you have a pottery studio in Maine? Would you like to be a part of the Maine Pottery Tour? The tour happens May 2nd & 3rd this year...I've never been completely happy with the dates, as they land just before our yards & gardens begin to look nice - but the following weekend is Mother's Day, and lots of potters are mothers. Or have mothers. Or their children have mothers. So, lots of conflicts there. I might consider a later weekend some year, depending on input from studios. But for now, the first weekend in May is it.

But I digress. Are you a Maine potter? Wanna be on the tour? Give me a shout at and let me know. (Ditto if you are a Maine business (or any business, really) who would like to sponsor the the tour.) The cost for studios to be on the map is $25, and includes a link on the website, a place on the online map and on the thousands of flyers we print & distribute, 50 postccards to send to your mailing list, and, if you get me images, a mention on our facebook page. There's also the opportunity to buy-in with us on a Maine Public Radio sponsorship - I think the interest this year is so much higher because we started that program last year.

If you are just a pottery aficianado, help spread the word to your favorite Maine potters & ceramics sculptors.
Yes, I'm gonna say it already: Can't wait 'til spring.

Roar like a Rat

The Roaring 20s are opening in the Year of the Rat - the Metal Rat, to be exact. Don't @ me about the 20s actually starting next year. Years are real, as they represent an astrological event; decades are entirely a cultural construct. And we don't really know exactly when the Common Era began, so this year, last year, next year, whatever; you go ahead and start your decade whenever you like.

Back to the Metal Rat. We have some pretty negative associations with rats - filth, disease, poverty - but that is not the case in the symbolism of the Chinese calendar. The Rat is a symbol of strong vitality, intelligence, cuteness (!), success, leadership, and prosperity.

I was born in a Year of the Dragon, so:

In 2020 the Rat will bring luck and money for those born in the year of the Dragon....The Dragon horoscope 2020 predicts that this year, you will become more sure of yourself and assert your originality, especially in your career, where your qualities will be acknowledged by your superiors and colleagues.
Assert my originality! That sounds good, right? There's some other, less awesome stuff there as well, but let's accentuate the positive.

Here I am, ready to roar like a rat!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Dare to Update!

Though I have my own website, I run the online shop through SquareUp, the same folks who provide credit cards processing when I am at art fairs. I used to use paypal for this, but that meant building a page for each item I wanted to list; obviously that is a bunch more work! For several months now, SquareUp has been...not nagging, exactly...let's say encouraging me to switch over to their partner, Weebly, to host the online store.

I was pretty resistant to this idea! I didn't want to try & learn a bunch of new stuff in the middle of the holiday season, and I am enough of a crotchety boomer to be irritated when things change that were working just fine before.

Even a crotchety boomer can learn! I made the switch today, and so glad I did. First, there really wasn't a whole lot to learn - if I had wanted to, I could have just clicked the button & the site would migrate, and I could just toddle off, never having to change a thing. I was tempted to do exactly that, but I'm glad I didn't. The new site looks the same as the old site, but has some cool new features. I've just started exploring, but so far I have discovered:

  1. I can share specific sections of the site now! So when I do the cat-dish fundraiser, or want to talk about handmade tools, or the Fine Mess Glazebook, I no longer have to say, "Click the link & then scroll down to..." I can share a link to the exact section I am talking about. 
  2. I can now offer gift cards! I don't know why this pleases me so much; it makes me feel...I don't know, real. To celebrate my realness, I'm going to offer blog readers a promo code for 10% off. Enter this code: BLOGREADER to get 10% off. Code good until the end of January; the gift card never expires. Well, until I do, I guess. 
I know there's more - I've still got some poking around to do. But I know lots of you used SquareUp, also, so if you've been hesitating, don't. I took the leap, and it was fine!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Some Things Never Change

This month archaeologists made an intriguing discovery at a dig near the Israeli city of Yavne: a site of an unusual number of kilns, and at the mouth of one of the, a small jug containing seven gold coins:
A hoard of seven ancient gold coins was found hidden inside a small clay juglet during a dig in the area of Yavne, in the central region of the country, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Sunday.The coins date back to the Earlier Islamic period of the seventh-ninth centuries CE. They were found last week at the entrance to a kiln at the site.“This may be a potter’s personal savings,” the IAA said in a statement. The jug, which was partially broken, “may have been a piggy bank,” it said.
Seven coins. Sounds about right! My own personal clay bank contains more than seven coins, but not many, and none of them are gold; still the parallel remains. Part of my interest in ancient clay is the reminder that in so many ways, people are just people: so much in common even across millenia. 

The coins in Yavne were still in the bank; I hope this means the potter lived their whole life secure in the knowledge that they were there if needed, and yet they were never needed. Across the temporal distance between us, I wish that potter well

And you, too! Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Making Cycle

In an effort to better plan my production, I am trying to realistically detail the phases of my making cycle. I am lucky to enjoy all phases of the making cycle, although not, of course, equally! (ETA: I lied. I do not actually enjoy kiln maintenance, including shelf-grinding. That shit can suck it.)

Anyway, the cycle looks like this; all of these are interspersed & overlapping with my teaching days, not to mention art fairs & other sales event, so it's actually a lot less tidy than this will make it look:
2 1/2 weeks of wetwork: throwing, trimming, decorating, handles. This usually takes the form of one throwing day, two finishing. This is not carved in stone (or even in stoneware!) of course - if I am making more highly decorated piece, I might need a third day of finishing between throwing days. When people think about what a potter's life might be like - assuming the get past Ghost, which, no - they usually picture a life at the wheel, but in fact I only have four or five throwing days in a cycle. Things aren't divided up as tidily as all that - it's rare that I would throw more than 3 or four hours in any given day, so most wetwork days contain both throwing and decorating, and sometimes nothing is at the right stage, so I'll go mix glazes or (UGH) grind shelves. 
3-4 days of drying: This is when I am most likely get a day off. I mean, I take days off like normal people do, but if I am able to schedule them, I try to make them land in the drying time (Kiln-cooling days are also good for this!). It's also a good time to mix glazes, grind shelves, make cone packs, list items online. 
3 1/2 days: Loading, firing, cooling & unloading the bisque. During the firing or cooling day I will rearrange the studio for glazing.  
3-4 days of waxing, slipping, and glazing: This is quite variable also! If I am glazing Dotopia pots, I might only need 2 1/2 days. A kiln load of OOAK pieces might even need 5. 
4 1/2 days: Loading, firing, cooling, unloading the glaze kiln. I try to clean the studio during the firing/cooling days, and arrange it into a wetwork space once again - put away the glazes & the folding tables, get any leftover bisqueware out of the way. 
 A week of grinding, sorting, pricing, packing, shipping, and delivering. 
That all adds up to about 5 weeks, so I really should be able to fire more than I do, even assuming I give myself a week in between to breathe - not exactly a vacation, because I still teach my classes, but 6 weeks a year of working less hard, and 2 actual vacation weeks, as in, not working.

More firings mean more pots - yay - and more pots mean more work on the other end, selling those pots. This is a natural consequence, because shelves full of pots motivates me to go out & find outlets. This is backwards, I know: I should be making to fill existing outlets, but that's not how I roll.
Maybe I could work on that, in the new year. I have a lot to work on! I'm coming up with my "20 for 2020" list, since "19 for 2019" was so helpful. Not entirely successful, but I made more progress on things that matter to me than I would have without it.


Sunday, December 29, 2019

We Have Always Been Artists

I have sometimes told myself a little story of how people discovered ceramics: a grass cooking basket (this actually works as long as the fire stays below the water level), lined with clay to hold water better, catches fire maybe with some, I dunno, mammoth fat or something in it that would burn hot. Afterward the cook discovers something amazing: the lining of the basket is changed, is now solid and permanent in shape, and impervious (well, sort of) to water. (I have a similar story I tell myself about soap, involving fat, & lye-filled wood-ashes.)

Firing, of course, is only half the story of clay, and perhaps not even the large half. Before we learned to fire, we longed to form: to reify images in our minds.

Or so goes the story I tell myself. In fact, we can't know what our prehistoric ancestors were thinking, but we can see some of the things that they made, and some of those things were made of clay. 14000 years ago, in the cave of Tuc Audoubert, an artist sculpted these bison from the clay of the cave walls. They aren't fired, but the cave has protected them from the weather all these millennia, and though they have cracked - as a clay artist myself, familiar with all the technical things that can go wrong in the process - I'd be willing to bet most of those cracks happened in the lifetime of the artist. Yet they remain, the marks of the artist's hands still clearly visible. 

It is a shivery feeling, to imagine those moments of making, when an artist - just like you! - knelt on the cave floor, patting and prodding the clay into the desired shape. His or her life was so so different from yours, and yet inside, the same, in at least this one way.

This discovery was made in 1912 by three French brothers. Read more about it at this link!

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Week of Reflection is Upon Us!

I love the week between Christmas and New Years'. All the shows are done, all the carols are sung and the Yule logs burned; all the cookies are frosted, the stockings stuffed with care and then unstuffed with abandon.

Not that I do any of that stuff. A Christmas of quiet contemplation is more my style. I am called upon to go to several gatherings, which I can usually just about manage, with some recharge time in between.

But this week! This is the week of no parties, no shopping or wrapping, no special-occasion foods to assemble; and for me, no classes to teach, no firings scheduled, no orders due. (No money*, either, as I have yet to get paid for holiday sales, but that's no problem: I am living on Hannaford & Dunkin Donuts gift cards this week!) Nor yet any Maine Pottery Tour stuff to do, which will start in January. This is the Week of Reflection, during which I consider the past year - what worked, what didn't, what I learned - and make a plan for the next.

Ah, 2019! The year of the cleaning robots and the Fitdesk, all rather extravagant purchases for a poor potter, and all well worth the cost. In the past I sometimes found myself falling down an internet hole, a tremendous waste of time. Some people would fight this tendency head on, perhaps even successfully! Me, I take more of a jujitsu approach: go with the flow. That's where the Fitdesk comes in. If my computer is always on the desk of this stationary bike, then even if I fall into an internet hole, the time is not wasted - I get my workout in. (Example: I have pedaled 9 miles this morning, having my coffee, reading the news, and writing this post!) This has done wonders for my heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. It's also much harder to fall down an internet hole, as my legs let me know when I've been at it too long. Win-win!

The robots solve a different problem, by way of going around it. I am by no means a neat freak, but I am tidy: neat but not a freak, I like to say. Doug, not so much. It would not be an exaggeration to say he's an utter slob. I don't plan to do that tiresome thing of bitching about my spouse to people who don't even know him - and anyone who does know him, knows how great he is: he's smart and fun and funny, and possessed of an intellectual curiosity as big as the sky. He laughs at my jokes! He loves to try new things! And he has never cleaned anything on his own initiative in his life. We could fight about this, and in fact, we have fought about it, with me arguing that cleaning up is just part of being a grown up, and him saying he shouldn't have to spend his time cleaning to my standards, and I knew he was a slob before we married. (The kicker here is that we are both right.) The robots - a Roomba vacuum and a Braava mop - don't address the disparity, but they do allow the house to be clean enough not to be a distraction to me, without me either doing all the work myself, or nagging him into doing it. Win-win!

What I learned: sometimes the cheapest way to pay for something, is with money.

There's lots more reflection & looking ahead to do this week. I am working on an outline of my making cycle, to help me plan better in 2020; I also need to think about new outlets I would like to approach. Stick with me, and if you are doing some reflection yourself this week, share those links in the comments.

*If you want to help with that, you could buy me a coffee or leave me a tip or maybe buy a tshirt!  But honestly I know no one reading this has much money to spare, either, so no worries if it's not in the cards right now. 😉

Friday, December 13, 2019

Halfway from Kiln to Kitchen

Squeezing it in just under the wire, I unloaded  -well, mostly!- a glaze kiln yesterday morning, quickly spiffied up the bottoms, priced 'em, packed 'em, and drove 'em all down to Portland Pottery for the holiday show. I didn't have much time to think about how I would display them, which changes every year for this show, as my display space is different.

I did have the presence of mind to throw a few kiln bricks into the car, knowing I would need risers to create some variation in the space. Beyond that I decided I'd figure something out on the way down. And I was right! The studio had rolls of brown paper, and the soda-tinted kiln bricks complimented the pots very well. Sometimes half-assed is best! I only wish I had know I'd have access to an electrical outlet; I could have strung some lights on the undersides of the shelves to brighten things up. 

I had noticed during the firing that one of my shelves had broken. By the time it happened, we were well into body reduction - too late to turn it off if I wanted pots for the show, and anyway, it seemed likely that any pots ruined by the break were already ruined. I had reason to be optimistic about minimal damage - this is not the first time I've had a shelf break mid-firing. My optimism was well-placed: only one pot was damaged by the cracked & tilted shelf. the angle of it was quite astonishing - you'd have thought they'd all slide off into the burner channel, but only the pot the broken edge came to rest on was ruined. 

I really need some new kiln shelves. 

Anyway, the opening night party was awesome as usual. By tradition, I overdress for the party, mostly because I rarely have occasion to wear my fancy clothes & hats. This year I used one of my ordinary hats, though, and just stuck a big gold silk poinsettia on it. 

I said at the top of this post that I had mostly unloaded the kiln; because I was pressed for time, I unloaded only the things I needed for the show. Still have to get a couple dozen cat urns, which need to be ground, packed & delivered to the customer today.