Saturday, December 31, 2011

Web Building for Amateurs, Coherently This Time

Here's a quick synopsis of some of the tools I found useful (or not) Winners and losers:
  • Winner: California Fonts! You know how almost all of the standard fonts are either dull or illegible? California Fonts has your answer in the form of hundreds of fun, free downloadable fonts. I ended up not using the ones I downloaded because after doing battle over the publishing and then the images, I didn't have the heart to figure out why my text was not showing up; but probably I just needed to upload the font to the server. It's a fun site to click around; there are hundreds of fonts in the category "Retro" alone. Other categories have names like Eroded, Groovy, AntiLoop. Here's one called "Spa Fon."
  • Winner: Picnik! If you want to incorporate a funky font, you can do it in Picnik, and just make it part of the jpeg.
  • Loser: WebMatrix. Just, no. If you don't know what you are doing, it's not the program for you.
  • Winner: Komposer. Free, WYSIWYG, and very flexible: not, as many web-building tools are, just a collection of templates into which you can plug your images and information. I don't think it came with any templates, which could be a drawback if you were looking for the easiest route. Drawbacks: The Help Section was pretty unimpressive. (Loser.) Also, when it uploaded images, it coded them with a complicated address pointing the where they were located on my desktop. I had to go into the HTML source code and change the name of image file to just "whatever-the-name-is.jpg." This sounds hard to do but it is not. Kompozer has a known issue in the form of its publisher, which seems to simply not work - a serious flaw! I thought that I was just doing it wrong, but a visit to the forums indicated that this had been pinpointed as a weakness. (Loser.) To address this:
  • I downloaded Filezilla, which served the publishing function. I thought it had problems, too, but that really was just me. In actuality it worked like a dream. Winner!
  • Network Solutions, my web host, has a lot of really useful tools for publishing also. It actually turned out to be the easiest solution for uploading, as I could skip all the host-address and FTP://ftp shit. Winner! That stuff was way too hard to find, though, and not, strictly speaking, free, as I am paying for the hosting through them, and paying for the domain name - and it is considerably more costly than other domain name registries such as Go Daddy.
  • Winner: Doug! and me. Now I can quit hassling him to updated my website, and take over the procrastination function myself.

Kompozer, WebMatrix, and One Other I can't Recall the Name of


P.S. Happy ending!This is a pretty whiny post, but it has a happy ending. Check out the home page: www.finemesspottery.com The links don't work yet (except the one to this blog, but you already know how to get here) but I am on my way!
Note: if you still see the old site, reload your page. Your computer may be drawing on your cache.

More later, if you can stand it.

The following post falls between and rant and a pity party. If you are not in the mood for either, maybe skip this one.

I think I mentioned that I downloaded free web building software called Kompozer? Before I did that I downloaded a free web builder called Web Matrix, which I found to be so confusing that I gave up and looked for other freeware.

Now, keep in mind that I don't know much about web building. I've never done it before, so me saying that WebMatrix is confusing should in no way be taken as criticism of the program. Possibly someone who had the first miniscule, solitary clue would find it delightful to use. But that ain't me, so, moving on. Kompozer, on the other hand, has a very desirable quality: WYSIWYG. (Say it out loud, it's fun.) What You See Is What You Get. You build a document, not unlike creating a word document, and Kompozer translates your intentions into HTML code, which is the language computers think in, when they think about the web.

I built a very nice home page. Simple, with a photo for a background and a row of links on the right hand side. I sure would love to show it to you, but I can't for the life of me get it to publish. The instructions in the help menu are limited and confusing; they basically say:
  1. Create document
  2. Publish it.
Thanks! Thanks tons! If I knew how to do that I wouldn't be reading the Help Menu.

Oh, I'm just whining. It's like throwing, I'm sure; no one is born knowing how to do it. My usual words to live by are, "How hard can it be?" and while this attitude has served me well - most things are far easier than you think they will be - once it a while, the answer is, "pretty fucking hard." Occasionally the answer is "impossible, given current resources of time, energy, and brainpower." I don't think this is one of those times, but I may not have any hair left by the time this project is done.

Oh, the one I couldn't think of was Filezilla. I thought it was the solution to my problems - and it still might be. The file in question is now in the server directory...but it isn't on the web, anywhere. And why would it be? I couldn't see how, in Filezilla, I was supposed to tell it where to publish.

Gah.

Firing the kiln today, the last one of 2011. (Thanks, Captain Obvious!) Unloading Wednesday.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Visual Appeal: Lessons from the Donut Shop

For Christmas I received, among other things, a Dunkin' Donuts gift card. (Thanks Mom!) It reminded me of something that's been tickling my brain ever since I wrote the post about the chocolate covered pretzel sticks. I mentioned in that post that my first job was at Dunkin' Donuts, and I used to amuse myself by trying to make the donuts look as appealing as possible.

What started tickling my brain then, and finally entered my conscious thought this morning as I chose a boston creme and a chocolate coconut, is this: what I was doing was visual merchandising.

Much of what worked to sell donuts could be explained as an indictor of quality. A even coat of sugar was appealing to people perhaps because it appears to have more sugar than a patchy-looking donut. Or maybe it made the donuts look fresher and less man-handled. The same could be said for smooth, shiny frosting. But other qualities were less evidently related to donut-enhancing qualities: Why are jelly donuts more appealing if all the little dots of jelly peering out of the fill-holes are pointed in the same direction? And why, if you only want two, are you more likely to buy from the tray that has 20 identical donuts on it, than the one that has five?

I don't have an answer to that but nevertheless I know that it's true. There is something about abundance that makes people want to take home part of it. Which makes me think: might we sell more mugs just by displaying more similar mugs together? When I make mugs I might make twenty or thirty more or less the same, but when I glaze and fire I try to get variety in the kiln. Maybe I would be better served to fire similar things together, so that on the retail shelves, mugs stay with their cohort.

I have seen first hand how effective visual marketing is: I could predict - nay, manipulate - what people would buy before they walked in the door. And my experience is one tiny shred of what visual marketing entails. Might be worth learning more about, if a person wanted to work smarter instead of harder.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Java Wadding



In my infinite quest to replace expensive grog in my wadding, this firing I am following the suggestion of a fellow blogger and potter going by the name Newfoundout Potter. I am using coffee grounds. This suggestion appeals to both the frugalista and the tree-hugger in me: reuse! recycle! Coffee grounds are essentially garbage. We were using them in the compost pile but believe me there are plenty from this house to go around. Our compost is more acid than ideal, due to the preponderance of coffee grounds. Ooo, bad thought: our compost also sometimes smells like vomit, due to its great acidity. Let's hope my wadding does not also come to smell like vomit! That might be a deal breaker. For now, though, the wadding smells nice.

I did find that I had to use more grounds than grog to get the consistency that I want; whereas the original wadding recipe called for 2:2:1 Kaolin:Alumina:Grog, the coffee grounds version is closer to 1:1:1.

It's a weirdly warm day in Central Maine; the thermometer hanging on the deck says it's 50 F. A nice kiln-loading day.

OT: Check out my new profile photo! Turns out the same lighting set up to avoid shadows while photographing pots does a good jobs of filling in crow's-feet.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two-Oh!-Won-Too

Boy do I have big plans for 2012! New product development, new marketing strategies, new ideas, and fresh looks at old ones. here are a few goals, in no particular order:

  1. Buttons. This was a suggestion months ago from fellow potter-blogger Sue Pariseau, and I got started on designing a button, but then got busy with orders and Christmas stuff before I got a design I really like. I am scrapping my first mold - the design just isn't working with what I have learned since making it. I know, right? it's a button. Cut a circle, drill a couple holes, and get on with your life. But it turns out that a really good button needs more thought (weight, hole quantity and placement, how the design works with the holes, what about the back, blah-blah-blah.) The world doesn't need any more mediocre buttons, so I pushed back production until I have time to do it right.
  2. Vessel sinks. I've been asked by a former schoolmate and Facebook connection to design a vessel sink for production. I've put this off, mostly because I am intimidated by the technical aspects (unlike buttons. I want to state for the record that I am not intimidated by buttons. I just have high standards.) To push past this, I set a deadline with him, as an internal deadline doesn't mean much; I blow by them left and right. But I hate disappointing other people. I plan to have a design or two to show him by February 1.
  3. Cabinet and drawer hardware. Like buttons, these will help me utilize kiln space more efficiently. I have made such things before, but I want to standardize the shape and size, perhaps with a press mold. Or a slip mold? Remains to be seen.
  4. New shapes, new glazes, new takes on old ones.
  5. Take a set of shots to apply to art fairs. Is this on my list every year? Can't remember, and don't want to. But this year I am ready, in terms of production capacity, to take on a top-shelf show or two. Can my own photos get me in? One way to find out.
  6. Wholesalecrafts.com It's an investment, for sure, but I've heard nothing but good things about it. If you've had a less-than-stellar experience with it, now would be a good time to share that story.
  7. Website. My husband built my site, finemesspottery.com, in 2005. That's almost 7 years ago, for those keeping track. While I was and am grateful for it, it turns out there was an element of "impress-the-new-girlfriend" in it; it hasn't been updated in all that time, because he doesn't really like web designing, in part because he uses a Cro-Magnon version of Fetch. It's extremely fiddly and tedious, and not remotely WYSIWYG. He's not especially interested in web building, period, so he's not up for downloading or learning a more intuitive software. But that's okay, it's not his job, anyway; that would be me. So I've downloaded a free webbuilder valled Kompozer. My hope is to have a site that I can easily update, and provide seamless links with this blog and will Paypal; looking at the beginning of March for that to be up and running.
  8. Just kicking Kickstarter around. It seems some of the projects on this list would fit into Kickstarter's mission, and funding would help during the development phases.
What's on your New Year's list?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Prospero Año Nuevo y Felicidad!

In Spanish it is customary to wish friends a prosperous new year, as opposed to a happy one; although the intent, I'm sure, is the same. I'd love to have a prosperous year, as I'm sure you would, and to that end, I want to think a little about what defines prosperity for me.

  • Feeling awesome = prosperity. I've had the unusual luxury of the house to myself for four days*, purchased for me by my poor dog, whose chronic back injury made travel ill-advised. (He is now on a muscle relaxant and pain reliever, and is much improved, thankfully.) Because Doug was away, and because I had been given a Hannaford gift card, I went hog wild in the produce department and stocked up on greens and nuts and avocados and fruit and yogurt, stuff that is usually out of the budget, and which Doug would not eat anyway. This should not surprise anyone, but I feel so energetic! No more running out of gas at 2 pm. I need to find a way to do this all the time.
  • Feeling awesome, part II: Yoga! I know this, I've been knowing it, but I get busy and forget. If I spend some time doing yoga every day, I will feel better, have more energy, and be more limber; all around I feel more like my younger self. Yoga is free! I can say I don't always have time, but I'm not going to say that; something else will go instead. How 'bout, I replace half an hour online reading news and politics (not the most relaxing activity) with a half hour of yoga. I think that will contribute to a prosperous year.
  • Financial prosperity, of course, makes other kinds easier. For me financial prosperity would just mean enough to pay bills, eat well, have some fun, and not worry. Health insurance would be nice, too. I am percolating a plan for this. I am shooting for more than just-barely-enough; it would be nice to have some breathing room. Frugality is sort of my hobby; we are pretty resourceful, and not really into "stuff," luckily, but I'd like to have a little bit to save. More on this plan later.
  • A wealth of ideas: Thoughts of sculpture still flit into my head, but such ruminations are like birds: if you don't feed them, after a while they stop returning. I may not, in fact, have time to devote to sculptural projects, but it may also be a question on allowing the ideas to gain momentum. I also feel like sculptural ideas inform functional ones, so creative aspects of my functional work can be nurtured by not letting the sculptural thoughts wither on the vine. To that end, I am going to start keeping a sketchbook to grab those fleeting thoughts and images.
  • Love, love, love: may not be all you need, but what's all the rest, without it? I've got the good relationship thing (really: Doug is the bestest) but sometimes am too lazy to make the effort to spend time with friends and family, especially since I am an hour (at least) away from everyone. Will try to fix this in the coming year. Scrabble parties, and 80s Night at Bubba's Sulky Lounge. Let's do this.
*Actually four days is too much. I got lonely. Three days once in a while is nice, if only for the coming-home moment.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Week of Reflection

I have a personal tradition: I call the week between Christmas and New Year's the Week of Reflection, and I try to spend it thinking back on the past year, understanding the events and giving them context. I look at where I am, and how my life is, and think both of blessings and how I would like my life to be different; and mapping out the steps between where I am and where I would like to be.

This year I have a huge honkin' lot of blessings, and my life is closer to my ideal than it has ever been before.

2008 was the first year I blogged the Week of Reflection, and boy, have I come a long way since then! This calls for a song:



Unrelated but amusing: one line of lyrics goes: "Pescado mojado me encontre." My Spanish is not good, but I think this means "I found wet fish."

And so begins the Week of Reflection, Two-Zip-Won-One.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chia Wadding


Remember when I suggested you could use birdseed in place of grog in wadding? Yeah, don't do that. Not just because of this creepy terrarium, but also because in the last firing a few of the seeds exploded, sort of like an egg in the microwave, I guess. They didn't do any damage, but any time you've got little bits of debris flying around the kiln you have potential for a bad situation.

I am considering using the chia-wadding, however: the seeds have already split. Will let you know if anything unexpected happens.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In Case You Were Wondering...

...Garden lime is not quite the same as whiting. Some garden lime is closer to dolomite. And some contains what is enigmatically describes as "rock dust."

Okay, so you probably weren't wondering that. But I was, briefly, when I realized I had forgotten to pick up whiting on Thursday, in all the party excitement. I was hoping to save myself a trip to Portland, so I called Knight's Farm Supply. They do carry garden lime, but it is not straight calcium carbonate; there's apparently some magnesium in there as well, like dolomite, only who knows how much. Guess I am making the 110-mile round trip, which is a bigger deal now that I am driving Truckzilla.

On the other hand, whiting is a perfectly good substitute for garden lime on your perennials, to lower the acidity of soil. I don't use it, myself; my plantings pretty much have to sink or swim on their own.

Oh, gardening, I miss you. And it's not even officially winter yet.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sweets & Treats


For as long as I can remember, I've been a sucker for pretty food. My first job, in high school, was at Dunkin' Donuts. I didn't care that much for waitressing; what I really loved was "finishing", which meant frosting, powdering and filling the donuts. I took great pride in making the donuts look as appealing as possible; I even made bets with myself that I could control which variety sold out first.
That was kind of a long detour to say, Look what I made! I'm not much for holidays at all, and even less for all the Christmas hullabaloo, but I do like to have an excuse to make beautiful sweets.
Here are some other things that were (and are, through Sunday!) on offer at Portland Pottery:









Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Portland Pottery's Holiday Show!



It's happening Friday, December 16th - Sunday December 18. Opening night party, Thursday the 15th from 5 - 9. See you there!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Another Score!


At the Kennebec River Artisans holiday open house last night, I managed to persuade jeweler Kris Lape to trade with me, for this awesome necklace! Thanks Kris!

And next week I'll be trading with milliner Julie Stewart for one of her amazing hats.

Some days I really love being an artist.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Many Facets

You know how sometimes you get on a jag, and you just can't quit a particular technique? For me it's been facets, all of December so far...I don't want to hear about anything that isn't facets, and faceting. Something about the way the light, and then the soda vapor, hits those edges...I don't know.
Jags are the best, in that they produce the best pots, although not always the most salable pots. I can already tell I am going to be sitting on a mountain of toothbrush holders when this is over. [Edit: Want one? Get one here.]They are good pots - at least I think so - but maybe a bit too weird for the common aesthetic. Sadly, how close one's own aesthetic hews to the common determines how easily things sell - how "accessible" they are, to use the art-school word. There's a sweet spot in terms of styling which is just a hair outside of ordinary or expected, enough to intrigue but not enough to challenge. To my mind most of the best pots fall beyond this zone, which only means we have to work harder to find the folks who will like them, or transform a broader audience into those people. Functional pottery is already more accessible than, say, minimalist sculpture, so our job is easier than it might be.

ANYWAY. How did I get talking about that? That isn't faceting. I want to talk about faceting. For these pots I used my wire tool, because it was there. I used to have a nice cheese cutter with a wavy wire that made a nice texture, but somehow I've misplaced it. I am considering going out in the garage and rummaging through my husband's fishing equipment for some of that clear plastic line, because the wire tool leaves a slight texture, and I want to see if I like the facets better without. (As an aside to Mainers: Have you noticed that nobody north of Freeport, or west of, say, Windham, actually parks their car in the garage? I have one of every single man-made thing, except a car, in my garage. Possibly because in the poorer areas of Maine, no one's car is worth garaging.

WHICH IS ALSO NOT ABOUT FACETING! These pots will hopefully be out on the 18th, in time for last-minute Christmas shopping. Toothbrush holder, anyone?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Monday, December 5, 2011

Art Fair Acquisition

The second-best part of any art fair is trading, and I made a beauty of a trade at the SEA show: this awesome Garden Guardian, a cast and sculpted concrete planter. Really I wish I could have gotten two of them; I think they would look amusing in pairs.

The rest of the event, well, it didn't suck. Set up was easy, access to electricity was not too messy, there were both food and restrooms nearby. As for the first-best part of any art fairs, the sales? Well, again: didn't suck, but didn't reach the standard of earning 5 times the booth fee. On the other hand, I didn't pay the booth fee; Portland Pottery did, in exchange for my handing out upcoming class schedules, postcards for their holiday sale, and a brochure describing all of their offerings. And lots and lots of people did taje those things, so a good deal was had by all.A few things:
  • Credit card sales accounted for about 30% of the total; less than I thought, but still a big whack. I used Virtual Terminal, because I could use equipment I already have - my laptop - as opposed to having to buy a smartphone (to use with Square) or a knucklebuster and plate. I will be keeping my eye out for a used Android or iPhone (and not just any will work: the exact specs are here) because a) my laptop is only good for about 45 unless it's plugged in. Is that normal? Doesn't matter, it is what it is. But if I were at an event where I had no access to electricity - a fairly common circumstance at outdoor fairs - I'd be sunk. And b) typing in the info was fine at this show, but if I were at a hopping-busy show - don't laugh! it happens! - it would be cumbersome. A quick swipe would be preferable.
  • I sold a bunch of mugs, a bunch of ice cream bowls, almost all my honey jars, but only a handful of bigger things. People were shopping under $30.
  • I was also shopping under $30. Actually I managed to get most of my Christmas shopping done under $20 per gift, at the show. I am too poor to buy big splashy gifts, so I shoot for unique and memorable. Handmade is great that way.
  • I needed more packing materials! I had to tumble-stack in the totes when I packed up, as I had used all my tissue and bubble wrap.
You never count your money
When you're sitting at the table.
There'll be time enough for counting
When the dealing's done.
I never do count the money while at the show, I think it's bad luck. (No I don't. That's just silly. But I still don't count until after.)
Anyway, today is back in the studio: I am hoping to squeeze out a firing before the Portland Pottery show, which opens December 15th.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holy Shatter!


Though this is not an outstanding photograph, nevertheless you can see that something not good happened here. The sundae dish shattered, apparently during the firing (as opposed to "while cooling.") It was thrown of B-mix 10, glazed with Magic White, and what's worse, through my small opening, I can see two other pots with that combination, and both have either cracked or shattered.

Hmmm.

My first thought is that glaze tension tore this piece apart. There is no applied glaze on the outside, but I thought the soda glass would exert sufficient tension to compensate. And perhaps it would have; this piece may have been ruined before I applied the soda. Magic White fluxes relatively early.
I've used Magic White on B-mix before with no surprises, but I do remember thinking as I applied the glaze that it was mixed a little thick in the bucket. I could have added water, but I didn't think I really needed to. The sundae cups are thinner than most things that I make, because they are stretched vertically after throwing. Between these two variations -- glaze thickness and pot-wall thinness - I guess something had to give.

There are at least 10 more pieces similar to this one in the kiln. I suppose they will all have torn themselves apart in this manner. I can only hope they didn't take too much other stuff with them.

Stay tuned.
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