Saturday, November 21, 2020

Adapt or Perish: The Covid Edition

 


One thing I've learned in the Time of Covid is that I could really stand to up my online game up. I try, but there's just so much I don't know! 
Like a lot of artists, when I first started selling online, I kinda thought it would be easy-peasy. List the items, then watch the sales roll in! As we all know by now, there ain't no free lunch for nothin. Getting a website is like opening a store in your basement; nobody is gonna know it is there unless you get the word out. That's where I really need help. 

Luckily there is a solution to not knowing much about a thing you need to know, and that is learning about it. I've been meaning to get this book for a while now: Guide to Marketing Art & Crafts Online. Milly Welsh, the author, is a friend & the webmaster for the Maine Pottery Tour.  

I skimmed through it briefly upon arrival - it is absolutely packed with helpful information - enough, even, that I felt a little overwhelmed. I took some time to digest it, reminded myself that I don't have to do everything, then started reading again. As I said, there's tons in there, but let me share a couple of bits that I found especially helpful: 
  • In the section Make Your Customers Repeat Customers: 
    Provide a great unboxing experience....Sellers who do this right make opening their packages part of the experience. Some examples of improving your unboxing experience are: packaging your products with branded materials inside, including swag (think pens, stickers, & otehr useful items with your branding on them), you can even decorate the outside of your boxes with stickers or graphics.
  • On photographs for retail sites: Show your product in use
    (Honestly that makes sense & it's something I almost never do. Look for that to change!)
  • On Keywords: One thing to consider is that you probably won't be able to compete right away for highly competitive keywords. I'm pretty good at SEO, but even I wouldn't necessarily go after a really broad term like "pottery." Instead I might go after a really specific keyword like "Pottery Coffee Mugs" (because even a term like "coffee mugs" is likely just oing ot be a little too competitive.) 
    Again: makes sense! But I wouldn't have thought of it. 
There's a section on keywords generally & how to use them, a big section on Etsy. You may remember that I hate Etsy (at least as a seller) but I know it's a good option for many people, especially if you are just starting online sales. Milly also explains the strengths & best uses of the various social media platforms, how to use Google Analytics, how to create a Facebook ad, and ways to drive traffic to your website. 
If you, like me, are looking for ways to expand your online sales in these pandemic times, I really recommend it. It's $20, + $4 shipping, at this link.


Sunday, November 15, 2020

Procrastination Energy

 

I haven't fired as often this year as other years, because obviously. I am gearing up to do a glaze firing soon, though, and for weeks have been putting off grinding my kiln shelves. I enjoy nearly every aspect of #claylife - even stuff like mixing glazes, although it took years to appreciate the calm zone of concentration that requires - but I can't really feel the love for kiln maintenance, so I put it off. And put it off, and put it off. 

So I don't feel guilty for not doing the dreary job that I know needs to be done, I do every damn thing else. I can get a crazy-lot of stuff done when I am procrastinating kiln shelves! I built websites & took photos, posted items online, packed & shipped orders, raked my lawn, cleaned my house like crazy, even applied to refinance my mortgage. Anything, anything other than grinding kiln shelves!

Which is silly. So today I put on my big-girl pants & did the deed. The whole thing took less than an hour, and I was extra thorough! Will I remember that it's really no big deal, next time? 

Probably not. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

A Lot to Learn: A tale of Some Ridiculously, Laughably Terrible Photos

 In olden times, before the internet, I only needed photos of my work (in slide form) to apply to art fairs and send to stores. The photos were representative of the body of work, not necessarily intended to sell that individual piece. Once or twice a year I'd take five or ten pieces to a photographer who specialized in ceramic art, and pay him a hundred bucks or so, and he'd shoot the photos I'd use for my applications. 

Then along came the interwebs, and online sales, and suddenly I needed photos to sell individual pieces. Getting a pro to shoot these was out of the question, in terms of time - I'd have to schedule a shoot after every firing! - and money. Luckily digital photography appeared on the scene at the same time, so I learned to shoot my own photos

I'm not Peter Lee, but I can shoot adequate enough photos of pottery to get me into art fairs, and that's been good enough for me. Today, tho! Today I shot some Christmas ornaments, with the intention to list them online. Damn these were hard to photograph! The first shots were so ridiculously, laughably terrible that I had to show you. 



These were shot in a south-facing room on a sunny day, with three true-white photo bulbs around them. They look like they were shot at midnight in a mine shaft! I think my mistake was choosing a white background for them - just some freezer paper I had around. The camera tried hard to balance the reflected light, and this dreadful gloom was the result. Next time I will choose a grey background.

These are just some fun little doodads - I plan to list them online, but I won't be applying anywhere with ugly sweater ornaments, I assure you, so I don't plan to reshoot; I'll just "fix it in post," as the cool kids say. 

Was it Jimmy Buffet who said, "If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane?" I think that's especially true for laughing at ourselves. Anyway, enjoy my terrible horrible no-good-very-bad photos. I've got some editing to do. 

ETA: You can see the listings, and the photos after editing, here

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Just Saying Hi!

Checking in with my peeps! What is going on with your lives? I hope you are all staying safe out there, wearing your masks, social distancing, all that. Like a lot of families, we have atomized our Thanksgiving plans: each household celebrating individually. Doug & I will have a scaled down dinner; not the whole nine yards, but turkey plus the extras we like best: stuffing & mashed potatoes for him, garlic parmesan brussels sprouts & pumpkin pie for me. 

Though it seems like we are coming into an even worse covid-19 spike than we have seen yet, we all continue to learn how to keep our businesses afloat when in-person events are risky. The Central Maine Clay Artists* , a professional group I belong to, has for the past 11 years rented a vacant storefront for the month of December to hold a pop up shop, the Holiday Pottery Shop. None of us were entirely comfortable with that level of public interaction this year, so we accepted an invite from Clare Marron, the proprietor of Monkitree, a handmade good shop in Gardiner, to host us. 

We'll be setting up late Saturday afternoon, and on Tuesday, the shopping will begin. 

Portland Pottery will forgo our usual end-of-year bash - that one is a no brainer - but is still planning to hold a show & sale. That event happens December 14th - 17th. 

In addition, like many artists, I am trying to do better about my online presence. I know what to do - basically - I just need to do it. Staying afloat during Covid-19 has also required me to be a little creative about my income stream: I make a lot more cat urns now (RIP kitties; sadly just as many die in pandemic years as any other time) and I have been building websites for artists who, until now, didn't think they needed one. If you need a website, BTW, give me a shout! A basic site starts at $300. 

Today I have some pots to ship, some photos to shoot, a website to update, and a class to teach, so I best get going. 


*Go ahead! Click the link! I built the site. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

At Last, New Pots!

 

It has been sometime since I listed new pots in the online store. I actually took these photos at the end of August, meaning to get them listed, but only just finished up today. Without orders and art fairs to propel me, I have been enjoying (?) a slow making season. I put in the question mark, because while I have been doing more hiking and biking, and I very much enjoy those things, I miss the rhythm of make-glaze-fire-sell, make-glaze-fire-sell. It feels weird to have no particular reason to make stuff! And it has ever been my curse that I have difficulty getting motivated when the shelves are full. 

But there I go, wandering off topic! What I came here to post about it, New Pots In The Shop!! It's not too soon to think about holiday shopping! Here are a couple of my favorites; click the photos to shop. 


You may recognize this one from a post a few weeks ago, naming it my fave from the firing. I have a
policy to sell my favorites (unless they are seconds) since the whole point of being a potter, for me, is for the pots to be out in the world making people happy. I confess I did use this one for a couple of weeks! 

 
Dotopia! Dots, stamps, slip trailing, a mantle of silver soda glaze...this little sugar bowl has it all. 


Candy strip sugar & creamer! The white glaze got that satiny sheen. like the icing on a danish, that it sometimes does. I love the animated quality, especially of the creamer. 

I also included a few smaller items this time - soap dishes, mini vases. I sometimes hesitate to include lower end items, because my pricing includes shipping, which can make the lower priced items seem disproportionately high. I was recently reminded that I am not my customer, and the world is full of people for whom $22 is not a huge amount! So I listed a few, just to see how it goes. 

You can find the whole lot at this link

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Pottery Stairs Are Out!


Hey all! I've been away from the blog, did you miss me? I wish I could say I was busy doing fabulous things but more just overwhelmed with the state of the world. We are hanging in; I hope all of you, are, too. Money is tight, because all my events were cancelled due the the pandemic, and because the stores that sell my work have not had a great season, either. Nevertheless, I am not complaining! we have everything we need. The pandemic has touched everyone in some way, and my heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones to it. 
Anyway, covid, blah-blah-blah. Really I am posting today to let local folks know that the Pottery Stairs are out! I have loads of mugs this time - I know everybody loves mugs, and they are only $5. All transactions are contact-free! 

This will probably be the last time this season for the pottery stairs (although, never say never! If we have a warm fall, maybe once more.) It's not too early to think about Christmas shopping! 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Kitty Update: Oreo & Fiona

ETA: Oreo has been adopted! Fiona is still waiting for her forever home. 

Our cat dish fundraiser was successful! I tried to go in on Tuesday to sponsor a cat, but I forgot about the Covid restrictions, and failed to make an appointment. The shelter is closed on Wednesdays, so today was the big day! I had intended to sponsor a cat named Oreo, who has been at the shelter for 5 long months. 
Let me tell you a little bit about Oreo: she is a 3 year old tuxedo cat. Staff describe her as a silly girl, who is playful and curious, and loves attention from her people. She needs a prescription diet to prevent urinary tract infections, but the diet works well for her & she has not had any problems since starting it. She also needs to be the only pet in the home. But, good news! Between last week & today, someone else had already sponsored her!


So I asked the staff to suggest a cat, and here she is: Fiona!

 Fiona came in as a stray, and staff described her as having "lots of personality. She is 2 1/2 years old, and when I met her, she tried to play through the plexiglass of her cage. (She actually looks a lot like my cat, who - weird coincidence - was originally named Fiona, though we call her Noodle now.)With the proceeds of the fundraiser I was able to sponsor Fiona, plus a little extra to support the shelter. So now there are two kitties at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society whose adoption fees are covered! I want to thank everyone who purchased a dish or shared the post - we did it together! 

The dishes are all on their way to you now. 😊
 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

It's that time again: Help a cat find a home

You may know that I am something of a cat lady; not entirely on purpose, I have six feline friends who share my home. My capacity to care for cats is maxed out! But I still want to help. Every year for the past couple of years I have done a fundraiser to allow me to sponsor a cat at Kennebec Valley Humane Society. I try to choose a cat whose stay in the shelter has been long, to help them get out of the cage & find a family. 
I got  lots of great cat dishes out of the firing I unloaded last week, so it is time once again for a Cat Dish Fundraiser! 

If  Oreo is still available

Oreo! Isn't she adorable? 
when the fundraiser is over, I think she will be the one. He has been at the shelter since April! If she finds her home before that, well, there are lots of lovely cats waiting. No matter what we will help someone! 
The dishes are $15 each. If I can sell 10, that will cover Oreo's adoption fee (or whichever cat it ends up being) as well as shipping & packaging materials. Check out the dishes here! 

Thanks for looking! If you can buy a dish this time, great! If not, maybe you could share to your social media? The more eyes this reaches, the better. 

Thanks! I will keep you posted. 

We did it! On Tuesday I will pop in to KVHS to sponsor Oreo, or, if she's been adopted, whichever cat has been there the longest. Thank you thank you thank you!!

Monday, August 17, 2020

My Fave from the Firing

 Pretty much a drive-by post, but I wanted to share this: 


It's porcelain with slip trailing. It got only the barest blush of soda, and I just love the delicacy of the color. Being porcelain it has a bit of sheen even without glaze or soda glass. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Not Another Learning Experience! The Pop Up Photo Booth Edition

 I unloaded a firing on Friday. It was supposed to be Wednesday, but my laptop was stolen Tuesday night, so Wednesday & Thursday were burnt up in all the process involved in that - police report, contacting my banks & credit card companies, all that stuff. Boy do I have a lot to say about that experience, but I'm gonna save it for later, because, new pots! It was kind of a shitty week, but at least the kiln didn't let me down.

I spent today photographing pots, some new out of this kiln, some that I've been planning to shoot for a while. I tried a different photo set up: one of those nylon pop up tents. A friend - Libbey Seigars of Whitefield Pottery - gave me one of those pop-up photo tents last year. She wasn't happy with the results she was getting, so didn't want it anymore. It takes me a while to get around to things, but today I finally gave the it a shot. The advantage, I hoped, was that I could just pop the tent up & start shooting, as opposed to my indoor setup which requires me to re-arrange my living room, pin up a backdrop, and set up three lights. I usually don't want to do all that for just a few pots, so I wait until I have a bunch, and then shooting & processing the images - never mind listing the items for sale - becomes an all-day deal.

That was a learning experience, and what I learned was, those pop up photo tents suck! I eventually gave up & just set up my backdrop & lights as usual. The point of the pop up booth was supposed to be that it was easier - just pop it up on a sunny day & start shooting. Well, the pop up part is easy, that much is true. Getting the wrinkles out of the backdrop - even though it was stored carefully - was not. What eventually worked (kind of) was putting it in the dryer on high heat for about 10 minutes. 

Once the only-a-little-wrinkly (me: I'll fix it in post!) backdrop was in place, I had to find a block or something to place the pots on, because the opening for the camera was a lot higher than the floor of the ten, so the camera was looking sharply down on everything. (I put bricks under the backdrop, but the angle was still not great. All of that would have been tolerable if the photos had been good but - guess what? - they weren't! 

Here are two photos of the same pot, one taken in the pop up tent, one taken with my usual photo set up: 

Taken in the pop up photo tent

Take with backdrop & lights

To my eye the second is just infinitely better. I did my best with editing but the pop up photos all had a bluish quality, and correcting it made the color of the pots wrong.

Anyway, I gave up on it. I like to learn new things but I just had too many pots to shoot to mess around much with it, and anyway I already have a system that works. 

Anybody want a free pop up photo tent? 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Facemask Fun

Part of our new normal in these pandemic days is the wearing of facemasks to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We all want to get back to our jobs or schools, our sports and concerts, church services and idk, dart leagues. Trivia nights! Car pools! Movie theatres! All that stuff.

One of the easiest and most important things we can be doing is wearing face covering every time we are in public. Do I love wearing a mask? Why no! No I do not. Do I do it anyway? I do indeed. Because masks work!

If we want our economy back, and to resume our normal activities, we gotta wear the masks. So we might as well have some fun with it! I even have a favorite Etsy seller of masks - I've bought two from her so far.
My current fave mask
I decided to get in on the designing fun with Teespring. I've used teespring in the past to design t-shirts; I enjoy playing around with ideas, then I post them and every few weeks somebody buys one & I get ten bucks. It's like money for nothing, because creating the design was just playing anyway.

I designed a few masks! One is a plaid I made using an online tool, the others are images I had stored on my laptop from other, long-ago project. Check em out! Or, even better, design your own. We're potters (most of us here, anyway) but our creativity squirts out in all kinds of ways.

Have fun, and wear your masks! XO

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Social Distance in the Studio

6 feet between wheels! 
Monday was our first day of classes at Portland Pottery after our long break due to the pandemic. Classes are smaller, only 9 students, and everything is rearranged to allow 6 ft of distance, and - of course! - masks are required in the studio. Bottles of sanitizer and liquid soap are everywhere, and the garage door and windows are thrown open. Maine. like several other New England states, is going in the right direction on Covid-19 infections; the number of new cases has been falling for some time now. That said, within Maine, Cumberland County (where Portland Pottery is located) is still the hottest spot for contagion - unlike Kennebec where I live, which has few cases and no know community transmission. The students, bless them, were all co-operative in wearing masks and other precautions.

Am I a little anxious about being in close-ish quarters with groups of people I don't really know? Yeah, a little bit. Masks are imperfect, aerosol contagion, blah-blah-blah. I don't know if there are enough precautions in the world to make me feel 100% safe, but rationally we are about as safe here in Maine as it is possible to get, in the US anyway, and we can't stay in forever. Portland Pottery closed even before Governor Mills order to do so, and I trust if things go south they will do so again.

Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how do you feel about being back in class? Gotta say, I LOVE being back. I didn't know how much I missed my community until I was back in it. A beginning student made a breakthru in class yesterday (small, hard to describe - had to do with centering hand position) and I had forgotten how much I LOVE being a part of moments like that. So, yeah: happy and excited, in addition to anxious.

My art fairs are of course all still cancelled, and the stores that carry me are not, by & large, having a great season, so I am still not sure how this winter is going to work out, but for now we are ok; more than OK, moving forward. I did get tired of reminding people in public spaces to distance, so I designed a t-shirt:
6 feet distance please and thank you

I have an order to deliver (YAY) and a firing scheduled next week. I continue to keep the rest of the country in my thoughts as we all struggle towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Blood for Luck!

I've always heard that if you cut yourself loading, it's a blessing on the firing. Does that work for kiln maintenance, too? This was actually a very tiny cut, maybe an inch long, but I am offering this blood to the kiln gods in hopes of gaining their favor.

The other way to gain favor - or so they say - is to break something while firing. (A pot, you goofus! not a bone.) I'd rather have a little scratch! But chances are I'll also break a piece while loading.

I'm not actually loading today - I am cleaning the burner channels of accumulated soda glass. It's hard, gritty work on a hot day. I am thinking that when I rebuild my kiln - maybe next year (LOL I say that every year) I may place the soda ports higher. That would work better for spraying soda, instead of using the Gail Nichols soda salad method. This would be a big change, as the spray method results in a more even coating of soda - which is both the benefit and the drawback. (The other benefit is not having to chisel out built up soda glass from the burner channel! So I may be the tiniest bit biased right this second.)

Anyway! Just wanted to let you all know I am still here! Classes are expected to re-start at Portland Pottery the first week of July, about which I am both very excited and a little nervous. Masks required, of course; the way I see it masks are the difference between returning to some normalcy, and going right back to where we were in March. I am thinking of face masks as an accessory now. Let me recommend Etsy! (Here are some nice ones.) I didn't love Etsy as a seller but as a buyer it's great.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Hi Kellie, Here's a Big Bowl!

It's 12" in diameter - through it is slightly oval - and about 4" high. The egg is for scale, but I will include the egg if you want it!! 😄

The price is $60. Let me know if it will work for you, and thanks for asking. 🌝








Wednesday, June 3, 2020

You did it - Thank you!

Edited to add: Thank you all so much! I woke up to enough money for groceries! We're being told that Maine DOL should have our cases resolved within a week, so I have all I need. I really, really appreciate your help. 


...but I need help.

It feels wrong to even be thinking about myself & my family during this time when there are people who can't even safely jog or eat ice cream or sleep in their own beds. I know the world is full of much bigger problems than mine, and I wouldn't be asking if I could think of a better solution.

Here's my trouble: as is probably true in your area also, all my art fairs & sales events for the 2020 summer season are canceled. The stores that carry my work, if they are open, obviously don't have much in the way of customers. Even given all that, I was lucky. A few years ago, Portland Pottery asked if I would like to change from being a contractor to a regular employee. I did, and it has protected me during this time because I've been able to collect unemployment. (What normally happens is, the money I make from summer sales covers the winter months, too, in addition to my teaching income. One of the studios I teach at has gone under, so that income stream is gone for good...I don't know what is going to happen this winter. But I digress: my problem is much shorter term than that.)

So, anyway: we've been living on unemployment, and staying in communication with Portland Pottery about when it will be safe to re-open. Like everyone, I want to get back to work! But I don't want to put my student, myself, or my family at risk to do it.

Oops, digressed again. This is really about unemployment, and the Maine Department of Labor. Recently the MDOL discovered there were scammers amid the 100,000 unemployment claims they have processed since March. They froze everyone's payments while they search for the scammers. (I could make an argument that by doing so, they gave the scammers the heads' up to close their accounts & disappear, making it harder to find them, but I'm sure they had their reasons.) They told us it would be 48 hours, then 72; now they just say ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I know with 100% certainty that my claim will be okayed, once they get to it, because it is as straightforward as they come, but while we are waiting for that we still need to eat. 

Normally I would just put groceries on a credit card, because as I said I am positive they will restore my claim, but last week I lost my wallet...at the dump. By the time I realized it was missing & went back, it had (I assume) been bulldozed into the mountain of garbage. (Or possibly the mountain of rusted pointy things. There are several mountains at the landfill.) Still waiting for replacement cards to come, but the banks are busy fielding Covid-19 related calls, too.

Anyway.  I am so so sorry to even ask, but I need $100 for groceries. If you have money to spare, I would greatly appreciate any help. Even a couple dollars helps! If you don't - if your family is struggling, too - please don't even think about it! Once I have enough for groceries, I will delete this post.

You can contribute at this link: paypal.me/LoriKeenanWatts Again, that's if you can. Thank you all so much for an help you can give. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Satin Matte Black ^10 Reduction

Just storing this glaze recipe here so I can't lose it.

Black Satin Matte BATCH SIZE 5000
Percentages Grams
Custer Feld 20% 1000
Soda spar (minspar) 20% 1000
Whiting 2% 100
Dolomite 15% 750
Talc 13% 650
OM4 10% 500
Flint 325 20% 1000
Chrome Oxide Green 1% 50
Red Iron Oxide (domestic) 3% 150
Cobalt Oxide 3% 150
Manganese Dioxide 2% 100
   
   
   
   
Very reliable, forgiving, smooth, true black. Iron spotting will occur over brown claybodies. Can be runny in combination with other glazes.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

No Common Ground

This one hurts.

The Common Ground Country Fair has cancelled its live event, previously scheduled for September, and will hold a virtual fair instead. That's just the lectures & demos; there will be no craft sale.

While I am disappointed, even before this decision I was wondering if people would be willing to brave crowded public events as soon as September. The incompetence of the federal response to the pandemic - and it's so terrible I wonder if it is incompetence, because they couldn't have done any worse if they were trying - means we have not seen any real signs of slowing in the disease. Here in Maine things look better, because Covid-19 got here somewhat later than in other states, so our response was relatively earlier; and because the governor jumped right on it. But, as the meme goes, having some states on lockdown & not others is like having a peeing section in a pool.

The Common Ground has offered us the option of having our booth fees refunded or donating them to the organization; and while I would love to be that kind of generous, I don't feel I can be when I don't know when I will have work again. They also offered us the option of carrying over booth fees until next year, but didn't offer to waive jurying for 2020 acceptees. I think that would have been a nice gesture, since we already paid for jurying, and all of us out here are hurting, too - would have been nice to have one thing we could rely on, for when the world starts turning again.

Anyway. Hope your lockdown is going well. Stay safe, friends, and hang in there.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

A Casualty of the Pandemic

I just learned that Hallowell Clay Works, one of the studios I taught at pre-pandemic, is closing its doors. I imagine this is only one of many businesses that will shut down as a result of Covid-19, and I know people have lost far more precious things, but I am feeling it all the same.

Like all the best teaching studios, Hallowell Clay Works is a community. Clay has a really steep learning curve, and having supportive people around you to celebrate your successes - sometimes point out to you your successes! - and sympathize with the failures, helps you over that hump. I've never known anything that can knit a group of strangers into a group of friends faster than a pottery class.

Malley Weber, the proprietor, is a remarkable person: clever, creative, resourceful. This is not the first incarnation Hallowell Clay Works has had and I trust it will not be the last.

This is the first Covid-related change around me that isn't just hitting the pause button; this is the first thing that won't be the same as it was, whenever the crazy is over. Though it has been 5 weeks since we hit pause on our lives here, my head still swims with the speed of it: one day I was excited about all my new accounts & upcoming shows, delighted that I had the perfect number of classes - could basically write my own ticket on that score -and thinking about refinancing my house. The next day all that was over. Some of it didn't know it was over yet, but it was over - it just didn't have to good sense to fall down.

Ugh, this is a bummer of a post, when in fact I have a great deal to be thankful for: my own health, and my family's; I am stuck at home, true, but I have a studio to work in, and a garden, and all the books anyone could want. The money will start to get iffy eventually but we are ok for now.

I hope all of you are coping, staying well and staying safe. Just stay well. Just live. The rest we figure out later.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Bummer but no choice

Surprising exactly no one, yesterday I officially cancelled the 2020 Maine Pottery Tour. It had been obvious for a while that I needed to do it, but I kept hoping for a miracle. I can't tell you how bummed I am about this! 2020 seemed to be gearing up to be the best year yet for the Maine Pottery Tour - we had more studio than ever, and were getting some really great publicity. I was going to be on the radio, on Maine Public's Maine Calling program!

All that went out the window.

This fucking virus. I am 100% on board with the stay-home approach, but that doesn't mean I am not vastly disappointed. It doesn't make sense to be angry at a microbe - it's just doing what it does. It's like being angry at the weather. But emotions don't always make sense, so yes, I am angry at corona. Angry, and worried, and downright scared.

I got my jury results from the Saint Louis Art Fair - I was actually kind of relieved to get a rejection, as I feel like an acceptance into such a great show might have jinxed the nation, causing the pandemic to extend all the way to September. But I was rejected, so HEY UNIVERSE, YOU CAN QUIT WITH THE COVID-19 NOW.

Anyway. I hope all of you are staying home & staying safe. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Year of Yes OH WAIT

True Story: In 1996 I had a spectacular year. I won a big grant, I published an article in Ceramics Monthly, and I got into every show I applied for. I bought a house, I was hired to teach at the Northern Clay Center, I had two solo shows and took on 10 new wholesale accounts. Everything was coming up roses and daffodils, everything I touched turned to gold; I couldn't lose.

I may be gilding this a bit, in memory - but it was a hell of a winning streak. Then my life fell apart, from the marriage outward. The marriage was probably dead in 1997, but it took 3 years to fall down (and another for us to bury it.) During those 3 years I had far less time and energy to devote to business, and while I kept making and selling pots, and I kept teaching classes, I really wasn't able to build on the successes I had in golden 1996. The culmination of the collapse was when I gave up, ended the marriage, sold the house, and moved back to Maine, where I essentially had to start over again. In spite of that gloomy sentence, this was a good thing! I established my studio, got a teaching gig or two, met Doug, bought my house...put my life back together, remembering to build in a lot more laughter and joy, this time.

But, professionally, I never had another year like 1996, when I just couldn't lose.

Until now.

Who knows why? (Random, I guess? But I am tempted to credit my 19 for 2019 goal list.) For whatever reason, 2020 was shaping up to be another Year of Yes. All the doors were opening, all the lights were turning green. Remembering 1996 I had a bit of superstitious dread: what shit would the universe throw at me this time?

Although I admit I did not have "global pandemic" on my bingo card.

So, the Year of Yes has morphed into the year of hold on, just hold on. My classes have been suspended, some sales events cancelled, stores are OBVIOUSLY not selling as much. I have postponed the pottery tour, and I am still in hopes that by June we will be returning to normalcy...we'll see how that works out. Doug & I are hunkered down for a long spell of isolation. It's not so bad together, but of course we are worried about money - us and everyone. In Maine the governor & legislature are working on unemployment packages for people like us - if this had to happen, thank God it happened under Governor Mills, and not her predecessor. We aren't getting any leadership from the federal government, so the cities and states have to step up.

Anyway. At least I can make pots, mix glazes, and do kiln maintenance. I've also been journaling this experience - if you're bored, you can read about it here.

Be well. Stay home.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Things to do while Social Distancing

Though I remain moderately freaked out by the speed of current events, like everyone else, I am muddling through. Both my teaching gigs, Portland Pottery and Hallowell Clay Works, have put classes on hold. I fully support those decisions; which is not to say it doesn't suck, because it does!

I'm getting my mind around it, though. I am lucky, in one way: even if I can't work my teaching jobs, I can still work in my studio. My to do list for the next 2 weeks:

  1. Replenish glazes
  2. Rebuild bag wall
  3. Grind kiln shelves
  4. Finish orders
  5. Make fun pots
  6. Reclaim clay
  7. Make soap
 I have lots of projects around the house I can work on also - notably it's getting warm enough to start spiffying up the deck & the yard. Maybe finish painting the bathroom!

Here is how I am thinking of it: in wartime, soldiers risk life & limb, and they do it far away from their homes & families. All we have to do is stay home and chill. Yes, the money part sucks, but we can make that up later. For now, staying out of public spaces is the best way to keep ourselves & our more vulnerable neighbors, friends, and loved ones safe.

Be well, clay friends, & keep washing your hands. We'll get through this.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Pottery Tour Postponed

I want to post this everywhere I can, to get the word out:
Due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus, and following guidance from the Maine CDC to socially isolate for a period, we have decided to postpone the Maine Pottery Tour until June 6 & 7. This was not an easy decision but we are prioritizing health & safety. 
Eternal optimist that I am (when I am not in the grip of grindylows and dementors) I immediately jumped to the silver lining: my garden will be so much more beautiful for my guests! And now I have 5 extra weeks to get the word out.

I am optimistic, but not stupid - I know that epidemiologists' projections may be wrong, and the outbreak may drag on longer than expected. I will review this decision in May; if things still seem too risky, I will cancel the event. But we'll cross that bridge if we come to it.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

8 Weeks Out

On Leap Day I saw a crocus. Not blooming, yet; just the pale tip of growth poking through the frozen earth. A sign of spring! It seems far off, still, but in truth it will be here before we know it.

In fact there are only 8 weeks left before the Maine Pottery Tour! I organize the tour every year (well, mostly) so I know: that is a very short amount of time for all the stuff that needs to be done! We have 50 studios on the tour this year - more than ever! - and there are postcards to order, maps to create, and signs to distribute. That's in addtion to my own studio event to plan - I'll be doing a kiln opening Saturday morning May 2, have plates available for people to paint, and a tabletop potter's wheel if anyone wants to give it a whirl, so to speak - not to mention making pots for the sale part of the event.

Whew.

I don't have full maps ready yet, but if you are looking to plan your pottery road trip, we do have several new studios on the tour this year. Here's a list, with web links, if you want to check them out:

Common Street Arts - Waterville
Top of the Hill Pottery- Augusta
Jeffrey Lipton Pottery - Litchfield
Dragon's Breath Pottery - Warren
Maine-ly Pottery - Belfast
Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts - Newcastle
EC Ceramics - Blue Hill
Tim Christensen Porcelain - Portland
Adrian King Pottery - Portland
Bentley Pottery - Portland
Heather Abt - Portland
Muddy Toes Pottery- New Gloucester
MEC Pottery - Cape Neddick

Thursday, February 27, 2020

New Rollers, New Classes, New Stores!

Hello, yeah, it's been awhile...Not much, how 'bout you?

Whenever there's a long pause between posts, I get emails asking after my well-being. I suppose this is because I have been open about my struggles with depression. I love you guys for being such kind & caring people, to someone you've never met!  But, not to worry! - in this case I have simply been busy in the studio.  I have three new stores carrying Fine Mess Pottery! Remember Dotopia? Buyers seem to like it. I have three new accounts! I've delivered to Lisa-Marie's Made in Maine,
and will be delivering to two others shortly. In addition I have two sales meetings scheduled for spring. I've stopped making the ask, for now, because I want to make sure I don't over-book myself: a nice problem to have.

New classes begin next week! I have four at Portland Pottery - I think all of those are full - and two at Hallowell Clay Works, where I think I have room in my Monday night beginner's class.

Other new stuff: I made myself a couple of rollers!

While I do enjoy manufactured rollers - MKM wooden rollers are such beautiful little objects! - the resulting pattern, with its perfect regularity shouts "machine made" from across the room. This isn't always bad! The wheel is a machine, and leaves a similar unmistakable quality. I often enjoy the tension of crisp precision vibrating against the squishy, human qualities of handbuilt work. Sometimes, though, I want a pattern that millions of other potters don't also have, or a pattern with a softer quality more harmonious with the handmade vibe.

I demonstrated making rollers for my handbuilding class last week. This week they came out of the kiln, and we got to see what patterns they make! It's funny but you can't always envision what the roller will do, so even though I made these myself, they are still a surprise to me. I was pleased with my results.

Looky looky! 👀


Anyway! Thanks to all for asking about me, I am doing so well it scares me! (Moron that later.) Now I've gotta get dressed & head to class. XO L

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...)

Anyway.

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 info@finemesspottery.com 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!