Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Mixing Up Trailing Slip: A How-To Video


There's a new post for Pottery patrons up at my Patreon page! It shows you how to mix up trailing slip using a smoothie blender, some porcelain, and a deflocculent. This here is a sneak peek; subscribe at the $5/month level to see the whole thing. Thanks in advance! 

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Shop Update June 2024


New pots in the Fine Mess Pottery online shop! Check out this preview slideshow for a promo code good for 10% off through the month of June. 

Now I'm off to clean the studio before the next making cycle begins. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

The Luck of the Draws


I learned something today: I learned that I have been using way more soda than I needed to. Also, draw rings are fun! 

These are the 3 rings I drew from my current firing, which will probably reach temperature while I am typing this post - so if I disappear for a minute, forgive, I've just gone to check the kiln. 

They are in order of draw, left to right. When I drew the first, I was shocked but how shiny it was, since I had only sprayed once into each port - I expected it to be almost dry. With this new information, I drrew the 2nd before the sprayer was half emptied. I was tempted to stop then, because the ring has a satiny, orange-peel surface; but I couldn't believe - despite evidence! - that I could possibly have applied enough soda. Besides, the front of this kiln always gets a heavier spray, so for goos measure I sprayed twice more into each of the rear ports. I left the kiln burn clear, then pulled the third ring - and saw the first faint evidence of pitting, a sure sign it's time to stop. I still had nearly half the canister of soda solution. 


^10 is soft, not quite half over. I wish I had another ring to draw! I'm definitely doing that every time now. What mainly stopped me in the past - well, besides basic laziness, and anyway, I didn't think I needed to, because I was getting good results - I thought it would be hard to see the top cones. that was no problem at all! 

By the Hum of the Burners


I've really dropped the ball with keeping my website updated. I am well aware that search engines will regard a site as abandoned if it doesn't get updated regularly - & they have a much more frequent idea of "regularly" than I do! If a site hasn't been updated in a month, it starts to fall in ranking, making it harder for people to find it. Last week saw 27 visits to my website. This is actually better than I expected considering there's been no new content for like 2 years! And also no meta tags, nothing for a search engine to latch onto. More than half of these came from google.This tells me making time to keep the website current is worth the effort - if 27 people visited when I put in zero effort, how many would I get if I actually tried?

The last update was so long ago that the cover image no longer represented my main body of work. It's been so long that I had to relearn how to do it - & I'm not even writing code, I use a (now pretty old) software called Kompozer to update my site. To avoid this in future, I'm implementing a new approach: when the kiln is firing, I'm updating. Updates don't have to be major to intrigue the web-crawling bots that search engines use! I changed the cover photo & added a link to my Patreon page and my Instagram; I added a link to a signup form for my newsletter, The Messy Minute. (I tried to embed a signup form but nope! that is not happening.) I reminded myself where to put meta tags, and typed in words like pottery, ceramics, handmade, stoneware, sodafired, Maine. I think of these like paint primer: you can't see them so you're tempted to skip them, but they make a huge difference in your results. 

Next - though maybe not today - I want to add an FAQ page. For the obvious reasons, of course, but also because Frequently Asked Questions are frequently googled questions, and people searching for things like "Is handmade pottery food safe?" are the kinds of people I want visiting. This is a suggestion from my friend Milly's Guide to Marketing Art & Crafts Online. Blogger is being stupid about creating this link, but you can find it here:

Anyway! Time to go look at the cones! The kiln is in its climbing reduction, so doesn't require a lot of attention, so after I peer through the spyhole, I think I'll lie in the hammock & read the new Longmire novel. I'm interested in your ideas about keywords or other strategies you use to make your website a better business tool. Comment if you have ideas for me! XO L

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Firing Update

Kiln is loaded, cones & draw rings in position, door is bolted! We're candling tonight & tomorrow is the big day! (Sorry, I know I should be used to it by now but firing is still a big deal here at Fine Mess Pottery! 😀)
I'll be using less soda & cooler water, and employing draw rings to get a picture in real time of how much glaze is accumulating in the kiln. 

Unloading will be Wednesday AM - which I will be doing live on my Patreon page.  Join us, it will be fun! The photography always takes longer than I think it will, but the shop update should be live but next weekend. 


Thursday, June 6, 2024

Rings of Fire

My loopy little friends

Since I built my first soda kiln in 2010, I kinda got out of the habit of using draw rings. I had the old kiln so dialed-in, so I didn't need them, then it seemed like too much trouble after we built the new kiln. 

My last firing, though? was not great. Everything was gray, and there was some pitting & blistering of the soda glass. The pitting is its own problem - Jeff Zamek has some thoughts on that - but the gray coloration is simply too much soda. Though I (obviously!) weigh out the material so I use the same amount each time, last firing I used my new, snazzy sprayer, which unlike the old one was able to spray all the liquid into the kiln, instead of leaving a few inches in the bottom. Also, without thinking I used hot water, which can hold more soda in solution, so I may have inadvertently sprayed more soda into the kiln than usual. 
I have some ideas of how to correct my unhappy result, but instead of just guessing & hoping, I'm going to employ a technique used by smarter potters than I am: draw rings! These small, looped-shaped bits of clay are placed near a spyhole so they can be drawn out during the soda process, to assess how heavy a coat of glaze has accumulated. I actually have not used draw ring since graduate school, so this should be interesting.
They are cooling in the bisque right now, along with the pots for the firing. I plan to make a little video of this process for my Patreon page - click here to subscribe

Monday, May 27, 2024

Slab Built Coffee Pour Over Cone!


The necessary proportions for a slab built cone are the same as those for the  thrown version, but getting there obviously requires different steps & a different set of skills. I've got a new post up new post up for Patrons of my Patreon page detailing the process step-by-step. 
This one is for paid members, but there's lots of free content, too. Mosey over & check it outnull

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Hi, I'm Lori, Your Friendly Neighborhood Potter

After ditching the Nazi-infested social media site formerly known as twitter, like a lot of folks, I searched for a new text-based app to take its place. I tried a few & settled on Threads, an imperfect but passable substitute - the main thing it has to recommend it over similar sites is the level of activity. 

I find myself in the art-entrepreneur corner of Threads, where there's an ongoing conversation about making and selling art while maintaining your vision, your sanity, and the roof over your head. The differences in priorities, the different strategies...I find it all fascinating. Since a lot of what I have written about here for the past tumpty-ump years is about the business of art, and my clay & business journey, I wanted to introduce myself to my new friends on Threads. 

I've been a potter since before some of you were born - took my first class in 1987. I've worked production & had various non-pottery jobs over the years but since 2011, it's been all clay, all the time. I teach classes Portland Pottery for some of my income, and the rest is selling soda-fired ware. 

I want to say that I know that I am lucky, in more ways than I can count. I am able-bodied (so far!) & have never felt any urge to have children. To some people that might sound distinctly unlucky, but if I had wanted children, I'm not sure I could have chosen clay as a profession. Especially in the early years - which would have coincided with my childbearing years - the income stream was too unreliable. When I only had myself  - & later my husband - to consider, a rice-&-eggs month was no big deal. Oh, what's that, we're out of oil? The wholesale check should be arriving tomorrow, turn on the space heater & put on a sweater! No big, we could ride out any calamity, at least of the financial kind. If there I'd been responsible for a child, it would have been a different story. & there were a few sticky spots like that!  

Another way that I've been lucky is I bought my place before prices went insane. Granted I was willing - 3 times! - to purchase in what were considered less-desirable places to live, but that's been the economic role of artists forever. We move into economically challenged areas, & by our presence make them fun & cool. Those are harder to find now, but not impossible - living someplace that wasn't my first choice was a price I was willing to pay. 

I've also been lucky to have pottery teaching gigs basically every step of the way. In Minnesota it was the Northern Clay Center & the Bloomington Art Center; here in Maine, I've been at Portland Pottery for more than 20 years. I teach 5 classes a week. Could I make a living without the teaching bit? Yes, but there's no question it would be a lot harder. Part of why I can do stuff like refuse custom work is because I have that net to catch me. More importantly, though, I don't want to! Everybody needs community, and the PP studio provides me with that. 

I hope it doesn't sound too arrogant to say it hasn't all been luck. That's where priorities come in. I've been willing to tolerate some of the discomfort & inconvenience that comes with a spotty income stream. I've driven ugly, unreliable vehicles & worn almost exclusively secondhand clothes. My furniture is all secondhand, too. I cook instead of getting take out. My floors have needed to be refinished since I bought the house. I do almost all the repairs. We take camping vacations. 

All this has been worth it to me, to be a potter. I decided early on that, since we spend SO much of our waking lives at work, my job should be something I enjoy doing - and that that was more important than fancy vacations or flawless flooring. That might seem obvious to some folks, but so often I find people who say they want to be a full-time artist but aren't willing to give up any of the nice aspects of conventional employment. So, my friend from the arts-entrepreneur section of Threads, that's a thing to think about: what are you willing to do without, to bring this dream within reach? 

Nice to meet you! Looking forward to more conversations about the business of art. 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

My YouTube Discovery!

 You're gonna laugh, because you've probably known this for years, but it's a revelation to me: hashtags make ALL the difference on YouTube! 

Anecdata: I made a throwing video last week, the remnant of a live wheelcam event. I don't know if anyone watched live - there's probably some way to discover that, but I don't know how - but in the days afterward, it gained 2000 views. That's a lot, for me - it's an order of magnitude more than any other video I've posted, and some of those have been up for years. Greatly encouraged, a week later I made another. 

It got 24 views. And four of those were me. 

At first I threw up my hands: social media, whaddaya gonna do? Sometimes it rains, sometimes it doesn't. But it nagged at me, & I ruminated on it, & remembered: the first one, I chose some hashtags. I didn't really think anything of it, just did it because I was prompted to. I didn't do so for the next one, not for any reason, just clicked by the prompt. I went back yesterday & edited the post to include hashtags, and now it has 1.2k views! The hashtags are not especially clever or amazing, just stuff like #pottery and #potters wheel. 

Anyway! Just wanted to share that here. Part of our journey here has always been the business of art, and in this-here 21st century that includes social media. I don't have a great grasp on it - the best I got is "post a lot more than you think you need to" - but when I learn something, I share it with you. 

Here's the video! This might not be the audience for it, as it's just me making pitchers, and most of my readers are potters - watching someone throw is not as fascinating for us as it is for other people. But in case you want to check it out: 

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Tending My Brand Garden

I read this phrase today and it made me laugh: "tending your brand garden." Not sure why it was funny to me...maybe because I am far lazier as a gardener than as a small business owner. In fact I barely have time to garden, because I am a small business owner. 

Nevertheless it's a pretty good metaphor! One I feel I am conquering lately - a pretty rare feeling for me. I'm photographing, I'm writing, I'm making videos, I'm posting, I'm interacting, I'm getting responses! I'm watering my brand flowers or whatever. Now I need to do all that & also make more stuff. And also teach my classes. 

Sometimes I think what we do is almost literally impossible - except some people are doing it! Are they just that amazing, are they just lucky, or is it an illusion that looks quite different from the inside? I suspect that last; it's possible they also feel like they are dancing as fast as they can, even while they  make it look effortless. 
Anyway! Tend your brand garden, even if it's all dandelions. 

Oh, speaking of watering! There's a new post on my Patreon, free to all members. Check it out! If I get to 20 paid subscriber I will publicly do a happy dance. 

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake


When your 90-year-old mother asks for cheescake for Mother's Day, you make a cheesecake. It's the law. It might even be in the Bible. I know this is not remotely pottery related! I couldn't even bake it in a stoneware pan - you need a springform pan for cheesecake. but I made a cheesecake, it was amazing, and I want to share it with you. 

Chocolate Almond Cheesecake


  • 1/2 package of chocolate wafer cookies
  • 3 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
You'll also need cooking spray
  • 3 packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels, melted in double boiler
Preheat oven the 325°.
Grind cookies in food processor to coarse crumbs. Melt butter in microwave (takes about 30 -45 seconds) Mix crumbs, butter, brown sugar, and chopped almonds well in batter bowl. Spray interior of springform pan with cooking spray. Press mixture into bottom of springform pan. Bake 10 minutes, then remove from over & place on cooling rack. 

Meanwhile, put softened cream cheese in bowl & beat with stand mixer or hand mixer until creamy. Add sugar & beat until uniform beige color. Add eggs, milk, and almond extract; beat until well blended. Mix in melted chocolate. 
Pour into crust.
Bake at 325° for 35-40 minutes (at least, that's what the original recipe said. In my oven, it was more like 45 minutes.) until the center barely jiggles. Turn off oven, crack open door but leave cheesecake inside for an hour or more, to cool slowly. 
Cover with foil & place in refrigerator to chill overnight.

Enjoy. I plan to have the last piece for breakfast! 

PS! I meant to mention, I swapped out the amaretto for almond extract, because we're an alcohol-free household. Tastes exactly the same!
Just seeing if you're paying attention. 😄

Friday, May 10, 2024

My First Live Wheelcam Event

Many people love to watch potters throw! With that in mind, I did my first live wheelcam event today, throwing bowls & mugs for about 40 minutes. You can see this video below, but if you'd like to get invites to future wheelcam events, subscribe to my Patreon page at the $5/month level. Bonus: if I get enough subscribers I can buy a quieter wheel!