Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Half-Day of Reflection

What was supposed to be the Week of Reflection turned into the week of interjection. viral infection, and house of correction. (Okay, not that last, so much -- but it is the blue moon, and the last day of the Noughties. Anything could happen.) Usually I take the last week of the year to consider what worked and what didn't over the last annum, and to decide on a course for the next. I've got to squeeze all that into a few hours now, and still have time for the party tonight! Just kiddding, I know that the calendar is an artificial construct, and that next week can be the Week of Reflection just as effectively.

Still, might as well get a start on it. One thing that I did right this year was to create a spreadsheet to record income and expenses as they happened. My income is so spotty as to seem random: checks arrive, or else they don't, and once they are deposited, who remembers where they came from? I do keep the physical reciepts for expenses, so I see the totals at tax time, but it's much more helpful to see them month-by-month. Taxes will be much easier this year, and I can see where the money is going, where it's coming from, and where it's not coming from but could be.
I haven't been in the studio much this week, either. I need to, if only to get some photos up here. Blocks of text just are not doinf it for me.

On a side note, I got very excited about a headline I read: Neolithic stoneware found in Southern Tibet. Wow, I thought, that is huge! How did they fire it? Who knew they had the technology to reach such high temperatures in the Neolithic period? Yeah, well, turns out they are just talking about stone tools. Important, yes, but nothing to change our understanding of the whole period. Rats.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

One For the Magic Bean Buyers

“If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean-buyer.
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire,
for we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in! Come in!” -- Shel Silverstein

I am a dreamer, yes, but a dreamer with an extraordinarily hard head; which inhibits me during magic-bean transactions. Tom Robbins once wrote, "You should never hesitate to trade your cow for a handful of magic beans." I'm always all, "But I might need this cow! Do those beans come with any sort of a written guarantee? Anyway I never purchase magic off the internet, it's unwise."
It's the week between Christmas and New Year's, my favorite of the year; a time for quiet reflection and for planning. One of the things I ponder is the best direction to take Fine Mess Pottery. The plans that I made last year worked out well: I made more stuff and as a result I sold more stuff. I can't help but wonder how far I could push that equation.  If I trade my cow - the IPTOG - for the magic beans of full-time self-employment, how high might that beanstalk grow?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Advice From a Pro

Speaking of sales, or the lack thereof, Minnesota potter Bob Briscoe once told me, "If you?re in your studio every day, making the best pots you know how to make, there's no point in asking if the work is the problem." (Potters reading this will probably already know of Bob Briscoe [if not, here's the link], and will know sales are not a problem for him, so naturally it was me we were talking about.) I'm proud to say Bob owns a few of my pieces. He was very kind and supportive of me when I lived in Minnesota. I took his advice to heart, and though I may have trouble bragging it up, I never question whether my work is good. I also do not change what I make in an effort to sell more, as, in my experience, that only results in less good ware. No deal.

I recently asked the advice of another pro: a guy who has made his living, and a very good one, selling insurance products. We talked a bit about the difference between sales, marketing, and promotion, and that was helpful and thought-provoking; and then I asked him for one concrete, immediate thing I could say to improve my acumen. Here's his suggestion, good for when you are gallery-sitting or at an art fair:
You know how you always ask customers, "Can I help you?" and they say, "I'm just looking"? That's usually the end of the conversation, or you might just say, "Let me know if I can help you find anything," or whatever. My friend suggested that instead, I should respond, "I've got something to show you." And then show them something. They probably won't buy it, but maybe they will then tell you more about what they are shopping for. In any case a conversation has started.

I haven't had an opportunity to try this - my next gallery-sitting day is the 3rd of January - but I plan to take it for a test drive. If any of you use this, come back here and let me know how it went.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Marketing for Shy People

It must be my Yankee upbringing; I have a hell of a time doing self-promotion. I can read all the books in the world about marketing and sales, but it doesn't silence the little voice telling me that blowing one's own horn is tacky and crass. With that in mind, I have brainstormed a list of potential slogans that seem modest enough to sneak by my inner critic. Let me know what you think.
Fine Mess Pottery: It doesn't suck!

Minnesota version: Fine Mess Pottery: It could be worse.

Fine Mess Pottery, because, why not?

Fine Mess Pottery: Producing fine stoneware since you were playing with little cars. (Whaddaya think, too aggressive?)

Beats a Sharp Stick in the Eye.

And, finally:
Fine Mess Pottery: Because you gotta buy 'em something.

I dunno -- still needs work

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thrown, Cut, and Assembled Oblong Bowl

I've been reading about the Handmade Pledge: "I pledge to buy handmade for myself and my loved ones, and request that others do the same for me." In principle I think this is a capital idea, but in practice...

Well, here's my problem. I've got a big list and a small budget, and handmade items are, rightfully, a little spendier than other products. There are a number of people on the list for whom I will be lucky to choose something they won't hate that is within my price range, without placing a "handmade" limitation on it as well. My mom, for example, lives in a condo and doesn't want or need any more stuff -- except her crockpot just gave up the ghost. That is super convenient for me, as it is within my budget, and an item that she actually wants and will use. It seems mean-spirited to say, "Nope, gotta be handmade, even if it's not what she wants." Or my FIL, who really doesn't seem to like anything except M&M collectibles.  My MIL, on the other hand -- I found a lovely batter beater for her by artisan David Pollock at Kennebec River Artisans,  whose work is in the tiny little photo above. I hope to have a better photo soon, when I can find my dratted camera. 

Remember, I'm a potter. I have vested interest in persuading people to buy handmade. And I can't keep a totally-handmade pledge myself. So I propose an alteration to the handmade pledge: let's suggest that people buy at least one handmade item as a gift this holiday season. If everyone bought  just one thing this year, and next, that alone would cause a skyrocket in the sales of handmade, and would get people shopping in stores and on sites that sell handmade.  They will see things they like themselves, and see how much more fun it is than going to WalMart. 

So, here goes:

"I pledge to buy at least one handmade item for a loved one this holiday season, and hope I will receive one or more handmade gifts from my loved ones."

Let the shopping begin. Or, you know, continue.


Thursday, December 17, 2009


These embryonic cruets have yet to sprout spouts, handles or stoppers. They have recently emerged from their larval stage, which resembles a squooshy baseball. As adults they will mate for life, formimg pair bonds which only break when the cruets themselves do.

Mighty Cold in Central Maine!

Seems like a good day to take one of these mugs for a test drive. Hot cocoa, anyone?

Best Hot Cocoa Recipe

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup hot water
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups milk
1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix cocoa, sugar, water and salt in a saucepan. Stir constantly over medium heat until boiling. Continue stirring. Allow to boil for 1 minute.

Stir in the milk and heat, but do not boil. Remove from heat and add vanilla; blend well. Serve immediately.
I like mine with a little sprinkle of cinnamon. 
Makes 4 servings.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Make Pots - Make Opportunities!

I am noticing something both challenging and very cool: every time I have extra inventory, an opportunity appears to sell more inventory.

Well, I don't know about "appears." Sometimes it just appears, as when a student opened a fine crafts boutique last summer and approached me about selling there. Sometimes it comes about because I pursue it - which I would not do if I didn't have the inventory on hand. Whichever way, taking advantage of a lucky happenstance or creating an opportunity, the key is inventory. If I don't have pots, I have to decline offers to do shows or place my work. And I certainly won't go around trying to sell pots I don't have!

So, though I have made strides in this area this year, my goal for next year is a re-run: make more stuff. This is a very good thing, because what I really want to do is make stuff anyway. The challenge last year was to prioritize studio time over things are immediately demanding but less important in the long run. This year it gets a little tougher: since I've already cut out most of the obvious time-wasters (yeah, yeah...I said "most," okay?) now I have to focus on re-prioritizing the things that all really are important, and on removing inefficiency from my process. Figuring out how to do that is on my list for the rest of 2009.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Just to See Me Fall

♫ Oh, Mother say a prayer for me,
Etsy's back in town
It won't be easy.
Don't let it near me, don't let it touch me.
Don't let it seize me.♫

I spent about four hours in the Etsy forums yesterday, the most wasteful waste of time I can think of. I also sold a pair of salt & pepper shakers...Etsy's like a bad boyfriend, pulling you back in just when you think you are over him.

♫My friends will all say, she's gone again...♫

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Two Butter Dishes

Edit: (If you are shopping for butter dishes, check out these!)

Butter dish A is a deeper blue.

Butter dish B has a side ruffle.
The owner of Attrezzi, a kitchen goods store in Portsmouth, NH, contacted me recently to replace a butter dish a customer bought there some time ago and later broke. I am not taking custom orders anymore, but this wasn't really a custom order: I am going to make butter dishes no matter what, and some of them are going to be blue. So I was happy to oblige.
I made three, but one had a glaze flaw. (Too bad, too, as it was otherwise a very nice piece.) Which would you choose?

I Guess I Never Learn

Remember last winter when I was all excited about the possibilities of Etsy? Well, I promoted my butt off, re-listed often, endlessly improved my photos and re-wrote my listings and...nothing. I eventually got disgusted and just let all my listings expire, after a particularly nauseating forum thread (a recurring theme, actually) which claimed that if you don't do well on Etsy, it's because you let yourself get discouraged and think negative thoughts. Hello, backwards much? I have since started listing on Etsy again, with a promise to myself that I am only going to give it the level of attention it deserves. Of course, I also promised myself I'd stay out of the forums, but...

I just know I'm gonna regret it, but I opened an Artfire shop, after reading in the Etsy forums that sellers who don't do well on Etsy sometimes find a more welcoming audience on Artfire. I find the Artfire site a little bit clumsy to navigate, and there isn't much chance I'll get sucked into the forums, as I can't find them. 

Don't think I am neglecting the real world, where I actually sell pots sometimes. I am just looking for more exposure, and I happen to have the inventory to do it right now. I won't obsess about it. 


Friday, December 11, 2009

Life is Short.

Overdress for it! I wore a red feather boa to last night's Portland Pottery Holiday Party, because where else are you gonna wear a red feather boa? I actually had a choice of boas - I own a black one, too - but red went better with my dress. The place was mobbed but I didn't have as much time to visit as I would have liked - I volunteered for the checkout table this time, and there was a line a mile long.  Students, even quite advanced ones, tend to undercharge for their work, so there were lots of great bargains available. (Still are -- the show is up until Sunday at 4.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pick of the Litter

Sometimes the kiln gods really do me a favor.
I rarely keep my own pieces. I want to sell them, of course, and I get satisfaction out of knowing they are out in the world, nudging the quality of someone's life ever-so-slightly in the positive direction. Also, I think there is a danger in falling in love with your best pieces, that the potter may get sort of stuck in one mode. I'm not a fanatic, however, and I have to drink my coffee out of something, so if a piece emerges from the kiln flawed but not fatally so, I often keep it.

Upon unloading the soda kiln, I immediately noticed this mug. I had been conservative with the Owen Oribe, as it had come out rather pebbly in a couple of firings (still don't know what's up with that, but I think it is related to bisque temperature.) I had no trouble with that glaze in this firing, however, and in fact it came out exactly as I always hope it will - matte green-to-black where it is out of the direct path of the soda, glassy turquoise where it is in - and this mug was the only all-over Oribe piece in the kiln. I was so pleased...and then I turned it over, and saw a big star crack on the bottom. Actually a few mugs cracked like that this time. Bottoms too thin? I don't know. (Weigh in if you do, or if you have thoughts on the matter.) 

The good news is, the crack doesn't go through, and it doesn't leak. I can't sell it - it's a really big crack, and I suspect a couple of turns in the microwave will do it in - so I guess I'll have to keep it!

Forgive the crap photo (no, the mug is not that blurry in real life!) When I shoot the other pots from the firing, I will set up the tripod and do it up right, but it's too dark today to get really good shots anyway, so I made it optional. 

Update: I replaced the blurry photo with a better one. Sun on snow makes perfect light!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Camped Out Kilnside

Thursday was a late night by the kiln, due to the car fuckery that prevented me from candling. But it was unseasonably warm, and I know how to make myself comfortable during the long wait between 05 & cone 8. The book is A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Finally A Firing!!

For real this time! And, yes, I did fire both kilns at the same time. It got only slightly hairy when it came time to put them into body reduction, as the kilns are located about a quarter mile away from each other, so I was jogging back and forth to watch each spyhole. One kiln is significantly tighter and faster than the other, though, so it was out of body reduction while I was still watching 012 in the other. 

I was blessed with a warm sunny day (in December! in Maine!) but you can see from the photo that the outdoor kiln needed to shed a lot of water due to our recent heavy rains. 

We are leaving town today to visit the in-laws, so i won't be unloading these until Sunday; both firings seemed picture-perfect, so I can hardly stand the wait!

I also had time to take a lot of photos, and, as anyone who has been there knows, Watershed is loaded with interesting subjects. I'm posting those, one a day, at my other blog, if you are interested. 

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Too Many Poozers

"Sometimes you are winners. Sometimes you are losers. We NEVER can win against so many Poozers." Dr. Seuss, I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew.

I ought to change the name of this blog to Whine Mess Pottery; seems like I do more of that than firing lately. I was going to write an entry called "Finally a Firing -- Two in Fact." I spent the day at Watershed yesterday, loading two kilns, a stoneware and a soda. It was dark by the time I got the pilots lit, but I was feeling like one cool Potterchik -- two kilns at one time! 

I called my dog (who looooves Watershed more than anywhere on earth) back from his wanderings, loaded my buckets and towels, climbed in the car and turned the key. Nothing. Not even lights! Bozo the Clown on a stick, what was I gonna do now? Luckily Reeder, the facilities manager, lives on site and was able to jump start my car, but I had to go back on turn off the pilots, as I was not at all sure I'd be able to get back in the morning. 

So. Here I am, forty miles from my loaded kilns. Taking an educated guess, hubby has gone (on foot, in the icy drizzle, as - surprise! the car again won't start) to the auto parts store to get a belt for the alternator. And I am going to set up a tarp over the car, so we can work on it in (relative) comfort. Arrrgh! 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Urn, Shrouded in Glaze

I have finally reached the last stage of work on this custom order. Strangely, I found that I was - I don't know - superstitious? about photographing the urn while Allegro's markings were visible. It seemed too intimate, as though I were invading her privacy. She is gone, of course, and this is a bit of ceramic material, so maybe I am completely silly. In any case I chose to respect the feeling. 

It is low-fire, so that I could control the markings precisely, and I used Amaco's Superclear, a lead glaze, for the topcoat. I just thought I'd soon be in need of an urn myself if this piece were ruined by bubbly or cloudy glaze. One thing about those lead glazes: you can count on them. It's gonna be a perfectly clear, glassy surface. And it seems quite unlikely that it would ever be used for food. 

I hope my customer likes it. 

Before the Firing

I feel way organized! Four days before the firing, I've made cone packs, finished glazing and mixed soda salad, wadding, & door mud. Today I am starching and packing the pots for transport, and dreaming of the day when I can skip this step, and do the glaze firing in my kiln. 

Of course, this all happened because I was originally planning to fire this weekend, but when the weather turned crappy (miles beyond merely crappy, actually: 35 degrees and pouring rain, the worst possible weather for loading and firing), I changed my plans. This is yet another example of my poor business acumen: it's the holiday season! Those pots could be in stores, where people could be buying them! Every day that I put off firing is a day when someone buys something else for their loved one for Christmas! If I were a smart businesswoman, I would have put my personal discomfort behind the opportunity to sell more stuff.

Guilty as charged, and I actually do feel a tiny bit guilty about it. On the other hand, I am better prepared this year, so my existing accounts are sufficiently stocked; they will certainly not run out before this load is delivered. 

And I am warm and dry, with a cat on my lap. Cross your fingers for good weather Wednesday and Thursday!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

That's a Stretch

Now that I am a lady of a certain age (45 to be exact, although you could mistake me for 43, easy)I find that my back tweaks more easily. I've always been told that wheelthrowing is bad for the back, but that doesn't seem to be the trouble for me. I throw sitting down with my right foot on the pedal, my left leg bent so my foot is a little behind me, and my arms close to my body. I never seem to feel any discomfort after a day of throwing.
Glazing, now, with all its bending and lifting (those five gallon bucket -- whoa!) can cause some aches, as can teaching my classes. Beginning classes are especially tough, as after my demonstrations, I am constantly kneeling, bending, and reaching to correct hand positions. Also, the studio where the classes are conducted has concrete floors: great for easy clean up, but hard to stand on for hours.
I've found that what I call "half-assed and homemade" yoga helps more than I would have believed! Actually I usually call it "stretching" to my students, as the word "yoga" sounds a little intimidating. I used to picture this when I thought of yoga:
I thought yoga was something that required a rubbery, superhuman flexibility. Well, you know how beginning pottery students will often bewail their lack of skill? My answer is always: "You aren't supposed to be good at it. That's why you are taking a class." Yoga is the same: you don't start out flexible" you get there eventually. Nor is there any moral imperative to ever get good at it: you do as much as suits you, and no more.
What suits me are a few very easy poses that, done for just a couple of minutes each day, eliminate back discomfort for me. YMMV, obviously.  These poses ought to erase the idea that yoga is too hard!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What I Would be Making if I Weren't Shopping & Cleaning for the Holiday

There's nothing like not being able to get into the studio, to inspire clay ideas. I see this in brown stoneware, oval, about 10" high and soda fired; the spirals are a stamped design, perhaps with yelow or purple glaze "inlay." But I will also make it in B-mix, and leave the stamps natural. And vary the size and shape of the spirals. This is my carrot: when my chores are done, I get to go make these. The doodle is hanging on my computer to remind me.

Custom Urn, Still in Progress

This is the custom order I was talking about. While I never lost interest in this project, I sort of lost my nerve when it came to painting on the markings. I felt that the addition of the little heart shape in white on the belly was the point at which this urn would begin to symbolize this particular cat (Allegro -- isn't that a beautiful name?), and I was a little intimidated. I finally decided that putting it off any longer was not going to improve my chances of getting it right, and forged ahead. I still need to do additional coats, as I am painting white (and green, for the eyes) over black, but I have gotten past the sticking point.
This urn is made of white earthenware clay. I normally work in stoneware, but it was important that the colors be true, and stay where I put them, so I made the switch to low-fire. Will re-bisque to vitrify the undergalze, and then fire a final time, glazed in Portland Pottery's electric kiln.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another Step Along the Way

One nice thing about platters is that I get a larger surface to decorate. Though I often use a single large stamp as a focal point, this time I went with an overall, wallpaper design. It actually looks a little wallpaperish, perhaps in a Victorian home.

I made the roller of clay. It works best bisqued, because if I leave it green, it falls apart relatively quickly. Some potters see this as a plus, as it forces them to remake their decorative tools regularly; but I get too attached to mine. I hate reaching for a stamp or a roller, only to find that is has a big chip out of it. The little squiggle you can see in the photo above the slip bottle is a bit of wire I use as a stopper; that way I can store the slip (or glaze, depending) right in the bottle without having the tip clog up. 

Expected firing schedule: Bisquing Thanksgiving Day (Doug's gonna have to be in charge of that one, as I will have my hands full of turkey, turnip, pies, and so on); glaze firing December 5, unloading December 6. Do you ever have a terrible temptation to do what you know hardly ever works? I am dying to glaze only the middle spiral, and let the soda work its magic on the rest, because the contrast of the clay & slip can be so handsome. But in my experience, soda doesn't take to the horizontal surface that well, and firing them on end has resulted in major warpage in past. Still, I've got plenty of time to decide. 

Maybe I should do "100 Platters in 100 Days!" Yeah, right. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

If It's Not One Thing...'s everything. Remember Boxer, the horse from Orwell's Animal Farm, whose response to every problem was "I will work harder?" Sometimes I feel like Boxer. Just when I get a little caught up, boom! The car, or the house, or the pets need a major expenditure. I guess I should be thanking my lucky ones that the expenditures have not been anything medical. Small favors, and all But why are they so small?

Just found out I need a new roof, sooner than later. And the chimney needs...pointing, or whatever it is they do to chimneys. I am shooting for spring, as any sooner seems unlikely (read: completely impossible.) Doug and I can do a lot of stuff ourselves; my bathroom sink is, at this posting, disassembled on the floor in an effort to correct a recalcitrant clog. Roofing is not in our skill set. 

So, you know, I will work harder. Make more and bigger things, seek out more outlets. It's a blessing, if it pushes me to spend more time in the studio. At least, I am sure I will feel that way tomorrow. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


John Glick

Tara Wilson

Jane Shallenbarger

Keith Phillips

I haven't got any new work of my own (not finished, anyway), so I decided to post some images of pots by my current clay crushes. As I have been before, I am struck by how different the pots that I like to see are from the pots that I like to make. I do try to identify qualities that twang my magic twanger (aesthetically speaking) and incorporate them, but blessedly, they usually emerge from the process unrecognizable. 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quicker Trimming

I had a whole bunch of same-size lids to trim -- a recurrent circumstance. Normally, I place the leatherhard lid on its corresponding pot, and re-center both on the wheel before I trim the lid to its final shape. This time I tried a different way to see if it would be quicker, and it is, much! I centered a hump of clay with an exterior diameter at the top a little less than the interior diameter of the lid. I carefully ribbed off any water or slurry, and then placed each lid in turn to be trimmed on the centered hump of clay. This method saves time as there is no need to re-center: when the lid is placed on the hump, it's automatically on center. It has the disadvantage that you can't see what the finished combined shape of lid and pot together will be, but in this case, I was making my standing cat-urn order; I've made so many of these things I could do them in my sleep. Speed is of the essense, as well, as I sell them to my client at a deep discount (better than wholesale), so the quicker I can turn them out, the better. Though they don't fetch very much, this order is worthwhile to me because the vet's office never tries to order specific colors, shapes, or decoration; they only care that the jars be appropriate containers for cremains. I often use them to test new glazes and stamps, and to break in new metal ribs.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tomorrow's Gonna Suck

There's just no way around it. I am devoting tomorrow to doing all the dreary things that I have been needing to do for a while, and have put off to the point that I am now dreading them:

1) Finish that custom order, which will be the last custom order I ever take, ever, ever, ever, ever.

2) Pack pots for shipping. Why is packing so tiresome? Answer: Nobody knows. It just is. 

3) Fix the Toilet of Eternal Leakage.


4) Install a duct on my perfectly good dryer, which is just sitting there unused because I am too chicken to drill a hole in my wall.

Yes, tomorrow will indeed suck; but by sacrificing this one day, I will improve all the days that follow after it. Good deal!

Slab Plates

A student, Martha Mixon, recently brought in some slab plates she had been working on using these square cardboard plates that you can buy at the grocery store. My version is in B-mix 10, and carries the impression of a lace doily on half of the plate.
This is not a new idea, of course, and I have used it often with kids' classes, but I had forgotten about it, and the shape is new. I like square plates better than round, anyway, and if I am going to make round plates, the wheel is a better choice. The key to slab work, IMHO, is to keep the slabs nice and thick -- thicker than your first inclination, by a lot. So many slab-built pots -- plates and platter especially - end up feeling flimsy, fragile, and cheap, just because they are too thin.
I press the slab into the cardboard mold using a sock filled with sand, and wrapped in an old bit of nylon hose.
This avoids (mostly) causing lumpy fingerprints that have to be tediously ribbed out afterwards. It's also important, once the plates are leatherhard, to remove them from the molds and lightly paddle the edges, to help prevent cracking.
Thanks Martha! I am thinking of celadon for these; or else copper red in the texture only, and otherwise, just soda: a riskier choice, as my reds have not developed well in the soda kiln. But if it turned out...

And Now for Something

...completely different. 

I did something quite out of character today. While tethering my dog behind a convenience store, I noticed a vignette that struck me. A beautiful vine dotted with brilliant red berries and golden fall foliage climbed around a prosaically dull meter in a corner where some graffiti had sprouted. Something about it twanged the same twanger that I sometimes feel looking at thrown and altered work; something about the tension between the contrasts of organic and mechanical.  

Normally I would have made a mental note of it, taken a moment to enjoy it, and gone on with my day. But lately I have been playing with my husband's camera, for more than just pottery shots. I wouldn't call myself a photographer, but sometimes I point the camera at things and press the button. I felt a little silly (in a classic Yankee who-do-you-think-you-are kind of way) but I let Doug's example inspire me: he would never feel like he had to explain why an image was important to him, nor let errands get in the way of a creative moment; much less worry that the Big Apple clerks would think he was weird. 

So I went back to the house and got the camera and took a few shots. This one is the best. I am pleased not just with the photo, but with myself for honoring creativity wherever it presents itself. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Can't Be Good All theTime

Screw it, I am making the bourbon sets. Never mind all that other shit I really should be doing. I am not doing it anyway. Some things just demand to be made.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Goal Without a Plan... just a wish. I have a lot of wishes in the works. If you haven't gathered, the dark of the year is when I do my best navel-gazing: evaluating where I am and where I want to be, and what it takes to get there. I made some good progress in the past year, since my last prolonged episode of pondering. My reach exceeded my grasp, but I got much further than I would have had I not reached in the first place.  I had hoped we'd rebuild the kiln; instead we built the kiln shelter and amassed about 10 percent of the necessary brick. I do spend more time making pots, and as a result make more and hopefully better pots. I got three new consignment outlets to sell the extra inventory. And I had one big project that resulted in many new techniques and forms in my standard vocabulary. Planning works a little like prayer: you don't always get what you plan for, either.

Speaking of, I have learned a little motivational trick using my planner. Non-artist friends are often surprised when I tell them I have to motivate myself to get into the studio. They sort of picture a potter's life as a grinning jubilee of fun-fun-fun! in the studio. Don't get me wrong, I often do have fun in the studio, and that thumpingly good feeling of satisfaction I get when I have made something that I know is good, is compelling all by itself. But that doesn't mean that I don't get up sometimes and just feel like lazing around re-reading the Harry Potter series. The intellectual engagement necessary to make good pots can be a challenge to bring myself around to. So I trick myself using a much shallower system of reward: I give myself happy-face stickers for time spent in the studio. I also earn stickers for working out, and sometimes foil stars for completing tasks that I've been avoiding. If I get fifty stickers in a month, I buy myself something. Nothing grand: perhaps a lipstick, or a CD.

I just had a sudden, embarrassing thought: what if it is just me? What if other potters are gleefully shoving aside the Netflix when it arrives, because it will only subtract from their studio time!?! Maybe other potters have to be restrained from staying up all night, and dragged away for meals. Maybe I really am just lazy. 

No, I can't be the only one. Can I? If you need motivational tricks to get yourself working, share them with me!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Two More Lookies

The plate on the top has black slip stripes, with dots of Satin Matte Black and Coilles Clear. The plate on the bottom is soda fired with a copper red center and Satin Matte Black vermiform design.

To Do Today

1) Mix Bauer Orange Flashing Slip:
41.9 EPK
41.9 OM 4
5.7 Borax
10.5 Zircopax

2) Mix Oestrich Shino for Soda test:
40 Nepheline Syenite
30 Spodumene
17 Kentucky OM#4 Ball Clay

3) Gallery sit. Boring! But it's a short day, being Sunday, and maybe I can use the time to look up a few more flashing slips to try.

4)Trim cat urns.

What I really want to do today is make bourbon cups, with little square trays to carry sets of them; but there probably isn't going to be time for that. Maybe I can sketch them out while I am gallery-sitting, to try to keep the inspiration alive.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Joy of the Unnecessary

There's something about the unnecessary accessory that appeals to me. In a way, handmade pottery is all an unnecessary luxury, when plastic or cheap mass-produced ware will serve the same function as well. Sometimes I like to make things that push that quality, that sense of unnecessary luxury, to a point that almost feels decadent. The sets I was working on yesterday feel like that to me: not content to be mere salt and pepper shakers, they have to have their own little tray, to literally underline their preciousness.

Now I read that, and it sounds stupid, as it often does when I try to explain why I make what I do. I am better off quoting Stephen King, when asked why he writes horror: "What makes you think I have a choice?"

Anyway, getting to the point: Lookie what I made!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Words, Words, Words

Since I got back together with Zapp, (our breakup was totally my fault; I just wasn't ready. This time we are taking it slow.) I have been getting emails listing upcoming art fair deadlines, which serves to remind me how much I miss doing fairs. I notice that both Art Fair on the Square, in Madison, and The Uptown, in Minneapolis, are now accepting apps. I love both of those cites, and Minneapolis has the added temptation of free lodging (right, MJ?) but I have listed here before the obstacles to doing the circuit again: 1) no appropriate vehicle; 2) no display; 3) hundreds of dollars in up-front costs. Add to that my fear that I won't have time to make enough work to make the fair(s) worthwhile, and it's a daunting prospect. I barely make enough now to keep my consignment outlets happy. Still, part of me says if I applied and was accepted (and there's no guarantee of that: these are tough, top-shelf shows in the outdoor circuit) I'd find a way to make all the rest happen. Carrot-and-stick seems to be how I roll. 

I have another, more doable idea for the carrot, as well, but it would probably be a one-time thing, and not lead to a life change, the way re-entering the art fair world might do. Also, is there an echo in here? It seems like I was typing the exact same words last year at this time. Might be time to do something about that. 

I am the Hamlet of potters, all talk, no action. Why couldn't I have been born a Fortinbras? 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November Goal Setting

This month is all about inventory for the holiday season. The kiln project is on hold, except for accumulating brick, until warmer weather. I need to do a firing prior to Thanksgiving, and to that end I'll need to make a bunch of pots and mix a bunch of glazes. In addition, it's time to fill my recurrent cat-urn order. It's going to be a busy month. With that in mind, big picture goal-setting for November is quite moderate. 

Basically this month I want to do some thinking about priorities for time expenditure, and come up with a daily or weekly schedule for the major aspects of business: producing, marketing, and management. (You would think having only one employee - me - would make management easier, but labor relations can be surprisingly dicey!) Hopefully I can come up with a model that will work for the upcoming year. I also want to choose a big project to focus on, which will serve the function that the 100 Mugs show did last spring: to keep me excited and motivated to be in the studio. Excited to create a successful event, motivated to outrace the looming spectre of failure. A bit of carrot-and-stick seems to work for me.

 I have two potential projects in mind, which I will explore in later posts. 

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pulling Handles

A small platoon of mugs with their handle blanks attached, waiting to be pulled. I like to attach first, then go back and pull them (maybe with a blog post in between!), because even the few minutes it takes to finish the board of pots and go back to the first one allows for a stronger attachment and fewer handles pulling free while I am making them.
One take-away from the 100 Mugs project: some of my favorite pieces were the simpler, less busy mugs. To that end I tried to minimize the stamped decoration on these, to leave room for the sig and soda to work their magic without distraction. Not that I am giving up stamping any time soon; I am just too enamoured of the tension between the mechanical qualities the wheel imparts and the soft squishiness of clay, as recorded and made evident by stamping. This group of mugs was preceded by another bunch that sport what I call "outies:" the stamps are concave, so I have to push outward on the wall of the pot to make the clay bulge out to take the impression.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Pots from the Last Firing

I was too lazy to do the whole photo set up, when I just wanted to record a couple of pieces before I (ahem) sell them. The top bowl is the one I shot unfired two posts ago; as you can see, it looked better prior to firing! Oh, well, sometimes that happens. I like to tell my students, "If you aren't failing, you aren't trying."
I am pleased with the large red platter, and the little test cat dish, too.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


When I was a student, a single really good pot was enough to make me pleased with a firing. By that standard, this was a spectacular firing; there were about four pots in it that I am really excited about. Which means there were about thirty pots in it that I am not excited about. Oh, they are good enough - I didn't have any real stinkers in the bunch, except a small vase that had technical difficulties. But...meh. Not much to make me stand up and go "WOW!" It's my own fault (Of course. Who else's fault might it be, Santa Claus? Madonna? Maybe Bobcat Goldthwaite?) I got distracted during the firing and didn't get it into body reduction until 012 was well and truly flat. Given that, I am lucky it was as good as it was. And, I got four successful platters out - a biggie, because it seems like some damn thing is always happening to platters. They crack, they warp, they get little hunks of kiln debris in them, yadda-yadda-yadda.

The photo above is a detail of the glaze-into-glaze trailing that I was testing. This was a double "meh" as I had high hopes that didn't pan out. I've also included one of the fatties: a little bud vase in Owen Oribe with Satin Matte Black dots.