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!