Friday, January 29, 2010

Just for Fun

Who even knew they still sold alphabet pasta? Does anybody actually prepare and eat alphabet pasta? I thought of a better use for it.

(And, yes, I do have any order I am supposed to be working on. Gimme a break. The muse is perverse, and presents me with irresistable ideas whenever I have a deadline to finish something entirely different.)

The pasta will burn out with the first firing, of course. The cylinder - which will, naturally, become a tureen - reads, "Beautiful soup, so rich and green, waiting in a hot tureen," a quote from Lewis Carroll's The Mock Turtle's Song. This pieces pleases me, but I wouldn't want to get too into the phrases and quotes, however, as down that path lie both cutesy and custom, two things I am bound and determined to avoid. I sort of like this way better:

This pot came off the wheel only about a half hour before the photo was taken. Afterwards I lightly paddled to impress the letters more deeply into the clay. The user will have to actually look at the cup to notice that the texture is made up of tiny little letters; and I can imagine that some of the lettters fell in such a way as to form or almost form words. You could spend a good deal of time just turning such a mug in your hands, searching for those secret words.

Okay, back to the real work!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Innies, Outies, and Flatties

I didn't make this pot; Dan Anderson, of Edwardsville, IL made it, 20 years ago; although you'd never guess it looking at his current work. Actually it didn't look very much like his work at the time, either.  He made it as part of a demonstration for his Ceramics 202 students, and, as happens to me now in my own classes, items made for demos often bear little resemblance to your body of work; I suppose because you are using techniques you wouldn't normally use, for your students' edification. (This, incidentally, is one of the main benefits of teaching. It keeps your work fresh, as you have to continually dredge up techniques you'd almost forgotten you knew. The other main benefit is all the cool people that you meet. But I digress from my digression.)

I was a grad student at the time, but I was fascinated by this demo, and later purchased the pot to commemorate the insight it gave me: that the tension between the mechanical qualities the wheel imparts and the squooshy organic qualities of clay itself are what inspire me. I had always done a lot of stretching and alteration. After seeing this demo, I made myself some stamps out of clay. I still often use stamps. I have approximately one billion of them, if you count the rollers. Outside of rollers, they fall into three categories: flatties, innies, and outies

Most of my stamps are flatties. They are the easiest to make, and sometimes when I want to be in the studio but can't think of anything I want to make, I might make a few flattie stamps.  I start with a little coil with one flat end, let it dry a bit, and then carve or impress the design into it. Here's a flattie stamp, right here, with the impression that it makes:

Flatties are technically a subset of innies, I suppose, in that they compress the pot wall inward; but the impression itself is flat. True innies are concave, the center of the impression deeper than the edges, so they read as more organic. Outies, naturally, cause the clay wall the curve outward. It is necessary to push outward on the wall with a fingertip while stamping, to make the clay fill the stamp. Here are an outie and an innie stamp (respectively, from the left)and the impressions that they leave:

Fun stuff!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hump Day!

It being winter, it's glaze testing time at Fine Mess Pottery.  Actually it is always glaze testing time at Fine Mess Pottery, but the in months when production demands are less, I have more time for testing.

I don't know about you but I hate test tiles. I only need about a half-dozen tests at a time, so I'd much rather use small, quickly-thrown tea bowls (or wine cups, as they are known at my house), which at least have the potential to become beautiful objects. They also have to potential to become hideous or just blah, which is why they are called "tests," so I don't want to invest a bunch of time in them; specifically I don't want to have trim them. I found a trick to make that easier.

Throwing off the hump is the best way to make small things fast but has the disadvantage of creating a very uneven bottom when you use the cut-off wire. Mine always looked like this:

The pots always needed trimming, if they were to sit flat. To streamline the process in the case of test pieces, I now cut them off with a piece of thread. Once forming is done, I use the point of a rib to create a little notch at the very bottom of the pot. I place a piece of thread (a bright color is easier to see) in that groove, wrap it around, and then cross the ends on the near side and pull in opposite directions.

The result is an even bottom which only needs a quick swipe with a rib to finish it nicely.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Let's Go Bowling!

There is nothing like a deadline to push me out of navel-gazing mode and into production; and  everything on my production list today is bowls, bowls, bowls! The clock is ticking on a four-week deadline to complete my order for Attrezzi, and I promised Watershed 20 bowls for their Chowder Supper fundraiser. 

The Watershed Center holds an annual fundraiser serving various Maine chowders in handmade bowls. Buy the chowder, keep the bowl! They need hundreds, but I'm responsible only a few. The recession has hit Watershed hard, and they have had to discontinue the 9-month winter residency. On the upside, they have added an extra two-week summer session, and a six-week event to happen in the fall. Watershed has been a very important to me, so I'm happy to do my part in supporting it. I don't often have money to donate, but pottery? I can do that. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String...

I am a sucker for a pretty package; isn't everyone? At least, that is what I am counting on. In an effort to win some wholesale orders for salt & pepper shakers, I am sending out a prettily wrapped sample shaker to a handful of past and potential wholesale accounts, with a little folding card extolling the fine qualities of stoneware shakers. If it nets me a single order, it will be worth it; and I had all the fun of choosing boxes, tissue, and rafia colors.

I am starting to think marketing could be fun. My first job, not counting babysitting, was at a Dunkin' Donuts. I worked my way up the ladder from waitress to finisher, which mean I got to fill, frost, and decorate the donuts. I always had a mental bet with myself that I could make customers pick, say, blueberry filled donuts, on any given Sunday, just by the way I presented them. I am recalling that lesson now: presentation is almost as important as product, when it comes to selling.
Which is good news for an artist. It means you don't have to cater to the tastes (or your best guess of them) of the market. You just make what you are driven to make, and if it is presented correctly, people will buy it.
Or that's the theory. They bought those disgusting blueberry donuts, anyway.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cure for the Crankies

Car trouble made me miss the first class of the new session tonight. The owner of the teaching studio was none too pleased about it, but what could I do? My superpower is cat herding, not flight. I was already moody with winter, and this tipped me right into downright pissy. But I know the cure for that: pasta bowls!

These are each six pounds of clay, and will eventually be part of a larger order for a gourmet kitchen goods store in Portsmouth. Big (well, biggish) bowls are good for dispellling the crankies because they demand enough physical effort to use up the adrenaline that's just hanging around turning sour, but they are simple to throw and provide me with a few easy successes. The worst things to make to throw off a bad mood are fiddly little stuff with a bunch of parts, like soy bottles or teapots.
Anyway, they worked. I feeel much better. Cars, meh. They break, that's life. My beginning students will manage without me this one night.
And tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Three Days at FMP


  • Processing photos
  • Listings on Artfire, Etsy, and Shop FMP
  • Organizing receipts for the Tax Man. 
  • Deposit consignment checks


  • Studio time! Stoppers for cruets, S&P shakers, and mugs
  • Studio clean up: dreary but has to be done.
  • Order shipping supplies
  • Pay propane and clay bills


  • Sort, price and pack pots for Bangor Floral, a new consignment outlet
  • More studio time! More shakers, and is that a teapot itch I feel?

Friday, January 8, 2010

A New Idea for Etsy

You may I know I have a love/hate relationship with Etsy. I really love the idea, but hate the cult-like feeling in the forums (I know, I know, I could just stay out of them!), the time suck, and most of all, the lack of sales. I got a brainwave this morning, looking fondly at my husband's dark head on the pillow. You see, we met online, at to be exact. Though I am no raving beauty, I was in demand simply due to the ratio of men to women on dating sites, which is about 13:1. How would I choose to whom to respond? All of them seemed to enjoy romantic evenings at home and long walks on the beach, and also going out dancing. They were all interested in their pets and good friends and listening to music. Then I came to Doug's profile:

Hobbies: Jumping off things, & wondering why my car is suddenly really loud.
Favorite activities: Watching the wind push daisies around. Banging nails. 
Not interested in: Buying a bunch of stuff. Debt makes you old fast.

See what I mean? He stood out like a live man in a row of corpses. He wasn't too worried about scaring someone off to let his personality show. I answered him, and the rest is history. 

I decided to try and apply that lesson to online retailing. In the listings for which I don't have five photos to fill all the slots, I am putting in photos of something unrelated: a sheep from Straw's farm near Watershed, my cats looking out the window, a rusty gear. And a note saying, the sheep hasn't got anything to do with it, I just like the photo. Or something like that. 

I thought it was brilliant, so I posted it in the Etsy forums. Guess what? Everybody very very kindly said it was a stupid idea. Which only proves my point.

Well, no it doesn't. But there's this: I can't sell any less from my Etsy shop than I already am. Might as well try something different!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Photo Shoot

In winter the conditions for photographing pots are brief and fleeting at my house. Except for the smallest pots, I shoot in the south-facing living room during the perhaps three hours (at most) of daylight that the sun not at too acute an angle to cast even light. I hang the backdrop where my TV usually sits. It's kind of a hassle to get all set up, so when I do it, I try to shoot a lot of work. 

I used to only get pots photographed once a year. I'd set aside one or two good pots out of each firing, and then choose about a dozen to take to Peter Lee, when I was in St. Paul, or, later, to Jay York in Portland. I would still use a professional to take the shots if I were still applying to art fairs, but just for Etsy (and Craftgawker!), I find I can take an adequate photo myself. It's all in the right tools:

The graduated gray background I got for around $45 from Photo Tech, Inc. The camera is relatively old, an Olympus c-750, 4.0 megapixels. Five or six megapixels is standard in cameras made now, but I find that this serves just fine for my purposes. Importantly, it has a remote setting, so you don't have to touch the camera to activate the shutter.  Until I learned how to use it, every single pottery photo I took was ever-so-slightly out of focus. You can get them on Ebay for a couple hundred dollars. After destroying two of the cheapest available tripods in a few months just through ordinary use, I finally, just today, went the next step up: $3 more. (I told you I am cheap, didn't I?) This one is so much better! The legs adjust infinitely and it has a teeny-tiny bubble level under the camera, so you can make sure you are shooting, well, level. 

I spent the entire sunlit part of the day shooting today, formal shots and a few in-use, which always look contrived to me, but they are kind of fun to set up. Here are a few of my results:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Casting My Bread

I've made one more resolution for 2010, that falls into the "good Karma" category. I am participating in microlending through Kiva, a microloan program targeting poor entrepreneurs in the developing world. I've chosen to direct my cash to this guy, a potter from Tajikistan. 

When I am scrambling around trying to decide if I should put off the oil or insurance bill, it's hard to remember that by most of the world's standards, my husband and I are crazy-rich. We have 1500 square feet all to ourselves, and a fifth of an acre. And a car, that pretty-much-always works. We have all the clean water we can use, coming out of taps right in the house! And if there is sometimes too much month left at the end of the money, and we have to eat more rice, lentils, and potatoes than I might wish, at least we never, ever fear not having enough to eat. Because all that is not true for most humans on the planet, I have been wanting a way to help. But because I am somewhat impoverished by American standards, it always felt like I didn't have enough to spare. I love Kiva for eliminating that excuse: I get the money back!! and for a small amount, I am able to help in a long-term way. 

For months now I have had a good feeling about 2010. Great things are going to happen this year! And I can help. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

My Favorite Obsession...

...continues into the new year. Happy 2010, everyone!
Also, I started a new page for wholesale customers. Not much there yet, but it's a start.

Goal Setting 2010

I feel like crap. Not literally crapulent, as I didn't drink much last night, being the designated driver, but I like typing the word.  I just feel the kind of head-achy and run down I always feel when I don't get enough sleep. I am blessed and cursed with an internal chronometer which does not allow me to sleep past 5:30, regardless of my bedtime. So my first resolution for the New Year is, get some damn sleep.

Beyond that, more of the same seems to be in order. It will take a continuing effort to prioritize studio work over dust-wildebeest-elimination and Harry-Potter-re-reading, but that effort proved worthwhile last year.  Some specific goals:

1) I have a connection to a Portland gallery that may be willing to mount a show of my sculptural work. Deadline for that prooposal is January 18, so I need toget cracking putting images together. 

2) I do seem to have a minor obsession with salt & pepper shakers lately. My history suggests that I may not remain obsesssed, but will probably always enjoy making them, so I am going to develop a wholesale line, just of S&P shakers, right now. They are small, and very easy and relaxing to make, and I get such joy out of the precious little finished products. Also, not many artists are making them; fewer still handmade from start to finish. 

3) The kiln! I haven't forgotten the kiln, though there will be no building on it until spring. I don't know if it will get done this year, either -- my house needs a roof. But I will continue to peck away at it, buying a hundred bricks here and a hundred there, unitl I have the materials amassed. 

4) Finally, hard head wins the day over magic beans; the IPTOG stays. I am making this a concious choice, as it still has a part to play in stabilizing our household income. I could feel myself drifting away from it, almost sabotaging myself at work, in perhaps an unconcious attempt to take the matter out of my own hands; but quitting (or getting myself fired!) would be foolish at this point. Really, it isn't that bad; it's just that I can think of so many more interesting things I could do with that 20 hours per week. 

I'd love to hear your goals and resolutions!