Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thursday Inspiration: Tim Ludwig

Tim Ludwig's work seems to me like a perfect marriage of loose and tight. See a tutorial of how Tim achieves his wonderful earthenware surfaces here. Ben Carter at Tales of a Red Clay Rambler has some nice images also, from a post a couple of years ago.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Dilemna

First, did I spell that right? The "N" seems superfluous, but "dilemma" looks wrong. And forget all about dilema, that looks like the name of a skin condition.


I've really been getting into these botanically-inspired pots: black stain on what will fire to gold-brown (more or less...) slip. The imagery is tightly painted and precise, the joy being when the soda vapor arrives and causes some part of it to discombobulate. My husband connected the dots for me: this is related to my usual work in the tension between the tight work: throwing, or in this case, brush work and the loose: my usual squishy alterations, or in this case, the softening effects of the flame. A metaphor, perhaps, about our best-laid plans?

Here is a fired version:

You can't see it here, but on the heavy soda side, the roses melt into blue-ish blotches.

So, where's the, problem?

These are very time consuming. Not a problem in a larger sense: the world is not hurting for lack of mugs, which I must rush and finish. But my current sales outlets could not support what I would have to charge for these, in order to get paid for the work. By my behind-the-forehead math, these will have to retail for around $45, or twice what I charge for other mugs. Maybe more, because, of course, if most of the sales are to wholesale outlets, then I only get half...these really are slow going. On the other hand, I will probably get faster with practice.

I know there are stores in which a $45 mug is nothing out of the ordinary, but I am not in any of them, yet. So my plan is to make a few of this body of work each firing - I have some honey jars in the works, too, and it seems a natural for vases - but offer them only online. After a while, I will have a large enough grouping to approach one of the higher end outlets.

If you know of any store that might be interested - real-world, not online, as I don't want to compete with myself - please, let me know!!

These will unload Saturday, June 2.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Three Days in the Studio

Yesterday I fired the bisque, and threw stuff for the next firing cycle, which is always a hard mental shift for me. I had to push myself to do it, and I am honestly not sure about the resulting pots...they look, right now, like pots I had to push myself to make. But handles and decoration, not to mention glazing and firing, can easily turn around a piece that lacks spark, so we'll see.

I also updated the home page of my website, something I am vowing to do with more regularity. If the homepage never changes, the website appears abandoned, like bajillions of other sites on the web. And why should anyone ever go there, if there's nothing new to see? I blog regularly, of course, which the home page links to; and I update the shopping page, although not as much as I should; but I think to keep things fresh there has to be something new on the landing page. At the very least I need to update the "Next kiln unloading" date. I put that there in the first place to communicate that the site was alive, but the effect is somewhat undermined if the date referenced is six months ago. It's not like it's difficult.

This morning I am enjoying my coffee out of my new Tim Cichocki mug, and making my to-do list. It's a doozie, and it goes like this:
  • Bring glazes and glaze tools outside. It's gonna be 81ยบ and partly sunny today, and I want to be out in it.
  • Walk!! I've made a new commitment to the holy trinity of well-being: sleep. exercise and nutrition. The exercise piece of it is the hardest to keep.
  • Unload bisque.
  • Wax and glaze.
  • Create new sales CDs. It's a bit late to be getting started on the summer season of wholesale, but not nearly so late as I was last year, and that worked out okay. Now that I have a car that I can take without maxing out my credit card - I bought a new-old car last week, after the Maine Pottery Tour, woo-hoo - it's time to make sales trips again. I need to have something to leave with the shops I visit.
  • Apply for the Winthrop Sidewalk Art Festival. Getting info about this event is like some electronic geo-caching game...links lead to other links, which lead to an email which hopefully results in information. I need to get this ball rolling today. It's a big toe into art fairs again, and while it's not the Smithsonian, I've heard good things about it.
Tomorrow is glazing some more, mixing wadding, and washing shelves. I also need to make sure and do the leatherhard work on the pots I made today; nothing aggravates me more than missing the window and wasting work just because I wasn't being attentive.

Another cup of coffee in my lovely new mug, and hi-ho, it's off to work I go.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thursday Inspiration: Jil Franke

See lots more of Jil's wood-fired and slab-built work here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

$72 Dollars a Day

I told you I was frugal, didn't I? $72 dollars a day is my nut, a term I learned from a Slate article of small business tips. There are other useful thoughts there: "passion is the key" is, predictably, my favorite. "Know your nut" stuck in my mind because it's a simple but not intuitive way to gauge how you are doing, while there's still time to make a course correction.

According to the original concept, your nut is exactly how much money you need to stay in business, divided by the number of days you are open for business. This idea is more helpful if I customize it to my situation: a daily-sales number is not that useful to me, as most of my sales are not retail. Most days I don't sell anything at all, except at the consignment locations, which I don't know about until I get the checks. More helpful to me is thinking in terms of making; I can't sell pots I don't have, and I sell pretty-damn-close to every "first" I make, in part because having inventory motivates me to get out and sell it.

Okay, so, maybe I focus on making $72 a day in inventory. That's better, but wait: I don't do wheel work every single day. Some days are finishing: trimming, handles, glazing, firing, kiln maintenance - and other days are sales: prospecting and delivery. One day a week is entirely devoted to teaching. In all I have only about nine days a month for throwing.

This changes the math.

Once I multiply and divide anew, my number is $245. I need to make a minimum of $245, wholesale, every throwing day to stay afloat.

But wait, there's more. As every potter knows, making more costs more. More clay, more propane. And selling more costs more: more gas, more packing material, more shipping. Some of that is absorbed in figuring everything as wholesale, when, in fact, not everything I sell is at wholesale price. But let's say I would have to make 25% more to cover those costs: now I am at $307 for each wet-work day.

Even such a seemingly simple concept as the daily nut ends up making my head swim, which is probably why I usually proceed in such a seat-of-the-pants manner; but $307 is both concrete and doable, and anything (well, almost anything) that gets me to make more stuff is a good thing.

Whoa, $307 is 31 mugs; or 10 lidded casseroles; or 21 honey jars, or 205 refrigerator magnets.

Gotta go.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thursday Inspiration: George Pearlman

Maine's own! See lots more of George's work here; or visit the studio at 102 River Rd in St. George.
UPdate: George has offered a correction in the comments: The correct address is at 1012 River Road, St. George, Maine. His work can also be found at

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Whole Bicycle

Day two of the Maine Pottery Tour! I am loving this.

Today I am hostess and salesperson, event planner and visual merchandiser. Not to mention dancing bear, in the form of throwing demonstrations for guests; and you know what? I love it. And on the days when I am a thrower, or a glaze mixer, a teacher, or a delivery driver? I love those too.

The worst part of office work was the repetition. In fact it was the worst part of any of my traditional jobs. Employers tend to ghettoize tasks, so you end up doing a whole shitload of one general thing, all the time. Computer stuff, or customer service stuff, or filing or photocopying. Every day is essentially the same, It's enough to make you look forward to the Blood Drive, just for something different to happen: oh, boy, I get to be bled for 10 minutes! Anything to get me out of this cubicle. Needless to say, I think this is wrongheaded. Not to be too Upton Sinclair, but this approach treats workers like cogs in a machine: this piece serves this function. You wouldn't expect a sprocket to start offering marketing ideas, and aside from the novelty, you wouldn't listen, if it did. Sprockets don't think. They sprock. So get back there in your cubicle and sprock away. That's what you get paid for.

It doesn't have to be that way, but it usually is.

As a sole proprietor, my job is vertical: all the steps from procuring the materials to delivering the finished product. I get to use my strong skills, and strengthen my weaker ones. It's impossible to get bored. I get to be the whole bicycle, and I get to feel the satisfaction of success, when an event like this goes well.

This is the best job I've ever had.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Studio Tour Tomorrow!

The Maine Pottery Tour commences tomorrow at 10!

Here at Fine Mess Pottery, I've got six tables full of pottery, with more arriving in the morning. By some miracle, I am ready: the pots are all set up, I've got bags and change, packing material and maps to distribute. Paypal is ready to go...Oh, I should buy a receipt book.

The weather is predicted to be gorgeous tomorrow, and pretty-darned-good on Sunday.

If you are in Maine, I hope I see you tomorrow or Sunday. You can find a list of studios and addresses here, and a printable map here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Underglaze and Soda

Red underglaze, no less. And orange.

Fellow potter Nate Philbrick - lately seduced away from clay by the promise of actual cash money to be made lobstering - used to use a couple of AMACO underglazes to cone 10, with brilliant results. That surprised me, and I made a mental note of it, for possible use at a later date. Nate used them for tiny accents, with no glaze, and on the exterior only.

Hot shades notoriously burn out, and despite the success in the stoneware kiln, I figured soda vapor would vanish all traces of color. Expecting exactly nothing, I brushed a little bit on a test piece. And, hey, WOW, red!! and orange!! Brilliant, almost-true color.

As you can see, I had a hell of a time getting a non-blurry photo of this tiny little piece; but it's enough that you can see the color, and a bit of the sheen, from the soda glass. The orange was shinier than the red but neither was entirely dry.

It bears repeating: exterior only, and I'm gonna guess it would be a less-than-pleasant texture over a broad surface. But for details? Delightful.

The specific underglazes  are AMACO 389, Flame Orange, and AMACO 388, Radiant Red, and they were applied after bisquing. (I think that matter but not sure. )

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

All Sprigged Up

You know how sometimes, when you've got something really important to do, like, say, get ready for a big event? And, with this important thing looming, suddenly inspiration to do something totally different and unrelated hits you? No? Just me, then.

Obviously I am supposed to be getting my home, yard, and studio ready for the Maine Pottery Tour, happening minutes from now. (Okay, days. W'ev.) But then I saw this post about making molds for ceramic jewelry, from Sculpey. I don't make ceramic jewelry, but sometime I do use sprigs; and I still have plans to make buttons, magnets, drawer pulls, and other little things. This takes weeks out of the process, and makes designing much more direct: you can start making the objects while you are still excited about them; so many of my ideas die in the time between having the idea and getting the mold out of the kiln.

Right now I am most excited about using this for sprigs. Sometimes I make a pot, and it really really needs sprigs: it needs the tension between the identical repetition of the sprigs - a machine-like quality - and the soft squooshiness of the clay, with enough wonk to speak of its handmade nature. BUT! Making the exact sprigs that a pot needs used to be out of the question: make a positive, bisque it, make the negative (the mold), bisque now you're  a month out, and the pot is either long finished or bone dry.

Enter Sculpey! I can make the sprig-positive (the model), using the pot which will wear it as its background; bake that (about 5 minutes for tiny little pieces); make a mold of it, and bake, 15 minutes later, I have a mold that I can use right now today! I can also use the model now to make a mold of clay, that will then be bisqued because it will have a longer studio life.
A couple of things:

  • Since I was using a toaster oven, I had to turn the heat down to about 280; less than the 350 on the directions.
  • The tiny little sprigs baked up faster than the directions called for, also. I set two of them on fire before getting it right. Be careful!
  • The article calls for Murphy's Oil Soap as a mold release; that was fine for the Sculpey-to-Sculpey casting, but I found that a dusting of cornstarch worked better for the Sculpey-to-clay part. 
  • A student who worked for an art supply store told me last night that it is not recommended to bake Sculpey in an oven that will also be used for food. It's best to have a dedicated toaster oven. Sculpey says otherwise, but I'll tell you what: it sure smells toxic. Especially when it is on fire.
Okay, now I really do have to go get ready for the tour: price pots and so on. It's happening Saturday May 12 and Sunday May 13th.

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Things I Might Forget, That I Mustn't Forget

    Six days now, before the Maine Pottery Tour. I have that too-many-balls-in-the-air feeling, like I am going to forget something...and I probably am going to forget something; the best I can hope for is that it not be anything crucial. Toward that end, a list! In no particular order, the things I know I need to get done by next Saturday:
    1. Build and paint [done] sign.
    2. Get change.
    3. Grind [done], sort, and price pots.
    4. Get annual plants for the deck hangers. - done
    5. Restart my Paypal professional account, so I can take credit cards.  
    6. Clean up deck and yard
    7. Figure out tables, crates, other display items.
    8. Get guestbook - this one needs some explaining. We are putting the names of everyone who visits all five studios into a drawing to win one of 5 prizes, so I have to have some way to record the names. A guestbook looks so much nicer than, say, the back of an envelope. 
    9. Clean up studio
    10. Get bags and packing material
    11. Bring wheel outside (Saturday AM.) I am planning to offer demos every hour - educational event, see? - which will work better if the wheel is outside.
    I've highlighted the ones that absolutely must happen; if I'm gonna forget anything, I'll try to make it one of the other items.  Or that other thing, the one I haven't thought of yet.
    To make matters worse - what was I thinking? - I offered to host my family's Mother's Day gathering on Sunday. Actually I know what I was thinking: my location is really the best for everyone to travel to - my godmother would have to drive more than two hours if we hosted it at one of the other sibs house; not to mention  that i have to be here, because of the sale. It'll be fine - I'm sure it will - maybe it'll even be fun. But it generates its own list:

    1. Clean Red's tank. Red is a turtle, a red-eared slider to be specific, and he is a big hit with my little nephew, so I want to tank to be free enough of algae that Red can see and be seen. 
    2. Meal planning and shopping: it's nothing fancy, but I do need to get ground beef, hot dogs, buns, chips, etc., and then make them into something a person might want to eat.
    3. Get Mother's Day cards!! This is on everybody's list, I suppose. 
    4. Get more deck chairs. I lost a couple to winter, and one to a fit of pique.
    The kiln is firing now - a bit behind, as much of the morning was spent burning off a lot of moisture: I'd forgotten to cover the door bricks with a tarp, and they were well and truly sodden. So I'm in the long climb between 05 and Cone 8, during which nothing much happens.
    I may try to catch a nap.

    Leftovers and Do-Overs

    If there is any magic in moonlight, this load is imbued: I loaded and candled the kiln by the light of the supermoon, 16% brighter than other full moons.

    You know how you can always get more pots into a bisque than you can into a glaze, and how those leftover pots stack up? and then, every firing, there are a few refires. It's those pots - the leftovers and the do-overs - that are filling up this load, which is how I can fire so soon on the heels of the last one.
    Actually I had plenty of leftovers this time, too, so I'm halfway to the next load.

    Here is my favorite moon-related poem:

    Song for Ishtar 

    By Denise Levertov 

    The moon is a sow and grunts in my throat
     Her great shining shines through me
    so the mud of my hollow gleams   
    and breaks in silver bubbles

    She is a sow
    and I a pig and a poet

    When she opens her white   
    lips to devour me I bite back   
    and laughter rocks the moon

    In the black of desire
    we rock and grunt, grunt and   

    Thursday, May 3, 2012

    OMG Nine Days Until the Tour!

    It's funny how you can be just tooling along, thinking you've got everything under control, and then a new month comes along - why, hello, May! - and with it the realization that what was weeks away is now mere days. Case in point: the Maine Pottery Tour.

    Until today, I was still thinking I might be able to fit in two glaze firings before the tour opens, a week from Saturday Yeah, no, that's not gonna happen. I can still get one in, though; it will unload next Wednesday.  I've spent most of today distributing flyers and hanging posters, and creating a Facebook page to advertise the tour. I think maybe I've done all I can to promote; I am flat out of ideas. Time to focus on glazing and firing, so I can have something to sell to all those people I have hopefully persuaded to come visit.
    So, for the last time until the next time, it's:

    •  Saturday May 12th, 10-6
    • Sunday, May 13th, 11-4
    All the info about participating studios, as well as addresses, phone numbers, and a printable map is here. I better go glaze.

    Thursday Inspiration: Allison McGowan

    See lots more of Allison's handbuilt porcelain forms here.