I spent part of my evening in Gardiner, ME, with the Central Maine Clay Artists, making plans for our Holiday Pottery Shop. This is a new adventure for me, although not for them - CMCA has had a shop in the month of December for the last four years. It's a great way to take advantage of holiday shopping without the commitment of rent and utilities - not to mention staffing - for year-round premises.
It was a bit of a cliffhanger, looking for a space. We considered several spaces in Hallowell, but they were small and the landlords reluctant to rent for a single month while there was still a chance they might take on a permanent tenant, because if that doesn't happen by December it's probably not gonna happen until May.
Gardiner, one stop downriver, came on the radar because the city was actively seeking pop-up stores to occupy some empty store fronts and bring people downtown. The rent was so much cheaper and the space was so much bigger that in the end we were seduced away from Hallowell.
Tonight we met in the space, assigned shelf locations and divvied up the days to man the store. A few of us had shelves to set up, no one yet had ware...it doesn't look like much, not yet, but just you wait.
I rushed home to paint my shelves. I haven't done a serious art fair since 2003 - the Baltimore ACC show, the one when it snowed three feet and the entire city shut down, even the Seven-Elevens. Didja ever eat out of vending machines for three days? But I digress. I haven't done a serious show since 2003, but I've done a bunch of rinky-dink shows, and my display looks decidedly...rinky-dink. So I'm painting and generally spiffying it up.
The Grand Opening will be Friday, December 7th at Gardiner's First Friday event, but we hope to have the doors open sooner. We're told Maine Public Radio will be in town this Saturday, specifically to cover pop-up shops, so it would be nice to have someone in the store for that. I'm the first to admit that I have a face made for radio, but I will be loading a glaze kiln on Saturday.
Remember the cake stands I made using the Quarter Trick? I got one out of the last firing, and - hallelujah - no cracking, warping, or other misfortune befell it! So I guess it works: Quarter Trick, 1; Kiln fuckery, 0! Just kidding!! The score is more like Quarter Trick, 1; Kiln Fuckery, 1 million. But the tide has turned now!
It sounds like Pinterest, but it's not. It's not even really social. It's a great tool for keeping your projects and lists organized, making notes on the progress of each, keeping clippings and links related to them. What is it? It's SpringPad.
So, yeah, like Pinterest, I might save a link to a how-to article on, say, a wall treatment, like paint glazing. With SpringPad, I can also save links to color combinations and make a shopping list. Pinterest is for dreaming, for getting inspired; SpringPad is for planning.
You create a notebook for each of your topics. Some of mine are Home Projects, Lists, and Possible Stores/Galleries. In the latter, I keep the contact information and some representative images for stores that I plan to approach for the spring season. I can also keep notes on what I send them and when, and who I spoke with. Later I can keep inventory lists, invoices, and details of other communications. I can print form SpringPad, also. I expect, eventually, to keep glaze recipes there with images of results, and notes on firing.
Incidentally my most useful notebook is called "Things I Could Be Doing." Since I have a tendency to gravitate to the computer when I am not immediately occupied, it's helpful to have my browser open up to a page of suggestions for a more productive way to spend my idle moments. It's a list of quick things that might be a better use of my time than just clicking around: yoga is among them, as is a list of 5-minute cleaning projects, flossing my teeth, and even writing a blog post.
It's not entirely intuitive, so it took me a little while to warm up to it. I created an account months ago, but I just started to use it regularly last week. I find it a great replacement for the spiral-bound notebooks I am always buying and losing: I can't lose it, and because I have my browser set to open to that page, it's not out-of-sight, out-of-mind.
Update: I have the beginnings of the glaze notebook here. I will continue to add to it recipes and as much information as I have about glazes. My hope is to create a handy reference for myself and hopefully a resource for other potters.
Today is not much of a studio day, as we still have family stuff going on, but I do need to get some pieces from this most recent firing to stores. At this point every day counts! This morning I will be delivering mostly mugs to Kennebec River Artisans in Hallowell, Maine, and then on to nearby Gardiner to bring pots to Clare at Monkitree.
A few weeks ago I was throwing vegetable steamers: shallow bowls with holes, lids, and underplates, for cooking vegetables. See them in progress here.)All logic said they should work, and lo, they do! Got the first one out of the kiln today, and I couldn't wait to try it out.
From cold broccoli to cooked was 8 minutes, then it goes prettily to the table, where it rests on a matching plate. The broccoli was quite thoroughly cooked; if you prefer al dente, it would be faster. I love it when things work, don't you?
Holes in the lid are key. Without them, the steam won't come up into the cooking chamber, and it will take forever to cook your veggies - just like a kiln that has too small a flue.
I have more in bisque that I can now start glazing for the next firing.
This piece is headed for the Portland Pottery Cafe and Store.
I hope my last post didn't come off as negative! I was actually feeling pretty good, in the way that a moment of clarity can make you feel, even if the conclusion you reach isn't the one you hoped for.
I didn't mean to be mysterious or foreboding about my upcoming change; all I've decided - although it still seems like a pretty big deal in my head - is that I am not charging NEARLY enough, not nearly. In the new year I will be increasing prices for most items by 40 - 100%. Maybe more, I need to do some math to come up with the actual numbers.This is intimidating for a couple of reasons, one internal and one external. Externally, it will probably mean connecting with all new vendors: I don't know if any of the stores currently carrying my work can sell the price points that I am talking about. I have a list in my head of higher-end outlets to approach, and will need to assemble a set of images and sample pieces that represent the body of work well. That's a bunch of work but -hey!- it's no harder than what I've been doing. (As an aside, if you have been considering a piece listed on the website, now would be an excellent time to grab that, before the new prices kick in.) The larger obstacle is internal.
Maybe it's my New England upbringing, but I have a naysaying voice in my head constantly muttering, "Who do you think you are? $250 for a teapot, I guess you think you're really something!" And so on. Just choosing to be an artist at all means pushing back on that voice, but I haven't yet learned not to tag on the disclaimer, to apologize for anything that might appear as prideful - such as charging a sustainable price for my work.
I can make a reasonable number of things without any pain. I can fill the kiln once a month, even if I throw every piece in it. That's what I want to do: I want to make fewer things, spend more time on each one, and get a better price for them. Here's what I don't want to do: contrive more and more ways to make more pots in less time, just so I can sell them for price that a thrifty Yankee would deem a bargain. I look at potters I admire: Adero Willard. Kristen Kieffer. Jeffery Lipton. Jennifer Mecca. Joy Tanner. These folks aren't apologizing for charging for their work and skill. Oh, but now the inner critic is howling: I dared mention myself in the same paragraph as this illustrious company. Maybe someday you'll be good enough to deserve a living wage, she says. But I doubt it.
Shut up, bitch.
Someday is today (well, technically, "someday" is January 1). Yeah, I know I'm not Kristen Keiffer or Joy Tanner, and I don't have to be self-loathing to be acknowledge that, but - dare I say it? - I'm a pretty good potter. It's time I started treating myself like a professional. I have to, because the other choice is not to be a potter at all.
That was the epiphany that went through my head last night around 8 pm when I, still working, got up to ice my wrist so I could keep throwing, to make enough pots to fill the kiln and pay the bills for one more month.
"This is bullshit," I thought. "It can't be that the only way to make a living at this is to injure myself. Other people manage without that." And, for the 10 millionth time, I thought: "I'm doing something wrong."
It seems the Week of Reflection has come early this year, thanks to a recurrence of my old nemisis, depression, bringing with it its characteristic ruminations. As this is meant to be the Week of Gratitude, I'm embracing my mental state as a gift, although as gifts go, I'd rather have the toaster oven. Nevertheless, the analytical mindset is what's necessary here, rather than just stupidly soldiering on, icing and throwing and icing some more.
It isn't that I am a fragile flower prone to injury; if that were the case I might be inclined to become another sort of artist. It's just that the only way I can make enough stuff to make a living is to work 10 and 12 hours a day, seven days a week. See what I mean? This is bullshit. I am doing something wrong.
I have a pretty good idea what it is, too, and although the solution will require more rumination before I commit to it, so far the more I ruminate the better it looks.
I'm off to teach my handbuilders this morning; catch you on the flip side, with more thoughts.
How often do I get to say that? Answer: Never. But this time the glazes all seemed silky and perfectly viscous, all of my brushes were where they were supposed to be (how did that happen?) and even the minor set back - when I went to mix wadding, I found I was out of alumina - was easily corrected with a call to a friend. (Other people, I'm told, borrow cups of sugar.) I loaded without mishap - no rodent surprises (right, Diane??), no bits of door mud crumbling in, necessitating a partial unloading, no mysteriously cracked shelves. During the firing, the kiln climbed like a champ and went off an hour earlier than expected.
I did make one change: after body reduction, I stayed in a much heavier reduction right up to the end. Body reduction itself was heavier than usual, and my climbing reduction was closer to what would normally be body reduction. And it climbed faster than usual...go figure.
Unloading Tuesday...or Monday night, if I just can't wait.
From Ceramic Arts Daily's 33 Tried and True Glaze Recipes, via Peg of Peg's Pots, I have a recipe for Jim Brown's Blue, which was a pale cobalt-and-rutile confection in Peg's stoneware trials. I have a made two small alterations - replaced 5% of the whiting with talc, and added 1% boron - to avoiding the bubbly, gritty reaction that some glazes get in response to the soda vapor.
While cleaning out her basement in anticipation of an energy audit, my friend Barb Loken, of Loken Pottery came upon two sets of shelves with a particularly Maine history: they were used to store product in a shoe factory. Barb had no use for these shelves but couldn't bear to just have them hauled off, so she offered them to me, and even delivered them.
My new old shelves. Thanks, Barb!
I knew just where I would put them: in the shed that houses my glaze kitchen, which has been steadily filling up with stuff since its inauguration seven years ago. I've done a few drag-n-toss days since then - otherwise it would be a completely unusable space, given my husband's packrat tendencies - but the arrival of these two marvelous storage shelves has inspired me to do a full clean out and reorganization. No more climbing over stuff when I need to mix glazes! No more lifting two or three bins to get to the one that I need! (Or, you know, a lot less of that.) I'm sort of embarrassed that the photo above is the "after" photo: "What must it have looked like before?" you might ask. Trust me, this is a lot better. The shoe shelves themselves proved better suited to get the various bins, boxes, and bottles off the floor than to hold glaze materials, but they made it possible to render the lab at least somewhat orderly.
Now that the clean up is done, it's time to mix glazes. Not my favorite job, but I am almost looking forward to it, in order to fine-tune to arrangement.
I meant to fire this bisque yesterday - it was all loaded, and I even candled for a few hours Wednesday night, and then I realized that there was just too much on my list - and too much of it away from home - for that to happen. I had a morning meeting of the Central Maine Clay Artists, to plan for our Holiday Pop Up Pottery Shop; more on that later. We were out of cat food and coffee, making yesterday Grocery Day by necessity; I had to ship out pots, drop off others for a friend's home show, and teach a make up class for hurricane cancellation. Though frustrating, since it delays the glaze firing by at least a day and maybe three, because of class schedules, things start to go seriously wrong when I try to do the impossible, like "being in two places at once."
I used to think if I could select for myself a superpower, I might choose being in two places at once. And then I thought: oh hell no.Because it would never be enough. The work expands to fill the time available for it, and the work is never done.
If that sounds gloomy, it's not. I find it oddly freeing, because it means that though I never get enough done, this is no failure on my part: it is simply impossible to get it all done. So the dust bunnies proliferate, the chairs I meant to repair sit still seatless, phone messages and email will go unanswered yet one more day, and it's all okay.
Just wanted to follow up with the finished platter from this post a few weeks ago. I've been invited to do a guest post for Goodwill Northern New England's blog, because the silver platter which served as the mold was a Goodwill find; as are many of the items that I use for shape or texture. The post is slated to appear November 20th.
I was pleased with this piece, and will be keeping it, for alas, it was among the many items which warped during the last firing. I am putting this down to a low-grog body, and also handling the piece while it was too flexible to come off the mold. My impatience is costly! As sometimes happens, I am half-pleased to have a reason to keep this piece; it will be my holiday candy tray, for my new favorite Christmas candy: chocolate covered pretzel sticks.
The warp is minor, and I will address it with those little stick-on rubber bumps: 3 bumps equal stable footing. They do render a piece inappropriate for oven, dishwasher, or microwave, however, so this one will stay with me.
I've gotten a bit off course, business-wise, and neglected the First Rule of Aviation: Don't forget to fly the plane. To get back on course, I am re-commencing Monthly Goal Setting, because lately I feel like I am working all the time but never getting much done. Here's what November looks like:
Three bisques, two glaze firings
Finish my plate order. This seems like it wouldn't be difficult, but between kiln kisses and warping, the plates have been a nightmare, with 2 out of every three being seconds. I'll absolutely fulfill the order - but then I have to revisit pricing, or maybe just not take dinnerware orders.
Contact two new accounts. I've actually been contacted by new stores, but I haven't had the inventory. And why haven't I had the inventory? Because I've only been firing about once a month. I've forgotten MY first rule: inventory drives sales. If I have pots, I am motivated to sell them, and I can respond to opportunities as they arise.
Four new listings on the website. This doesn't sound like much, but online growth has been slow and I am hesitant to commit a lot of work there, as listing online necessarily means pulling work out of real-world inventory. So I build the site slowly and steadily.
Get new kiln shelves! Which reminds me, does anybody know what's going on with Alpha Materials? They are one of very few places that carry the size of nitride-bonded silicone carbide shelf that works beat in my kiln (18 x 24) but they are one of those "Contact us for pricing!" places. (As an aside, why do so many equipment place do that? Do prices really change that fast, that you can't just list the price on the website? Imagine if we did that on our websites and Etsy pages: Contact the potter to find out how much this mug is! Annoying.) They haven't responded to 2 emails and two phone calls (over about a year) but the phone number still works and the answer message identifies as Alpha Materials. So, what's up?
Luckily I have enough work for a bisque firing soon - maybe Sunday.
Lori Keenan Watts (aka me) is a potter, gardener, and avid reader from Augusta, Maine. Though I started my university education in surface design for fabric, clay quickly grabbed me by the heart and redirected my creative impulses. I have been a potter for over 25 years -- hard to believe. The most valuable years of my ceramic education were spent in graduate study at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, under the tutalage of Dan Anderson and Paul Dresang.
My aesthetic is guided by my love of the material itself. What fascinates me and makes a pot compelling for me is the clay-ness of clay: the squooshiness that becomes the adamantine solidity. I also like patterns, unexpected proportions, and when the flame comes along and dissolves part of my careful decorating efforts! I am obstinate about this aesthetic, to a point which might be called pig-headed, but hey, if you don't like what you make, why bother?
My happy little family also includes my husband, musician and photographer (and author of the book Alewife) Doug Watts; five cats; and a turtle, all foundlings and rescues of one stripe or another.