Monday, November 19, 2012

"This is Bullshit"

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.

1 comment:

- Cindy - said...

Don't be too hard on yourself. You are living as an artist which means you somehow did something right. It's something that's hard, takes courage, and a lot of people either fail at, stop doing, or say they want to and don't.

You're a wonderful potter, and you're forced to automatically be so many other things by making a living at this. It's not fair for anyone (including yourself) to expect you to be talented at these things too. Instead, you'll need to fail and fix, ask for help, and otherwise figure out some of those other things to make this financially successful.

We unfortunately have been done a great disservice by our culture, including our ceramic culture. We feel like we need to price like we're competing with the items made in big box stores, which is silly. We don't make the same thing. I know they're both mugs, but we (and yes, even consumers) know they're not the same. Potters should rebel hard against this, but instead a lot of well known American potters embrace it by pricing their stuff as cheap as possible (and then it resells for double on Ebay). They think they're martyrs who are responsible for getting people to use and appreciate hand made things. Maybe this makes people use handmade items, but how much do they really appreciate and respect the craft when you're pricing it less than it's worth- even to people who can pay more?

Sorry, I didn't mean to get on a soapbox there, but I'm just trying to convey that this is not just your problem. It's a bigger problem, and it's nothing you did that caused it.

One thing is that sounds like you have demand for your work (which is really great) and you're having a hard time supplying it it. Therefore, it might be time to raise the price.

There are also other things you can do to help in regards to the pain issues with throwing. One thing that comes to mind is changing your line and practice to include more work that doesn't involve throwing to give yourself more natural breaks. If you get a big order for thrown things, this will still happen. However, some big orders for hand built platters, tiles, etc. might help.

I've never had this problem throwing since I both hand build and throw my pots. However, the carving I do on all of them is something that requires periods of rest or else my hands will cramp.

At some point I realized that I couldn't just get more efficient at carving and magically fill a kiln. At some point, to keep up production without sacrificing my health or craftsmanship, I had to think of something.

So, I made a mold of a bowl that I'd designed and slip cast. Then instead of hand carving the whole thing, I hand carve the rim of each bowl differently. I'm never going to give up the work that I carve the entire outside, but having a line of work that has a different process and less carving certainly helps.

I haven't made any of these recently since I have space restrictions and can't yet figure out how to also set up slip casting in those constraints, but if I were to go to doing this full time I'd do this more alongside my other work.

I'm not telling you to use slipcasting, but instead thinking you should look into other making methods to use alongside throwing to give yourself some relief. There's a balance to maintain. You need to make sure you don't take out the things that make you love pottery too. Like I didn't completely take out carving. Maybe instead of not throwing there's a different method that still includes throwing (or type of throwing).

Reflect and innovate, but don't quit! Depression has the danger of being able to stop you. Critical reflection is good, but giving into the helpless feeling isn't. There's a solution out there, actually there's many, and you'll find one or more that work for you. :)