Thursday, December 31, 2015

One More New Thing in The New Year

I really, really need a new laptop, preferably before but possibly shortly after I put my fist through this one. I really can't complain - which doesn't stop me, not at all - because this machine was several years old when I bought it in 2011. (Hint: It's an IBM, not a Lenovo.) All of the software is maxed out; it can't take anything newer. The browsers make me pull my hair with waiting. And now I can't upload files to my website anymore, or type the letter "f" without both hands. The letter A is a little hinky, too.
The good news is, I have proceeds from holiday sales (which, of course, I would have preferred to spend on something else!) The bad news is, I haven't a clue what sort of laptop to buy. I see there are lots in my range, and even below; but how do I know they aren't crap?

So, putting it to all of you: I have $300(ish) to spend, though I'd rather spend less: what kind of laptop should I get? What kind do you use?

ETA: Luckily I was able to repair my two funky keys, so I can stop spelling funky with a "ph." (Not to mention "phuck this shit."And I found a work-around for uploading files: Filezilla! How did I not know about this? Anyway, crisis averted, so I can spend my $300 on what I had originally planned: a dishwasher!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Make Anything

When I was an undergrad, I frequently used to run into this problem: when I really should be studying for my art history test, I really wanted to be reading my anthropology homework. Neither one was a waste of time, but one - the one with the imminent exam - was clearly the better use of my time. Caught between should and would, I sometimes ended up doing neither.

I can get that way in the studio, too. This week, for example, I really should be throwing small things, if I want to stick to my firing plan. But I really want to make vases. Nothing small seems inspiring right now.

I know I make better pots if I make what I feel like, and given my recurring issue - not enough inventory - making anything is better than making nothing. So, vases it is, even if I have to put off the firing in order to give them time to dry. The two above are thrown and altered. I find more and more that I know exactly how I will glaze them while I am building or even while I am throwing; these will have vertical stripes to one side of the slip-dot line.

So much for my schedule! Or maybe I just need to tweak the plan.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Minor Reflections

Y'all know I love the week between Christmas and New Year's. It feel like a time out of time, a chance to catch your breath. I have taken to calling it the Week of Reflection, and I use it to consider the events of the past year, and how I hope the New Year will be different, or the same.

This year, though, I don't have a lot to reflect about. I plan to continue the pots-by-the-pound pricing, because that's working, so why mess with it? My revised time distribution has me spending the majority of my time on my two highest priority tasks: making pots, and seeking accounts which can support higher prices. I am still selling pretty much everything I can make, and while I am doing far better than past years, I'm still struggling by most people's standards. So I need to either A) make more stuff or B) get more money for the stuff I make. I've made a lot of progress, so I think the plan for 2016 is to stay the course.

Looming large in the road ahead, of course, is NCECA, and my process-room demo! Funnily enough, that will be a bunch of time spent that is neither making pots or seeking accounts. Don't care, doing it anyway.

I am also opening an Etsy shop for my soaps & other body products. I don't make quite enough of them to sell wholesale or consignment, but I make more than I can use, or sell within my circle of acquaintances. I haven't loved Etsy in the past (well, I have loved shopping Etsy! Just not being an Etsy seller) but I think soap will be a little different; it's not like each bar needs its own listing. I can create a single listing for each variety and they just keep renewing it when I make a new batch.

I've been meaning, also, to create a quarterly e-newsletter, to reach former customers and students, remind them I exist every once in a while. Maybe 2016 will be the year that happens.

I do want to work on discipline in the coming year. I'm not entirely sure how to address it, the past I haven't stuck well to strict schedules. I'm open to suggestions! Anybody else have a problem getting themselves into the studio as much as they need to be? How did you address it?

I have a firing coming up in the January 8th; once that's done I can repopulate the online Pottery Shop. I sold much of the inventory, and it needed refreshing anyway.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

One Hope, One Plan, One Crazy Idea

In the New Year, I hope I can get back to blogging more again.

In the New Year, I plan to make a schedule for my firing cycles, to even out my inventory, so I am not caught with no pots when opportunities arise.

And the crazy idea? Well...

Remember this guy?  Hans Chew, a college student at the School of Arts Singapore, customized a vending machine to dispense handmade ceramics as a kind of performance art pondering the commoditization of art. ("Can we really put a monetary value to art?" the article asks. Answer: Yes. For good or ill, we do it every day, because that's our job.)

Seriously, though, Chew seems like a thoughtful kid, and when I first read about him last spring I admired his cleverness and wit. And then forgot all about him.

Until yesterday, when I was talking with my friend and fellow potter, Mary Kay Spencer of The Potter's House. MK is also my temporary business partner for a few weeks each year, when we, along with the other members of Central Maine Clay Artists, open a pop-up pottery store in whatever vacant store front we can find. The store is doing well this year, and as always we start to imagine keeping it open year round, and as always we run into the pesky problem of staffing. If only we could open a self-serve store! Or, I know, a vending machine! For mugs and other small items. We were joking, but it made me remember Hans Chew. I also thought of the Cupcake ATMs that have been so successful for Sprinkles. Maybe, I thought, out of a joke comes a good idea.

Maybe not, too: it's a little crazy. There's a lot I still don't know. I do know you can get vending machines with big-ish compartments, that rotate to sliding doors instead of dropping the products. I know there are a couple for sale on Ebay right now for $700-800.

I was thinking of it as a summer thing - I can think of an outdoor location where it would be perfect. But it weighs, like, 800 pounds, so moving it would be a world of hassle and expense.

I don't know...I'll bring it up to the group, but maybe there are just too many obstacles. But that's the way of it with ideas; you gotta have bad ones - and sometimes chase them down blind alleys - to have good ones.

If this happens, I promise you will hear it here first.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

So Hot Right Now

Extra, extra, read all about it! Handmade ceramics are all the rage, it says so right here in the New York Times! Right up there with artisanal chocolates and, I dunno, handcrafted gin, I guess. Here's my favorite part:
Julie Carlson, editor in chief of the design website Remodelista, has chronicled the rise... “It’s hard to keep track of them,” she added of new ceramists. “In the beginning, it seemed like there were just a few, but now there are more than we can cover, and more than we can invite to our markets.”
When??? When, in the history of the world, were there ever "just a few" potters?  If you are editor-in-chief of a home design magazine, it seems pretty odd that studio potters would seem like a new thing to you. GET OUT OF NEW YORK FOR A FEW MINUTES. There are all sorts of people out here. Actually probably have always been tons of potters in New York, too.

But it's churlish to complain, given the lovely moment of attention we are enjoying. Let's go see if we can turn it into coffee and heating oil and maybe a dishwasher! Ooo, and you know who else is so hot right now? Hansel, from Zoolander! We're in good company.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Brief Stroll Down the Road Not Taken

I am sometimes asked what I would have been, if I hadn't been an artist. The answer changes: sometimes I think I would have made a fine dog trainer (behaviorist, please) or bartender or engineer - I like to solve problems. Most often, though, I think if I hadn't been a potter, I would have been a window dresser. It was my favorite job at KRA, back in the day. I love making the little tableaus; it engages both creativity and resourcefulness, and is satisfyingly physical work.

I had a chance to utilize those skills again for the Portland Pottery holiday window. A group of us created this display using pedestals, hula hoops, Christmas lights and ornaments. Pottery, also! And a branch or two for good measure. The occasion is, of course, Portland Pottery's 25th annual Holiday Show, opening December 17th. (The party is from 6-9. You should come!) The show is up until the 20th.

In other news, the Holiday Pottery Shop is having its best year ever; I'm making soap like a soap-making machine that makes a lot of soap; and getting ready for a firing, hopefully in a couple of weeks.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Straight Up

Looka that stack! That stack is straight as...straight as...well, straight as a thing that's really, really straight. Better than last time, anyway.

Right now the kiln is cooling; first glaze fire with new stack went without incident. Not that I expected an incident: if the dimensions are the same as the old stack, there's no reason why it would fire any differently. But kilns are weird.  And the dimensions are not precisely like the old one: the new stack is one layer shorter, because previously the kiln always drew a little too hard. Not enough to get up on the roof and fix it ( I HATE HEIGHTS) but since I had to rebuild it anyway....

The firing was a little slower than I expected; which might have been a function of the weather - kinda windy - or the changes in the stack. And the damper positions are noticeably different now: I have to push the damper further in to achieve the same reduction. Possibly, in building the stack straighter, I created a slightly larger cross-section? Dunno. Don't care, actually, expect abstractly, as long as I get good results.
...which I shall know soon! I pulled the spy to peek, and not only do things look good - what little I could see - but it seems cool enough to unload. So I'm off to do just that.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

This Train's Running Right on Time

Been mostly hunkered down in the studio with my trailing bottles and buckets of glaze, dipping, drawing, waxing, dipping some more. I expect to come in juuuust under the wire, and deliver my order on its actual due date, November 15th.

When he placed the order, the shopkeeper asked me, "Are you a typical potter?" By itself it's an unanswerable question, so I hesitated. "Potters are always late," he clarified.

Did not know that! If that's the case, I used to be a typical potter. I wanted the orders so badly that I would underestimate my turnaround times: Want a full-kiln order four weeks from today? Sure!! I wasn't lying, not on purpose; I was telling myself I would pull all-nighters and neglect all my other responsibilities to keep my promise. I meant well, but as a practical matter, that just ain't happening. Sleep is only briefly optional, and the rest of la-la-la-la life goes on as well.

During my brief stint as a store owner, I discovered how damaging a missed deadline can be. You have an extremely limited retail season, in the winter, and every day you don't have work is a day you can't sell it. You also have a limited buying budget, and you've committed a chunk of it to buying this person's work, and you'll be expected to pay for it whether it arrives on time or not. By the time you know it will be late - often you find out when it just doesn't arrive on the due date - it's too late to purchase someone else's work to fill your store. If you are on a tight margin, late orders can be the difference between breaking even and not. (Never mind making money. That part never happened to me, not as a store owner.)

I can sometimes do four weeks, for a smallish order, if the order comes in at just the right time in the firing cycle. Six weeks is more likely, and eight weeks is optimal. Better to give a realistic timeline, and meet it, than to promise the moon and lose the account. I'll deliver partial orders if necessary, but I'll never deliver late. Not anymore.

Glazing is the step that bumps right up against the deadline. By the time I am glazing I know when I have to fire in order to unload, sort, and price the work and get it to where it is going on time. My glazing days are often long ones, but once I get in the glazing zone, I lose track of time. I put on Pandora - yesterday I was listening to what I think of as sad-sack radio, a station built around Dwight Yoakam and similar musicians - and crooning, " your broken dreams dance in and out of the beeeeeeeeeams...of a neon moon...." For hours. Poor Doug, having to listen to that.

Loading today, firing Wednesday, and unloading Saturday for Sunday delivery.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Well, This Explains A Lot

This isn't my old cubicle but it sure looks like it. Minus the windows.
One of the things that I disliked about my old office job was that I felt not just bored with my tasks, but that I literally thought less interesting thoughts* the more time I spent there. Maybe it wasn't a function of the job, but the environment! A study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has found that even normal levels of carbon dioxide and other compounds found in indoor air have a negative affect on thinking ability and decision-making. The headline at the link implies that it's office environments specifically, but if you read the article, it's almost any indoor environment.

Most of my claywork is done indoors also, eight months out of the year, but I am rarely inside for more than three straight working hours. I walk to the store, I go check the mail, I stand on the deck and watch the birds at the feeder. (Ha, and I thought I just lacked discipline.) Some jobs - waxing, sometimes glazing, loading, firing, kiln maintenance - are outdoor work. Maybe my more interesting thoughts are a sign of a better-functioning brain!

Wherever you work, take a break and get outside! Your brain will reward you.

*More on this later

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Do the Math

Me, in class, explaining all this last night.

A friend of mine has often give me this good advice: Don't guess at anything, if you can help it.

I get the advice often, because I tend to forget it: eyeballing and seat-of-the-pants are much more my natural style. So when I had a request for 20 ounce mugs - and they had to be pretty-damn-close to 20 ounces, not "20-ounces, give-or-take," my first thought was to make a few mugs that looked like they would shrink to about the right size, write on the bottoms what the wet dimensions were, and see which one worked out best, and proceed from there. That approach will get the job done,  but maybe there is a better way?

Enter arithmetic! Or maybe this is algebra? Actually it's geometry, but it is algebraic geometry...? Or arithmetic geometry...?(OOPS SORRY, DERAIL. Back on track now.)  All of the necessary information to tell me how large this mug has to be is available.

Q: Okay, Google: How many cubic inches is 20 ounces of water?
A: 36.1 cubic inches
So far, so good. Now, so I need to make a mug with an interior space that will shrink to 36.1 cubic inches, plus a little so the liquid is not right up to the brim. How might one do that? Well, starting simply, the equation to determine the volume of a cylinder is
π r2(H) = V
where "H" is the height, and V the volume. Now let's put in the numbers that we know. Well, π is 3.141etc, etc. V is 36, plus a little, right? Plus how much? If I want a half-inch of space between the rim and the liquid, that number is 3.5 (which I arrived at by doing the above equation, but skipped that part so I wouldn't be repeating myself.) So, let's put in 39.6 for "V". To get the radius, we need to decide on a diameter, and after measuring a couple of mugs of different sizes, I decided on 3 inches - doesn't sound like much but is actually a pretty wide mug. That makes the radius 1.5. One-point-five squared is 2.25, so now we have all the numbers except one, H; this is the number our equation will give us. Like this:
3.141 x 2.25 x H = 39.6
Now we need to cancel out some of those numbers. We could say the same thing like this:
3.141 x H = 39.6 ÷ 2.25
...which equals 17.6. So now we've got
3.141 x H = 17.6
Cancelling out the π, now it looks like this:
H = 17.6  ÷ 3.141, which equals 5.6 and some change.
So our mug (assuming it was a perfect cylinder, which it's not, but we'll get to that) should, after firing, measure 5.6" tall by 3" in diameter; that's the interior space, 'cause that's where your coffee goes. On the interior. Usually. On a good day. So while I can easily measure the interior diameter with calipers, I'll need to tack on 1/8 inch in height for the bottom, and the clay that stays on the wheel.

My claybody shrinks something like 13%, but that is plus or minus 2%; and these mugs really shouldn't be too large, but they absolutely cannot be too small, so I'm gonna assume 15% shrinkage. (Also makes the math easier to do in my head, when I need to.) So now we have wet dimensions of 6.5 (adding the 1/8 inch and rounding down a hair) by 3.5 - again with a slight round up of .05 inches. 

Well, now we're cooking! If I start with this cylinder, and then add some curves, if I am careful to curve in at one spot about the same amount as I curve out at another, I should still arrive at my 20 ounce capacity. I will be guessing - let's say estimating, sounds nicer - how much clay to use, and then if it doesn't feel right - too clunky, too flimsy - adjusting up or down. I don't mind that, because that only takes a few minutes to work out, as opposed to having to wait a whole firing cycle. 
I am going with 1.75 pounds of clay. These mugs will be in a restaurant setting, so will be frequently washed, and will mostly serve beer, so users may be less than dainty with them. I am thinking a little thicker than usual might do well. On the other hand, I don't want a behemoth, since 20 ounces of beer is a little weighty all by itself (weighs exactly 20 ounces, in fact!) so I am only going a tiny bit thicker than usual. 

I wish I could make these mugs today, but alas, I have to go pile brick on  top of one another: I've promised myself the stack will be finished today so that weight - all 1000+ pounds of it - will be off my mind. And when it's done I will enjoy another kind of pie, as a reward. 

Yay math.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

What's Up

Foliage is late this year here in Maine, but incredibly beautiful. I had a good chance to see it as the sun was setting yesterday, while I limped my car home at 15 miles per hour on Rte. 201 through Topsham, Bowdoinham, and Gardiner. Beautiful! My favorites are the peachy maples, especially when they still have some green, or are right besides the flaming red ones.

Oh, what's that? I buried the lede? I guess I did, but I thought that anything - even a gushing foliage review - would be more interesting than another story of my car maladies.

Yeah, my car has issues again, which caused me to miss my evening class - Week 1, at that. Sorry, beginners! But the ever-capable Karen Dyer Dicenso jumped in for me. VIP Auto has the vehicle, will find out later today what's up with that. Whatever it is is bound to be spendy - the best I can hope for is "not over my credit card limit."

But, better things are coming:
  • First Friday! Portland Pottery is hosting an opening for Faculty and Staff during Portland's November First Friday event. That's November 6, from 5-8.
  • The Central Maine Clay Artists group have chosen our location for the Holiday Pottery Shop! This is the tenth year, and the shop has come full circle: 100 Water Street, Hallowell is where the group held its first meeting in 2005. We hope to open in by mid-November.

  • The stack is half rebuilt. I am taking it easy, doing just a few courses a day, to avoid dinging up my elbow, which didn't like the repetitive motion involved in taking all those brick down.
 Aaand, just had a call from the mechanic, saying they don't know what it is but it's going to be expensive. Well, that's not exactly what he said, but close enough.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Screamy Feet

Ugh, this GETTING OLD thing! Amirite?

I'm on my feet a lot. Throwing days are mostly sit-down, of course, but decorating, glazing, loading, firing, packing, pricing, teaching classes - basically every work activity other than throwing (or blogging!) - is a standing one. For months now I've been literally hobbling when I wake up in the morning, barely able to put weight on either of my feet. It loosens up after a few excruciating minutes, and then I am able to walk normally, but then starts hurting again in the early afternoon. If I still down for any length of time, I go through the morning limping routine all over again. Turns out that what I had been calling "Screamy Feet" has a more official name: Plantar fasciitis

But for every curse, there is a blessing,* and right around the same time I started falling apart, I was able to get health insurance. So I told my doc about this foot problem, and she had a great suggestion:
  • fill a two-liter bottle with water
  • freeze it
  • in the evening, when reading or watching netflix or working online, place your feet on it like a little footstool. 

This ices the injured fascia and reduces the swelling. After one treatment, I was amazed at the improvement: no limping at all this morning. We'll see how it holds up over the course of the day.
In other news:
  • Still in the throwing/decorating part of the making cycle; I expect to fire a bisque in about two week, and a glaze about a week after that. 
  • It's already time to talk about the Holiday Pottery Shop! Fellow potter Mary Kay Spencer, Barb Loken and I checked out a space in Hallowell this week - the big red building on the north end of downtown, for my local readers. Still a couple of details that need to be nailed down but I am optimistic about this space. If it doesn't work, there are possibilities in Gardiner or Augusta, but we seem to do best in Hallowell, so we look there first. 
  • Soda firing workshop at Watershed next week! Still a few spaces - give Portland Pottery a call if you're interested: 207-772-4334. We'll glaze and load on Saturday, fire Sunday. Bring two cubic feet of bisqued work, I'll bring slips, glazes, and wax. $125
  • Putting the pottery stairs out front of my house one last time for the season. It's a bright sunny weekend, if a little cold; hoping to catch a few late-season bargain hunters.

 *HAHA as if

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Turn, Turn, Turn

Ready to roll

No foliage color yet, but it really feels like fall now; today we brought the wheel in from the "summer studio,"aka the kiln shed. It always feels way too soon to do it until suddenly it is time. Some places in Maine, places not too far from here, got frost last night. Funny: last week we had a 90° day. That's Maine for ya.

So, the season is turning, and so is the wheel. I am finishing an order, and when I have thrown the last piece, I will throw the order over again: this way I guarantee I will have the ware, and any I don't need, well, those are inventory. 

Because there's another season coming, right after this one, and I am gonna need inventory.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

New Items in the Pottery Shop!

I actually posted these a while ago but only just getting around to sharing.These were pots from my August firing, which would not be available for purchase from were it not for my less-than-stellar art fair. Glass half full, etc.
Click here to purchase.

I love the bottom of this one.
Click here to purchase!
Click here to purchase!
And, in fact, the glass is more than half full. Because I have inventory, I was able to pursue new accounts. This holiday season, Handworks Gallery in Acton, Mass (not to be confused with Handworks Gallery in Blue Hill, Maine) will be carrying my work. More appointments on the docket; will keep you posted.

Thanks for looking. XO

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Down Comes the Stack

Play this 210 times, and that was my day yesterday.Notice I am wearing my bike helmet! I don't care for heights.

Spent a couple of hours pulling down the stack. I had hoped I'd only have to take down the softbrick shell, but that didn't work out; the upper courses of hardbrick were laid partially on the outer softbrick sleeve, so they had to go before I could work on the softbrick.

That was the bad news. The good news is that, looking down into the opening, I don't think the inner hardbrick sleeve has been affected. I had to remove 30 courses of hardbrick above but I think hte res can stay in place while I remove and then rebuild the outer sleeve.

It was much shorter work than I expected, once again proving the truism that begun is half done. Gravity was a great assistant in this venture: after warning Doug, and then the neighbor kids, to stay out of the kiln yard, I just tossed the bricks down from the roof. I could only throw down about 20 before I had to climb down and stack them out of the way, because while the soft ground did them no damage, striking another brick definitely would. I think I broke three bricks that way.
Hmmm...Seemed higher when I was up there!
Which is fine, because I decided that when I rebuild it, it will be a little bit shorter. It draws like a mad bastard (or it did, when it was standing!) and so I think a shorter stack will serve me better. I just can't decide how much shorter. One course? two?

But none of that is for today. Today is webwork, and then canoeing!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Silver Lining

Yeah, so, that art fair? The one I was so excited about? Kind of stunk for me. And by "kind of" I mean I missed making the booth fee back by $1.

I'm told this was a good fair, until this year. It's that Reverse Midas Touch thing again!Or else some other factors, like a new, larger fair this year - the MCA put on a fine crafts show this year, for some reason choosing the same weekend as the established Designing Women show. (Actually I know the reason - they are piggybacking on the crowd that already comes out for the 50-year-old WSCH 6 Sidewalk Art Festival, which features mostly fine art. (Mostly paintings of lobster traps and lighthouses, honestly. Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Still, sucked for the people who counted on the Manchester show.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining, and I was lucky enough to find two: 1) I had been meaning to rebuild my art fair display for years, but something else was always more important; now it is done and 2) I now have tons of inventory to get to my various accounts for the tail end of summer, going into leaf-peeping season and beyond to holiday shopping. Some of it is already at the Portland Pottery Cafe, and more on its way to Quench in Belfast, Mudfire in Decatur, GA, and my website, if it is a bright enough day to take photos. 

Moving right along!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Making Art, and Making Money

Check out this list. I'll wait.

Top 25 Fine Craft Show ranked by average sales

These are the top craft shows in the nation. I am a little bit comforted in a misery-loves-company way, because I always thought my take, back when I did these sorts of events, was way below average. It was, but not ridiculously so. And I'm a potter, my raw number is always going to be lower than the jewelers or clothing folks.
But: think for a second how much it costs to do one of these shows, between booth fees, gas, hotels, and meals. Take, just for a ferinstance, the Smithsonian Show. The lowest booth fee is $1265. Might as well add in the application fee, that's a cost of doing the show, too. Now think about getting a hotel room for five nights - in or around Washington DC. Even the Super 8's and the Motel 6's are spendy; let's say $150 a night. You could maybe get a room for less but you can't write luck into the plan. And food: realistically, you aren't going to eat peanut butter sandwiches in your room every meal. And food vendors at the event are always overpriced. You could maybe - if you are super-frugal - get away with spending $25 a day on food & drink, but I think $30 is more realistic. I've got a travel day on either end so that's about $180 for six days of bad food. It's about 1200 miles, plus some noodling around town to go to Lowes and buy lights or duct tape or whatever, and back & forth from the show to the hotel every day - might be pretty far if you need a cheap hotel. I'd have to be driving a truck or van so let's say 18 MPG. So we've got about $250 in gas.
It looks like this:

  • Application fee $50
  • Booth fee $1265
  • Hotel $750 and you know there's gonna be some bullshit hotel tax in there, too.
  • Bad food $180
  • Gas $250
  • Probably some bullshit parking costs, too, let's say $40
 $2535. That's all money you have to spend whether you see a dollar from the show or not. Most of it you have to come up with well in advance. Now, the average take from the Smithsonian is $5983. (When I was your age, a show didn't even count as "good" unless we made ten times the booth fee. That's not even five times the booth fee! The fees have gone up a lot more than the sales. The venues, they still get their money. The organizers, even the non-profit ones, their share hasn't dropped. When shit falls, it always fall on the little guy.) It's important to remember, too, that half of the artists will come in below average - although that's not for sure, there may be someone pulling the average down with a ridiculously low number. More likely, though, is that there's someone pulling the average up with a ridiculously high number. We've all been at that art fair where the artist in the booth across the aisle makes $20,000, whereas the low can never be lower than zero.

But I digress. Let's pretend we went to this show and sold a little less than average, because we know the jewelers tend to make the most, and not by a little. Let's say $5000. Subtract $2535 and get $2500. (ish) Most sales are credit or debit cards now, so let's add in conservative processing fees of $100, or 2%, on our 5k in sales, leaving $2400.

Half of your retail will cover your making costs and overhead, so now we've got $1200. This is not a terrible number, if you think of it as pay for 5 days' work; but if you think of it as your paycheck for the six weeks leading up to the show - the time it took to make the work and prepare for the show - well, now it is less impressive. And that's not including opportunity costs: the work you could have made in the six days the show took up.

I guess my point is, this shit is hard. It's not just me. These numbers matter, because I am still weighing a transition to doing art fairs more than wholesale/ consignment, and I need to assess it in a hard-headed way. I haven't yet bought a van, and before I do I want to make sure I'm not following faerie lights.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Designing Women

After weeks of prep and worry and more prep, it's time to saddle up. Whatever I forgot (ahem: business cards) I'll just have to do without; the weather will be whatever it is; people will come and buy, or they won't.
If you are in Central Maine, come see me!

Longfellow's Greenhouses
81 Puddledock Road

Oh, and I almost forgot: today is my birthday! That's got to be good mojo, right?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ready to Go!

The firing went well, the booth is finished (more or less), and I borrowed a canopy because I was stuck like Buridan's ass between the EZ-Up Eclipse or Envoy options. (The one is so expensive! But what if the other is a cheap piece of shit? But what if it would have been fine, and I wasted all that money...?) My friend Karen Dicenso took pity on me and lent me hers, so I could see the difference between that and my old canopy (which perished some years ago in and unfortunate encounter with a strong wind and a stronger police officer.)First impression: if I do well enough at this show, I'll buy the Eclipse. The Envoy is adequate, but the Eclipse is much, much sturdier.

I may have opportunity to fully test the canopy, as rain is expected this weekend. It is, in fact raining now, with intermittent showers predicted for tomorrow. I'd be bummed about that but earlier in the week the forecast for Saturday was "torrential downpour," is intermittent showers doesn sound so bad. Besides, every time I check it's a little less threatening. 

I had a bad moment just after I took this photo, when I decided to try out the offline mode of my Square credit card reader, and discovered, after much crying and gnashing of teeth, that the device I have is no longer supported. NICE OF THEM TO LET ME KNOW. I could have gotten another for free but since I need it tomorrow, that wasn't going to work, so I went to Best Buy. There was exactly one person in the store who knew what The Square was and where in the store to find it; and when I did find it, there was only ONE left, and I had to buy a case with it, because they didn't have any without. It was a case for an iPhone, which I don't have, but whatever. I have since tried it out, and yes, thankfully, I can now take credit cards again. Disaster, averted.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Countdown: 3 Days

This Saturday, my first art fair in forever. Between now and then: so much work! I've got the display about 80% done - or, more accurately, 80%-as-done-as -it's-going-to-get-before-Saturday, because I am now recalling: the display is never done. I used to say that pottery is my business and the booth display is my hobby.

Here are the shelves so far. This is the main piece of the display I used for many years, updated with paint, crates, and quarter-round shelves. It has a couple of advantages: it's lightweight, it folds down flat to take little space in transport, and it sets up quickly. It has some disadvantages as well: you can see right through it, so it doesn't hide of the spare stock, packing materials, or other items you bring along to an art fair, that you don't want on display. It's also a bit unstable: it won't tip by itself but if somebody comes along, say, and leans on it, well, all bets are off.

I can solve these two problems with lattice panels and a cordless drill. I cut them to size and then just tack them with a couple of small screws to the back to the vertical shelf supports.

With the lattice tacked in place, to make sure it will work

Two screws on each end hold it in place to lend stiffness to the shelves.
I started painting it, so now I have to finish...but man, painting lattice? is a pain in the ass. It's all edges.

I hope to finish this today, and then unload the glaze kiln.

Monday, August 17, 2015


So, my firing was cruising right along: 012 by 9:30 AM, out of body reduciton by 10. But when I pulled out the damper a bit for climbing reduction, something unexpected happened: the bricks around the damper slipped outward just enough that they were no longer entirely supporting the bricks above them!

Well, this can't be good.

At first I thought AAAAAGH THIS THOUSAND-POUND STACK OF HOT BRICKS IS ABOUT TO FALL ON ME AAAAAGHH!!!! I figured I'd have to shut 'er down, dammit dammit dammit. I really did not want to do that: I have a fair coming up next Saturday; these pots are for that, and without them I wouldn't have much inventory at all. After the panic passed I remembered: the soft brick is only sort of an outer sleeve, to keep people (people like me! Exactly like me, actually) from brushing against the hot hardbrick of the stack. There's an inner hardbrick sleeve which is not being supported by that one lintel brick. It has its own lintel brick, which had not shifted, because if it had, I'd know it; I wouldn't be able to move the damper anymore.

The damper was, luckily, in a pretty good position when the shift happened, because while I could still move it, I didn't like to do anything that might cause any more shifting. Crossing my fingers, toes, and everything else I have two of, I decided to just keep firing.

All those crossed body parts must have worked, because other than this (rather significant) one, the firing went without incident: ^10 fell around 3 pm. Unloading is Wednesday, Designing Women is Saturday.

And next week? Rebuilding the stack.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Art Fair Booth Project

Remember the 90's? I do. I lived in St. Paul for most of them, weighed 20 pounds less than I do now, and I mostly sold my work at arts fairs. And made a living!

I've been saying for years that I am should go back to doing art fairs; my obstacles have been vehicular and boothal. (Do you like that word I just made up? It means "of, or related to, a booth.") Recently, as I've mentioned, I was invited to do a local art fair, one close enough to make multiple trips to bring the wares and the display, so the vehicle part is solved: now I just need a booth display.

The display in my head is awesome, and I was holding out until I had time and money to build it, but with less than three weeks left before the show it's time to admit that the awesome booth is not going to happen, and to settle for the adequate booth: a rehabbing of my old display - the one I used in the 90s.

So, let's see what needs to be done.
  1. After a decade of schlepping and another of unheated storage, the stain and urethane are looking pretty shabby, and even flaking off in places.
  2. The hinges are rusty and ugly
  3. And, last but far from least, one of the ladder-supports has been cannibalized for another project, and will need to be rebuilt.
Surfaces first - I can get some sanding discs and re-purpose the angle grinder I bought to clean the kiln shelves.
To save time, I decided to paint rather than sand right down to the wood and re-stain and vanish. Ain't primer wonderful? Sticks to anything, and covers a multitude of sins.

Now, I've got to make a decision for the final color. Everyone tells me I would be wise to paint it white and keep it simple, and I'm sure that's true...but I can't help wanting something more fabulous than conventional wisdom allows.

When I think about what draws me in at a fair, honestly, at first, it's not the work. I get pulled in by the booths that are appealing, the booths that
are themselves artworks, and then look at the work once I am in. Am I alone in this? I think not. On the other hand, hasn't this resistance to conventional wisdom lead me to some spectacular failures? Why yes. Yes it has. Sometimes the fabulous in my head does not translate, and even other artists don't see what I was trying to do.

Still, like Popeye, I yam what I yam, and even though this will not be the awesome booth in my head, I am leaning toward some and pattern that harks back to the colors and patterns on the pots.

I've got until tomorrow morning to decide.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cats and Clay, a (Very) Brief History

Yup, that's a paw print alright.
It appears cat have been wreaking havok for clay workers for at least a couple of millenia! Paw prints were found on 2000-year old Roman roof tiles, perhaps made when the tiles were laid out to dry. The tile was fired and used nevertheless - for all we know the marks were considered an embellishment! That wasn't the way of it when my own feline friends - kittens at the time - contributed to my work, but who knows? More likely, it just didn't matter, as the fairly shallow prints didn't interfere with the function of the tile.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

At Last an Art Fair

The last art fair I did was 12 years ago, the now defunct Maine Festival. A few months before that I did the ACC Baltimore wholesale/retail show - the year the city got three feet of snow. It sucked, as you can imagine, and I ate out of vending machines for three days. I didn't swear off art fairs, exactly, but between this, that, and the other thing, I haven't done any since 2003.

Partly I just got spoiled, living in St. Paul, a few hours drive from a score of top-shelf art fairs. It's disheartening to do the same amount of work for the small local festivals and come home with a tenth of the money. And, perhaps most importantly, my van died, and I didn't have the money to replace it.

This summer I've been invited to participate in the Designing Women show in Manchester, about 15 minutes from where I am sitting. The proximity makes it possible: I still just have a compact car - a Kia Optima, if you're wondering. (Okay, you probably weren't wondering.) I can make multiple trips, and I'll almost certainly have to make at least two - one for the display and one for the ware. Or rent a van for the day. Or buy a pick-up! I really want to buy a pick-up - honestly it's harder to be an artist without a truck - but that's probably not in the cards.

Anyway! I need to do a firing for the event - I have some inventory but am trying to create a more unified body of work, for display purposes - so I've been making, making, making, like a mad thing, to fill a kiln for my August 15th firing. But! I still need to build a display! I'd like to build this one, but I probably won't have time for that, so I will most likely either reconstruct my old display or purchase some pre-made folding shelves. I hate those - they look so generic - but I've often been guilty of letting the awesome be the enemy of the serviceable, and thereby missing opportunities.

This morning I need to finish up some wine chillers and sugar bowls, then it's off to class with me.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Might Take a Train, Might Take a Plane

...but if I have to walk, I'm gonna go there just the same.

Just got some exciting news: I've been selected to be a demonstrator in the Process Room at the 2016 NCECA conference in Kansas City! The Process Room features artists doing 30-minute demos of building or decorating techniques - if you were in Providence you recall the room was constantly full to overflowing.

I'll be demonstrating the thrown-and-stretched butter dishes I wrote about a few years ago.

If I were in my depressed/cynical mode, I would make note that this is not a paid gig, and that it's surprising to me how many organizations are happy to ask artists to work for free, including organizations of and for artists. (*cough*Ceramics Monthly*cough* ) But hey! I applied knowing it was not paid, save for my NCECA membership, and I am damn glad to be doing it. This might be the ONE time that the exposure really is the important part.

Muddy Waters has more to say on the subject:

Saturday, July 11, 2015

New pots!

Sorry to go dark for so long - several of you have emailed me to see if I'm okay, since my last post was about depression, among other things. Thank you for your kindness. I am okay - wouldn't exactly say I've got my groove back, which is why I can't seem to get a post past the draft stage, but doing alright.

And making pots! I unloaded a kiln on Wednesday. Many pots have already been delivered, but I photographed a few today. I'll post them on the website later & update here with links when that is done:

It was one of those firings with a higher than usual number of WOW pots, and a higher than usual number of seconds: warps, cracks, soda-foam-globs. I delivered many of the best ones to Handworks Gallery in Blue Hill, Maine, yesterday. Doug and I made a day of it and visited the reversing falls there, and found the most beautiful starfish!
We don't see starfish much. I mean, we live inland, but I grew up right on the coast, in Scarborough, and I can only remember seeing starfish once, on a trip to Mount Desert Island. I'm told they prefer deep water, and the water at the reversing falls gets very deep at high tide.

I think of starfish being kind of a tan-brown color, but they were amazing jewel tones: amethyst, peach, ruby, charcoal.
All in all a great day.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dementors and Grindylows

 J.K. Rowling has said that when she wrote the dementors in the Harry Potter series, she meant for them to describe what depression feels like: the despair, the hopelessness, the replaying of bad memories. That all sounds about right, but when I visualize depression, I think of another dark inhabitant of Rowling's fictional world: Grindylows.
For those unfamiliar, Grindyows are water demons that grab the ankles of unsuspecting swimmers and drag them to the bottom. This, to me, is depression: you know you are going down, and you fight, and maybe you break free; but the longer you have to fight, the less able you are.
Here's another rendition
If you haven't guessed, I've been kicking at my own personal grindylow for some months now. It was a loooooong winter, and a cold one - those things matter - and once the spiral starts, any disappointment seems to contribute. It can be difficult to tease out what is a symptom and what a cause. It got bad, this time: I was able to rally for my classes, and to organize the pottery tour, but outside of those obligations,  I pretty much just went to bed. And then, in that cause-symptom spiral, felt even worse, because I must be a lazy piece of shit, right?

And so on.

Most of the time I felt no desire to make things. I feared, as those of us in the creative professions sometimes do, that I had lost it: lost the mojo that made me who I am, because that drive was as gone. Terrifying and depressing, awesome.Not to mention the economic consequences: one more anxiety, one piece of evidence that I am not a competent adult, blah-blah-blah, did I mention Grindylows are chatty? They have opinions about me: hateful opinions, all of them.

I've been managing this illness (more or less) with exercise and relaxation techniques for 15 years, but I finally - finally - decided after being unable to kick free for months that it was time to go back on meds. I've contacted my doctor's office but haven't been able to even set an appointment yet (long boring story) I wait. I've been waiting over a month, just to set an appointment. (No wonder people go to the emergency room for stupid things! They probably just give up waiting for their own doctors.)

In the meantime, I've started to feel its grip weakening. Remission, too, is a spiral: if you can feel a little better, you can be a little more active, which makes you feel a little better. If you can address even a small thing that seemed overwhelming, you can feel empowered to address another. And so on! Like this:

(There's a great post at Captain Awkward about breaking the low mood cycle, where I got that "chart.")

My remission is still fragile but it does seem to have some momentum: I spent a few hours at the wheel yesterday, in the summer studio, and a few more decorating.

 tl;dr: I've been feeling low for a while but starting to feel better, and look! I made some pots yesterday!