Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Clay Times in Snowmaggedon

Unless you are living under a rock, you heard about our big storm on Tuesday. In actual fact it was not an epic or historic storm, but it was plenty big enough for me. We postponed Tuesday's classes at Portland Pottery until Friday, so I had a surprise snow day at home. What better time to think about spring?

Doug on Snow Mountain
It's time for me to start planning the Maine Pottery Tour once again. I sent out the email this morning, and have already gotten ten responses, including two new studios. I expect all of last year's participants to return, and that we will pick up five or ten more. I'm walking a line with this: I want the tour to grow, but I think it's a mistaken notion that more participating studios is always better, or that fast growth is better than slow. The way I would like the event to grow works like this: potters invite potters. This way we create nodes of participants who know each other, and can work together to publicize. I don't want to suddenly up our numbers to 80 isolated studios, most of whom will do little to get the word out and then wonder why their event didn't go well. I want everyone who participates in the tour to have a successful event, and they key to that is studios near each other working together.

The driveway and walkways are nearly shoveled out now, but the kiln...ugh, I don't even want to think about it. We are expecting three more storms in the next week (yeah, sure is Maine...) so I should probably dig it out, or I may not be able to find it!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Coming Soon: March, April, & May

Every year - in April, right after the end of the NCECA conference - I vow I will make it to next year's conference, come hell or high water. And then next year rolls around, and money or logistics (just kidding, really it's always money) prevent me from attending.

March looks ALOT closer on this side of the holidays (as do April and May!) and now is the time I would usually be deciding that, alas, it's Just Not Going To Happen. However! NCECA is in Providence, RI this year - a mere 3 1/2 hours from here. I am slightly less broke than in past years...all the stars are aligning! Looks like I will finally make it to a conference.

Thinking I was ahead of the curve, I went to the website to register and found I was half right. Though plenty early to receive the advance discount, all of the hotels near the conference are booked up! Kind of bummed about that, as it's fun to have a room right in the heart of things, but it may still turn out that way; it's possible someone I know booked a quad with the expectation of sharing. Or it might be time to learn how Expedia and Priceline and AirBnB work. Or, I dunno, sleep in my car! (Wouldn't be the first time but also wouldn't be my first choice.)

Point is, one way or another, I am going to NCECA. See you in Providence!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Flawed Halos

Like clay, my efforts at soap making sometimes produce surprises. While I love me a good learning experience*, I prefer one that results in a usable product.

I recently unmolded two batches of soap. When I first sliced them into bars, they looked pretty much as I expected. Over the next few weeks, though, I observed a change occurring around the tulip-red inserts: a pinkish halo was growing! Look:
Cherry Moon

The red colorant was bleeding into the soap around it! It is, of course, a colorant specifically for soap, and I've used it before. Maybe it was in a higher concentration? Maybe I put it in earlier or later in the process? Hmmm.

Like a lot of clay surprises, this one does not affect the function of the soap at all. The colorant does not come off on your hands, for example, or color the lather. The halos are even kind of's just that I would have liked to have chosen to put them there.

Next time I will try a red colorant from a different supplier. 

Ah, well. Won't stop me selling them. They are ready now, and I should have the listing up well before Valentine's Day.

Speaking of selling, I am rebuilding the sales page of my website. Still using the paypal buttons; I didn't feel like trying to figure out a new system tonight. I am going with larger photos this time. There's exactly one pot on the page right now, and it is this one:
$48 - click here to purchase.

Well, one is better than none, right? I'm off to watch a couple of episodes of Firefly.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Take on a Classic

Everyone knows what a gravy boat looks like, right? There's a classic shape that we see reincarnated in different materials. I've made this shape out of clay in several ways - an ovaled bowl with a turned-in rim, a bottom-added ewer shape with the rim cut in a swoop - but I've never really loved my results. They always seem...contrived, I guess.

Luckily, the classic is not the only form that will serve to transport gravy to your potatoes. I kept the oval shape - so helpful in channeling the liquid - and obviously the spout and handle are indispensable. Maybe it will become the new classic!

Open all the way down to the bat, then pull up and in.
Collar in until the form is closed; pinch off the top.
Rib off slurry, and slightly flatten dome.
Press into an oval shape. IRl this is a 2-handed operation!

Have patience! this works much better if the piece is leatherhard.
Using food coloring, plan out the shape of the opening.
Cut the opening. The wall will be a bit thicker where the piece was collared in.
Trim away the excess thickness.
Smooth and shape the edge
Throw a small disc, about 3 inches in diameter
Cut a gibbous moon shape away. You will be using the larger piece.
 Attach to piece
You will also want to attach a bottom (Thanks, Captain Obvious!) and a handle. I tried a few handle shapes; I am liking the high loop best, I think. That may change after I have had a chance to test drive these. An alternative way to make the spout: throw a small bowl and cut a broad scoop out of the wall. You can get three spout out of a 1-lb flat bottom bowl.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Yesterday was our first day back to classes at Portland Pottery! Every year, in December, I am sooooo ready for a break, and every year in January I am soooooo excited to be back.I have five classes this session: a handbuilding class, beginning wheel, intermediate/advanced wheel, and a couple of mixed-skill level classes. I was going to Instagram some student projects via my new toy but I found I didn't like to interrupt the flow of class.

Today I will also be teaching classes but this morning I am working on rebuilding part of my website. In December I pulled the shopping page, because I needed the inventory for real-world sales, but it left my site with few images of ware. I still don't have enough inventory to rebuild the store, but I am creating a gallery of "archived" images - pots that are already sold, but give visitors an idea what I make. I will eventually have pots for sale online again - thinking about building a Square store for that. UPDATE: Check out the gallery page here.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow I am thinking I will visit Bethel, Maine, home of Sunday River ski resort, and also of a store which has asked to carry my work. It's a bit of a drive and I am hesitant to do consignment at distance, so I want to have a look before I decide. The advantage here would be the ski resort: it means that this store would have a winter sales season. Sure would be nice to get some checks coming in February and March!

Hopefully I will have some studio time Wednesday night, because I am still aiming to fire end of January/early February.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Lookit Me In the 21st Century!

With the filthy lucre (is there any other kind of lucre? I wonder) from December sales, I bought myself a used iThing - an iPod Touch. I spent $100 for this iThing, which turns out to be more than I had to; it has more gigabytes or whatever than I actually need. (Am I gonna buy 8000 songs? Probably not.) I'm sort of glad I did this before I knew my car was going to shit the bed (as we say in Maine) because I certainly would not have, had I known. I've been meaning to get one for awhile, though, in order to use The Square credit card reader.

I'm certain 98% of you are already using the Square, or some similar device. For those of you who aren't, you should: the percentage taken - 2.75% - is less than most credit card processing systems, and it's so easy even I got it set up without a single curse word.

That is more than I can say for the iThing itself, which has been a fertile source of iFrustration and iAggravation. If you've not yet bought your device, let me warn you: many of the most commonly used apps will no longer download if you're using an operating system lower than ios 7. My device runs ios 6.1.6.   While I am able to use The Square and Pandora, which were the primary reasons I got the dang thing, many other apps which one takes for granted an iThing will do - Facebook, for example, and Pinterest - NOPE, sorry, povs, shoulda bought new! In truth, if I were in a position to buy a new one, I'd go with an Android device - I no longer trust Apple not to pull functionality out from under me, because of this issue. I'd be really ticked off if I bought this new just a couple of years ago and suddenly it won't do the things it's meant to do.

Like I said: iAggravating.

I've also been unable to persuade it to connect with my email, which probably has something to do with POP or SMTP or IMAP or some other acronym. None of these are critical failures, just annoying. There is never anything in my email that I need right this instant. Actually, maybe it's a feature! Like not getting calls. If I can't get my email I can't be distracted by it.

Previously I was using Paypal's Virtual Terminal, which cost $30 for each month of use, plus 2.9% and 30 cents per transaction. I typically only had one event at which to use it in a given month, so after three events, the iThing will have paid for itself.  It automatically deposits the day's receipts into the bank account associated with your Square, which you set up ahead of time, no waiting 3-4 days for the transfer, as with Paypal. I also have the option of creating a Square Store which I can embed into my own website. I am of two minds about this though: purchasing online is an act of faith. Your money is out the door, who knows where, and then you just wait for the invisible stranger on the other end of the transaction to make good. If they don't - if they just vanish in to the ether - good luck getting your cash back. Trust is crucial. People know and trust Paypal - or at least, as many as trust any online transaction at all. Will they trust the lesser-known Square? Hard to say.

All that will have to wait until I have some inventory to sell, however! With that goal in mind, I'm off to the studio. I got my car back (ouch, but could have been worse) and with it the clay I was transporting. Time to make pots to pay for all these expenditures!

Update: I figured out how to Instagram! You can follow me here.
My 1st (ok, 2nd) iThing photo. So misty and romantic!Or blurry.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Goal Setting 2015: Prospero Año y Felicidad

As you may know, I like New Year's resolutions. I know it's not fashionable, but my thinking is, if I resolve to go to the gym three times a week, and only keep it up through February, that's still more gym visits than if I had never made the resolution, so it's a no-lose.

This year, though...I sort of feel like, I'm already doing the best I can. I could resolve to go to the gym three times a week, but I can't magically create three more hours in each week. It would necessarily mean I'd spend less time doing something else, and the balance is already pretty precarious. So this year, I'm tempted to just resolve to keep on keepin' on.

I do have some goals, though:
  • I'd like to gain a couple of accounts, and will probably have to say goodbye to one. I'm learning to be selective: it's a not a straight more-is-better equation.  
  • Every year I am tempted to rebuild my art fair display, and every year I find I don't have the cash available. I'm not ruling it out, but this year I am setting a more doable goal in the form of a portable display cart that I can bring to First Friday and other outdoor events. Bonus points if it can double for soap!
  • I didn't get my bike out once last summer, and I greatly missed it. I hope that I can keep on keepin' on without sacrificing the things I love to do. 
Can't work today, because though I bought clay on Wednesday, my car broke down on the way home. Timing belt, wouldn'tcha just know it. The car & clay are still at the shop...making some peppermint soap in the meantime.