Sunday, June 18, 2017

As I Always Say...

This is something I tell students all the time: round is overrated. Some of the most beautiful pots in the world are asymmetrical; if ya like em perfectly round, they've got plenty of those all Walmart.

Skill comes, with time and practice. In the meantime it's important to enjoy and appreciate the wonky, spontaneous qualities of your early pieces. Once you can make them round every time, you'll strive to get back dome of the wonk!

Get the shirt here.


It's sort of a running joke in my family - my Dad and his tomato plants. There are reels and reels of home movie footage of beautiful green growing fruit. He was so proud of his garden.

So, not for nothin', I grew up to be a gardener, and I sort of specialize in tomatoes. And this year I have blossoms already on some of my plants! In the middle of June.

Dad would be proud.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Garden Inspired

I loooove sliptrailing. Usually my sliptriailng is just dots or other patterns, but occasionally I get inspired to do some representational marks. Even the abstract marks are botanically inspired, and in June there is a lot of botanical inspiration to be had in my garden.

Bleeding hearts have tugged on my mind for some time. The simple repetitive shapes, the multiplicity, the distinctive foliage - they seem made for slip decoration. It's harder than it looks, though, and my first several tries were either just bad - blotchy, unrecognizable - or just didn't really capture the charm of the plants. Theses are a bit better, but I'll keep working on it.

The green you can see peeking out from beneath the slip is food coloring - I find it helpful to loosely paint out my marks. It saves me wasting slip by trailing, wiping off, trailing, wiping off, and so on.

These blossoms are loosely inspired by creeping phlox.

These are more generic but I think I could minimally adapt them to reference poppies. The difficulty with slip trailing is with depth - trying to represent some blooms or petals behind others can sometimes turn into just a blobby mess! On these last two the food coloring serves to mark out the spacing for the scalloped design - this has greatly improved my placement! It has he advantage over pencil or needle tool in that the lines are clearly visible but do not have to be removed later - the food coloring just burns away. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Yeah, That Was Me

...firing a raku on the hottest night of the year.
At least I hope it will turn out that was the hottest night! I kind of feel cheated: May and June are two of the three nicest months in Maine - the third being September - with temperate days and cool nights. This year, and last year, we had 45° and rain right up until we were catapulted into the 90s. Temps in the 90s are not supposed to happen in Maine! Or at least not for more than a few days each summer, in late July or early August. It plays hob - HOB, I TELL YOU - with the gardening season. I'm hoping things will mellow out in the next few days.

Nevertheless, the raku must go on! Well - technically that's not true, I've cancelled raku for all kinds of reasons, often weather-related, once mostly because I was just not feeling it.

It was sweltering, but we got some amazing results. I had all beginners! But they listened well and followed instructions, and we got some of the nicest copper lustre results I've seen in a while. The students have since taken theirs home, but mine are still at Portland Pottery, for people to check out. .

If you are thinking about doing a raku firing or taking a workshop, let me share a couple of things with you to make it a better experience:
The first couple are safety related:

  1. Wear cotton clothing! It's hard for cotton to catch fire. Not impossible, but a stray ember is unlikely to light it. Polyester, nylon, rayon? All bad choices.
  2. Wear closed-toed shoes! You may be called upon to stomp out flames. You want to be able to answer the call without harming your tootsies.
  3. If your hair reaches your shoulders, tie it back.
  4. If you are manning a post-firing reduction chamber, once the chamber is closed, don't open it for any reason for at least about 6-10 minutes. If you deprive the flame brielfy of oxygen and then suddenly allow an influx, you can get what's called a backdraft, which sounds kind of tame but is in fact a ball of flame, with you in the middle of it. You won't like it. 
These next apply more to workshop situations than private firings. In a small, one-person kiln, some things are easier than in the large kiln, so these suggestions don't apply in those cases. If you are firing your own kiln, handlling your own tongs, put in any size pieces you want, for example! These are more like workshop etiquette:

  1. Don't bring teeny tiny things. No beads, no buttons, no earrings. I once had a workshop participant bring like 30 1-inch pots. It wasn't her fault, nobody told her! But it was a misery getting those out of the kiln before they cooled too much too get any nice metallic colors, without getting burned. (Mostly my hands. The fireman's jacket protects the rest of me, but the gloves can only do so much as I reach repeatedly into the glowing kiln. So, yeah. Don't do that. 
  2. Don't bring anything you wouldn't want to lift with three foot tongs and drop into a pile of wood chips right next to other clay pieces. No huge things, nothing delicate or with long fragile appendages. Raku is hard on pieces, both the thermal shock & just the thumping around that's going to happen putting them in the reduction chambers and into the water. 
  3. Make sure you have used a claybody that is appropriate for raku. There's a pretty broad range of bodies that will work, and some that aren't great but will probably work for some pieces. The best ones are groggy stoneware, or porcelain, or bodies made for raku. 
  4. As noted above, raku is a risky process for the ware. Sometimes stuff breaks. Don't do it if losing a piece is going to break your heart. 
I'll post some photos of the ware and a fabulous raku glaze recipe here next week.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Etsy Wholesale Update

Received this ^^ in my inbox today!  I've started my linesheet already. As of this second it's only got one item on it but check it out if you like. 

Am I the eternal optimist? Or do I never learn? Or are those different ways of saying the same thing? Either way, I am quite excited about this, in spite of my previous experiences with Etsy. If it goes well, if it goes poorly, you'll read it all here.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Here We Go Again: Etsy Wholesale

Remember my love/hate relationship with Etsy? I love to shop there - mostly for supplies* - and hatehatehate to sell there. Or rather I'd love selling there, if I ever actually sold anything! (I technically still have a store - two in fact, one for pottery and one for soap, but there's nothing in either of them.) Two things made me walk away from Etsy last time:

  1. I realized I was spending as much time promoting as I do making stuff, chasing after the Etsy dream. 
  2. I noticed when people buy things from Etsy, that's how they describe it: "I got it on Etsy." The seller's name is lost to the mists of history. So all that promoting? Benefits Etsy more than the seller.I decided if I was going to promote, I might as well be promoting me.
The fees were adding up, too, as I had to keep listing and re-listing to keep my items visible a search. 

Ugh, I am having flashbacks. I swore off Etsy more than once but now? Now there's Etsy wholesale. The thing is, I've been wishing there was a high profile online means to reach wholesale buyers - kind of an ACC Baltimore, online. Wholesale show are crazy expensive, and I am small enough as a business that I couldn't fill the 50K worth of orders that would make it worthwhile. The only other way to find accounts is to email & follow up with in-person visits - suuuuper inefficient. 

Etsy Wholesale would allow me to expand my handful of wholesale accounts, to maybe two handfuls. I wouldn't need to expand to "a truckload" just to make a show worthwhile. 

No listing fees, that's big. It doesn't make sense, to me, to be asked to pay before I sell anything! You do have to apply - I have started that process already - and who knows? Maybe I'll write all this angst and get declined anyway. I'm not entirely sure what they criteria are, and I am reading comments from lots of established Etsy sellers that their application was declined, so I guess that's good, right? It means they have standards, you won't have paper-clip-on-twine necklaces, unless they are really amazing paper-clip-on-twine necklaces. 

As I poke around further, I've discovered that Etsy Wholesale has existed since 2014. How did I not know this? I just found out recently because I saw a Facebook ad. It the intervening time, have you had an Etsy Wholesale shop? Is there another online wholesale venue that I've missed? What have your experiences been? Would love some input on this. 

*Now I guess there's Etsy Studio for supplies. When did that happen? 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Magic of Science

Fresh compost & happy tomatoes!
Got the new raised bed in, and filled both the new and old beds with compost.

Can I confess something that is gonna sound a little weird? I 💜 compost. I heart the idea of compost. What's basically a useless nuisance - fallen leaves, grass clippings, food scraps - turned into valuable material, just by letting it sit around in a pile! The wee beasties invisibly do all the work.
New bed, pre-compost
Extra lumber? Tiny bed for pole beans!

She is a cat lady, too!
In my head, I am writing a book called The Magic of Science. (All my books, so far, are in my head. It's getting a bit cluttered in there!) Everything I love to do involves transfiguration. Professor McGonagall would be proud. The only difference is the transfigurations I specialize in involve some chemical or biological process. (I'm not as good with a wand & incantations, I'm afraid; sorry, professor.)

Lately you see people walking around in t-shirts reading "Fuck your feelings." These people, as a rule, do not seem to be big fans of science! But they should be: nothing is less sensitive to your feelings than those pesky laws of physics. You really, really liked that piece, you worked so hard on it, but it dried a bit too fast? Cracked anyway. You loooooooove copper red but didn't get the kiln in reduction soon enough? Tough titty, said the kitty. Science doesn't care if a particular outcome is convenient, or fair, or conforms to your world view. It is what it is.

Putting the greenhouse effect to work
with an upcycled window!

The laws of physics can be good and useful tools, though, if you don't expect them to be your friends.

Fats + lye + time = soap
Waste vegetation + time = compost
Clay + heat = ceramic

One of the things the proper application of those laws of physics can do is make delicious tomatoes!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Gotta Hustle

Many years ago, when I lived in the Twin Cities (the Minnesota ones, not the Maine Twin Cities), I was driving on Lake Street on a Sunday morning. A big-hair woman in surprisingly brief clothing was making mighty efforts to get drivers' attention, although not mine; she was smiling brightly, tossing her hair, and energetically waving at passing men. I turned to my passenger and observed, "She works hard for the money." My friend deadpanned in response: "Yeah, well: you gotta hustle, if you wanna be a hustler."

I tell this story not to ridicule that young woman - I don't know anything about her life or circumstances - but because his reply stuck with me. You gotta hustle, if you wanna be a hustler - or a potter.

I remind myself of this when I slack on the tedious parts of the job: the selling. Posting pots in the online store, calling shops, sending emails to teaching studios to ask after workshops. When I slack off, unsurprisingly, my income stream diminishes. No hustle, no bustle. No bucks.

The flip side of it is, make the effort, see the rewards. It always seems like it takes more effort than it should, but push hard enough and things happen. Sometimes I feel like that smiling, waving working girl: Look at me, look at me, I am worth your attention! 

I really don't like that part, but I do like the getting paid part, so what's a potter to do? I am trying a new approach, inspired somewhat by Cindy's post at Dirt-Kicker Pottery, in which she describes trying to balance her work cycle so she doesn't get stuck with a mountain of the less enjoyable parts to do all at once. Something like this happens to me! I'm lucky, in that I like all the making parts: I like throwing and altering and decorating and loading the kiln and glazing and firing; I can even sort of like the peace of the zone I need to create to mix glazes. What happens is, I do all that stuff, and put off the selling part, until I have too many pots, and I need to sell them. Shelves full of pots really bum me out, and I don't feel like making until I clear them out, so I won't make for a long time, and sometimes I'll take a chance on a consignment outlet that I don't, actually, think is all that promising, just to empty those depressing full shelves. And then later I end up with the awkward task of telling a store that, sorry, but it's just not working out, bummer, I know, but it happens...yadda yadda yadda... and then having to go and pack up the work.

That I then have to go and try to sell somewhere else.

SO. To avoid that inefficient & demoralizing cycle, I am trying to incorporate the hustle more into my routine. Every week, several times a week, I will make some effort to sell something. I will call an account, see if they need pots. I will send images to stores that don't currently carry me, to see if they want to. I will photograph pots I have here, and post them online. I will follow up on emails from people looking for ware.

The idea being that a little every day is easier to manage than a solid week of banging on doors (metaphorically) and it takes a while for the responses to come back anyway. I should always have something in the works.

Gotta hustle.