Monday, May 31, 2021

A Maker's Journey

I & the other members of the professional organization I belong to, the Central Maine Clay Artists, will be part of a group show at Monkitree this summer! I've done many fairs & sales but it has been years since I've had work in a gallery show. 

There are reasons for that!

When I was young and full of energy, right out of grad school, I planned to be the kind of academic potter who got on the cover of Ceramics Monthly. I applied to themed gallery shows alot. I got in sometimes, too! Trouble was, I had to charge so much to cover the jury fees, which were $25 -$45 (a pile of money in 1992 making $6.75/hr) - and you have to charge enough to cover the shows you applied to & didn't get in, also - the shipping to & from (and again, prices had to cover the shipping costs of the ones that didn't sell - and the packing material. The galleries always took 50%, too, which I never minded - a good gallery earns that fee, and it costs money to keep a business like that open - but it meant I had to double all those previous fees in order to cover them. I was making functional ware, so if I applied with, say, a pitcher, it might have to be three or four hundred dollars. Which made it harder to sell. Which meant the price of the ones that did sell had to go up to cover the shipping and so on of the ones that didn't, etc, etc, world without end, amen. Were there people willing to pay those prices, in the 90s, for functional ware? Sure, and there are now, too, but mostly for the work of potters they've heard of. If the price was a vicious spiral, reputation was whatever the opposite of that is - a fortunate spiral? If you became known, more people were willing to pay more money for your work, and that increased your reputation so that more galleries wanted to carry you, creating scarcity, pushing the price you could ask up, etc, etc, world without end, amen. It does work for some people! Maybe they are better potters, maybe they were luckier, maybe they were better at networking. No shade here - I'd have done it if I could have picked that lock. 

All of that also applied to time - the time I spent applying, packing & shipping ware, unpacking the ones that didn't sell (not to mention the time & cost of bringing pieces to a professional photographer, which was the only option, then) was time that I didn't spend making stuff, resulting in fewer pieces to sell. 

Anyway I stopped doing that once I started doing art fairs & discovered the joy of selling directly to the people who were going to use the pots. Art fairs cost money & time, too, but the ratio of time making/time selling/money made was a happier one for me. I supplemented - I still do - with consignment & wholesale. 

Yikes that was a long & mostly irrelevant story. But a gallery show after all this time is exciting! Especially since I get to skip over all the tedious applying and shipping. The show is called Exploring Maine: A Maker's Journey:

Potters explore new shapes and designs with Maine in Mind.  

Central Maine Clay Artists offer artistic and functional designs that allow you to take Maine with you. Each of the clay artists has their identifiable style but with this show they are exploring new shapes and designs that gather inspiration from the state that offers so much- powerful ocean, scenic lakes, rugged mountains, delicate wildflowers, exceptional dining, dramatic seasonal changes, and so much more. 

I love the theme, because, you know how you've got your body of work, and you like your body of work & want to keep making it, but there are also a bunch of other, half-formed ideas pressing on the inside of your head? Maybe you make them but they don't fit with your main work so they sit in the studio getting dusty, or maybe you don't quite find the time to make them. This show is specifically for those ideas. For me, it's the torn-edge dark clay slab plates & platters. I have a few, and have committed to make about 15 pieces for A Maker's Journey.  

Sunday, May 30, 2021

My Annual Attempt at Bleeding Hearts

 Every year in May, when the bleeding hearts bloom, I set myself the challenge of replicating them in slip. They seem like naturals, with their precise rows of heart-shaped blooms, but like everything clay-related, it's harder than it looks! Here's my clumsy attempt from 2017:

Not terrible, and the foliage is actually pretty good, but it does have a little bit of that baby-drawings quality. 

This year I tried it a few times on the flat table surface before moving on to three dimensional forms. As often happens, I got better with practice! In particular I was pleased with the last one. 

Buoyed by this success, I felt ready to try it on a mug form. Not as great! Ah well, if it were easy it would hardly be worth your time to read about. Anyway it's not terrible, just, you know. Needs practice. 

In other news, it's 48° & pouring out, not a great day to work in the summer studio. We really need the rain but I imagine a lot of people are disappointed it happened this weekend. My wheel is in the summer studio, so I recycled clay today & started on some handbuilt work I need for a group show at Monkitree this summer. 
Pottery stairs are out, for local peeps who want to brave the rain! 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Mugs & Stories

 As I have mentioned here before, the wildlife imagery I use is never of the "iconic" variety. I'm not opposed to moose & lobsters, but they are not really personal to me, so until I have a story to tell, their images don't interest me much. Dragonflies, now those are a different story! Conttontails, pumpkin seeds, ladybugs...all more interesting to me than the critters the tourism department has decided stand for Maine. 

I just listed a whole bunch of new mugs, all with a wildlife story to tell. 

Read my ladybug story at the link! 

Read my salmon story at the link! 

Read my cottontail story at the link!

Read my dragonfly story at the link

Lots more in the Fine Mess Pottery shop

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Problems with Square Up - Anyone Else? (ETA: got it fixed, this time)

WHAT THE HELL? I don't know, 
and nobody at Square knows either. smh

UGH so frustrating. I spent all day Sunday photographing pots, then Sunday evening I started to list them in my online retail shop, hosted by Square Up. Technically I guess it's hosted by Weebly? I don't know what the exact relationship is there - I just know that some of the things I need to do to sell online happen at Square Up, and then for something I get transferred to Weebly. Not this particular problem - this one is new - but I have had a lot more problems with Square Up since they partnered with Weebly. It got super complicated just to list stuff & now items are not even available for sale when I do list them! 

After trying everything I know how to do, I reached out to their support team - no answer yet - and on social media - the folks there suggested a few things but ultimately were unable to fix the problem. I have been using Square for years but I am thisclose to just deleting the whole page & going back to building my own listings on my website, with Paypal Buy Now buttons. Each one is a little more work but at least I know they will work. 

There are other options, too - Wix, Squarespace (which is a different company from Square), Amazon Handmade , even Etsy 😬- but honestly I don't know if I want to make a big change just to be in a position again where someone else controls whether I can sell items or not. 

(What I would really like is a Square Basic option: just list items with photo, description, price, and how many you have. It's available until someone buys it, then it's not. Easy-peasy. All that other shit just makes it complicated & creates more things to go wrong.)

Anyway, has anyone else had this problem? More to the point, does anyone out there know how to fix this problem? 

ETA: I finally got on the phone with Square Support. Via email they suck & had not gotten back to me within their 48 hour promised window, but on the phone the hold time was short, and though I did have to talk to 2 separate people to get it solved, it did get solved. (Whoever responds for Square via social media tried hard to help also but they couldn't figure it out.) The problem was a new setting under fulfillments that Square (or Weebly? who knows) now requires the user to set. I don't know how I was supposed to know about this setting that I have never had to deal with on any listing before, especially since the first 2 people I talked to at Square did not know about it either. So, on the plus side, at least it's fixed. On the down side, Square, that is some really crappy service. 
Also, Square? quit adding shit & changing shit. Just when I get it figured out you change some random thing & I'm back where I started. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021


Some of you have been readers of this blog for a loooong time - maybe you remember that time I built a soda kiln in my backyard. That kiln has served me well, but now it's time for an upgrade. 

11 years is not a ridiculously short life for a kiln, and it is true that soda is harder on brick than salt is. Nevertheless, this kiln would have lasted longer if I had chosen a heavier gauge of angle iron for the exoskeleton. I'm very glad I had the experience of building it myself, but I found when I contemplated the rebuild I was just dreading it. UGH LIFTING HEAVY THINGS UGH BRICK DUST IN MY EYES 

I knew it would take me most of the summer - time that I would much rather spend making pots. With that in mind, I decided to call in an expert: Tyler Gulden. In addition to making pots & teaching at Bates College, Tyler is a master kiln builder! You can see a few of the projects he has worked on here

Worked with Tyler at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts, back in 2006, & we've been friends for years. Every time someone tells me they want to build a kiln, I send them his way, because not only is he the best - this is not a glow up, he really is - but his rates are crazy low, compared to other kiln builders. 

So excited about this kiln! It will be modelled on the soda kiln at Watershed, with some adjustments necessary for the different fuel & pressure. The stacking space will be almost twice that of my current kiln, and - the very best upgrade of all - the door will be on a hinge. You know that feeling when you're like WOO-HOO, DONE LOADING followed immediately by oh crap still gotta brick up? Yeah well that's all over for me (after these next 2 firings, at least.) The additional cost is pretty minimal - about half a day of labor - and when you factor in the cost of replacing broken door brick & the time mixing door mud, bricking & mudding up every time - it is more than a bargain. 

Here's the kiln design it will be based on. Now imagine a sliding-hinge door!

In the meantime, I am squeezing out two more firings before deconstruction begins. Tine to get making! 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Hello 21st Century! I am in you.

Somebody cash-app'd me money for a purchase from the pottery stairs! That was a real thing, that happened. I added Cash App ($FineMessPottery) as an option to pay, because I think some of the money that doesn't find its way back to me is because the buyer just forgets. Cash App, being immediate, fixes that problem. 

Other stuff has happened, too: the pottery tour was an amazing success - we promoted the heck out of it, both paid & earned publicity; but also, I think the social moment contributed a great deal. People have been dying to get out & do things, they have a little stimulus money and some pent up demand, many people in Maine are vaccinated, and it was a mostly outdoor event. Whatever the reason, I and most of the studios who have checked in had more visitors & sales than in previous years - we had more than twice as much in sales as we usually have. We were digging out old dusty boxes of forgotten pots, just to keep the shelves full. 

So that was fun.

There's always a moment right around mid-April (usually right after I get a "But I don't WANNA use dropbox! Why can't you do the extra work?" email) that I think: fuck this, I'm out. This is the last year I am doing this. But then the event happens & it's so fun & it makes me so happy to do well & to see the other studios do well, and by the last day I am thinking, Can't wait til next year! 

This year is that in spades. 

Tomorrow is Mother's Day - my family will be all together for the first time in a year and a half! Burgers & dogs, salad & yogurt parfaits - nothing fancy. Just so happy to have a chance to be together. 

Hope your spring is also going aces. XO