Monday, December 27, 2010

Are Customers Always Right?

Have spent many years working to create a signature look for my pottery that relies on spiral embellishments and additions that add to the personality of each piece. More and more people ask for my work without the "fronds" or "arms" or "curly-cues" and in an effort to accommodate I've been trying to make the forms work without.

This version of my tulip vase reworked has a bit wider opening and slightly more feminine curves. She looks like she can stand on her own without my additions.

No matter what it takes, it's good to push ourselves a little bit outside our boxes now and then.

Small Tulip Vase - $36

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

First Etsy Sale

Something I've done since my first art fair is "prime the pump" with a purchase of my own as soon as I'm set up and ready to take sales.
Give a little to get a little.
So, finally after getting 14 items in my Etsy shop (which makes it look full at least on the front page of the shop), I thought it was time for me to make a purchase of my own.
While shopping I found a lovely silver crane necklace created to look like an origami crane. The perfect thing to gift the person who hand-folded almost 1000 cranes for our wedding. (People attending our party the night before the big day were able to whip up the balance.)
Then SURPRISE, this week my first sale came through after being on Etsy for less than a month. Three stars are on their way to Brooklyn. With the Etsy fee, the Paypal fee and mailing costs I'm just barely clearing 50%, which is my goal.
I hope to have time to read more of the Etsy blog posts about maximizing all the many tools there to generate sales. Coupons, specials, BOGO offers, etc. There is so much to learn. Some of it can be used in other areas of our art businesses, so it's well worth it to tune in.
If only there were more hours in the day...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fun New Audience

Now that I know how to search for the "good stuff" on Etsy it just gets better and better. Looking up artist's favorites and seeing who has added them to their favorites, then to the favorites that have chosen them can eat up the better part of a day if you let it. There are fascinating finds everywhere.

On the flip side, when I post an item and someone adds it to their favorites it'll get seen by a whole new group of people I couldn't even imagine before. People from all over the world!

"Menopausal Mind" was a piece I did a few years ago that still makes me chuckle. Even tho there is slim chance it'll ever sell, for only 20 cents I'm giving it a whole new audience. The Edvard Munch decals were sitting around the house for a long time before this perfect use of them over the gold leaf. It's elicited some fun comments from people.

To see it at my shop and read my pithy description, head on over to my Etsy shop right this minute!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Going Etsy

Why have I succumbed?
Community! It's what Etsy is all about.

Heard a very inspiring talk by Mandy of ZillowPillows and how she's made Etsy work for her business. She talked about how it is quirky and offers different methods for shopping besides the old fashioned "category" method most of us are used to. It uses social media and connections with other people to get noticed and recommend what you like. It is indeed a true community of people helping each other be successful.

Different than having our work in galleries and other "catalog" websites, one can control how work gets seen in various photo poses we take and how it's presented and written about. Etsy's commerce site is a super-highway of web traffic and there Etsy and other artists help you negotiate ways to direct some of it to our work.

What was I waiting for?!?

Kept track of my time and it took about 4-5 hours to get a shop set up, create a shop header, anguish over the text, set-up shop info, get a premium PayPal account set up AND take photos of a few pieces to "list." The first item took an hour to list; by the fourth item it took only about 15 minutes.

The shipping piece is still a bit frightening and figure I'll "eat" some costs until I figure it all out.

TIP: even though I took all the photos at one setting, in the first piece I listed the background colors turned out a bit different in each shot after I changed the sizes to their recommended pixels, fixed contrast and SHARPENED them. When I manipulated the photos for the next few items I left all of them open in my Photoshop "project bin" so I could align their placements within the frame and make sure they all had same background tone.

Here's my new Etsy Shop: "NicePots" by Cynthia Spencer.
More to come...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Finally, the Spring Order Complete!

Finally got two butter dishes completed -- and it only took me 5 months!

Sometimes special orders have a way of going wrong, very, very wrong... My first dishes were too small as I didn't figure the clay shrinkage correctly and were too small to fit over a cube of butter. The second attempts came out horribly in the glaze firing. Then the festival (my other job) began to loom and time in the studio dribbled to a few pieces a week. Finally got enough pots completed for a kiln load and got these out yesterday.

The smaller one is sleeker and easier to lift off the dish. The other one has a nice hefty feel. I'll have to remember to make the indentions deeper on future models so there is a good solid place to grip the top.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Top Potter in the Valley

Imagine my surprise this morning to see my name in the paper. (And no, not in the Crime Watch!) There I sat innocently sipping my tea, reading the paper version of the Corvallis Gazette-Times, already basking in the glory that the festival I spend so much time organizing got TWO Top honors in the Top of the Valley Poll...and having just blogged, tweeted and Facebooked it all over the place... and Yes, there was my name as Top Potter!!! Ahead of long-timer Dale Donovan and buddies Keith Moses and Jeff Gunn... Ho-ho!

I entered the poll and voted in many categories, but hadn't noticed any of the art, music, gallery categories, so it was a double surprise. The past few years I have barely gotten it together to do one or two shows, keep a couple galleries stocked and have always felt fairly under the radar when it comes to marketing my own work in Corvallis. Quite a honor to be plucked from anonymity to Fame (and fortune?!!) in the Gazette-Times.

Believe me, I'll be milking this for the next twelve months!!!!

Wonder if I get a crown or anything?

To see some of my AWARD Winning Work go to my other blog "Spencer Work in Clay"

Thanks all!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What our Art Collections Teach Us

Like many of us, I have artwork treasures I’ve purchased, traded for, been given and accumulated from my own making. Day in and day out these pieces bring joy and beauty to our home life and I tend to take them for granted. But several pieces have called to me lately and have given me pause enough to look closer at all the rest. (My apologies for a photo of only one...)

“Exit Stage Left -- the Lovers” is an abstract painting I purchased from a friend’s fundraiser sale for cancer treatment. Sid‘s wild abstract lines, images, colors and energetic treatment of the paint seemed totally foreign to my way of thinking when I first became acquainted with her work -- chaotic and troubled. It was a piece I could afford from those being offered, had a great title that I could related to, and we could support my friend with our purchase. I liked it but didn’t know why.

For several years a lovely Glenn Burris abstract glazed tile piece was hung next to it because his piece seemed to be an ordered “simple” abstract next to a complex one, and yes, the colors related. After I moved the Burris abstract to a new location Sid’s painting seemed to come into focus as a very systematic grouping of character types. I remember how she used to apply the paint with such energy and speed, yet how organized and harmonic the finished painting. Is this just a function of my brain persisting in making order of chaos until it gets it? Or was its simple layout there all along? She knew when to quit.

Many of the pottery pieces we have are styles I could never begin to do or master. Pieces with hours of decorative work, or special glaze effects requiring years of trial and error are prized possessions. During my teaching years any particularly interesting contruction method was acquired as an illustration for another thing for the students to try and gave me a fairly good excuse to support many potters.

Above our stove is this Wally Schwab platter with a lively dotted decoration that would be mind numbing glazing for my taste. Under Wally's mastery it comes alive. This plate called to me from an entire booth of similarly decorated wares--many larger and brighter glazed than this one. Wally chose to place the hanger so the glaze drips are going “up” rather than the “down” as one might expect. Sometimes I wonder at that as I stir or watch a pot. It causes a yin/yang dialogue in my brain of whether or not it’s hanging “right” that tickles me when I realize I’m thinking about it for the hundreth time.

As potters, many of our works are treasures because of the maker as much or more as the pot. Time and use have taken their toll on some pieces. When a favorite plate got a major chip knocked off, I superglued it back so I could still use it because this potter no longer is doing pottery. Some of our pottery pieces have just the right heft. Others are fun to use on special occasions. All are reminders of the super greater arts community that I belong to.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

What Inspires Us?

On a quick trip North we happened upon the 100th Birthday Celebration of the Hawthorne Bridge in downtown Portland. Beautiful flowing textile installation on the bridge was lit up in a techno-colorful way that was hard to capture with my digital camera and rusty photography skills. It is inspiring to know that people have visions this large and can get them financed--even if they are just a temporary moral booster like this was.

Our other detour was up to see the Johnston Ridge observatory 5 miles away from where Mt. Saint Helens blew out her northside in 1980. We were living in Portland when it was all happening and watched the roiling plumes that clear May day. Seeing the new landscape we were reminded of the tremendous energy that caused the blast, landslide, ash and gas storm. Makes one feel incredibly small. We were witnesses to a huge geographic event that was just a blip in the timeline of this earth.

It was lovely up there in a sobering way.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Happy Children Sculptures

About the time I think I may have made my last Happy Child I get an order for one or two. Lucky for me, my last last call was for four of them!

Gail and Cynthia from Fine Eye Gallery (Sutter Creek, CA) called and told me that Fine Eye was celebrating 20 years in business and that they wanted to order several sculptures for the gallery's anniversary. I met them both many moons ago at an ACC Wholesale Market and was so very glad to know they were still going strong. Over the years they've found homes for quite a few of my sculptures.

I've not kept the most immaculate records, but it appears I've made between 75 and 80 of these little sculpture. They've evolved quite a bit from the first rough, but personality-filled figures. Some have had carved hearts; some have had commemorative inscriptions. Friends who know me best laugh that I make such a "cute" thing, but to me they have been a constant process of learning clay as each is a meditative pinch pot from the feet up.

If you want one to dance in your home or garden, here's more about them on my catalog website. $350-$500 retail depending on size.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Measure twice, cut once

Sometimes these maxims are true for a reason. My first attempt making a butter dish is a case in point. I measured a "standard cube" and figured for shrinkage, but didn't take into account that as a lid or half-sphere, the total inside dimensions would shrink, too. By the time they were high fired only a skinny cube with the end cut off could fit.

The maddening thing is that my volume-challenged husband immediately saw they were too small when he saw them. Argh!

Guess "back to the drawing board" should be one of my major subject categories for this blog.

Once I get one to work, probably in the $40-45 range.

Friday, June 18, 2010

June Firing

Finally a firing after May's big push for Showcase and studio sale. Pieces I'm cooking today are mostly dinnerware again--much of it for Trillium Gallery, some a special order and the rest to take to Real Mother Goose if it turns out. Hope there are good samples of everything for a nice mix & match table setting.

This sunny morning is making it hard to stay in the studio--especially with this box of flowers waiting to be potted.

Three cones down, cone 5 is the next to go...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Back in the Studio

It's always nice to have orders for motivating back into the studio. Trillium Gallery on the Coast wants plates, bowls and the new leaf boat serving dishes. A customer from a few years ago asked me if I'd try my hand at making a handle-less butter dish that would match a sugar and creamer she has.

Here's what I came up with... Looks a little like Kermit the Frog... good or bad?!?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Studio Sale Post Script

We couldn't have asked for better weather for a backyard sale...sunny and warm but not too warm. Our cooler spring meant more was blooming in the garden at the same time than ever before: peonies and rhodies at the same time the dogwood was still pinkish. Thanks to the fertile mix added to beds in March everything seemed to be just a little more lush. All those April and May showers probably helped with that, too.

People came! A good rush of new faces and familiar awaited us when we opened our doors.

The stacking sculpture that greeted everyone out front had been in the Edible Garden at the Oregon Gardens for many years so I was happy it went home with a friend who liked its weathered look. Thanks to a recent Portland Monthly photograph, got to name drop the fact that one of these is in Ketzel Levine's collection.

Thanks to all who took the time to come by to visit and help support we three artists. The little video walk through was done by journalist and budding videographer, Gail Oberst, pottery sale helper extraordinaire!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Art in the Garden

Studio sales are a bit like hosting a party and a bit of... "I should've had my head examined!" A lot of work, but can be a lot of fun and rewarding, too.

The past 18 years I've had an outdoor studio sale in a garden setting. This means not only do you have to have a lot of artwork, but the garden itself can't be the beds of neglect that begin appearing as the summer progresses--at least at our place. We were hosted at the beautiful LeBlanc gardens Harold and Cathy so generously made beautiful and loaned for 14 summers. For the past 4 we've had a Spring sale so people come to my house before everything in our yard has plopped. I team up with Louie Gizyn (mixed media sculpture) and Jerri Bartholomew (fused glass) so there is more than just pots to see.

Since we're in the outdoors there are worries about the weather (wet or boil-o), what will be blooming or not, how to get the garage in shape enough to have people come through (cover most of it up with cloths!) and where to put all the artwork to best show it off. Will people actually COME once we've gone to all of this effort?!? And just now I remembered that I need to get REFRESHMENTS! Add it to the list...

This year's sale is tomorrow, May 15. 11 am - 4 pm.
We usually do this two weeks post-Ceramic Showcase in May if you're in the Corvallis, OR area.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Showcase 2010

It was the 28th annual (and my 23rd) Ceramic Showcase over the weekend. A day back from the extravaganza in Portland and am exhausted. If you missed it, here is a photo of my booth to give you an idea of what it's all about: trying to show the world the best of my clay work.

I brought flower vessels and all my new serving ware, as well as the two sculptures I completed for the Sitka Invitational. Sold a little of this and a little of that. More of the new leaf/boat bowls and plates. No dinnerware commissions taken but at least a couple possible bites on them. Would've been nice to have sold a "big one" or two.

Got feedback from fellow potters that my backdrop cloths need to change with my newer glazes. My old blue/green glaze used to pop in front of this fabric but the new sages and tans fade into the background a little too much.

Always something to tweak with an art fair booth. And need to MAKE More NEW Designs!
My hats off to the artists who do fairs weekly to make a living!

New images posted recently:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Crumbly Lemonade

I thought this piece was dry enough and that my firing cycle long enough to dry it thoroughly through and through... but in the very first rise of the kiln up to 200 degrees, when water begins to boil, there were some pockets of wet deep within, and that little bit of steam caused all this mess.

The bad news was that about $20+ worth of underglazes were layered onto this sucker and it wasted a bunch of energy blowing it up and then turning it into gravel.

The good news, if there is any, is that this was a piece that I wasn't so sure about. I'm saved several hours of sanding and mess and another firing. And there's one less big, heavy piece to haul up to the show--tho I'm SURE it would've sold if I'd had it there. It was still an interesting piece to work on and learn from during the forming process.

The longer I'm a potter the more I learn what silly mistakes I can make.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Harvest from Spring Anagama Firing

One of the hardest things about woodfiring is waiting a week to let it cool down before being able to see the pots. Friday we unloaded the Digger Mtn Anagama Kiln after a very long seven days.

Everyone was positively giddy when we saw the first pieces come out with great ash coverage, many crystals and sugary surfaces. As you can see from the top photo, the ash flash was on most every piece. Digger Mtn kiln's Jay Widmer believes it is our particular mix of fir, maple and wet wood (this year alder) that helps develop the colors and crystals we get.

Fellow fire-ers liked the glitzy bumpy vase in the middle, but my favorite for now is the quieter fluted vase at the bottom since it has color and markings that fit the shape well. Got some great color on other pieces and will have to see if the brightness of it all grows on me.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Variations in a Single Firing

This past month I've been working on a set of dinnerware: eight big plates, small plates, smaller plates and bowls. I'm never done so many pieces that were all supposed to match. Luckily the folks buying this set knew that from top to bottom they would get some differences in the glaze and the way the clay looked. That is sure what they're going to get.

The above images illustrate just how broad these variations can be. The three plates on the shelf go from regular reduced atmosphere in the front to very oxidized in the back. The bowls also show how each one dried and warped a bit differently as well as getting different finishes from the firing. Never a dull moment when it comes to pottery...

Below is a complete dinner set that matches pretty well considering.

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Versions of Old Favorites

Since I was glazing a kiln load of plates and bowls with the new green version of my drippy Alberta Slip glaze, decided to just spray the rest of the lot with the same glaze. This was the result. This watercan, basket and "tulip vase" all have a fresh look, and one that will stand out from the darker blues and browns of my other work when I take it all to Ceramic Showcase next month.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dinnerware Commission

Fired most of the dinnerware set over the weekend. All the plates and a couple of larger serving pieces got in, but the bowls just didn't make it.

Haven't fired that many plates all at one time and tighter stack and extra shelves changed the way my kiln fired a bit... Everything came out a bit darker due to be reduced* during the firing, but I think the darker color will look nice with food. Waiting to hear from the family who ordered them before I begin the boxing/shipping process.

*when the kiln is starved of oxygen the fire seeks it from the chemicals within the claybody, giving stonewares a darker/richer hue.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Leaf Bowls-Phase Three

The first set of leaf bowls turned out nice. The second set warped as they dried and then rocked after they were glaze fired and were generally a pretty motley bunch. With this third set I've made the dart cuts even deeper and the impressed foot smaller to try and make them more of a bowl than a deep plate. Turned them upside down on a flat surface and paddled the foot in hopes that gives them a good non-wacky start to drying.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

...feeling like a potter again

It's time to do a glaze firing when the pink pots fill up every shelf and are getting stacked on the floor...All OVER the floor, with no room to walk.

Thanks to a dinner set order that came in during busy Showcase production, I've made more pots in the past month than I have in a long time. Orders make us get into the studio to make things! The thing with handformed plates is that you always need to make many more than the 8 piece place setting to ensure you get 8 that are passable. I know enough not to expect a miracle, but hope no disasters! Hopefully 6 of everything will be excellent and only 2 with flaws but only that I see. Or maybe all the plates will be ok and the bowls iffy. Anyways, the complete set is all in that pepto-bismal stage that we potters detest. "Put some Glaze on us, would you!" they're all crying out.

8 piece place setting - $1000-ish.
8 dinner, salad and bread plates
8 triangular plates
8 leaf bowls
1 leaf serving bowl set
1 pedestal bowl

Monday, March 8, 2010

What inspires us?

This kiln shelf has all the color, drama and element of surprise that I would cherish on any pot of mine should it turn out looking like this. And it just happened that way in the firing through nothing we did, and we will grind off all of this beautiful decoration for the next firing. The marks are left from wads that keep our pottery from sticking to the shelf and from flame and ash that swirled all around.

Beautiful shelf. Hope the pots I'm making for spring woodfire turn out half as good.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Webpage

Alas, this web page has taken a hit from my getting a new catalog site up and running, ""

Here is a piece from my last firing, already a month ago. These leaf boat bowls have been getting more and more refined but still have a bit of funkiness left to them as each one differs from the template and warps in its own way. The inside bowl of this set reminds me of lily pad flower petals for some reason.

Now need to crank up production for Ceramic Showcase, only two months away. April 30, May 1-2.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Back to Drawing Board?

Finally got a couple of the new covered dishes glazed and fired this week. The lid fits great on the second one, but the one on top is the one I liked better in the green stage. It is just still on the funky side when it comes to fit AND to feel....precarious and the raw clay showing isn't pretty. I guess the flange overhang is the way to go if I can figure out how to do it right...and add enough of a rim to feel like a good handle.

These two will get to be seconds at the spring garden sale...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Here is my day two attempt at a lidded vessel. The fit won't be tight but for a serving dish type thing, possibly ok. Think I need to get the slump a bit taller to make up for the sides of the pot being so high... This piece has a goofy smile.

Monday, January 4, 2010

On the drawing board...

These photos show my beginning attempts to make a lidded serving vessel via slabs of clay. Over the holidays I realized I didn't have any nice lidded serving ware to set on the table. The metal pot I'd cooked the dish in wasn't very handsome.

The top photo shows first attempt at modifying another form I make. The lid needed a flange on the inside to secure it on the pot. This pot has modest lump handles on the side that were an afterthought, so wasn't too happy with them. The first rolled handles looked clunky and the extra time it took to make handles more incorporated with the pot was too much.

In the second attempt I made a shape that should be fairly easy to pick up without true handles. I draped the slab lid into the pot to get a nice custom shape and left more 'overhang'. I'm hoping that the overhang will grip the shape of the vessel enough to forego a pesky flange on the inside. Wet, it fit snug enough without feeling like it was going to slide off. After the greenware drying stage it still fits nicely. We'll see how it goes after bisque firing. And, I'll have to make a couple more to get them a little less clunky. You can see I couldn't cut a straight line on this one.