Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Adding Up

The past nine years it's felt like the development of new work was incredibly slow, almost to be imperceptible.  But in gearing up to make a flyer to send out to my old wholesale account galleries, was pleasantly surprised to see some forms that have taken shape and are refined enough to be out in the world. 

Those of you who hang in there with this blogette have seen most of them as they came to life and, as par the course for me, caused me some amount of struggle to get them to where they are today. 

Hope a few more of them will be heading out to galleries next spring. 

Buter Dish or Cheese Warmer

River Rock Bowls
Leaf Boat Bowls

Leaf Plate Set

Small Sipping Cups

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Swan Song

Sometimes symbols hit us on the head. 
Forms often turn out much differently than they were conceived.
It's what I enjoy most about the artistic journey.

I'd finished up what I thought was a goodly amount of sculpture for a two-person show and the wire I'd purchased for doing the wire and paper work in conjunction with the clay forms was all gone. But this form wanted to be made. 

In my head this piece was being created to have a beautiful spiral of wire and paper inside like an inverted paperwasp nest, but alas, when I opened up the twist top it came out looking like a swan.  Going with that form I went with a yin-yang decoration and the "spiral" inside turned out to resemble  feathers with a hidden message. I had some nicer wire on hand that may not tarnish, so it's a clean, fluffy look inside.

It feels like my swan song should be long over by now, but I find myself still humming a few bars now and then. Ha!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Taking Stock

Me -- a few  years ago...
Twenty years ago in the early 90s I started building a pottery business. I'd been doing pottery for quite a few years with sales here and there. I had participated in Ceramic Showcase with VERY funky displays that at least improved year to year. My best pots seemed to sell, but I didn't have what one would call a "body of work" yet.

A friend was just beginning to do art fairs around the Northwest and encouraged me to do so with her. At the time I taught a hand building pottery class at the local community college, as well as being the lab rat/firing assistant for the studio. I was just beginning to build a downdraft kiln and shed, thanks to a friend with construction knowledge. And, I'd volunteered for a job with the Board of the Oregon Potters Assn as membership chair because I had a computer and knew how to use it.

Taking the good advice of others who were doing the fairs and wholesale markets, I invested in good professionally shot images. Voila, even tho I didn't know what I was doing, started getting acceptances into some good shows and art festival fairs. Within a couple of years I'd passed my modest sales goals and had been published in Ceramics Monthly -- something that was much easier to do back then -- one of my personal goals. So I set my sights a little higher, upped my production and began working my tail off to keep up.

So many factors, taken together, helped me grow my business:  support from partner, good friends, students in my class, and fellow OPA members who were happy to share advice. I read almost every small biz self-help book out there. Began with simple budgets, sales goals and record keeping. I got much better at being a production potter, and developed work schedules based on how much I could make in a day.

The early 90s economy was in a roller coaster ride back up from a recessionary dip from the end of the fast times 80s. As my business grew and I added wholesale accounts across the country, I got to ride the coaster up through some great sales years. Best years came in 1998 and 1999 when I got into every show I applied for, got flown back east to jury ACC Ceramics back in Fishkill, NY, turned 40, and served as OPA President.

Then the 2000s hit. In 2002 I only took two orders at San Francisco ACC and one cancelled before I got home. Galleries told me they still loved my work, but with another recession afoot, people were only purchasing brighter colored wares. (My earth tone glazes did not meet Pantone's "Colors of the Year" of pink, purple and orange together.) Some in the pottery world take that as a challenge to reinvent their work and change. I was not eager to do so myself and thought a hiatus until the economy picked up again would be better. Luckily the Fall Festival job landed at my feet.

Nine years later...As the FF job wound down I created sculpture for a show at the Guardino Gallery in Portland that comes down this weekend. Peapods, Wishes, little pieces of paper I likened to fortune cookie messages, sculptures with twists and turns -- these all popped up and even with all that symbology, it only hit me recently that I'm starting out all over again. Damn, starting out all over... I'm still processing, obviously...

Lucky Me, I've got two new classes on tap for Winter Term:  experiments in finishes so there will be a class of potters testing out all sorts of things for me, and an Art Marketing Support Group masquerading as a class that I'll be facilitating. I'm hopeful all of this kick-starts some new work and new ideas for selling pottery to the masses. Have been checking out galleries I worked with 10 years ago, and many of them are still going strong, Yay! I want to be ready to ride the next wave, should it come, UP!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Unusual Commissions

Beehive in the Greek Style
Sometimes a request for a piece comes in that is too good to pass up. My neighbor happens to be honeybee man and Professor Emeritus Michael Burgett in OSUs Entomology Dept. His "Far Side Entomology" was deemed the Best College Class in the Nation by Playboy in 2010....but I digress.

Prof Burgett has created a Bee Hive "Museum" at OSU's Bee Lab and wants a replica of a greek beehive like they have used in Greece for the past few centuries. Beekeepers arrange sticks across the top and the bees do the rest. There will be a small opening cut into the bottom for the bees once the clay sets up enough.

Key to my taking on this project was Michael's  promise the beehive didn't have to be perfectly uniform. Hives in the images he showed me were probably all coil built as was this one, but by skilled craftspeople who had made quite a few of them. They looked thrown. This one leans a bit and has a slightly wonky top. After taking this photo I noticed one handle was larger than the other...fixed. The lettering will be carved out to say honeybee in Greek.

Hoping this will be 15 x 15 inches after firing.

Looking forward to adding "In the Collection of OSU Entomology Dept's Honeybee Museum" to my Vita.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

To Clean or Not to Clean

After a nine year hiatus from full-time pottery making, one should begin again with a clean studio, or?

In nine years doing pottery part-time, cleaning always took a back seat to making. Plus, clean is a relative term. I tend to be one of those people with a few "rat's nests," so even when I DO clean, it may not look like it to anyone else. Alas, clean I must, because the rat's nests were beginning to encroach too much to work.

Out, out, out. Paperwork and other stuff collecting dust. Don't stop to look. Just dump into recycle bin. Damp wipe, mop, mop again.

What to do with all the saved pottery seconds that have good surfaces, things to learn, ideas to remember, but take up so much space?

Many of these pots are clustered on a small ladder shelf that also has some sentimental value. Our home had been the home of Gilda Koblentz, a potter I unfortunately never got to meet. She had her studio in the garage and basement about ten years before we moved in. We took the 220 wiring for a kiln in the basement as a good sign when we purchased. The previous owners had dismantled all of the homemade ladder-style shelf units she's made but many were still stacked up in the basement. I made do with them for a long time before I invested in sturdier gorilla racks. The last of her shelves should probably be replaced, but think I'll wait until the next big clean-up day.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Small Orders are Nice

The summer has sailed by. Only managed to get a couple small orders completed in between working on sculpture for a show at Guardino Gallery, Portland, in Oct/Nov.

This little set of bowls and mugs is enroute to some friends in New Mexico, who were patient enough to wait the entire summer for them. They have a lovely art/pottery collection, so it will be swell having these pieces being used next the Who's Who they already have.

Next weekend is my last as Director of Corvallis Fall Festival, so soon I'll have a little more time in the studio again after 9 years.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What Inspires Us

The last time I was at Goodwill looking for inspiration I found  this tall multiple metal legged candle stand, complete with leftover white wired lace woven all around that can be used again. Since I'm in a phase of making sculptures to which I can add a weave of wire and paper, these looked promising as a different take on the whole business:  in this case sculpture added to the "wire."

Drilled through the center so that the sculpture could be attached to the stand via bolt and wing-nut. In the photo below the small bowl on the left will be the attachment point and the middle twist a "cap" that will fit over the top of it. The ball and piece on the right will be counterbalance weights at the base of the stand to keep it all from being too top heavy.

Haven't decided whether or not to add some more wire and paper to the wire itself. Guess I'll wait to see how the clay looks glazed, fired and attached.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Some New Slightly Different Forms

Another productive day in the studio. So nice having the sun's warmth for speeding things up a little. These pieces were cut out this morning, their two halves shaped and set in the sun for about 30 minutes, flipped and 30 minutes later they were being put together. Then a couple more hours outside, not in direct sunlight, to stiffen them up enough to carve into shape.

Below is the concept of this stacking sculpture with a couple different shaped toppers.
Of course what I start out trying to make never quite comes out as I intend, but that's ok.

Quickie sketch to try and map my way.

Here you can see that it took a couple good whacks with my paddle to get it out of it's morbidly lumpy shape into something a little nicer...
Tube on the left was closed up and
 inserted inside to finish piece for top of the stack.

Form refined a little more and now will be covered up and left to dry so that the wetter inside can even out with the dryer outside. It's getting there.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Another Day, Another Trip to FedEx

Stacking Sculpture
in Sunset Colors
Pottery sales tend to ebb and flow for me. For a few years I sold all of the "Happy Children" and stacking sculpture like this that I made. It takes quite a few pots to add up to selling a bigger piece. They help sales quite a bit.

Well, then the 2000s hit and I would haul these to fairs and haul them home. After doing that a couple of times it gets to be a drag -- especially since these are supposed to be my fun, spontaneous pieces.

Fast forward to 2012 and Sunset magazine reprinted some photos of Ketzel Levine's garden with one of my stackers in the background. A couple people managed to track down who made the sculpture. They contacted me, weren't too shocked by the price and commissioned sculptures for their gardens.

I've always used fairly light bright colors to show up in a Pacific Northwest garden, but one of the clients wanted sunset colors for her home in the San Diego area. Here's how it turned out. And yes, I cut the pole so the bird wasn't left high and dry before shipping. Just didn't have time to stack it all back up and take a photo before shipping it onward.

It would be nice to think that selling a few larger pieces again is a good sign that the economy might be picking up, but it feels a little ego-driven, small world-centric. And I wouldn't want to jinx anything. (smile!)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dinnerware Set No. 2

Another set of dishes has just left for its new home. This time it was a set of 10 each plates and bowls in two sizes, mugs and some serving ware. As always I'm hoping the new owner understood my warnings that glazes can vary quite a bit from the top to the bottom of my kiln, and that the photo conveyed this properly. She said it looked good to her via seeing these photos on her smart phone while on a camping trip, but I will still be nervous until she's opened up and seen it all.

Now it is a fervent wish that everything will remain safe from the many hands and conveyor belts the three boxes will encounter over the next few days in transit. There was nary a speck of movement when I picked up and shook each box before double boxing into a second box, but know they will get jostled and upended which can loosen up even the tightest of packages.

Being a potter can make one a little superstitious and nervous. Hopefully will also get to experience a lot of happy with a safe arrival and satisfied customer. 

P.S. All arrived safely and the customer liked them. Yay!
Large and Medium Bowls 

Plates showing the glaze variation top to bottom of the kiln.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Gimme one more hour!

Spent today making pots in front of an audience of fellow potters at the Benton Center Pottery Studio at Linn-Benton Community College for the Spring Workshop. Took requests and someone wanted to see one of the more complex twists I do. Of course. 

Many have been made, but not many have been successful, but what the heck. It was a chance to let them see just how rough and crazy it all happens in real life. Decided to make a mini-version and cut out all the pieces to make two-thirds of the shape.

On my side: dry air, a couple extra hands, a concave form and a warm bisque kiln helped get the beginning shapes dried out enough to put together.

Against me: Time. It ran out before I could get the base part dry enough to add the final touches. Came home and used all the scraps that were still wet enough to piece together the top curved piece in gradual sections, and then goo glue it all together and gave it shape with some very soft clay. 

Tomorrow after this is dry enough to work on I'll attack it with my stainless rib with the teeth to give it more defined shape and then see if it's thick enough to carve.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Is It Done Yet?

"Seaform Figure" at Ceramic Showcase 2012
Theme shows can push us to explore in fun new ways. In the two weeks leading up to my deadline, the big piece in the middle of this photo was still in a state of Yuck! It was part of our Bette Feves Tribute installation at Ceramic Showcase last weekend at the Oregon Convention Center.

The base was a sculpture from 2010 (as it states so permanently next to my signature) but I'd never liked the top so it has been clogging my tiny studio since then waiting for me to do something with it. So I started my Betty tribute at a bit of a disadvantage as remaking tops to fit bottoms is always tricky. I erred on the side of too big instead of too small.

After firing the top, using the same clay body and layered velvet underglazes on it as I had the bottom, the results were very different and mis-matched looking. So heated up the entire sculpture, added Apt 2 to some white glaze to have a clean surface to start anew and cooked it. Still not so great. Another coat of white to cover it all up a bit more. Finally just a hint of its previous life showing through. While still warm from the kiln dripped and poured some glazes, ala Betty, and back in the kiln to cook. It took a few hot from the kiln glaze painting, dripping and pouring sessions (8 in all) to get this pebbly, drippy look. At the show, with these other pieces the blue worked just fine. Love how the drips accentuate the curves. But now back at home there might be a 9th firing in her future...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

New Series Baby Steps

Ceramic Boat with wire and paper skin
Amazing what a deadline can do. Last week the bi-monthly critique group was scheduled to meet at my house and I needed something to share with the group. Since last year I've been working on these ceramic forms that have holes around the edge so they can be wired up later. I've got several kicking around the studio now in various stage of greenware and bisque. Trouble was I didn't know how to finish the inside surface and so couldn't do the wiring until the inside was finished, blah, blah, blah. Stymied. Finally told myself that if I didn't like it I could just take it apart and try something else. D'oh.
Ended up making some simple pencil accent marks and adding a little gold leaf to the small center section that can be seen through the reveal space in the center. Turned out I liked how the simple inside and outter skin turned out. Received good feedback from the critiquers that simple worked. Suggestions were to beef up the center contrast a little and leave it as a boat instead of working to make it a hanging piece as I'd originally intended. Will do.

A small reveal in the skin allows for peeks into the inside

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Srap-pile Heart for WCG Extremes! Show
These little Scrap-pile hearts, made from end of the day clay, have taken on a life of their own. I began making them for my local ceramics guild's "Extremes" show encouraging us to make work totally different than our normal fare. I think I succeeded.

After affixing this one onto a nice, inexpensive frame to finish it, it still didn't feel finished. It needed a title or something. The space looked about fortune cookie paper size. Looked through many saved fortunes with sentiments of "This week a financial breakthrough will come to you," and "Accept the next proposition you hear," and decided to write my own.

"Love comes in all shapes and sizes" fits with the idea that these hearts were made from what used to be scraps of clay.

On a technical note, the heart was wired into the frame rather than glued, since pottery and glue have a way of parting. Some of the other hearts were made to epoxy headless screws into them so they can be easy accents on the wall.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Business of Art Should Not Be All or Nothing

There have been editorial commentaries being forwarded about on Facebook encouraging artists to disavow ourselves of giving artwork to charity auctions and commission-based galleries. While I agree with some of the arguments, I will not be making any such pledges. There is room in my life for a less black and white approach to my business and here are some off the cuff things that come to mind in this debate.

"Genesis" My last fundraiser donation 

In my 30+ years as a potter, I've come to realize myself as the experiential/process oriented person I am. That means I will always try a little of this and a little of that, do it the wrong and slow way before learning the best and/or quicker way, and learn as I go.

Thus, I've consigned and wholesaled and had good and bad experiences with both. Most consignment galleries have paid on time within 30-days of the sale and in keeping places stocked with a good selection of my work I've formed nice relationships with gallery owners and managers. In the bad experiences side, I have had a gallery go out of business without telling me and before giving back work, and sometimes payments have been late or non-existent unless I press. 

I stay in the consignment galleries where I have good relationships with people. The better you know them, the more enthusiastic they are as ambassadors of your work. Giving them some of my inventory motivates me to make more work--especially if I don't have any orders from my wholesale shops. Wholesale galleries are great, but not a panacea when you visit and see your artwork on a bargain table because it was marked up triple your regular retail price and marked down to its normal one. It's best to have a mix of both if one can.

Donating to Charity Auctions has been the same hit and miss. When work has sold at value or higher it's felt like a good thing. If I've received my regular artist commission on the sale price, that has been even better. If it's a podunk event that doesn't bother to send a personalized letter or give a personal appeal and it's a cause that isn't necessarily mine, I've learned not to give because there is usually no follow-up, nor thanks. When it is a cause that I believe strongly in, I give artwork to them for their fundraising efforts because I can’t write a big check. No matter what the eventual sales price is, I figure that someone will purchase it and give this worthy organization more $$ than I could've given myself and am just ok with it. So there are limits to my largess.

I think we also need to reconsider that we need to be marketing our work as much as possible to make a living, and charity auctions and consignment galleries get our work out in front of people who we may not be able to reach all on our own. As social media activities show us, the emphasis now is on making relationships and maintaining them on this funny life journey. A donated pot to a charity event is a way to make new or cement old relationships, and consignment galleries have the potential of getting more frequent feedback from the people on the frontline pushing our work for us. If that gallery is in a tourist location there can be a constant new audience for our work. 

Traditional marketing/advertising meant printing expensive business cards and brochures, having multiple photographs and slide copies, placing expensive ads in publications. Social media activity and online internet shops means we can update images at the drop of a hat, and can meet many new people who are all sharing their interests with others. But a digital online photo of our pottery isn't the same as the real thing as a wonderfully made piece of pottery in the hand.

We need to make the most of all potential relationships however we are doing biz. When you donate a pot to a charity event, make sure you get a free invite to that event and then use the evening to meet potential new customers and see how people react to your work. It is an opportunity for people to see real art instead of just images on their computers. If you are in a consignment gallery, check in with their Facebook pages and repost things you think are of interest, and whenever you can, give a visit and get to know the people who are helping you sell your work.

So, I've toned down and tried to make coherent my reaction against the consignment and charity donation naysayers. Again, these are my semi-random thoughts . . . at least today.

I'm interested in hearing other people's thoughts on all of this.