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!


  1. You may be starting over but you're doing it with 20 years worth of experience and information you didn't have when you first started. May the next 20 years be even more fun, exciting and successful!

  2. ...and the 50-something body that gets sore all over at the least little thing. Argh! Thanks for the encouragement.