Making Perfectionists Unhappy for 33 Years Now

Today, most of what we use is machine made. This is useful, and also quite functional. Machine made dinnerware stacks perfectly. Designs in clothing and home decorations repeat “just so” from identical item to identical item. You always know what you get when you buy a replacement or addendum to something you bought before or from a company you’ve bought something from before. Perfectionists can find their mass producers, buy only from the, and be happy.

Handmade work would make a perfectionist unhappy. There could be a bump in the glaze, a slub in the fabric or a shadow in the print even in the best quality pieces. I am a potter and I know this: no two things are ever exactly the same, even if they come pretty close. “Identical” mugs might vary by a quarter of an inch in height and half an ounce in volume. Platters might not be quite flat- there may be a curve in the wall where you did not expect it, say, or a slight lift in the floor of the piece incurred in the drying and firing processes that changes the look of the piece.

My very first semester in college, long ago, a boy in my class had this idea: what if each thing is perfect? What if, in what we perceived as its imperfections, a thing was perfectly and completely itself? What if our fellow humans could accept that premise? That idea could go for people, too. There would be nothing other than everything being perfectly itself, which is a form of perfection.

I don’t buy this idea exactly (what about cruelty? Negativity? Animosity? Can you call those perfect?), but when it comes to the handmade object, I believe there is truth in it. This handle lifts a little taller and this one comes outward a bit more- which is perfect? This creamer rocks a little because of its construction, and this one stands solidly but lacks the curve of the other. Which one is perfect? None? All?

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What it comes down to, for you and me, is this. There is beauty in many objects. Part of the beauty comes from the harmony of its parts. Part comes from its ability to function in some way. Part comes from its individuality; part is from your ability to recognize it as the object it is; part comes from its foreignness or novelty, and part from its homespun quality. 

If I didn’t love pottery, in its many aspects, I wouldn’t be spending my life making it and teaching it in my studio. I would have gone into a more mainstream and perhaps more lucrative line of work. I had my eye on publishing as a career, back in the day. But life intervened. And I found my way.

We have plenty of room today to find and use handmade objects, to complement the machine made most-everything in our lives. Handmade objects are here that help diversify our tables, homes, and clothing. I recommend that every once in a while, if you can, you buy at least one handmade thing because you love it, and for a change, be less frugal about the cost. Handmade is not perfect. Instead, it is different from whatever else you own and use. Someone made it with care in eye, hand and mind. Choose well, choose what feels right to you, and you will love it for a long time.

Posted on April 4, 2018 .

Racing into Spring

Notwithstanding another 6" of snow coming our New Jersey way, Happy Spring! Nothing is sleeping at the pottery studio and gallery here. So many things are happening!

You can now follow me on Instagram at Mimi Stadler Pottery, and I am on Facebook, same name. "Follow, follow, follow!" as the song in the Fantasticks went.

You can find more works added to my website with each glaze kiln that I fire and unload. 

My students are growing in skills steadily and exploring an expanding world of ideas.

Date couples have been in and out of the studio, having two hours of fun and getting their own finished work back a few weeks later. 

The studio is full of pottery drying, pottery bisqued and waiting to be glazed, pottery in the midst of the glazing process, and pottery going into, being fired, and coming out of the kiln. The gallery and website are filling up and are then getting thinned out again by purchases. 

So... follow me on Instagram! And Facebook! Please bookmark and check back to my website now and then. Because you never know what you might find!

Posted on March 20, 2018 .

"Date Nighters" in the Studio

Date night" is an event happening every few weeks lately in my studio. "Date Nighters"  are happily spending their two hours being creative with clay. It gets busiest when Saturday evenings are long and the weather outside is not so great. But even when the days are longer, as they will be in just a few days, Sunday or weeknight evenings are possible.

 (Serving pieces in Nutmeg glaze)

(Serving pieces in Nutmeg glaze)

I have learned over the last few years that when I explain the options, and demonstrate the techniques for making projects, the "daters" still need to take a little time to understand what I'm preparing them to do. After all, I don't have readymade "paint your own". We work with fresh clay and make our own pieces.

So I've taken just lately to creating some infrastructure in advance to help them get the concept quickly. I've been designing and cutting out tarpaper templates (black roofing paper, which stands up to dampness). And I've been throwing mold forms ("hump molds") and bisque-firing them. The "date nighters" can still have the fun of rolling fresh clay into slabs using my slab roller, then cutting the flattened clay to shape using the templates I made, and either draping the cut-out clay over or wrapping it around these bisqued hump forms. They will be (ta da!) creating a 3-D object this way. The creative fun continues as they stamp, texture, and add sculptural bits.

People can choose between these projects in advance, so I will know what to set up before they arrive. The template and hump mold items I made this week are a salad bowl and a small pair of candlesticks, both of them objects that people have asked me if they could make, and which were deceptively tricky to do. There are other templates and forms too.

In case it seems I am babying my customers, I should explain: People who have never or rarely ever touched clay need to quickly gain some understanding of a few important things just so they can start. How thin can the clay be rolled and how long can it be worked in the raw state before it begins to crack or crumble? How deeply can one cut into the clay with a knife or needle tool before it has been given an excuse to crack in the drying? When does one need to take into account shrinkage (which happens while drying, and later while being fired in the kiln)? To help them just get on with in, in their two short hours of Date Night at the Pottery, I'm now smoothing the way.

 (Very large coffee, for an all-day buzz, and a stamped serving platter) 

(Very large coffee, for an all-day buzz, and a stamped serving platter) 

 (Lace-impressed serving piece)

(Lace-impressed serving piece)

 (Leaf dishes, and square plate made over a drape-mold)

(Leaf dishes, and square plate made over a drape-mold)

 (Lace, stamps, and various great textures on dining and serving pieces)

(Lace, stamps, and various great textures on dining and serving pieces)

After the pieces are made, I do the kiln firings and glazing work to their specifications, based on the glazes I have in stock (which I make myself from tried and true glaze recipes). 

This is a lot of fun. To those who are curious, I say, Save a date now (for after April 9th, 'cause I'm booked till then) and try it! The pertinent details are in Pottery Classes & Date Nights.

Posted on March 5, 2018 .

Funky Analytics Stuff

Website analytics is an interesting thing. I want to know, Who's looking? Where are they from? Are they coming back to look at more? 

I don't get to see who, but I get to see if they come back, and I can see more or less where they're from. (I mean- I don't live in the town my web footprint says, but it IS nearby, so... close enough.)

I get lookers from Ukraine, Ghana, The Philippines, Israel, Germany, England, Korea, as well as others... and all over the U.S., too. I was in North Carolina lately and left my card with various potters. Lots of hits from NC after that.  Lots of hits always from New Jersey, my home state, probably because my metadata on the website says (among plenty of other things) "NJ pottery". My cards are drifting around this state, too. 

Enjoying the pottery exposure, of course! But I often wonder if anyone is a would-be Loki, full of mischief. Lately I've had lots of hits daily from what appears to be a beautiful farming area (I looked it up) in Oregon, called Boardman. Each hit is from another originating number. No two alike. Yet all are from Boardman. That's strange! It feels like attempted hackings. If you're not scammers or hackers, Boardmanians, drop us a comment! Same for anyone who knows about this stuff... I'd sure like to know what the heck this is.

 (Did a little erasing here for privacy, in case this browsing person is legit...)

(Did a little erasing here for privacy, in case this browsing person is legit...)

More by-the-ways-what-do-you-knows from the studio potter in the basement...

The beat goes on.

Posted on March 4, 2018 .

New Students Revving Up

Recently my students, a fairly new crop, have been coming in full of ideas. All I need to do is demonstrate how to make these happen, and they get right on it! Halfway through the semester, here's what we had: 

One session was about basic thrown lids: drop-in or sit-on-top? Make just an opening in the top of pot or create a gallery (ledge) in it for the lid to sit on? How to measure for good fit? What are the ways to add a knob or finial at the top?

One session was about throwing taller: collaring in technique, plus opening and raising the walls 1/3 (starting with top third), then middle third, bottom third last.

One session has been about making and attaching cup handles so they don't crack or fall off. All that good stuff.

Plus they've been absorbing handbuilding method tips, like texturing possibilities, how to join parts and finish edges, and how not to cause a flat object to warp... yes, all that good stuff. Full speed ahead!

 

Posted on February 27, 2018 .

Consider it Your Local Craft Show!

Customers both regular and new, you are hereby invited to see what it's all about at the gallery, most weekdays and Sundays of the year! 

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If you can't visit in person, you can  browse the Website.

Best of all, there is plenty of new work for wedding, engagement and host/hostess gifts in a large range of prices. 

I also have a few "nice seconds" (there are sometimes a few in handcrafted work which are a little less than perfect), which are discounted to fit most budgets.

Of course, you can usually check with me and come by when I'm here working, most weekdays all year, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 

*32 Years of Always Handmade* 

Consider it your local Craft Show!

196 Windsor Way, Hillside, NJ 07205

Call (908-354-7799) or text (not call) (732-492-8558) to visit. 

Posted on February 22, 2018 .

Color Inlay!

Recipe for Color Inlay:

Make the pots. Let them firm up a bit.

Etch lines in them as desired. 

Lay color into the lines.

Clean up surface as required.

Bisque fire, clear glaze, glaze fire.

Voila! Color inlaid pottery.

Time it took to write this: a minute.

Time it took to learn to make the pots and do these li'l tricks nicely: 33 years.

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Posted on January 17, 2018 .

Forming Leaf-Shaped Hump Molds

I use a bunch of different forms made of glass, plastic, plaster, wood and bisqued clay that I use as "hump molds". Those are forms I drape soft clay slabs over to make vessels. A few days ago I made a small group of smallish bowls with "flying handkerchief" edges using glass bowls and an oval ice cream dish as my hump molds. 

You need to spray glass forms with WD40 lubricating oil before putting clay on them, or the clay will stick. Or you can powder them liberally with corn starch and hope for the best. Well, I made a narrow oval bowl I loved, with an oval foot and those flying handkerchief edges at the rim. But I had not sprayed enough WD40 on the hump mold, so it tore a little when I tried to lift it off. OK, a loss, but one that got me thinking, which is what losses make me do.

I had watched Shoko Teruyama create a hump mold at a Women Working With Clay Symposium a few years ago. She makes a solid form and hollows it out. Not a new idea, but watching the care she takes with hers was inspiring. She will use these many times, in effect living daily with them in the studio. So she makes them as attractive and well formed as she can. There is nothing slapdash about her process- even on infrastructure forms that are not the finished pieces but will be used to MAKE the pieces. 

I did the same this week, thinking also of how long I hope to have these as part of my studio infrastructure and how often I hope to use them. I spent about five hours making them with care.

 Initial solid humps of clay, basically patted into shape and groomed around the edges.

Initial solid humps of clay, basically patted into shape and groomed around the edges.

 Starting the hollowing process, leaving two ribs across.

Starting the hollowing process, leaving two ribs across.

 Continuing the hollowing out. Ribs are structural support as well as handles. 

Continuing the hollowing out. Ribs are structural support as well as handles. 

They look like little rowboats. 

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 This is the underside of 3 finished hump forms.

This is the underside of 3 finished hump forms.

I first shaped the basic humps the day before, and left them out overnight on a plaster board to reach the state where they would hold their forms when carved. The clay was kind of firm when I carved it, about like a block of cheese. I don't know how Ms. Teruyama feels after making these, but I had a pretty good charley horse in my arm a few hours later. I had removed at least 11 lbs of clay, scrape by curling scrape of the sculpture tool.

When they are turned over, they look pretty much as they did before I began the hollowing out process. But they are light enough to handle while I'll use them as forms to drape clay over. They have to now dry s-l-o-w-l-y, lightly covered with dry-cleaner thin plastic. The walls vary from place to place from 1/4' to 3/8", which could stress these pieces as they dry and shrink unevenly. I don't want them to crack. I'll show you how I use these, after they go through the bisque-fire that makes them permanent.

Posted on January 2, 2018 .

Date Night or Friends Night!

Sign up now for a Date Night or Friends Night at Mimi Stadler Pottery studio, Saturday nights, beginning October 21! Dress down to get a little messy, BYOB, and have fun! Two hours, all materials supplied, $60 per person, 2 person limit.

Contact me to schedule, or text or leave a message at 732-492-8558 and let me know how to reach you.

You can ask about up to 4 people in case that becomes available.

Posted on September 14, 2017 .

Gift Shops

You can now find my work in the gift shops of METC (the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts, in Madison, NJ, which has my candleholders, various types), and in Wave Hill (Riverdale (Bronx) NY- honey jars).

 (At Wave Hill)

(At Wave Hill)

 (At METC)

(At METC)

Posted on September 14, 2017 .

Ayumi Horie, WWWC Symposium, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I saw an Instagram post from Ayumi Horie, who was up at Haystack at the time, with peers, who holding cups in the photo. She had put pictures on the cups of one of her signature fuzzy-headed (kind of kooky cute) little birds, and the following conversation (complete with blank spaces after): 

Where are you from?_________

I'm from....

...No, where are you really from?__________

This is a thoughtful interactive piece of Ayumi's from The Democratic Cup (click on that to read more). The Democratic Cup is a collaborative idea involving over 30 artists who contribute cups, meant to "encourage person-to-person civil conversations about social and political issues*" over coffee. The idea is about "dignity and inclusivity*". (*Quotes are from The Democratic Cup website.) Ayumi's own website reads, "The mission of The Democratic Cup is to support and promote civic engagement. ...Democratic and familiar, the coffee cup is the perfect object to act as a catalyst for social change and true dialogue." 

Ayumi's bird cup with the questions (OK, I'll explain the obvious) is about immigrants who appear to be from somewhere else. Even third generation Americans get that sort of question- 'No, really, where are you from?' (It's a timely question considering the road blocks being flung up to immigrants and those who seem "other" at this point in our nation's history.)

She talked about another idea she works with, Pots in Action*, or #PIA. People around the world own her pots. They send her photos of the pieces in use in their own homes. Until recently, photos of pottery was nearly always presented as photographed against a simple photo backdrop, lighted a particular way. I was taught to take my photos as I see photos in American Craft or similar magazines. But that is changing, and Ayumi is charting it on a map on her web page (*click on the link Pots in Action*, above). Brilliant. As Dr. Frankenstein said when he created the monster, "It is aliiiive!" I think Ayumi has taken the placid out of pottery.

The cup below is a different one than mentioned above, but it has a form you often see in Ayumi's cups... and it has one of those birds (painted in luster) with the fuzzy head, that makes me laugh. 

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(Please go to Ayumi Horie's website to see this and more: https://www.ayumihorieshop.com/collections/cups-1)

Each of the presenters at the WWWC Symposium led a breakout session on one of the afternoons. Ayumi's was about how to connect our creative work with social issues. The people in the room didn't come up with any group idea of how to change the world in one hour (that would have been better than major governments manage, but no, alas), but some became emotional talking about how much they would like to do something. I can speak only for myself; I came out of it thinking about how I might do more, but the opportunities will come singly and slowly, I'm sure. 

All the presenters showed us their techniques of "making" as they talked and chatted with us. I have to mention Ayumi's throwing in particular, because it gave my throwing-brain a nudge, right in the paradigm.

When I throw, it is with plenty of water to start, then using muscle and practiced moves to open and throw the piece while keeping it all from going off center. My jaw may have dropped to see Ayumi make a bowl, because she just did away with parts of the making process that have been in my repertoire of wheel work for decades.

She took a two lb. (or so) piece of clay, and patted it more or less into the center of the wheelhead- till it was roughly but by no means exactly centered. Then, pressing down into the middle of the clay with a large, thick steel rib, she opened the whole interior of a bowl with no water, only pressure. The exterior of the bowl, meanwhile, was still uneven, never having been properly centered.

She used a sharp tool (-wooden knife?-) to simply pare off a large, uneven ring of clay around the exterior of the bowl. This way she centered the exterior of the bowl and got the exterior  of the wall finished enough to trim- just like that. Pared away in a flash. And then- because no water was used to throw the bowl- she just trimmed it a bit more while it was upright. Just a little later, the bowl could be turned over onto a pad of soft clay and a foot trimmed. And then contrasting slip or underglaze could be immediately applied, because the bowl had never gotten wet and too soft to work on further.

 (Turning over the bowl on a freshly thrown pad of clay to trim a foot.)

(Turning over the bowl on a freshly thrown pad of clay to trim a foot.)

What was mind-bending about the technique I've just described is that it was a way of throwing I've never seen before, even after 32 years of clay. And it was all-in-one. No waiting around to get back to it. No dragging out the process over a couple of days. 

 (Ayumi applying luster (like the lustered bird in the previous photo) over a glaze-fired white pot)

(Ayumi applying luster (like the lustered bird in the previous photo) over a glaze-fired white pot)

I'll be glad to follow the work and career of this potter over time.

 

 

Posted on July 24, 2017 .

Julia Galloway, WWWC Symposium 2017

Julia Galloway's professional life both as teacher of ceramics at University of Montana and as clay artist are thoroughly thought-out and intelligently practiced. She has worked hard in a field that requires hard work and a strong personal vision, to really shine. Attending her presentation, I was delighted to listen to her because just as she has a way with clay, she has a way with language. 

Julia talked about the relationship of surface and form, and the development of her own ideas about that. Then she made a list on the chalkboard of 8 forms she would make for us over Tuesday and Wednesday. They were: pitcher, 2-lb. ewer (I think that's what it says!), 4 cups, salt & pepper shakers, water ewer, sauceboat, teapot and mug. These did get made, and different handles and handle application demonstrated as well. (I was there for her "celery" style handle, which I am going to try, it's so great looking.) And it was really fun to watch. I'm a thrower, and watching a master throw and take apart and reassemble parts is always riveting.

These 8 forms got made with various considerations of shapes and gestures, and best placements of handles for each piece that was getting a handle. Each was intended to get its own surface decoration.

A potter who challenges herself to fulfill different ideas while maintaining a clear artistic voice is a very interesting potter. Many aspire.

Julia is interested in form. "Form is about your body", she says, vs an intellectual idea removed from that. 

She has worked up a routine, in which she develops an idea, then mounts an installation that works around that particular idea in a gallery. "Figuring out some way of installing pots that support that idea" is, in simple terms, how she does this.

It takes her 3-4 years to put together a whole installation. The space itself helps determine how many and what size, and whether to hang some (i.e. her Clouds installation, http://juliagalloway.com/sky-vault-2012.html), and in what configuration the pieces will be shown. Julia talked particularly about one installation, the John James Audubon birds that she drew on cups, one type of bird per cup, celebrating Audubon's entire collection of bird paintings. She talked about the inspiration she drew from  how, as he approached the end of his life, Audubon began drawing with both hands, trying to get the whole body of work completed as quickly as possible as time ran out. 

The decoration on the surfaces starts with the kind of drawing that is made by a pointed tool pulled or pushed along, etching the leather-hard clay, like a drawing by pencil or brush except incised. She applies color in media like slip or underglaze or oxide mix over the area of the etched drawing, then wipes it back with a sponge so it remains only in the etched lines. Other areas will have glazes on them after the bisque, possibly over drawings as well that might not be incised but might rather sit on the surface. Luster might be added in an additional fire.

From "Audubon" installation:

 (http://juliagalloway.com/gallery16_audubon.html)

(http://juliagalloway.com/gallery16_audubon.html)

Here is a coffee or tea pot from her Dreaming and Daily Life installation, showing the development of a theme on the surface of one of her pieces- in this case a window, over an unmade bed, complete with a shoe sitting on the floor. Additional glaze areas are on the handle, in the spout, and on the lid, which is complete with a lustered knob.

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(http://juliagalloway.com/gallery/dreaming-and-daily-life/

To do her work justice, please spend some time with Julia Galloway's website. It's well worth the time spent browsing.

Posted on July 11, 2017 .

Patti Warashina, WWWC Symposium 2017

Patti Warashina began her life in art studying painting, "lots of it", as she says. When she began with clay, in the 1960s, she wanted to figure out how to build sculptural objects by hand. She found that her knowledge of sewing patterns could be translated into making patterns for clay. She felt that really helped her jump into controlling the material. Because of all her drawing experience, she learned to use the human figure to express ideas. The first thing she made was in fact a human figure- on a clay pot. That morphed into giant lips on pots. There, she was in tune with clay moment in art that had begun with Peter Voulkos and John Mason, change that continued foment with work by Robert Arneson and his Funk Art movement, which included David Gilhooly and Ken Price, among quite a few others. She was alive to the working moment espoused by these people, who were radically changing the face of modern ceramics. It was a heady and freeing time to work with clay, moving away from vessels snd towards personal expression of a different kind. Being a woman in a sexist academic world and art movement did not bother her much. Ms. Warashina was and still is a go-getter, from her reminiscences as she worked at the symposium.

She found that stoneware materials and firing temperatures in the 60s made it hard to keep oxide decoration (the then-current method of decoration on clay) from running and blurring with the melting glaze. (Only chrome stayed in place, which is a very limited palette indeed.) She really wanted lots of color. Those clay luminaries of her early years, the Funk Art clay folks, had begun using new low-fire commercial glazes on the clay, and china paints, and "cold" finishes like paint, bursting through the previous high-fired palette with great attraction for Pat. Learning, usually, when challenged by something (like those runny oxides), she adapted, and now she adopted those bright colors that stayed put.

As she worked, she found that figurative proportions could be played with; people would still understand what they were seeing if, for example, arms and legs became disproportionately small or lips disproportionately big. She has played with that ever since. If her animals were somewhat human-like and her humans somewhat animal-like, what difference would it make? It's all in service to a bigger idea for each piece.

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She shrugs off the words "craft" or "art", saying it is not important what to name it.  The medium draws her back repeatedly. "There's always something there that keeps dragging me back into it." She continues, "The hardest thing...is thinking about ideas. If I can figure out the idea, I can figure out how to build it... Clay, I like the permanence of it." It is different from other media.  She likes "that fired quality." 

Warashina makes large molds to facilitate assembling the parts of her sculptures- just as she made sewing-type patterns earlier. Casting the forms or pressing them into the mold parts greatly aids in making the sculptures as thin as possible. First she draws her conception of the piece from various sides, then makes the lightweight mold from what appears to be fiberglass and plaster (which I believe is modern medical-cast material). As she talked, she built this cat (above). 

Recently, social justice projects have become increasingly important to her. Making objects, she says, is not enough any more. She is interested in "marrying craft and social justice in some way." I hope to see that.

Posted on July 10, 2017 .

Mulling Over WWWC Symposium Experience First...

There were four great presenters this year at the Women Working With Clay Symposium (Roanoke, Virginia, USA, June 12-15, 2017). I didn't always know who to watch and hear next. I hated to miss anything at all.

All four presenters this year were in one, very big L-shaped room. The two throwers, Ayumi Horie and Julia Galloway, were in one leg of the L; the two sculptors, Patti Warashina and Gerit Grimm, in the other. How should I have chosen? They were all doing work I wanted to see, and I hated to skip a minute of any. But short of cloning myself, not my forte, I had to hang with one pair at a time.

We could go up and take photos of the presenter or the work, or both together. It was structured to be informal and they were so amenable. People asked plenty of  questions and shared their own thoughts, and that was welcome too. I've been to four of these symposia now, and the format has been one where attendees and presenters alike could feel comfortable and open. 

That the 70 or so attendees were double the number of the other years I was there, was possibly because of the stature of all of these particular presenters. There were no relative newcomers presenting this time (although when there have been, they've been able to carry the load). Through dint of hard work, teaching, giving workshops and talks, through social media, and because of their personalities, they are all pretty hot stuff in the ceramics world now. The organizer, Donna Polseno (artist, teacher, organizer, former presenter on at least two occasions) selects them through some mysterious process that brings out the best of the best.

As in previous years, when I begin to write about this symposium for readers of my blog, everything I've experience over those few days (there's so much) needs thought and structure to really get down "on paper". Some of what takes place at the Women Working With Clay Symposium strikes sparks that need some really good mulling over. Because the symposium is small ("huge" this summer, with 70 or so attending), there's no bad vantage point to watch presentations. You can easily hear the presenters as they talk while working (or as they pause their work to expound), and clearly see how they go about making particular parts and pieces in their repertoires. They're taking questions and telling about their work processes and philosophical and business perspectives.

So I've been gathering my notes from the Women Working With Clay symposium and also- this is inevitable- thinking about my own professional practices in and out of the studio. As part of this, I've been making design notes for my two currently most interesting projects. Tweaking designs; thinking through forms and decoration yet again. This symposium is a perennial kickstarter for my summer and fall studio. 

So while I am not at home in NJ, but in Maine on a lake for a little while before plunging back into the business and pleasure of clay, I'm taking in the view and sorting out how to do the symposium justice as I write about it. I think I'll present the presenters... one by one.

 (Loon in mist on the lake, Maine)

(Loon in mist on the lake, Maine)

Posted on June 18, 2017 .

Women Working With Clay Symposium, Quick Introduction 2017

I'm at the Women Working With Clay Symposium at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, June 12-15, 2017. Been here about 5 times now and I've never been less than buzzing with everything going by the end (heck, by the middle) of each day. I don't think it's possible to be underwhelmed. The presenters are powerhouses. There is so. much. to. absorb. Techniques. Ideas. Conversations. Discussions. 

Ayumi Horie:

 (First time I've seen her "dry throwing" technique and I'm so intrigued.)

(First time I've seen her "dry throwing" technique and I'm so intrigued.)

Patti Warishina (It's Patti OMG Warishina, people. I first "met" her work in my Ceramics I (1985) class textbook, Hands in Clay by Charlotte Speight. Surprised by her work then and still amazed by it.):

 (That's going to be one mother of a cat.)

(That's going to be one mother of a cat.)

Julia Galloway:

 (Many parts will be assembled into about 8 pieces.)

(Many parts will be assembled into about 8 pieces.)

Gerit Grimm:

 (Yup. That's a leg or arm she's throwing for a sculpture.)

(Yup. That's a leg or arm she's throwing for a sculpture.)

I almost can't take it, it's intense. 

So many potters to talk to- but with about 70 of us, it's not overwhelming like the experience of NCECA can be for a friendly introvert (can that be a thing?) like me. 

Those 4 potters who are the focus of this shebang this year- are accessible the whole time. Demo time. Meals. There's always chat going on. (They're going to be so tired when they leave.) Potters in general tend to be open to conversation- nobody's stuck up, and all of us (especially the solo potters) happy to be out of the studio engaging with fellow clayophiles. This is the center of it- we have access to these great demos and talks and breakout discussion with these seriously driven artists. And sheesh. They're so intense and funny, too. Too much to think about at one go, so... 

More to come!

Posted on June 14, 2017 .

Summer is Coming, in the Studio and Out

With students going their ways and the studio quiet till the end of summer (student slots becoming available soon for fall), now is the time for me to experiment as well as make some fall inventory.

I will schedule work around the Women Working With Clay symposium in Roanoke, Virginia, which begins next Monday. I love this symposium, as it is given and attended by gifted and capable people, and is very small, less than 40 people in a fairly intimate college setting at Hollins U. I'll write about that as it happens, and while I go over my notes and photos afterward. I come back inspired from this one.

I will also schedule work for either side of our 2 weeks in Maine, where I'll be refreshing my senses- all of me, really- with hiking and kayaking.

In between, time will be limited, and I'll have to work like mad. But I do love my work. The agenda: various kinds of candle holders, honey jars, and whatever is interesting in the minutes in between.

 Candlesticks

Candlesticks

 Apple Tree Honey Jar

Apple Tree Honey Jar

 4-legged jar, as yet unfired stoneware. More 4-leggers to come- a sort of "whatever is interesting" right now.

4-legged jar, as yet unfired stoneware. More 4-leggers to come- a sort of "whatever is interesting" right now.

My favorite studio assistant will come mix up some glazes this week! I love when someone else becomes available to do the powdery work. My asthma thanks her (even if I wear a HEPA rated excellent filter mask, it's better done by someone else).

I hope the giant sunflower seeds I planted along the fence are sprouting! As soon as I get back in a day or so from Israel, where I have been visiting family, I will have a peek. There has to be room in life for watching the garden grow! I'm ready to pull some weeds on breaks from the studio.

 

Posted on June 6, 2017 .

Serve it Like It's Worth Eating!

Food and drink. Can't live without them. You might as well enjoy them as much as possible! I see great looking home-cooked meals photographed by my chef-like peers and shown off via Facebook and Instagram, and my chef-ly peeps are serving the food on paper dishes. Yo. Don't do that to your cooking. Put that gorgeous food on a great dish! It deserves it.

Don't be run-of-the-mill. You're blessed with ability and individuality. If I've eaten at your house, or if you take and post cool photos of your own cooking, I'm sure of it. Take a few shekels, and go get a plate that makes you happy, to serve on it.

Here's the plug for MSP... because sometimes I ought to! For something cool and one of a kind, I make many "singleton" objects or very small sets, sometimes priced for people on a tight budget who have (this is also important, listen up) personal flair. While lots of my work is $40-$140, and I hope those speak to your "likes". The occasional thing is as little as $10 and really good for letting you dress up a meal. Some of these characters are here on my website (see menu above), but other things can only be found at The Gallery Downstairs. So... Drop in. Shop a little! You can give yourself or a fellow chef a gift. You won't be sorry. Then... send me a photo of the dish, in use, for my website! I'll credit you as photographer and send you 10% off your next purchase for having personal flair and good taste. 

Do your food a favor. Give it a dish it deserves. 

Posted on June 2, 2017 .

A Little Wedgie

Those clay scraps left from throwing and trimming the pots are put in basins and left to dry off to the side. They go from bone dry clay, to slaked with water till mushy, then they're allowed to firm up to still too soft, but almost workable. 

 It really adds up fast. Hard to imagine this can eventually become anything interesting.

It really adds up fast. Hard to imagine this can eventually become anything interesting.

To recycle, it's scooped out blob by blob and put on plaster batts to pull out excess water. As soon as the clay is not too super sticky, it's wedging time. 

 Slaked clay firming up a bit on plaster, nearly ready to wedge. More slaked clay in basins, not seen in the picture, to be spread on batts after this batch and the next batch and... (And more dry clay scrap already building up, in the background.)

Slaked clay firming up a bit on plaster, nearly ready to wedge. More slaked clay in basins, not seen in the picture, to be spread on batts after this batch and the next batch and... (And more dry clay scrap already building up, in the background.)

 Spiral wedging. 

Spiral wedging. 

 3 1/2 hours of reclaiming and wedging. This is what 130 lbs. of recycled and wedged clay looks like. 

3 1/2 hours of reclaiming and wedging. This is what 130 lbs. of recycled and wedged clay looks like. 

Off to take a couple of Advil.

Posted on February 8, 2017 .

Small Sunday Shows: Brass Tacks

I have various ways of making a living as a potter. I teach in my studio, do "date nights at the pottery", do "'girls' night out" there too, do an outside gig teaching once in a great while when asked, sell a bit from my website (especially at holidays but also in wedding season), and sell a bit from my home/studio gallery. Another, admittedly minor way, is doing one-day shows.

Back on July 21st, 2016, I blogged about how I was Done Kissing Frogs, as I thought of these small local shows. Yet I did this little show last month despite all. That does seem incongruous. So I guess I really owe us (or at the very least, myself) a breakdown of the event.

The old expression "Let's get down to brass tacks" means looking at the bottom line and seeing the tangibles. The bottom line here, however, may be a little wavier and intangible than you would think.

Facts: Sunday show near NYC, one hour or so away. My second year there.

Hours spent just on show related work- 18 total (NOT INCLUDING MAKING THE OBJECTS; I take this into account when I price the work):

-Creating an inventory list/Doing Price stickers

-Wrapping up and packing the work/Loading the car

-Traveling to the show 

-Setting up

-Manning the show- standing, walking around the room, talking to people, making sales, wrapping pots- the things one does to man ('woman'?) a show, which was just 4 hours' duration in this case

-Breaking down/Repacking the work/Loading the car

-Traveling from the show, home

-Unpacking at the home gallery/Re-stowing packing materials

-Returning work to the gallery shelves

-Bookkeeping/Banking/Assessing how to improve the show possibilities

-Follow-up emails after the show, with coupon toward further purchases online

Bearing all of the above in mind, and not putting monetary value on these for the moment, add in the $$$ made in four hours of actual showtime:

-Sold +$280

Gave back 15% cut to sponsoring organization -$42

Other expenses: Gas and tolls estimate -           -$25

Raffle donation item value-                               -$23

Total deduction from 3 items above=                 $90

-My real take-home before taxes: +$280-$90= $190

In addition, I discussed a potential custom order for $165, which may raise my take-home to $355. 

In essence, I worked pretty hard to make perhaps $165 and perhaps $355. I do want to point out that that is $165 or $355 I would not have made by staying home that day instead. To be even clearer, I have found that these 4-hour gift shows rarely generate more than $400 in sales for me, and other potters whose work is wonderful have told me the same. When the higher-end jeweler next to me asked at the end of the 4 hours, "Did you make $1000?" I just said no, but inside I had a small dry laugh. My husband quotes his mother, who had a head for business, "If you sell pins, at the end of the day you're left with pins. If you sell diamonds, at the end of the day you're left with diamonds." Until I am a national name (or at least until I am an even moderately popular regional one) as an artist, I make pottery, not high end jewelry. Not quite pins- it is an art form (all philosophical discussion of art vs craft aside)- but also, not (yet) it isn't diamonds.

To contrast costs,  the jeweler's initial outlay for materials is much greater than mine since she uses semiprecious stones, gold and silver. Clay is very cheap in comparison. In her case, the work is mostly beaded and not actually formed in metals from scratch, so the making of a piece might be roughly similar in expenditure of time to me making one of my pieces. But my outlay of time is much greater in dealing with the show itself. For example, I don't just roll it all up carefully in a cloth in 5 minutes at the end of the day and stack up my paper stands, leaving with less than 10 lbs of stuff on one handcart as I waved a breezy goodbye. At my space, just packing up afterward took an hour and a quarter, and I had 6 heavy boxes to trundle out to my car long after she and her assistant (hmm, what is an 'assistant'?) had hit the road. Setting up had also been quite unequal; mine had taken over an hour and hers, 10 minutes. 

But added to this negative assessment is one pretty valuable intangible this time, which is something I am not used to saying. And it's why I'm not sorry I Kissed This Frog. Because of well-considered thoughts from a good, very selective repeat customer at this show, I had a small but real paradigm shift. I formulated a bit of a change in strategy for what I bring and how to set up the next gift show- and 1-day shows in general. This is worth a lot.

For example- 'I love that color blue', she told me. 'But I won't buy that goblet until I see other goblets next to it, and can make a choice.' Likewise, she declined to buy a tureen she was noticing (actually a nice size for soup or stew for two), although she liked the idea. 'Too small to really use for much,' she said. 'If you had that in other sizes I would buy one.' Thinking that over a couple of weeks after, while shopping at a large armory craft show with lots of artists and customers (and where I bought one of my kids a beautiful handmade travel guitar), I verified her words when I looked at the booth of a well-stocked potter with work qualitatively akin to mine. I saw the wisdom in my customer's opinions. A shelf unit of mugs had a couple of dozen similar mugs- in different colors and side by side. Bowls were similarly displayed, in a few sizes, and so on. Items generally similar in feeling but in different colors and sizes were shown. If I liked what I saw, I could choose easily.

I believe I will even do this little show again- don't shake some sense into me, please. I want to test the waters again there. Call it a mini semi-longitudinal test case. Besides the intangible benefit of getting out of the studio and talking to folks (nothing to sneeze at in the fairly solitary life of a potter), these constructive ideas are also sharpening my focus towards making particular objects in a more organized way. These are not new things- I want to keep making them anyway-- I'll just stick with them longer, and make more variations in colors and sizes on each single theme. I'll still make one-offs because I love to. But they will be in addition. 

And I am also going to reach out to the organizer to help make this particular show better. I have more ideas about publicity and marketing. 

The things I gleaned will affect whatever shows I do, including wholesale gift (when the Saturday night/Sunday-only (usually Judaica) ones come up). The simple schooling was worth much more than the $190 I made or the $355 I might make. Only by showing my work, even at the (very) occasional Kiss-a-Frog show like this, can I get a certain kind of cogent feedback.

More on that feedback, or How to Set Up a More Appealing and Lucrative Show, in a future post.

Posted on January 4, 2017 .

A Sunday Gift Show- My Small Post-Mortem

I was invited to three one-day shows lately. All were for Sundays in December. Two of the venues I've done before, one with some success and the other not so much. The other one I have not done before. I opted to do one of the ones I had done last year, turned down the other less successful one, and decided not to even try the new one. The following is a quick analysis of why I chose one and rejected the others.

Most potters/craft artists who make sales regularly will do at least a couple of two- or three-day wholesale or retail shows each year. These start on Friday afternoon and end Sunday late afternoon. Those who do these tell me they are their bigger moneymaking shows of the year. A retail show will bring you immediate money and feedback, with varying levels of success. A wholesale show may enable you to gain new customers that ask you to write up sales for the rest of the year.

It cuts deeply into my income potential, that I have Friday evening and Saturday put aside for the Sabbath for, oh, the rest of my life. Since I don't do business on Sabbath, and while I can't know by exactly how much, the income I'm missing is without question pretty significant. I have needed to find ways to compensate for not doing the weekend wholesale or retail shows. I've been known to wake up at night and lie there thinking about this as I toss and turn. I'm working on the problem constantly.

So I may do a one-day show now and then, in addition to the other roster of ways I make money & sell my work: I have the occasional drop-in customers to my studio gallery, web sales on my site, and getting work into shops or galleries the old fashioned, legwork/phone/email way. I have students 6 months a year and offer date night for couple or friends in the winter.

Back to those one-day shows... The ones I might do on Sundays are, by contrast with the weekend ones, a lot of work for an abbreviated benefit. Having done a number of these, I understand that the amount of work I must put in preparing for what is often only 4 or 5 hours is disproportionately labor intensive and possibly will not bring in much in sales. You might argue that the show fee is usually fairly small, less than $100 and/or 15% of sales to the venue, say, as opposed to perhaps $1000 or more to rent a booth location at a big weekend show. But sales are much, much smaller.

An intangible: I consider the one-day show a way to test my work and my setup in a community venue, and see how my pieces and my prices 'play in Peoria'. But since I want to make back my show fee, sell at least a few pieces besides, and still feel I came away with enough to pay for all my time, effort, and let's not forget, get paid for the art I sold, I choose as carefully as I can.  

The right choice of this one-day type of venue is where other people will be selling their handmade art and jewelry. If I can find handmade wearables, hand-fashioned fine woodwork, artist-fabricated glass or metal, or interesting mixed media or other constructions or sculpture, that's a clear indication of a show with potential. If the show is well publicized, motivated customers come in the door, expecting quality work. Pointing out the obvious, you want motivated customers. I may get on-the-spot sales AND some people may ask to place an order for items they have in mind and don't see on my table and shelves. If the price points of my sales pay me for the craftsmanship/artistry I bring to my pieces, I can make some money. 

The wrong one-day venue? That's where you find mass produced imports and non-handmade items, no matter how pleasant they may be. As a professional artist-crafter, I would likely find that people will pass me and my goods by at this kind of gift show, with a hand shielding their eyes from me (yes, that happened) so that I would not, heaven forbid, think they might even want to look at me or my probably-too-expensive-who-needs-it wares that don't belong here. Awkward.

I've done these gift shows in school gymnasiums and community centers where I think it actually hurt my credibility to take part. I'm so leery of doing another of these that my basic instinct is to run the other way, fast, when an invitation comes in.

The gift show I did a couple of Sundays ago was a tiny one. It did earn me a bit when I did it last year despite its being casually planned, but unfortunately it was still less well planned this time and not as well attended. It had five jewelry artists and one potter (me). Although the jewelry styles were different from each other, this is still not exactly what you'd call a variety of art media. A painter had a few small pieces, but she was not present and left the work at her table to be attended every so often by a friend. A very personable bread baker was there with brochures, but no samples.  And because of the lack of variety there last year (it was jewelry-heavy even then), quite a few people might not have been interested enough to return this year. No credibility. Equally important was the issue of signs outside. There were none. That put the kibosh on impulse-driven foot traffic. So now this show may be a borderline venue for me, or not good at all. But...

Why did I choose to be part of this show again? Well, I made a decent few dollars last year, but most of all, the people who put the show together to benefit their organization were friendly, fun and smart. The location last time was in a senior living center with lots of guests, residents and caregivers coming through. If that sounds undesirable, well, it worked nonetheless. This year, the venue was changed to a building nearby, where community meetings take place and there is a Sunday school. Theoretically, the walk-ins should have been plentiful. However, school let out at noon, and our show was scheduled from 1-5 PM. Had we scheduled for 11 AM-3 PM instead, we might have caught the attention of the parental crowd before their children came out. It is a relatively affluent urban area, after all. There was also some kind of dedication ceremony going on in another part of the building before 1 PM, but no sign in the lobby to direct people from there to look in on the gift show in our area of the building afterward. (If any of the coordinators are reading this, are you smacking yourselves in your lovely foreheads?) In addition, although plenty of automobile traffic passes by there, there was no sign outside or on the corners of surrounding blocks. And the flyer, which contained only text and no necessary photos, was an email only, that went out just a few days before the show. 

Maybe it's a little weird that I'm not sorry I did this show, considering I sold just six pieces. 

I still enjoyed it because those friendly, comfortable people bought just enough pottery to make me feel it wasn't a loss. I had such a good time with them that am going to try and work with the organizers, if they will let me, to make this a better show next year. I will have advice: Mix it up more with the vendor types. Publicize with flyers and posters as well as two or three emails. Go beyond your own organization to publicize, by asking vendors to use their own email lists (besides your own mailing list) a few weeks before the show, then again soon before. Choose the right date and time. Put up small posters in public spaces of local libraries, synagogues, churches, etcetera.

I'll get down to brass tacks on the economics of being a craft artist doing this kind of gift show and looking at other potential markets in next week's post. 

Posted on December 12, 2016 .