Coming up this weekend ... the Greenbelt Festival of Lights will be held at the Greenbelt Community Center. This is where I teach my pottery classes, and I will be sharing a large booth with my Level 5 Pottery students. The Level 5 class is for students who have moved beyond technical clay skills, and are developing their own style of work. These are all highly teachable students, and yet none of their work looks anything like mine! I love that. They know themselves, they know what their influences are. It is a real privilege for me to work with people like this. My own area of the display will be relatively small, because this booth is really about their talent and hard work. Come check it out! We will have high-quality functional wares, ornaments, jewelry, etc., in every price range. Here's a preview:
Greenbelt's Festival of Lights Art + Craft Fair
Saturday, December 7, 10am - 5pm
Sunday, December 8, 11am - 4pm
Greenbelt Community Center
15 Crescent Road, Greenbelt MD 20770
(And for anyone who is looking for a large display of my work, my annual Open House is next weekend, December 14-15, in downtown Silver Spring. More details will be posted here next week, and sent by email to those of you on my mailing list.)
Originally published in Ceramics Monthly, December, 2013, page 16. http://www.ceramicsmonthly.org . Copyright, The American Ceramic Society. Reprinted with permission.
I had to laugh at myself the other day. I was browsing through my blog posts from last December, and realized that I referred to 2012 as "a year of change," in reference to the way I had redefined the wholesale side
of my business. If I could travel back in time I'd tell myself "Change? That's cute. Wait until you see what's coming." Let's see, so far this year I got a new studio. I got a new kiln. I got a new car. My day-to-day life is completely different now. The time was right for all of these things, and all three have resulted in great dividends already.
But I am not done yet. This post is about another big change. This year I changed clay bodies. A professional potter does not do this lightly. In fact, the first time I thought "maybe it's time for a different clay" was 1.5 years ago. Then i spent a whole year trying out different clays, and combinations of clays. There is a lot to figure out. How does the clay look? How do I fire it? Does it work with my existing glazes? Is it as durable? How much does it cost? Where can I buy it? By the summertime, right around the time I was settling into my new studio, I felt confident that i had found a new clay.
The new clay is actually two clays mixed together. It is two parts Highwater Red Rock plus one part Standard 266. I mix them in my pug mill. Both of these clays are readily available at my local supplier, Clayworks Supplies
. So whenever I need more, a truck will deliver it in a few days. It is more expensive than my old clay, but still affordable. It looks almost exactly like the old clay, only with fewer speckles, which I have gotten used to. It feels a whole lot different when throwing because it contains much less grog, but I've grown to prefer this. And now the unglazed bottoms of my pots have a smoother hand feel. I had to lower my glaze firing temp by a few degrees, and I had to tweak the recipe of one of my glazes. But overall I am really pleased, and I'm glad I went through this process.
Here's a look at a typical clay processing session. From right to left ... on top of the pugmill are scraps from hand-building, torn into roughly one-pound balls. Next is reclaimed clay from wheel-throwing (I slake down the trimmings into sludge, spread the sludge out on plaster batts, let it dry until it reaches the moisture level of throwing clay, then slice it into one-pound chunks). Next comes a full bag of Red Rock, sliced into 32 pieces. Finally, that's a half bag of Standard 266, also sliced into 32 pieces. I'll put all of this through the pug mill, taking pieces from each pile in successive order.
What a lovely sight! This is about 100 pounds of freshly pugged clay. Can't wait to attack it!
What prompted this change? Well, I can't explain this without violating my ground rules for this blog. I have never believed in criticizing people on my blog. It's not because I never encounter unpleasant people while working as a potter. It's just that there are so many reasons to be grateful, and honestly the unpleasant people population is pretty low around here. It's not worth griping about. So I will state this as matter-of-factly as I can. I had no problems with the old clay. I was no longer interested in working with the manufacturer of that clay. I understand that this is a huge company that supplies clay for institutions far larger than me. But I got tired of them letting me know that my one-person pottery studio didn't matter to them.
Believe it or not, I am not done with the big changes this year. I have one more. I'll write about it next month. It is a direct outcome of all the other changes. My pottery business is growing in surprising ways, and once again I am struggling to manage the workload. So I need to let go of some things. Unlike everything else, this change has not been a happy process. At best it has been bittersweet, at times it has been very troubling. I'll explain it all when I'm ready. I might allow myself to criticize one more person.
I do not wish to discourage anyone from pursuing a life as a potter. But I sometimes worry that, on this blog, I am portraying the life as being more fun than hard work. It is immensely rewarding and often fun, but there is no way around the "hard work" component. Here's what my studio looks like right now, at the end of October. This is already holiday season for anyone who runs a business like this. These photos do not include the five cartons of pots that I packed and shipped yesterday. I've got pots in every stage of the process. Gotta keep'em moving!
I spent the first half of the day throwing, then stopped to take these photos. Afterwards, I glazed all of the unglazed bisque, and loaded both of the kilns. I still have about a dozen pots that didn't fit into either kiln. But another load of bisque will be ready any day now, so they can wait.
These pots are for two wholesale orders, and three November shows. I'm still working on one of the wholesale orders, but once it's done I need to start making pots for December shows, including my big Open House, and a large individual order.
I am two or three blog posts behind on the things that I wanted to write about this fall. Things have been extremely busy and kind-of stressful, both good and bad. I will write about it all eventually, when I have time. I just finished the second of two shows this month, and I'm pretty tired. The good news is ... both of the shows were significantly better than I was expecting. The bad news is ... I'm even further behind on my inventory needs for my upcoming shows. I have three shows planned for next month. Yes, this might prove to be a bad idea. All things considered, I took some time out of the studio today to write, because my ass is dragging. And because my little cat is not feeling well, my work overload is bad for her too. If she falls asleep, I'll try to get a stack of plates made later this evening.
But despite everything else going on, really this month revolved around my annual Wood-firing Workshop, where I take a group of students from the Greenbelt Community Center up to Baltimore Clayworks to load and fire their wood-kiln. This is always a lot of work, but this year it was especially challenging due to the weather. It poured buckets of rain for two days straight. Here are some soggy scenes, starting with loading everyone's boxes into my van for the trip up to Clayworks:
In case you're wondering how we managed to load the kiln in the pouring rain, the shed roof over the kiln can protect some pots at a time, but most of the pots were unpacked inside the classroom building that is next to the kiln. We started by hand-carrying out a few pots, as many as could fit under the shed roof. Then, there was a constant shuttling of people and pots. As pots were moved into the kiln, more pots were brought outside. We hunched over them and walked as fast as we could. We got soaking wet, but managed to keep the pots dry. It all took about an hour longer than usual. (Photo by Janet Evander)
Here is our official group photo from the workshop, after we finished loading the kiln and bricking up the doors. From left to right: Karen Morgenstern, Karen Arrington, Tom Baker, Jonathan Gordy, Gina Denn, Amy Castner, Carol Wisdom, Janet Evander, me, Alan Dowdy, and our wood-fire guide and guru, Jim Dugan from Baltimore Clayworks. Not pictured are Karen Riedlinger, Quianna Douglas, and Kuniko Wallis. Photo by Kuniko Wallis, using Alan Dowdy's camera. Yes it was still raining and getting dark when we finished, Alan's camera has a low-light feature that took the best photo.
The next day as we fired the kiln, it rained off and on, sometimes heavily. We worked in shifts of four or five people at a time, so we were able to fit under the roof and stay dry. Here's a shot from the early morning hours near the end of the firing. It's a lovely scene, and yes it's still raining. (Photo by Alan Dowdy)
I've said before that Greenbelters are the best wood-firers I've ever had the privilege with which to fire. Once again, I was shown why. I know there were many situations here that were difficult. But nobody complained. Everybody kept up their good spirits and work ethic, and got it done. I hope that before too long we will all be laughing about "that time we wood-fired in the pouring rain." Thankfully, the weather cleared up in time to unload the kiln a few days later. Our perseverance was rewarded with beautiful pots:
Holy cow, Greenbelters are darn talented.
My years-long quest to make gray pots in a wood-kiln is finally starting to bear fruit. If you are familiar with my work, you know that warm gray and brown shades are the basis for everything I do. I've always gone nuts over the crusty gray pots that are the result of heavy salt glazing, but I want to find a process for gray pots that is more predictable, and suitable for functional pots. Most of my previous attempts resulted in blue pots (the horror!). The taller sake bottle in this photo really excites me. I made a white flashing slip, and added 1% of black mason stain 6600, and mixed it up thin. I used a coarse brush to apply it to this porcelain bottle, which resulted in all of my favorite shades of gray and brown. As you can see, I also used a lot of celadon glaze on porcelain, which I am thrilled about too. But the gray slip is the direction that I am dying to explore further.
I've mentioned this on my blog before ... there is one aspect of my job that I do not like ... packing and shipping. It's tedious, and it makes me feel anxious about the trip the pots are about to take. And there's my burning hatred of packing peanuts. Those annoying little turds. I hate that I need so many of them. They're hard to buy, they're hard to store. How can something so unsubstantial take up so much space? In the winter months, they get charged with static electricity. They will be stuck to my shirt and flying all over the place. Ugh! Most of the time, I buy peanuts in 12 cubic foot plastic bags. The best way to get the peanuts from the bag into a shipping carton is to dredge them with a bucket. It's tiring, slow, and messy. So many peanuts ended up on the floor. And once, the entire bag tipped over while it was open. On days like that, you just need to quit working and open a beer.
I wanted one of those ceiling-mounted peanut dispensers, but the ceilings in my basement studio are too low. What would be the closest solution that would fit in my studio? My wonderful students often give me peanuts for free, and I realized that I really liked when someone gave them to me in a large box. I could pick up the whole box and pour them.
So I built myself a box that is designed for pouring peanuts. It is two feet cubed, which equals eight cubic feet. It holds half of the 12 cubic foot bag of peanuts, plus a little head room. I cut off the four top flaps of the box, and saved one. I cut a V-shaped pouring hole into one of the top corners. I taped the saved top flap across the top edge of the pouring hole to complete the spout. Finally, I cut two handles into the side of the box, one near the spout, and one on the next adjacent side.
The Giant Cardboard Teapot dispenses peanuts at exactly the right rate. Not too slow, not too fast. I can pour a little or a lot. They all land inside the box. When I put the GCT down, it cannot tip over. I am typically working on two wholesale orders at a time, which usually takes four boxes. Six cubic feet of peanuts is just about right for four boxes. I still do not enjoy packing but at least I have the peanuts under control now.
To everyone who has been voting for me in the Martha Stewart "American Made" Awards
... THANK YOU! As I am writing this, I have over 750 votes. I can't believe it. Regardless of how I finish in this contest, I am proud and grateful for all the support. The voting for the first round has been extended until Sunday, September 22. I almost feel bad asking you to continue voting, I know you have been clicking for weeks. Maybe it's an endurance contest. If you can, please continue voting until September 22.http://www.marthastewart.com/americanmade/nominee/81034
I have an odd compulsion for making miniature chairs. But I don't make them for my kilns at home, I only make them for wood-firing, and I've got one coming up in October. If I had to explain why I do this, my only answer is "because I start laughing every time I look at them."
Hey do me a favor? Vote for me in the 2013 Martha Stewart "American Made" Awards
! I'm just excited that someone has created an award for creative entrepreneurs, and giving us a chance to show off a little. Follow the link below ... it only takes a minute to register and vote. Please cast your 6 votes per day for me. There are some great opportunities for the finalists, and a big fat $10K grant for the winner. http://www.marthastewart.com/americanmade/nominee/81034
Thanks in advance!
The trick to carving a pattern like this onto a pot is to carve every single line with only one pass of the carving tool. If you allow yourself to belabor over the lines, going over them again and again, it takes way too long and your brain will get very bored. The trick to making each line with only one pass is to realize it doesn't matter if some of them aren't perfect. Your eye cannot see the ones that aren't perfect, you can only see the whole pattern that all of the lines make together.
I'm back from another Artscape Baltimore. Despite the storms and the abominable heat, it was another stellar show. This is my eleventh year at this show, and it continues to be my favorite and highly profitable. At the beginning of this year, I decided to ramp up the "dinnerware" part of my product line, and after six months this has paid great dividends. I've been making plates as fast as I can, but always running out. And the feedback has been even better. Right now I'm trying to figure out how to create more drying space in the studio for plate-shaped things.
My "I shouldn't have eaten that" indulgence were some deep-fried Oreos. They were way too sweet, but I'd probably eat them again. I also indulged in a little schadenfreude. I don't believe in criticizing people on my blog, so I'm just going to keep it to myself.
But here's the main reason why the show was really exciting: I have a new car! I realize I am the only single and child-free female who was dying to have a minivan. "But people will mistake you for a soccer mom! Or a burglar!" I don't care. A minivan is the vehicle of choice on the art festival circuit. It really is the best combination of cargo space, drivability, gas mileage, and price.
My mom did her polite best to change my mind. "Umm, isn't that Nissan Murano pretty?" "No mom, those round-shaped cars are not useful. Everything I'm carrying is a box or a table. I want the most rectangular car I can find."
Here is my rectangle. It's a Toyota Sienna. Despite it's size it is very easy to drive.
This is a vision! Just look at all this space. I have the middle row seats tumbled forward, I can remove them if I want even more room.
This is my entire display for the Artscape show. Just about everything fits into the van SIDEWAYS. I will repeat that just to emphasize my amazement: SIDEWAYS. The only thing that doesn't is a five-foot-long tabletop, which I have propped against the right wall. Yes I am contemplating replacing that with a four-foot tabletop, just so I can pack it sideways too.
This leaves the rest of the space for, you guessed it, pottery! I packed a hefty inventory for Artscape, five 12-gallon boxes and three 8-gallon boxes. But there was plenty of room to spare.
And here's why this matters so much. There are so few economies of scale with a pottery business, but here's one that can make a big difference: packing your car once and doing two shows. My former car was a Subaru Forester. It was much-loved, but I could barely squeeze in my display and enough pots for one show. The pottery boxes were on the bottom of the payload, so I could not restock them without unpacking the entire car. My renovated studio
and the second kiln
made it possible to make enough work for two consecutive shows, but the Subaru couldn't match that. As you can see in the above photo, the van could easily hold twice as many pottery boxes. Well, first I need to get more boxes. When Artscape was over, I put the empty boxes in the very back near the liftgate. All I needed to do was fill those boxes up with pots again, and put them back in the van. Without unpacking everything else. And BAM! I'm off to another show.
This weekend I'll be at the Pennsylvania Guild Fine Craft Fair
in Wilmington, Delaware. This is my first time at this show, but I've heard from many sources it is top-notch. This is outside of my local zone, so I'm not sure how many of my usual customer base will attend, but if you are in the area, I hope to see you there!
I bet the minivan will be comfy for a long drive too. I can't wait.
Friday, July 19, 11am - 9pm
Saturday, July 20, 11am - 9pm
Sunday, July 21, 11am - 8pm
Along Mt. Royal Avenue and North Charles Street.
My pottery and I will be in space E06, in my "usual" area on Mt. Royal Avenue near the west end of the show.
Here's a peek at some new things I've been developing. Two weeks ago I blogged about a new platter mold, here's the first finished platter! Large square platter with two fish, 14 inches across. $225
If you've ever felt like your Enormous Coffee Mug would be better with a lid, I am now offering Enormous Lids. One size fits most (but not all) of the mugs. Lids are $12 each, or $8 if bought with a mug. If you show me that you already own a mug (such as, show me a picture on your smart phone) you can buy one for $8 too. I only made a few, supplies are limited. If they sell well I'll start making a lot.
Large soap dispensers, size is designed for dish soap next to your kitchen sink. To 9 inches tall. $58 each.
Medium Servings Bowls. To 10 inches across. I'll have a few one-of-a-kind designs, prices range from $60 - $75.
These are just the new designs. I am fully stocked with all the favorites too, and really excited for the show for several reasons. Such as, being the first show where I get to use my newly acquired car, which I will blog about very soon. Hope to see you there!