I am starting this post with a picture of my old studio:
People who know me in person have often heard me refer to my studio as a "cave." Since 2002, I have been making pots in the basement of my 78-year-old house. I have always appreciated that the space was essentially free. It came with the house, and I didn't need it for anything else. It has been great for the bottom line. But it was a 78-year-old basement. It had no natural light. It was dark and grimy. There were areas that could rightfully be called "makeshift" or "weird," and other areas that could be called "gross" or "scary."
All of those issues could be tolerated. But here's what I couldn't live with: I had outgrown the capacity of the space. I wrote about this last summer.
To me, the source of the bottlenecks was clear. I could only produce as much pottery as one kiln could fire. In order to make room for a second kiln, I'd have to rearrange. I did not want to add any more makeshift to the situation. I was feeling confident that the business was going to last for the long term. Did I want to live with weird and dark that long? Working as a potter gives you a lot of time to think. So after months of contemplating all of the paths I could choose, I decided that I would not just make room for a second kiln. Instead I would make a bigger investment, and create a space that would work for me all the way into retirement.
It took me over a week to remove everything from the basement. Here's what it looked like when empty. The space in the foreground was my old studio, roughly 350 square feet. It was separated from the other half of the basement by ugly, dark wood-paneling walls.
The walls are gone now. The creepy corner behind the chimney does not exist anymore. All of the exterior walls, and the staircase, were given a fresh coat of paint. The space on the far side of the stairs was not part of my studio before. I am going to use it now. As you'll see in a later photo, that space will be used to store and display the finished pots. I am visualizing boxes of clay stored under the stairs. Or maybe packing peanuts. Overall, the studio has grown to almost 600 square feet.
Here and there were remnants of an old drop ceiling. Definitely gross. The ceiling tiles were older than the invention of aluminum. They were installed onto wooden strips with lots of messy leveling shims.
All of the ceiling tiles and wooden strips were removed. At the suggestion of my contractor, he sprayed all of the exposed rafters with a coat of white paint. This makes the entire space feel taller and brighter, and all of the pipes and conduits seem to have disappeared.
This was the only troublesome part of the renovation: vinyl-asbestos floor tiles. Very common in houses this age. Don't worry, this is not as hazardous as it sounds. They were generally in good condition, and I had never aggressively disturbed them. Still, it's a good idea to cover them up, so they can remain undisturbed.
The new flooring is a solid vinyl product that is intended for garages. It's very different from the vinyl floor in my kitchen. There is no fabric backing, and the surface is much harder. I have dragged heavy furniture across it, and the floor doesn't seem to notice. The surface is slightly textured, it's seems to be a good balance of "easy to mop" and "non-slip." Time will tell if it holds up well in a pottery studio, but so far I am impressed.
Although I've often complained about the lack of windows, the truth is my basement has four windows, which had been boarded up by a previous owner.
The amount of light coming in through the new windows is so bright, I had trouble photographing them. And you are not imagining, the glass has a pebbly texture that you can't see through. As much as I wanted some natural light, I did not want my studio to be visible from outside. I did not know that "privacy glass" existed until the window salesperson suggested it, at which point I heard the British-accented character from the beer commercial shouting "Brilliant!"
The gaps that surrounded the old door were so big, during the winter months the cold wind would just show itself in. The door opening is a non-standard size, and also slightly distorted, so whoever installed this door did their best to make an off-the-shelf door fit.
The new door was made to the correct size, and the weather-sealing around it was pitched as "like a refrigerator door." As an added bonus, I got another window, with more privacy glass. Brilliant!
You can probably guess what the blue tape, the new 60 amp circuit, and the swinging arm bracket for the vent hood mean. The new kiln has been ordered and is coming soon!
I love shelving. Shelving makes everything better. You can't have enough shelving.
I love wheels. Wheels make everything better. You can't have enough wheels.
Oh my goodness, shelving on wheels. My heart flutters. I can't wait to fill this up with pots. In the old studio, the shelves where the pots dried were about 15 feet from the kiln. Loading the kiln involved a lot of walking back and forth. The first time I roll this entire cart over to the kilns to begin loading, I'm going to faint from happiness. And although this cart looks fairly compact, it actually gives me almost twice as much drying space as I had before.
With all the additional square footage, I created a new area for storing the finished pottery, packing and shipping, and taking photographs. I used to do this in a bedroom on the first floor. Try to imagine ... every time I unloaded the kiln, I put the pots into a plastic bin and carried them up the stairs in two or three trips. Now I will unload the pots onto a new utility cart (pictured), and roll them over to here. Oh, how I love shelves on wheels. Yikes, my inventory is really low! I need to get back to work.
Right after all the renovation was finished, the space looked so pretty when it was empty, I almost didn't want to fill it back up, or get anything dirty. But that didn't last long. I missed my studio. Now that I have put everything back, I think it looks amazing. And I can't wait to get it dirty.
I shut down the studio on April 1, and I am going back to work tomorrow, May 7. It was a long five weeks. Lots of noise. Days of high stress. Days of utter boredom. Lots of excitement, anticipation, relief, and joy.
What I really love about the new studio, aside from the newfound spaciousness and light, is that it feels like a commercial space. A place for serious work. Not at all like an old residential basement. I am looking forward to coming down the stairs to this studio everyday.
Many thanks and praise to DE Thomason Construction Company, who handled most of this project, and did a fabulous job. And thanks also for great work done by Thompson Creek Window Company, H-TWO-O Plumbing, Tatson Electric, and APRO Enterprises, Inc.
Hibernation is not exactly the right word. I have not been unconscious, nor have I been away. I've been separated from my pottery studio since April 1. I feel dormant and unproductive. There have been days when I was consumed, dealing with the matters at hand. And there have been days, like today, when I have nothing to do. I am bored. I can't really leave the house, at least not on my own schedule. I have already spiffed up my yard and gardens so they look better than they have in years. I learned how to replace the blade in my lawnmower (thanks YouTube!), which turns out is a lot like getting a new lawnmower. I cleaned out and organized my file drawers. If I could clean my entire house, I would. But it doesn't make sense to do it right now.
It will all be over soon, and I'll explain what's going on. It's a very very good thing. My patience and planning will be rewarded.
This past month was maybe busier than an average month, but not busier than an average October. This time of year is always nuts given that the holiday season is approaching fast. Here's a view of a potter's month that you maybe haven't seen before. You can click on the image to enlarge it and read the whole thing. Or if you'd rather just have the nutshell: I did 2 art festivals, a wood-firing, packed and shipped 4 wholesale orders, in my electric kiln I did 4 bisque firings and 4.5 glaze firings, designed 2 new plate molds, and built 146 pots. A few of these pots are for wholesale orders that are due in November, but most of them are for the shows I have lined up for the holiday season.
This pace of making pots will continue until the third week of November. After that I will stop making pots, and concentrate on glazing and firing, and getting myself to and from the shows (4 shows in a row starting November 17). After the last show, I will take some time off, maybe a week or two. But not too long, I will need to start making pots for the ACC Baltimore show in February.
August was a crazy busy month for production. A bunch of wholesale orders arrived, and several fall shows are coming up (the first one is next week ... ack!). A few times this past month, I reached a state of impasse, and had to stop working in the middle of a day. I ran out of space. Every inch of my tables and shelves were occupied by drying pots. This includes an extra folding table I set out near the laundry machines. And the inside of the kiln, which will be reloaded as soon as it can be unloaded.
The last pot I threw is still on the wheel, because I had nowhere else to put it. Oh all right!! I'll stop. Grrrrr.
Seriously though, lately I've been putting a lot of thought into a studio renovation. I hope to see it through sometime in 2013. More shelving is part of the plan! And it pleases me that my output now exceeds my studio space but not my energy level. I can grow this business even more if I want.
Photo by Quianna Douglas
I just did something I've been wanting to try for a while ... I held a class at my house! I only have one wheel and a limited amount of space, so there aren't many subjects I could actually manage to teach here. So this first class was about reeds, and how to transform them into sturdy and lightweight handles for pottery baskets and teapots. Four brave potters came to my house. Things were said like "this would be easier if we had three hands" and "if only we could use our feet." There was some minor cursing. But before too long, everyone learned how to wrestle and squeeze their reeds into gorgeous handles!
The finished handles from left to right ... mine, Judy Goldberg-Strassler, Jeri Holloway, me again, Melanie Choe, and Quianna Douglas.
And here's the gang ... Judy, Jeri, Melanie, and Quianna. I thought this was really fun!
It's been a busy week of firing, hangtagging, packing, and obsessively watching the Weather.com website, and now I'm ready for another year at Artscape. Here are some new designs I'm bringing:
At both of the shows I did earlier this year, somebody asked me if I had any berry bowls. I hadn't made any in a few years, but it was clearly time to do so. $55 each.
Talk about limited-edition pottery ... these vases were made with the radish blossoms that bloom in my veggie garden for a few weeks in June. I've wanted to design pots around them for years, this year I had time to do it! The tallest vase is 11" tall. Prices range from $45 to $85.
I named these pots the Talking Bowl and the Talking Jar. They are wheel-thrown and subtly altered, and I think they look like they're trying to say something. Bowl is 9" across, $68. Jar is 6" tall, $60.
I am bringing almost 200 pots total, so these are just a few of them!
And check this out ... Artscape produced a series of quick videos profiling all the diverse types of artists you'll find at the festival. One of the videos is about my pottery!
The festival runs from Friday through Sunday, along Mount Royal Avenue near the Lyric Opera House and MICA. Visit the festival's website
for complete details. Hope to see you there!
(On Friday, June 29, a rare "super-derecho" storm clobbered the mid-Atlantic region. My power was out until Tuesday afternoon.)
The only light in my basement studio was from an open door and a flashlight, so I spent my time making elephants, which don't require any power equipment and don't need to be precise. That's 20 elephant tea lights and 60 mini elephants. You know what else I did while making elephants in the quiet basement? I was able to think hard about a situation that has been bothering me off-and-on for about a year. There are some unknown waters ahead now, which is never a comfortable feeling. But I was able to sort out my conflicting thoughts. I clarified my priorities and my values. I decided what and who matter to me, and that everything else really doesn't. So going forward, no matter how things unfold I think I will make the right decisions for myself, if I use my values as my guide. Don't get me wrong, even though I got a lot done during the power outage, I sure was glad when the air conditioning came back on!
I actually thought for a long time whether I should write about this on my blog. I consider this such a powerful tool for selling my pottery, I almost didn't want to share it. I know it works because I started doing this in 2009, and while the economy was sucker-punching so many other arts businesses, my business was growing like crazy, rapidly overtaking my design business. Funny I should mention design, because this is about design. My secret is ...
At my first BMAC
in 2009, which was possibly the worst BMAC of the recession, gallery buyers were also dealing with struggling sales. They were looking for something new, and my work was new to them. It's possible that buyers didn't even notice the hangtags at first. Their presence is very subtle. But when I would make a point to mention "all of the pots will ship with these hangtags," buyers responded "nice." Some even commented that they really appreciated my sense of presentation, they needed more of that in their stores. At the end of that show, while all the other artists were feeling glum, I was feeling good and thinking I'm going to quit my design job soon.
2009 was my first BMAC, but it was not my first wholesale trade show. I spent 2007 and 2008 at the ACC
Wholesale show. I did ok there, my business was still developing so I made some rookie mistakes. After shipping my work to these galleries, it felt like I would never hear from them again. My work must be dying out there
. I knew I was good at selling my own pots when I was standing right next to them. If only I could travel with them to these galleries to be their salesperson! This is where the idea of hangtags began. Now I send the pots out into the world with a little salesperson attached. All of my pottery designs contain a great deal of thought, but most of that is invisible to a customer. The hangtags help to reveal my thoughts. They tell you that the pot has a name, and sometimes a sentence or two about them. But overall, I think the most important thing that a hangtag says is "the person who made this pot is really proud of it."
Again, I know it works because after I started using hangtags in 2009, not only did my wholesale sales grow by a lot, that was also when galleries began re-ordering
from me. I also began doing this for my pots at art festivals, and while all the other artists were moaning about poor sales, all of my show sales remained steady or improved during the worst of the recession.
So I decided there was no danger in revealing my secret weapon, because every artist who wants to take advantage of this idea still needs to execute the idea well. A hangtag that is clumsy or amateurish won't improve anyone's sales. Might even hurt sales. Just because someone is a good potter, doesn't mean they can handle typography. Or non-verbally project a mood or attitude. Just another reason to be glad I studied design
Also, not every artist will want to make the effort. Hangtags are a little bit time-consuming. Earlier this year I tried to figure out which hangtags I need, and how many, for an entire year. Then I spent about 3 hours designing, printing, and painstakingly cutting them. I predict I'll need to do this again in the fall, in a smaller quantity.
It also takes some time to attach them to each pot, which I do with wire or glue dots.
By the way, when I wrote The Hourly Earnings Project
, I did not include the hours spent to produce the hangtags, because I couldn't logically divide the time spent per wholesale order or art festival. However, I did
include the time I spent attaching the hangtags to the pots for each of the Hourly Earnings calculations.
To all the working potters who want to challenge yourselves to grow your business this year, get thee to an art supply store and buy a paper cutter!
I had a problem with my wheel that had been growing for a few months. My wheel is a Bailey ST-50 that I bought in 2002 (now sold as the Bailey PRO-50R), which had been a wonderful problem-free workhorse until then. It wasn't spinning smoothly, it would start with a "jump." At one point I realized I could wobble the wheelhead. So I dug out the long-handled allen wrench that came with the wheel, which is designed to reach the set screw under the wheelhead that secures it to the wheel shaft. The set screw was a little loose, and after tightening it up, the wobble was solved. I thought I was good to go. Not so fast. The "jump" was improved but it was still there. Over the next few months, the "jump" grew into a "lurch." The wheel began making a knocking sound. Then one day I realized, to my horror, that all of my pots had a high spot on the rim, that would hit my fingers exactly when the knock would hit my ears. Every week or so, I would reach under the wheelhead with the long-handled allen wrench and try to tighten the set screw some more. I finally admitted that wasn't the answer. So yesterday, I turned the wheel upside-down and removed its plastic housing. The problem was immediately apparent ... there is another set screw under there that secures the wheel shaft to the belt system. And sure enough, that little S.O.B. was loose. The long-handled allen wrench did not fit this set screw. But I was not afraid. I have so much furniture from IKEA, I knew I would have the right allen wrench. Now my wheel is spinning smoothly and solidly again. Relief! I fixed the problem for free. I'm also feeling good about my decision to buy a Bailey wheel, since it turned out to be so easy to open it up, diagnose and fix this problem. Now I am only left to wonder, did this problem start because of the earthquake we had last August?
I'm only two weeks away from my first art festival of the year (Downtown Silver Spring Fine Art Festival, May 5-6), so I've been busy preparing some fun new gear for my booth.
I got some awesome new weights for my canopy! I need to thank Mark Cortright, from Liscom Hill Pottery
in California, for suggesting this idea on the Ceramic Arts Daily Forum
... to make canopy weights out of steel bar stock. I googled the term "machine shop" and my town, and after a few phone calls I found a machine shop to make them for me. Steel bar stock is sold by the inch, and the machinist can tell you how much it weighs per inch, therefore you can design the weights to exactly meet your needs. I made mine 37 pounds each, for me that is heavy enough to hold the canopy down in just about every weather situation, and light enough to transport them by myself. They are 2.5 inch round bars, 28 inches long. Note the can of Rustoleum, these need to be painted to thwart rust. btw, I used 2.5 inch round bars because the machine shop had lots of it in stock, therefore I saved about $100 compared to having them order new bars for me. Overall, these weights cost me $220. They are so much more space-efficient than the dumbbells I was using before. And I have to say, they just look cool!
I also made some reusable price tags. This is not my original idea, I saw another potter using these, and I don't remember who it was. I rolled out long coils of clay, then cut them into 1.5 inch nuggets, with one end cut at an angle. I glazed them with my glossy liner glaze, and now I can write on them with a dry-erase pen. Unlike the paper tent cards I used before, I don't need to tape these down when outdoors. And now I can easily change prices in the middle of a show.
And that's not all, I'm also working on new booth curtains, made from a fabric that won't wrinkle even if I'm trying. Plus a booth sign with a QR code
(I'm so modern). And I'm setting up a MailChimp
account for my email announcements, so watch for some way more attractive emails from me! (click here to sign up for the emails