I've been carving a new styrofoam mold. The design is for a large square serving platter, about 15 inches across. Ok maybe 13 after it shrinks. I will make one or two (or however many it takes) prototypes from the mold-in-progress. Once I'm satisfied with the shape I will pour a layer of plaster over it. The finished surface will act like plaster, while the entire thing will be nowhere near as heavy as a solid plaster mold. I hope to have the first completed platter ready in time for Artscape in a few weeks.
I have been neglecting my Online Store. As I mentioned earlier this year, I am currently using the free version of Big Cartel, which means I can only list five items at a time. And because I took time off for the studio renovation, my inventory was too low to add anything new. But not anymore! I've been producing pots at an alarming rate, both for the Online Store and for my upcoming summer festivals.
My current strategy for the Online Store is to list five items that (1) I usually have in stock, (2) can quickly be made to order if they are not in stock, and (3) have been requested by customers. Check out the selection now! goodelephant.bigcartel.com
You might have caught a glimpse of this in the pictures of my new studio. I built a new photo stand. My old one was fine, but it was much bigger than necessary. And my old Flotone backdrop had quite a few scratches. Not to mention I once spilled melted wax on it while trying to shoot lit candles. It was time for a new one!
A photo stand does not need to be expensive. Mine starts with a card table, which I already owned (was once part of my art festival display, glad I found a new use for it). I fashioned three pieces of white foam core into the side and back walls, held together with packaging tape. The Flotone backdrop is taped to the back foam core wall, and to the table. A simple piece of white fabric acts as the diffuser. It is secured across the top of the foam core walls with binder clips. Two cheap light fixtures hang from the ceiling, with two nice 5500K florescent light bulbs.
Here's how it looks in action:
And here's the photo I just took:
Ahhhh ... so nice that I didn't have to photoshop out the scratches and the wax stains!
The new kiln landed on my driveway on May 16. On May 18, it was moved into the studio. I wrangled up some free labor to help me, in the form of potters (and some of their spouses) who may be installing kilns in their own houses someday. In exchange for some heavy lifting, they got a hands-on glimpse of their future. Plus dinner afterwards at one of our favorite local eateries. Big thanks to Karen Arrington, Amy Castner, Matt Udvardy, Alan and Karen Dowdy, Janet Evander, and Mark Wimer!
We all marveled at how clearly written the installation instructions were. That's just another reason why I tell everyone to buy L&L Kilns. The whole process took about two hours, and went very smoothly. (Photos by Amy Castner and Janet Evander, click on the thumbnails for larger photos and captions)
When I bought my older kiln back in 2004, it was replacing a little 2-section, 18 inch wide kiln. I had both kilns in my studio for about a week, one much larger than the other, wearing matching metallic suits. During that week the kilns were named Dr. Evil and Mini-Me. Mini-Me soon departed for his new home, and Dr. Evil has been my trusty friend ever since. While we were installing the new kiln, I mentioned that I needed a name for the new kiln. As soon as Matt said his suggestion out loud, I knew it was the only answer. The new kiln's name is Number 2. Number 2 is Dr. Evil's equal, if not his superior. But Dr. Evil is still on top of the organization chart here.
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.
Everyone's least favorite subject ... wet-pulled handles. Just mentioning them generates groans. I try to teach many approaches to handle making, but the wet-pulled handle cannot be avoided. It's really important, because it teaches you how to gracefully handle wet clay. This translates into good craft skills in all areas of pottery. I had my Level 4 students make wet-pulled handles for a teapot. We pulled the handles and set them across to cylinder to form a nice curve, then let them dry for about an hour while we worked on trimming and attaching a spout:
(photo by Jenny Adams)
When it comes to attaching a wet-pulled handle, I only have rule: DO NOT TOUCH THE OUTSIDE OF THE HANDLE. You can touch the ends of the handle, which will either become attachment points, or cut off as excess. You can touch the inside of the handle. But keep your paws off the outside. Those beautiful, liquidy, gravity-fed lines ... don't spoil them with your fingerprints.
From left to right ... Jonathan Gordy, Kara Duffy, me, Melanie Choe, Margaret Lukomska, Jenny Adams, Judy Goldberg-Strassler, Andrea Schewe, and Jeri Holloway.
Vicki McMullin plans to use her new Heron Serving Bowl in her Easter dinner, but for now it is holding her current knitting project. Thanks for the photo Vicki!
Ugh, I caught a cold at the ACC Baltimore Show. I started feeling mildly ill on Sunday, the last day. When I woke up on Monday, there was no doubt. I've been slogging around since, generating small mountains of used tissues. I guess it's no wonder, given the super-dry air of the convention center, and the number of people there. Today is Wednesday, and I'm starting to feel better. I managed to unpack my car, and start writing this blog post.
As many of you know, ACC Baltimore is two different shows. The first two days are for wholesale to trade buyers only, followed by three days of retail sales to the public. I did this combination show once before in 2007. Back then, I was brand new to wholesale. I set up one display and used it for both shows. In other words, I considered all of my pots to be available to wholesale buyers. Now it's six years later, since then I built up the wholesale side of my business at the Buyers Market trade show, then reached a point where I realized I needed to shrink that part of my business, before it swallowed me whole.
Last year, I took a break from all wholesale shows, while I tried to figure out a smarter way to proceed. I wanted to make my wholesale business more efficient, but still profitable. My new ideas sprouted last August. I received several new orders that month (this is the time of year when galleries place orders for their holiday season), and one of them stood out. It was the largest order in terms of dollar amount, but as I read down the purchase order I thought "piece of cake" because the order consisted mostly of dinner plates. My dinner plates are not wheel-thrown; they are hand-built out of clay slabs, using templates and molds. They are far more efficient to produce than anything wheel-thrown. In fact, someday I ought to do an Hourly Earnings calculation comparing my hand-built dinner plates to wheel-thrown pots. I bet it would show a significant difference. So in the months that followed, my wholesale line was reconceived around this idea. It is now focused mostly on hand-built dinnerware, with very few wheel-thrown pieces. I've also included my upscale line of oversized, carved serving pieces and vases. Because as my Hourly Earnings Project revealed, this segment of my work has always been worth wholesaling. Here is my wholesale display from the ACC Show:
Pretty sparse, huh? In past years, when I was deciding what to include in my wholesale lineup, I would keep adding more and more pots, thinking "somebody might want this." But I am no longer trying to guess what everybody might want, instead I am focusing on what I know I want, what makes the most sense for me. And here's another insecurity that I've overcome ... I've known for years that my hand-built plates were more efficient to produce. I tried not to place too much emphasis on those pieces because I wanted to be known as a wheel-thrower. These days, I feel confident that everyone knows I'm an excellent thrower, and no longer feel like I need to prove it. I was very satisfied with the amount of orders I took. I am on track to increase my wholesale gross this year, but doing so with a far more efficient use of my time.
So the reason I chose the ACC wholesale show over the Buyers Market is because of the retail show that follows. While I'm trying to streamline my wholesale business, I want to grow my retail business as much as possible. In between the two shows, I added a whole lot more shelving to my display, and a whole lot more pots, including the entire spectrum of my wheel-thrown work:
If you look in the lower right corner of this photo, you'll see that I am trying to grow my dinnerware sales in my retail business too. This is by far the most stock of dinnerware I've ever prepared for a show. I'm happy to report they sold great, along with just about everything else. Of the eight boxes I packed for the show, five of them came back empty. Hell yes. Despite catching a cold, the show was totally worth it!
Looking forward now, there are two items that I think I need before I can expand the business further: a second kiln, and a larger vehicle.
I did manage to get all of the pottery boxes in my car. My wholesale display is setup and ready to go for tomorrow. I hope you are planning to visit this great show! Find complete show details at http://shows.craftcouncil.org/baltimore. And preview the work I'll have during the retail portion of the show (Friday thru Sunday) on the Recent Work page of this website. It will include my updated Square Dinnerware (below), a few more new designs, plus lots of old favorites.