One kiln was heating up, the other was cooling down. I caught a photo of that brief moment right before their temperatures converge then trade places. I like to think they are high-fiving each other. Yes, I am a dork.
I started 2014 in a full sprint. I hadn't made any pots since mid-December. For sure I needed a break after a grueling holiday season. And it's not that I didn't enjoy the holidays with my fam. But when I am away from my studio this long, I really miss it. I can't wait to get back to work. I know that phrase will make people jealous. I don't wish to make anyone feel bad. On the contrary, I hope I am inspiring you to figure out what would make you this eager to go back to work, then figure out how to get it.
I have a big show looming in February, the American Craft Council show in Baltimore. My first task upon returning to work: I took an inventory of the pots I had in stock, about $4700 worth. I decided that I wanted to add $6000 worth of pots for the show. I made a list of the pots I thought I needed, which added up to about $7300. I couldn't decide which pots to cross off the list, so I said "Ok fine. $7300."
I had a previously established benchmark for what I considered a "fast-pace" for work, which was to produce $1000 worth of pots in a two-day cycle of throwing and trimming. "Normal-pace" was $700, and "slow-pace" was $500 or less. During this past fall, while I was struggling to keep up with my show schedule, I was working at "fast-pace" much of the time. But not all the time, I was also attending shows, and teaching classes. So as I entered January with nothing on my schedule except studio time, I challenged myself to complete the entire $7300 list at "fast-pace," that is to finish it in 14 straight days.
There was a meaningful purpose to this, not just the cravings of a obsessed potter. I suspected that my "fast-pace" was now my "normal-pace," and I needed to confirm it. This year, I get to plan my show schedule without having to work around a teaching schedule. And without a studio renovation gobbling up the spring. My choices are wide open. I want to take as much advantage of this as I can, but hopefully without exceeding my production capabilities. Like I did last fall, where I admit I arrived at some shows without enough inventory. That's an awfully cheezy thing to do, I'm mad at myself for it. Shows cost a lot of money, time, and labor. It's dumb to throw away those resources with poor planning. I should be able to add some shows to the spring months, and maybe subtract one or two from the fall. But how many? Applications for spring shows are due in January, so I needed to figure this out now.
I'm pleased to report I finished the list in only 13 days. And the last day was very light, I was down to a few hand-built pots. On most days, I was done with work by 6pm. I did not get particularly tired (this could be due to my new throwing chair). This includes one day where I mostly did desk work (paying bills and taxes, applying for shows), and didn't get into the studio until mid-afternoon. I also made time for three runs, and started taking a tai chi class. And I powered through the "coffee mistake" where I realized one morning I was out of coffee, but did not want to sacrifice any work hours by going to the store. After two days of drinking tea instead of coffee, my brain was not functioning and my whole body felt like crap. "You must not do that again," I told myself. I did not bisque fire or glaze anything, I was laser focused on building pots only. Now I'm going to take this weekend off, and start firing on Monday. I'm hoping to get that done in one week. But even if it takes a few more days than that, I will still be done with my ACC pots almost a month in advance. Feeling kind-of mighty.
Now for planning ahead, I'm glad to know I can make $7300 of stock in two weeks, but I don't think I need to. It's too much for one cycle. As you can see, this amount of pots overflowed my ware cart, and other tables that are not in the photo. Also, the amount of clay trimmings I need to recycle now are out of proportion with my recycling bucket and my plaster recycling batts. (I'm going to make sure to catch up on recycling next week while the kilns are firing, don't want to fall behind on that.)
So what is the right pace for work? And how many shows should I apply to? I added up the potential sales of all the shows I am considering for the spring and summer, and even if I project sales on the extreme side, say if all of the shows happen to hit their high potential, I still don't need to make pots at this pace. I calculated that I only need to produce $2500 per week. That's $5000 worth of pots every two weeks, followed by one week of glazing and firing. This is my new "normal-pace" which is half-way between the previous "normal" and "fast." This would generate more than enough for all the shows. In fact, whenever I complete $2500, no matter how many days it takes, I will force myself to take the rest of the week off. "You must go outside for sunshine and social interaction before making any more pots." Like I said before, I like to work. And I honestly don't mind working everyday. It will take some effort to make myself slow down and take regular days off. On the other hand, I have an important mission to accomplish sometime this weekend: to go down to the National Zoo and try to catch a glimpse of Bao Bao, the baby panda.
Mea Rhee (mee-uh ree),
American Craft Council Baltimore
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