Click this logo for the event's website. Hope to see you there!
This weekend is Greenbelt's Festival of Lights! The show is at the Greenbelt Community Center, where I teach my pottery classes. For the third year, I will be sharing a large booth with my super-talented students from the Advanced Functional Pottery class. This class is about both pottery skill and design, and everything we make is functional. One of the projects we worked on this year was a Three-Part Condiment Server:
Carol Wisdom's hand-built leafy dishes look organic, but fit together like a puzzle.
Amy Castner's small wheel-thrown bowls were altered to subtly hug each other.
Alan Dowdy cut and assembled his three compartments into one pot.
Karen Riedlinger made graduated sizes that nest together.
And here's mine! This is not the set I made during class (I sold that one a few months ago) but a design I developed more recently. As you can probably see, I took inspiration from both Carol's and Amy's designs. The pointy corners make good pouring spouts too.
Other projects we worked on this year include pitchers, canisters, ornaments, dinner plates, platters. We'll have lots of great pottery in every price range. Plus lots of these students were also part of the wood-firing, we'll be proudly showing off those toasty pots too.
Click this logo for the event's website. Hope to see you there!
I'm back from my indie-craft experiment at BAZAART. It was definitely different from my usual show experience. I learned a lot! Some was good and some not so good.
Here's what was good about it ... it was much easier to pack and set up for the show. Usually, packing pottery for a show is a complicated 3-dimensional puzzle, trying to get all of those pots of various sizes to fit into as few boxes as possible. It takes a while. Packing my simplified indie-craft inventory was a breeze. All the pots were small, and many were the same size. The entire inventory fit into two boxes, neither was full or very heavy. I was able to bring a smaller display. My usual display is three or four tables, plus two shelves. For this show, I brought two tables and one shelf. I only needed room for nine different items, and I could keep extra quantities stored until space became available. Two boxes of pots, and half my usual display fit so easily into my car. I could actually see out the rear-view mirror! Normally, packing the car is another 3-dimensional puzzle, but not this time. I set up the display in less than two hours. It usually takes 3 to 3.5 hours. I took it down in one hour. That usually takes 1.5 to 2 hours. Overall the good news is ... taking an indie-craft approach to pottery selling is a lot less work.
The show was very busy, about as busy as last year. I was writing up sales all day, and barely had a chance to sit down. But here's what wasn't so good about the results ... because all of my items were under $50, the grand total of sales just didn't add up to last year's. In fact, my sales were only 67% of last year's. That's a big drop! Last year, my sales included a $250 platter, a $175 vase, amongst other high-ticket items. This year, I didn't have a single receipt over $100. And that was the difference. Last year, the pricier items were 39% of my sales. This year, I didn't have them.
Was it worthing trying? Yes, I needed to find out what would happen. But I'm not sure it's worth repeating. This doesn't mean I won't apply for other indie-craft shows, I still might. But only if I think my normal inventory would seem appropriate.
This reminds me of one of my conclusions from The Hourly Earnings Project. When I compared the hourly rate of a big art festival vs. a small art festival, I decided that the small art festival was nice and easy, but anything worth doing takes a lot of hard work. I'll add a new, but related, conclusion now ... if you aim smaller, that's what you'll get.
This weekend I will be at BAZAART at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. This show is, to some extent, an indie-craft show (google the term "indie-craft" if you don't know what that means). Though not entirely, it is a mix of indie-craft, fine craft, and fine art. I used to look down my nose at indie-craft, because it typically does not require decades of practice to master, and the price points are kind-of low. But I can see that indie-craft is a growing segment of the art world. And the more I observe it, the more I appreciate it's one area of strength that traditional crafts could learn from ... an emphasis on good design. I never thought of pottery as belonging in that category, but design has always been a priority for me, because of my education and my previous career. And last year when I did this show for the first time, I was surprised that I did quite well amongst an indie-craft environment.
So this year I am trying something different ... I will thoroughly embrace an indie-craft-style display for my work. My usual packing list for a show is a full-page, two-column list of items, including many one-of-a-kind items. But for this show, my packing list is only nine items, and I will bring lots of volume of these nine things. These items were chosen based on good design, things that appeal to both pottery fans and non-pottery fans. And everything will be under $50.
Bowl with chopsticks $40 each or 2/$75
Enormous coffee mug $35 each or 2/$65
Mini elephant $20
Elephant tea light holder $40 or 2/$75
Chickadee tea light holder $22 or 2/$40
Small birdhouse $48
Set of four coasters with crab fossil $30
Personal teapot $48
"Peace + Joy" ornament $10
When my students ask me "what will happen if I try this new idea?" I answer "there's only one way to find out." So this weekend I will be taking my own advice. If this goes well, I may start applying to more indie-craft shows next year.
I've begun the groundwork for the online store that I pledged to open in 2011. And yes, I am tracking my time and will eventually add this to The Hourly Earnings Project. I'm very eager to see how it compares to my other avenues for selling. But patience is required, I decided to calculate the Hourly Earnings value at the end of next year. It turns out that setting up an online store doesn't actually take that much time, which is nice. But it didn't seem fair to count that time towards a short time period of sales. After a year, I'll probably want to revamp and improve the online store anyways, so it makes sense to assign a year's worth of value to the setup time.
So here's my launch plan ... the online store will open on Monday, December 12. This is the day after my Holiday Open House. It will be a small launch. I'll take a few nice pots remaining after the open house, and offer them for sale online.
If you are on my mailing list, or a facebook fan, or a regular reader of this blog, you will get all the details soon!
I remember planning the very first wood-firing for the Greenbelt Community Center three years ago, not sure if I could get 8 people to sign up. This year, the 2011 workshop had 14 spots, and on the first day of registration, it was filled. This time I was nervous about organizing 14 people. First-timers had to talk to me before signing up, so I could make sure they were well-suited for this unusual experience. I only wanted to bring students who were familiar with the aesthetics of wood-fired pottery, and who had some idea of how much work and cooperation was involved. It's too much effort to make for people who can't appreciate it, but it's joyous fun with people who do. This is really important to me, to make sure wood-firings are fun. Not that the education aspect is any less important. But it takes a crew of people to get through this, so if folks aren't working together smoothly, you really can't learn much. On the other hand, if your group consists of smart, intrepid, genuine pottery loving, nice people, and pyromaniacs ... well, let the fun begin.
We moved our workshop to a different venue this year, to Baltimore Clayworks. And boy were we happy with this decision! Their kiln is a two-chamber noborigama, larger and more complex than the one we had been visiting before. And it is operated in a first-class manner by kiln manager Jim Dugan and his assistant Jeremy Wallace. They provided tons of leadership and expertise, while making sure everyone got as much hands-on contact with the kiln as possible.
Here's Jeremy directing traffic, while students line up to hand him pots, and Kori Rice places the pots into the kiln. Everyone who wanted got a chance to climb into the kiln and do what Kori's doing.
Here's a complete stack of pots inside of one of the chambers.
When the kiln was full, the doors were closed with carefully stacked bricks. Vejune Svotelis and Alan Dowdy worked on one, while Kori and Jeremy stacked the other. Loading the kiln and stacking the bricks took an entire day.
The next morning started with sealing the brick doors with newspaper and clay slip, kind-of like paper maché. Good messy fun.
And then the fire started. Here are Carol Wisdom and Kelly Buck-Hunt sorting wood planks while the beginning stage of the fire, known as the preheat fire, crackles away.
Kuniko Wallis keeps the preheat fire going.
The preheat fire grew into a bed of coals inside the kiln. (front to back) Vejune Svotelis, Jeri Holloway, and Christina Guidorizzi scrape and poke at the coals to get ash to fly up into the kiln and onto our pots.
More ash was introduced through the main stoking port of the kiln. Here is Janet Evander pouring a cup of ash onto a wood plank right before tossing it into the kiln.
The stoking of wood planks through the main stoking port began around 3pm. Just about everyone got a chance to do it. Notice how as the evening grew darker, the stokes grew from one plank at a time, to five at a time.
Our fearless leader, Jim Dugan, dodges sparks while checking a cone pack.
My stoking shift was officially over at 12:30am, past midnight. And just like many others from the earlier shifts, I found it difficult to leave! You feel so connected to what you're doing. But you can't do it by yourself, and there comes a time to let others take over. For this firing, a particularly brave few volunteered for the overnight shift: Amy and her husband Matt, Kori, and Tom Baker. They took over at 12:30am and worked until 7:30am. An incredibly difficult task, but they also got to see the kiln at its most spectacular stage.
And then the waiting began. We had to wait three days until we could return and unload the kiln. On the left are Karen Arrington, Carol Wisdom, and Karen Morgenstern scraping and scrubbing off the newspaper before the bricks could be removed. On the right is Janet handing bricks to Amy.
And finally we got to have our pots. And it was worth the wait, and all the hard work! The results were gorgeous, in some cases overwhelming. The celadon (my favorite glaze) was deep green, ultra shiny, and full of crackle. The shino, which usually fires to an understated white, was the biggest surprise. This time we got all different shades of peach and orange, with an almost pearly shine. The salt and soda glazed pieces were unbelievable too. Here are some of the finished pots ... click on the thumbnails for full-size images.
Here are all of my pots back in my dining room. A week has gone by and I am still goofy with happiness over them. Still discovering new details. I had a personal quest for my own pots at this firing. I want to become good at hakeme, those gracefully loose brush strokes of slip. I made a lot of small pots to practice with various brushes, strokes, and claybodies. I'm happy with the results, but as usual I can't wait to do it again, so I can refine and deepen my techniques.
I don't think I'll bring any of these pots to my next show, I'd like to hang on to them a little longer. Maybe I'll be ready to part with them by the end of the year.
This was truly the best wood-firing I've ever been a part of, from start to finish.
Mea Rhee (mee-uh ree),
American Craft Council
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