The current issue of Pottery Making Illustrated (Nov/Dec 2017) contains an article I wrote for them on the subject of pricing. This is an adaptation of things I've written on this blog before, pulled together into article form. This is a confusing and stressful subject for many potters, this article details my straightforward and objective approach to it. Of all the things I've written for Ceramics Monthly and Pottery Making Illustrated, this piece has generated the most thank you notes.
This is a play on the phrase “Law of the Jungle,” which generally translates to “every person for themselves” or “eat or be eaten.” On a regular basis at craft shows, a customer will decide for various reasons to leave my booth and come back to purchase the pot they want later. Only to find that somebody else got it first. When it happens, I shrug and say “sometimes that’s The Law of the Craft Show.” I try to be lighthearted about it to ease the customer's disappointment. Most of the time, they understand it was their own fault. Every once in a while, the customer will seem genuinely upset with me. Go figure.
At the end of a recent show, I heard a voice say “Oh no! It’s gone!” She was very understanding and immediately started signing up for my email list. I shrugged and said my “Law of the Craft Show” line. Her boyfriend/husband got very excited. “Oh my god that’s so true! It happened the other day at the farmer’s market. Only it was ME who won! I was buying this beautiful little potted tree and a woman came running up saying ‘I was going to buy that!’ and I was like ‘Well you should have gotten here before me BUT YOU DIDN’T. I got here first so I win! IT IS MINE! You were too slow and I beat you!’ ”
He went on like this for a good minute. Let me make something clear, there was no trace of malice in his excitement. It was more like he was making fun of himself for feeling so good about it. He was so funny it’s possible he was a professional comedian. I am paraphrasing his words, I don’t remember the exact words because I was laughing so hard. I only wish those people who ever held it against me were there to hear his gleeful and victorious rant.
These days, a nearly-empty booth at the end of a show is not that unusual for me. Not every show goes this well, but it’s not uncommon either. “Buying it later” will subject you to The Law. Just fyi, if you want to purchase something large or heavy but don’t want to carry it around, you are welcome to pay for it and leave it in my booth until you are ready to leave. I do that all the time, and I'm pretty sure most artists will.
Wet: An Exhibition of Aquatic Art
September 1 thru November 5
The Mansion at Strathmore
10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, MD 20852
Navigate shipwrecks, storms, and seas as artists turn their attention to all things aquatic. Whether floating on currents or circling prey, creatures with tentacles, fins, claws, and shells draw viewers into the deep.
I have a large bowl in this show. Look closely at the flyer and you'll see it!
Every pot that I sell gets wrapped in a piece of paper before bagging. I go through a lot of paper. I've been buying kraft paper rolls for this purpose, which are not very expensive. But the rolls are heavy, and in recent years, the cost to ship these rolls to me has become painful. Lately I've been paying over $100 for about 9 months supply of this paper.
A potter friend from the Ceramic Arts Network Forum, Mark Cortright from California, said that he uses "end rolls" from a local newspaper printer. I decided to look for a similar arrangement near me. There aren't many newspaper printing plants left, but I found one in Frederick, Maryland. Turns out they sell their end rolls for between $1 and $4 each, depending on the size. Jackpot! I drove out there yesterday and drove away with this. I think this will last about a year, and I only spent $47.
To any other potters within driving distance of Frederick, Maryland, you can buy end rolls at:
Frederick News Post (FNP) Printing and Publishing
351 Ballenger Center Drive
Frederick, MD 21703
They typically have some available everyday. Though not TODAY, because I just cleaned them out. You can contact them in advance to make sure they have some. Or, you can walk in the main entrance and ask at the front desk.
(Screen shot from Project 3: Thumbprint Tumblers)
Big thanks to everyone who has joined my online school so far! I’m very pleased with the first two months of existence. I’m writing this blog post to thoroughly explain my thoughts about a question that I have received a few times, and deserves more explanation: Why are the videos only available to rent for 30 days?
There is a sea of pottery videos available for free on YouTube, and the current paradigm is to expect them to be free with unlimited access. I understand this, but I don’t care about following along with what everyone else is doing.
Of all the free instruction available, there is nothing that is structured into a program that will actually train you to be a good potter, starting at the beginner level. This is what’s different about my school. My goal is to provide carefully designed long-form programs. They are geared towards your learning, over a course of time, in a step-by-step progression. This might not be want you want, and that’s ok with me. I’m trying to reach those who want this.
The cost of $22/video is based on a typical in-person class, which lasts 8 weeks on average, costs about $200, and provides maybe 3 project lessons. If you took my entire Core Skills Series of videos, you would still be paying less than the cost of one typical 8 week class, and receiving more than 3 times as much instruction. This is when compared to an in-person class that actually provides instruction. Many of them simply provide a person who will answer questions when asked, but otherwise leaves you alone to figure things out yourself. (I can see all of the frustrated students nodding their heads right now.)
So why can’t videos be purchased instead of rented? On a practical and legal level, I want to reduce oversharing and piracy as much as possible. Unlike a physical DVD that can only be shared in a limited way, an online video has some real potential for mass piracy. And no, I have no plans to make DVDs. I’m not a fan of DVDs, and DVD players are disappearing now anyways.
On a pedagogical level, allowing a permanent purchase of the videos goes against what I believe a teacher/student relationship should be. I believe it only works as a two-way street. As a teacher, I am willing to share everything I know, but only if you are willing to bring your effort and accountability to the table. If you bring anything less than that, then I’m not interested in helping you.
If I were your in-person teacher, would you expect me to give you the same lesson over and over in perpetuity? I doubt it. Would I agree to do it? Not a chance. Doesn’t it seem weird to think of it that way? But for some reason, the paradigm of online pottery videos currently includes this expectation.
I recently read a wonderful little book titled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. Apparently in Japan, attending seminars is a popular life-long activity for Japanese adults. When Kondo is helping her clients take control of the clutter in their homes, she frequently finds piles of paperwork generated by these seminars.
“People often insist, “I want to restudy these materials sometime,” but most never do so. Moreover, the majority of them usually have materials for multiple seminars on the same or similar subjects. Why? Because what they learned at the seminars did not stick. I am not saying this as a criticism, but merely to point out why it isn’t worth keeping materials from past seminars. If the content is not put into practice, such courses are meaningless.
When you attend a seminar, do so with the resolve to part with every handout distributed. If you regret recycling it, take the seminar again, and this time apply the learning. It’s paradoxical, but I believe that precisely because we hang on to such materials, we fail to put what we learn into practice.”
In other words, if you have access to the lesson forever, you are under no pressure to learn it. Being willing to accept the time limit means you are being accountable for your side of the two-way street.
When somebody rents one of my videos, they watch it multiple times in the 30 day rental period. This is what I want and expect from a student. To rent a video only when you are prepared to give the lesson your attention and time. To study and practice it intensely while you can. At the end of the rental period, you have put the lesson into practice, and become a different potter.
Again, I understand this is different from the current paradigm, where you stumble upon a free YouTube video, that may or may not be relevant to your current stage of learning, may or may not provide actual instruction, but you watch it anyways mostly for entertainment purposes. Why not, it’s free.
My goal here is not to entertain you, or to seek attention for myself. There’s no meaning in that. My goal is for those who rent the videos to actually learn! I want to spawn a new generation of happy and highly-skilled potters. Now that would be a legacy to be proud of. Therefore, I have no plans to change the pricing or the time limit. I’m only trying to attract students for whom this new paradigm makes sense. Honestly, I don’t need the money or more attention on my business. In fact, although I’ve promised to produce five more videos before the end of 2017, I’m worried about finding time to do it. My summer pottery sales were kind-of insane, and now I need to play catch up on inventory for the fall.
I often get asked at shows "how long have you been doing this?" I made my first pot in 1994, and I remember how fun it was a few years ago when I could answer that question with "20 years." I like round number milestones. This past weekend, I had another fun realization, which is that the answer is now "23 years." And that I am now 46 years old. Which means the answer to the question is "half of my life." I plan to use this answer as many times as possible until I turn 47.
This is the very first pot I threw in 1994. I have saved it all these years. It has a job in my studio, holding stretch-loops. If you look closely, you'll see that it suffered an accident at one point, and I lovingly glued it back together.
The Good Elephant Pottery Online School is now open! The first five videos are now online. Five more videos will be released early next year. These five will keep you busy until then. This is a structured program for beginner and beginner+ wheel-throwers. The lessons are affordable and accessible from anywhere in the world. The first video is free ... it will help you decide if the program is right for you. Visit the School page on this website for all the details and directions. Wishing a lifetime of happy potting to all!
Here's another one-minute sneak preview of my wheel-throwing instructional videos. The first series, called the "Core Skills Series," is designed for beginner and beginner+ wheel-throwers. Compare the snippets of Project 1 (two posts down from here) to Project 5 (today's snippet) and you'll see how quickly the difficulty level advances. The release of the first five videos is only a few weeks away. Join my Email List, or follow me on Facebook or Instagram, to be notified of the release.
That's me, getting up at 4am last weekend to set up my booth for a show. And yes, it was raining. This is part of the bargain when you choose to be a full-time potter. Some shows have no choice but to make you set up at crazy o'clock. And Mother Nature doesn't take requests. Sure there are shows that allow set ups the day before, and shows that are indoors. But not enough to fill out a full-time schedule. Besides, this show delivered on all the factors that are really important, more than making up for its inconvenient set up time.
From my perspective, there were 130 other artists doing the same thing that morning. This is normal to us.
Lots of aspiring professionals try art festivals and quickly decide "is there another way to make a living with my pottery?" The answer is "yes" but none that are any easier than this. Every bona fide path requires this amount of energy.
I have a surprisingly easy life hack for those days when I need to wake up at 4am. I go to bed at 9pm the night before with a dose of an over-the-counter sleep aid. It knocks me right out, and when the alarm starts buzzing I've had a normal amount of sleep. My body clock is still off but I don't feel sleep deprived.
I've made a few hints already that I am learning how to shoot and edit videos. It's time to reveal what I'm really working on. As you may know, I was a pottery teacher for seven years. I gave it up when my studio demands took over all of my time. I miss it! I've been looking for a way to get back into the role of "teacher" in a way that works with my schedule.
Here's a one-minute sneak preview into my soon-to-be-released pottery instructional videos. My first series of videos will be called the "Core Skills Series," and it is designed for beginner and beginner+ wheel-throwers. These are real lessons from an experienced teacher, and they will be affordable and accessible from anywhere. The first five videos will be released Summer 2017. Join my Email List, or follow me on Facebook or Instagram, to be notified of the release.
Mea Rhee (mee-uh ree),
Good Elephant Pottery's
11th Annual Open Studio
Silver Spring, MD
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