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!
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.
[Updated January 2018: I've deleted the one-minute preview from my Vimeo page, now that the full-length videos are complete. Visit the SCHOOL page of this website for current selection of videos.]
This is a vase that I threw during my holiday break back in December. It is 13 inches tall and thrown in two sections. The form is a definite nod to my Korean heritage. The skinny vertical stripes are my own modern spin. I love the way the lines get distorted by the form.
I call this a "vacation pot" because it's not the type of work I make for my business's inventory needs. In fact, this is a ball-and-chain in terms of business value. These oversized pieces take up so much space in my studio and kilns. They are cumbersome to pack and transport, and tough to sell! My customer base is looking for everyday functional wares. Not many of them have this much available space in their homes. I'll be happy if I sell it before the end of the year.
This doesn't stop me from making pots like this when I have free time. It's important to indulge the non-business areas of my brain sometimes. I have a running list of idea that I want to explore and attempt.
Does it bother me that, as a creative person, I don't get to do this more often? No. Not even a little bit.
Indulgences only mean something if they are limited in opportunity. If you indulge yourself all the time, the value disappears. I get annoyed when someone declares that being an artist means they are entitled to indulge their creativity at will. I want to say "That doesn't make you an artist. That makes you a brat." Pick any artist you admire, and behind the scenes you'll find that they treat their work like work. Structure, standards, linear processes, repetition, consistency.
There is no loss of creativity in this. The opposite is true. This approach grows your creativity into something better and stronger.
"I think the real free person in society is the one that's disciplined." -Dean Smith
Baseball is my favorite sport, and college basketball is my second favorite sport. When legendary coach Dean Smith passed away in 2015, columnist/author Sally Jenkins appeared on the Tony Kornheiser Show (my favorite podcast) to talk about Smith. She explained the above quote. He was referring to players who are fresh out of high school, exceptionally talented, but full of themselves. Products of overpraising and a lack of discipline. He tried to teach these players that the so-called "freedom" of taking every shot that you want to take, in a self-aggrandizing fashion, doesn't lead you anywhere. You won't win games with that approach. On the other hand, if you learn to play within the structure of a team, your talent will yield actual accomplishments. The more accomplishments you accumulate over time, the more opportunities materialize for you, from which you can choose your future. That's real freedom.
If you are fortunate enough to have talent, channeling your talent into a structure is so much more valuable than indulging your whims. After years of working this way, I have gathered some big accomplishments, such as being published in national magazines, and being in the Smithsonian Craft Show. And my work now yields a reliable income, which might be the biggest accomplishment of all. I see what these things have brought to my life. I am free to make only pots that follow my aesthetic values and nobody else's. I am free from having a boss. I am free to choose whom I will work with, and whom I'm won't. I am in charge of my own schedule. I have cool opportunities presented to me all the time. I am free to say "no" and I say "no" to most of them. I say "yes" only when something really makes sense.
(I can think of other analogies between professional athletes and professional artists. These may pop up in future blog posts.)
So this is the perspective from which I view an "indulgence" such as making a giant, unsellable pot from a purely artistic and egoistic motivation. I am grateful that my life includes time for this, however limited. The idea that I should feel "stifled" because I don't have more time for this, given that my daily life contains so many important forms of freedom, seems crazy to me.
As some of you already know, I am learning how to use a video camera and video editing software. I'm working on a big, ambitious project with these. But in the meantime, I am having some fun "playing" with the camera and software. I created a fast-motion rendition of myself setting up my festival booth. I hope those of you who aspire to do shows will find this helpful. This takes me between 1.5 and 3 hours, depending on conditions. I've condensed it down to one minute. I filmed this at the ACC Baltimore show back in February, and have already shared this on Facebook and Instagram. I wanted to get in onto my blog for posterity, but didn't know how. I just now figured it out!
I've made a serious upgrade to my pottery booth, which I am a little too excited about. I have a new shelving unit that I was able to design exactly for my needs. These will replace a shelving unit that I've been using for years, which I bought off-the-shelf. The old unit was fine, it was attractive, easy to transport, and sturdy enough. But it had two issues that nagged me for years. First of all, I could choose where to place the shelves to some extent, but they were never at exactly the right height for me. And secondly, they had a straight up-and-down vertical design. Like I said, they were stable enough, but in the back of my mind I always worried that they could tip over.
The new design is based on plans from fellow potter Mark Cortright of Liscom Hill Pottery in California. He uses custom-built wooden display racks, and he shares these plans with anyone on the Ceramic Arts Daily Forum. The wide footprint design of his display racks inspired me. They look impossible to tip over. I wanted mine to be built of black metal, to match the look of my previous shelving unit. So I drew up my own plans, and found a metal fabricator to build them for me.
The heights of the shelves are exactly where I want them, specifically designed for the pots that will be displayed. And now I have six shelves, compared to the four I had before. The narrow top shelf will be for a single row of mugs and tumblers, and maybe a small flower vase. The wide bottom shelf will have two jobs. 1) It will be for pots that customers have reserved in advance of a show. That bottom shelf is too low for many people to explore, so it's perfect for pots that are already sold. Or, 2) at shows where I don't have many reserved pots, I will make a pretty tabletop-like display down there. I've long wished to have this element in my booth, but I didn't want to give up valuable space for it. With my previous shelving unit with four shelves, I put stacks of dinner plates on the bottom shelf. I sell a lot of plates, but I can also see how hard it is for people to bend down that low. Now, the plates will be on the second shelf. Speaking of plates, I cut down each shelf to be 44 inches wide, which is exactly wide enough for four stacks of plates. There will not be a wasted cubic inch of space!
First show of the year is coming up soon! ACC Baltimore, February 24-26. I'm so excited to start using these!
I wrote about my first photostand back in 2013. I think this post gets shared across social media or something, because it gets tons of views to this day. Now I've decided to add a second photostand to my business. One that moves in the direction of "lifestyle photography" which has become so popular. I have mixed feelings about lifestyle photography. I understand that the point is to make customers visualize my work inside their homes. And I understand that this can be a very powerful tool. There are lots of businesses doing this now, and some of it is gorgeous and tasteful, and some of it is way too cute or twee. I decided not to include other household items or food in my photos. They are still very simple straightforward photos, only the pots look like they are in a room surrounded by lots of space, rather than in a lightbox. And that the light comes from a window, rather than a bulb.
I stole the small table from my camping gear. The pedestal is a piece of furniture that I already owned. It's a little worn out, but I chose it because it's made of mahogany. The color and character of the wood look nice with my gray pots. I painted a white patch on the wall behind the photostand. The existing paint color was a little too yellow.
Here are some of the photos I've taken:
I'm not ditching the first photostand. That is still my main photostand, which I will use to document my work, apply for juried shows, and for most of my publishing needs. These new photos will mostly be used electronically, such as my emailed show announcements, and for social media. (If you don't know this yet, I am now on Instagram @goodelephantpottery. Daily pats on the back for working hard, what's not to like!)
I've already ordered some new mahogany boards so I can build a slightly larger pedestal, and put my furniture back where it belongs.
It was a fantastic Open Studio weekend. Thank you to everyone who came to the show! I still have a few nice pots and they are now available in my Online Store. The store opens at 10am ET on December 12. It will be open through December 31, or until the pots run out.
I don't have any more t-shirts ... sorry! I ran out of shirts near the end of the Open Studio.
All orders will ship for a $10 flat shipping fee. Orders can only be shipped within the USA. 6% sales tax will be added to orders shipped within the state of Maryland.
Happy shopping, and have a happy and warm holiday season!
... and I am in the mood to celebrate! I can't believe I've been doing these events for ten years. Doesn't seem that long. I need to say "thank you" to everyone who has made these events work. My thanks will come in the form of t-shirts!
Free with purchase and while supplies last. I'm pretty sure I have enough shirts for everybody, I'm saying "while supplies last" just in case. I have sizes from SM to XL, and the sizes will be first-come-first-pick.
Don't worry, I haven't only been working on the t-shirts. I've been making lots of pots, including some new designs. I will have a few more of my new teapots with stainless steel handles. Priced from $125 to $140.
I have redesigned my Breakfast Bowl. Very similar to the previous design, but easier to fit in the kiln. The new design includes a subtle pointed spout, so it serves as a pourer too. This will also replace the Small Spouted Bowl going forward, however I still have a few SSBs in stock for this weekend. $24 each.
Introducing an individual sized casserole, where the lid also works as a plate. It is ideal for storage and reheating. It's name is "I'll Cover You" which is the title of a song from the muscial Rent. $65.
And I will be fully stocked on all of my popular items, such has plates, chopstick bowls, serving bowls and platters, mugs, jars, vases, and lots of elephants. If you know you're coming and want a specific item, send me a note through this Contact Form. If the item is available I will gladly reserve it for you. (ONE NOTE: All of the Normal-Sized Mugs (aka Jack Reacher mugs) have already been reserved. Sorry! I promise to make them in production quantities for 2017.)
Here are the logistical details:
Good Elephant Pottery's 10th Annual Holiday Open Studio
Saturday and Sunday, December 10-11
10am to 5pm both days
My house will be wearing a "pottery sale' sign. Park on the street, lots of street parking nearby. The entrance to the studio is behind the house and down a flight of steps. Signs will point you to the right entrance.
Hope to see you this weekend!
As you probably know by now, I work by myself in a studio, doing a job that doesn't always require my full brain. I have strategies for keeping myself entertained, my favorite is probably audiobooks. (Shout-out to my local public library, where I get them for free.)
A have listened to the entire series of Jack Reacher books by Lee Child. I am crazy for Reacher. I admire his minimalist and independent life, and his unflappable personality. His senses of duty and justice are worthy enough to forgive all of the neck bones he has crushed.
(By the way, book Reacher does not bear any resemblance to movie Reacher. And I'm not just talking about physical appearance. Book Reacher has no ego, he doesn't care about praise or credit. Movie Reacher is very self-conscious. Do I look tough enough? Can they tell I'm short? I don't begrudge Lee Child for taking the biggest movie rights deal he could get. He earned it. As for Tom Cruise, buying something is not the same as earning it.)
One of Reacher's quirks is his addiction to coffee. He never turns down a chance to drink coffee. He'll drink any coffee, good or bad, at any time of day, from any cup. But he knows what type of cup he prefers, and notices when he's using one that he likes.
"A bad coffee mug has a thick lip—too wide, too shallow, too much mass—it will cool the drink too fast. A good coffee mug is cylindrical in shape, narrow in relation to its height and with a thin lip."
For years I have only made mugs in one size: enormous. They hold about 20 oz. This is how I drink coffee, one giant cup in the morning. Customers regularly ask me for normal sized mugs, but I have never felt compelled to make them until now. Now I want to make a mug that Reacher would like.
But before I could do that, I had to reconcile my confusion about Reacher's description of an ideal mug. I understand why a wide or shallow mug would allow coffee to cool too fast. But I was surprised at the idea that a thick-walled mug would hasten the cool-down. I always assumed a thicker-walled ceramic vessel would be a better insulator, not worse. Then I started to think about it in terms of refractories, which are all of the dense objects that are inside a kiln when firing. Refractories mostly refer to kiln shelves and posts, but the pots themselves are refractories too. We potters know that the more refractories we have in a kiln, the more energy it takes to fire, because refractories absorb a lot of energy before they can act as insulators and radiators of energy.
Does a thick-walled mug absorb heat like a refractory? I decided to find out for sure, in a situation that simulates coffee drinking, not kiln firing. I made two nearly identical vessels. One with a thin 1/8 inch wall, and one with a thicker 1/4 inch wall. I filled them with equal amounts of boiling water, then started taking the water's temperature. I measured the temperature at one minute intervals, for ten minutes.
I ran this test four times. I made sure to return the cups to room temperature in between, by running them under cool water. The results had some small variations but were overall consistent. In the first two minutes of the test, the thick cup lost 3 or 4 more degrees than the thin cup. After two minutes (I'm guessing this is when both cups were sufficiently heated through) both cups lost heat at the same rate per minute. The difference is small, but technically Reacher is right.
"No doubt about that," Reacher would say. To himself inside his head.
Cylindrical in shape, narrow in relation to its height and with a thin lip. Glazed in a no-fuss colorblock of gray and off-white. Holds 10 to 12 oz. Positioned next to my "Enormous Coffee Mug" the official name on the hang tag will be "Normal-Sized Mug," with the subtitle "aka Jack Reacher's ideal coffee mug." These will be available for sale for the first time at my Open Studio, coming up on December 10-11.
And no, I am not admitting that I drink too much coffee. I am only admitting that some people prefer to drink coffee in smaller quantities throughout the day.
Mea Rhee (mee-uh ree),
American Craft Council
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