Thursday, January 18, 2018

Look What We Did, Together!

Last night's fundraising sale of cat dishes drew an overwhelming response! In just 4 hours I sold out of cat dishes and raised enough to fully sponsor the adoption of one cat and partially sponsor another.

Meet the beneficiaries:

Sylvester is an 8-year-old short haired grey & white neutered male cat who has been at the shelter since November. Sylvester's adoption fee is fully sponsored!

Patcha is a 3-year-old shorthaired brown tabby. She is spayed (all KVHS cats & dogs are spayed or neutered.) Patcha has been at the shelter since October, poor lamb! The shelter staff says she is timid around strangers so it has been hard for her to find her people but that she is quite sweet and affectionate once she gets to know people.

I'll keep checking back for both of these kitties, in hopes that they find their forever homes soon. You can see all of the KVHS cats here; if you are interested in Sylvester, Patcha, or any of the other available cats, call the shelter at  (207) 626-3491 or email

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Because I Can't Adopt Them All

Why is cat lady an insult? I've never understood this.  I can testify: being a cat lady, or a cat person of any kind, is truly delightful. If people wish to live happy, fulfilled lives, they should aspire to be cat ladies.  (Likewise SJW: Social Justice Warrior. Who wouldn't want to be a warrior for social justice? The internet is weird.)

My affinity for felines is well-known. Currently I have five, all foundlings and rescues of one stripe or another. Five is about my upper limit; when I have to start being deliberate about making sure everyone gets enough attention each day, I know my home is full up.

I wish I could adopt them all! But alas, that is right out. With so many still needing homes, I want to do what I can. I don't have a lot of money, but I do have a little skill, so I am using it to embark on a fundraiser. Here's the plan:

14 little catfood dishes, each about 4" in diameter, each unique, each priced at $15, including shipping. As soon as I sell ten of them, I sponsor a cat's adoption fee at KVHS. Maybe I could do this in an ongoing way: every time I sell a dish, I post a new one. Every time I get to 10 sold, I sponsor another cat. Here's a preview:

Are there any cat ladies or cat gents out there in the pottery world? If your feline friend deserves a new dinner dish, or you want to help another cat find its forever home, click here and scroll down a few inches.

ETA: Holy cats, you guys, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your overwhelming response. I have sold ALL of the little bowls, so I will go to KVHS to bring them my donation, and meet the cat I am going to sponsor. Because so many of you were willing to help, I will so this again - after I've had a chance to make more bowls. ๐Ÿ™‚
Update: We were able to fully sponsor one cat's adoption fee and partially sponsor another. Read more about the kitties here. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Value of Repetition

It wasn't that long ago - maybe five years, maybe eight, I forget - that I still had this idea that I ought to decorate every item that I made differently from everything else. I didn't have any qualms about throwing the same forms, but I always tried to stamp, slip-trail, and glaze them differently.

It's funny how long it took me to see that the same value that lies in repeating thrown forms lies in repeating decorative schemes as well. This is how proficiency is gained! And because of my process, they are all one of a kind anyway. Tonight it was three- and 4-pound mixing bowls. I glazed every one of them with a pattern of curliques on the outside and a glossy white on the inside. By the last one my motions were quick and smooth, with nary a stray dribble.

This approach has had a salubrious effect on my production as well. Much of my glazing time was spent on staring at pieces, deciding on their surfaces. If I only have to decide once every dozen or so pots, obviously things move along faster! And the tenth curlique-glazed bowl goes much faster than the first one.

The marks are unique to each bowl even if I were trying to make them identical (I'm not), and the soda adds a spontaneity that guarantees each piece will be one of a kind. It was a relief to put that worry down.

Hoping to fire these this week.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Cut Paper Slip Resist

Another demo post I've had in the hopper for a while!

I like the look of a checkerboard pattern, but it can be a little too tight for my liking...and also (truth now!) a lot of work, to brush slip on each individual square. For a checkerboard pattern that's a little more dynamic - and also easier to achieve - I sometimes use squares of cut newspaper.

I cut several layers of newspaper at once. I don't usually measure but cut squares (or "almost" squares) about 2" each side.

This works best on leatherhard ware. Here's how it looks on a platter:

I keep a little dish of water beside me as I work. Dip each square in the water, then drag it gently against he edge of the bowl to wipe off the excess. Arrange the paper squares in rows, corner-to-corner:
 Go around with a fingertip and make sure there are no wrinkles or bulges at the edges that slip can get underneath, and that the squares are stuck down well.
Brush your slip over the surface. The brush strokes will show, at least a little, so consider that when you are applying your slip. I usually brush all in one direction.
When your slip has just begun to dry - just enough for the shine to fade - you can start removing the paper. The edges will be easy; for the inner squares I use a needle too to get underneath them to start peeling.
Since I started this blog post, like, a year ago, this piece is long since finished & gone. I glazed it with  ^10 shino & fired it in Portland Pottery's stoneware kiln. The slip fired to a blue-y black, the bare clay a yummy rust brown. Obviously a transparent or translucent glaze is a good choice here.

You could, of course, use any shape for your paper resist. With some care you can even do relatively delicate shapes. Torn paper makes for a nice dynamic line.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Fun with Marketing

One upside to my decision to keep soap in the realm of "hobby" is that, while I still sell soap, marketing for it has become far less consequential. I can have more fun with it and not worry whether I sound professional or just perplexing. Case in point: the newest soap off of the curing rack, Green Planet.
It's always been a challenge for me to describe soap scents. Top notes of this, base notes of that...does anybody know what heliotrope actually smells like? For my new soaps, I tried instead telling a little story in sensory images, that give a sense of the fragrance, instead. Like this:

I did something like this with some plates last fall; instead of describing what the plates looked like, I did a little character sketch of the imaginary person whose favorite plate this would be. (We have favorite mugs; why not favorite plates?) It worked, I guess, because I sold the plates pretty quickly...but all to the same person, so I'm not sure it's an indicator.

Still, writing descriptions like little stories is more fun. Fun isn't everything but it's not nothing either.
If this little story makes you want this soap, you can get it here. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Tool: Mug Rounder!

As you can see by the background, I've had this post in the buffer for a while! Sometime last summer, I made myself a new tool. (Actually made a whole bunch of them, thinking I might sell them, but I didn't get around to that either!) See, I do a lot of stamping and other alteration on my pots. I don't always mind if the piece is no longer round afterward- in fact sometimes it's the whole point! Sometimes I like the tension between the squishiness of the alterations, as with stamping, and the crisp machine-roundness that the wheel contributes. I found an easy way to get that back. It works like this:

Ooops, not round anymore!

No worries! Enter the Mug Rounder™ (J/K, you know I didn't trademark that shit.)
Gently press the mug rounder into the mouth of the mug. Once it's in place, give it a light spank. 

Et voilรก, my mug is round once again! The mug rounder is just an enclosed thrown form. I made mine about 3 3/4" at the widest point, and they taper to accommodate smaller diameters, but obviously if you typically make wider-mouth mugs you could make one any size you want. It's only bisqued, because it needs to remain porous; otherwise it will stick to the wet clay and not release cleanly.

Hope you all are staying warm (or cool, if you are in Australia! Thinking of you, Tanya!)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Dear 2018

Speaking of reflections, check out this Sun Dog! It's a reflection of sunlight on ice crystals in the air. 
Longtime readers know that the week between Christmas and New Years' is my favorite of the year. (Well. Except possibly the Wigwam Weekend! and all the other days that the air outside doesn't hurt my face.) I love that all the holiday hulabaloo is done, but it doesn't yet feel like we've returned to routine. I use these days to reflect on the past year and think about the next. I am a big fan of New Year's resolutions, on the grounds that even a partially kept resolution typically has a more salubrious effect than none at all, but I don't make them lightly. This week gives me time to think about what I could do better or more or differently, to being my life - and, increasingly, my world - closer to ideal.

This year's Week of Reflection opened with a Sun Dog: bright spots of light flanking the sun as the light bounces off ice crystals in the atmosphere. (No, I didn't take the photo; that's a sun dog that appeared over Chicago a few years ago.) It seemed fitting.

I learned a lot in 2017, actually, but the big takeaway is to focus my energy. Boiling it down, in the personal realm:
  • I  can only do what I can do, and I can't do more than that. I also learned that what I can do - what all of us can do - is more than we think!  
  • I hate this one but...I learned to walk away from some people - even if I feel that at heart they are good people. I hate it because it feels like giving up, but people have to make their own choices. It's arrogant of me to think I can change a mind that's determined not to change. 
  • As a direct result, I grew closer to the people who nourish my joy, and I hope that I do the same for them. I want to use my emotional energy lifting people up. 
Professionally, I had the same big takeaway: FOCUS. I make pots. I make & sell soap. I teach classes. I do workshops. I sell wholesale, at shows, and consignment. This is a lot of spreading my energy around! It's time to pare down a bit.

I ๐Ÿ’“ teaching my classes. Some days I honestly can't believe my luck that someone would pay me to hang out with fun people and do fun creative projects and talk about my favorite subject. It also lends some stability to our household income; with Doug & I both being self employed, it can get a little chaotic because payday is just "whenever the checks arrive." So teaching stays.

Obviously I'll be making pots! and also selling pots. I am finding that shows fit my work style very well: I work better (or at least more!) when I am aiming for a specific event. I'll keep my existing wholesale accounts, and maybe pick a couple more, but I think I will be ending my consignment relationships. They are a lot of work for a small trickle of money, and more than the work, they keep a bunch of inventory tied up collecting dust while waiting to sell. Better to have the pots on hand to fill an art fair display or provide work when a wholesale account needs it.

Soap. Ah, soap. For sure I will keep making soap, and for sure I will sell what I make, but I've decided that soap will remain a hobby. I have a daydream of a line - Sweet Life Bath & Body - and maybe even a store in downtown Augusta. But there are only so many hours in a day and a week and a year, and I can't do both this and be a potter. Upside: this frees me to make whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like it, and not try to design a line or produce consistently, or market the line, or mess around with the perfect packaging. Just lye and fat, doin' their thing.

I'll be cutting back on workshops, offering only the two I am already committed to in 2018. Because I dread the very thought of failing or being unprepared in front of an audience, I spend so much time on preparation for workshops that the otherwise-reasonable amount I am paid for the ends up not covering my time.

Happy New Year, dear readers! Here's hoping in 2018 you spend time with the people you love and doing things that bring you joy.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Fire Down Below

Because my propane-fired kiln is outside, I am often asked how I can fire in the winter. Doesn't the cold prevent the kiln from heating up? Internally I chuckle at these inquiries. The difference betweencomfortable and uncomfortable, for people, is less than 100 degrees, and the first 100 degrees are the easiest for the kiln to achieve. I'm regretting those chuckles now, because, at -5°, the winter cold does in fact make s difference. Not to the ability of the flame to heat the kiln; that's still a negligible effect. The problem is getting enough propane to the burners to burn! Propane's phase shift from liquid to gas is -44°. It's stored as a liquid by keeping it under great pressure. When some of the pressure is relieved by opening the valve, some of the propane turns to gas and escapes out the valve, down the pipe and to the burner, where it (hopefully!) is burned to create heat for the kiln. This phase change - from liquid to gas - is endothermic, meaning it consumes heat energy to happen.

The closer the external temperature is to the liquid-point (there's some chemistry term for that, can't think of it right now) of propane, the less pressure is required to keep it in a liquid state. The tank loses pressure as it empties anyway, and the endothermic phase shift makes the tank even colder than the air around it.

If the air around the tank is -9°, as it was when I got up this morning, I would still be able to grill a steak using my propane tanks. The firing, however, takes hours - 11 hours even if everything goes perfectly. The tank is getting colder and losing pressure the whole time. The burners wouldn't stop burning, but it would be as if I were turning the valves down, down, down.

I might be able to finish the firing... I do have completely full tanks, which matters (pressure!). But it's possible that I will attempt to do the firing and just burn a bunch of propane and stall out before I reach temp.

Also - not that this affects my plans! - loading in the sub-zero suh-hu-huhuhucks. The my hands hurt, the wadding keeps freezing, the wax on the bottoms is brittle and flakes off.

So, firing this week is a big ol' nope. Instead, let's enjoy some Sonny Boy Williamson!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

ACC: Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

For weeks now I have been both excited and stressed about the upcoming ACC Baltimore Wholesale Show. So much to do: Define the wholesale line! Take photos, create forms, plan a production schedule. Build a booth! (What space will I use to build it? To store it afterwards?) Will it fit in the Grey Lady? No? Okay, check out trailers. Where will I stay? 

I'd already paid the $400 upfront they ask you for, to hold your space. When the contract arrived, I put off reading it in detail, the way you do when you are stressed about something. (On the plus side, I tend to do lots of other things in the process of procrastinating. I got a lot done!) The first thing I noticed were the FEES. Some I expected: of course I'd have to pay for pipe* and drape or carpeting, if I was going to need it. (I wouldn't, because it's $256 to rent a 10x10 square of carpet. I didn't even bother to find out how much the pipe & drape was) But mother of dog: WIFI? It's $135 to access WIFI?? Before I had even finished reading the contract, the expenses were looking like this:

  • $1200 booth fee (I knew about that, obvs)
  • $65 "facility fee" Wut? Just make it part of the booth fee, you knew there was going to be a facility involved, the show doesn't take place between dimensions
  • $40 Membership fee. Um, okay, I can see that, I guess.
  • $135 for the freakin' wifi, WTF
  • $301.80 Mandatory labor to unload the truck/trailer. FUCK THAT NOISE 
  • Electricity: $95 for 500 watts...that's FOUR bulbs. $120 for 1000W. That's not more than I expected's an indoor show. Everyone is going to need lights! Just be honest and roll it into the booth fee. 
  • Exhibitors are not permitted to use power tools to erect their booths: must hire labor from the hall to do that, so who even knows how much that would end up costing.  
I know some of these are requirements of the hall, but that doesn't actually matter to me: what matters is a show that I could barely afford to do before got pushed into the prohibitive range by a bunch of hidden costs. If these expense were stated upfront, as the booth fee was, I would never have applied.  Nor are these expenses stated anywhere all in one place - I really had to go looking for them. I admit I side-eye the organization a bit, about this: making it hard to know what the real costs are until after the deposit is paid, surely results in more forfeited deposits. Hey-hey-hey, money for nothing, right, ACC?

And - icing on the cake - I asked for my booth not to be on the perimeter. Guess where they put me? If you guessed on the perimeter, you win! That wouldn't have been enough to cancel,but it was enough for make me feel a little dubious, even before the additional expenses.

Man I am bummed about this. I've lost my $400 deposit - of course - but also what I had hoped was a way to really grow my business. And it seems I never finish learning how much I have to learn. ๐Ÿ™

I know there is a bright side here - hey, now I can relax and enjoy the remainder of my break, and just make pots - and I will focus on it shortly. I just need a minute to process my disappointment.

Oh hey, Happy Festivus! Perfect: it's the airing of grievances!

*When I first typed this, I typo'd it to "pope and drape." Like, no wonder it's spendy! His time is valuable. ๐Ÿ˜€

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Potters' Holiday

My last show for the year, the Portland Pottery Holiday Show & Sale, finished up over the weekend. It was a world of fun - for me anyway! - and I think sales were pretty good although I won't know for sure until early January. Sales are always important, but for me that show is more about celebrating and connecting with my community, and marking another year still standing. I always overdress for it, and this year was no exception.

That was fun but now it's done, and I am on to my next firing, which must happen soon as it will hold an order due the last week in December. Today is expected to be above freezing, which is good news for me as I have shelves to scrape & other work to do to prepare the kiln for a bisque.

As I mentioned before, my mind has already leapt ahead to shows and events in 2018. My to-do list for the rest of December, and into January, looks like this:

  • Build booth for wholesale show. I have a lot of ideas, and a couple of sketches, but two needs keep running up against each other: weight/ portability and ease/ speed of construction and deconstruction. It's pretty likely I will be doing these events alone, as Doug can't always take time away from his work, so whatever form it takes it needs to be doable with only one set of hands. 
  • Develop product line. This sounds easy - I mean, I already know what I make, and what, more or less, I need to charge for it. What I need to do now is determine which forms I can offer as closely reproduce-able, make samples, make up a price list with photos, make up order forms, etc.  
  • Apply to summer shows. The best shows have early deadlines. Right now I am weighing whether to jump in with both feet and apply to shows like the Uptown and Saint Louis, or play it more carefully by staying more-or-less local while I get my bearings in the art fair world again. I know what the smart way to play it is, and I know what I really want to do, and they are not the same thing! 
  • PINGO: Pottery Bingo, a game I hope to create for my students.
I feel like I am repeating myself, maybe because these thoughts are chasing each other around in my brain! If Yoda were here, he'd say, "All her life has she looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never her mind on where she was. Hmm? What she was doing.” Maybe I'll make a New Year's Resolution to be more mindful in the present moment. (Is that ironic? I am making future plans to resolve to live in the moment more. ๐Ÿ˜ƒ)

Well, those shelves are not going to grind themselves. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

See You There!

More than 90 potters and other artisans will be showing work at the annual Portland Pottery Holiday Show & Sale. If you're in Maine I hope you'll stop by! The "official" dates of the sale are the 15th, 16th, and 17th...but I'm gonna let you in on a little secret: there's an opening night party, with food, wine, and music on Thursday the 14th. You can find me at the bar, pouring drinks and singing snippets of Christmas songs.
Yeah, that's the boa. Life's short, right?

To my right (wait...your right, my left..I guess) is my good friend Mary Frances, a potter-turned-lawyer (who even knew that could happen?) I don't see enough of her these days, but hopefully we will be laughing until the wine comes out our noses Thursday night.

Even if you can't make the party, the sale is worth a look-see - it's a good chance to discover new favorite potters, and re-discover us oldies. 

Happiest of holiday seasons to you & yours!
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