Saturday, February 24, 2007

efficiency, pt 2

Those dogwood flowers are getting cranked out right now, thanks to my new mold:
I got the mold on Thursday and immediately started pouring it, and have made enough flowers in two days for two of my dogwood bowls. Not terribly efficient because the mold turns out two flowers at a time, but My Man at the Factory, Hector, is going to make me 5 more of these molds and then it's going to be raining dogwood blossoms. I also got a little mold made of my birds:

I always refer to Hector as "My Man Hector" because he has been making molds for some of my work this past year and I am amazed at how good the work comes out and how skilled Hector and his crew are. I never have been into the idea of having my work molded, I just love throwing too much. But the first time I went to the New York Gift show last year and took a bunch of orders, I came home and threw everything and had blood blisters on my fingers from throwing so much. I'll suffer for my art as much as the next person, but this was ridiculous. I sat on Hector's waiting list for almost a year before he took me on as a client, and it's really great working with him. It also totally changes what kind of orders I can take. I'm working with a client right now who wants 300 leaf platters for a hotel. A year ago an order for 300 anything would have made me insane with worry about how to pull off a big order like that. With Hector on my team, I haven't lost even a second of sleep, it will be totally taken care of.

Back to pouring more dogwood blossoms...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

the life

The past two days I've spent cleaning and re-organizing my studio. I like my studio to be very neat, clean, and organized, and I'm always confounded by the fact that it frequently resembles a disaster area. I love cleaning my work space up, making it look like a very orderly & together person works there. I always promise myself to take the extra 10 minutes every evening to keep it looking pristine, and I always have hope it may happen this time. The first time I saw Diana Fayt's studio, I immediately went back to my studio and cleaned for like, two days. Her studio is what I aspire to: low dust factor, everything in its place, room to think and work.

I'm basically laying in new trenches. I'm anticipating very busy weeks and months ahead of me, and I don't think I'm going to have time to reorganize the studio again until next year. That sounds crazy to say, but that's how it is around here. Warp speed. I also interviewed a new assistant, part of my war plan. She doesn't know it yet, but she'll be heading up my calvary while I hole up with my wheel and plot my takeover.

Things just feel very calm right now. I've been re-designing my website to make it more interactive and give people the ability to purchase work and pay for it online. I guess that's called a shopping cart. I've also been playing with new shapes and ideas. I threw this weird looking thing the other day:

I don't know what I'm going to do with it yet, but something is going to happen. That's the mantra right now.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

the importance of cups

I started throwing again last week, the first time since I dislocated my shoulder snowboarding a month ago. It actually felt good to throw, and I could kind of use my knee to support my elbow if I was having trouble holding it up. Even though there is a tall stack of orders, I didn't know what to throw. I didn't feel right just jumping into production throwing. Not only was I worried about my shoulder, I didn't think my brain could take it either.

I ended up just messing around all day, a luxury I haven't given myself in such a long time that I really don't remember the last time I threw clay just for fun. That is so sad, and as I write this I'm thinking I will never deprive myself like that again. I didn't keep most of what I made that day, just played around with forms and ideas. I finally threw some extra large tumblers for my husband, who has been begging me to make these for him for at least a year. I usually respond to him, (sarcastically) "I'll get right on that!" Doesn't he know there is always a stack of orders that comes first? God I am such a slave driver, and I wonder why I feel more like a machine than an artist sometimes.

I don't make a lot of cups, I've never been that inspired by them and I'm always way happier to get my cups from Christa, who is inspired by the cup and makes them better than anyone I know. But after seeing Gwyn Hanssen Piggott's cups, (I really can't stop talking about her) I've realized my lack of inspiration comes down to my own lack of imagination around what a cup can be. Also, how could I put off Andrew like that all this time? My sweet patient husband, who listens to me bitch all the time about how hard I have it, never asks me to get a real job that maybe has some health insurance, is always there to help me haul around clay and pottery, and pretty much rubs my shoulders whenever I ask? That man has a tough job. I don't try to be a difficult person or wife, but as Andrew says, I don't even have to try...

So, two resolutions: One, always make time to play on the wheel. Two, always make time to make Andrew whatever he wants, and cut the sarcasm.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Redemption recently came in the form of an invitation to participate in the Summer 2007 Goshogawara Woodfire Festival in Japan. I'll be going off to Japan for the entire month of July and put up in guest accommodations with 13 other visiting potters and do nothing all month but make pottery, hobnob with my colleagues, and drink sake. Lots and lots of sake. In this moment when inspiration is so desperately needed, I feel like I've gotten a message from god. I have never thought that much about wood firing pottery until a few weeks ago when I went to see Gwyn Hanssen Piggott exhibit in NYC. Her beautiful pottery was wood fired and I thought how lovely it was, and maybe I should give it a try. Oh boy am I ever going to give it a try.

The drums of doom have ceased for now. I decided to cancel the New York Gift Show and it was an easy decision to make actually. When I thought about signing another contract to do the show I felt like throwing myself under a bus. When I thought about not signing the contract I felt light and happy. I'm following the light. The invite to Japan just cinches the deal.

Now it's time for re-imagining where I'm going with my pottery. I'm going to fill these orders I have and continue to work with whatever stores and galleries want to keep buying my work, but I'm not going to concern myself with hanging onto them or actively pursue getting new accounts for now. All I really want to do is make some really amazing, time consuming, labor intensive pottery and not think for a moment about what it's costing me.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

on the lighter side...

I was tagged a while back by my pal, Diana Fayt, fellow blogger and a member of my Bay Area pottery posse. I'm told the game is that I must reveal six things about that people don't know about me.
1)I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and quit many times. I finally gave it up for real when I met my husband because he won't kiss me if I've been smoking.
2) I want to be a published writer when I grow up.
3) The one person you don't want to mess with in my life is my younger sister-- you hurt her and I will kill you with my bare hands.
4) If I ever have an aesthetic question about my work the only person's opinion I trust is my husband's. He has an impeccable sense of aesthetics around my work and is always honest. Painfully so.
5)My first ambition in life was to be an astronaut. I hope to live long enough to spend my last dime on a commercial space shuttle flight.
6) The thing that disappoints me the most about myself is my fear of big waves. When I moved to Santa Cruz at age 18 the first item on my agenda was to learn how to surf. My fear of waves really curtailed that desire. I know I'm under stress when I start having big wave dreams. Thankfully I haven't had any lately!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

what is an artist?

Back in California, home again. It was so cold the day I left New York City that my plane sat on the runway for almost an hour as they tried to defrost the water tank. In the end, we were told we could flush the toilets, but there wasn't enough water for everyone to wash their hands and we should use the soap that you don't need water for. OR they could cancel the flight. A minor riot started at that suggestion and everyone agreed that washing hands with water was not necessary. Six hours later, in Oakland, Drew drove me home from the airport with the windows rolled down at 10 pm. The flowers on the plum trees in our neighborhood are starting to bud, an event I look forward to every February. As much I love and adore New York City, three weeks is clearly too long to be away from the Bay Area.

As I unpack my bags, check on the studio, organize my orders, I've been asking myself some serious questions about the direction my career has taken in the last year. It's been a year since I started doing the Gift show, I've shown up three times, and I wonder if I belong there. While it's been an exciting challenge to be in a world marketplace and compete on that level, I don't feel like it's much of a creative challenge. It doesn't make me a better artist, and for the first time at this last show, I didn't feel like an artist. I took more orders on the first day than I did the whole week at the August show, and instead of feeling excited and happy, I just felt sort of doomed. I definitely noticed how crappy I felt because usually when I sell a lot of my work, I want to drink a bunch of wine, have a great dinner with friends, and I can't wait to get back to the studio and make new work. But all I felt was an overwhelming sense of dread.

I think the bottom line is that when I'm at the Gift show, I'm representing this line of product that is made under the label of "Whitney Smith Pottery". Most people passing by or stopping in my booth don't identify me as "Whitney Smith" or understand that what they are looking at is something I make with my hands. My pottery is nothing more than merchandise-- albeit beautiful merch, but nothing more than that. I don't have to let that bother me. In fact I can just laugh my way all the way to the bank. Problem is, I started making pottery so I would have an outlet to create something that would please me, and always challenge me to do better and be the most amazing artist I could possibly be.

So then the next question is, can I do both? I look back at the last year and I have to say that so far the answer is "no". 2006 was one of the most difficult years for me since I started working as a potter full-time in 2000, mostly because I've been under constant pressure to fill orders, and had very little time to explore and create new work. My sketch books are packed with unfulfilled ideas, dreams, and inspiration, and that does not make me feel happy or fulfilled as an artist. When I think of canceling my New York show in August, all I feel is an incredible sense of relief. No disappointment or regret.

The ideas I'm putting out there in this posting is an ongoing discussion that I have with all of my artist friends, balancing the money with the art. I would like it if every single person who is reading this post would take a minute to make a comment on what they think about what I've written.

sleepwalkers at the MOMA

Myself and a group of friends made a trip to the MOMA a couple of weeks ago to see Doug Aitkin's outdoor video installation, which is being projected onto the outer walls of the MOMA at night through Feb 7. It was nice going to see this without any preconceived notion of what the installation was about or even what it was called. The narrative was focused on 5 different people, and the videos were being projected simultaneously around the building, all at different points in the loop of the video.
As I watched it, trying to catch the narrative, I was making my own narrative. I thought how much we are all connected by despair. Other, happier emotions too, but despair, a sense of disconnection, loneliness, and a kind of boredom with the repetition of life. I never envy anybody's life because I know that no matter how successful, how rich, or seemingly perfect, most people are struggling to get through life and avoid as much pain as possible. Nobody has it easy.
The installation was called "Sleepwalkers", and as it turned out, focused on people who are working the night shift. I loved it.

Monday, February 05, 2007

just another fashion show in my glamorous life

My friend Waleed and his design partner, Julia, showed their Winter 2007 collection at the Baryshnikov Center yesterday afternoon. This is their fourth collection for his company, Naum, and each season is better than the last, not only in terms of the clothes, but how smoothly the whole thing happens. I was especially pleased because this was a show that almost didn't happen. A fashion show is incredibly expensive to pull off, and everything rides on the "right" people showing up, specifically, the right press people.

Waleed's and my life are strangely parallel at times. We both have big important shows in New York within a week of each other in summer and winter, and how the next 6 months are going to go depends on what happens at these events. Like me, Waleed's company suffered a blow last August during fashion week when one important style editor did not show up to see their 2007 Spring Collection, and declined to review their show without giving an explanation. It was a very low point for all of us. I felt at the time that there was simply no support for me or my amazing friends, and I was depressed by the whole thing. Waleed informed me in November that there would be no official show for Naum during Winter fashion week, a big disappointment for all concerned.

Then in December, a big turnaround and a minor miracle. Waleed and Julia won the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award, which gave them the cash infusion needed to put on a show and participate in Fashion Week. Julia and Waleed, who both work for other designers full-time, somehow managed to create a collection of 31 looks in a matter of weeks. And because of the all the free press and the prestige of winning the Domani award, the RSVP's from all the right people came rolling in.

I love being at the Naum shows because I usually serve as a point person and I get to check out all the backstage happenings, help keep things organized and running, as well as just be a part of a really important event for my friend. I also always spot Baryshnikov himself, which is a huge thrill for me. This time I sat in the press pit and got some great pictures which I will upload as soon as I get home!