Tuesday, April 24, 2007

too much, not enough

One of my biggest challenges as an artist, a business owner, and a human being is knowing what I am capable of accomplishing versus what I think I am capable of accomplishing. I notice how I always start my morning with a gigantic list of things I intend to accomplish that day. This list can cover a multitude of tasks in a variety of media: throwing, trimming, decorating, packing, shipping, updating, organizing, calling, faxing, emailing, ordering, paying. At the end of almost every day there are still items on my list left undone. I get frustrated with myself because I then feel like I failed to meet my goals for the day.

Lately I've been wondering if it's possible that I simply try to do too much, and in the process set myself up for defeat. Because no matter what I do manage to do, I still think it's not enough. There's always more. In the meantime I've been working more and more weekends, something I haven't done on a regular basis for years, to make up for my shortfalls during the week. Anybody can see that this can turn into an unsatisfying week in-week out cycle.

This is my curse: ambitious expectations outstripping the limits of reality. That was a mouthful. Frankly, at this moment, it sucks being me and coping with the cascade effect that my curse brings-- frustration, stress, grumpiness . I'm working on re-adjusting my approach and attitude, this one ain't doing it for me!

Friday, April 20, 2007

still life

Everyone who knows me knows I'm a flower girl. I am obsessed with flowers, all kinds, and have been since I was a kid. I got my "dream job" when I was 18, working as a floral designer. The first time I went to the wholesale flower market in San Francisco, the visual over stimulation rendered me unable to say anything but, "Look at this!" I don't have a favorite flower, but there are many that I am particularly fond of: rananculus for their old-fashioned ruffly-ness, poppies for their dark side and amazing seed pod, sweet peas for their delicate scent, peonies for their straight-up beauty and rarity... well, I could go on and on. And do. One flower I really love are forget-me-nots. In California, they grow wild in and near woods wherever there is a bit of shade. There is a patch of them on my street near a corner where someone must have tossed some seed years ago. I always pick a few. Forget-me-nots always remind me of when I first met Andrew, my husband, and we went hiking in Waddell Creek near Santa Cruz. It was that time of year where there were carpets of the little blue flowers. Last weekend I spent a few hours making a forget-me-not vase, sculpting each little tiny individual flower. If you click on the picture you can get an amazing close-up. That's my idea of fun!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

end of an era

“Verdigris Clay Studio and Gallery wants to be to San Francisco’s ceramic community what North Beach once was to beat poets.”
— SF Chronicle

I heard the sad but not unexpected news the other day that my girls at the Verdigris Gallery in San Francisco, Mary Mar Keenan, Christa Assad, and Rae Dunn are going to be closing their workshop and gallery. Verdigris has been providing a place for Bay Area ceramic artists to show their work and a working studio for the "Verdigris Girls" for 8 years. The building they are housed in, The Cannery, is a beautiful old brick building near the Fisherman's Wharf. For reasons that I don't understand the building has never attracted a lot of foot traffic, and the owners finally gave up and sold it off to some entrepreneurial types who have visions for it, the first vision being a staggering increase in rent.

I met all three of these amazing women through different connections: I've known Christa since I've been an exhibiting artist and she managed a Berkeley gallery I was in many years ago. I was irresistibly drawn toward Christa and her pottery, and we have been good friends ever since. I met Rae a bit later when we juried into the Clay and Glass Association the same day and had our work set up across from each other. I loved Rae's whimsical style of creating pottery and jumped on her when jurying was over, probably overwhelming her just a tiny little bit. Rae was already partners with Mary Mar at Verdigris, and so I met Mary Mar soon after. Verdigris is really Mary Mar's baby, so when there was an opening in the partnership, she called me up and asked if I wanted to join them. I didn't want to work in San Francisco, but right then Christa was making noise about not having a place to work and moving back east, so I stuffed her in my car and took her over to Verdigris, where she has been working ever since. They are all such different types of people, and I have always been totally impressed that they run such a great gallery, and create pottery in the same space without going crazy or constantly complaining about each other. The Verdigris Girls are truly an unusual threesome.

They are having a closing party and sale next Wednesday evening, on April 25. This will be a great chance to scoop up some great pottery at a discount, check out the gallery before it closes, and hobnob with some of the Bay Area's finest potters. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

the five-figure order

Back in the dark days of January, when I was still in New York at the Gift show, I received a call from a woman who was an "art resource" rep, and who had a client who was interested in purchasing a leaf platter from me; could I create a leaf platter to their specifications?
"Sure", I said. I actually love custom orders.
Her client would need 300 of these platters; could I fulfill that kind of order?
"Absolutely" I said coolly, in a tone that said I get orders for 300 things all the time. In fact, I have never gotten an order that big. To date, the largest order I've ever dealt with was an order from Gump's for 40 medium split pods That was the first time I really got to utilize my man Hector at the factory. He delivered 43 pods to be exact, I glazed them in one afternoon, and had the husband deliver them a few days later. It was beautiful. I call this picture to the right, "March of the Clones".

Since January I've been working with the art resource woman, Laurie. Back and forth we've gone: drawings, mini-samples, prototypes, colors, glazes samples, changes in the shape, changes in the size. All through it I've been keeping up the cool front while going into spasms of doubt as I try to figure out what to charge them for everything. I really wanted this order, I wanted to be put to the test. Underbidding would ensure that I could get it, but I know from experienece that when I don't charge people what my pottery is worth, I don't put the right effort into it because I figure they're getting a bargain. Overcharging makes me insecure because then everything has to be perfect perfect perfect... and it just hardly ever is. I finally came up with a number, delivered in an even and confident tone, and held my breath as I waited to hear if The Clients would accept.
They did. And what would my terms be?
"Oh, (a cash sum which would pay my studio rent for almost a year) up front to get production going, the balance paid in cash or by check before shipment".
Turnaround time?
"Three to four weeks". That's what I always say.

Finally today I received the purchase order. It was a long day of glazing with one of my assistants, but the final piece was put into the kiln and I spent and hour cleaning and mopping the studio-- where is my intern anyway? I staggered home thinking about tomorrow morning, when I plan to spend at least two hours in my favorite cafe, drinking their amazing coffee, eating my favorite breakfast, (polenta with a poached egg on top) and working on my website. That's what constitutes relaxation in my world. And then bam, the five-figure order I've been waiting for, sitting in my email. I printed it out, looked at it, and started laughing, which kind of tapered off into a groan, then went back up into a laugh, then down again into a groan. I did this 3 or 4 times before I realized I sounded like a crazy person, and there should be no groaning where five figures are involved, unless we're talking about bail money. But we're not, we're talking about payday!

I have a picture of a new Skutt kiln I want; shiny, bigger than the one I have, capable of firing off five figures worth of work in one fell swoop. Oh baby, you are mine.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

getting credit

Those of you who follow the Bay Area ceramic scene recognize the pottery in the picture to the right. That's my pal, Sara Paloma, featured very prominently on the cover of the latest Restoration Hardware catalogue. Pretty great, right? The pottery is (obviously) the most interesting thing in the room, and any artist would be pleased to be spotlighted on the cover of a internationally distributed catalogue.

The only problem is that Sara's work is not being sold through Restoration Hardware, nor is she even given credit for the work photographed here. A call to the 800 order number to find out how to buy the amazing pottery on the cover revealed an exasperated customer service rep who didn't know Sara's name, but had fielded dozens of calls from people interested in her work. Who is the winner here? No one, as far as I can tell. Restoration Hardware gets an eye-popping catalogue cover, but no way to distribute the work featured. This must disappoint and frustrate potential customers. Sara gets exposure, but no sales as only the most diligent and internet-savvy person is going to have the wherewithal to track her down and place an order.
How does this happen? Photo stylists and prop houses buy work from artists with an eye toward future photo sessions. There are no laws or regulations that say ceramic art needs to be credited in images, or that it is violation of copyright law to do so. I sell pottery to a prop house in New York City, and I have no idea where my work may show up. Here are my pods in another Restoration Hardware catalogue. My pots have also been in Design With Reach catalogues. Again, there no artist credit, and my fabulous name is not mentioned anywhere.

Sara and I started a discussion about this problem of not getting artwork credit after her RH cover came out. We are both used to our work being used to make interior design shoots look great, but this RH cover was too much. Why are we not given credit? Painters have to be given credit for their work; you cannot use an artist's painting in print ads without mentioning their name. But us mud-slingers are getting the shaft. If Restoration Hardware doesn't want to bother selling Sara's work, that's fine. But her name in fine print on the inside of the catalogue cover would translate into thousands of dollars in sales for her, and the recognition she rightfully deserves.

Ceramic artists need to start demanding that their artwork gets name credit in advertising. I'm sure companies don't want to do this, but since it is our work that making their products look more appealing, it's only fair. I would be very interested to hear what other people have to say about this.

Monday, April 02, 2007

a factory visit

The husband and I paid a visit to my man at the factory, Hector, to pick up some bisque that I needed for orders. Hector's company, Earth Needs, is located in Red Bluff, California. For the past year he's been making some of my pottery for me. I give him a piece that I've made, he makes a mold out of it, makes the piece, bisques it, and delivers it to me. I glaze the work and send it out to my stores. It's amazing. There is no way I could keep up with my wholesale orders if he wasn't doing that for me.

I had a hard time getting to the point where I felt comfortable having some of my work made out of molds. Five years ago I would have laughed in your face if you suggested I make some of my work in molds. I love to throw on the potter's wheel, I'm obsessed with it, and for me, that's what the fun is all about. But I had to get realistic about what I'm capable of actually producing. If I want to wholesale my work and get a lot of my pottery out there all over the country, I have to be able to make a consistent product that isn't sucking the lifeblood out of me. By that I mean spending all my creative juice making the same thing over and over again. I'm very fortunate to work with Hector; he's an artist himself, and a master mold maker. He understands my work and where I'm coming from, which is so important to me when I have someone producing my pottery. Here he is with some of the work he does on the side-- Hector designs big granite statues that are made in Asia and shipped over here for people's gardens, front gates, etc.

I am by far Hector's smallest client, which became even more apparent when I looked at the factory. The factory is very neat and clean, and each client has their own shelf where their molds are stored, and another shelf where finished bisque us stored. A lot of people have shelf after shelf packed with pottery and molds, and some of this pottery is going to some very big stores. My shelf was kind of tiny and looked sort of empty and lonely. But I don't care, I'm just happy Hector lets me hang around with my teeny tiny orders.

Most people have probably never heard of Red Bluff, California, because it's kind of in the middle of nowhere. But check out this view from one of the factory rooms! I doesn't get any better than this; a pottery factory in the middle of paradise: