Thursday, July 09, 2009

both ends

It's Thursday.  I'm in the finishing zone of a three-day intensive of bisque, glazing, firing. Three rounds of glaze loads as I get ready for the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival, my biggest retail show of the year. 

It's been a very dark place in my head the past three days.  I basically did it to myself; I've had so many regular orders to deal with that I kept putting off glazing and firing the more complicated and expensive pieces I make for Palo Alto in favor of quick kiln loads to get
my orders out the door.  In the end, everything is riding on good firings, no room for mistakes or re-fires because each kiln load is packed tighter than a Japanese subway, all space sold out.  Each night I go home, drink one beer, just one beer, eat dinner, and pop an ambien that I don't have a prescription for.  I read until I pass out, and the ambien makes sure that I don't wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks.  I fire during the night, and even during the best of times I usually wake up around 3 AM, sure that something is going wrong in the kiln or I forgot to do something.  Sometimes I can't go back to sleep until I pad down the street to my studio and check that everything is good.

I always think I can do more than I really can, or what is good for me.  When I plotted out this schedule, it seemed perfectly do-able.  Now, I feel like I've been run over by a clay truck.  And when I get tired, the voices from Radio K-FUKT start.  Man, those voices really know all my weak spots.  By the end of yesterday, I had decided to quit pottery and write a book.  I decided to stop wholesaling and only make work for people who can make it through my vetting process.   I wondered how long it would take a neighbor to call the police on me if I just started throwing pottery into a pile on the sidewalk in front of my studio door, just got rid of everything in my studio.   I thought about getting a job.  A job where results don't matter, and I'm not responsible for anything.  The DMV sounded good. I wondered what kind of price I could get for my work if I put out the word that I was quitting and not making anything ever again.  And then I wondered how long it would be before I forgot about the pain and got back on the wheel.


  1. Wow. And here I was worried that if I wrote something like this on my blog, no one would give a shit. Damn. This is one of your best posts yet. Talk about how things really are! Sheez!

    As one going through a dark period myself, (with no ambien in sight either!), all I know is that the clay is what keeps me going. This will be the first year where we might actually turn a profit in over 4 years. Not a good sign.

    I love the idea of smashing pots outside til the neighbors call the cops. We have a huge shard pile behind our studio, and it faces our neighbor's home. They dont even flinch anymore. I think we would have to light the building on fire for them to notice.

    Good luck with all the orders and I hope your next show rocks your world!

  2. My alternate-life dream job is Bank Teller. I come back to it time and time again. But I'm still a surface designer for all these years, so my good sense comes back pretty quickly. I'm sure yours will, too (if writing this out hasn't already decided things for you).

  3. Your post actually made me smile. Smile because it's good to know that I"m not alone during the dark days.

    Sometimes this profession appears to others as 'play' and that we need to keep up some 'image.' Or we might assume someone with lots of orders is enviable.

    Thanks for keeping it real.

    (And Alex good to see your comment. I was going to send you this post.)

  4. You mentioned before about not talking about money. I wish that people would. We all look to professional and full time potters like yourself and wonder how much further we have to go to get close to you. You had said that you were making more money than you realised, but I am curious about how much is good in this industry. I spend about 30 hours a week in my home studio, I don't have any help and rarely do a retail show, yet I am still making more than I did at my full time office job where I earned about $28'000. I would love to see someone post how much they make, how many hours they spend in the studio etc and the rest of us could all comment and confess how much we all do and make. It could be very inspiring and liberating.

  5. I think the pressure we put on ourselves is huge. I feel your dark spot because I just finished working on a solo show where half my work I sell is basically getting given to the gallery to do the show and I started to realize that I'm basically working twice as hard so someone else can get paid, but not myself. I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out how all my work can be worth it in the end, how someone can actually make a living as a potter, how I could actually bring a steady and decent income home for a change, how to spend less time in the studio, not more, and man, a regular job sounds pretty darn sweet right about now.
    Hopefully when this show is over for you, you can take a little break so you don't burn-out! Hang in there Whitney!

  6. After reading your blog, I'm kind of happy that I'm not a success story. Hang in there Whitney... It's gotta be worth it, otherwise what the hell are we all working toward?

  7. I can't count how many times I've stretched my firings out to the VERY last possible minute before big shows. You'd think we'd learn after doing this to ourselves over and over, but NO! (At least, *I* don't seem to!)

    But miraculously, it all seems to work out, doesn't it? (though it NEVER feels like it at the time).

    Good luck at your show!

  8. I am not a potter -- but oh my gosh I love your blog -- so glad I found it!

  9. Keep truckin Whitney!

    I run into the same thing with painting. What I have found is that sometimes the darkest times are passages into the most amazing experiences with my art.

    The creative process on its own can send you to the pit now and then, but then add the business end of it and especially if you are your own boss: the physical production, keeping integrity to your creative vision, financial responsibility, organization, crowd-pleasing, on and's a dang huge burden for one person to carry!

    You are going to have a fabulous show...and then you can regroup and relax:)

    ps my fantasy "real" job is mail carrier.

  10. The lead-up to a show is brutal. Just brutal. And then you get to the show and sell, sell, sell and it's all (mostly) worth it. But boy, do I ever have days like this, days where I think "what the hell am I doing? I should just get a job. Any job." But I don't, and you don't, and we keep creating because we have to.

  11. keep going. the harder it is, the sweeter it will feel when you've made it. and you will.

  12. Hi lady,
    I went thru a similar dark spot the other week, being technically challenged with throwing tall, beautiful vases! I had 3 days of what the hell am I doing, I suck, I have no business doing this for a living going thru my head. Then something clicked (I watched demo's on youtube!) and got over it. I think somehow we grow from our dark moments. It's an emotional roller coaster to live like we do, from the technical aspect to earning an income. Thank you for this post, it made me feel at ease that someone I admire so much has those feelings and pushes thru it. You rock, and the pot smashing sounds very therapeutic! Wishing you an awesome show!
    xoxo, Linda

  13. 'being a potter is brutal, it is a damn serious business'.....this is one of my favorite quotes and i actually used it in my last artist statement in a gallery show where all of my pieces warped/bubbled, etc and i had to make everything fresh the week of the show. i believe it is so important for the public to know that what we do is tough...not playing, not happily slinging mud around the shop....very hard work that is often overwhelming. clay folks are a tough bunch for sure.
    good luck with your show.

  14. I just almost peed myself!
    I just had a realization this week, as my second busiest month of the year started gearing up, that I don't feel normal unless I am waking up in the middle of the night freaking out about work, forgetting to eat during the day and running on high at all times! I get depressed without the adrenaline.

  15. It's a roller coaster, for sure! You'd probably be back at the wheel within a week. I know I would.
    Have a great show!

  16. Thank you all for the wonderful and supportive comments!

    I know we all have the dark days... sometimes I feel overwhelmed by them and that there are more dark days than light days. Knowing that I am not alone makes me feel better.

  17. When I was thinking of blogs I knew that I wanted to pass this along to -- yours was one of the first that came to mind. I love it (even though I am a photographer and not a potter!)

    Your blog has been chosen to receive the "One Lovely Blog Award"

    The rules of the award are:

    1. Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link. (you can find the award on my blog

    2. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered.

    3. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

  18. this post is awesome. i love reading fellow artist's blogs and getting info on different working styles, techniques, etc, but if you believe most blogs you would think things are so sunshiny all the time. i guess that's just the way it goes, i know i do it, writing about things when they are good. but it was AWESOME to read that tirade. awesome. things are not sunshiny all the time and i'm glad to hear about it. yeah!

  19. I cant believe I'm reading this now. I'm up trying to distract myself out of a dark moment and 2 in the morning!!! It's very comforting to read yours and know that your done with the show...I also saw some pictures of amazing new work your doing, So hell yeah keep it up! Now how do I convince myself?

  20. Oh, man... it's so good to read this, and all the comments too. I had a freak out the other day... the student version of what you're explaining here. The pressure was coming in on me from fellow ba students, grad students, professors and myself and I started to panic. The whole 'I don't think I'm cut out for this' thought just kept flashing in my mind over and over and over again, interspersed with images of my 'other' dreams like a successful relationship with my husband, babies, traveling, and the lives of all of you from the BA Posse (that would be the scary image). I hear a lot about all the work and sweat and time that goes into running a successful career in clay and I'm scared shitless that I can't do, but I'm also scared shitless to not have clay in my life the way I want it.

    Thankfully, my honey smacked me out of it and I quickly regrouped. But I know it's a lot of work and it's scary. And it sounds like it doesn't ever stop being scary, but you all keep potting. How to you smack yourself out of those 'dark moments'?

    P.S. Christa Assad seems to be impervious to the 'darkness'... How does she do it?

  21. Nobody is impervious to the darkness, not even my girl Christa. The darkness usually comes from lack of sleep and being overwhelmed by too many details. And it's okay to give into the darkness for a short time, even necessary. But it passes, like everything else, and that's just normal. Word of advice though: don't stress your sweetie with too many freakouts. It's taxing on the partner. Learn to calm yourself down and adjust your own thinking. It gives you a lot more power to resist the dark side.