Monday, July 27, 2009


Did I mention it's my birthday today? It's my birthday. I'm 39 now, and I started this new year with unloading a glaze kiln, which is sort of like an birthday un-present. Some good stuff, more small disasters. If you follow this blog, you may have noticed that the breaking point seems to be around the corner, or maybe you think I'm on the verge of losing it all the time. Well, to a certain extent, I am always on the edge because of my work. I think I have a pretty good sense of humor about it as a general principle, and I have my coping strategies, but I'm usually about one bad firing away from being locked up in jail or the nuthouse.

Last night, bad dreams. I dreamed I was at a show and my booth was filled with ugly work; pots I was trying to pack for clients were breaking in my hands; kilns were splitting open in the middle of firings. That's just a normal night for me. And I'm thinking: here I am, almost 40-- a certifiable adult, not a kid anymore--and I'm totally sick of the stress, of losing sleep because I can't get a cake stand to fire out, and of the dread I feel before I open the kiln. Is this a sane way to live?

I was having a discussion with an old friend who asked the question, "How did my life get so complicated?" My response is that it is always about the choices we make. I think part of being a fully realized adult is recognizing that our choices have consequences. And then figuring out a way to live with it, or change it, and having the courage to do either.

Last week one of the show managers for the wholesale show I do in Philadelphia called to see what was up with my application for next year-- am I in? I told her I was having serious thoughts about dropping wholesale, adding that I thought I was at a point in my career that I didn't see why I should be doing anything that I hated, and I really hate wholesale. My dilemma about whether or not to continue with wholesale has been my concern about a loss of income, but then I suddenly realized that dropping wholesale represents only a choice about the direction of my career, not the direction of my income. Quickly following that thought was that my choice about making pottery for a career is just that-- a choice. I'm free to make another one. No one is holding a gun to my head, except me. And it should surprise no one that my trigger finger is itchy.


  1. First of all, Happy Birthday!!!
    Whitney, you've touched my heart with this one, really. I'm only a few years older than you and I feel so many of the same feelings all the time--and question my choices regularly too.. Those who are close to me know the rollercoaster I'm always on with the rhythm of my firings. I woke up yesterday ready to be committed from a sleepless night after shutting down my kiln at midnite Saturday night. Luckily this week's firing went well and I wasn't spewing venom the rest of the day....but I have a yard full of overfired pots from last week's (very rare) totally shitty firing and nearly hung myself over it all.... We are tied to this work so intimately we just cannot seperate from it and look at it like it's just a job--so the good buoys us up and the bad is like a bullet in the heart. I learn to cope, not to dwell on the ruined pieces, and to look at it as an exercise in acceptance and just keep moving forward-- but that is never easy.
    (Especially when it is the source of one's income)
    anyway--I just had to write a comment here--just to acknowledge your struggle, and tell you that I so often feel like I'm in the same boat. May the kiln gods smile upon you as you turn 39!

  2. Happy Birthday!!!

  3. Happy Birthday Whitney. Once again you bare your soul and with that somehow you give me courage to go on in my artistic pursuits (although reading this post I have some serious doubts about my own sanity). I know full well the ups and downs of firing and cracks in work and accidentally dropped or bumped pieces and yet it is the challenge that keeps me coming back. I think clay takes persistance and anyone successful must be so very persistent and that is the dilemma. Some failures are inevitable with difficult forms and yet the clay artist is persistent in attempting to overcome the difficulties. May you find a happy balance and may the kiln gods shine brightly for you many many more times than not.

  4. Happy Birthday!

    You are about the 5th artist whose Blog I read that has been in the midst of some sort of new direction, contemplation! I'll include myself as the 6th... I think it is because you got all your accounting books squared away and got a clear look at the bottom line. I know it spun me a bit when I was inputting into Excel this month... see what we get for getting organized!!

    You are extremely talented and as one door closes, another will open. All will be well.

  5. Happy Birthday Whitney! I've been following your blog for a couple months now. I've noticed a common thread in all of your posts and that is the overwhelming stress in your life. Your pottery is exceptional. You have set the bar very high. That's a lot of pressure to deal with. Yes you are a super-star potter, but you are Whitney first. Your health is way more important than the work and money.

    Hugs to You!
    ~ Cindy
    "You can never prevent your humanity from getting in the way of your perfection".

  6. Let me say Happy Birthday!(a couple days late) I knew I liked you -- my birthday is today (7/29) ;)

    Even though I am not a potter -- I love to read your blog. I think anyone in the arts can relate to your feelings and day in day out business operations. Being in business for ourselves, we never seem to be able to 'leave the office.' Most of the time I love that aspect -- but sometimes it really would be beneficial to walk away for a day. Our work is part of us unlike many people -- artists are emotionally connected with our work. As a photographer, I have these days when I think all my photos are horrible, that no one likes them and the work I may do for someone is junk.

    I like you are speaking of choices -- we all make choices and need to keep them as positive as we can. If we choose to end something that is a negative for us -- we need to replace it with a positive experience.

  7. Firstly: your incredibly talented, and smart, and so I'm thinking you need a challenge in your work (i do). The key is learning how to ratchet it according to the level you like: challenged: yes! insane? not so much!
    It seems like your questioning what your challenge is:
    making money? check!
    recognition? check!
    If you love pottery figure out where your profit is (accounting software will show you this). I'm betting you could skip the wholesale shows and just contact your clients you usually connect with there. Then stay at home and do more of what you love.

  8. Happy belated birthday!! 39 - I think we only get better with age ;D

    Speaking of which I turned 43 this year and have made some new choices that will lead me down a new path away from clay. But, I feel very comfortable with the decision.

    Last year was probably my most successful year as a potter/teacher/independent and yet, it was exhausting and frustrating. I'm going back to school next month to finish a grad degree that I dropped out of when my daughter was younger and clay is going to become a hobby for me instead of a stream of income. It was a tough choice, but a good one for me.

    That said, (I'm copying and pasting part of my comment I left on Cindy Shake's blog):

    I suppose in some ways, wise artists turn that frustration around into a positive and creative way. I was just tired and maybe not cut out (or wise enough) to be a full time artist. But, I think that's okay - it's a good thing that there are an amazing amount of talented artists out there, like yourself, who persevere so that the world is a more beautiful place. And, when I become gainfully employed post graduation in a few years, I will be an eager patron of the arts - knowing what it is like to be on the other side....

    Keep on keeping on - your work is fantastic and inspiring!

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