Sunday, September 27, 2009

pace yourself

I've been learning a lot about my making process as I work my way through the very large Japan order. It's interesting that no matter how long you've been doing something, there's always more to discover. I learned so many hard lessons with the five-figure order and I've been determined not to make those same mistakes. The biggest mistake I made was not being organized and plotting out my production schedule. I procrastinated, and then backed myself into a very uncomfortable corner when there were glaze issues at the very end.

With the Japan order, I've been totally organized. I made a production schedule. I inventoried my glaze and ordered the extra I would need. I made a list of all the parts I would need: 180 individual cherry blossoms, 60 birds, 80 small cake stands, etc. I called my man Hector at the factory and gave him a heads up that I would need extra attention and pieces right now. I hired some extra hands and put them to work. No procrastinating.

What I've learned in the past month is the importance of pacing yourself. When the order rolled in, I got anxious and busted out almost half of the bell jars I would need for the order in one afternoon. The problem was, with all the other stuff that needed attention-- including other orders not related to the Japan order-- there wasn't time to trim and decorate all the bell jars I made. We only manged to deal with the ones I would need for the first round of glazing and firing, the rest have been wrapped up tightly in plastic and have been waiting their turn for over two weeks. So really, that afternoon I spent making all of that stuff was not really time well spent, all it did was temporarily assuage my anxiety. Which was maybe worth it for that day, just so I could prove to myself that I could throw the entire order in three days, if I wanted to. Which I don't, really.

Pacing yourself is totally related to organization too. Knowing what I need, as well as when I need it is part of the whole picture; not getting too far ahead in one area, only to fall behind in another. It's been challenging to stay on course, because I generally set my stride from instinct, rather than going by a tightly paced list of needed items. I think most artists are probably the same. But it's working for me; by Thursday I should have 50% of the order glazed up, which gives me four more weeks for the rest!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

writer's block

Every once in a while when I'm writing for my blog, I get writer's block. Usually, it's because I'm writing when I'm tired, or I don't have a point, or the subject I'm tackling is just to fucking big for a blog post. Blogs have limitations, and I think the biggest limitation of blog writing is keeping it short-- no longer than three paragraphs, if possible, unless you are writing something incredibly compelling. This last week when I've been writing for my blog, I keep writing, and rambling, and going on and on about... all kinds of things. I can't seem to wrap it up into a tidy little blog post. There are too many things on my mind right now. And not in a bad way at all, I just can't seem to get my compass pointed in any one direction. Which makes for some really boring blog writing.

I could just let it ride, and not publish for a couple of weeks, but I don't want to do that right now. I'm all about September being back-to-school mode, a time to build momentum and get some shit done. I've had my vacation, and I want to write. But I need some help. I need some homework, an assignment! If you have a question, or a subject you want me to write about, right about now is a good time to tell me what that is. Post here in the comments or send me an email.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

open studio...

... is happening, again. On Saturday! I'm hoping to clean the studio tomorrow, because it's a disaster right now, clay and dust all over everything. There will be all kinds of good stuff, some beautiful one-of-a-kinds and some of the standards as well. And of course, the ever-present seconds...

I also signed myself up for a show at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art on Sunday in San Francisco. So if you can't catch me in Oakland, swing by the Museum show in Fort Mason that will be featuring some other great artists as well. Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 11, 2009

attitude adjustment

This past week I've been working really hard, trying to get ahead of the overwhelming order, while also catching up with my orders from August. I haven't worked hours like this in a long time: yesterday I was in the studio at 7 am and stayed there until 4:30. I had to immediately go and drink a martini afterward, but after a long day I think the reward system should be in full effect. I almost forgot it was possible for me to work a straight 8-hour day.

I've broken the overwhelming order down into its smallest parts, and I keep looking at it, looking at it, and looking at it again. The more I look at it, the more I feel like I may actually pull it off. As I've been spending hours and hours with myself in the studio, I've started working on my attitude. Part of the reason why I took a month off from the making work was to get some perspective. My stress levels have been getting cranked all year from studio issues: not having enough assistance, nagging glaze issues, misbehaving cake stands and the relentless orders for them... all of it has made me feel like failure is the default setting, while success is something always just out of my grasp. Talk about lack of perspective... for every failure out of the kiln, there are probably 20 successes, but when you start losing your mind, all you see is the failure.

The failure mind set is completely debilitating and also totally self-fulfilling. As I deal with the overwhelming order and a few others that came in on its heels, I've been asking myself how I can think about my situation in a more positive light, starting by just appreciating that people actually want to buy my stuff at all. I also try to see all the pieces finished on time, perfectly fired. And normally I would hedge a big order by making a bunch of extra pieces. I recently read a brilliant article by Sequoia Miller in the current issue of Studio Potter magazine about this very practice, and what a waste of time it can be. I really don't have time for hedging right now, I want to count on things coming out right the first time.

So right now it's all about long solid days in the studio, deep breathing, positive visions, 8 hours of sleep, and not toooooo many martinis!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

overwhelming order

I was back to work on Monday for exactly three hours when a gigantic order from a new Japanese customer rolled in. An order big enough that it caused me consternation and concern, rather than a sense of joy and elation. I immediately had this feeling of, "I will never be able to fill this order." It's a monster: sprawling, huge, covering all my weak spots (cake stands), and demanding to be fed with an endless supply of birds, cherry blossoms, and bell jars. As I typed in the order and watched the number at the bottom of the invoice grow and grow, my dread deepened. Part of my reaction stems from my experience with the five-figure order two years ago. I really think that I am scarred from that experience and I now I have a post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms when I get a big order.

But I also have to acknowledge that I really messed up that order myself. Mistake number one: procrastination. I have a leftover habit from college of putting off important things because I like to work under pressure. I was one of those students spitting out big papers hours before they were due, and I liked it like that. Unfortunately working under pressure in ceramics does not yield the same brilliant results. After I wrote up the overwhelming order, I immediately broke it down into its smaller parts, assessing all the pieces I would have to make and assemble. Then I got on the phone with Hector, my man at the factory, and laid it all out to him. He called me back within hours with a delivery schedule, and then I broke down the order further into a production schedule for myself.

I feel a bit sad for myself that success has started making me nervous, instead of happy. Maybe everyone feels this way when faced with a mountain to climb. But I've also decided that there is to be no whining. I've gotten myself organized, I'm assembling my troops. I'm determined to make this order a better experience, and someday-- maybe soon-- when I get an overwhelming order again I'll be able to jump up and down and clap my hands with joy.