Tuesday, April 13, 2010

you thought I made pottery? silly you.

Lately, I've been feeling like a squirrel with ADD. I have so many tasks to deal with every day, I can only focus my attention on any one thing for a few minutes before my concentration is broken by another task pulling at me. This is slowly driving me absolutely crazy. I think most artists like to have long periods of uninterrupted time. I remember back in the day, before I got all "successful" that my days were nothing but long periods of unbroken concentration. I'm starting to think that's how I became so successful in the first place. Brain power, baby. Back then I would get so irritated with anything or anyone that got in between me and my pottery. Now, I can't allow myself to get irritated like that because then I would walk around in a constant state of irritation.

This is what my Tuesday morning looked like this week:
  • get up and run to the studio at 8 am to unload the kiln and see what survived.
  • run home, make ship tags for survivors, write "thank you" notes to customers (on this day, that was 9 notes) finish up editing my monthly newsletter and send to 1,000 people, and list a few things on Etsy. Oh, and answer about 8 emails.
  • run back to the studio by 10 to meet with my assistant, Ruth. Ruth starts bubbling orders while I match the tags with the items. We can't box them because I'm totally out of boxes and we're waiting for a delivery from Uline.
  • Right when Ruth finishes at 11, Uline arrives with boxes. Ruth moves on to glazing while I put away boxes and then box orders.
  • Finish at 11:30, pull dogwood flowers from the mold and clean those for 30 minutes.
  • At noon, wedge up some clay and thrown for an hour.
  • At 1, the high school intern arrives. Spend 20 minutes with her getting her task lined up and organized. Then, I leave for lunch.
That's kind of a typical morning. That day I actually didn't go back to the studio until the intern left at 4 so I could have some time to just throw with no one around me. And that's the crux of the problem right there: I can't run my business without people helping me. But the more people who are around, the less time I have to focus on what I want to make because I have to manage people. Managing people well takes a lot of time and attention, and I have to be available to the people who work for me so they can do a good job. I'm always telling my busy artist friends to hire help so they can get more done, but more and more I see how having assistants is really a double-edged sword.

I've been not doing so well mentally for the past couple of months, and I'm just now starting to grasp that it's connected to the problem of broken concentration. This kind of short task mode is great for pumping out production, which is what I've been stuck doing because I've been shorthanded, but not great for making new work, or art. And that's the stuff that keeps me happy and jazzed about pottery. I've just hired another set of hands to help with production, and I'm really hoping that with her help, I will be back on the path to mental stability. Soon. I would like to know what you all do to give yourselves that long, luxurious period of focused attention to your work, especially when you have things like kids, assistants, or another job.


  1. by planning quick out-of-town trips so that you can NOT go to the studio and HAVE to be out having fun ! plus that double edge sword thing is so TRUE. we can't WAIT to NOT get another intern !

  2. This is exactly what I'm currently struggling with - but I'm on "Stage 1" (you are "Stage 3") since I don't have any additional help. I've always worried that with interns/assistants there would be the additional work of managing them. Would really hate to bring someone on and halfass manage them (some of my friends do this and they are never satisfied with what the assistant does - but its their own fault).

    I'm actually considering taking off time. Like a month or two to just cut myself off and create. I really miss waking up and knowing the only thing I'm gonna do is create. The lack of the 100% engulfment really has be f'in cranky lately.

  3. I have spent most of my week doing admin, running errands, cleaning, doing projects in the studio, packing & shipping an insane amount of work and staying in the studio until midnight feeling like I am not getting enough done.
    No matter how many times I remind myself its all part of my job, I still end up suffering from a poor attitude when I have a week like this......
    maybe I won't hire any more help! ; )
    now go do some Yoga girl.

  4. Sorry to hear your creative time is being stretched so thin.

    I'm an early riser so I can pretty much count on working from 4 am to about 7 am uninterrupted. After that its a crap shoot.

  5. Whitney, I want to say your success has been very inspirational to me. Because of reading about you and your success my wife and I have redoubled our efforts on Etsy and it is starting to work. Our online sales have become a serious part of our income, which has removed smost of the pressure for doing well at shows. Thank you!

    So I have a couple thoughts/suggestions for you. From your description it seems like you still have a hand in everything. Could the bubbling and packing be handled by your assistant entirely? In fact, I think the next help you hire should be a part time office manager. Someone who can take over the receiving of the order, print the labels. Hand you a stack of printed Thank you cards to sign at your leisure, and order more boxes long before they are running out.You're hitting a level of success that is unsustainable by one person. Your essential job is as the artist, don't be the manager if you can hire one.

    One of the greatest pieces of advice I have received is that to keep a clear mind you need to have dedicated time to yourself where you don't think about what's next on your list. Just 15 minutes of silence in the morning can help you through many hours of rushing. Take it. Good luck and Thank you again!


  6. I like this Charles the Potter guy Whit. He makes some good points. And you know what, if your assistant can't handle packing up orders properly by herself - then she's got problems. I remember how Sandi would hover every time I packed up orders..."you need more bubble wrap around that pot...put more packing materials there..." It used to drive me nuts - but I understood her micromanagement of that task. It took several orders arriving safely at their destination for her to begin to back off and for me to successfully swat her away while I was packing. I think it's time for you assistant to start swatting you away :)

  7. Just had my first day with my new assistant and while I did find myself losing my concentration several times during the day, we did get more accomplished today than I would have on my own.
    I think that Charles the Potter is right about which tasks to delegate to an assistant and which tasks to maintain as your own. Also, perhaps trying to keep certain days a week un-interrupted throwing/ making days, while other days might be more interrupted might help give you that much needed making time. It is a whole lot to juggle in the air and it never quite feels like everything gets done.
    Hope you take care of yourself and your loved ones despite the crazyness...

  8. My circumstances are so completely different from yours, but somehow I always find myself nodding at your posts. I too have that need to be absorbed in what I am doing, which is one reason why I could never concentrate on making anything in a two hour class - it just wasn't long enough.

    I know this is not practical in your situation, but I often find my best clay times are late at night or very early in the morning.

    I think Charles makes a lot of sense too.

  9. Charles is a smart cookie. Train your assistants well, check their work always even when you're sure they are doing OK , trust them to do what you want and then check again.
    Make yourself a place where you have some privacy to work. Separating yourself from the chaos can be really helpful. Your assistants will take a minute to think about what they were going to ask before disturbing you. Always be available but a little distance can work wonders.
    rae's right about our studio not wanting to have another high school intern. Last year our intern was GREAT but this year I think he's smoking a bowl before entering our studio---either that or be has the instant stoner patch. It's just too much work for us to be worth it. I fired him once but he's BAAACK!

  10. So much great feedback!
    Heather says: No matter how many times I remind myself its all part of my job, I still end up suffering from a poor attitude when I have a week like this......

    I too get into such a negative attitude when I'm doing all the "support" work of running my business, then I feel guilty because I think I'm ungrateful.

    Brian's comment about getting up early is a good. I'm incapable of getting up before 6:30, but my best time is the morning. I've started thinking about changing my exercise routine to the afternoon instead of the morning so I can pop into the studio earlier and maybe get more done. Also, no one else is in the studio before 9 or 10 am.

    Charles DOES have good suggestions. I would love to have a great office manager, just gotta find the right person, which is SO HARD. And Ruth does often take care of packing and shipping, that day we had so much glazing that I wanted to get her on it. And some silence is so important, a couple of years ago when I was going through a hard time meditation really helped me. So Charles, I will take your suggestions to heart.

    The bottom line is that you do get more done with some well-trained assistants on hand, and Josie is right about how to handle them. I think I need to figure out a new routine for myself to make the days go more smoothly, the one I have now is the same one I had 5 years ago, and things have changed a lot since then.

  11. Try a temp agency...might be pricier than a hire off the street, but they come prescreened for basic skills. If you can get someone who is highly skilled and independent 10-20 hours a week it might make keeping up with production and marketing that much easier.

  12. Those long stretches are so essential for your soul as an artist. I don't like getting all "I'm an artist and I'm soooo sensitive" but since I've had kids this is one of the most pressing problems. I've got around it (a bit) by including grant applications in my yearly schedule. If I happen to be successful then I have the money to take a bit of time to create new work. It's kind of like selling your soul to the devil but it's the only way I can get the time to recharge the creative batteries.

    Hope the new assistant works out!

  13. Excellent post... It really is nice to hear others that have the same struggles and frustrastions. I too sometimes feel so spastic buzzing around the studio trying to put out the next fire. Still at the stage trying to figure out how to keep all the balls in the air....great post & comments. artgardenlaura@blogspot.com

  14. How about a nice little trip to a cabin in the woods? BTW, the dogwoods are blooming.

  15. Long luxurious periods of uninterrupted concentration....what's that?! :)
    I never get as much made as I plan to,I am constantly interrupted to feed people and take them places and then pick them up, go to grab a "quick" breakfast in town, can you come see this, would you help me edit this slideshow, how does this paper sound, are you coming to my concert...... on and on. I just have to remind myself that I have a very cool family and am very blessed to have them and the pottery can wait. I get irritated until I repeat this to myself then I calm down...I would love to be more successful, but I would give up a lot, and I don't really want to do that. It's a struggle every day!

  16. Natalie, I can't wait to get to that cabin!

    And Tracey conveys what I see many of my parent friends dealing with. I think you have to be equipped with some superhero patience and skills to deal with raising children while trying to pursue art... or a few full-time nannies!

  17. Ho! I'm soooo with you and it drives me NUTS! I collapse in a heap physically and mentally if I don't get creating space.
    My way of coping is to try and shut down that part of me, not very helpful, but as wife, mother, and daughter, very necessary, especially this last fortnight. So yup! I understand!

  18. Hello! Here in Italy the things go on the same... I mean, when we are concentrated on ceramics, we are thinking at many things together (job, people, organization...) and (at least in my life) this is only a part of our day, because then there's house, family and other thousands things to do!
    But, all these things, make our ceramics matter more reach and interesting; we are fighting with many troubles, and these troubles make us bigger and more dinamic.
    Bye and have a nice time!
    Alessia, Le Jardin Ceramique