Wednesday, December 31, 2008

all together now: dream

I've had a lot on my mind lately. For one, I have no idea what this new year will bring. I feel equal parts anticipation mixed with trepidation. Not fear, exactly. But curiosity. I know that many things I have taken for granted are in position to start shifting. This is not a bad state of affairs, but in fact, an excellent time to be more fully in touch with what is important. With this thought in mind, I've been sleeping like a baby for weeks now, which is unusual when the old brain is boiling.

I'm an ambitious person. I have big dreams, and an expectation that my dreams will come true... if not exactly in the way I dreamed them. There is always the persistent question; will you be able to make your dreams happen? This is the way of the world. When things are going good, your dreams seem within reach. When things are going shitty, dreams seem tenuous. But in reality, your dreams are always just that: dreams. Whether or not your life is good or shitty, your dreams have still not become events that can be placed under the category of reality. So my question is, does a dream's actualization depend on factors happening out there in reality, or do they depend more on the dreamer and their state of mind?

I'm reading a terrific novel right now, called "Netherland". I love the title, because it implies this subconscious underworld that we all move in, even as we go about our day-to-day on the surface of the planet. I'm not sure is this is what the author intended, but that's what I get from it. Also, the protagonist is from The Hague, which is also very interesting, since this book takes place in New York City immediately after 9/11. So the title has many facets and underpinnings, which I'm not going to go into right now. The book is partly about the big, even grandiose, ambitions of one of its characters, Chuck. He is, in his little world, a mover and a shaker. In one scene, the main character has just told Chuck that his wife is seeing another man. Chuck asks, "What do you want to do about it?" Our protagonist, rather helplessly, says what many of us say when we are dealing with this kind of situation: "What can I do?" Chuck says:

Not can do: first figure out out what you want to do. It's Project Management 101: establish objectives, the establish means of achieving objectives.

To summarize the rest of the interaction, Chuck goes on to say that if you do not follow up on what you want, you are in danger of having regrets. And his bottom line is, of course, no regrets. I'm sharing this little bit of the book with you because I really think we all need a little Project Management 101 in this new year of 2009, and we all need some Dream Management too. I have the sense that, while we have achieved some big dreams, like _______ (fill in the blank here), we are being disappointed by our failures in smaller dreams, like_______ (you know what to do). So while we all try to figure out our resolutions for 2009, let's do our homework first: What do you want to do?

Friday, December 19, 2008

vacation mode

I unloaded my last kiln a few days ago. There were some great successes and a couple of disappointments. A couple of people got emails that they will not get their piece before Christmas. I would usually be so strung out about that, absolutely crazed that someone did not get their piece of pottery by Jesus's birthday. This year I just sighed, drank a bottle of wine, and forgot about it. I had already cut a deal with god that if she let this piece come out of the kiln perfectly, I would be happy for a little while:
This is a piece that a new customer ordered about 8 weeks ago. I made two of these babies a few years back, one for myself and one for another client. They are obviously very labor intensive with a lot of small details that can go wrong. I was praying the whole time I glazed it-- the glazing alone took about 3 hours and you have to get in all of the nooks and crannies with a tiny brush. This is my bad boyfriend glaze: gorgeous and perfect when it behaves, abusive and bubbly when it's not. As you can probably tell from this image, we are all in love and happy right now.

And then Sara and I had a blow-out dinner at Wood Tavern. Her last day with me as my assistant was Wednesday, and now she's goin' to grad school. This was a gift she gave me:
I can't wait to start drinking the 20 proof sake I received from one of my loyal customers with this set. Man, I'm talking about drinking a lot on this post. Sara and I drank a lot too at Wood Tavern, as we both have a love for the red wine. I will really miss her. Everyone needs an assistant who kicks their ass as much as mine did, gives you that skeptical look as you are trying to bullshit your way through a problem, or totally ignores you as you are having a hissy fit with the tape gun. But she's going on to bigger and better challenges, and I'm excited for her.

And finally, I as tagged by two people recently. I'm kind of like an old man when it comes to tagging. I'm mentally shaking my fist and yelling, "Get off my lawn you taggers!" I'm sorry, people who tagged me, I promise I will do a tagging post while I'm on vacation. I know everyone is dying to know 7 random things about me. And with that, I"m out for now!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

lessons from the land of panic

It's usually about this time of year that I start to wonder how the fuck I'm supposed to pull off this holiday thing. I will usually have a stack of orders that are half-done, open studios and shows to prepare for, emails and postcards to send out, studio appointments to keep with people, and stores screaming their heads off for more stuff. All of this activity is usually squeezed down into two or three weeks of frantic activity where I sleep little, eat even less, and make up for that by drinking endless cups of coffee all day and try to wind down at night with endless glasses of wine. I'm a wrung-out mess by the 24th and my husband is ready to have me locked up. Ho ho ho.

I get myself into this situation because I have a tendency to be a procrastinator when I have a lot of activity coming up. I put things off. I've noticed this about myself for years, and this tendency becomes especially troublesome when one is trying to run a successful business. I always manage to pull it off: the orders all ship on time, the studio gets cleaned up and made presentable for customers, the postcards go out, and no one gets disappointed. But it all comes at a cost to myself as I scramble.

I realize that I like to be pushed to the wall. No, I don't like it, I need it. The situation doesn't feel real until my heart is pounding with panic and my head is spinning. I love to make a long list of shit that needs to get done and then freak out as I see how much I have to do and how little time I have to do it. No one can jump into action the way I do.

I'm trying to change this, if for no other reason than I'm sick of having to spend extra money on rush shipping of supplies. This year I sat down in early November and made my list with a target date for each item. I was already running behind, I should have made this list in September, but it was better than waiting for the weekend after Thanksgiving as I usually like to do. I didn't make all of my target dates, but I came close. It helped to remind me that panic doesn't make things more real, it just things more difficult to deal with. I know a lot of artist types are procrastinators in the same way I am, and it's easy to get away with because we are artists, dammit, and we do things artistically. Sometimes chaotically. But I'm getting older, and I hope a bit smarter. I don't have energy to waste on freaking, I want to put it into my art. And I'm happy to report I haven't had a single meltdown this whole season. Now that is a Christmas miracle!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

notes from a church of shopping

I'm not much of a shopper. I love to buy beautiful clothes, pick out the perfect gift for friends and family, and get nice things for my house, but I'm not someone who shops for the simple pleasure of shopping, or as therapy. I always shop on the fly: when I happen to be out, and I see something I want, I buy it. If I know exactly what I want and where to get it, I order it online. That's it. I can no more imagine a day at the mall than I can imagine stabbing my own self in the eye.

Last year the holiday shopping season took on a whole new life for me. My shop on Etsy put me out there in the bigger shopping world than I had previously been, and I was slammed. In my Etsy shop alone, I sold 48 separate items. That, combined with my Open Studio, and normal call and walk-in sales, made it an insanely busy month. While I really enjoyed it, I was left feeling sort of beached at the end of December: exhausted, picked-over, and unable to swim another stroke. I also considered for the first time that a business that depends on those end-of-the-year sales is not a sustainable business, that it was really important for me to build up my own business to a point where Holiday Sales was a nice bump, but I didn't have to depend on it.

And more: if we've learned anything in the past couple of months, we've learned that spending and buying is what our economy is totally dependent on. No matter what is happening in the world, in our economy, we are told to buy, and to shop by the people "in charge". It bothers me. It's like we are all children who can only find comfort in things. We can be distracted by our toys, and ignore what ails the planet, and the people on it. Isn't that what the word "retail therapy" means? I listened yesterday to a wonderful and dark essay by Andrei Codrescu that totally mirrored my feelings about the religion of shopping. And I don't think I'm overstating it by calling it a religion.

As someone who makes things and depends on people buying them so I can continue to make more, I know I'm in a tricky position here. If shopping is a religion, then there can be no doubt I run one of its chapels, and I love me a large congregation, tithing on a regular basis. So what am I saying? That we should all stop buying stuff right now? Of course not. You should buy stuff, and you should buy it from me. All I want for Christmas is some more thought about what we purchase, where we purchase, and why we purchase it. More reflection about these things will probably not do much to pull us out of recession anytime soon, but maybe it could be one, tiny little baby step to making a more sustainable economy for ourselves. And if that meant that I had to lose some sales this season, I'm okay with that, because I do feel as if I'm participating in a group psychosis this time of year. And I really prefer to be psychotic on my own. What do you all think?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

more shameless self-promotion

Don't worry, I'm working up a good, thoughtful blog post. I don't forget about my blog even when I'm totally buried. For the moment, you will have to be satisfied with some self-promotion. An magazine profile, a cute little online interview where I get to babble about food, and a reminder to some to my open studio this weekend!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

meditative mood

It has been relentlessly sunny and warm here in Northern California, except for today when we woke up to a nice fog bank and cool temperatures. Frankly, it was a relief. I live here for a reason: I love mild weather that does not challenge me. Some would say I'm soft, and I won't deny it. When you live in this temperate climate, you lose track of the seasons, what month it is, and sometimes, yourself. My theory is that Californians come by our reputation because: 1) the rest of the country is jealous; and 2) because your brain does get a bit lazy when you walk out into the same kind of day for years on end. Back when I was an anthropology student and exploring the origins of human behavior, one idea I was fascinated with is that inclement weather pushes evolution forward, because it forces one to innovate and invent in order to deal with the problem of changing seasons.

Last weekend was particularly spectacular and show-offy weather, perfect for visitors. In my ongoing quest to get out of the studio and interact more with the pottery world, I went to Trax gallery to attend a workshop with Linda Christianson, a renowned potter from Minnesota. Linda and I could not be more different as potters. She sat in front of the room on a treadle wheel (the kind of wheel you pump with your foot) and get it barely moving. She threw down a chunk of clay, raise the walls twice, and done. The process took about 2-3 minutes, and the thrown piece was chunky, even irregular with lots of action on the sides from her throwing rib. It was a very meditative and thoughtful process. I thought about my own method of throwing in production, where the wheel is going at about 100 mph and I'm throwing off piece after piece, totally smoothed out and perfect looking, like it just came off a lathe.

Linda also talked while she threw, and the topics ranged from the sound of the train whistles nearby, to how she prices her work. She wood fires her pots, so she builds up a big collection of work, fires it off, and then wants to sell it as quickly as possible so she can make more. Her work is pretty inexpensive for someone of her stature, with cups in the $30 range. I think it can be a little insulting to say that someones work is too inexpensive. It implies that they don't value their own work enough, or don't have the confidence to raise prices. I don't think either is the case for Linda. I thought she regarded making pottery as a practice, and a process of her life. The getting paid part of it is important, of course, but not the point exactly.

Speaking of points, I'm not sure I have one today. Maybe Linda got me into a meditative mood and that, combined with my soft California brain, is making it hard for me to wrap this up. I'm off to the studio now to make more pots, and hopefully sell them off as quickly as possible so I can make more.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

the artist's life

Christa Assad is one of my favorite potters, and one of my favorite people as well. She is an amazing talent, garnering some well-deserved recognition lately, including a cover feature story in the latest American Craft magazine. Read the extended interview from the magazine article right here. I always appreciate Christa's intelligent, humorous, and articulate take on her life and work. You will too.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

looking to the past, looking to the future

I had an interesting week. Last weekend I flew East to attend my 20 year high school reunion in Delaware. This is an event I would have never thought I would attend. I hated high school and I was not fond of most of my classmates, with the exception of my best friend, Missy. I was a shy and angry person, which combined into an overall surly kind of attitude. Missy was the opposite, probably one of the most popular and well-liked people in our class, and she kept me from complete social pariah status.

I think a lot of people don't want to go to high school reunions because they are afraid the event is going to be a re-enactment of high school, with better booze. What I found is that people were just interesting and interested. Few seemed to be there to prove anything about themselves. In a lot of ways it was just a no-bullshit event, so it was very unlike high school. I had a blast.

I flew home on Monday and was immediately swept up in the anticipation of the election on Tuesday. I loved the juxtaposition of these two events in my life, and they seemed totally related. I'm always surprised and gratified by the human capacity to change. The capacity to change and grow up into a thoughtful and decent human being, and our overall evolution as a society.

Sometimes when I look around, I think of this planet and all the people on it, and how we are all sharing this moment. We are all going through this life together for the first time, though it can feel like we are hopelessly mired in the past, and the future will just bring more of the same. Maybe we are mired in the past, but maybe we don't have to be. Maybe that's just a choice we make, because it's easier than being brave, having hope, creating change. I think we should all enjoy this moment of change together, really soak in how exciting it is, and never forget the work it took to create it. And then let's think about what we are going to do in the future to bring change to our own lives and to the rest of our world. It's a small request!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

the right to suck and waste time

I had a tiny little meltdown last night. Yes, me--hard to believe I know. I've been noticing that I've been very crabby lately. Short-tempered, irritable, and impatient. If you read this blog, you might think that I am like that all the time, and to be completely truthful I do have an edge to me that I started honing around age 6, so my edge is pretty sharp. It can cut paper. Since I am a very complex person with lots of depth and facets, I'm also very sunny and friendly, and I do not enjoy being a bitch. Except when I mean to be a bitch, in which case there is no greater enjoyment.

Anyway, what came out of the meltdown was something that I've been turning over in my head for a while. Part of being a successful artist is to make amazing art-- seemingly effortlessly. But this is the rub-- to make amazing work you have to make a lot of stuff that kinda sucks. That may seem obvious, but when you reach a place where you're work is selling at a consistent pace and supporting yourself and your, ahem, habits, it's very easy to feel like you've got it all dialed out. Making work that sucks suddenly doesn't seem like an option, it feels like a waste of time. It's very easy to convince yourself that everything that comes off your fingertips should be good and reflect your masterful craftmanship. When it's not, failure is something to be disposed of quickly.

Anyway, I realized I need to write myself a new job description. The new job description, aside from cranking out plates, bowls, vases, cups, teapots, sake sets, and anything else that strikes my customer's fancy in record time, is to make some work that totally sucks. Not even sellable. I realized that it's actually my right to make sucky work, and it's part of my job to waste time. When I feel the pressure to whip out nothing but perfect work that will sell, I get so irritable, and I don't even enjoy the process of making it. I get bored, and then I am absolutely no fun to be around. Can you imagine? I have the greatest job in the world, and I actually get bored with it, and myself. I think all of us artist types need to take some time out of our daily routine to make some work that probably sucks, and not get too down on ourselves about it.

As an aside, I wanted to thank the dozens of people who posted comments about my art school rant, and all the emails I received about it. I read some very well-thought out ideas, and it makes me feel good that people take the time out to give me their thoughts. I don't often post comments back, because I frankly do not have the time. But I want everyone to know that I read every comment that comes through, and I really appreciate what people have to say. Thank you!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

get out of the studio!

One of my challenges as an artist is getting out of my studio and interacting with the art world and other artists. When I first started making pottery, I had no interest in taking workshops or even looking at pottery. I was zeroed in on making pottery like a laser, completely obsessed. If you got between me and my wheel, watch out! As I got be be a pretty good potter and people started looking at my work, I would always be asked who my influences were, did I know this potter, or did I like that potter? These questions would usually be met with a blank stare and a shrug. I was only interested in making pottery, not looking at other people's pottery or talking to other potters.

My approach has changed over the years as I've started looking up from my wheel and around the world of pottery. When I did my residency in Japan last summer, I finally realized that I must get out more, take some workshops, and hang out with potters whenever possible. Potters, by the way, are the friendliest and most unpretentious group of people you will ever meet. And no one can understand your pain the way another potter does.

Last weekend I had a pottery extravaganza weekend. My pal Nick, who I met in Japan last summer, drove from Tahoe with two friends in tow, Roger and Kat, who both teach at Sierra Nevada College. Nick and I went to an all-day clay symposium at the Firehouse Collective and got to watch and learn from Craig Petey, Arthur Gonzales, and John Toki. John Toki, by the way, built a four-foot high sculpture in 1 hour.

We went straight from there to Trax Gallery to watch a talk given by Akio Takamori. I bought one of his amazing cups. At Trax I hung out with Christa, Rae, Sara; talked to Andrew Martin about mold-making; crabbed with Bob Brady about annoying customers; stood near Akio so some of his magic could rub off on me. Then I was introduced to a couple of girls who are obsessed with woodfire and invited me to fire with them this Spring. I was very excited by this because I haven't woodfired since I left Japan.

The party went late into the night, and I must say I was totally hungover the next day. But I felt totally invigorated by my interactions with so many ceramic artists, and it reminded me that I need to get out of the damn studio more often!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

art school

I wish I were running for President, because if I were, part of my economic plan would be to eliminate art schools in favor of the apprenticeship for all of those budding student artists out there. I have many beefs with art school, I'll just put it right out there. One of my beefs is two-fold: art schools generally do not teach anyone how to survive as a working artist. And while you are learning how to make art in your basic art school, you are racking up incredible debt, and saddled with that debt when you get out of your four-year program with a BA in fine art. I have been talking to someone who wants to come work for me, but they are having a hard time figuring out how they can give up their $25 hour nanny job in favor of working for me at half that salary. This person has a master's degree in ceramics, and a $30,000 school loan debt, even with the financial help she received with grants and scholarships. Her monthly payment is so high, even I would have a hard time getting by.

To belabor the point: I have a family friend with a son who is showing some art talent, and he wants to attend a very expensive private art school in California. He's 17, a bit wild, and wants to sign on for financial aid that will give him and his parents over $70,000 in debt. When I heard about this, I blew a gasket. My idea is, if a 17-year old wants to go make art, then go make art! Get a part-time job to cover rent at the nasty squat you'll share with a few friends, sign up for some art classes at a community college, and find an artist who is making stuff you think is cool and offer to help them out. There is not a single working artist out there who does not need some kind of assistance. Help them, develop a relationship, and learn from them. It's called an apprenticeship, and it's a long-standing and time honored tradition that I think has been pushed aside in favor of four-year art school.

I understand that education is an investment. When I was 17, I wanted to go to art school too, because I thought that was the only path available to someone who wanted to be an artist. My thought is that students should not be spending their money on art school, but their time on being an apprentice. That's an investment too. When I finally landed on clay as my medium when I was 23, I got a job with another ceramic artist. From this artist I learned how to survive: how to sell work, how to run a business, how to live as a working artist and not just keep it on the side. I would love to share what she taught me with as many ceramic students as possible, but most of them are locked up in art school or waiting tables!

If I were running for president and putting out this idea, I know my opponent would run attack ads saying that I wanted to shut down art schools, put teachers out of work, and create a class of one-note, one-dimensional artists who had to learn how to sell out to survive. I would challenge my opponent to a debate where I would totally cream them and show them to be the institutional whores they really are. Until that happens, I would love to hear from everyone what their opinions are on this subject, and what advice they would give to that 17-year-old who wants to be an artist.

Friday, October 10, 2008

getting centered

Learning how to center clay on the wheel is the most challenging part of learning how to throw. I was taught by a master teacher, and my whole class learned how to center and throw within a very short time because of his skillful teaching. I think right about now is a good time to think about the metaphor of centering clay and getting centered in life. I bring this up because of the drums of fear and panic that are beating in all corners right now. Apparently we are in the depths major financial crisis, and unless you are living under a rock, we all know the words that are getting repeated over and over again.

There is something about chaos of panic that can set you free from the daily monotony. We are coming up on the 19 year anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which I experienced in full effect in Santa Cruz. It was the single most terrifying event of my life, but it was also one of the most meaningful. It totally released me from my own daily insecurities and problems that I was experiencing at the time, and put front and center exactly what was important: being alive along with your friends and family. It was an extremely valuable lesson to learn in my late teens, and I still can't think about that time without having an overwhelming emotional response of gratitude that I was able to experience it.

Change is happening; it's going to happen and it's out of our control, much like an earthquake. When I start feeling scared about what's happening and how it may impact me, I think about how much more important it is that I stay centered with my work, my husband, and my friends. For me that means staying calm and focused, and not spending to much time letting my imagination run wild, and not indulging in a lot of conversation about "the markets" or "the economy". I don't really understand any of that shit, and the majority of my friends don't either. Most of us are repeating what we hear in the news, which is pretty useless. I would really love it if we could all think about how major change can bring so many blessings to our lives rather than darkness, and how essential change is to make life worth living in the first place. In the short-term, change can be very uncomfortable and scary. But no matter what happens, we are still all going to be on this planet, alive, and together. How great is that?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

time to create

If you read my blog, you already know one of my biggest complaints is not having time to be creative and make new work. I spend most of my studio time managing my wholesale accounts and online orders. This fall I was determined to build in more creative time and stop the flow of complaining. If I really couldn't do it, then maybe it was time to reconsider how I was doing business, period. My business depends on creating new work, and so does my mental well-being. The one thing you hear over and over from customers at trade shows is, "What's new?" I can get away with "I have this in new colors!" for only a little while. For my own retail customers, especially the ones who have been buying from me a while, they also want to see what's next.

After an initial scramble a couple of weeks ago, we have production at the studio on a nice, even keel and I have been happily surprised by the fact that my little plan worked, and I do indeed have time to make new stuff. It was funny to see how my brain was resisting this open creative time at first. Frankly, it's so much easier to just crank out work without thinking, and when you've been doing that month in and month out, your creative edge gets dulled. This is a conversation I had with myself a few times:
"Hey, let's make some new pots!"
"Ummm... don't we need some more small cake stands?"
"Yeah, I guess it wouldn't hurt to have some in backstock." (Sounds of making ten small cake stands.)
1 hour later:
"Okay, how 'bout it? What should we make? I have this nice porcelain here!"
"Hmmm, that is nice porcelain. But don't you think it would be good to have some more dogwood flowers on hand? We're going to need a lot of them for orders."
"Dogwood flowers? We have plenty of those! Let's make some fun stuff!"
"I have a better idea. Let's see how many dessert plates we can make in 3 hours."
"What's your problem? You said you wanted to make some new stuff. Now all you want to make is easy stuff!"
"I don't have a problem! I just want to make sure we don't get behind, that's all."
"Well, we're ahead right now, so let's make the most of it!"
"Okay okay. Let's wedge up some of that porcelain"
(One hour later, staring into space.)
"What do you want to make?"
"I don't know, what do you want to make?"

I've been able to devote some time everyday this week to working on new things, and after I was done arguing with myself, this is one of the things I made:

Monday, September 22, 2008

what the negative weighs

The first thing I do when I get out of bed every morning is get the water boiling for coffee, and then read whatever email came in during the night. Last week I woke up to a lovely email from a customer who was so happy with the pottery she bought from me that she wrote me an email to tell me how talented and wonderful I am. Never get tired of those emails. Then I opened an email from my blog that contained a comment from an anonymous source, and this is what the comment said:

"Your pottery is starting to look like old lady slip cast ware."

My first reaction was to laugh, then hit the "trash" button. I've had some hard comments on my blog from people in the past, but I always let them stand because I think they are valuable and interesting, even if I don't agree. This one was just obnoxious so I deleted it from the blog, made my coffee, and got on with my day.

Except... I realized about halfway through the day that the comment was haunting me. Was I wallowing in happiness that someone took time from their day to tell me how awesome I am? No. I kept hearing the old lady cast ware comment, over and over. And I was having a variety of negative feelings and responses. For instance, anger: "Fuck you!" Defensiveness: "You don't even know my work." Condescension: "Keep your negative comments to the other students in your grad school classroom." Fear: "Shit, I'm turning into an old lady." Sneering, "You can't even stand behind your opinion, you have to comment anonymously, you miserable person." And then a combination of all of the above, "Screw you, twerp-- at least I have a body of work, and here in the real world where I live, it sells! What are you selling, besides coffee?"

Finally, about halfway through the day, I had to stop and contemplate how was managing this comment and allowing it to ruin my day. I was also interested in how I was letting this comment play out against an equally positive comment, and the irony that I read both within 2 minutes of each other. I love it when lessons really smack you in the face like that. Unfortunately, I'm me, and more inclined to let negative feedback make me feel bad than let positive feedback make me feel good. I think a lot of people would feel the same way-- but why?

Negativity taps in our most basic fears about ourselves, fears that are even hard to talk about sometimes. I live with my own voice telling me I need to do better work than I'm doing, and when another voice comes along and says the same thing in such a negative way, some of my worst fears are realized: I suck. For whatever reason, the negative carries weight, it's powerful-- or rather, we allow it to be more powerful than the positive.

It's a loop, and I knew I was running on a squirrel cage and I still have some work to do before I can keep myself from jumping on on the first place. I also knew it would take a day-- or maybe two-- to shake that shit off, but I did!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

the scramble

Has anyone else noticed that summer is, like, over? I used to dread this time of year because it meant I had to go back to school. I hated school from kindergarten on, which made my childhood seem extremely long. I also hated being a kid, so you can't blame me for doing nothing the first fall I didn't have to go back to school but lay on the beach and smoke cigarettes. Man, talk about freedom! I didn't get over the fall dread until about 5 years ago.

Nowadays fall means getting ready for the Christmas slam. Smart people start doing this in August. I was goofing around and vacationing in August. My assistant, Sara, was also off for most of the month. Orders have been trickling in from stores, and I've been printing them out and filing them away. Last Monday was the first real day back to work in almost 4 weeks for both me and Sara, and we had a little meeting to schedule ship dates. I was not in the least panicked about it, I was anticipating a totally organized and mellow production schedule in our future.

That feeling disappeared after about 10 minutes as we both realized our production schedule is totally full, right up the very edge. We slammed the rest of our coffee, ran back to the studio, and took stock of what we had on the shelves. I chained myself to my wheel and started throwing, and Sara started glazing. It's not quite like going back to school; for starters, I'm getting paid. But it's pretty dang close!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

open studio this weekend

Look at me, all busy, working. No, not really. I haven't been working steadily in the studio for 6 weeks, but vacation is over! It's time to get back to work! Now! I'm mean it young lady, you need to make some money!

I'm having an Open Studio this weekend so I can empty out the studio and get to work on new stuff. That does not mean I won't have new work at this sale, 'cause I will. I have my new bell jar pieces, some one-of-a-kind platters, and a few of my new lotus flower necklaces. I haven't had these necklaces photographed yet, but they are amazing, 3-d, hand built beauties. My friend, Leah Rivers, will also be there selling her jewelry.

Here are the details:
Open Studio, Saturday, September 13
11 am to 5 pm
539 Athol Ave Oakland, CA 94606

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

challenges on the customer service front

Remember how I wrote a post not too long ago saying how much I love my customers? Then I gave the caveat that sometimes you really have to tell a customer to fuck off when they are being a total pain. It's a fine line. This is an email I received from a customer recently. The person ordered a replacement plate after breaking one out a set of three. It took me a while to make it because it's a discontinued design, but I finally shipped it:

Hi Whitney, I received the new plate today and I do appreciate you going to the trouble to replicate the plate that I broke. However, the new plate doesn't really match it's partners. Not only is the deeper color wrong, which I know you did me warn me about, but the veining detail on the edges is so light that it is obscured by the glaze which appears much heavier and glossier than the original. The wonderful delicacy of the original set was one of it's most admirable qualities. I do wish I had known that you couldn't reproduce that look because if I had, I wouldn't have pressed you for a replacement. I know you tried and I do thank you for your effort.

When I read this at my vacation office in Tahoe I was instantly inflamed. My face turned red, my heart started pounding, and I immediately typed a curt return message : Send back the plate. I hit the "send" button despite years of my husband trying to train me to not respond to emails when I'm angry. He's always telling me to give myself time to manage the situation, not just react. Strangely enough, my email was not connecting and the message wouldn't send. I whacked the send button a few more times before I realized I was totally in reaction mode and I would be lot better off just deleting this email. Which I did.

I had to think about this message for a few days. The email seemed totally passive-aggressive to me. I had warned the customer that the glaze would be totally different, and now it seemed that's exactly what he was complaining about. Doesn't he realize I'm and ARTIST, not a ROBOT? It's not my job to replicate things, I whined to myself. Everyone should just shop at POTTERY BARN, I railed at my friends, people think you can just order up an exact copy and they can't deal if everything is not all matchy-match. In the end, I decided this customer needed to be sent to re-education camp along with fellow offenders. Doesn't this ASSHOLE understand that my work is unique and that's what makes it precious and valuable?

I finally composed, in my head, the perfect response. I pulled his message out if the trash and read it again, and suddenly realized it wasn't that bad. Annoying, yes. But worthy of my reaction, no. I had to laugh at myself. I can be completely nuts when I feel like my work isn't appreciated, and so defensive. I am so glad I didn't send that email, and I had a second chance to respond. This is what I wrote in return:

I can understand that you are disappointed, and I'm sorry if you thought I could reproduce something exactly. I thought you understood the new plate would look different from its partners. As you know, the plates were discontinued and I haven't made them in several years, and the glaze is the same formulation but something has changed to make it fire out differently. I can't reproduce my handmade things exactly, especially part of a set that was made together and then fired together a while ago. I hope that you can just enjoy it for what it is, and now you also have a great story to go with it. If not, you can send it back to me because I want people to love my work and be happy with it.

And of course the customer wrote back and said, no no no, they love it and want to keep it. Figures!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

the slowdown

I haven’t been in the studio much since Palo Alto in mid-July. Every once I a while I’ll run in and bust out a round of orders, and then I turn around and run back out again. I’ve had a lot of people visiting from out of town and I don’t want to squeeze their visits in around my studio hours, I’ve been devoting my time to them, and to myself. Right now I’m in Tahoe again with my pal Terrill, who is visiting from Maine.

There’s that little voice, telling you what to do and trying to make you feel guilty for not being better than you are. I’m waiting for that little voice right now telling me I need to get back to work and I have no right to relax so much when Christmas is around the corner, but I just don’t hear it. Maybe it’s because I feel perfectly entitled to take off right now, and I’m not putting up with any lies and bullshit from that little voice.

I helped Terrill with the ACC show in San Francisco over the weekend, helping her sell her beautiful glass, and it seemed terribly slow for a lot of people. Everyone keeps moaning about the economy going into the crapper, for real this time. Whether or not that’s true-- and I don’t bother myself with worrying about it either way—I wonder if an economic slowdown has to be the worst thing in the world. Maybe it will give everyone a lot more time to just be with themselves, friends, family, and pursue other goals in life.

Being completely out of work is stressful, and I know most people can’t enjoy being unemployed. But perhaps being underemployed for a while is not so bad. I know I can get by with less stuff, spending less on useless things. By the way, pottery does not qualify as a useless thing. I hate for people to be suffering if they are being laid off or their paychecks cut. At the same time, with the amount of excess many of us live with, I feel like I might be in the mood to cut a few things right down to the bone.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

from here to there

I was thinking the other day about the painful and long process of getting from here to there. Here is where we are right now, and one is usually in the process of trying to get there. Where is there? There is where the idea has come to fruition: the art is made, the money is in the bank, and one is happy. I was actually having a dream about this the other night, and in the dream I was having the fully actualized experience of realizing there is actually here, right now. It was very intense, as dreams can be, and when I woke up I thought how I could be a happier person if I could keep this idea with me. The concept is always there, floating around me. But, I have a tendency to forget about it, and go on to being very upset that I'm not there yet. I know you do too.
Meanwhile, I'm still goofing around, not in the studio much and out of town a lot. So, posting is slow but back-to-school September is almost here, so don't give up on me yet.

Monday, August 04, 2008

yes, i'm brilliant

When I said I was taking a vacation, I meant it. I actually went away without taking my computer with me for four whole days. I did sneak my computer up to Lake Tahoe with me while we were visiting Josie, which made me feel slightly ridiculous. I only got teased a little bit.

First things first. Amy Rehnae nominated me for a Brilliant Blog Award. Thank you Amy! With these blog awards you are supposed to pass them on by nominating others, and in this case seven blogs. I guess as a blog writer I should also be a blog reader, but I'm not. I pop in and read my friend's blogs because that's how I keep up with some of them. Every once in a while I'll follow a link a friend sent and find something hilarious. And when Project Runway is on and I'm waiting for the water to boil for my endless cups of coffee, I'll read these guys. I know I probably will not be sent to Blog Internment Camp for not following the rules of this award, but I definitely want to acknowledge it, because I really love writing this blog, and it makes me very happy to know people actually read it.

Back to my vacation now...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

the problem with pretty

There's this issue I've been struggling with for a while now in my work. Basically, making beautiful, pretty things in clay is one of the easiest things in the world for me. If I really opened the taps, there would be no end to it. There is no end to it. And one of the reasons why I put myself in the ranks of tortured artist is because I actually don't value pretty things all that much.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a girly-girl who looooves beautiful things in the world. I need cute shoes, lip gloss, and pretty dresses to function properly on this planet. But when it comes to making my own work, pretty ain't worth much. It's too easy, and I don't value my work unless it's hard-- it must challenge me on some level. I'm like that with a lot of things in my life- I'm notorious with learning lessons the hard way, which was really wore down my poor mom when I was growing up. When I first started with my work, it was all hard, but I've been working at it long enough now where the only hard part is dealing with bad firings. And annoying wholesale customers.

I've been thinking about this for a while, trying to come to some sort of settlement on the issue. Sometimes I go with full acceptance: I am blessed with this ability to make beautiful things, and I should simply receive this gift and make beautiful things. But I can't fool myself; I feel as though I'm not seeing the real gift right in front of me, but I don't know what it is. I'm blind. Then, I received an email two days ago from one of my friends, who I will call EL-ZIE. I dread Elzie's emails sometimes because I know she loves me and my work, but she also sees right through my bullshit:

Your work is so much tamer than you are. You are a wild woman. Push past the pretty girl. Please, put some of the bad words in. The intellectual and biting humor part of you that comes through in your writing. Art is all code for who we really are, presented in a way that we are ready to expose to others. I think that you have laid the ground work, and I can say that I am ready for more of you.

I immediately closed this email and tried to act like I hadn't read it, but of course thought about it all day. I can't pretend that this is all there is to my work, as easy and lovely as that would be. If I'm going to continue to call myself an artist, I have to let go of the pretty as my driving force... but how? And am I making this too hard too, this process of evolution, or is struggling so much a part of my DNA that I have no choice but to do it this way? And did I just manage to say "I, me, mine" 15 times in one paragraph?

People, I'm going on vacation now. I obviously need it!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

we'll let the pictures do the talking

Where have I been? I have been locked up in the studio, preparing for my favorite retail show of the year, the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival. You know how I complain about my wholesale shows? Well, the Palo Alto Festival is, like, the opposite side of the spectrum. I've been doing this show for 10 years, and I have a solid fan base there of people who wait all year to see me, check out my new stuff, and then buy it all. Plus, I get to see all of my pottery and glass pals, and Saturday night we have a huge party and get loaded. Hey, it's fun! AAAAANNNDD one of my partners in crime from Japan last summer, Nick, is driving in to be my booth slave during the show. These are all pots that have come out of the kiln in the past 2 days, and this a lot of this collection is about my new obsession, bell jars. I have one more load coming out tomorrow, I hope to have time to shoot them and post later. Palo Alto is one of the places where I debut new work and ideas, so let's just let the pictures do the talking. :

Hello, am I not the cutest goddamn thing? (That's the bell jar above talking)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

california burning

I thought I would share this apocalyptic and gloomy picture from last week, when the air was so thick with smoke we Northern California citizens were advised to stay inside. No problem. Some gear in my brain finally got some oil and I have been so inspired and fearless with the clay that I really have no interest in doing anything else but being at the studio, getting ready for my big retail show of the year, the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival. I am so excited about some new designs and work I've been making, here is a sneak peek, pre-fire: