Friday, April 25, 2008


As a general rule, telling someone about the dream one had last night is interesting only to the dreamer, especially a dream that takes more than 10 seconds to tell and doesn't involve the listener. That being said, I had his dream last night that was so funny. I dreamed I was at a 4- day ceramic workshop. Since it was so short, people were cranking out work and firing it right away, and I was surrounded by awesome work. And what was I doing? Making cake stands for wholesale orders. I made dozens. And then they got lost in all the work other people were doing. I was wandering around, trying to find my cake stands, and no one knew where they were or could help me. I woke up, my face all twisted up like I was about to cry, and saw that it was 6:50 AM. I told my husband earlier this week that I was going to start working from 7-9 am on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays before I went to the gym and use that time ONLY to make my own work, no wholesale or orders. So I popped out of bed, made my coffee, and ran to the studio.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

grace in giving up

I was feeling a bit emotionally hungover today after my blowout yesterday, and I had to really consider what happened and how to avoid that kind of meltdown in the future. Because really, it doesn't feel good to let of steam like that: I look like an overgrown and crazed 3-year old, stuff gets destroyed, and whatever sets off the rage in the first place isn't fixed. And it's kind of funny because like a real hangover, I feel guilt for my failings-- wasting my time, taxing my husband, breaking pots. Also, my face was all puffy today from all the crying, and I'm very vain so that made me feel bad too.

I recognize that most of my life I've let anger be my default setting when I come up against challenges. I used to think that my anger made me powerful, but I was wrong. My anger just makes me feel helpless, and for a kicker it also shows the world all of my weaknesses.

At times I can be an enlightened creature, and and I've learned to see that anger coming and set my focus on what can be done to improve the situation, not on what is pissing me off. Staying calm, and concentrating on breathing in oxygen in a measured way. The more I practice this exercise, the easier it is to let things go, secure in the knowledge that whatever uncomfortable feeling I'm having is likely just temporary.

There is so much more grace in just giving up sometimes. And it is so much harder when you have a big, gigantic, hard head like mine.

To finish off this episode, a word from Free Will Astrology:
Is there really such a thing as free will, or are our destinies shaped by forces beyond our control? Here's one way to think about that question: Maybe some people actually have more free will than others. Not because they have more money. (Many rich folks are under the spell of their instincts, after all.) Not because they have a high-status position. (A boss may have power over others but little power over himself.) Rather, those with a lot of free will have earned that privilege by taking strong measures to dissolve the conditioning they absorbed while growing up. They've acted on the advice of psychologist Carl Jung: "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." As you enter the phase of your astrological cycle when more free will is yours for the taking, Leo, meditate on these thoughts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

the hard way

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is try and figure out what day it is. This process can take some time and usually starts with trying to figure out what day it was yesterday. Then I go from there. This morning when I woke up and figured out it was Monday I thought, "I hate Mondays!" Then I immediately thought, "Well that's not a good way to think about the day that you haven't even started." I was feeling exceedingly negative for some reason. I just spent the weekend in Santa Monica with my sister and I should have been all relaxed and stuff, but no. I went to the studio and felt immediately overwhelmed with the big fucking mess that greeted me: orders piled everywhere, the floors covered in dust, garbled messages on the answering machine, stuff that came out of the kiln while I was gone not looking so hot. Chaos was reining. I should have turned right around and scheduled a massage for myself, but I like to do things the hard way. Always have. I packed an order and I could feel the angst building as I realized there were still items missing from it. Then I had a meltdown. Actually, what preceded the meltdown was a board bonking me in the head when I pulled out my vacuum cleaner. You should have seen it. First, I grabbed the board and threw it out the back door. Then I went after it and jumped up and down on it. That temporarily assuaged me. I went back inside and noticed half the plates I threw last week were warped. I piled them up into a huge pile and then smashed them to the ground. I really wish I hadn't done that because it made a huge mess and a rather unsatisfying smashing sound. Then I sat on my wheel and cried for about 5 minutes. Then I organized a few things and left for the day. I don't know why or how this black cloud descended on my head today, but here's to a better tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

more rules of wholesale

A question I get a lot concerns the cost of the wholesale trade shows. The cost is unbelievable. New York Gift usually ran about $4,000 (and that with couch surfing and cooking at home), Philadelphia a bit less. The ACRE show I almost did at the end of this month was significantly less, but still a new and therefore unproven show, so even the relatively low cost can be money down the drain if they can't get the buyers in. ACC is in between ACRE and Philly, but sales can be very rough at those shows. When you figure in the cost of the trade shows with the profit margins on your wholesale items, it can leave a girl asking, "don't you mean profit loss margin?" Sometimes I think I could make more money in Vegas playing blackjack. Drunk.

I seriously question whether trade shows are the way to go anymore, considering the access retailers have to artists through online venues like etsy, trunkt, (to name just a few), and the endless "design" blogs. The only question is how do you access retailers if you want to wholesale but aren't ready to gamble baby's college education fund away yet?

Second rule of wholesale: You must invest into marketing your wholesale items if you expect to take wholesale orders. As artists, marketing can be a word we want to pull away from. But marketing can be fun and there are so many ways to approach it that you don't have to turn it into a dreaded chore. But marketing means time, and it means money. And what does marketing mean in this context? Here is my short list of must-have and must-do for artists marketing wholesale:

1) A clear and concise one-sheet with prices and terms.

2) A catalog with images of your work. Don't flip out when I say "catalog" and get all scared you can't afford it. A catalog can be a simple color sheet with thumbnails of your work-- that's what I have, and you can get 250 printed up at PS print for just over $200, and that number lasts me almost a full year, even giving them out to some of my retail customers. A friend of mine prints up her catalog on 4x6 color postcards, with 8 images per card. That way she can add cards as her line expands without having to print up a brand-new thing every season. Very clever. Don't put your prices on there because then you can't use it for retail customers OR raise your prices while you still have that sheet. And you always want to be able to raise your prices!

3) Create a place online where retailers can access your work and see images. A blog, etsy, and a website are becoming mandatory for people selling their art. I don't think you need all three, but you do need at least one. Make sure these things advertise the fact that you wholesale. For those who simply cannot handle navigating a website yet, I highly recommend using etsy as a launch pad and using their community forums to ask other artists how they are handling website stuff.

4) Wholesale begets more wholesale. Go out and get that first wholesale account, and there is no better place than somewhere in your hometown. Find the perfect store for your work, one that carries handmade work (there is a huge difference between stores that carry imports or factory made work and one that carries American handmade), and pitch them. Retailers need you just as badly as you need them-- they can't stay open if they can't find cool stuff to sell, and they probably don't know you exist! Show them who you are.

5) Read those design blogs and research the stores they cover. I will often send out catalogs to stores I think should carry my work-- or I used to anyway, before I got totally sick of wholesaling. That brought in a few accounts and cost me hardly anything.

There is always the option of hiring a rep too, but if you are considering that you should already be well into the wholesale game. A rep takes 15%, so you need to be able to produce a lot in a short amount of time to make up for their take. Speaking of making a lot in a short amount of time, I'm off to the studio now!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

remain open

Suddenly, my mood has lifted and I am feeling hopeful again. Don't worry, it's temporary. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the very cool weather we've been having in the Bay Area the past few weeks has suddenly shifted back to spring, where it belongs! And by cool weather I mean in the high 50's and low 60's, which being the spoiled Californian I am proud to be means downright chilly. I had a good Thursday this week, mostly by accepting every thing I had to do, doing it with with focus and enjoyment, and not hoping for more:
--glazing --loading a kiln --packing orders for stores and individuals --uploading images to esty
--answering email
--trimming plates and bowls --popping bird and flower molds--

And then finally, in the last two hours of the day, playing with my porcelain and continuing to experiment with some ideas. And even then I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't making something for the Met, I was making something for myself and just enjoy the process, don't worry about the end result. And then I did.

I was answering questions for a small magazine yesterday and I thought I'd share with you one answer since it is so appropriate to the subject:

Where do you look for design inspiration?

Looking for inspiration never works for me, unfortunately. I have to remain open to inspiration wherever it may come to me, whether that is going to the contemporary art galleries, doing the dishes, or eating dinner with my friends and realizing I need a better salad bowl than the one I’m eating out of!

Notice I didn't say, "I schedule the perfect day for myself and sit at my wheel all day and ideas just flows from me". I decided I will never again set up the "perfect" day for "making new work" again. It's just such a set-up for disappointment, and as someone commented, the Muse does not take to being scheduled, she shows up when she damn well pleases. And that folks, is all I have to say about that!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

but enough about me

Andrew and I were cruising etsy the other evening looking for something he could wear, when we stumbled on this guy's etsy shop. We were both taken with this graphic image of this obviously disturbed ice cream cone.

I have a pretty dark sense of humor, and I love anthropomorphication . I could understand this ice cream cone immediately. Ice Cream wonders, "Why are these people eating me? I am pink and pretty with a crunchy bottom, and I apparently make people happy! Do they not realize that once they eat me I will be gone, and therefore no longer able to give them pleasure? Why must I be destroyed?"

As Ice Cream begins to melt, a gob of ice cream lands on his hand, and he instinctively licks himself. Hey, he tastes pretty good! And there's more of him up there! He grabs handful of himself and eats some more. He's more than pretty good, he's delicious! He stuffs his face, lost in the pleasure of gorging on ice cream when he is suddenly hit with an existential crisis: Yes, he is delicious, and if he continues to eat this way, he will be gone. But he can hardly stop himself, because he tastes so good! The realization that he will destroy himself is clear in his demented and crazed eyes, glassy and pink, swimming in sugar.

I love this t-shirt so much I immediately emailed the guy to ask if he would make the shirt in white, because I simply cannot wear that shade of blue. I'm still waiting...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

why we suffer

I had a terribly unfulfilled day at the studio today. Sara had the day off, and it was a Thursday, my favorite day of the week. I love Thursdays, because it holds all the promise of my next favorite days: Friday and Saturday. There is something very cool and swingy about a Thursday, and I try to not schedule anything on Thursdays so I can enjoy it to the max without interruption. So I was mentally rubbing my hands together, thinking, "A day to make new work and have some fun!" And my husband is out of town at the moment, so I could drink a gallon of coffee for breakfast without anyone nattering to me about my unhealthy level of caffeine intake, which makes me extra extra happy.

This has been my assignment for months: Let Sara take care of production orders so me can work on art. Say that in a robotic voice: Me make aaaaarrrrtttt. The system is in place to make that happen, and we've worked so hard to create a system that works. And yet. And yet...

Nothing is happening. I bounced, literally bounced, into the studio. I started to trim up a bunch of cake plates, (thankyouthankyou etsy for featuring me this week and pouring a ton of orders into my pay pal account) and then I thought, "Wait! I'm not gonna trim plates today! This is my day! I'm gonna make what I wanna make!" I immediately covered up my plates and wedged up some porcelain. I started throwing with no ideas in mind, and unfortunately, no ideas came. Throw throw. Crap. Crap. Suffer.

I called up Rae and complained. She snorted and said, "Join the club". She was not unsympathetic, but merely voicing the truth: to be an artist means you are going to suffer. Why? Because to create takes time, and we want it now. Pulling those ideas down out of the ether or out of the universe or wherever the hell they come from is so damn time-consuming. And we want-- no we expect the idea now.

When an artist is not yet in the flow of creation, it's like waiting in a long line, pushing and shoving your way to the front. And what we can't see is that the pushing and shoving is getting us closer to the front of the line; all we can see are the annoying people in front of us, not the distance we traveled.

And so. We suffer. I suffered. I thought about it for a while, and I thought about what I would say to a friend about my predicament, assuming this friend was not as annoying and deserving of punishment as I am. And I thought, "You should not be in the studio, you should be out in the world and looking at some real art". Then I took out the "real" part, because I would never say that to a friend and I would never even think it. Thank god it's almost Friday, my real favorite day, cause I'm taking the day off to go and look at some art.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

one day

Today was another typical day at the studio. My assistant, Sara, showed up promptly at 9 AM and we sat down for a short meditation session to set our intention for the day. Our intention is the same every day: Experience the joy of clay!

Sara then immediately opened the kilns to unload a glaze firing. It really makes my heart sing to watch her unload a kiln of perfectly fired pots. As she unloads each piece, I wrap it in beautifully colored tissue paper and tie it off with a silk ribbon blessed by the Dalai Lama. We then attach the order to it for afternoon shipping to the happy new owner!

The mailman usually stops by around this time to drop off checks from my various clients. I take them to the bank on my afternoon walk. Today there were so many it actually required two trips. Sigh. Running errands are probably my least favorite thing to do but necessary to keep the studio running!

Fortunately my intern Philip was here today to help relieve the tension I was feeling after two trips to the bank to make deposits. Philip is studying to be a ceramicist AND a massage therapist. He has to practice his massage technique a certain number of hours every week, so when he is finished with his studio duties every day he gives me a 60 minute massage. I must say he is getting quite good at the massage thing!

After I woke up from my massage-induced nap, Sara and I sat down to afternoon tea. Of course we drink only out of cups made by Christa Assad. It just makes tea taste better! While we drink tea and relax we chat about various ways she can improve her performance in the studio and increase overall efficiency. I like to push my employees to be the best workers they can be! When they slack off I make a sad face at them and that usually puts them back on track. They hate to disappoint me.

After tea we brainstormed ideas for my next collection. I will usually close my eyes and go into a deep meditative state. I then toss out words that inspire me, like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or “dendrobium” or “bacon”. Bacon is a word that always inspires me. Sara, who is very good with her hands, will interpret my words into a drawing of a ceramic piece. Today I dreamed up the entire collection in one sitting! Then Sara sat down at the wheel and threw samples of each piece for my approval. I usually have her make at least ten of each piece so I can pick out the very best one. Really, that is our slogan around here, "Only the best!" I have everybody repeat that phrase at least 100 times a day so they don't forget it.

Since Sara obviously had a long evening ahead of her I decided to let her have the studio to herself so she could concentrate. And it was cocktail hour back at home anyway! The husband likes to start drinking the second I walk through the door, and today was no exception. I hope you all had as great and April Fool's Day as I did!