Thursday, January 29, 2009

remarkably calm

January has been interesting. Last month, I hired someone to take my precious Sara's place since she is in grad school right now and does not work for me anymore. I was pretty excited about this person. Then, this person totally flaked, never showed up for the first day, did not call, did not respond to my email. I still think it's possible that this person may be dead. I can't think of any other reason why you would not show up to work with me.

Back in the old days (four years ago), January was a month to do absolutely nothing. Work in the studio a little bit, but mostly just relax and recharge. This is no longer the case. I'm shipping out work twice a week because of etsy sales, and also getting ready for the Philadelphia Buyer's Market, my one trade show of the year that starts February 13. And with the way I am, I can't really focus on Philly until Christmas is totally over. Which basically gives me 5 weeks to come up with the stuff I'm going to add to my collection, make the samples, photograph, re-design the wholesale website, design the catalog, and pack up the whole kaboodle and ship out. I love it. No really, I do. It stimulates every little node on my brain, and as long as I have a gigantic cup of coffee in the morning to rocket me out the door, I'm all good.

So when this person flaked, at first I was sad, then confused, and finally super pissed. I got down to work, by myself, and started thinking. I thought, "Well, maybe it's a sign I need to work alone again. Maybe the economy really is going to completely tank and I'll have no orders anyway. Yeah, I can do all this!" 100 cake stands later, I called up two other people I interviewed before hiring the other person and hired both of them.

And finally, my horoscope this week, which just made me laugh:

Leo July 23-August 22

Yes, it is a lot of hard work — but you knew that going into the current situation. So embrace this moment, appreciate what it feels like to be thoroughly engaged, and then, be grateful for the opportunity.

Friday, January 23, 2009

order for the day

I have been an avid public radio listener from high school on. I would listen every morning and every evening, and later all day long at my studio. I had to stop listening to NPR's news reports and daily shows after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It was deja vu all over again, and I just really could not take it anymore. I was totally pissed off and depressed by noon, a deadly combination for any human being, much less someone trying to make pretty things.

I started checking in on NPR again in the last year, mostly to follow election coverage. I've even been falling back into old habits, setting my clock to 91.7 so when I wake up, I'm listening to NPR. This morning I woke up in bed alone, my cat staring at me from the bathroom as she does almost every morning. My husband is out of town, and I was drowsily listening to a woman in Ohio talking about how she's been unemployed for months and she is probably going to lose her house. I felt very sad for her, and also sad for myself as I realized I'm exposing myself to the Doom and Gloom report and ruining my day before I even get out of bed.

While it's important to be informed, I think exposing oneself to a constant stream of bad news masking itself as information is toxic to the mind and the soul. I know many artists listen to NPR all day in their studios. Three words for you: Turn it off goddammit. That's actually four words. You are poisoning your brain and also convincing yourself that the end of the world is nigh, if only subconciously.

Being happy and optimistic these days is both difficult and neccessary for anybody paying attention to what is going on in the world. Being happy does not mean being placid or content. It just means acceptance. I think the greatest happiness comes from accepting reality. The reality is, we are going through these experiences that one could catergoize as difficult and a bit scary, because we don't know exactly where we are going to wind up.

I have faith that we will wind up in a better place, a place more grounded in reality. I believe that because I am working everyday to keep myself grounded in the present reality, and not allow myself to spin out in fear and anxiety. Some people think fear is the most logical reaction to have to our present conditions, and if you listen to the news, one could believe the whole country is running scared. I think we have to be stronger than that. Being scared is easy. When you're scared, you're helpless and you don't really have to do anything. Being optimistic and happy is the bravest thing that any of us can do, and the most difficult. Try it today.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

the magical vibration of art

There are some pieces of ceramic work of my own that I keep and don't ever sell. Sometimes, it's the first piece of a series and it contains a seed of an idea that I want to preserve for myself. Occasionally it's the end of a series and I want to add it to my personal archive so I have a physical reminder of the work I've made, and a path to show how far I've come. And every once in a while a piece is just special. It contains a magical vibration that launches it into a different sphere, and I can't quite bring myself to put a price tag on it.

I wish that I could make pieces like that all the time, the pieces that have the spark of magic. Trying to put my finger on exactly what that spark is, how to name it, is like trying to describe a smell. Trying to mindfully re-create it is impossible, because it's a gift. And the gift reinforces the dream of art; my dream is that when I create ceramic pieces I'm participating in a human narrative that hungers for inspiration in beauty and creativity. I struggle with this notion sometimes, because I am personally moved by art that really gets me thinking, that tells a story about the condition of being a person on this planet.

When I was younger than I am now, I really wanted to be a painter and tell these stories. They are all stored up inside me. But when it came to putting the brush to canvas, I usually choked. I painted for years and there are very few paintings I created that I felt any satisfaction with. If I continued to follow the painter path, maybe I would have gotten better, or maybe I would have become really bitter as I continued to struggle with getting what was inside me onto a canvas. Pottery, for me, is the easiest thing in the world. The second I learned how to throw on the wheel, I was done with painting, I never looked back. With pottery, I don't feel the need to tell stories, I just want to blow people's minds with gorgeous pieces. If I'm really good, maybe I can take them out of the moment they are in and put them in another place as they contemplate my work.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

making the mold

This weekend I jumped on my cruiser bicycle and pedaled over to Diana Fayt's San Francisco studio for a tutorial on making molds. Now, I have my man Hector at the factory who makes my molds and produces my bisqueware for wholesale, and he is my true ace in the hole when it comes to running my business. But the problem with producing at that level is the cost. When I decide on adding an item to my wholesale line, it's a big investment. Sometimes, that item may not end up selling so well, but I feel tethered to keep selling it because I dumped a bunch of dough into getting it produced. Or, I might have a great idea for an item, but if I feel it will only sell for a short time because it's trendy or seasonal, then I don't see the value in spending the money on getting production up and running on it. These two issues are things that make me feel a bit stale at times.

I've been considering this problem for a while, and the recession makes this issue even more front and center for me. If I don't want to get outflanked by this economy, I have to sharpen my reflexes and be quick to respond to what is happening. Big, cumbersome money investments into new designs and pieces feels like exactly the wrong thing to do at this moment, but sitting around and making the best of what I have seems slow and plodding. I've been obsessed for the past 3 or 4 months with the idea of making my own molds for items and slip casting them myself. That way I can test out new designs, see how they sell, and if they do great, then I can have Hector take over. If they don't, I'm not all tied down to it because the only thing I've invested is some time. Time is money, of course, but I'm finding that right now I have a little bit more of it because of the overall slowdown in business. And I'm convinced that having some mold making skills will push my work to a new and different level.

Diana knows how to make molds, so she very kindly invited me to her studio to give me a lesson. We spent all afternoon, and a bottle of wine, working on a mold for a new item that I'm in love with right now, but there is no way I can produce each one solely by hand. It makes my neck hurt just thinking about it. I found that mold making really appeals to me. You have to plan ahead, think about how it's all going to come together, and be precise. And the other great thing is that knowing I'm working on acquiring this new skill stimulates other ideas in my brain for items I can make. I used to make such labor-intensive work, which I pretty much gave up on because the effort became overwhelming. But now I can think more about making that one crazy, labor-intensive piece, and then just make my mold for it. I just can't wait to cast the first one!

Friday, January 02, 2009

starting fresh

Happy new year! I hope everyone is in an industrious mood as we ready ourselves for 2009. Me, I'm getting serious. I started by hosting a party for my pottery posse on the first day of the year, asking everyone to bring their old pots that needed to be smashed. The pots that are perfect except for the hairline cracks, the part that stuck to the kiln shelf, the bad design, the handle that fell off, the chips... basically, the pots that are too fucked-up to sell, or nobody wants to buy, but are still hanging around the studio, gathering dust and taking up space.

See, this is the thing about being a potter: there is not a heartier soul on the planet, and we are fantastically gifted. I mean, we make beautiful wares out of mud for christ sake. Like every gift, it has its good side and its bad side. The good side is, we make beautiful wares out of mud. The bad side is, we get stuck with the stinky fruits of our endeavors, but we think we can make a diamond out if that turd eventually. Remember those dead bird cake stands? They have been sitting on my shelf since spring, and those babies are big, heavy, and depressing to look at. I don't want to sell them, because they are too messed up, and I don't want to throw them out, because they represent so much effort. So I lug them around, drained of a tiny bit of energy every time they catch my eye.

We set up the pottery smashing station out of our dining room window. It was ideal because the garage is below our apartment, and there is enough distance between window and driveway to create an incredibly satisfying smashing sound:

or not:

The first pot I tossed, I must admit I was conflicted. It hurt. I felt sad, and not sure I was doing the right thing. It was like giving a beloved pet The Shot when they are limping around, in pain, and unable to eat anymore, but you still love them and want them to keep on living so you can love them some more. But I got over it as I tossed out more and more, and the weight of carrying around these pots was lifted. In that way, it was not like giving a pet The Shot, because when all the pots were in shards in the driveway, I was happy they were gone, and pleased with my cleared off shelves. If you have not gotten rid of those old pots, do it now. It was totally fantastic, appeals to the destructo in all of us, and the noise it makes is really cool.