Tuesday, July 28, 2009

little guy wins

Remember last spring when I stumbled across a major rip-off of my sprout vase in a little gift store in San Luis Obispo, California? Well my man, Mr. Escobar --my hot shit lawyer--pursued the case on my behalf. After a few months of back and forth, Escobar informed me yesterday that the company pulled their copied version of my work from their website and product line. What I really loved is that they actually said in their letter to Escobar "we pulled your client's work from our product line," basically admitting that the work is mine, not theirs. Score one for the little guy! Or in my case, the hot potter chick! Yeah!

Though the case seemed clearly in my favor-- they did such an obvious rip-off of my work-- I have to admit, I'm surprised. I expected them to go to the wall to defend their copyright, and force me to drop out of the game before I drained my own resources. I'm always pushing my own friends to step up and defend their copyright and ideas. I once offered to picket Pottery Barn on behalf of one of my artist friends, who was blatantly copying some of her signature work, as others continue to do today. I'm a major stickler when it comes to fairness, and nothing enrages me more than watching people get walked on. Well that, and bad firings. And dirty floors. And, if I'm honest, silverware sliding off the plate and clattering onto the floor also totally pisses me off. But when I had this happen to me, in a larger venue than I'm used to dealing with I have to say that I wanted to ignore it. It seemed like a major hassle, expensive, and a battle I would not win anyway. I put it off for at least a month before an attack of insomnia made me realize that it may be all those things, but it still had to be done. If I think what this company did is wrong, then it's wrong for me to ignore it.

Now, this is the funny thing: during this whole event, and a similar episode that was happening around the same time, I heard over and over from certain people, "Being copied is the highest form of flattery," and "Coco Chanel said she would shed tears the day no one copied her," and "If you're being copied it means you are great and you should be happy." I shot back my own arguments against these comments and felt pretty secure in my stance. But... when Escobar said they were pulling out, the second or third thought that ran through my head was, "What, it's not selling well enough to pay for their lawyer? They don't think my Sprout vase is worth fighting for?" And with these thoughts came a feeling of insult and injury. I think I understand now what those people were saying, even though I still think it's crappy. Anyway, I'm over all that. I feel vindicated, and that it was worth the fight.

And just in case you were wondering how cute I looked on my birthday, I looked this cute:

Monday, July 27, 2009


Did I mention it's my birthday today? It's my birthday. I'm 39 now, and I started this new year with unloading a glaze kiln, which is sort of like an birthday un-present. Some good stuff, more small disasters. If you follow this blog, you may have noticed that the breaking point seems to be around the corner, or maybe you think I'm on the verge of losing it all the time. Well, to a certain extent, I am always on the edge because of my work. I think I have a pretty good sense of humor about it as a general principle, and I have my coping strategies, but I'm usually about one bad firing away from being locked up in jail or the nuthouse.

Last night, bad dreams. I dreamed I was at a show and my booth was filled with ugly work; pots I was trying to pack for clients were breaking in my hands; kilns were splitting open in the middle of firings. That's just a normal night for me. And I'm thinking: here I am, almost 40-- a certifiable adult, not a kid anymore--and I'm totally sick of the stress, of losing sleep because I can't get a cake stand to fire out, and of the dread I feel before I open the kiln. Is this a sane way to live?

I was having a discussion with an old friend who asked the question, "How did my life get so complicated?" My response is that it is always about the choices we make. I think part of being a fully realized adult is recognizing that our choices have consequences. And then figuring out a way to live with it, or change it, and having the courage to do either.

Last week one of the show managers for the wholesale show I do in Philadelphia called to see what was up with my application for next year-- am I in? I told her I was having serious thoughts about dropping wholesale, adding that I thought I was at a point in my career that I didn't see why I should be doing anything that I hated, and I really hate wholesale. My dilemma about whether or not to continue with wholesale has been my concern about a loss of income, but then I suddenly realized that dropping wholesale represents only a choice about the direction of my career, not the direction of my income. Quickly following that thought was that my choice about making pottery for a career is just that-- a choice. I'm free to make another one. No one is holding a gun to my head, except me. And it should surprise no one that my trigger finger is itchy.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

what to do when an order goes off the rails

I've been plagued by difficult orders lately. I think there are always annoying little things happening at a pottery studio at any given time-- glazes bubbling, plates warping, lids sticking, all for no discernible reason-- and for me it's been one thing after another with different orders since the start of this year.

Usually when I get a special order, I like to make two of whatever it is, so I have a back-up and there are not undue delays on getting the order out of the studio. Sometimes, both the original and the back-up will fail, in which case I go for round three, which will usually take care of the problem. In fact, I strongly believe in the power of three, and my ability to pull off an order in three rounds or less. But my ability to do this has been mightily challenged in these past months. Right now, I have four orders I can't seem to get out the door. I've failed after three rounds on all of these orders.

It's so frustrating, and kind of depressing too. I hate to see my hard work collect in the shard pile. But here are a few coping tips I've developed over the years and keep me from losing too much sleep when orders are going off the rails:
  • I communicate with the customer right away when there is going to be a delay. Nothing is more annoying for a customer than having to check in because their order isn't shipping, and then discovering from the artist there is a problem.  I do this to give myself a bit of breathing space and move up the ship date.
  • I'm always completely honest with the customer about what's happening. I explain clearly what is going on without being too wordy, I don't make excuses, and I apologize for the inconvenience. This goes a long way to soothe any impatient customers.
  • I don't worry that the customer is going to be mad at me. If they are mad that they can't get their pottery when they want it, that's a personal problem. They are my client, not my mommy or daddy. In other words, I keep it professional.
  • Failed pieces are part of being a potter. They just are. You, me, and everyone else out there crazy enough to make pottery are always going to have failures. I do my best to accept it and move on. Sometimes I have to throw a little tantrum first, and that's okay too.
I think the hardest thing is when a client comes across as unsympathetic to the problem, or seems to think you are not even working on their order, OR implies their order is the only thing you should be working on. Many people are completely ignorant about how a pottery studio is run, the workflow of making, bisquing, glazing, firing again, and the many challenges at every stage of the process. I try to educate people without getting defensive, and when I do start getting hyped up or extra stressed, my go-to mantra is, "It's just pottery". Because really, that's all it is, and if a client is going to give me a hard time about an order, they are crazy. And if I'm going to give myself a hard time, I've lost perspective. And when I need perspective, I pretend like I'm a friend of mine, and what my reaction would be to watch this friend beat themselves up over a failed piece of pottery. Would I get in there and say, "Yeah, you really fucked that one up. Why don't you work harder?" No, I would not. I would say to my friend, "You are amazing, and you will do beter next time." And that's what I say to myself, too. Okay, I'm lying, I don't. But I try!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

both ends

It's Thursday.  I'm in the finishing zone of a three-day intensive of bisque, glazing, firing. Three rounds of glaze loads as I get ready for the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival, my biggest retail show of the year. 

It's been a very dark place in my head the past three days.  I basically did it to myself; I've had so many regular orders to deal with that I kept putting off glazing and firing the more complicated and expensive pieces I make for Palo Alto in favor of quick kiln loads to get
my orders out the door.  In the end, everything is riding on good firings, no room for mistakes or re-fires because each kiln load is packed tighter than a Japanese subway, all space sold out.  Each night I go home, drink one beer, just one beer, eat dinner, and pop an ambien that I don't have a prescription for.  I read until I pass out, and the ambien makes sure that I don't wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks.  I fire during the night, and even during the best of times I usually wake up around 3 AM, sure that something is going wrong in the kiln or I forgot to do something.  Sometimes I can't go back to sleep until I pad down the street to my studio and check that everything is good.

I always think I can do more than I really can, or what is good for me.  When I plotted out this schedule, it seemed perfectly do-able.  Now, I feel like I've been run over by a clay truck.  And when I get tired, the voices from Radio K-FUKT start.  Man, those voices really know all my weak spots.  By the end of yesterday, I had decided to quit pottery and write a book.  I decided to stop wholesaling and only make work for people who can make it through my vetting process.   I wondered how long it would take a neighbor to call the police on me if I just started throwing pottery into a pile on the sidewalk in front of my studio door, just got rid of everything in my studio.   I thought about getting a job.  A job where results don't matter, and I'm not responsible for anything.  The DMV sounded good. I wondered what kind of price I could get for my work if I put out the word that I was quitting and not making anything ever again.  And then I wondered how long it would be before I forgot about the pain and got back on the wheel.