Friday, December 17, 2010

renegade craft fair- this weekend!

Have I mentioned I will be at the Renegade Holiday Craft Fair this weekend? In case you haven't heard, I will be at the Renegade Holiday Craft Fair this weekend. I think that's tomorrow. I know there's supposed to be a huge rain storm moving into to Northern California today, but you don't melt in the rain, right? And the show is moving from the dreaded (by me) Ft Mason to the Concourse Exhibition Center near downtown San Francisco. For those of you that drove in circles for hours last year searching in vain for parking, the parking situation will be better, and it's a 6 block walk from the Civic Center BART station. Bring an umbrella-- and cash! This is the only holiday show I do because it is really fun, the art and craft there is superb, and... it's really fun! Be there!

Here is a sneak peek of some items I will have on hand:

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

simple sell

Last week, I visited a local tech company to sell my stuff at their private holiday fair which takes place during the week at their campus. I won't name this company but it's probably the most famous tech company in the world. I know better than to do stuff like this but I was beguiled by the chance to check out this company up close and also to have a captured, employed audience. So I pack up some bins and haul them into the heart of Silicon Valley.

We've all heard tale of these fabled tech companies with their ping-pong tables, their arcade video games, their on-site massage therapists, their sprawling hang-out areas with comfy couches and bean bags, their bicycles and skateboards to get from place to place, their workers dressed in t-shirts, flip-flops, and jeans. Okay, it's all true. I was particularly impressed with the open cafe that had every form of caffeine you could possibly want, for free. Also, the bathroom, which had fancy Japanese-style toilets-- which I have a fetish for--and a pile of tampons. An employer who supplies its female workforce with tampons... interesting.

So, I'm all jazzed up, ready to sell. My table is adorable, and the other vendors are coming over and feeling up my stuff. The employees start streaming in, and... and... and... I get totally ignored. I stand there, look expectant and friendly-- not my natural look, it's an effort-- and people are passing me by. They are, in fact, going straight to the chocolate guy who is giving away free samples. I gradually deflate, get sad, then angry, followed by bitterness. I give up trying to look friendly. I sell a couple of things to other vendors, and finally beat it out of there.

I've been thinking about why what should have been a golden selling opportunity was just a total bust. I realized that I gave no forethought to the event, I just went in with my usual shtick and totally failed. Unfortunately I see this happen all the time to other people at shows and other selling venues. Here are a few things to think about as you think about selling at events, especially during the crazy holiday season:
  • Think ahead of time about what environment you will be selling in: I was in a super high tech environment where people work 18 hour days, which is why this place serves up free food and caffeine all day, and provides beds disguised as couches. Many employees were carrying their open computers as they walked around, because they were literally working and shopping. These people are not going to stop working on a project for some leisurely shopping time, they have deadlines. They are the very essence of the distracted, short attention span audience. I'm used to selling to people who go out of their way to buy handmade items and are taking their time to browse and ask questions. These people didn't have time for that, and in that sense I was caught completely short.

  • Think about the audience the environment creates: These were techie people, not arty types. And they were totally puzzled about what I was offering up, they couldn't make sense of what I had. They didn't understand that my nesting bowls are separate bowls and not one sculpture; they couldn't see that my poppy plates are functional for serving food; and they really couldn't figure out what the fuck a cupcake stand was for, (though I do display it with a cupcake.) And they weren't interested in figuring it out, they just "clicked" on to the next vendor. I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do by offering lots of choices, but I just confused people. They were less confused by the chocolate, the artisan olive oil, the knitted scarves, and the baby onesies, and they went and bought that stuff, leaving me in the dust.

  • Then, spoon-feed: Do not make your audience think, that only gives them a chance to think of reasons why they don't need to buy what you have. This does not mean your product shouldn't be intelligent or you can only sell to stupid people. It means your customer needs to understand within about 2 seconds that they want what you have, and the transaction between wanting and having should be as easy and painless as possible. For example, price should always be front and center; people hate asking. The function of the item should be obvious, and if not obvious, demonstrated. Display should be orderly with like items together, people shouldn't have to hunt for that thing you're selling in a different color. I was asking my potential customers to engage with me, to really go through the work I had to offer and find something that they wanted, and that was asking way too much.

My own diagnosis: I was waiting for these people to come to me, when the only way to succeed with this crowd was to go to them, and hand over something that they could immediately hand over to someone else as a gift. I needed a very simple offering that was an immediately recognizable object, like a bowl or a vase. I needed a lot of these one or two items in a few different colors so these poor, overworked, distracted people wouldn't have to process a lot of visual information. And I needed a big sign that had the price, which should be around $38 for the kids who are still paying off student loans, and then $75 for the people who wanted to splash out a bit more. Then, I should have been giving away something, like M & M's or mini donuts, these people need sugar. And, an example of how this item would be packaged: a box, some tissue, a bow, a cute bag. I could have done gangbusters if I knew what I was getting into!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

head above water

My resolution to post on my blog at least once a week went straight out the window once the holiday season swept in. If the holiday season were a person, it would be dressed as a terrorist or maybe a special forces black ops dude, who kicked in the studio door while I was trying to take a nap, and started sweeping all the stuff I stockpiled into shipping boxes, all the while screaming that he needs more cupcake stands and bird vases now now now! Just take a look at my sold items for the past week if you want to get a sense of the situation. I thought I had a good stockpile of stuff going, but I was wrong, again. That pile was exhausted a week ago.

The weird thing is, though, I feel totally good. I've been working 10 hour days which is, like, against my religion of laziness, but I've been keeping this very tight schedule of exercise, no drinking alcohol-- during the week anyway-- taking my vitamins, going to bed early, and eating lots of salad and vegetables and stuff. No burrito eating for lunch. And I've been sleeping like a baby night after night which is really weird. And when I say sleeping like a baby I don't mean crapping my diaper and waking up crying every 2 hours. I mean I'm falling asleep immediately and waking up at 6 am.

Then I did this other crazy thing which was totally skip out on doing any shows except for Renegade the weekend before Christmas. I'm not even doing an Open Studio. Usually I'd be dashing here, dashing there, doing trunk shows, pop-up shops, holidays fairs, cleaning the studio for customers, blah blah blah. I just decided to skip this year. So, even though I'm totally busy, I'm also pretty relaxed. And I have my December weekends open for doing other things, which has not happened in years.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

moments of truth

There are two incidents that have been replaying in my head lately, seemingly unrelated, but since they keep popping up I've been looking at them more closely and trying to see the connection. They actually happened around the same time, which I didn't realize until I started writing this. One incident is kind of personal and familiar to any woman who has grown up in western civilization in the past 1,000 years. I've had body image issues since I was an adolescent, which was fortunately balanced out by the fact I had a really strong mother who told me I was beautiful every day of my life so my issues did not teeter beyond occasional starvation diets, rare splurges on stupid beauty products, and momentary flashes of self-loathing. But still, I carried the body issues into my adulthood. The gazing in the mirror wondering why my hips had to jut out at that angle, wishing my legs were just a bit longer, sucking in my stomach and wondering if I could walk around like that on the beach and look natural.

Suddenly, a couple of years ago, I got sick of not liking my body. Here I am, totally healthy with a strong physique that years of exercise and good diet brought me, and I can't even enjoy it. I have to focus in on something that's not perfect and make myself unhappy. Sound familiar? I decided right then and there to change my thinking. Every time I look at my body in the mirror now, I think, "Damn, you look good!" I give myself outrageous compliments, I flatter myself shamelessly. Doing that just makes me feel better and then I don't waste time thinking about how I might change my body. Sometimes I catch myself with the old critical eye on that little bulge hanging out above my yoga pants, and I stop myself. I try to love that bulge. I'm not going to say I get wildly ecstatic when I go bathing suit shopping, but at least I don't burst into tears in the dressing room anymore.

The other incident happened around 2006-2007 while I was in New York City helping a friend with his clothing collection during fashion week, which is a crazy, draining, whirlwind event. I went with very little sleep for a week, and after the show was over had a breakdown/crying jag out on the sidewalk. I was crying because business was not going so well for me, and there was something about helping my friend with his business that brought that front and center. Orders were slow and I was having to make ends meet by doing a lot more wholesale, and I hated it. It felt like my business was on the rocks and my success only marginal. This was the lack of sleep talking, but there were some grains of truth in there-- I was drifting. Like confronting my less-than-perfect but still beautiful body it was a moment of truth: get your shit together and work what you have or drown in unhappiness and self-pity.

How does this relate to the present? It's recognizing when the inner voice is trying to send a message. Sometimes it manifests in negative thoughts and patterns, but it's still the inner you exploring the terrain and trying to find the best path. If you read my last post, some of you may recognize the message coming through: the artist, bored with herself and her work...again. It happens to everyone, no matter what they do, I just happen to think it's particularly difficult for the artist because the boredom comes from within. Maybe I'm wrong about that but I always like to think I suffer more than anyone else. Because I do dammit, see those extra-large tears rolling down my face!? Anyway, Christmas is coming and my present to myself is getting my shit together and working what I have. I'll tell you my plan as soon as I have it in place!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

the freedom, the pleasure

I don't think I've mentioned lately that I've been having a nervous breakdown in the studio lately, dying of boredom. This is a perennial problem that I have to deal with, and I think I 'm only just now recognizing that it is going to continue to be a issue that comes up as long as I'm making pottery for a living. I keep thinking I have the problem beat with various fixes, but I keep falling back into the pit of despair, boredom, frustration. I was listening to a wonderful interview with Sophie Crumb, daughter of the great R. Crumb and Aline Kominsky , as she and her father promoted her new book of drawings. Though both of her parents are famous and professional artists, Sophie shrugged off the idea of having an art career, saying, "Trying to be professional takes you away from the freedom and pleasure of drawing." Boy, that hit me right in the heart as I thought about how my own career in art sometimes takes me away from the freedom and pleasure of making pottery. And I'm not the only one suffering with this problem.

Pulling the problem apart is easy, but the solution is hard. The current problem? Too much production pottery, making the same thing over and over. Now, it's true that I have Ruth helping me, and so I apply very little brain power to the actual production of the endless cupcake stands, bird vases, creamers, etc. that roll out of the studio on a weekly basis. But that stuff takes up a bunch of physical space in my studio, which in turn takes up a bunch of mental space in my head. Then there's no room for anything.

Then there is another looming issue: Ruth is leaving me. Didn't that just sound like she's breaking up with me? That's kind of how it feels. But Ruth is burned out too and needs to move on from being an assistant to doing her own thing. In this strange world we live in I'll probably end up being her assistant some day, but for now I need to find a new assistant... like now. Do I feel like looking for another assistant? Not at all. Ruth is an ideal assistant: easygoing, great at her job, and no habits that consistently get on my nerves. Easy on the eyes too, I don't know why I always end up with the cutest assistants. Even then, I'm finding that having another person in the studio when I'm there to be, well, constraining. Draining.

Part of me just wants to go kamikaze and not hire a new person, but I already know that's a short road to insanity and then making a desperate hire, who I will end up firing. Not an option. I know there is a creative solution out there for me, but my brain has shrunk so much lately from the boredom thing that I can't see it. Any ideas out there?

Monday, November 01, 2010

the baby question

I turned 40 last July. One of the many benefits of getting through your 30's is having a firmer grasp on knowing what you want out of your life and why you want it. Also, people are starting to get used to the way you are and not expecting you to make any big changes. For instance, if you've always been kind of a slacker with not much of a job, by the time you are 40, people will usually stop asking you when you are going to get a job.

Like all child-free people, I spent some of my 20's and most of my 30's explaining to people why my husband and I do not have a baby. To family, to friends, even to acquaintances and strangers I've justified, explained, and rationalized why I do not have a baby, do not want a baby, and am not planning on having a baby. Deciding to not have a baby is not seen as a legitimate choice in this culture. Or in any culture. This is especially true when you are happily married, educated, middle-class, and good with children. My husband, Andrew, and myself are all of the above. Kids love us. We love kids. We just don't want them living in our house.

The truth is, I've never wanted to have a child. I've always wanted to be an artist and live my life unburdened by having to raise another human being. I know that being an artist does not preclude having children, that there are people out there who do both. In fact, one of my closest friends and artist who I admire most has two children under the age of five, and she pulls off the parent/artist thing in a way that I find kind of magical. But that's not me, and that kind of balancing act is not something I want to try out and see if I could be good at it, too. The problem with becoming a parent is that even if you suck at it, you usually won't get fired, and if you don't like it, you can't really quit.

Our decision does not dim the hope of certain people. One time, I called a good friend with happy news. "Guess what?!" I said. "You're pregnant!" my friend said. Ummmm, no. I had been selected to go attend a workshop as a resident. "Ohhhh..." my friend said. We were both disappointed and slightly embarrassed for the other, her wishing I would get it together and get knocked up already, and me wishing she would get used to the fact that I am and will remain child-free.

I bring this subject up because it's a question everyone has to consider, whether or not to raise children. The cultural expectation that one should have a baby overrides many people's decision-making process around the question. I had another friend who didn't realize she did not want a baby until she married someone who didn't. It never occurred to her to question whether or not she wanted a child, she just thought she would because... well, because that's what you do. As I get older it's a question that comes up less and less, and it's a relief. There's very little support for people who don't want to have children, and the conversation around it is usually the same. Are you an artist with a baby or struggling with the baby question? I'm very interested in the journey people people go through when thinking about this decision. Post your thoughts here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

why hate monday?

I started hating Mondays around the time I was 5 and my rotten parents forced me into kindergarten. I didn't understand why my days suddenly went from doing pretty much what I liked-- hanging with my mom, catching lady bugs, making mud pies with my little sister, wandering around the fields that surrounded our house-- to being locked up in a room with 20 other noisy children, who I had no desire to socialize with but I had to, if I was going to survive. I was one of those children who sobbed inconsolably and refused to let go of my mother in front of the door the first day of kindergarten, and I think I may have done that in first grade too. I remember seeing other children march proudly into the class with no tears at all, and I knew I looked like a baby, and I didn't care one bit. This sucked and I wasn't going to pretend that it didn't.

School was always a trial for me, starting with that first day of kindergarten. And the reason why I didn't like school was pretty simple: I like doing my own thing, all the time. In public school you are only allowed to do your own thing in very brief, scheduled periods of time. And as soon as you are really into whatever you are doing, it's time to put it away and resume group lessons in Idaho history or what x equals when y=6. What I most liked to do while in school was read books, and I perfected the art of jamming an open book between my knees and the bottom of my desk, then putting my head in my hands while supposedly looking down at the open textbook on top of my desk, and using my long hair as cover for my eyes, which were not on my desk, but on the open book in my lap. Most of my teachers just thought my biggest problem was not paying attention, while my fourth grade teacher told my mother I "read too much."

So, Mondays had a taint for me my entire childhood, since Monday always represented getting back to the forced march of Learning, and hanging around a bunch of people I'd rather not spend any time with, often including my teachers. I think a lot of adults hate Mondays because it represents getting back to a job they don't like. But, I like my job, and I still hate Mondays. I've never questioned my right to hate Mondays until recently, when I started thinking about how Mondays represent about 14% of my life. And it seems like a waste to hate so much of life. So, I started breaking down what it is specifically that I hate about Mondays, and I realized it's just getting back into the swing of things after a nice, two day break.

One of the things I learned about the Netherlands while I was there is that Mondays are kind of like Sundays. Stores open later, like noon-ish, and life is slow in general. Here in the States, we are way too industrious and hard-working to take it easy on a Monday. In fact, we are obligated to work harder to make up for the fact that we just took two days off. I usually roll into a Monday with a big list of stuff that needs to get done in one hand and a can of kick-ass in the other. And, I must say, I usually don't get that much done, because I'm not really in the mood after two days of relaxation. And because I'm American, I get mad at myself for slacking, when really, I need to be more Dutch and not bother myself with hating Monday, but instead sleep in, wander into the studio at noon, and work on stuff at a slower pace. I'm trying out this new method today.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

love your customer, even when you don't

I worked a few jobs in high school that required constant interaction with the public, and I learned-- as did my supervisors-- that customer service was not my forte. People would get on my nerves with their foolish expectation that I should serve them quickly and politely. I would shake with indignation if a customer gave me attitude. Of course I was young and untrained, and I had little idea what the word "customer service" meant, only that it sounded like somebody else's job.

I thought being an artist and escaping into my studio every day was a great way to avoid having too many encounters with the general public. I have learned over the past 14 years that the best way to guarantee that you will be interacting with the public all the time is to be an artist who actually sells their work directly to people who want it.

The great thing about being totally wrong is that I've been given the opportunity to learn to be a person who can gracefully manage all kinds of encounters with clients and give great customer service. It's been a long learning curve, because inside I still have a piece of that teenager that gets very upset when people complain, or want something from me that I'm not prepared to give. I've alienated customers with snappy responses, defensiveness, and irritable behavior. I've learned that just makes me feel just as bad as the customer does, while not solving the problem I've been presented with.

If someone like me-- impatient, snappy, sarcastic, and easily irritated-- can learn how to give great customer service, well, anyone can. Here are some of my personal tips that may help you out:
  • People are going to ask you for unreasonable things: Discounts, supersized, faster turnaround, insane glaze colors put together on one piece, ridiculous ideas for pieces that I have no desire to make. Don't waste your time getting irritated with people when they ask you for something you usually don't deliver. The customer probably doesn't understand your business, don't expect them to. I approach "unreasonable" requests with a mind set that while I may not be able to give the customer exactly what they are asking for, I'm going to give them something, a counteroffer, if you will. And I always frame it in the most positive way possible-- I never use words like "can't", "never", "won't", "no", or "are you crazy, Do I look like a freakin' machine?!"
  • Don't take dissatisfied customers personally: No matter how good you are at what you do, some people are not going to be happy with what they receive from you. When I get customer complaints, I never get into a debate about how they feel or if they are right or wrong. I just apologize, replace the item if I can or refund their money, no questions asked. I don't get huffy about it, in fact I am relentlessly cheerful because I realize that most people do not want to complain, they are just so unhappy with my work that they have to. They already feel lousy. I don't need to feel lousy too, I need to make them feel better about buying from me.
  • Don't be afraid to educate: In the same vein, there are times when a customer is complaining because their expectations exceed what I can actually deliver. A lot of my customers are first-time handmade ceramic buyers, and are used to the "perfection" of factory-made items. If I think a customer is lacking important information about why their piece looks the way it does, I cheerfully and without judgment take the time to educate them about my process. 99% of the time the customer walks away happy, a tad smarter, and with a new appreciation for the "flaws" their piece has.
  • Never make excuses: There is nothing more boring than listening to people's excuses, especially when the listener is already annoyed with your fuck-up. Excuses are a roundabout way of asking for forgiveness and understanding, but get in the way of accomplishing the actual business at hand. Take responsibility for your lapse with an apology, and if necessary, a brief outline on the way you will avoid mistakes in the future. That's the way to earn forgiveness and respect from your clients.
  • Lying is childish, don't ever make stuff up so your customer won't be mad at you: In the pottery biz, there are a thousand things that can go wrong, some of it out of your control: kilns misfire, glazes turn crazy colors, stuff cracks. I also make mistakes: I make things the wrong color or size, I forget orders, I drop things, sometimes pieces just look like crap. It's my policy to always tell customers the truth about anything that is going on with their order, I never try to shift blame by lying about the cause. Infusing any relationship with dishonesty is a way of trying to escape responsibility, and it always bites you eventually. It's pottery, not a heart transplant. It's not worth my own integrity to lie about it.
  • Lack of gratitude ruins relationships: Always show gratitude to your customer by acknowledging their business and saying "thank you." Think that's obvious? It's not. Frankly, I'm disappointed by many independent sellers who don't take the time to acknowledge my order or thank me for my business. I never order from them again because it seems obvious to me that they don't really need my money. Every customer is precious, they are part of the framework that enables you to do what you want while many in the world do what they have to.
  • Final tip- if a customer is being difficult, never answer them until you've given yourself time to think: Even when you think you have a handle on how to deal with a pain-in-the-ass customer, a period of consideration on how to respond never hurts. I had a difficult customer last week who I responded to immediately. A few hours later I thought of a better way I could have handled her, but since I broke my own rule about not responding immediately, it was too late to go back.
Giving great customer service is not just about serving your client, it's about spreading the love, making people happy, making their lives better and easier so your life can be better and easier. Do you have any advice, questions, or problems around customer service? Post about it right here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

easier than running a pottery studio

My mother likes to send me emails reminding me that it's time for me to post when I've been slacking with my blog. I know I have been increasingly irregular with my posts, and it is not due to waning interest or a lack of commitment, so for those of you who like to read what I write: don't worry, I'm not thinking about giving it up. The irregularity is due to my own internal roadblocks. Lately I feel like unless the topic is GREAT and INSPIRING while also HILARIOUS it's not worth bothering with. It's the perfectionist's curse, and believe me, there is nothing more boring or more tiring than trying to be perfect, especially since some believe I'm already perfect.

I've still been getting back into the swing of things since returning from my trip to Belgium and the Netherlands. We also squeezed Italy in there, which was a mistake, but you never know that going to Italy is a mistake until you are already there. More on that some other time. Everyone says to me, "Oh my god, you must have so much work to catch up on!" Not really, actually. I had Ruth handling the studio and Lana handling the customer service, they both did their jobs the way I trained them to, and I came back to exactly no pending disasters. In fact, the worst fuck-up that came to light while I was away was one of my own doing, which was shipping two orders to the wrong customers, in fact, to each other. I would love to blame that on someone else. If anything, I've been wandering listlessly around the studio, looking for stuff to do.

While I was away, I was mostly able to let go of thoughts and worries about what was going on back at the studio. Every once in a while a thought would jab me and I'd break out into a sweat and start shaking, but as it turns out, that worry was for nothing. It's amazing how a bit of worry can keep you from enjoying the moment, like the moment of seeing a real Dutch windmill for the first time or drinking the best beer you've ever had for 2 stinkin' euro. But I'm not paying attention to that, I'm thinking about the one overseas order that came in right before I left and did Ruth remember to double-box it?

Which brings me to this conclusion: there is a big difference between "vacationing" and "traveling." I've been on vacation before, and when I do, I totally forget what I do for a living, what little issues have been biting me on the ass lately, and all the work-related tasks I assign myself while on vacation (yes, I do that, I don't know why.) Riding your bike around Belgium and the Netherlands, while highly enjoyable, is not a vacation. It's travel. Here is a checklist of items that will tell you when you are traveling as opposed to vacationing:

  • You ride your bicycle from a major international airport in a foreign country after a 15 hour plane ride. With no map.
  • You must consult with a country-wide map several times a day to know where you are (bought while realizing you have no idea where you are).
  • You have don't know what to expect from the waitstaff when you walk into the restaurant, or how to order food.
  • You don't have hotel reservations anywhere.
  • You find yourself in a shouting match with an Italian train conductor over the fact that you have hidden two bicycles in the bathroom.
  • An Italian train conductor calls the cops on you.
  • You are happy it's just sprinkling as opposed to downpouring on your 3o km ride through some woods.
  • The high point of your day is a meat and cheese sandwich in the midst of a cow and corn field.

Lest you think I'm whining, let me assure you that part of the reason my husband married me is because I don't whine, or complain, or grouse, when faced with the above situations. I'm totally game for all of it. Because no matter what, when you come right down to it, traveling is so much easier than running a pottery studio.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sandi Dihl 1953-2010

Right before my husband and I left for Belgium, I received word that my former boss and mentor, ceramic artist Sandi Dihl of Santa Cruz, California, died a few days before after being hospitalized for a week. She had been ill and diagnosed with a terminal disease, but I was unaware of this. It made me feel very sad that I was not able to say good-bye or offer her any comfort at the end of her life. I was even more troubled because I had been thinking of her and wanting to stop in for a visit, but did not have the chance to do so before she died.

I was still a beginner student when Sandi hired me as an assistant in 1994. I often think of the strange coincidence that brought me to her. I was a member of a gym where I struck up a random conversation with another member, who told me she was helping a friend with glazing her pottery. "Really? I would love to do something like that!" I said to this person, who was not as enamored with pottery as I was. She introduced me to Sandi, and I soon had a job that saw me through the next two years as I finished my education in Anthropology at UCSC.

Working for Sandi had as many rewards as it did challenges, and our relationship could be in sister-like harmony or fraught with tension, depending on the day. Sandi was generous, demanding, tempestuous, exacting, and often unpredictable in her moods. Her studio sometimes had the aura of a sorority house with afternoon glasses of wine and giggling stories about her past; other times the grim feel of a factory work floor as we churned out her trademark "wishkeepers" and she reproached herself--and me--with criticism and fault-finding when she found her work to be less than satisfactory.

Sandi was my first model of a self-supporting ceramic artist, and I soaked up every aspect of her achievements so I could create it for myself. Her shortfalls were just as important to my education, and I often joked that working for Sandi made me learn what not to do as much as what to do. The most lasting thing I learned from Sandi was the importance of generosity in the ceramics business: paying employees as well as you can afford, sharing techniques and tricks with others, and encouraging emerging artists as she did me. I would simply not be where I am today without her support and education.

There have been times over the past 5 years as I have been employing my own assistants that I have fully appreciated the crap Sandi had to deal with when she dealt with me. I was not always an easy employee; I bossed Sandi around, told her how she could do things better, and threw it right back at her when she was critical. I was young and a know-it-all. I often tried her patience and she would have jumped at the chance to paddle me on my bottom on many occasions, but she was very proud of my success and her contribution to it when I moved on to open my own studio.

Sandi's health deteriorated noticeably the last few times I saw her, and this picture below is how I remember her and how she looked when I worked for her: pretty, vital, smiling, and always with her dog, Arrow. Rest in peace, Sandi. I never thanked you enough for what you did for me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

the ups, the downs

I have been traveling for the past two weeks through Belgium and Holland with my husband, solely by bicycle. I wish I could post some images for you right now, but I'm using the computer at my hotel, and my brain simply cannot deal with details like transferring images from my camera to a strange computer. Many things have been going through my mind as we pedal pedal pedal, finally landing in Amsterdam a couple of days ago where we are taking a well-deserved break. I have a rash on my ass, which is very unattractive on anyone over the age of 3 months. Mostly, I've been thinking about all the things I want to write, and how difficult it can be to go on a vacation when really, all you want to do is stay in bed and read a book, and how traveling abroad is nothing but a series of ups and downs. The Downs are when you can't find a hotel for under 100 euro in a town you don't even want to be in (Rotterdam). The Ups are when you find your lost bike path in the middle of a field of cows after pedaling back and forth for 30 minutes, looking for the teeny-tiny numbered sign. The Ups are so up, the Downs so down. So, as much as you may want a vacation, a vacation is still life, just with a different set of problems and worries. That being said, I'm having the time of my life.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

august doldrums

I've been reminded that I have a blog and people like it when I post every once in a while. It's not that I don't have anything to say, there has just been a lot going on. I'm getting ready to leave for a 3 week trip to Europe in 7 days, and there's a lot of prep that has to happen because I'm leaving my helpers to manage things. Which makes me nervous. And testy. To deal with my testy nervousness I've been making martinis that are so strong they make my face numb. Martinis are really not a drink you should get into the habit of drinking. I wake up in the middle of the night apologizing to my liver and to the brain cells that I just killed, I feel so guilty when I drink like an alcoholic. And the most unfortunate thing of all is that it helps not at all for long-term relaxation.

Despite the hectic schedule, I feel like nothing is getting done, which is my default emotion for when I'm trying to do too much with too little time. People have been getting on my nerves, but I manage to maintain a superficially sunny exterior so no one gets hurt. I had my first negative feedback on etsy a few weeks ago. I already know there are unhappy customers out there, because I usually hear from them. This one, I heard nothing, just an ugly red "negative" post on my feedback page, with no commentary. I wrote the person immediately to ask them what was up, even though I was inclined to just ignore them since they already left negative feedback. But that would be poor customer service, and I never intentionally give poor customer service. Unless you are being such a bad customer that I have no choice. They wrote me back to tell me the creamer cracked-- or something, it was actually not totally clear what happened-- and it wouldn't hold liquid, so they were disappointed. I was so irritated by their total lack of recognition that they had other ways to deal with this--like maybe contact me so I could send them a new creamer--that it took me 4 days to respond. Taking that long to write a customer back broke my 24 hour rule, but every email I wrote was so hostile that I couldn't send it. I finally managed something bland and inoffensive:

I can't say for sure what happened with your piece unless I looked at it. Clearly, it seems you received a very rare defective item since all of my work is made to be useful and functional, not just something pretty to look at. I will replace the creamer, I hope that will resolve the issue. Let me know if this solution works for you and we will go from there.

Never heard back from the former customer, so fine, fuck off. Live with your cracked creamer.

Meanwhile, I've been working on this cool project for the Gamble House Garden in Palo Alto. The Gamble House is having a 25 year anniversary event and one of my good, long-term customers asked me to design an exclusive vase for them that would be sold as a fund-raising thing. Time to call in the Hector! All of these images are of the prototype vase I slaved over. The only unfortunate thing about this order is they want it glazed in the "bad boyfriend" glaze. I almost immediately started thinking about the brain cells that are serving me well today, but will die tomorrow as more rivers of vodka pour down my throat while I wait for kiln loads of vases covered in matte green glaze to cool down. I attempted to talk them into something else, but it's true that this vase will look best in the matte green glaze, so I had to concede. And then I immediately recruited Hector to do the glazing part too. I am merciless.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

blog paparazzi

I was at the Renegade Fair last weekend, selling my work. My college degree is in anthropology, so craft shows are prime ground for studying the culture and human behavior in action. I like to take notes. I am mostly interested, occasionally annoyed at what I observe. Nowadays what I see constantly are parents who bring young children to shows, and then spend the whole time telling their kids not to touch anything. I consider that child torture. I watched a woman scold her six year old daughter: "Look at how cute that is-- don't touch it! Isn't that cute-- don't touch it!" If I have time, I will walk up to these poor children and teach them how to pick up pottery. I know parents think they are doing me-- and by extension themselves-- a favor by not letting their children touch my stuff, but really, they are just totally annoying me and everyone else within earshot. Take some time to help your kid touch and pick up stuff, you'll both have a lot more fun.

Also on my list of annoyances are people who talk on the phone while idly wandering around my booth, like they're in their own kitchen or living room. Feel that gentle pushing on your side? That's me, nudging you out of my space. Most people are so caught up in their phone conversations they have no idea what I'm doing to them until they are out in the middle of the aisle, getting buffeted by the crowd. And then there are the people who have no intention of buying a thing from me but want to tell me what I should be making. When these types start talking to me I make my eyes go really wide and start making a "grrrrrrrrrrr" sound under my breath until they get scared and run away.

These annoyances pale in comparison to a new scourge that one my friends dubbed the "blog paparazzi". These are people--mostly bloggers, some just plain old rude people with cameras (rpwc)-- who think nothing of coming up to your booth and photographing anything they please without so much as a "hello" or bothering to ask permission. This is a trend that I've been noticing more and more the past couple of years, and this last weekend I was inundated with people and their cameras. I had a number of people who didn't even make eye contact with me as they snapped away. I finally busted someone after glaring at them for a good solid 30 seconds while they took images. How anyone could ignore my patented weaponized glare is beyond me. I think they may have been an alien made of Teflon. This person was so surprised and defensive that I could possibly have an issue with them taking images, and didn't understand why I would want them to ask for permission. It could have been an educational moment but since I was pissed, it was probably just more frightening.

Here's the deal, blog paparazzi and rpwc: My work is me, and before you take pictures of my babies, you ask first if it's okay. If you want a picture of my work, you can go to my website or image library and look at all the pictures you want, and even download if you want to. I spend a lot of time and money on having beautiful images of my work out there, and an unattractive snap of my work at a show with bad lighting posted on your blog does not get me excited. If you must take a picture, you can show some basic common courtesy and respect and ask for permission. Why? Because it pisses me off when you treat my work like a public commodity that anyone has a right to take a picture of. Just because people have started documenting every moment of their lives does not mean I want to be a part of your personal archive.

Despite the rpwc and blog paparazzi, it was a really good show and my customers were awesome. I stopped doing any show but Palo Alto because of the poor sales at most of them, but I'm happy to make an exception for Renegade, even if I have to deal with some clueless people. Don't be one of them!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

new vases

I made these vases for the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival, and I really love them. They are a take off on the "lichen" series, with their thin, uneven edges. I added the veining for some textural interest and to give them an organic edge.

It's weird where ideas come from. These vases started because I was throwing a bottle prototype for a company and the bottle needed to be very tall and skinny. I don't really throw tall and skinny so it was a bit of a challenge. I had to make a go at it three times to figure out how to throw a tall, skinny thing that didn't look all lumpy and crappy. Once I figured it out, I was in love with the process. It requires a bit more patience. I usually throw more open things that take me a few minutes to form, but to get the profile I wanted with these I couldn't push the clay around too much, too fast. It's slower, but you must remain engaged or you lose the straight lines. It's good for my brain to experience what it's like to be patient every once in a while. Such a rarity.

So when I got the perfect bottle I continued on with some vases. They came out to be about 6" for the smallest, and about 15" for the tallest. I sold most of them at Palo Alto but I do have the white one and the green one pictured here. The green one never made it to Palo Alto because I forgot to load it into the kiln, a fact I realized at about 3 AM. It's my "bad boyfriend" glaze, and I must say it's on very bad behavior here. A few bubbles, which I generally just have to accept, and it turned an ugly brown on the inside with a rash of bubbles all over. Oh well, who looks at the inside of a vase anyway? The white one is just lovely, it floats.

I'll put these babies up for sale on Etsy and on my website as soon as I figure out a good name for them. I've been calling them "Asparagus Vases" because of their shape, but that name is not holding. I have a little contest happening on my facebook page right now for naming rights. Put in your ideas and maybe you'll get a free one!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

dark thoughts

I've mentioned many times over the years how much I love being a part of the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival. It's a beautiful setting, good friends showing alongside me, and customers who are educated about art and buy work. When I first started showing at the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival, it was the late 90's and Palo Alto was flush with dot com cash. Palo Alto has always been a solid show but those days were very high rolling. I would always bring my best one-of-a-kind work, and it would sell. Things have been slowly shifting over the past 5 years, and I really started noticing two years ago how I was mostly selling my less expensive "standards" while my high priced, unique, one-of-a-kind work sat on the shelf. Not unexpected considering what was happening in the world, and the shifting demographic of Palo Alto itself, but for some reason I still always felt surprised. This year I planned for it, spending less time on really expensive stuff (over $400) and making some more mid-range work, in the $100-$250 range.

While it was still a very good show-- I still always sell more here than I ever have at any other show-- there were big, long periods of slowness, very unusual for Palo Alto. That left me with plenty of time to start having some very dark thoughts about the future. For the first time I started questioning my prices-- are they too high? I always put a lot of thought into how I price my work but I started picking things up and thinking "This is $175? That's an insane amount of money for this little thing!" I watched people time and time again ask about prices on stuff, nod soberly when I told them the cost, then walk away with nothing.

And there's more, of course. I think one of my biggest worries about the future of being a self-supporting artist is the changing nature in how young people-- my future customers-- are growing up and how they live now. There is little emphasis and education on art in schools while kids are driven to work their asses off on extra-curricular activities. Then, as they get older, these same kids incur huge debts in college and spend the first part of their adult lives paying off incredible loans. The contemplative life where the arts and culture can be appreciated simply does not figure into the American lifestyle as I think about what's coming in the future. I think art and culture is being set aside for the people who actually have the luxury of time, and that is the money rich. The rest of the population is expected to work harder, stay inside the home and watch television and play on the internet for entertainment, and shop Ikea if they want to express taste or style. In fact--and this is where it gets really dark--I think this whole emphasis on "design" in places like Target and Ikea is a cultural conspiracy to convince people that hand crafted art is irrelevant and out of reach. And with the way our society is changing with the lack of public funds, maybe it is becoming out of reach for everyone but money wealthy.

As I gloomed on these dark thoughts while remaining perky and friendly with people who walked into my booth, I felt like we are all on this ship sailing into a future nobody would recognize as desirable and nobody wants. But we are all so busy with the minutiae of our own lives we haven't looked up long enough to see that we are lost, our ship is falling apart, and we are about to go over some seriously steep waterfalls.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

this weekend

My favorite retail show of the year is this weekend, the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival. I love this show because the selling is good, the customers love ceramics, I get to hang out with my pottery posse, and it's in the summer. I'm usually kind of losing my mind before Palo Alto, but this year I'm pretty together. I actually started packing today, which I don't think has ever happened this far in advance. You can take a peek here at some of the work I'll be bringing. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

new nested bowls

I love to make items that nest inside each other. Nested pieces are a visual surprise and delightful to me, and I think most people agree. The first thing I ever made that nested were the lotus bowls, about 14 years ago. I was obsessed with the lotus flower at that time, and I was trying to figure out a way to emulate its shape in clay. At that time I was just starting to carve edges of bowls to make flower bowls, and I was very pleased with the concept of carving away to make new shapes. I tried to make a bowl with carved and layered petals on the inside, but the results were not pleasing. All of the sudden I realized I should make the bowls separately to get the layered effect I wanted, and I had my first set of nesting bowls. They were a set of four. I wish I knew where they are now, I probably sold them for $50.

I've made dozens of different kinds of nesting bowls and plates since then. My most recent thing was a set of nesting ranunculus bowls. Most people don't know what a ranunculus is, so I may need to change the name to "rose nesting bowls" so I can stop explaining to people what they are. Ranunculus are very rosy in a way, though a lot more interesting to my eye.

The bowls were inspired after a visit to Neicy Frey's painting studio in Spokane, Washington. Neicy paints big beautiful canvases of brightly colored and delicately rendered flowers, including the ranunculus. Did I mention that the ranunculus is one of my favorite flowers? When I got back to my own studio it hit me to make some ranunculus bowls that nest. It was so obvious, I couldn't believe I had not thought of it before.

The ranunculus bowls turned out to be one of the more difficult things I've made in a while. Making bowls nest is easy when the rims are open-- all you have to do is measure the height and width. But to make these bowls really work, I had to make them curve in, so I had to measure height and width on the inside and outside. It was very slow going. I made several sets of three and five, a set of seven and a set of eight. The set of eight is a little big and scary, and at this moment I still have no idea what color to glaze them.

I made sets on two different occasions to test out the measuring formula, and strangely enough the first round I made fit better than the second round. This confirms my theory yet again that the best work is always done when one is freshly inspired and not yet weighed down too much with the possibilities of what can go wrong or trying to avoid a problem that one had the last time.

These bowls are on sale here and here. And I will have all of them at the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival next weekend if you want to stop by and check them out!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

publicity, or my martha story

About 18 months ago, I was sitting at JFK waiting to get on a plane after another disappointing, soul-killing, wholesale show. My cell rang, and it was an editor from Martha Stewart Weddings. I actually said to her, "I've been waiting for your call, what took you so long?" She laughed. She wanted some of my cupcake stands, pronto, for the magazine. I don't think I have to tell you that landing a spot in Martha is the equivalent of winning the publicity lottery. I sent the cupcake stands, and waited for my free copy of the magazine that they usually send you when your item has been featured in a magazine. A couple of months go by. Finally I email the editor and ask what's up? She kindly informs me that I've been bumped to the website only. Another 6 months go by, and I get another call from her asking for a collection of cherry blossom stuff, in pink. I send it out, fingers crossed. This time I get my magazine, and I almost hyperventilate with excitement, my head filled with visions of the massive retail orders I'm about to receive. I look through the magazine, once, twice, three times. Where the hell am I? I finally find an image of my cherry blossom plate, about the size of a dime, on the fold in a mix of other product. Worse, it's layered on top of another plate, making it look like I've made that plate too. To date, I've only received inquiries about that plate underneath!

It is impossible to underestimate the importance of publicity for your business. The first time I received some major publicity was a feature article on the front page of the "Living" section of the San Francisco Chronicle. Since this was back when newspapers were still major sources of information (2004), it generated a lot of attention, which equals a lot of orders. I had a retail show soon thereafter and I literally had people lined up all day long, which was a first. Still hoping it's not a last. After the Chronicle interview, I was able to pay off my student loan. It was also a small launch pad that took me up a notch in recognition, and generated more publicity. If you look at my press page, press mentions have steadily followed after that interview.

People always ask me how I get press, and my honest answer is, "not much" which is totally unhelpful, I know. That Chronicle article was generated by a publicist the Clay and Glass Association of California hires to promote the Clay and Glass Festival, but every other press thing has been editors and writers finding me.

I'm considering hiring a publicist who specializes in working with artists. When I was first starting out and thinking about generating press, I read about how artists are supposed to put together a press packet, and send it out to editors. I've never done that. I'm not sure what the protocol is nowadays, with all of the distractions and information flowing. One thing I do know is editors at magazines, blogs, etc, need to find us, they want to find us, because fresh, interesting "product" is essential to keeping their readers attention. What have you done to get publicity? Or are you like me, just laying around and waiting for it to come to you? I'm still waiting for Martha to call again, I think third time has to be the charm.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

policing your policies

Over the years I’ve been forced to develop policies in my business. If you do not have policies in place, your customers will find that weak spot and exploit it, whether they mean to or not. I used to resist having policies, and frankly, I hate having policies. Like most artists, I like to have an open, fluid approach to issues and not be rigid with a policy or rule. And with everything else I do, I've had to learn the hard way that having policies is just part of having a sane business. For instance, I used to never take deposits on custom orders because I like to work for the money. Also, people can’t rush me when the piece isn’t paid for yet. I had to create a policy around deposits for big orders because of a person who ordered a huge dinnerware set and then never called me again after I sent her the first samples. I had to find out from her decorator that she did not like them and was done with the project. If she had $500 invested into the order she probably would have been more inclined to work with me on the design. That was very disappointing, but I couldn’t get mad at anyone but myself for not taking a deposit in the first place.

I thought I had myself pretty well covered on policies until I realized I didn't.
I had a customer who bought a piece from me at a show last Christmas season, a gift, and this person asked me if he could exchange it if the recipient didn’t like the piece. What kind of fool doesn’t like my pieces in the first place, I don’t know, but apparently the customer was worried that he may know one. I made a mistake right then and there by kind of shrugging and saying, “I don’t really do exchanges, but if you get back to me right away, we can probably work something out.” What I should have said is, “You have x amount of days to make an exchange on anything you're not happy with.” I've been in business for well over 10 years and I so rarely encounter people wanting to exchange pieces that I never made policy around it. And that’s the problem so many artists have, being ambiguous with policies because they hate having to lay down the law.

Months later, I get a message from this customer, though I don't realize at the time that it's this exact customer. He asks me to open my studio on the weekend because he wants to bring his girlfriend over to select something. Since I think I have a sale on the hook, I have no problem opening in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Turns out he didn't want to buy anything, he wants to exchange one of the pieces he bought at Christmas. It's possible I scared this customer a little bit with the steam that came out of my ears, but I did the exchange because I knew right off this whole thing was my fault for having a vague exchange policy. And now, the law has been laid down, and I have a hard and fast exchange policy.

Bottom line, don't be like me and let your mistakes dictate when you create your policies. Everyone who sells something should have a return and exchange policy that covers everything from breakage to lost shipping, a deposit policy, shipping policies, payment policies. In fact, just taking a look at the policies in etsy shops is a good place to start. Not only for yourself should you have policies in place, it also is assuring to the customer that they know what kind of experience they are going to have with you. It makes you look all professional and stuff.

As a side note, I know it makes some of you squirm when I talk about my annoying customers. Believe me when I say I have the best customers a girl could possibly want, except for about 1%. My most annoying customers usually teach me a lot, so they are not totally useless!

Monday, May 10, 2010

note to self: there are no perfect answers

I had an interesting conversation the other day with my friend and fellow ceramic artist, Laura Zindel. I like talking to Laura because she's ahead of me on the learning curve when it comes to being a full-time, professional artist, and is very grounded about the realities of making a living as a ceramic artist. She's talked me off the ledge a couple of times over the years, and I take what she says to heart because... she knows. With every challenge that comes up in my work, she's already been there, like 10 times.

We were discussing the challenges of dealing with your ceramic work as a "product" versus dealing with it as "art". I think the idea that art can only be made as one, unique item dogs many of us who depend on production in order to make a living. For myself, I divide my work into two categories: the high production stuff that is definitely a "product," and my more one-of-a-kind pieces which I see as my "art". The trap, as I see it, is getting sucked into that deep ravine of demand that comes when you make that great item that everyone wants (ahem, bird cake stands) and forgetting that you are an artist. Strangely, you can even start looking down on your own work, totally forgetting that even your "products" were born from art to begin with.

For some reason the artist Sergei Isupov has been on both of our minds lately. Me, because I wish I could translate my painting and abstract ideas onto clay the way that guy does, and Laura because she thinks even someone as brilliant and genius-like as Sergei is deals with the exact same crap we do when it comes to the challenges of making art in a market where demand is high for his work, even at the fine art end where he is. As we discussed this issue, Laura said that there are no perfect answers to meeting high demand with pottery, not with the product, and not with yourself. I think an artist is always going to have personal issues with creating work in a production setting, because of the loss of the artist's energy through the replication of each piece. But what are the choices when you want to make a living making your stuff? Sergei, at the other end of things, still has to wake up every day and come up with a new idea, and deal with people who want the same thing that has already sold.

What I'm really starting to understand as my career advances, there are no perfect answers to many of the issues I face as an artist. There is only making, or giving up. And everyone, no matter what they do with their life, faces this issue of doing meaningful work in a world that demands major output. So I want to know from you: how do you keep the art in production? How do you find meaning in repetition? Most of all, how do any of us stay sane when we must wrestle with these issues on a daily basis?

In this vein, I highly recommend Kari Radasch's article, "Eyes Wide Open" where she discusses some of these issues.

Monday, May 03, 2010

new routine

After my last post about my struggles to get work done while dealing with constant interruptions, I decided it was time to step back and take a look at what I could do to mitigate some of the problems. That's how I do it: lose mind, then fix problem. It would be nice if I could deal with my problems before I have a meltdown, but I usually don't notice a problem until the red lights are flashing, the alarm bells are going off, and people are running away, screaming and waving their arms. Some call it denial, I call it supreme focus on what's in front of me.

One of the things I had to look at was my routine. I love my little routine. In fact, I'm married to it. One of the reasons why I work for myself is because I like to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. Many years ago I developed a routine of getting my exercise in the morning and then starting work around noon. So civilized. But the problem with walking into the door at noon is that half the day is already gone, and I'm at my very best in the morning. By 2 pm, I feel the clock is really winding down. By 6 pm I really want to be home. So actually, it's ridiculous that I spend my best brain time at the gym. I've done it that way because then I get the exercise thing off my list for the day, and as the day goes on I get lazier and lazier about getting my heart rate up.

But, something had to give, and I decided that I could try to get into the studio first thing in the morning, before anyone else is there, and then go to the gym or yoga class later. So far, the routine is much better for me as far as getting more done with less in the way of interruptions, though I have skipped the gym a couple of times which makes me feel guilty. But, I think I can work with this new routine and perhaps someday, in the near future, be happy enough with it to marry this one, too.

The second thing I had to look at was my own self-indulgence and lack of discipline. Often, when I am working on something, I'll suddenly remember something else that I need to do and I will immediately drop the first thing and move onto the second thing. I can do this all day. I hate how it makes me feel, all scattered and nuts. So in the past couple of weeks when I find myself about to go pour molds when I'm in the middle of loading a kiln, I won't let myself do it. I wait for the logical break in whatever I'm doing, then go and do the other thing that is calling to me from across the studio. On busy days I've started making an hour by hour schedule for what I want to do that day so I'm less likely to start trimming bowls when I'm in the middle of wedging because I suddenly realize the bowls are getting too dry. I think it's called "organizing." I recommend that everyone give it a try!

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.