Thursday, December 29, 2011

holiday overdose

You learn new things all the time, and recently I learned that Robitussin is a recreational drug for people who can't get their hands on real drugs.  I woke up two days before the Holiday Renegade Fair with an itch in my throat and an ache around my glands.  Uh-oh.  I dragged myself over to my neighborhood Vietnamese noodle shop and downed a bowl of Pho with lots of extra red chili to, you know, burn out the sickness.  Then, since I could still walk, I went to the studio and worked all day.  I repeated this routine on Friday.  When I  woke upon Saturday-- the first day of the show-- I had a terrible cough and hardly any voice. 

Saturday was so busy I didn't have a lot of time to think about how crappy I felt.  But by Sunday I had this dry, hacky cough that wouldn't stop.  So I swig down 3 or 4 doses of  Robitussin thinking I can drown the cough in suppressant.  Isn't that how it works?  You just coat the throat in medicine and feel better?  About 30 minutes later I stood up and had two thoughts that occurred one right after the other.  The first was, "Whoa, I am like, reeeeaaaally dizzzzzzy."  That thought came very slowly, and I swayed in my booth as I thought it.  The second thought was, "Whoa, I think I may puke right here, right now."  That thought came very slowly too, which alarmed me, because I have a fear of puking in public.  If I was going to puke, I needed to run immediately, and not slowly, to the nearest exit door, which was about 100 yards away.

I've never puked in public, but I still have the fear.  One time, I was really high and thought I puked in public when I actually didn't.  That was a long time ago, before I was a potter.

Oh, and there was a third thought:  "I think I drank too much Robitussin."  And then I started coughing so hard I almost did pass out and then puke. 

Overdosing on Robitussin is kind of like tripping, but without the interesting thoughts or pretty colors.  I was not registering the activity around me in real-time, so my responses were delayed, which was throwing off my timing with customers.  It was also kind of like being drunk, but without the good-timey feeling.  I couldn't make my face do what I wanted it to do, so my lips and eyes and eyebrows were not matching up in expression.  Think about that for a second.  It was also kind of like being on nitrous,  I couldn't really feel my body.  I was trying to make change for someone, and ripped a twenty dollar bill right in half as I was trying to unfold it and hand it to them.  We both stared at the bill, and then I tried to make it become whole again by holding the edges together.  I am magic.  It didn't work.  My stage presence drained slowly away along with my sales as I just sat in my booth, kind of melting off my seat.  My friend, who didn't know I was sick, brought me a frosty beer, which I just stared at as it slowly warmed up.  You know I'm about to die when I cannot drink a beer.

My brain came back online about 2 hours before the show closed, and I looked around and realized almost everything was gone from my shelves, there was a spilled bottle of Robitussin on the floor next to me, and a big pile of money in my cash box.  So it actually was a very merry christmas, I hope yours was just as good!

Friday, December 16, 2011


I thought you guys would like to see the backsplash tile project, which came out of the kiln this morning:

I bisqued it over a week ago, and before I bisqued it, it sat on my shelf for quite a while.  It's a big project, and sometimes when I'm not sure how things are going to turn out, I start dragging my feet on the completion end.  Before a project is done, it only exists in my mind, and it's always perfect.  Finishing it could mean the end of my fantasies of perfection.  Finally, the client kind of begged me to finish it before the holidays and not drag it out into the new year, so I finished it.  Here is some of it in the kiln yesterday:

 I'm happy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

one last rant for the year

I think I just passed the Christmas hump.  Yesterday, Nikki and I shipped out 30 boxes of work to customers, literally all over the world. I think that was the biggest shipment of stuff I've ever done in one day.  It was very satisfying, and I was home by 5:30.  I immediately headed for the fridge, and drank down a beer, realizing as I was gulping that I never got around to eating lunch.  I'm the type of girl who doesn't mind beer on an empty stomach, so I kept drinking.

Then, I sat down at my computer, and I see I've got my "weekly Yelp updates" in the inbox.  A long time ago, someone yelped me after visiting my studio, and yes, yelped is a word.  It's an adverb.  It was a very nice review, but it encouraged a few other yelpers to yelp me too.  Again, always nice reviews, but there is something about getting yelped that makes me slightly uncomfortable.  Generally, I don't know who these people are, and it makes me feel weird that I'm having what I think is an innocuous interaction with someone, while they are mentally evaluating me so they can go home and review me.  Yeah, I know they are reviewing my work, but make no mistake, my work is me, so I end up feeling strangely exposed and defenseless.

So, Yelp emails me once a week with updates and stuff, and I always delete it because I don't care about Yelp.  But last night, for reasons I wish I could take back, I click on it, and I realize my 5-star rating is now 4 1/2stars.  How did that happen?  Notice, I just said I don't care about Yelp, but now I'm all bothered about my star rating.  There are not many places in the world where I am publicly rated with 5 stars, and frankly, if I have 5 stars somewhere, I want to keep it that way.  So, half drunk and now curious-- bad combo, we all know this-- I go and check out my yelp reviews, and sure enough, some... person gave me a 3-star rating:

"Adorable stuff. Unique and really nice muted colors.  But really.  $70 for a single cupcake stand?  I could buy a year's worth of cupcakes for that price."
Oh, snark!  I am immediately engulfed in a mix of emotions, none of which resemble the happiness and contented feeling of accomplishment I was just basking in.  Apparently, it's okay to spend $70 on a year's worth of cupcakes, but not on a piece of handmade pottery which will last for many years.   I wish someone had sent me that memo when I decided to dedicate my career to making pottery.

Adding to my indignation is the fact my star rating was knocked down by someone who calls my work "stuff."  And doesn't know the difference between a cake stand and a cupcake stand, a hanging offense in my teeny-tiny bubble of a world.  Because I assure you, my cupcake stands are not $70.  My cake stands start at $70.  And if my cupcake stands were $70, they would be totally more rocking and  amazing than they already are, and worth every fucking penny.

Speaking of worth every fucking penny, I will be shilling my "stuff" at the Holiday Renegade this weekend.  I have no idea where my booth is because I've been to busy to open that email, but I will be there.  And if you come up to me and say, "You're worth every fucking penny" I will give you a 10% discount on cupcake stands.  And if you are too shy to say "fuck" you can say "damn" or "freaking" or even "pretty."

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

dispatch from holidaylandia

The holiday season is like entering a different country.  A country where your phone doesn't work because you're too busy to take calls and so are all of your friends, who are also buried under piles of orders.  The food is terrible, and the natives are anxious, if not downright hostile.  It's the most magical time of the year!

Aside from the terrible food-- I mean, whhhhhhy are there crappy, store-bought cookies EVERYwhere right now?-- I'm actually feeling pretty damn good.  I've got this holiday thing down. I've only lost one order so far and I found it again before the customer knew I lost it.  I had a plague of broken stuff,  all the same item, going to different people, broken in the exact same way.  Why why why?  I have no idea.  I just made it all again, packed it in big boxes, and moved on.  I crank my Duran Duran station and I feel ever so slightly pleased.

Then, I made an amazing discovery.  My red glaze has been cursed for a while now.  I started having this problem where it was coming out with nasty dark spots that looked like bruises.  So annoying.  Someone ordered a set of nesting lotus bowls in red and they came out so bad, with bruises all over, that I immediately hid them away from myself so I wouldn't have to look at them, and cancelled the order with the customer.  Then I pulled them out a couple of weeks ago and decided they weren't so bad, but there was some glaze crawling that needed to be fixed up so I ran them through the kiln again.  The kiln overfired by a bit, and the bowls came out SHINY PERFECT RED.  Bruises, gone.  I discovered the cure, which is the red needs to get just a teeny tiny bit hotter than a perfect cone 5.  I got so excited I added it as a color option to my new website.  Yes, I will charge you more because I'm still nervous, but look at this gorgeous baby:
And really, that's all I want for Christmas: glaze that behaves.

Friday, November 25, 2011

oh yeah, it's black friday

First thing this morning my sister, who is visiting from Los Angeles for the holiday, read the reports of squashings, pepper sprayings, and shootings at Wal-Marts and malls across the country as people shopped for black friday. I must say, she had an edge of glee to her voice as she read the various incidents aloud to me. Black friday mayhem is kind of like reading about weird, freak accidents that happen across the globe: you feel completely disconnected from the event as you try to imagine it, because something like this will never happen to you, or anyone you know.

I rarely shop in public, and certainly not in groups or crowds.  I'm a huge fan of online shopping and have no fear of ordering jeans, shoes, or even underwear online.  Anything that can protect me from milling around with the barbarian hordes at retail environments is what I refer to as salvation.

That brings us to the heart of this post, which is announcing that my long labored over redesigned website is finally up and open for business.  I love it and I hope you go check it out and love on it too.  It's all set up for free domestic shipping through November 30, and you can pretty much order whatever you want in whatever color or style you want.  And no one will try to snatch a cupcake stand out of your little paws, and then push you to the floor and trample you.  Click on over and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

cute attack

I've been making some really cute stuff lately.  It all started with this dessert show I'm in with my pottery gals in December.  A dessert themed ceramic show!  Is there any person who does not want to check that out?  So, I thought about it a bit, because there was no way I was going to get lazy on this one.   I wanted to make something fabulous, something over-the-top and unique.  I was initially drawn to the parfait cup:

But, that wasn't totally doing it for me.
I needed something more.
Something even cuter, and more impractical.

I was quickly led to the pudding cup:

How effin' cute is that?  I ask you.
But even that still needed some enhancement.
Like this:

And that:

Some go medieval.  I go Marie Antoinette.
The cuteness got out of control.  
It was like trying to shoot a duck with an AK-47.  
The bullets went everywhere, and the cuteness spread.  I made this:

and then this:

This red cup I'm actually calling the "flared skirt cup." 
And don't ask me for that cup, but with a bird on it.
That, I will not do.

By the way, if you live anywhere near the Bay Area, please, come to the dessert show.  And what I mean by that is please come to the opening party.  The Fourth and Clay Gallery does openings right, with food, booze, music, and... well, dessert too this time!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

holiday hurricane

The christmas season is kind of like the weather.  Say, a hurricane.  You know the hurricane is coming,  but until it actually arrives, you're just waiting under clear skies with your windows all boarded up and a stash of bottled water.  Last week I was cruising along at my normal speed.  The sky was sunny and the birds were singing.  Then suddenly, everything changed, and I can't seem to complete my daily list, and an 8-hour work day is way too short.  The hurricane is here, and there I am, snoozing in my backyard in my underwear with an almost empty beer bottle resting on my belly.

Me, I live in earthquake country.  I'm intellectually prepared for the Big One, but do I have a three-day supply of water and a first aid kit?  No. Though I think I should.  I also think I should prepare for the holidays, like get all stocked up on best-selling items, and make special little things at that magical price point.  But, I just don't.  I never do.  Why?  Because I crave pressure.  It makes me feel useful and important.  There I am, all busy, working away in my studio, making people stuff. When I'm under pressure, I get very focused, and life gets very simple: make more pottery or die.

I have tried to prepare in the past, but the bottom line is, I just can't believe the holidays are here again.  Wasn't I just here a couple of months ago?  Am I really expected to just repeat this act year after year, each year getting shorter and shorter?  And I've gone through spasms of preparation in the past, and it's always the same thing: I never know what I'm really going to need.  My customers are all fickle and I'm loathe to try and read their minds, or brainwash them into buying certain things.

Also, in the name of "preparation" I've wasted hours on special holiday projects.  Like, I have an obsession with lighting and candles, especially during the winter.  So I've made all kinds of things that work with candles.  Beautiful, labor intensive projects that never sell because they are limited edition and cost a mint, which does not hit that happy magical price point thing.  I have a collection of porcelain tea light holders with carvings that the light shines through, and I think out of the 15 I made, I sold maybe two.  I've learned, in all kinds of ways, that when you bust out  a bunch of stuff trying to be prepared, the stuff never sells, unless it's so cheap people can't help themselves from buying.

I did throw this one thing a couple of days ago.  I had this vision of a porcelain ceramic christmas tree that you would put over a candle.  And it would glow, and be all modern and cool and holiday-esque. So I made it.  Just one. And I will sell it for a ridiculous price.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

custom order

Many ceramic artists I know hate custom orders, won't even take them.  There is the hassle of making something that you have maybe not made before, meeting the customer's expectations on an item that they have not seen before, getting stuck with extra custom work if the first one you make doesn't come out, and the stress of all of the above.

I love taking custom work, because I get great ideas from customers and I don't mind letting clients do my thinking for me.  This year my custom work has included a cake topper, a set of plates shaped like butterfly wings, and extra large bird pitchers, which turned out so cute I will probably get a mold made and put them into production.

Last summer I agreed to create a 16"x 20" tile backsplash for a long-time client in their newly-renovated kitchen.  I felt some reluctance because I have made single tiles exactly 6 times, and making a cohesive panel of tiles sounded like a pain in the ass.  But I couldn't come up with a reason to say "no" other than I like my ass pain free, which is not really a good reason when it comes to making stuff.

Turns out the hardest part was just making the tiles. Making hand-cut tiles that are perfectly square and all the same size is freaking impossible.  After working over each tile one-by-one I got them to pretty much all fit in together:

I stored the tiles between sheets of drywall so they could hopefully learn to stay flat and get to the leather-hard stage.  Starting last Monday, I spent a couple of hours every morning while it was still nice and cool in the studio, working on the design.  It's been relentlessly warm and beautiful here in Oakland, and part of the trick is making sure the tiles don't dry too quickly.  By Friday I had this:

Then I applied some underglaze:

The great thing about custom work is that I always learn something new.  I've been making this style of relief-pattern work for years, but I learned a new way to do the flower petals that gives them much more depth and texture.  Now, the tiles are tucked away on a shelf where air can pass beneath and between the tiles, drying ever so slowly, with no warping-- I hope!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

just do

I have a lot of bad habits.  Some of them make my life more fun, others make my life more difficult. One I'm starting to notice is my habit to wake up in the morning, and while still laying in bed, start thinking about all the stuff I need to do that day.  And, thinking about the things I forgot to do yesterday.  Also, thinking about the things I want to do, but probably won't have time for.  This has the effect of making me tired all over again before I've even gotten out of bed. And like not doing anything.

Thinking like this can be particularly corrosive to the creative process, where I can think my way out of ideas before I've even tried them.  My friend Jolie, who gives me brilliant flashes of insight and likes to tell me what to do, has demonstrated the creative process to me this way: She puts one arm up above her head, palm open, then pulls her fist down to her heart, and then opens it again as she throws her arm out.  Jolie describes this mime act as an "open channel," the way that the most inspired art is created.  She's always encouraging me to work on instinct, rather than through my head, where the creative flow can get stopped up, then trapped. 

In the spirit of practicing less thinking and more creating, I'm trying a philosophy I named "just do."  And this is said in a calm, flowy way, not in the nike advertising way of "just do it!"  which is so damn pushy, and not very encouraging.  In fact, I think "just do it!" is designed to make you feel bad, because most people won't, but you can buy a pair of shoes, and then feel like you did.  

Anyway, "just do" is a way of reminding myself to stop thinking, and just go do what I'm meant to do.   Which is making things.  And answering the emails of people who want me to make more things for them specially. "Just do"  means getting out of bed when I wake up, so I can go to the studio to make the stuff I need to make  and want to make.  And not thinking about whether it will sell or if it's a stupid idea.  Also, to "just do" means minimizing distractions and goofing off, which I have become supremely awesome at.   I've mentioned lately how I think I've lost my focus, and the more I think about losing my focus, the more I find myself organizing my tools or scrubbing clay off the wall.  Anyway, I'm going to leave you with this quote I found on the walls at one of my watering holes, and get back to my work.

There is hope in honest error, none in the icy perfections of the mere stylist. --Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Thursday, September 29, 2011

social media

When I'm trying to meditate, or breathe my way through yoga, or focus on The Now, I often find myself drifting into a fantasy of being interviewed by Vanity Fair, Ira Glass, Teri Gross, or even Playboy. You know those quick little Q & A's that some magazines do? One of the questions they always ask people is what characteristic is most important to have, and what traits they most value in other people. If I were asked that question, my answer would be "integrity" and "bravery." Playboy bunnies almost always answer "honesty." How do I know that?  I just do.

Of course if I were being interviewed by those people-- and I'm still holding out that it could happen someday-- I would not be asked either of those questions, I would be asked the question I always get, which is, "What is your advice to an artist starting out?"  I've already written a bunch about that topic right here.

I'm always thinking about that question, and refining my past answers, and coming up with new responses. I have a new answer right now.  My new answer to the question of what I advise artists starting out-- or who are already out and on their way-- is to get very skilled at social media.  And when I say "social media" I am referring to the social media juggernaut: the facebook, blogging, and the twitter.  And Flikr, which I guess is social media, but I look at it more as online image storage. And I'm rooting for Google+, which I adopted right away because it is so much better than facebook.  But I'm not going to get into that right now.

I've been trying to write an informative and interesting post about this topic all week, and every post I've attempted totally sucks. There is so much information about social media out there already.  I know I have knowledge to share that is helpful for the artist, but my brain keeps overloading.

 Then, it occurred to me as I was writing a third sucky draft on this topic, that rather than try to figure out what I should write about social media, I should use social media as a way to let you tell me what you want to know, what's helpful for you.  So I set up a discussion tab on my facebook fan page, and then I was promptly informed by facebook that they are discontinuing the discussion tab soon because they think the best way to encourage discussion is by people leaving comments on your page.  That is just one reason why I get so sick of facebook, they are always trying to control how I use them.  So we'll keep it simple by starting the discussion right here in the comments forum.  Post any question, answer, comment, or thought about social media you have below.  Let's get the discussion going! 

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Yesterday as I was on my way to my local box manufacturer to pick up an order of shipping boxes, crawling along in freeway traffic trying to edge around an accident that turned the road into a parking lot, I fondly recalled the days where I hardly left the studio except to go home and sleep.  I would get to work as early as possible in the day to throw, trim, decorate, and glaze.  I didn't have a computer, employees, a production schedule, or frankly, many customers to distract me from my work.  Now, my studio work is only one aspect of what I have to do everyday.  And it's very easy for the day to turn into a total clusterfuck.

By the time I got through the accident,  took the wrong exit and spent another 20 minutes trying to  get back to where I needed to be, picked up the boxes, and drove back to the studio, 90 minutes had gone by.  And I was a simmering.  My mantra, in these moments, is, "This is your job, and it's better than working for the man, trying to look busy while you think up clever facebook posts, being told when you can take your lunch break or your vacation, and dying for Fridays when you can go get wasted and forget what you do for a living." Too bad that mantra doesn't do shit for making me feel better, or productive.

With the distractions I cope with every day it's a wonder I have a business at all. What's the lesson here? I have no effin' idea.  Actually, I do. It's all about choices.  I chose to go pick up boxes instead of having them delivered because it saved me 90 bucks in freight charges.  And I need that 90 bucks for my therapist who helps me deal with my resentments and anxiety around my business and artwork.  See?  It's all working together like a nice, tightly interlocked puzzle.  Now, where's that damn corner piece?

Monday, September 12, 2011

endless summer

Last week, I got into an accident on my bicycle, resulting in a neck injury that has kept me from doing any studio work.  For those of you that like accident details, I was doored, which in bicycling parlance means someone suddenly opened their car door in front of me.  One second I was pedaling along, the next second I was flying through the air, and preparing to make contact with the bumper from a stopped truck in front of me with my face.  It's amazing how when you are in an accident your brain is still processing and thinking, and what I was thinking was how much plastic surgery was going to cost to fix my about-to-be-smashed face.  Somehow, I got my feet under me and rolled onto my shoulder, which hurt, but saved the bones in my face.  Somewhere in between the flying and the sprawling on the pavement, I also tweaked my neck.

 I work very little during July and August, and the day of my accident was the same day I was "getting back to work."  I know I should be prepping myself for the holidays during the summer, but you know what?  Fuck the holidays.  I'm sick to death of being a slave to the season. Being off work for another week gave me plenty of time to consider how screwed I am right now.  I made all kinds of false promises to myself about what I would do this summer to tighten up my business, make new work, ramp up my marketing.  All I did was get so lazy that I can barely answer emails.  And, I gained weight  from the gallons of beer I drank in my backyard in between naps.  Honestly, I think I slept more in my backyard this summer than I did in my own bed. Here it is, almost mid-September and what do I have to show for it?  A half completed new website and 5 pounds.

This is the problem:  When the pressure is off, I'm off.  My brain gets all floaty and vague.  My goals get fuzzy.  I forget that I have a job. For me to get shit done, I need to be under the gun. By the way, I think that expression should be the new "Keep calm and carry on" and someone should make a poster of it right now.  And by "someone" I mean "someone else".  I need a challenge, and a deadline to keep things popping in my work.  And I'm ready!  I swear I'm ready to get going again, if only I could turn my head... 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I made $$$$'s making pottery, you can too!

If you've read this blog for a while, you all know I've mastered the art of the scathing email. The problem with the perfect scathing email is that the person who you are targeting is usually something of an innocent bystander, unaware that they have just set off one of your touchy little buttons, and sending them the scather you just composed will probably just confuse them and wonder why you are such an angry person.

That's why I have you guys. You understand my touchy little buttons. And you know why I am angry, and you think it's funny when I get mad, unlike some people, who just think I'm bitter and maybe even psychotic.

Dear Whitney,

I'm the owner of a new website called www.makeshitloadsofmoneyfrom*. I'm developing a series of products and services to help pottery hobbyists turn their passion for pottery into a money-making business. I was wondering if you would be kind enough to do an interview for me, answering questions about how you started and grew your business to what it is today. The benefits of working with us are that we will be producing a product you can use in your own business, and within the interview we will promote you and your accomplishments. Thank you!

(*This is not the actual name of the site. While some people get a charge out of publicly crapping on people's dreams, I like to crap on people's dreams behind their back.)

Well, I love being interviewed, because I love to talk about myself, so I click the link to check it out. The headline on the site screams, "Learn How to Discover the Stacks of $100 Bills Hidden in Your Pottery Wheel!" I honestly cannot think of a better title for my own how-to guide, and I'm ripping it off right now and replacing my current title, which is, "Never Give Up: A Potter's Guide to the 30% Profit Margin." I did not realize how dull that title is until just now.

The bullet points are many, one of which promised to show potters how to "simply" and "easily" make extra money by spending "blissful hours enjoying your pottery craft". There are more entreaties stating that starting and running a pottery business can fit into any lifestyle, despite any other work or family commitments one may have. That made me think about my pal Sara Paloma, who works at 2 in the morning so she can make pots without her two children asking her to make them a peanut butter sandwich. Has she read this? Does she know she's living the dream? The site actually says that it is possible to become fulfilled and happy while making a huge profit that could end all your financial worries. The words came in bold, just like that. Somehow, that just made it seem truer.

I'm wondering how someone got the idea of hawking the potter's life as a late night infomercial? Because I am jumping on that shit right away. With a little make-up, a push up bra, some clay-splattered low-rise jeans, and my cell phone camera, I think I can sell it even better than this site can. They ask me to close my eyes and "imagine" being called by "Martha Stewart for a feature," and "cash-loaded buyers flocking to buy [my] creations", selling my pieces for "thousands of dollars per piece" so I can "purchase a new car" or go on that "island holiday I've been fantasizing about!" Screw cars and island vacations, I'm talking about going out and being able to buy any kind of beer I want without even considering that gigantic utility bill I just got, because I can pay for both. I can, because I just sold the hell out of some cupcake stands and sugar bowls.

Thank you for your email and interest in my work. I'm currently not available for interviews due to my overwhelming obligations at work and home. Good luck with your project.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

perfection is torture

Lately I've been noticing how much I clench my jaw. I'm not sure that this is a new habit, or something I've always done, but every time I catch myself doing it, I unclench and try to loosen up my face. Now that I'm 40 I'm starting to worry about losing my youthful freshness and I don't want to be one of those people with a permanent scowl. While I'm working on my clenching, I'm also starting to change my attitude toward perfection. Somehow these two things go together in my mind, so stay with me.

Artists are tortured souls because we torture ourselves, in very specific ways that cut us the most deeply. I have many ways of torturing myself, but one of my favorite ways is by pushing myself to create "perfect" pieces. No cracks, no glaze crawls, no pinholes, no runs, no awkward lines, no bumps, no uneveness... you get the picture. It is a severe kind of torture, punishing and unsympathetic.

When I buy pottery, I'm not looking for "perfection" in the terms I've enumerated above, I'm looking for a piece I love. The things I may consider imperfections were it my own work is stuff that I may not even notice on other people's work. One of my favorite Diana Fayt pieces in my collection is a vase where some of the glaze popped off, creating a chipped looking surface around the bottom. Do I care? Not at all, in fact I love it. It does nothing to take away from the design, or the shape of the piece, which is perfect.

A few weeks ago I had an order for one of the dreaded bird cake stands, in all white. White is the most challenging for me because I have this big piece with a large surface area, and I want it to be smooth and perfect. The piece came out with what looked like a dirty smudge on the surface. I have no idea what it was. I took images of it, sent it to the customer who shrugged it off, took 20% off, sent it out. I heard from the customer later who said he and his wife inspected the piece for a while and could not figure out what the hell I was talking about. I was like, "I'm talking about that smudge, on the surface." It blew my mind that they could not see it.

I've started running a side experiment, where I'm marking what I would usually consider "seconds" at the usual price at my studio and shows and seeing if people bite. And they do. They pick up the piece, inspect it while I sit on my hand to prevent myself from from showing them how the piece is fucked up, and they buy it. That blows my mind too.

I'm starting to think that for me to learn anything, my head has to explode so the new information can get through my shattered skull to my brain. And when I figure something out, I tend to go to extremes with it, so if you get a piece from me with a big crack through it or a chipped foot, take solace in the fact that you are helping me get over being perfect.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

no resolution

I've been an undisciplined meditator for about 4 years now. Every other week or so, I meditate with group at Shambala Meditation Center in Berkeley, and there is always a reading on Buddhist practice that we discuss after the 45 minute meditation. The last reading from Pema Chodron's Living With Uncertainty was about resolution. She wrote that as humans, we are always reaching for resolution, but resolution does not exist. This immediately caused a stir among the over-achieving Bay Area types who typically attend this meditation session, all of us quite comfortable with the idea that hard work will bring results, then resolution, quickly followed by happiness. The writer went on to say we don't even deserve resolution, but something better than that, which is mindful awareness. When it comes to mindfulness, I'm still batting in the Little League. But the concept of no resolution is something I grasped immediately.

Pottery is all about no resolution, which is why many ceramic artists are driven slowly crazy by the medium. It's difficult to accept no resolution. For me, that means nothing I make is perfect, shit is always falling apart, the work is never done, and there is always something more to learn. I have intellectually understood this about pottery for quite a while now, but practicing acceptance without resistance is exercise that gets me all sweaty. I get there every once in a while. Meditation helps. So does an ice-cold cocktail. With apologies to Pema Chodron, I've reinterpreted some of her writings to address the potter-warrior:

A potter accepts that we can never know what will come out of the kiln. We can try to control the uncontrollable by following the glaze recipe exactly or firing the kiln to the same temperature each time, always hoping to get a perfect result. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It's also what makes us afraid of opening the kiln and wish we majored in computer science so we could be making money writing apps for smartphones instead of spending our days alone in a dusty studio. If we find ourselves in doubt that we're up to being a potter, we can contemplate this question: "Do I prefer to grow up and accept what comes out of the kiln, or do I choose to live and die in fear of what comes out of the kiln?"

Thursday, June 02, 2011

anxiety is futile

This weekend I will be selling my work at Sunset Magazine's headquarters in Menlo Park for their annual "Sunset Celebration Weekend". They are doing a special thing with Etsy and invited myself and a few other Etsy sellers to show their work, as well as giving us a free booth, which is quite generous. I wasn't too worked up or concerned about the show, I thought I would make a few special things and just bring what I have. Then, I looked at the Celebration website, watched the video they have up, and realized there will be thousands and thousands of people at this event. Tens of thousands.

So, I start to stress out. All of the sudden I'm concerned I won't have enough work, or the right kind of work. I've been playing around with a planter concept that I was going to introduce at the Clay and Glass Festival in Palo Alto in July, but I decide I have to bring it to Sunset, it's the perfect venue. I spend part of a day riding my bike out to Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco to buy the perfect plants for my little planters-- which haven't even been fired yet-- and wind up getting a flat tire out in the middle of nowhere and I have to walk my bike over a mile to get to a BART station. I also have been wanting to make these wall hangings-- again, the perfect Sunset customer thing-- and I spend three days trying to cut the pieces, get it to the right level of dryness to work on it, and keep missing my window or messing it up in some other way.

Meanwhile, I had plans to leave town for 5 days to go see my grandma, a two hour drive from the nearest airport and so far out that there is no nearby wifi connection or other computer access. Around the time that I was packing my bags and making a mental list of all the things I would have to accomplish before I left, and another list of all the things I would have to accomplish the second I got back, I realized I was completely insane.
  1. There was no way I was going to be able to bring all the new stuff I wanted to bring, and
  2. even if I did manage to pull it off, it wouldn't change anything anyway.
I would still want more: better work, the right kind of work, less of this, more of that, blah blah blah. There was no point to all of this round and round with myself in the studio, because I would never be satisfied anyway, so what was the point of all my anxiety? I went to my grandma's and (pretty much) forgot about it. When I got home, I even took Memorial Day off. And in the end, I only managed to make the few special things I planned in the first place, which are in the kiln right now. And if you see me at the Sunset thing this weekend, be sure to tell me that everything I managed to bring is beautiful, and buy something while you are at it!

Monday, May 23, 2011

what I really wanted to say

You have a message From randomblogger on Etsy.
Subject: Blog Review

Hi! I am a stay at home mom and I have a blog that I frequently update at called RandomBlog. My blog has over 800 followers and a Google page rank of 3. I do a feature on my blog called the “Etsy Shops I Love”. I just found your shop, and I was wondering if you would be interested in sending me one of your adorable products, and then I will post pictures and a review of it on my blog. I can also do a giveaway of your work! I'm sure you would get some new business from it!! Please let me know if you are interested and what information you would need from me.
Thank you!!!

I get these emails on a semi-regular basis. I don't know why, but they are mostly from women who have blogs dedicated to raising children in aesthetically pleasing environments. Somebody, tell me why this is. And don't tell me it's because these are former corporate sharks who gave it up to be a stay at home mom, and now they're broke and want free cupcake stands.

Mostly, I ignore these emails, because it seems to me a transparent trolling for free stuff. Bloggers who have opinions that actually matter-- and by that I mean bloggers who can write about someone and that someone will immediately be slammed by overwhelming business-- not only never ask for free product, they will usually not accept it if you offer it up. I know of one exception, and I would love to write about this person, but since he did not try to hit me up for free pottery but a good friend of mine, I have to hold back.

This last email I received was particularly annoying to me, which is no big deal since I get annoyed very easily. And all the time. Perhaps, I should do more yoga, or stop drinking so much coffee. If I have a minute I want to burn, I will take a quick peek at the blog just to see what I'm dealing with. This particular Randomblogger gathers followers by offering giveaways to people who become a follower and post a comment. I guess the majority of followers are people who want free stuff. Not my demographic. Most posts had zero comments. Not surprising, because the posts were in depth discourse about family trips, baby milestones, and free-ranging opinions regarding the pluses and minuses of stuff that I don't care about. Which is fine, bloggers are free to write about whatever they want, but don't use your blog with a google pageRank of 3-- which is not very good-- as a quid pro quo.

This email itched at me. I think it's unethical to ask for free stuff that you will then write a "review" on. It's intrinsically biased, and I would not be very happy at all if I discovered a blogger I liked to read for opinion and recommendations were going around asking for free product from the people they were giving glowing reviews to. I really wanted to nail this person with a scathing email, but then I realized I was losing my mind again over something stupid. But I had to say something. I managed to write back a non-scathing email that I saved for all future trollings:

Dear RandomBlogger,
Thank you for your email. As a policy, I never give away my artwork in exchange for a review, a blog write-up, or as a giveaway. Bloggers write about my work all the time because they want to spread the word to their readers and support what I do for a living. I have found that giving away my work does not generate meaningful business. Thank you for thinking of me and good luck with your blog.

I did not hear back, thanking me for my subtle slap in the face. And my blog has a pageRank of 4.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

be a bad worker

Lately, I've been getting fed up with the stress of being me. Being me means my mood is almost solely tied to how well my work is going. If my clients are happy, work is shipping on time, orders are fast and furious, kilns are firing the way they are supposed to fire, production is snappy, new work is in the pipeline, then happiness is mine. From that list, the convergence of all of them happening is about once a month for approximately 3 minutes. Basically, I have it all set up so satisfaction is almost impossible and I'm always wrestling with this demon who is telling me if I just work harder, try harder, maybe everything will finally come together in the way I think it should.

I've had to admit to myself that I am a workaholic. I resist that word because it seems like a word that would apply to somebody else doing different kind of work. But if I take some of the classic symptoms of alcoholism and apply them to work, it's hard to deny that I have a work problem. For example:
  • I minimize how much time I actually spend working, the way an alcoholic minimizes how much he drinks.
  • I don't count certain types of work as work, like listing stuff on etsy or cleaning my studio, the way an alcoholic may say that beer isn't really alcohol.
  • I hide work, like snapping my computer shut and pretend like I was in the middle of doing something else when my husband walks into the room, and we all know alcoholics hide booze.
  • And then the classic: does work make your home life unhappy? Yes, yes, and yes. My husband is an independent soul who doesn't allow me to dictate the mood at home, but there's no doubt I undermine his pleasure in life when I come home and whine about work, or worse, cry because the stress is getting to me.

It was suggested to me by my friend Jack, who is similarly driven-- actually, I am surrounded by these types, now that I think about it--is rather than work so hard at being good, apply myself to being bad. Be a slacker. Say "no" to clients. Be late to meetings. Blow off emails. Spend all day making something ridiculous instead of filling orders. And do it all without a single apology. I was laughing so hysterically when he was making these suggestions to me, tears were rolling out of my eyes. He was making a larger point about Americans working too hard in general, and how the culture of being "busy" and driven all the time is killing us and making life difficult to enjoy. "We all need to learn how to be bad workers." is how he summed up his theory.

It's an indication of how deeply ingrained the American hard work ethic is in me when these suggestions make me almost hysterical with laughter and seem about as realistic as walking on water or setting myself on fire. However, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that these measures could actually be therapeutic, and maybe being a bad worker would be like taking some vitamins. Maybe I don't have to do all of them at once, but I could try a few of them and see if the studio collapses or my head explodes. So if you are wondering where your order is or why I haven't responded to your email, you'll know I'm taking my medicine!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

this weekend, and next

Here in the Bay Area, we are spoiled. We have the best weather (at least in the East Bay), the best food, the best views, and frankly, some of the best ceramic artists. When you are spoiled, you forget how good you have it. You start thinking that the rare, beautiful things you have ready access to will always be there, and in fact, you often fail to notice how awesome these things are. That is the nature of life, taking for granted the things that come easy.

I still count myself one of the luckiest gals in the world that my favorite ceramic artists are also my best friends and live within 15 minutes of my own studio. And at this time of year, we get together, have show celebrating the moms of the world, and sell off our seconds at prices you will never see anywhere else. It's true that sometimes we smash our seconds, and sometimes we sell them. My home is decorated with "seconds" from my gals, and there is nothing lovelier, in the Bay Area, in stores, or in life.

The opening party for our Vase Show is May 6 (that's tomorrow!) at 6 pm over at the Fourth and Clay Studio + Gallery. There will be food, there will be booze, and there will be me, drinking the wine as fast as I can. You will be able to check out our vases and shop seconds. The show will continue on Saturday and Sunday from 11-5. For those of you who can't make it this weekend, I will be having a follow-up sale at my own studio next Saturday, the 14th, from 11-4. Be there!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

buy a vase, support japan

Whenever a big earthquake happens in the world, I feel a special connection to the event because of my own experience of a devastating earthquake. I came through the Loma Prieta earthquake totally unscathed--I'm nothing if not lucky-- but it was still an event that changed my life. It made me realize how fragile life is, and how my own life is so small. It was a very good lesson for a 19-year old, and I am always grateful for the experience.

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan was even more relevant to me because of my Japan connection. Some of you may remember that back in the summer of 2007 I went to Kanayama, Japan for a month to do a residency. It was, and remains, one of the highlights of my career. I was not overly concerned for the people who hosted me because they were far enough away from the epicenter, but I knew immediately that I must do something to help. My former hosts are doing something: they have pledged to make 15,000 cups to donate to the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami. Many people are homeless and have lost everything, and this is how they are helping people re-stock their cupboards. Cups are everything in Japan, daily tea drinking is part of the everyday culture, so this is not a small gesture.

By the way, 15,000 cups may seem like an impossible number, but the staff at Kanayama has been making 700 cups a day, and at last check they had completed 6,000 cups 12 days ago. This is between 5 people. They are probably done by now. I learned so much about production while I was working there.

I am sending my own donation of cups to Kanayama this week as a token gesture of support. I will also be sending straight cash from sales from a collection cherry blossom vases I made just for this effort. Cherry blossoms are a special symbol in Japanese culture. They also represent the relationship between the United States and Japan. The famous cherry blossom trees in Washington, DC were a gift from Japan in the early 20th century to symbolize the friendship between Japan and the United States. This is particularly poignant to me when I think about World War II, but I will save these thoughts for another day.

In case you have not figured it out yet, I want you to go buy one of my vases right now. 50% of the retail price will go to the Japan cause. They will only be available online until May 6, so don't sit around saying to yourself, "So pretty...!" because then they will be gone and you will lose your chance to get a gorgeous vase AND donate to people who need your money. And when I say "people" I mean myself, too. I need your money. So I can send it to Japan! The vases are moderately priced so they are affordable, not to mention beautiful, one-of-a-kind, and perfect for spring flowers.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

the cost

I just had to deal with a very clueless customer. He ordered a set of dinner plates from me that he clearly thought were too expensive because he wanted a discount (I didn't give him one,) then started hounding me within a week about when they would be done, and groused bitterly about how long he had to wait. This customer, by the way, will never be allowed to order anything from me again, I keep a blacklist right next to my bed and his name is on it. I made an attempt to explain the process of making a set of anything ceramic, why it costs what it does, and why it takes longer than 5 days, but I don't think I got through to him. In fact, this person seemed to think I was taking his money and putting him on the back burner just to make him wait even longer. Which, after that conversation, I did.

It must be said that this customer type is very rare for me, most of my people are incredibly patient and tolerant of delays. Recently, I was trying to send out a bird creamer/sugar set to a customer. It's almost always small stuff that ties me up in knots. First, the creamer comes out and the yellow glaze on the bird ran over onto the robin egg blue of the creamer itself. The yellow glaze is very runny, and you have to glaze it in a very particular way to mitigate the running issue. Sold that one as a second, contacted the customer that the order would be late, and went for round two.

This time, the bird comes out perfect, but there is a big pinhole on the side of the piece. At this point, it's been 14 days since the order was placed. I fill in the pinhole with a mix of clay and glaze-- a trick I learned from Joanna Mendicino-- and pop it into my baby kiln which can do a firing cycle in 12 hours from pressing the button to pulling out the pieces. The creamer comes out great-- no more pinhole-- but I put the handle up against the side of the kiln like a total rookie, so now I have some kiln brick attached to the handle. I stomp around in a circle of fury for 10 seconds, then grind the kiln brick off, touch it up with some more glaze, back into the baby kiln. Next day, a perfect piece. Final count for this one $44 creamer: 16 days, 2 separate pieces, 5 firings, including the bisque firing.

And for those of you wondering, this customer was totally cool about it and thanked me for my quality control. You are welcome! And the plates? Out of the seven I made, the four I actually needed came out perfect, shipped off to the persnickety customer, for which I received a half-hearted "thank you." You're welcome... I think.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

they tell me it's spring

I've been living in California for 23 years, and drought conditions are pretty much the default setting for life here. Which, frankly, is one of the reasons I live in California. I like sun-- I have the skin damage to prove it-- I like picnics in January, I like having a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation and not worrying about getting wet or cold. However, it's been raining pretty much constantly for over a month, which sent me into a mildly depressive state that plays itself out in bitchiness and insomnia. How my husband keeps himself from hitting me over the head with a shovel and then quietly burying me in the backyard is a question for the ages.

Then, I finally hired someone to replace Ruth at the studio, which gave me a spark of hope that maybe I could start getting things done in a timely way again. This someone lasted exactly two weeks before quitting. The strange thing was, I felt this incredible sense of relief. As much as I hate running around my studio like a crazy person pumping out production stuff, I relish being alone all day. It is my preferred mode of being in general. Rather than getting all caught up in hiring the next person on my list-- over 15 people were interviewed for this job-- I called up a few people and asked if they would like to come in on an ad-hoc basis and just lend a hand when I start getting overwhelmed, or better yet, right before I start getting overwhelmed. This seems to be totally working out for the moment because these people are super excited to come in, work with me, and earn some extra money, so shit gets done. The two weeks I spent training the other person was incredibly draining-- it's clear to me now I didn't hire the right person to begin with-- and I just can't face starting that all over again right now.

So, I'm feeling perkier now. The hardest thing about depression is how useless everything feels. I've never been so depressed that I can't get out of bed, what's the point when you are just going to get back in at the end of the day kind of depression. My depression manifests itself in discontent with my work, the feeling that making pottery is the most useless thing in the world to pursue. You're just making and making, and for what? Where does it lead, where does it take you? Okay, so it's beautiful-- so what? It's not like you are saving lives. Though, sometimes, even saving lives feels especially useless. And then, I have an (almost) perfect firing, the sun comes out, and I think I'm ready to fight for another day of making pottery.

Friday, March 18, 2011

etsy lazy

I've written in the past about my struggles to keep track of my money like a responsible business owner. Like many artists and freelancers, I've been guilty of "intuitive banking"-- as long as the bank balance seems about right, everything is fine. I've mastered keeping track of my expenditures and incoming money, but my piece of shit accounting program (First Edge-- do NOT buy) is so sprawling and non-user friendly that being able to analyze this information in a useful way has been eluding me. I finally jettisoned it for Outright, an online accounting program that is basic and simple, perfect for a business like mine. It pulls information from my PayPal account, which is where most of my sales flow through, as well as my business credit card and bank account. When I sign in, it gives me a visual graph to show me exactly how much money I'm making, and how much I'm spending. Which has been very. Very. Disturbing.

All last week I was obsessed with Outright, continually signing in and going over my numbers again and again, trying to figure out what is up. How is it possible I made almost twice as much money in 2009 than I did the next year? And now 2011 is starting to look remarkably identical to 2010. I've sensed with my "intuitive banking" nose that I'm not making as much money, since my savings account has not been growing, which I attributed to the trip to Belgium and a king sized bed purchase. But no, that's not it.

The problem is something I'm calling "Etsy Lazy". Back in 2008-2009 I was still working the wholesale game, pushing my own website, doing some shows, open studios, anything to sell work. And then Etsy came along, giving me a whole new revenue stream. For me, the best thing about Etsy is how reliable it is. So reliable I started treating it like a monogamous relationship, only going out with Etsy and forgetting about other selling venues. I've stopped doing the wholesale shows, I didn't even bother with a holiday Open Studio last year, and my own website is the last thing on my list. I basically live on Etsy, and I've gotten lazy. Ver-y lazy.

I got depressed, thinking my business was dead in the water and I was going to have to become a slave to wholesale again. That lasted about a day. Then, I realized I can come up with a new plan for myself, one that makes me happy and works for me. That will require some thinking, and I'm not sure what to do yet, but I want to see those little green columns growing and the red ones shrinking.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

creating your own PR department

Not too long ago, I had a public relations meeting. It was with myself, and we drank a cup of coffee and determined that since we can't afford a PR department, it was time to get serious about doing it ourselves. Publicity is one of those things where the more you have, the more you get. The first time I received some good publicity was back in 2004, and since then I've had a steady stream of press attention. But it's always pretty random and I have to wait for it. I never know where it's coming from or when I'll get more. In this, I'm kind of like a horny high schooler with no boyfriend. The goal is to be more like a popular cheerleader type with the football team following me around.

I've seriously considered hiring a publicist for my business. I even went as far as talking to a local public relations firm that specializes in working with small, art-based businesses like mine. They named a fee so high I actually considered paying it, I thought the sum alone would have to make it worth it. The problem is, no matter how much you pay a publicist, there is no guarantee that you will get the publicity you want. We've all heard "there's no such thing as bad publicity." That's bullshit, but what the artist has to think about is worthless publicity, publicity that does not generate interest or sales, especially when you paid for it!

I'm no marketing genius, but I'm sharing the list of things that my PR department needs to work on, maybe this stuff you need to work on too:
  • Making an effective press packet: I've never had a press packet, but I've been thinking I need one since about 2002. It's a handy tool to convince editors and writers you have your shit together and ready when press comes knocking. Whether you have an actual physical press packet or a digital one, a press packet should contain:
  1. Images of your current work. Rather than have a bunch of images of everything, it should be only your best images of your best work, and be representative of your overall body of work.
  2. A clearly labeled list of the images, along with material, dimensions, price.
  3. Artist statement. Every artist needs one of these.
  4. Recent press clips, if any, including press releases.
  5. Your artist resume. I thought I didn't need a resume because I just work for myself, but a resume explains your history of accomplishments and career trajectory.
  6. A postcard and business card with ALL of your contact information.
  • Milking the press contacts: Have you ever had a bit of press before? That's your first press contact, and it never hurts to send that person an email with images of new work. I have never once sent an email to the people who have written about me, asking them for more coverage. That's ridiculous. It's even more ridiculous when I consider that I almost spent 9 months studio rent to have someone do it for me. Bringing another high school analogy back, it's like waiting around for the hot guy to ask me to prom when I can just invite him to the Sadie Hawkins dance.
  • Brand identity: The internet is choked with people who promise to help you with brand identity. The funny thing is their websites look awful, their exhortations are uninspired, and they all want money. I like this site and this site for free help, though there are paid options too. My own thoughts about brand identity are that you need to spend some time and/or money on business cards, post cards, and website so they look professional and like they are all part of the same family. Going deeper, your brand identity is also your story about who you are and why you make art. Why do you need a brand identity? Because when people buy your art, they are also buying a piece of you. Let them know who you are so that piece is more valuable.
  • Better newsletters: It took me about over a year to get into the swing of writing my blog and figuring out my "message". I still have not figured out how to make a really great newsletter, though I am making progress with my new email service which has made it super easy to make it look pretty.
Having your own personal PR department, headed and run by only yourself is the reality of most artists. Take yourself seriously enough to do some work on PR, and let me know what you've done lately or what else should be added to this list!