Wednesday, December 19, 2012

the way of the stressed-out potter

Sunday, I woke up at 4 am.  I would have liked to have gone right back to sleep since there was no reason in the world for me to be awake at 4 am, but no, that's not how it works around here. I had some thinking to do. I had an order cooling in the kiln at that very moment, an my highly tuned antennae were taking flight down the street to my studio and hovering over the kiln, trying to figure out a way to get in and see what was happening.

Why was I all stressed about an order? That's a good question. I generally don't get stressed about orders anymore. I get bothered, I get frustrated, I get disappointed, but not stressed out. I've gotten to this place where I've decided that no amount of money is worth my peace of mind, and that has released me from a lot of stress and tangentially, a lot of problem orders too. I don't know why it works that way, but it does. Orders still go wrong, all the time, but it doesn't keep me up at night anymore.

But... but. But. I took a last minute order from a design company in very late November for six place settings, three pieces each. Big plate, small plate, bowl. Twenty-eight pieces total.  Not a big deal... but they wanted it in 3 weeks-- by December 20-- for their client, and they wanted it in white. All white. The last time I took an order for an all-white dinnerware service set, I ended up grinding down miniature bubbles, giant freckles, and blue spots on almost every plate and re-firing everything. It came out okay, but I was not satisfied. The customer loved it, I didn't care that they loved it. I did not love it. I was mildly traumatized by this order.

But, I did learn something soon after that: my white glaze likes to be mildly under-fired. Firing it to a very cool cone 5 does it right, which is how I've managed my white glaze since, and it is very reliable now.

I won't go into the details of why I was waiting for it to cool down the day before it had to ship out with absolutely no wiggle room. Or why every large plate had to be absolutely perfect because there were no extras in there. Or why the kiln had fired a bit too hot, hotter than I like to fire the white glaze. It happened, and it was totally stressing me out.

So there I was, laying in bed, trying to get myself back to sleep at 4 am. My mind cleverly created a deck of flash cards, each card with an image of something horrible, like a rash of bubbles across the surface of a plate, a cracked edge, a warped foot. Every time I would drift off, one of the flash cards would pop up, and I would startle back awake, my heart racing.  I thought I was past this level of stress, but apparently, I still have some things to work on. I took on the challenge the order, and in the end, I won. The order was beautiful, and it shipped on time. But me, I feel a little bit fractured, a bit delicate around the edges. It's definitely the holidays.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

clearing the shelves

Skipping out on all of the holiday shows was one of the kindest things I've done for myself in a while. At the same time, I simply don't sell as much work. On the other hand, I don't have to make as much either, or spend money on things like show fees, show help, and $5 beers. So I'm almost wondering if in the end, I'm going to wind up clearing the same amount of money as I usually do. The law of diminishing returns, or something like that. My bank balance will tell me everything I need to know in a few more weeks. 

In the meantime, I'm doing every little thing I can to clear out my studio of every single piece of work. That means I'm having a major sale, and testing the limits of how many tweets and facebook postings people can handle. And now that I have your eyeballs, I'll let you know that time is running out to order. In fact, if you want something from me, the last day to order is Monday. And how can you resist me with these beautiful choices?

Poppy plate: 20% off

Split pod: marked down to $58

the cutest cupcake stand in the West is on sale

come home with me, beautiful
Do not even try to resist me.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Leo 1996-2012

Our cat, Leo, died earlier this week. Our lightfooted and athletic kitty started showing her age gradually, then all of the sudden with a round-the-clock sleep schedule, a stiff walk, and inability to jump on our laps without help. The last week she had to be helped to her food bowl, then her cat box, and then the vet came and put her to sleep. I don't like euphemisms, but I like the word "euthanize" even less. Andrew dug a deep hole in the garden, and we put her there.

It was one of the saddest days for my me and my husband. We received Leo from a friend when we were first living together in 1997. Leo was just a year old, mostly a kitten. She loved to be snuggled, and she was so hard to put down I would wrap her in a big scarf that I then tied to my upper body, and carry her around like a baby. That's weird, I know. Leo would lay there until she fell asleep, and then I would hang her on a door knob and she would continue to sleep there. She would come when called, very un-catlike in that way. When my husband and I would walk down to our local business district for dinner or errands, she would stalk us for four blocks until we got to a busy intersection, and she would wait there until we walked back. Sometimes that would be an hour or more.

Leo also followed me to the studio almost every day until the past couple of years when she lost interest in being outside all the time. I never worried about her knocking stuff over, she was so sensitive to her surroundings. She would post up on shelves, or next to glaze buckets, or on the floor next to her food dish, willing me with her penetrating stare to run home and get her more food. I always did because Leo was very hard to say "no" to. There was one time where she made a miscalculation and and didn't quite make it up to the next shelf she was jumping for. She swung, monkey-like, claws dug into the shelf she was trying to get up to, and knocked over a huge vase I had just worked on for 4 hours, shattering it. I grabbed her, and wanted to shake her, but how can you really punish a cat? I put her outside and slammed the door. She gave me about 15 minutes to recover and then started meowing to let her back in. Of course, I did.

I've been coping with overwhelming sadness all week. There is something particularly poignant and painful about losing a pet. You are supposed to look out for them, to take care of them, but there is a communication gap. You don't know what they really need or what they are thinking, you can only guess. Leo added so much to our lives, and now, there's just this absence where she once was. The last week she was alive was so hard, because I knew we were about to lose her, but she was already gone in so many ways. She could only lay there, and there was not a thing I could do to help her, except to let her go.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

holiday open studio

The kiln is firing away as I get ready for my annual Holiday Open Studio. I will have all of the usual goods: lotus bowls, flower bowls, poppy plates, vases, creamer and sugars, and lots of cake stands. So many cake stands. Also one-of-a-kinds, samples and experiments, and a few marked down seconds. If you are in the Bay Area, you can visit me, and then visit some of my colleagues with this self-guided open studio map. I hope to see you.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

choosing wellness

I'm sick right now. I started getting sick last week when I took the week off to go to Yosemite, and a couple of days into my trip, my throat started tingling. That is always my first warning sign, my illnesses always start in the throat. By the time I got home a few days later, I was in full-blown sickness mode. Sickness mode for me means I feel like crap, but I pretty much do what I do everyday without my normal infusions of coffee and alcohol. This is a completely different mode from my husband, who when he gets sick, collapses on the bed and doesn't get up until he feels better. He also likes to moan that he is dying, and makes me wait on him. He won't even get out of bed for a glass of water, I have to bring it to him.  The result of these two different modes is that I tend to have lingering coughs that can go on for days or weeks,  while Andrew is usually better within a week.

Even though on Sunday night I was feeling so sick I could not even get interested in dinner, on Monday I went to the studio to work. By 3 pm I was exhausted and totally congested, not to mention unsatisfied with the work I made. On Tuesday, I decided to try the bed thing. I have not lain in bed all day since I was a child.  It sounds fun as a concept, especially with a stack of library books and my iPad to keep me company, but in fact it was depressing. It was sunny and almost 80 degrees out, and I kept thinking how nice it would be to work on the garden. I watched movies, followed the election, and took medicine. I thought I could get some work done on the computer, but every time I tried to do something work-related, I fell asleep.

We have a friend staying with us right now, and he was encouraging me to stay in bed while throwing throat lozenges and decongestants at me from the safety of the bedroom door. I complained that not only was I sick, I was getting depressed from laying around all day. He said, "Maybe you could look at it as just choosing wellness, an accept it for whatever form it takes." That was the best thing to say to me, because as usual, I was holding myself to an impossible standard: wanting to do things healthy people do even though I was sick, judging myself for falling short, then getting depressed because of it. That is so my world in a nutshell.

So today, I actually do feel better. I'm not going to lay in bed all day again, but I am going to take it easy, try to choose wellness, and not judge myself for it.

Friday, October 05, 2012

process is everything

I'm doing something a little weird right now, which is reading Thomas Keller's The French Laundry cookbook cover to cover.  The French Laundry is a Napa Valley restaurant about an hour away from where I live. I've never eaten there. I will eat there someday, and I know people who have eaten there and talked to them about the experience. The French Laundry creates two 9-course tasting menus every day for their customers, each course very small, and from what I've heard it takes hours to go  through the courses. The food is incredibly labor-intensive and made out of the highest quality ingredients, so the base price is $270 a person. It's not a casual meal and they are always booked out two months in advance.

Running a very high-end restaurant and a pottery studio has one major issue in common: every day you go in, and you create from scratch something over and over again. The major challenge is to not become bored, or to hurry through it with your mind elsewhere, or to become deadened to the process and just create by rote. All of these things have happened to me over the years, and when I'm there, I don't even like my job anymore and I feel like a failure. As an artist, this is the most painful place to be. Thomas Keller writes about maintaining passion for the endlessly repeated acts he performs in the kitchen, and he does this by giving each step his full attention. When you give something your full attention, no matter how mundane, you have the opportunity to be filled not with boredom and the urge to rush, but with a sense of wonder and pleasure with your process.

I know this, but still, I can find myself in the studio, banging stuff out as quickly as I can and just trying to get through the day. Reading Keller's cookbook has re-focused me in the studio and made me once again realize that the finished product is worthless to me if I don't enjoy the process.

Both potters and cooks know there are all of these steps that happen in between the idea of what you want to make, and then the finished product. Most of the time what you have at the end is not something that is perfect, or exactly how you imagined it. But this does not necessarily decrease its value.  Thomas Keller writes in his book that we must acknowledge there is no such thing as perfect food--or pottery-- only the idea of it. But that doesn't mean we don't strive for perfection anyway. We continue to try for one purpose: to make people happy.

When I read the recipes that Keller has created for the French Laundry, I am filled with wonder. He takes each ingredient and brings out its full essence, not by some kind of magic but by fully appreciating what that ingredient is and treating it with his full attention and respect. He understands what each ingredient can do and in his process, he creates a peak experience. In the flurry of running a successful pottery business, I've put aside labor-intensiveness in favor of efficient production, and frankly, that bores me to death.  Keller is inspiring me to not be just about production, but to focus once again on process. Slow down, take my time, and create pieces that receive my full attention. Even when I am reading a recipe in the French Laundry cookbook, I can find my mind drifting and my eyes skimming over the text. When I notice this, I re-focus and start over. And in the studio, when I find myself wondering how soon I can be done with one thing so I can move on to the other, I take a breath, and re-focus.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

testing mr. right

My mother asked me very casually the other day, "So, when are you going to start working with your new porcelain?" My mother had no idea that she just asked me the equivalent of, "So, when are you going to find Mr. Right and get married? Your eggs are getting old and no one is going to want you!" For the record, I already found Mr. Right and married him a long time ago, it's true that my eggs are getting old, and my mother has never, ever said anything to me about either, because she is a very good mother.

The pressure! For starters, I don't have a new porcelain yet. And like finding Mr. Right, you just can't go out and pick any old clay body, get into a kiln with it and hope things will work out.  I'm flirting with two porcelain clay bodies, getting to know them a little bit. One is called #550 porcelain. And no, that's not code, that's what it is really called. Not very romantic. Here is a test:

It was easy to throw and it did not crack or warp. If it were a guy I was dating, I would say he's pretty good-looking and has a job, but I don't know anything about his past relationships or if he has a sense of humor. I do know that this clay needs to be fired a lot higher than I usually fire to, and I'm not sure if I want to make the commitment to going to a whole new temperature.  That's like moving to a new city with a man I just met. So, a fun few dates, but I doubt it will really go anywhere.

The second clay body is supposed to be Laguna's answer to Limoges, called WC-617. Wow, what's up with these boring names? Again, easy to throw.  No obvious flaws right away. But I have a long-term relationship with many Laguna products, and they have a way of seducing you with their beauty and charm, and once you've fallen in love, showing you what a pain-in-the-ass they really are. So while I'm hopeful that this clay may be the one, I've also been burned many times by Laguna, so I am suspicious and gun-shy. 

Then there are the obvious losers, like Frost porcelain. It is marvelously transparent and white, in other words, really hot and sexy.  But that's all it has going for it, it's basically a fast-talking hustler. Frost is a clay that doesn't want to be a clay, and every step of the way it tries to fuck you in a bad way: it's almost impossible to throw, it cracks when it's wet, when it's dry. and during the firing. And, it dries so fast that you can't control it. Into the scrap bucket with you Frost, I know better than to date someone who doesn't really want to be in a relationship!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

get out of my booth.

It's Tuesday, and I'm finally recovered from my weekend selling at the Renegade Craft Fair.  Did I say selling? What I meant to say was showing, I was showing my work at the Renegade. It was, unfortunately, the most beautiful day of the year on Saturday. When you live in the Bay Area and you wake upon a Saturday morning and there is not a wisp,  not a trace of fog, you spend the day outside, not locked up in a giant box with a bunch of hipsters selling felted owl hats or meticulously crafted letterpress birthday cards that say, "I HATE you more every YEAR" or ceramic cupcake stands with a bird on it.  Put a bird on it, get it? Get it? I love that show, don't you?

Ha ha ha. Get out of my booth.

typical exit lines (click)
At the show, I was refining some of my theories regarding the nature of human behavior in a retail environment and, since I had time, taking notes. My theory says that 80% of show attendees are there only to look at all of the cute stuff,  get ideas for stuff they want to make themselves, find the very cheapest deal available, or take pictures. It's the other 20% I'm trying to suss out, and there are lots of clues.

There are the people who look for a bit and then ask for a card or if you have a studio. These are mostly the "inspire me" people who have no intention of dropping a dime, but they don't know how to get out of your booth gracefully, so they use that line as a way to make you think they will buy later.  Look, it's okay to just walk out of a booth and just say, "Thank you!" You don't have to pretend, I can see right through you when you give me that apologetic smile, and you are just making me pretend along with you, which annoys me after a while. Just. Get. Out. And you're welcome.

Worse than that are people who look around and then ask you what cone you fire to. This is code for, "I too am potter, therefore I can appreciate your hard work, but I am not buying, because I can go home and make this myself." No, you can't. But by all means, try.

When people walk in and start handling work, it's usually a good sign, but only when they combine it with some eye contact and/or conversation.  They are telling me they are willing to engage with me, they want to buy, they just need a little push in the form of a reason to buy, which I am happy to supply.  This, for me, is a fun interaction. You are allowed to stay in my booth.

It's the people who avoid eye contact and start handling work only to check on price who are hopeless cases. I know that most people want to spend $18 on just about anything made out of ceramic, and they cannot make sense of my prices. $44 for that? Holy shit, a bowl for $140? Are you serious, you want all that money for something that holds a cake? I can spend all afternoon reading the minds of people scrunching up their faces at the little white sticker on the bottom of everything. And you know what? That's why I put the sicker on the bottom of everything, so you have to pick it up to find out, and maybe that way you will learn something about pottery, and why it costs more than $18.  In the meantime, please run faster as you exit my booth.

I've already written about the people who wander around shows taking pictures without asking. When I see someone with no shopping bags in their hands and a giant camera around their neck, I know what is about to happen, and it's not a sale.  People with cameras at shows come in as the most clueless bunch I have ever encountered while selling. All take, no give with these people. Get out!

 Then, there are the customers I've come to know as "heavy petters."  For example, a sweet-looking young lady (SLYL) walks into my booth:
SLYL: "Oh my god, I love your work, I'm always looking at it on Etsy. It's so beautiful..."
BAJA (bitter and jaded artist, that's me): "Isn't it so much better to see it in real life?"
SLYL: "Totally... I have almost all of your work in my favorites."
BAJA: "Which is your very favorite?"
SLYL: "All of them..." (wistfully strokes a cupcake stand with a faraway look in her eye) "It's so beautiful... so perfect... I just love all of your colors... "
BAJA: "Picking out the glaze colors is my favorite part."
SLYL: "It's so unique...I just love it... you are sooooo talented...well... thank you!" (abruptly turns on heel and exits booth.)

An interaction like that I call "fake foreplay." A customer comes in, supposedly all hot and bothered for my work, fully engages me with heavy petting in the form of compliments, feels me up by touching a bunch of pieces, and just when I think we are about to get down, leaves. High and dry. Wait! Come back!  Here, take a card, take a picture, my studio is always open! I thought you loved me...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

euro shock

cheese booty
I've been home from France for for about a week and a half, and it's been a slow process of re-integrating back into my regular life. I visited the cheese man the day before I left to load up on cheese to make the transition easier. My suitcase was on the dot of 71 kilos at the airport. One more kilo and they would have not let me check it. I was loaded up on olive oil, wine, salt, perfume, olives, chocolate, cheese, and butter. I know you want to know why I would bring back butter. Because French butter is awesome. I know I can buy El Presidente at the grocery store, but I would rather pay 50 euro in overweight charges and bring it back from the source than pay $5 for 7 oz of butter, okay? I'm eating the butter right now, and it has chunks of fleur de sel in it. Someone in America needs to start making this kind of butter. By the way, there is nothing wrong with treating butter as cheese and eating it in slices on top of bread.

 My lovely assistant promptly went on a two-week vacation when I returned, which she deserved for keeping the chaos in check while I was working on my tan in France. But I had to figure out how things run again on my own. It's amazing how quickly you can leave your life behind.  My website went down about a week before I came home, and I'm just now getting it back up again. It's an external indication of the way things are fraying at the edges.  By the way, please click on my website link a few times, because after two weeks of being down, my website totally lost its google ranking.

So there's that, and then there's trying to get ready for two shows, two weekends in a row.  This weekend is the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival, and the next weekend is the Renegade Festival. Somehow, I had the foresight to make all the work I needed before I left for France, so I'm not in dire straits with making work, I just have no juice right now for packing all my work up, driving it places, unpacking, setting up, and standing around all weekend. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't come see me if you can, because you should. Come see my mediterranean tan, and buy something, because I'm still recovering from euro shock.

rolls of buttery limoge porcelain
People have been asking me about the new new cake stands that I made in France. I won't have any at the shows, there is just not enough time to whip anything out.  Let me rephrase that: there is not enough motivation to whip anything out. When I got back into my studio last week I decided I can no longer tolerate my clay, which I have been using my entire career.  I was using a Limoge porcelain in France that was so white, I only had to slap a thin coat of clear glaze on it and it shined a clear, bright white. And it was tough, it took a ton of abuse with no cracking, unlike my sorry-ass B-Mix. I threw a couple of orders with the B-Mix this week, and I could barely look at it.  I've been unhappy with this clay for a while, and it took running off to France and having a wild affair with Limoge to realize that B-Mix and I need to part ways. There's no spicing up this relationship, a full-on breakup is in the offing. I've met with a few other clays already.

new french cake stands in limoge porcelain

Saturday, June 23, 2012

stoop bombs, bathing suits, carousels

Three things:

1. dog shit
France does not have any laws or cultural expectation that one should clean up after their pets. Therefore, I've become familiar with all types of dog shit: neatly piled logs made by large and polite dogs who shamble away from the mess they've made, haunches swaying slowly: shy hershey squirts created by nervous little dogs who don't look back; aggressively messy dark brown patties humming with flies: delicate little nuggets caramelized by the sun; horrific stewy puddles tracked up the street and around the corner by a car; and the crusty poo-pies with a single footprint stamped in the middle.

I've quizzed people who are French or who have lived here a long time, asking them to give me insight into the heart of a culture that so values beauty, yet allows dog poop to accumulate on the streets. And not on side streets, but on the major boulevards of cities like Paris, Cannes, Antibes, and Nice. Not to mention the smaller villages that boast beautiful walkways and cobblestoned streets, their quiet beauty punctuated by a pile of dog shit smack in the center. Many theories, few answers. Some would say that is very French.

It's not unusual to see deposits directly in front of doorways, or on the stoop, and you really have to wonder about people who are okay with leaving that behind for their neighbors. On the other hand, I can think of a few of my own neighbors in Oakland I would love to stoop-bomb with some dog shit. One afternoon, craving a moment of outdoor relaxation, I went to a little park nearby to curl up with my book.  I carefully picked my way through a minefield, looking for a clear spot where I could lay out my towel. I found a bare spot up against a large and leafy tree.  People walked by and looked at me like I was crazy. Stubborn, I stayed for a good 20 minutes before the smell drove me away. Who can read when there is a pile of dog shit in your site line that is so large, it actually has a presence? Unfortunately all outdoor spots in the little town of Vallauris where I am staying are like this. Thankfully they do not allows dogs on the beaches.

2. bathing suits
Vallauris is on the Riviera, which is perfect because I like the beach. The humanity splayed across the sands of the Riviera is an education on what my body will look like someday. Also, what my body used to look like. I'm in that strange middle age, where my youth and seniority are in almost equal play, and I can take great pleasure in committing to neither.

But let me back up and tell you about the bathing suit I bought this spring: for the first time in my life, I bought a tankini. I have worn a bikini my entire life and for me, a tankini is a half-assed attempt to spare witnesses of my slow decline. I refuse to wear a one-piece, which I've always believed makes me look like a squashed fruit. A tankini is the halfway house of the bathing suit world. I'm willing to be more modest, but I still want the option to flash some belly.

 In France, even if the bod is not as tight as it as 50 years ago, that is no reason not to show off as much of it as possible. The beaches are covered with old people wearing next to nothing. I saw these 75+ year old ladies hobbling across the sand in the little bikini bottoms and no top on at all and I thought, "fuck this tank." It's way too much suit for the Riviera, and way too much suit for me, period. Witness my slow decline, because that's what we are all doing, together. Declining. I bought a teeny bikini top at the Monoprix for 15 euro for those moments when I feel like wearing a  top.  I may be 41, but I can still rock it, especially when I stand next to these old Riviera ladies

3. carousels
Old-fashioned merry-go-rounds are in almost every city I've visited. These are elaborately crafted carousels that can easily be over 100 years old with hand painted images and beautifully stylized details. I have a deep attraction for these carousels. My love for them are a symptom of my overall love for the embellished details of Europe.  Homes that look like cakes, the delicate filigree of the iron balconies adorning apartment buildings, the vaulted and faceted ceilings of ancient cathedrals, the colorful scalloped edges of awnings pulled over sidewalk cafes everywhere you go. It's like nothing is too small, nothing is too mundane to deserve some extra attention and beautifying. It's living the beautiful life.

I was thinking about these carousels as I made a stack of cake stands that I made in the shape of cakes.  I did not even begin to go as far with it as I could. There's always a part of me that wants to restrain myself if I start going for insane embellishment. I don't want to seduce with eye candy. I like to seduce with perfect form and function. Thats why I'm very hard to pick up in bars, or at least I was back when I was a single girl.  I don't want people coming on to me because they think I'm pretty. I want people to come on to me because they think I'm smart with a great fuckin' personality. This always leads to conversation that kills any chance of anyone getting laid.

What does this have to do with my work? Everything, really. I want my pieces to be pretty, but also be intelligent and functional. What does this have to do with carousels? I will let you know as soon as I figure it out.  .

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

take the time

Another week has gone by in the life of my France residency. I've been wrestling with all kinds of fear. Fear that time is going by too quickly and all the things I want to make will not get made while I am here.  And then, fear that I seem to care more about getting down to the beach every day than I do about making stuff. Where's my drive, my ambition? In the face of a clear blue sea, I have neither.

the beach at golfe-juan, 8 am
I realize that this residency is all about tapping into another well of work, but not today (pas aujourd'hui) . And not tomorrow either (et pas demain) (Sorry, but these are actually phrases I've learned from my French audio tapes.) Maybe next month, or at the end of the summer, or some other time that takes place in the future. I like the idea of letting go of the need to tap my well, the creative reserve.

 After a few days of waffling around last week, and feeling some guilt that I was working on my tan instead of ideas, I figured out that it is best to just stay in the moment. Open the mind and heart, that's all.
picasso in antibes
While I'm at the beach, it's another opportunity to observe the French culture in action. There is one thing I really love about the beaches around here: they are pretty packed with people, but they are very quiet. French people, in general, are very quiet compared to Americans.  That's not a big surprise. I notice the same thing at restaurants. The place where I live with the other artists-in-residence is right next door to a very busy and popular restaurant, and dinner service can easily go past 11 or 12 at night. But again, the patrons are so low-key that I often fall asleep to the sound of French voices, babbling so quietly that it almost sounds like a stream or a fountain. Very soothing.

rae and chris at cafe du coin
I love the pace of eating in a restaurant in France.  Lunch usually runs for 2 hours, easily. Dinner can go for 3- 4 hours. And the staff expects that pace, there is no hurry to flip your table, that's not how they clock it. As an American, the pace can be a little disconcerting at first, because we are used to very fast and attentive service, and if you have no idea what to expect, it can seem like you are being ignored. Mais non, that's not the case at all. You are being allowed to take your time, the biggest luxury and gift that you can ever be given.

When the residents all go out for dinner, we've started making it a game to see how French we can be with our eating habits.  To make a dinner last for 3+hours, you have to take a tiny bite of food, and then put your fork down while you chew.  When you are done chewing, you talk for a bit.  Then you take sip of wine and talk some more. Then, another small bite.  Food usually comes out pretty slowly too, and in courses, so you are not suddenly flooded with a big plate of food. We were very proud of ourselves last night: we were seated at 8:15 for a special dinner of bouillabaisse, and we walked out of there way past midnight, outlasting all the French people who were seated around the same time. I may not go home with any new work, but I will definitely go home with a new approach to how I'm serving Thanksgiving this year.

studio, neglected

Sunday, June 03, 2012

brief from vallauris

I've been in Vallauris for about 10 days now, and I've been finding my rhythm and establishing a pace. I'm the type of person that tries to integrate as much as I can into my surroundings.  It's like adjusting my personal frequency, so I can tune in more acutely to what is going on around me. But still, I never feel more American than I do when visiting a foreign country. 

This is the thing about travel: the everyday things you do at home can be fraught with cultural misunderstanding and confusion when you are doing stuff in a place where you don't speak the language. I think that's why a lot of people don't like to travel. It can be exhausting.

My fellow residents and I rented a car to explore the Avignon region, and renting a car meant an encounter with a foreign gas station. A gas pump is a gas pump is a gas pump, but it's the small differences that can throw you for a loop.  I did some research ahead of time so I would know the French name of the type of gas we needed to purchase (diesel=gazole) and a general idea of what to expect, but still, the loops came fast and hard.   

First of all, there were about 12 pumps and 4 islands, but only one way to approach, one line.  No organization, no first come first served, just one line that quickly devolved into chaos as you snaked your way closer to the pumps. It was slow going. You had to wait. This immediately made me anxious, especially when we were expertly bumped in line by someone driving a Citroen, almost certainly a native who could smell our tentativeness.

I closely watched everybody fill up, looking at what they were doing and how they were handling the whole gas pump interaction.  When it was our turn, I was armed with observational knowledge and ready for battle.  After we figured out how to open the gas door (something my husband, Andrew, would know by simple osmosis but I have to read the owner's manual to figure out.) I pulled out the hose, stuck it in the tank, and pulled the gas trigger.  Nothing.  I looked at the little window that tells you the amount of gas you are pumping and how much it's costing, and noticed the last person's transaction was still there. Was there a button I needed to push? A lever I needed to pull?  I ran my hands over the pump like a blind person. Nothing. I looked around at other people. Everyone was pumping gas, and seemed to be avoiding my eyes. I pulled the gas trigger a few more times.  James, one of my fellow residents and on the gas mission with me,  commented that the person who was in front of us before had seemed to be standing around for a minute, so maybe we just needed to wait. 

James, by the way, was unfazed by all of this.  He was intrigued by the level of female beauty that was circling around us in this little gas station, and temporarily distracted.  I was readying myself for a major confrontation with the gas pump or worse, ask for help, when the window suddenly zeroed out, and the gas started pumping.

The price increased at an alarming rate.  I don't know if you have ever purchased fuel by the liter, but it's a small unit of measure, and the price quickly went from zero to 50 euro for less than a half tank of gas. Again, expected, but still rather shocking to experience in real life.

Not only was there a single line to get to the gas pump, there was a single line of cars to get to the lady to pay for the gas. "Oh my god," I moaned, as I again watched the chaos of little euro cars leaving the pumps and jockeying for position in the pay line, "how can people live like this?  Why doesn't somebody do something about this? How many people get punched at 8 in the morning at the gas station? You have to block out your whole morning just to go get gas!" God, I felt so American, but if there is one thing we have down that the French do not, it's convenience.

"Hmmmmm..." James said, as he waved a pretty lady into the line, ahead of us.

My studio work is going very slowly, because I have frankly been spending way more time checking the temperature of the Mediterranean Sea with my entire body, comparing cheeses, seeing where the best farmer's market is in this region, and running daily tests to see how much French wine I can drink before I get a hangover. As it turns out, a whole lot.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

the cheese incident

I arrived in Vallauris yesterday after spending 5 days in Paris with my pottery posse, Rae, Sara, and Christa. Paris was slightly overwhelming. I was reading The Greater Journey while I was there and that book made me realize I should have made a serious plan in advance.  My laid back California ways basically mean you won't get shit done in a city like Paris, except for whiling away the hours in little wine bars and cafes, walking across a few bridges, and getting lost on charming, narrow, twisty streets.

But I did practice my French. Parisians are very good to practice French with. I say something in French, they answer me in English. I respond in French, and they answer again in English. In this way, we both get to practice, though I'm only good for about two go-rounds in French before I default to English, and they clearly don't need the practice.

The only time I am able to speak French with any flair at all is when I need food. I can ask for a baguette like nobodys business. All I wanted to do in Paris is go to the restaurants and outdoor markets and eat as much possible. I would circle patisseries, fromageries, and charcuteries like I was checking out hot men in clubs. In one fromagerie I went into, I said hello and strung together the longest series of words I had managed thus far:

je voudrais un fromage a manger maintenant ou ce soir.

This means "I would like a cheese to eat now or tonight," and I am not sure if that is the right way to say it, but it gets the hint across to a cheese man about what I need, which is a ripe cheese, something ready to go right now. The cheese man said something incomprehensible to me, and because I was trying very hard to pretend like I knew more French than I do, I shrugged in what I thought could be a Parisian way and said, "un chèvre...ou un bleu!?" Like, convince me cheese man, you are the expert! I could go for a goat cheese, or I could totally go for that cheese covered in mold right there! How bout you figure it out?  He pointed at some stuff, and said some things, and I nodded like I totally got it, and I ended up with two wrapped packages, a small little goat cheese, and a hunk of something that smelled like a goddamn barnyard. Oh, I was happy.

I went on to buy a chunk of duck pate the size of my foot, some olives stuffed with almonds, a teeny little basket of strawberries, and a baguette.  The perfect food for happy hour with my pottery posse. I walked and walked with Sara, and we went to the Louvre.  There were several times where the smell of barnyard would drift up to my nose from the bag I was carrying, and as I gazed at the master works of art ensconced in the Louvre, I though about what a great feast I was bringing my friends that evening.

Later, many hours later, as I was unpacking my bag of goodies, I could not understand why I could not find that giant hunk of cheese that smelled like a barnyard. Let me say that I had several large glasses of wine already, so I was easily confused.  I pulled all of my booty out of the bag, and turned it over several times. Everything was there, but the big hunk of stinky cheese was not there. Then, I looked at the bag that the cheese man put my cheese in.  The cheap, plastic, piece of shit bag that had a hole in the bottom the size of a big hunk of cheese. The cheese slipped out of that hole, and it was gone.

I dont know if you have ever lost your cheese before.  But me, I have lost my cheese. First, I was in disbelief.  I looked in the olive container to see if the cheese was there. It was not there, and I could not believe it. Then I was in denial. The cheese had to be somewhere! I started looking all over the kitchen, even though I had only been in there for 30 seconds and did not have time to do anything but pull it out of the bag. Then, I got angry. I threw the stupid goat cheese I had left. Stupid goat cheese, I can get you anywhere!  Where is the cheese I really wanted! I ran back to the place where Sara and I had those gigantic glasses of wine, and looked everywhere. People helped me when they heard I lost my cheese, but it was not to be found.  I ran to another fromagerie around the corner, but the store was shut tight, as was everything else.  I thought about crying, but that seemed extreme, and maybe a little crazy. So I just got really, really sad. And then I cheered the fuck up, because I was in Paris, with my pottery posse, and I still had that pate. Thank god I did not lose the pate also.

Some favorite pictures from Paris.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

travel jitters

Whenever I'm getting ready to travel, I have to contend with the fact that there is a part of me that hates to travel. Even before the most exciting trips, like the one I'm about to go on, I think that it wouldn't be so bad if the whole thing got cancelled, thereby relieving me of the burden of exiting my familiar and cozy bubble.

 The first major trip I ever took was when I was 22 and I went to Costa Rica for two months. I lived on $50 a week for almost a year to save for that trip, but in the days before departure, I was filled with dread. I didn't want to admit it to anybody, but I did not want to go anymore. I was very disappointed with myself, because I had always imagined that when I grew up, I would work only to save enough money to travel.  I consider myself an explorer, and I thought my whole life would be about traveling and exploring.  I had very romantic notions about what it meant to be a world traveler. I would be full of stories from my encounters with exotic people and lands, my home filled with beautiful trinkets and unusual souvenirs, and I myself would also be slightly exotic after having sailed the seven seas, rubbed shoulders with the natives, and seen things that most could not imagine.

 Despite my foreboding, I pushed on to Costa Rica anyway, secretly convinced I would die in a ridiculous mishap while I was there and never return. And as soon as I arrived, I was fine. When I arrive anywhere, I am fine.  Now I understand it's not the actual travel I dread. It's the anticipation, preparation, and transition. Knowing that I am about to be surrounded with absolutely nothing familiar, except for what I bring along, kicks the little girl inside me back to life, the one who who had to travel back and forth between divorced parents and was constantly coping with missing one parent or the other. It's the insecurity of being alone in the world, one that is assuaged by the familiar things and people I surround myself with.  Travel strips that bare.

I recently read "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed, her account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone at 23 years old, and I was highly amused at her description of her backpack, which she nicknamed "Monster" due its outsize girth and weight. It mirrored exactly the pack I took into Costa Rica with me, which was so outlandishly overweight and wide, grown men who were trying to help me with my luggage would drop my pack and stare at me incredulously.  I never had to worry about someone stealing my pack because you simply could not run with it. My backpack reflected my intense need for familiar comforts, like my 16-oz bottle of hair conditioner (my hair is very thick and requires special maintenance,)  a stash of paint and all kinds of paper for every drawing and writing need (which I am grateful for to this day,) 6 different dresses for 6 different kind of occasions, and a Walkman, Canon camera with two lenses, and tape recorder so I would not forget one fucking thing.

My needs are smaller in some ways now.  I know how much conditioner will actually be required in a 6 week period (approximately 4 oz,) that I will end up sketching and writing more than painting and do not need a full palette of paint, that I only need one dress for walking and looking, another for sitting and looking pretty (attitude makes up for the other four,) and everything that needs to be recorded can be done with one little device.  And while I hate every moment between right now while I'm typing this--tying up my business and loose ends, saying good-bye to my husband, trying to figure out how close I can cut my arrival to the airport that will take me away--I am waiting for that sweet spot when I finally arrive.  And everything is fine.

Monday, April 30, 2012

je voudrais un verre de vin.

There's a lot going on with me right now.  Actually, there's only one thing going on, which is I'm getting ready to leave for France on May 17 for a 5 week residency.  Plus, 5 days in Paris. There are many tangential activities associated with my trip that makes it count as four or five things.  Today, I'm going to make a list of all the things I need to do before I leave. Lists soothe me. If I were a cat and you wanted to soothe me, you should pet me. If you want to soothe my human being self, hand me a clean sheet of paper and a nice pen, so I can make a list.

One of the things I am trying to accomplish before I leave is getting back all the French I learned in high school, which has since been displaced by Spanish.  I've been doing the Pimsleur program and now, there's just a big bowl of all kinds of words in different languages sloshing around my brainpan, though I do know how to fluently order wine and beer.

As a teenager, I was fascinated with France. I took French through most of high school and tried to convince my mother that we probably were of French extraction, somewhere in our background, though we are clearly anglo-saxon in every way.  I felt a natural affinity for the French culture, even though I understood only the most superficial things about it, like the French really love cheese, dress better than Americans, are snooty and disdainful, make weird movies with no endings, and take long lunches.

Now that I'm finally going there I've been doing an immersion in French cultural studies and beginning to slightly understand what makes the French tick.  For reasons due to my own extreme ignorance, I always assumed the French were like us, just more a more sophisticated, better-dressed, disdainful cheese-eating version.  But their culture is not Anglo-Saxon, it has a completely different underpinning, and once I understood that, it was like someone handed me a tiny key.  Oooooohhh, they are actually not like us, and the way  go about in my own culture does not translate the same way in theirs.  

For example, my assumption that maximum efficiency is valuable in and of itself, and is naturally the goal of any transaction or undertaking.  That's a cultural value, not something that is just a natural goal of every human being, though it feels like it should be.  The French are not naturally interested in efficiency as a goal, they are interested in other things, which I will report back about once I have done some observation.  And it will have to be observation, because I've learned that the French are much more private and reticent with strangers than Americans.  Even asking someone's name can be an affront, so it's not likely that I will be able to interrogate anybody about how they move about in their culture, which is my anglo-saxon way of getting information.

Meanwhile, I've been working away in the studio, repairing my relationship with Cake Stand. Yes, we are back together, and it's better than ever.  Cake Stand has really changed, and I just want to be with Cake Stand all the time. I think the only thing I've made for about a month now is cake stands, it's the only thing I'm interested in at the moment. So if you want to order something before I leave, make sure it's a cake stand so I can get rid of these things!

Friday, April 06, 2012

who's the boss?

I received this seemingly innocuous email this week:

Hello Whitney,

Please provide a tracking number for PO 666.

Currently the ETA on this PO is 4/10, which means it would had to have shipped on Tuesday to arrive in time.  We need to know the status of this order immediately.

Thank You,
Annoying Fulfillment Manager of Very Large Store

Why did this email put my teeth on edge? Potter types already know. The not-so-subtle pressure to get an order out according to a retailer's own fulfillment schedule.  And I say "their" fulfillment schedule because I never promise hard ship dates, and in this case the 4/10 arrival date is a figment of some body's imagination. I always keep fulfillment dates loose to give myself the space I need to create these wholesale orders.  When planning orders with wholesale clients, I always say, "about 3-5 weeks" or whatever the time frame is, the key word there being "about."  Also, please note the "-" which means there is a 14 day leeway.

This makes me difficult to work with, yes, and I like it that way.  It filters out the riff-raff.  Also, I have a secret weapon, and this is what it is:  I don't give a shit about getting wholesale customers, or keeping them.  It's a defense mechanism that keeps me from losing my mind with wholesale clients. Wholesale is a pain, and I only work with people who I really like and who I think respect what I do and how I do it.  The most important clients to me are my own retail customers, the people who come to me directly and pay my full retail price. They are the ones who give me 85% of my income, and who have helped me build my business into what it is today.  They are also the ones I will turn myself inside out for to get an order to them on time.

The most stressful periods of my work life have been because of difficult orders with difficult wholesale clients, and I developed PTSD-like symptoms because of my experiences with them.  So reading this email, as mild as it may seem to some of you, sets off a stress reaction that is out of proportion to the situation.  I woke up at 4 this morning, burning with resentment, remembering that this retailer has already been put on probation after they were being ridiculous about an order a few years ago.  I told them at that time I would not be filling their current order or any orders in the future, and they actually pleaded with me to re-consider and promised to straighten up, which they have until now.

These stores want to sell the best stuff they can get their hands on, and find people like me to work with so they can deliver a unique and special item to their customer, yet they can't wrap their heads around the fact that I'm not cranking out a widget in a factory. And this person is clearly under the illusion that they are my boss or something, and I'm going to respond to pressure, or rush their order, or somehow work faster.  I'm the boss. I respond negatively and even passive-aggressively to pressure, and I do not work any faster  than I am already.

Dear Annoying Fulfillment Manager,
The status on your order is the same as when I first responded to the order: it will take 3-4 weeks to make and ship immediately thereafter. At this time I expect your order to ship sometime next week.  I do not commit to hard ship dates, as you should be well aware of after working with me for 3 years. Please keep that in mind when making status inquiries in the future.
Thank you,

Sunday, March 25, 2012

cake stand and I are breaking up

I have a boyfriend, and his name is Cake Stand. We've been together a long time. I realized something recently when I walked into my studio and found all of the cake stands I made earlier in the week with large cracks across the surface of the plate: Cake Stand and I have an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship. Cake Stand is a bad drunk, and I'm the girlfriend who runs around trying to mitigate its problems by thinking of what I'm doing wrong to make Cake Stand go bad, trying over and over again to come up with solutions that will get Cake Stand to come out perfect, excessively babying each piece to the point where my days--and nights-- are dominated by making Cake Stand and I have no time for thinking about other pottery pieces.

I've had problems with Cake Stand in the past, but I was determined to have Cake Stand in my collection so I worked really hard to figure out what made it tick, and for a while, things were good. I took cake stand orders, and I filled cake stand orders.  And I got complacent. I thought we had worked out our relationship and I could relax.  Then late last year, the plates started popping off the stands.  This is not a new problem, and I knew how to handle it. Cake Stand started drinking again, so you throw out all the booze, go to some meetings, and deal with it. But there was an immediate relapse, and Cake Stand started warping in ways I had never seen before. Something was obviously very wrong, but what?  I made another round of stands, and no matter how careful I was, how I babied Cake Stand along,  how many years of knowledge I apply to the making of these dastardly things, Cake Stand has continued to find ways to fuck up.

I opened the kiln the other day and both Nikki and I were so happy, a perfect white cake stand with little green birds!  So beautiful!  We lifted it out and it took us both a few beats to realize the entire stand was cracked in half, across the plate and all the way down the base.  There's my boyfriend, trying to act sober and telling me he's going to go have coffee with his sponsor, and then getting arrested in a bar fight an hour later.

When I looked at the row of cracked stands, I went into my codependent pattern: I thought about my week ahead, and I pictured myself bent over the wheel, going through a box or two of clay, throwing another round of stands, delicately trying to manipulate them into perfection.  The thought made me feel bored, constrained, grumpy.  I wasn't even angry, just passively accepting that my upcoming week would once again be spent nursing the boyfriend, calling his boss to say he can't come to work because he has the flu, and putting aside all of my own plans. Then I had another thought.  I thought, "I can break up with Cake Stand" I thought, "I have three orders right now, I can just refund them, and walk away." I thought, "Wow, who knows what I could make if I didn't have to spend so much time taking care of Cake Stand."

 Maybe I need some therapy, because after I took down every listing for cake stands on Etsy and my website, I immediately started thinking about a new Cake Stand.  This New Cake Stand will be different, it won't be able to do the things Old Cake Stand did because it will have a new design, a new look, and new production method. It will be different this time, I just know it!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

writing a newsletter that doesn't suck

While I've been ignoring my own blog, I have been doing lots of other writing, including this guest post for Flashissue about writing a newsletter that doesn't suck.  Since I was writing the post for another blog, and not my own, I had to come up with a title that didn't include "suck" and just kind of clean up the language in general. Go check it out and leave any comments you have about writing newsletters over there.  If I get inspired, I may write some more about newsletters.  I've been working on improving mine, and after doing it for about 5 years now, I think I'm getting better at it.  I don't know why I have such a weird block with newsletters.   I can be really personal on my blog, but I have this idea that people expect me to be more "professional" with a newsletter.  I had that same idea when I first started this blog too, but then no one read it because it was so boring.  When I gave up on presenting a professional facade,  things went more easily and I actually wrote about things that mattered to  me, and stopped worrying that potential customers would run for the hills because I'm a snarky bitch sometimes.

Anyway, I am writing a long diatribe about cake stands right now that I'm trying to cut down to three paragraphs, so stay tuned later this week. And by the way, since my newsletters have vastly improved lately, why don't you go sign up for the next one right here? Happy first day of spring!

Monday, February 27, 2012

hole in my head, bubbles in my brain

I had a tooth pulled last week to make way for an implant.  I was told the Chinese regard losing a tooth as an event that signals change in your life.  Since I'm not Chinese, I regard it as an expensive pain in the ass. Even so it does seem as though change is afoot.  I've been pushing for certain changes for years, and it seems as though there are areas of my life opening up and making way for some of these changes to finally happen.  But no matter what, change makes me uncomfortable. I can get very insecure and have moments of anxiety where I feel like I've lost my footing.

 I've had to confront the fact that I've lost my drive to be in the studio all the time, and I'm thinking about other things to do with my life.  This means I've cut down my studio work to 4 hours a day, where I am mostly focused on custom and creative work, and Nikki takes care of production work and a lot of other stuff that I don't want to deal with anymore.  Basically, anything that doesn't have to get done by me, the smallest things, now get done by her.  The rest of the day I'm working on my writing.  And doing other things.   The great thing about working on writing is that anything you do can be something that can contribute to you being a better writer, so I can justify just about anything I feel like doing

So it's great, but still, it's change.  And a  lot of shit has been bugging me.  Like, sales are just slow right now.  I go through periods of hyperactive sales and then, no sales for days.  Days!  It freaks me out and makes me angry.  Actually, it makes me sad.  I'm trying to pay more attention to how I actually feel.  I often insert "angry" for every slightly negative feeling because at least then I can feel powerful.  I mean, people get scared when I'm angry.  Not so much when I'm sad.  Then I'm just pathetic and people pat me on the back to make me feel better.  And it does make me feel better, to get patted on the back and told, "It's going to be okay."  That's what everyone says.

I've been coping with the fear in my meditation practice rather than screaming at my husband and stupid drivers on the road, which everyone appreciates. The thing about sitting in meditation and just breathing is that while you try to empty your mind, shit is constantly bubbling up.  The comic Bobby Lee actually said in an interview that when he meditates, he views all his thoughts as bubbles and he just pops them and gets back to meditating.  Until he has to pop another bubble, which he inevitably will throughout his meditation.

So I keep having this fear about my slow-ass sales bubble up, and I acknowledge the fear and accept it, and then I pop it.  10 seconds later the same thought comes up and I have to go through the whole fucking thing again.  And again.  And again.  Really, it's annoying.  I'm like, "Yeah, I know I have fear, I have insecurity, and I can let it go and be in the moment instead of  freaking out.  Do you think you could back off now??!!"  There's the anger again.  Two more steps back from enlightenment.

Before all of you supportive and wonderful people who read my blog rush forward to give me the virtual pat on the back-- which should be it's own word in the dictionary-- I should mention in some ways work is really great.  I have a big project in the pipleline with a major retailer, and I'm sending off a big fat order to my first store in Paris.  And I'm going to Paris in a couple of months and then heading down to the south of France for a ceramic residency for four weeks.  So even though I may act pathetic every once in a while, don't feel sorry pour moi.  And my suggestion for a word describing a virtual pat on the back is e-pathy.  Got a better one?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

my name is whitney and I'm a {recovering} workaholic

I'm a recovering workaholic.  I used to work a minimum of 10 hours a day plus weekends.  10 hours a day probably doesn't sound like much to the workaholics who work 18 hour days, but I am a very lazy person, so for me a 10 hour work day is crazy.  I cut back on my schedule when it became obvious that everyone and everything that was not clay was just annoying.  This meant that when I wasn't working, I was annoyed.  Not unlike a junkie who cannot get a fix. Hard to enjoy life with an approach like that.

Since I  became a recovering workaholic, I'm always re-jiggering my schedule.  It's a constant effort to balance meeting the obligations I have to my work while not becoming a slave to it.  There are a lot of other things I want to get done every day besides working with clay:
  • a time slot of writing in the morning
  • an hour or so of exercise
  • a brief nap (my lazy self demands extra sleep)
  • time to write in the afternoon
  • time to meditate
It occurred to me recently that the day is simply not long enough to do all I want to do.  And if it were "long enough,", then it would just be exhausting, or we would just be another kind of species that only needs 3 hours of sleep a night.  And still, I would want an even longer day.  So the struggle is to be satisfied with what I have-- a really short day-- and also be realistic about what can be accomplished in any one day.  And this is the tricky part: not beating the crap out of myself for not managing to cram 14 hours of activity into 8 hours.

Days melt away, then weeks, months,  and years.  It creates the unstoppable flow of time, and it's so easy to float and bob on the surface of it, either getting carried away by the juggernaut of daily accomplishments, or just giving up and not being driven to do much at all.  I have both kinds of days.

And then the other kind, the good kind of day where I maintain my focus and awareness,  and get about half the stuff done that my most driven self want to accomplish while doing twice as much as my most lazy self wants to do.  One thing that has been helping me a lot lately is a simple day planner.  I know a lot of you have been on to that one for years and good for you.  I bought this one last year and I like how it has a limited amount of lines for each day, and a place to cross stuff off.  I've started carefully planning each day, usually starting the day before, and I'm telling you, shit gets done. And I know that when I start cramming more than 4 or 5 things on there, I'm asking too much and shit ain't gonna get done. So it's an exercise in restraint and organization, which for a recovering workaholic, is almost as good as a 10 hour day.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

dirty valentine money

Sometimes I wonder if just because I can sell something, if that means it's worth making.  I ran smack  into this recently as I pondered Valentine's Day.  Every year I think about scraping off some of that Valentine market, because it's a huge market.   Did you know that Valentine's Day is one of the major retail holidays, a billion dollar industry?  And I'm not talking 1 or 2 billion, I mean billions and billions. I want some of that action, but my head is usually still spinning from the Christmas holiday, and by the time I remember Valentine's Day, it's already February. Too late.

And I've been okay with missing out, because I'm conflicted about Valentine's Day.  I love the sentiment of Valentine's Day, but it's nothing but a vehicle for selling stuff.  The  idea of taking a moment to recognize the  love in our lives has been buried under a mountain of bad chocolate, half-dead roses, and stuffed bears made out of non-flammable nylon.  How do you make nylon non-flammable? I have no idea, but I'm pretty sure the process has killed a few rivers in China.  That's not Valentine's Day fault, I'm just saying, there are things that should always be able to burn no matter what.

Of course, you can easily say the same thing about Christmas, and I have no compunctions whatsoever about participating in the Christmas sell-a-thon.  So, this year I went ahead and put a bright red heart on a white bird cupcake stand, called it the "lovebird cupcake stand" and put it out there.   I've been feeling totally dirty about it, and I keep asking myself "Why?"  I almost did it as an exercise to see how it would play out, to see if it was worth getting a little dirty for some extra money.

Before I deliver the punch line, here's my little story about my Valentine's Day disillusionment. When I was in my early 20's, my boyfriend at the time brought me a Valentine gift that was totally forced because I made a big deal out of being recognized as the love of his life on this particular day.  The year before, when we were a fresh couple, his Valentine's Day gift was unexpected and spontaneous, showing a real sensitivity and thoughtfulness.   Now, our relationship was on the rocks so this was the perfect way for me to act out and manipulate him into trying to live up to the year before.

Once the deed was done, I felt bad because the gift was merely a symbol of how shitty things were between us. And I realized that had totally bought into the marketing message of Valentine's Day, which is "Show me you love me, buy me something."  From that day on, I may have thrown a few handmade cards around here and there, but I've never really participated in Valentine's Day again.  It just cuts way too close to the heart, and I ain't letting no marketing man get that close to me.

The question I started with was, "If I can sell something, does that mean it's worth making?"  The simple straightforward answer is it depends on how much you want the money.  This Valentine's Day, I wanted the money.  That nasty, dirty, pink and red money.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

land of lost pottery

January is a great time to go through all the stuff you accumulated throughout the year and start throwing it out.  At home, I've been going through closets, my office, the kitchen pantry.  Throwing stuff out, organizing stuff, and giving stuff away.   The studio is also getting attention.  My studio gets cleaned regularly, I can't stand a messy and dusty studio, all it does is give me an excuse to clean instead of work.  The floors get mopped, shelves cleared, things put in order.  But I do have one blind spot, and that's hanging on to random bits of work that I went through the trouble of making and bisquing, and then lose interest in and never got around to glazing.

I think this is a problem that is endemic to many potters.  When I worked for Sandi Dihl, there were pieces of bisqueware that were hanging around when I started working for her, and were still there when I left a few years later.  When I would visit her over the years, the stuff was still there.  In the same place.  It's a lot easier to toss greenware into a bucket of water when it's not working out.  But once you bisque a piece it seems more permanent, therefore harder to let go.

I have to brace myself when it's time to throw out stuff that's collecting dust and taking up room.  I feel so sad when I throw my work away, but after a couple of minutes I get over it and start throwing away anything that's been sitting around for more than a month.  It gets wild, there in the studio.  Nikki was helping me last week while we did some re-arranging and throwing away of the stuff, and she stopped me  from throwing away a few things she thought were worth glazing.

So we put some pieces back on the shelf, and started glazing some right away.  These are images of a few things.  I have to say they are all nice pieces, I'm glad they got glazed up.  I'll be putting them up for sale gradually over the next few weeks in a series of "lost pottery" postings on Etsy, and if you're interested in purchasing you can keep up with new listings on the Facebook page.