Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Which hat do I wear today?

I see that I haven't posted anything for awhile. I want to be out in the studio making pots. I haven't done that for several weeks now. But even though I haven't been making pots, I HAVE been working on my pottery business.....I've been working 10-12 hours a day on it!!

It turns out that in order to sell one's work, one must market one's work.....basically one's self. And in order to do this, a potter must wear many hats! I know this is true of many endeavors as most entrepreneurs have discovered! My husband had a family business and it was definitely true in his case! To me, the variety of skills required for being a potter seems to run a pretty wide gamut!

I decided to compile a list of some of the things I've had to learn that I didn't realize would be part of being a potter:

Brick layer, writer, photographer, stunt double, merchandiser, teacher, propane technician, chemist, editor, shipping manager, press agent, keeper of the bubble wrap, international shipping manager, menu planner, chef, customer service rep, accountant, trend setter, inventory control manager, web site designer, graphic artist, physical therapist, sales rep, personal fitness coach, self-esteem coach, psychiatrist, interior accessorizer......is that a word?

Ok, I'm getting silly with it now. I suppose I enjoy the variety, to a degree. But it is rather ironic, we think we're "our own boss" but in reality, there are many outside forces that dictate what gets done. Take today for instance. My hands are itching to get on the wheel. But I have 2 pots that need to be shipped. My studio is a complete disaster from taking inventory to and from an event over the week-end. I need to dust my display shelves and re-stock them (in a pleasantly artistic formation!) Then I really should sweep and mop the floor because I made a huge mess recycling clay on Mother's Day. This morning I've been updating listings on my Etsy site and working on tracking inventory. Obviously I detoured onto my blog and decided it was time for a quick update!!

Luckily the fact that I have an Open Studio coming up in about a month will mean that eventually I will be forced to get on the wheel and produce some new pots!! I'm pretty sure that when that time comes, I will experience a mental block and not know what to make first!!

I think what set this whole post off, was that upon entering the blogger site I was informed that I have many new interface options that I can choose from. Just what I need.....more hats to decide between.

Besides all of these choices, I really need to get my garden roto-tilled -, the other kind of dirt I like to play in! Yesterday I planted a couple of decorative shrubs. (I do like my studio entrance to look somewhat attended to!!)

So I will end this post and try to add a couple of pictures for visual emphasis 'cos I know we're a visual society!!

If I had my druthers, I'd put on my mushroom hunting hat and head off into the woods!! But not today.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Clay Day

Today my sister-in-law brought her kids over to do some clay projects. My nephew is in 5th grade and my niece is in 2nd grade (or thereabouts!) Mom and Grand-pa and one of my adult nieces came too and I think everyone had fun.

Here are some shots of their creations............

There was a basket, a cat, and cat basket!!!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Marketing Adventures and Works in Progress

I've been working on some new pieces for my upcoming Open Studio (March 12 and 13; 11am-5pm...FYI!) I've also decided to make another attempt at online sales via http://www.etsy.com/shop/LorettaWrayPottery

I'm going to put up some photos of what I'm working on throughout this post 'cos when I read other people's blogs, I like to have some
purty pictures to look at while I scan the writing to see if I want to read the whole blog or not! So........
my first photo is a new line of mugs I'm developing. They have a hole in the handle to store a handmade spoon! The owner of a local coffee shop suggested I make these. He had a sample of a similar mass produced mug. I wasn't particularly enthused about the idea, but now that I've made a few, I'm starting to
like them. For some reason, I've enjoyed carving the spoons! It's somewhat relaxing. I may get bored with it eventually, Assuming I start selling them and have to make more!!

Getting back to the subject of selling work, for those who haven't discovered it yet, etsy (which I mentioned in my first paragraph) is an online selling network for handmade crafts. They charge sellers 20 cents/per listing (which will be online for 4 months.) If and when items sell there's a 3.5% transaction fee. I'm also paying around 3% to accept credit cards via my paypal account. The buyer pays shipping and handling fees that are set by me.

Sellers post up to 5 pictures of each item. For me, this has been the most time-consuming/frustrating part of the process. I'd rather just keep potting! Unfortunately, if I start doing a little marketing, I'll eventually be
buried under a mountain of pots!! I've come up with 3 other marketing options besides my quarterly Open Studios. I can go to various fairs and festivals, sell at local galleries, and sell online. Each has its own pros and cons.

I've got my work in a couple of galleries and I'm planning to do a few fairs and festivals this summer. But it seems to me that both of these ventures require a substantial commitment of both time and money! Besides the time and money already invested in making the product to be sold or displayed, I have to factor in the time spent packing and unpacking work, manning the booth at the fair/festival and the expense and time spent transporting product to and from the event or gallery. That investment is getting more substantial all the time with the price of gas!

Etsy seems like a viable selling alternative if I can get work to actually start selling there. The "pros" are that there's potential to reach a huge audience, but the cons are that there are
TONS of artists already on there competing for that audience. I've learned that there are ways to make ones work more visible on etsy but it requires spending quite a bit of time photographing work and then more time on the computer. But I think I've decided that for now anyways, it makes more sense than pursuing the fair/festival/gallery venue. To me, it seems like it will require less of a monetary investment, and probably less time, plus if it doesn't seem to work, I can always move on to the next venture.

I decided to try to do a little research and figure out what seems to be selling on etsy in the ceramic area. I think I made a discovery! It seems like pottery that has a specific use for other artists is popular. I'm talking about things like earring holders or yarn bowls. (An earring holder is a small jar or bowl with holes in it to store earrings and a yarn bowl is made to hold a ball of yarn and has a slot to feed the yarn through.)

This makes sense to me! If I can make work that will appeal to other etsy sellers, it seems like I've widened my market a bit. I would think that people who make make and sell crafts (like scarves or earrings) will be more likely to want to purchase hand made items for themselves. So it seems to me like I should try to make some of these type of pieces. I think they're the kind of work that should sell well in New Castle, especially in the Arts Co-op, for the very same reasons they probably sell well on etsy.

Of course I still haven't got all the ins and outs of etsy figured out! I've listed 11 pieces in the last 11 days and haven't sold anything yet. But it's only cost me $2.20 so far and I've probably spent 3-4 hours total taking pictures and p
osting items.

Having my work on display in Greenfield will have cost me $135 for the last 3 months, plus there was a $50 membership fee. I would estimate I spent $10.00 in gas to take the original work over to display and I'm planning to run over next week to rotate some new work in
. If something sells, they get a 20% consignment fee. I also provided my own display unit, so there's that investment too. (Steve put the time in on that!!) I figure I won't spend nearly that much time or money putting work up on etsy. Plus I just remembered that I actually HAVE sold one piece on etsy!! (This was about a year ago, when I first tried it, and a friend bought a piece!)

There are other ways to get more exposure on etsy that I'm still learning about, so I think I'll focus on it for
a few more weeks before I get too discouraged.

I have to say that I really don't see craft fairs as a viable sales opportunity. I will do a few local one
s just to get my name and product out there and support the community, but I'm going to be very selective about what I do. When I do the math, they just don't make sense.

Just for kicks and giggles, I decided to crunch some numbers for doing Summerfair in Cincinnati. The booth costs $375 plus $30 to apply. It's 3 days, so I would need a hotel for at least 3 nights, I would estimate a minimum of $225
. Transportation to and from would run $30-$40 (200 miles round trip.) Factoring in meals means I'll have at least $700 invested. For 2 days, we're talking 4 hours drive time, let's estimate 5 hours packing, setting up, etc. then manning the booth for 23 hours. That's a minimum of 28 hours. In my dreams, my time is worth $25/hour, but let's be realistic. If I got a "real" job with my skills and education, I'd be lucky to make $10/hour. So if we figure that times 28 hours, that's $280 plus my initial $700 estimate for expenses, that means I need to sell almost a $1000 worth of pots to break even and that's not counting the time and materials I have invested in making the pots that sell!!! I think I could find myself in the hole pretty quickly going this route!

So, we'll see if the ets
y venture pans out.

Oh, something else I decided to try making is rings......as in bling fo' yo' finguh!! I can't remember how or why I came across it, but I saw this big, gawdy, faceted wooden ring. I think it was on etsy. They were selling for 60 bucks and had supposedly been featured in Martha Stewarts magazine.
I started thinking, hmmmm, I bet I could make a ring out of clay. So I made a few. I wasn't sure how big to make them to account for shrinkage, but since it doesn't really matter what size they end up being (within reason) I made a variety of sizes and will see how much they shrink after 2 firings. They could be fun. I'm enjoying having some little hand building stuff to piddle around with too.

Ok, I think it's time to call it a night for blogging. It's pretty bad when I start losing interest in my own blog!!! I wonder if anybody actually read all the way to the end of this!! If ya did, lemme know!! ;D

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Something Other Than Pottery....

I have been occupied with a couple things besides pottery the last few weeks. Above is a picture of me with my newest grand-son, Micah Kade Canfield. He was born Dec. 13.

While our daughter and son-in-law were busy bringing him into the world, we kept an eye on his big brother for a few days, Jaedon Asher Canfield who was 19 months old Dec. 5. We had so much fun and I feel so blessed that our schedules allowed us to be able to spend so much time with him!

His mom was hoping to have a home birth with Micah but she had a few complications. Nothing too serious, bu
t she had to go to the hospital. She did manage to have him naturally.....60 hours after her water broke!! She's a trooper!!

They're all home now getting no sleep, I'm sure!! Seems like only yesterday we were bringing our DAUGHTER home from the hospital!! The last 25 years sure flew by!!

Our son came up for Christmas and we got to spend Sunday with both our kids, grand-kids, and all of Steve's family! It was a great day!

Can't wait to get Jaedon started playing in the mud with Nee-na!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Staying focused

Small, lidded canister w/Gold Ash Glaze

Small, lidded canister with green ash glaze

Well, the big "holiday rush" is over (and wasn't much of a rush at all!!) Instead of having a "Winter Open Studio" I decided to have the studio open the week before Christmas.....Mon - Thurs. 11-7.

Our daughter's second child was due Dec. 4 and we were on "stand-by" to baby-sit the older son in case she had to go to the hospital (she was attempting a home birth.) She did end up in the hospital, so we
got to stay with Jaedon for a few days! It was great fun and put a little monkey wrench in my firing schedule, but didn't really cause any problems in the long run.

'Cause I didn't have much business!!!

It does seem like though, that every time I start to feel really discouraged, something happens to bolster my spirits (and get my hopes up again.) I'm not sure if that's good or bad. Sometimes, you should just let a whupped horse die (is that the proper terminology?)

I've talked it over with Steve and we think I can keep plugging away at this for another year and see if I can drum up a little more business.

I haven't fired the soda kiln since early summer. I still have tons of salt and soda pots that haven't sold. I finally put them on "Super Clearance." $5/apiece no matter what the size or original price. Some of 'em were probably only worth that from the start.

Figuring out a price point has been extremely difficult. The prices I charge for work at Bear's Mill have always felt too high to me. Of course I am paying a consignment fee and have to figure that into it and I don't want to under price 'cos it offends the other potters and cheapens their work. By the same token I don't feel like I'm at the same level as some of the other potters so I feel like my prices are set at more than the work is wor

Then, pricing things here in New Castle has been even harder. I've had the prices too high (comparing them to what they sell for at Bear's Mill.) There are only a few other potters in the area and their skill levels run the gamut. The one thing they all have in common is dirt cheap prices. It amazes me that really ta
lented potters have their work priced so low, but I guess they can crank them out. I understand why some of the less experienced potters charge the prices they do. But most of them aren't doing it full-time as a business, so they don't really care if they make money at it.

Bread Baker

So that means I need to get efficient enough that I can crank out enough pots to make it worth my while. Like I keep saying, I'm just lucky that I have no education or job skills that would pay much more than
min. wage 'cos that's about what I think I'm going to make in this business!! Actually, even that goal might be unattainable!!!

The general public probably can't even tell the difference between the work of the various potters. They just look for cheap prices and "purty" colors!!

Of course I'm not referring to ALL the local pottery collectors. I have managed to attract a few regular buyers and they're wonderful people who are willing to spend their hard-earned money buying my pottery. Most of them have become friends and I truly appreciate their support!

Salad Bowl

I'm just trying to come up with a line of work that appeals to a wider variety of local shoppers. Since it seemed like the salt and soda work wasn't really selling, I decided to focus on firing in the electric kiln for awhile. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was working with some potter friends at Bear's Mill on developing a line of functional, reproducible bake ware to sell. In addition, we needed to come up with a new, glossy green/blue liner glaze to complement the green ash glaze that Julie and Rita developed.

I thought when I decided to focus on the electric kiln that it would be smooth sailing. HAH!!! IT has definitely presented its own challenges and frustrations! I've experienced over-firing, bloated clay, pinholes, glaze dri
pping on my kiln shelves, glazes applied too thickly, too thin of glaze applications, cracked bottoms, etc. etc. etc.

And yet, I'm lovin' it!!! I know I sound like I'm bitching, but I'm really not. Well, not about the process, which can be fairly labor intensive. No, that I love!! I just wish I could figure out a wa
y to sell enough to justify it as my "career." At least I can continue to blame the economy thanks to all the shenanigans the current administration is pulling. Even with the latest election, I don't see things changing much the next few years. But that's a WHOLE 'nother blog post!!!

Anyways, I feel like my forms are becoming more consistent and I've even managed to develop a new glaze that I'm going to use as a liner. Pulling that test piece out of the kiln was a very exciting and rewarding moment!!! Julie had suggested I try adding the same colorants to our glossy, clear base liner that we're using in the ash glaze for the outside of pieces. She said it seemed to need an opacifier and suggested I try z
ircopax. I did a little reading up in one of my firing books and it was suggested that rutile was a good opacifier and actually made glazes more stable than zircopax. Decided to try it and was quite pleased with the results!! This is the liner glaze with rutile on the salad bowl........
Salad Bowl with Rutile Blue/Green Glaze

So, now I think I've done quite enough blogging for one sitting so I will close this session and try to improve my blogging frequency. Not that it really matters to anyone, but it does seem to help me stay focused.

Prep Bowls or Ramekins

Monday, August 30, 2010

**I was checking to see when was the last time I had done any blogging....wow, it's been awhile. I found a draft I was working on over the summer. Decided to post it now just for kicks and giggles and will start working on an update.**

I did a dumb thing last week. I decided to organize my "business file" and that led me to add up my pottery sales so far for this year. I was a bit heartened by the total.......UNTIL........I decided to tally up my expenses for the same time period.

As of last week, it seems I have barely broken even! That was a bit of a blow!

I had just participated in a local event the night before, a "Wine and Art Gala" sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. I had produced some "wine related" pottery for this event which I fired in my electric kiln.

I know that some of my potter friends will feel that I "sold my soul" by firing my little electric kiln rather than loading up my soda kiln, but I need to start producing some work that I can turn over quickly and sell at a reasonable price. The electric kiln seems to offer this opportunity.

I ended up selling less than a hundred dollars worth of work, Ok, more like 75 bucks worth! That in itself was rather disappointing, so when I tallied up my expenses vs. income the following day, it was a sort of "icing on the cake" moment (with the cake tasting like liver, and the icing tasting like brussel sprouts!! In other words, YUKKY!)

Of course I participated in a bit of rationalization at this point, telling myself, it is only August (well almost September) and sales should increase dramatically in the next few months as the holidays approach and my expenses should have leveled out for the year now. So I told myself (as I've done before) that I just need to try to hang in here until after Christmas, and then decide if I should continue to pursue pottery as a business, or go back to my pottery being a hobby and find a part-time job to produce some actual "income."

Then Friday evening, I was informed that 2 of my higher priced pieces on display at Bear's Mill (in Ohio) had sold.

On Saturday I sold another wine chiller while unpacking the leftover from the Wine Gala to display at the local artist co-op. While I was there I met a woman who home schools and is interested in enrolling her child in a pottery class. I told her I had tried to teach a class earlier at the local Art Center, but had been unsuccessful in generating enough interest and she told me that she thought she might be able to find enough students for a class by talking to some of her fellow home-schooling parents!

Oh, and I almost forgot, at the Wine event, I met a man from Richmond, IN (about 20 min. from us) who owns a winery there. He said they're going to have an art event later in September and told me that I could sell my work and not have to pay any consignment or booth fee! We decided to check the place out Sat. evening with some friends, and it looks like it could be a nice venue to sell some pieces! I think I'm going to try.

I also am going to begin working on producing some pottery for Bear's Mill. The other 2 potters and I have decided to come up with a line of "Bear's Mill Pottery" that will always be available and will consist of classic, functional pieces that customers always seem to be looking for. Things like mugs and bakers and pitchers, etc. We're going to make them with the same clay and glazes and come up with some sort of "Bear's Mill" stamp that we can put on each piece to tie them all together.

So I guess I'm not giving up yet.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Unloaded the kiln today

I unloaded the kiln today. I was fairly pleased with the results. None of my worries panned out!! Shwew! Of course not all the glazes behaved as I envisioned, but nothing too hateful. I think some of the pots have so much speckling it's almost pretentious. Need to adjust placement in the kiln.

I added some blue pours to some of my wall pockets. I was afraid that a whole kiln full of brown, speckled pots would just be too much brown speckled pots. And even though I'm not a big fan of "blue" it seems like customers find it attractive. And if I don't start selling some of these things soon, I'm going to have to figure out where to store them all (and get a paying job!!)

So, I'm telling myself that "blues" can complement "earthy".....sorta like the sky and the ocean complements the trees and earth. Yeah.......works for me!

My friend, Scott, stopped by. (the designer and foreman of my kiln build.) He said some nice things and gave me some good advice. It's so nice to have a knowledgeable potter around who's willing to share his wisdom and experience (are you reading this, Scott??!!) Seriously, I think it would be hard to stay inspired with no other potters around.

And I love my kiln. It fired so nice for me. I had a few panicky moments during the firing. I wish I understood the process more. I don't have a lot of technical training since I only took a few classes at a community college. And I've gone to a few workshops. John Britt's workshop was great, but way over my head!!
I'm sorta like a cook who can follow recipes but doesn't do much tweaking and definitely doesn't start from scratch!!
Thank goodness for neighborly potters and those online who so willingly share their experiences and processes!

So, I will shut-up now and attach a few photos of the pots. Haven't gotten
the photo cube out yet, just took these under the shop lights. Oh, the first one is unloading the kiln. Yes, I got a little carried away with draw rings!!

I apologize for the layout. I haven't been able to figure out how to control where the pictures end up!