Thursday, May 10, 2018

Care & Cleaning Instructions for Pete's Shirt

The discussion on pricing continues.  Tony added this post into the mix.

Most potters I know who are trying to sustain their life in the clay world aren’t wondering that a mug can sell for $50 or even $100…or even $1,000.  They know that a shirt can sell for $1 (Salvation Army), $25 (L.L.Bean) or $1,000 (Purchased from the Elvis Presley estate auction) .  And they know that they’d treat each of those shirts with commensurate care.
So, they’re not wondering that a mug can sell for a lot of money.  What they are wondering is more specific:

1.  What makes a mug worth $50?
2. And they are asking question #1 with a mind toward the follow-up question: “Can I make a mug that sells for $50?”
3. After answering questions 1 & 2:  If I know what might make a mug sell for $50, and I do make that mug that sells for $50, am I getting paid a reasonable sum – not for the value of that one mug – that one piece -- but toward a goal of making a reasonable living from the profits gained by selling a mug for $50. 
4. In other words (question #3), “Can I sell MUGS (plural) for $50 and make a living from those mugs?  Can I sustain a market for $50 mugs for a reasonably extended period of my clay career?
5.  And will making $50 mugs advance my career?  Will I make only those mugs or will I make other things?

6.  And if I’m making other things of which mugs will be but a part of my inventory…am or will I be able to pay myself equally (or nearly enough so) for, say, my pitchers, or my bowls, or my doo-dads, or my what’s-its?
Most potters will never be able to avail themselves of the stratospheric “collectible” market.  Their phones aren’t jingling with calls from Charlie Cummings or Garth Clark to put on a $50 mug exhibit.  Most potters aren’t going to be asked to present a workshop at NCECA or Wooster or Ella Sharp or anywhere else for that matter. 

In fact, though there are any number of potters who aspire to that end ("...oh, please, please, please Charlie...won't you give me a call?!"), I suspect there are just as many or more who aspire to the seclusion of their potteries and their kilns and their production, and who relish the interaction with the open market of pottery consumers  – those who want to live and use the stuff.

And most potter’s experience in the world of potters-selling-to-other-potters looks a bit more like potters-trading-with-other-potters.  It’s a zero-sum game, not a business model. 
I’m one of the lucky ones and I thank God daily for that.  I couldn’t appreciate the kindness of my fellow potters more than I do when they honor me by buying my pots.  They’ve pulled my butt out of the fire several times with timely purchases, even. 

But in my world of clay, as much as I love my fellow potters, I don’t see them as a sustainable market for my work. In fact, I mostly see them as partners-in-life who I absolutely need to survive this perilous but utterly fulfilling life in clay.  

No potter is an island entire of himself.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Who Is In Charge?

Here's my estimation:

If a potter is making a living by selling his pots -- no other source of revenue, no family money, no supporting spouse, no trust fund, no government grants....

...then the only consideration a potter should make relative to the prices other potters put on their work is whether, when stood beside those other potter's work (whether those other potters are the rankest of beginners or the most famous among us), the pottery we are offering the world will be perceived as being of lesser, equal, or greater value.

I have yet to meet the potter whose mug was inferior to mine simply on the basis that they had only been making pots for a year (compared to my 40) -- and plenty of beginning potters who proved quite the opposite. And I've met few famous potters who were putting significantly more value into their mugs (though several are playing the dangerous game Tim Mather once described to me as "putting more value into a piece than can reasonably be recovered in an open market")

There is value to be had in brand. Some of our number get to be well-known. But that particular aspect of price requires a few things in order to be a serious contender in the "What Can I Charge?" sweepstakes:

1. Does your "fame" -- your life experience, your name recognition -- extend beyond the world of clay? If not, then your market is the cloistered clay world of academia, workshops, and select galleries. If that is the case, a potter might be able to generate a living income from that small group....but the perverse thing is that the price structure allowed (even encouraged) within that cloister are the very prices that almost guarantee failure in the open market where the name recognition/brand/fame isn't obvious.

2. If that fame does extend beyond the world of clay then perhaps the world is your oyster. A friend of mine once pointed out to me that we might often be playing to the wrong audience.

For instance (he pointed out), if you are writing an article about your work, is your first instinct that your target reader is the Ceramics Monthly/Clay Times/Studio Potter reader....

...or are you submitting to The Smithsonian/Architectural Digest/Parade Magazine readers of the open market?

 We clay people often wonder why there are so few of our number who are ever truly famous in the open art world (or fame is almost exclusively within our medium). Maybe it's because we don't play to the open audience. Maybe it's because we like each other too much :) . Or maybe it's because we're just scared.

More pricing issues for later blogs:

1. Does our pricing allow us to be making the pots we want to be making (instead of what pays the bills)?

2. Does our pricing allow us to make the pieces we most want to be remembered for (if remembrance seems at all likely)?

3. Can we make pottery that we can make a living from?

4. Is there anything inferior about being an amateur potter -- either by way of pursuit OR quality of work?

The subject seems endless....and very subjective.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Kiln Opening 4/26/2018

 I'm happy with the way firings are coming out these days.  Here's a table full of small (1qt) casseroles in ash and red.

Pumpkins are never out of season.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Promises, Promises

In an effort to put together a brochure (I can't type the word "brochure" without hearing the Bucket woman in my ear pronouncing it "BRAAA-sher") , I thought it might be valuable to include some testimonials in the brochure -- words from attendees at previous workshops.

Toward that end, I promised the folks at the last workshop that there'd be a mug in it for anyone who'd send me a written review.

Now, I know that sounds sort of ethically squishy. Payola. But in my defense I did ask for the bad and the good. And I got some good suggestions for improving.

Anyway, here are some of the mugs that will be wheeling their way northward after I glaze fire them tomorrow.

Kiln Opening 4/24/2018

This one is the future.  It's a white stoneware formulated by Royce Yoder and reformulated by Sunstone Pottery out in Utah, then mixed in Ohio by Laguna.

My red glaze glows on it like it used to on porcelain and B-mix (before the bubbling started).

I'm really excited to start producing in earnest with this clay.

 This has leaves falling down the slip-trailed spiral.  I intend to repeat this pattern more this year.

I sprayed heavily so the gold ran into the spiral in the center of the bowl.  I like that it makes it look deeper.

 I used to carve my green glazed pots and stamp my red and gold glazed pots.  The way the red was firing, the carving just turned the whole thing dark.  No more.  I'm now getting a good sunburst through the carving.

Here's some carved red on a more vertical piece.   I'm still getting lots of red and gold.  The acorns have never looked better.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Ways Out Of The Starting Blocks

1. Steal from the best. Listen to better music. Read better literature -- poems, prayers, stories, and lies (if you can listen to them it's even better). Good artists can take you to different worlds. Those worlds are a good stepping off place to create your own. You're not copying. It's just that it's much harder to get somewhere from nowhere.
Nephew, Stephen Bauman at work

2. Draw from life. When I was very young I loved to draw and paint. My family encouraged me by telling me I was talented. What they meant was that they could tell what I was drawing better than, say, what my dog Tippy might have drawn with the same crayon in hand. So I kept at it. I was never satisfied. My images made sense and looked like the thing I intended. Sort of. Then I took life drawing in college. Oh...

There's nothing like the illumination that comes when you realize for the first time that the reason your drawings were lifeless is because you weren't drawing them from life.

So there's that. And there's this: Art isn't really about art. You're going to do your best writing while you're driving. Or cooking. Or sailing. My mom wrote while she knitted. I write while I'm at the potter's wheel. I'm not saying anything about the quality of my writing. I'm just saying that that's when it happens most frequently.

What I'm talking about there is called "The Effortless Custody of Automatism". It's the converse of "The idle mind is the devil's playground". It's the observation that when doing practiced tasks that no longer require thought, the mind is free to create -- and often does with a greater facility than the mind of a body at rest.

There's a bit of a star-gazing phenomenon to it too. What I mean by that is: You ever notice that when you look into the night sky you can see stars in your peripheral vision that you can't see when you then turn to stare at them? Some things come better to us when we're not approaching them directly.

You also avoid the intimidation of the blank page.

A word picture within a word picture -- a thought within a thought: Perhaps if you become so proficient at the skill of guitar that you can be in its effortless custody, you can more easily add words while playing. If that's so, then you can have your cake and eat it to. You can write lyrics while you're playing music -- and not while driving or cooking or potting or knitting. Maybe.

3. Disregard everything I said before and realize that some art is about art. Some really good art. Noodle on the guitar. Write the next "Jabberwocky" by simply playing with words. Don't draw from life. Simply write down one word and follow it with the next one. Play one chord and follow it with the next one. Find a fit. Find a song.

4. Sit in the darkness and be somebody else. Write something in somebody else's voice. Write as if you are somebody else. Write "Angel From Montgomery" even though you're a man. Write "Millworker" even though you're a man and never worked a day in a mill. Oh, but get ready to be ridiculed because you didn't fact check your imagination.

5. Copy a rhythm first and then match chords and words to that.

6. Backwards engineer a song. Find a song and write a different lyric to it. Find a song and write a new melody to it.

7. "Muse" is what we call the 1000th visitor to the door we keep opening. We call all the other visitors "Attempts".

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Not For The Faint Of Praise

Frustrating, isn’t it?  There are few things quite so deflating as being "damned with faint praise".  But try not to be discouraged when folks seem to say the wrong things.  They really mean to be saying the right things.

When I wrote short bios of my potter friends as part of my social media push to amplify a pottery festival I was going to be part of, it was easy to do.  The potters I was writing about are all fantastic potters.  They are my heroes, my role models, my friends.  Their work is easy to promote for all I’m worth.  It’s some of the finest pottery being made by some of the most accomplished potters in the country today.

But I was (and continue to be) acutely aware of the danger of describing someone's work in a way that, though meant to be complimentary,  could be misunderstood as anything but. Maybe what I wrote would be read and taken as too slight – not superlative enough.  I may not have said enough. I might have praised the wrong aspect. I might even have mis-interpreted their work. I might have said too much about one and not enough about the other.
It's a real minefield.

Additionally, though I observe this at the risk of being misunderstood completely, I was writing those reviews at the height of the "Me Too" movement. For that reason, I wrote only one review of a woman potter.  My lack of reviewing women was the unintended consequence of a well-meaning movement, but a movement that had nonetheless  interjected just too much risk into writing about a woman. I could have written something TOTALLY intending to be complimentary -- but would be misunderstood because the default mood of the day had "offended" dialed up to 11.  On social media I’ve always intended to stay politically neutral and that made it additionally risky.  Ironically, anyone who knows me well has heard me say that my favorite potters are almost all women.

I only went down that particular rabbit trail to point out that, in addition to simple "damning with faint praise", there are other factors that play heavily into why what one means to be saying – or not saying -- is OFTEN taken the wrong way.

One thing I've noticed in the past 20 years -- since the inception of internet communication -- is how much trouble people have when trying to express themselves in writing. There may be one in a million people who, when they write, can actually convey well what they mean to be saying. And one in a billion who can say it in a way that also conveys something satisfactorily beyond some journalistic literalism. Those statistics might be inaccurate or exaggerated. My research is incomplete.

People generally just don't write well. They don't speak well either.
Additionally, we as creative people have our necks stuck out there by choice. We choose to put our works (and our dreams) out there and put to the criticism of strangers. We want our creative endeavors validated. But we're simultaneously scared that they won't be.

So we're hyper sensitive.

We want to believe the lies of validation. That's the strength of social media. There's always a facebook friend who will tell us what we want to hear.  And they don't mean to be untruthful any more than the faint praiser means to deflate us. They ALL want to encourage us. They just suck at it.

As long as I'm bloviating, would you indulge me one more observation about praise -- faint, absent, or misunderstood?

Experts don't praise experts for their expertise. They expect it. It's really not professional jealousy or competitiveness that keeps peers mum about our work. Oh, it might be that from time to time. But I think it's most often simply that peers expect the level of proficiency that makes one a peer. Peers don't find that proficiency praise worthy. Peers find proficiency to simply be the baseline.

You can wait until the day you die to get praise from your peers. Peers don't regularly praise peers. Peers aren't startled into praising what they expect.

I think we get a different kind of validation from our peers. I think the affirmation we get from peers comes in the form of inclusion, not praise.

So, if the artists you admire most aren't saying much about your work, you might just be receiving the highest praise possible.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Low Bridge -- Everybody Down

I pulled it old right from the kiln.
So hot I could barely hold it 

But it told a tale of ancient places it had been.

Of 16th century years, of tavern beers
Held in rounded shapes, peasants draped in capes
Landscapes of Renaissance paintings. 

Glazed like later years rolled ‘round and Albany brown
Dug straight from the ground the sound
Of barges down the Erie Canal

Low bridge!  Everybody down!
This mug, brand new
But with a soul so old
It couldn’t have come from my hand.

Maybe it came from my dreams.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

It's Springtime. So Of Course It's Not The Fall

Nobody seems to have anything good to say about falling into the abyss. 

But if you think about it, the problem with falling from a great height (as has so often been pointed out) is not the fall, but rather, the abrupt stop at the bottom.

Well, the abyss is, by definition, bottomless. That means that, unlike a fall from a great height,  at least the fear of that abrupt stop is allayed. 

Perhaps it's not all bad. 
So, the abyss might have a silver lining but it's dark in here, so I'm not sure.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Language of Love

She speaks “Bless your heart” like a native. No discernible accent. She learned the language as a child and has spoken it ever since.

If I were to speak it, it would sound like a bad script rehearsal. I can’t fake it.

She doesn’t need to.

The love falls from her words as naturally as rain from the sky. As natural as grace. And the old and infirm welcome it just as naturally as she offers it.

I’ve never seen anything like it. Old people smile at her words like they’ve been in a strange land and they’re hearing their native language spoken for the first time in years.

They may have been in the good and able care of others, but at the same time they’ve been starved for the intimacy she offers them. They eat it up.

She listens. She listens even when it means getting real close so she can hear. And she asks them to repeat themselves if she doesn’t get it. She could fake it and nod. She doesn’t. She leans in closer. She holds an offered hand.

And so it was as she started helping to care for Marjorie this past year. She quickly became the brightest light in a life so small and cordoned off by age that it consisted mostly of one chair set in front of a picture window so that Marjorie could watch the bird feeder just beyond the glass. The books that used to entertain her became blank pages. The TV became noise.

But when she came into the room to clean it, she always took the time to sit with Marjorie for a while.
There was never much new to talk about, but that’s just another of her gifts – questions. She prompted years of retold memories to pass the long and previously empty hours.

You could find her in the room with Marjorie most evenings before leaving for home. She would be kneeling on the floor in front of Marjorie. They’d be laughing and talking and sharing, hand in hand.

Yesterday she went to Marjorie’s side. It had been a rough night before. In words I couldn’t summon if I had to, she leaned in real close to Marjorie’s ear and said quietly, “I love you Marjorie. I’m going to pray that angels might come to make your journey go easily. Tonight you’ll be in the arms of Jesus.” And then she bent forward and kissed Marjorie’s 98 year old lips – because that’s how they always say goodnight.

Marjorie nodded. And about an hour later she was with Jesus.

Who is this woman I married?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

I Am Sure With You

First, I loved 60s pop. Absolutely loved it. I listened to AM radio every day, and I could have listened all day -- and during the summer I often did, even often putting a little radio on a long extension cord by the driveway goalpost at the Spring Mill Road house as I shot baskets. I even remember tuning in a transistor (whose, I don’t know – it was a Zenith) late at night in my room -- the sound all tinny, but my mind filling in all the fullness of the recordings.

I loved it all.

But even considering the Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, Kinks, Byrds, Hollies, Spoonful, Motown groups and singles.... favorite was the Rascals.

And when I watch this video and see Kate Taylor's reaction to the magical opening notes pour out of Brigati's mouth, I can see she must have felt at least nearly the same way. How could any group have had TWO such superlative voices as Brigati's and Cavaliere's, not to mention such a winsome catalog?

I remember a few years ago when I was back home with my HUGE family (a good 25-30 in the huge meeting room of an Indianapolis Hotel) for Christmas. At such gatherings my brother, Geoff, and I often picked up guitars and played. The family says they loved to hear us, I know that’s true, though the din of a gathering never lessened just because we were playing. And we were playing for each other – we wouldn’t have wanted the room to quiet as though we were “entertaining” them.

And this holiday gathering wasn't any different from any other. Geoff and I picked up our guitars and played some songs -- basically to each other.

But then I started playing "How Can I Be Sure" (in drop D, for you guitar players!). Brigati's vocal range is probably 2 1/2 times mine and I was REALLY straining to hit the high notes. Additionally, I was sort of concentrating on the changes -- the guitar part being new to me at the time.

Well, it suddenly dawned on me that something was different. As I started in on "Whenever I, whenever I am away from you...." I realized that everyone in the room was singing along with me at the tops of their voices. We finished the song that way, half shouting it out together. It was absolutely horriible sounding......and it was one of the best musical memories of my life.

Thanks you Rascals, you.