Monday, May 28, 2012

Thinking About Future Things

This is a table of glazed ware ready for tomorrow's firing.  If it comes out well, it could signal a new direction.  If it comes out poorly, it's back to the drawing board.  It's a glaze combination borne of frustration with one glaze that is SO beautiful, but SO equally untrustworthy. 
When it is good, it is very very good
And when it is bad, it is horrid
...and it is being used in conjunction with a glaze so dependable and yet, in that steadfast dependability, is utterly dull.  Functional, but dull.  Perfect, even.  But dull.  It's neither matte nor glossy but rather, a perfect eggshell.  And it's a white that is neither cold nor hot.  Just true.  And opaque.

I guess it's one of those opposites attract things, isn't it?  One glaze that can deliver better results than one should dare ask for....but only if all the planets are aligned, and the wind comes from the right direction, and the proper incantations are uttered...

...hopefully made dependable by marriage to another glaze, milquetoast, but oh so dependable that I could be breaking mirrors, walking under ladders, and drawing aces and eights while firing it, and the thing would look the same every time.

The tests have been hopeful.  And 100% positive.  So far, so good.

In other news....

I'm going to be doing my local art fair for the first time.  Why haven't I done it before?

1.  It's always held the same weekend as at least three other art fairs that are some of the best in the midwest -- Cincinnati Summerfair, Columbus Street Fair, and Kalamazoo's Bronson Park.  And I've always been lucky enough to get juried into one of those great shows.

2.  I've never wanted to face the possibility of doing poorly in front of my home town.  Sounds silly, perhaps, but there it is.  Through an odd set of circumstances in the history of my pottery  -- mostly that, until Etsy came along I sold 99% of my work at art fairs -- I've never sold very much pottery locally.  

In fact, though 20 years ago I had a "local"  (in quotes because it included South Bend and Fort Wayne, both of which are not local) mailing list of 900+ names, since I closed my gallery 20 years ago, I've been a business entity almost entirely disconnected from my community.  Most Warsonians aren't even aware that I have this pottery on the edge of town. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that Warsaw is not my market.  Oh, the stories I could tell of when I DID have a gallery.  And so I've always been a bit reluctant to find out whether or not I could sell locally. 

But last year I was set up in the near-100 degree heat in Kalamazoo watching a heat-beaten crowd shuffle by my booth.  I spent the better part of the weekend concluding to myself that I could be doing that bad at my home town show.

But I have another reason for doing the local show.  I'm going to put out a poster to see if there's any interest in pottery classes or workshops in Warsaw.  This has been an ongoing thought I've had for some time now.  Maybe I'll discuss that in future posts.  But, in short, I've been thinking about passing along some of the stuff I do.

Additionally, I had the pleasure of visiting Seagrove, NC a couple of weeks ago on my way to a show in Greenville, SC.  Yes, I know that Seagrove is not on my way to Greenville.  But it was as close as I'm likely to come in the near future.  So I took the opportunity.  I'm glad I did.  

I had the pleasure of spending several hours picking the very experienced brains of Meredith and Mark at the Whynot Pottery .  They patiently let me ramble out my jumble of thoughts on the topic, and then gave me some really wise advice and direction.  It was just helpful to talk to some other potters about the idea.  Just saying it out loud to such a sounding board was an opportunity to see if it even sounded plausible to MY ear in the telling.

Anyway, I'm rambling again.  I haven't blogged much and it appears my tires need a retread.

So, here's the poster.  I'll be set up in Winona Lake this Saturday and Sunday.  I say that to nobody in particular.....Google Analytics assures me that I do not, nor have I ever had any readers from the Warsaw/Winona Lake area.  Maybe that will change after the weekend, eh?  (I threw in the "eh".  I DO have Canadian readers)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tons of Hope

I remember when clay wasn't a big problem or a big expense. But in the past few years I've gone through clay that won't gas out in a bisque firing ( leaving me with bubbled glaze surfaces), clay of a too fine mesh (it cracks in a pot's crevices), and clay that stinks.

 So now I'm now buying three different clays to accommodate what I used to do with one good clay. And still I'm not sure that I will have decreased the amount of loss I've been suffering these past few years of firings. 

But the fact that I've gone to the trouble of getting new clay in the shop at least shows that I've got hope.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Kingdom For A Telephoto Lens

There's a pair of Orioles nesting along the greenway near our house. Orioles aren't the rarest bird in Indiana, but it can be a very long time between sightings. 

They're not like scarlet tanagers or indigo buntings --- birds you may never see, but they play hard to get when they flirt.  And that's enough to make a sighting a real prize. That, and they're just strikingly beautiful. Winsome singers, too.

 I just rode my bike the half-mile to the tree I saw them in last Thursday and, sure enough, there they were. But as is their way, they stayed WAY up high in the tree. My telephoto isn't up to the task, but I took a few shots anyway. In three of the shots I can't even find the birds. The fourth is the one I've cropped to show you here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Back From The Road

I just completed my second successful (good) art fair in a row. I spent the last two days up at the East Lansing Art Festival where the weather was near perfect, the crowd engaging, the sales good, and the music most excellent.

 I somewhat abashedly admit that I've done East Lansing Art Fair in past years, not because I sold particularly well, but solely on the basis of the music line-up they manage to book on their main stage each year. 

In the past I've seen: 

The Duhks 
Tom Paxton (accompanied by Joel Mabus) 
Peter Ostrusko and Dean Magraw 
Robin & Linda Williams 
Eddie From Ohio 
Steppin' In It 

Really, over the past 20 years of doing the show off and on, there are too many great acts to name. 

 But it was an unexpected treat to open up the printed program as I was setting up, only to find the main act for Saturday was a real guitar hero -- Mary Flower. 

She played a really fine one hour set. Then, because she closed down the show on Saturday and happened to hang around a while, as I left the show I dropped by back stage and asked if she'd sign my Yamaha (the guitar that named itself "YA AHA" when I noticed that it had removed the "M" from its own headstock).

I also got the chance to catch up a bit with my old pottery friend, Tony Winchester. (picture below).

All in all, a fine weekend.  I arrived home at 10:30 PM last night to Breeze who was so excited to see me that he fairly shivered with joy.  That's love.

You might check my now updated show schedule in the left hand column of this blog (or on my website)

Friday, May 18, 2012


I'm off to East Lansing for the East Lansing Art Festival. Here are some pictures of what I've been working on lately... 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dame's Rocket

 The trails where I run with the dogs are in full bloom.  The purple-to-white flower is called "Dame's Rocket" and it covers (I'm guessing) about 20% of the forest floor.  It smells as heavenly as it looks on my morning runs these days.

Breeze has kept up his job as pottery shop manager.  We're expecting a new shipment of clay today (going back to Miller 850 after losing too many pieces with the current clay), so Breeze is busy moving the old batch to the side to make room on the pallet for the new.

I took some pictures as I worked my way through a series of teapots earlier this month. Here they are as I began the decorating cycle...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Friends Ask The Best Questions


 My guitar friends asked me some interesting questions about being an art fair potter.  It began an interesting discussion.  The opening question was whether I'd ever had an idea ripped off.  There are a couple of other questions in the text of the long discussion duplicated here:

Interesting coincidence that you would ask the question right after my South Carolina show. The show, "Artisphere", did something that artists have talked about for years now, but no show that I know of has ever done anything about. As we were setting up on Friday, the show passed out signs to post in our booths saying:


And, of course, this prompted discussions among the artists over the rest of the weekend. Story after story was told of having work pirated.

One of the more interesting was Ed (name changed), a watercolorist who caught the same photographer surreptitiously taking pictures in his booth in consecutive years. Having caught the fellow (long story) it came out that the pirate was paid $500 for any image that his Pac Rim employer put into production.

I know one mixed media artist who had a curious drop of sales -- in particular from a gallery that had previously been her biggest and most regular customer. As fate would have it, a friend of this artist happened to be touring China -- including some of the "art" export factories. To this traveler's shock, she saw her friend's artwork being assembled in the factory. She called her friend back in the States and told her about it. Mystery solved. The gallery had sent the artist's work to China to be reverse engineered and created at pennies on the dollar for the gallery.

Mike (name changed) and I began our online sales ventures at the same time. Because of that, it was common for Mike  and me to discuss the latest web developments when we'd meet up at art fairs. At one winter fair I ran into Mike and asked the usual "So, how's it going?" question. That's when Mike related the following...

Seems that just a couple of months earlier, Mike received an unsolicited email from a company in India. It offered to make Mike's jewelry for him at a fraction of his manufacturing cost....and attached to the email was a page of images of prototypes of Mike's work as manufactured by this Indian company.

Mike wasn't exactly sure what to do. He'd never authorized the copying of his work and that in itself was offensive. He could, he supposed, find a market other than art fairs (where having the work manufactured elsewhere would break the artist/art fair contract that demands that that not be the case). Still, it was unsettling to have his work pirated. As he sat on the offer, not sure what to do....less than a week later the same company sent a follow-up saying "Oh, by the way, we can also offer you these works as well." Attached was page after page of jewelry pirated from other jewelers like Mike.

That was bad enough, but Mike then delivered the capper: "....and there's a jeweler at this art fair with some of the work I saw on those other pages."

Smart guy that he is, Mike immediately saw the other problem that represented. That is: There is no way to know if the other jeweler at the show was similarly (as Mike) pirated, or if they were breaking the art fair rules of production.

I presented these three examples (out of dozens I could cite) just by way of illustrating that there is a problem and it's bigger than one might think.

And so, as you'll see when I tell you my story, though it seems improbable, my answer to "Have I ever had my ideas stolen?" is....yes, I think so. I'm almost sure. And on a huge scale.

Starting about 10-12 years ago I started to have amazing success with a particular “line” of pots. It was the kind of success that was the buzz of the art fair scene. It was also the kind of success that couldn't be hidden. At its most extreme, things like this were happening:

At one of the biggest art fairs in the country for several years running, though the show opened at 9:00 AM on Friday, by 8:00 AM there would be a line extending 20'-30' out of my yet-to-be-opened booth with patrons waiting to buy.

Everyone knew about it. You couldn't not see it.

Now here I seem to change the subject. This is just a little background. A little, "think about this".

Say you are a major national company with millions invested in the marketing end of cheap import housewares. What do you suppose might be the most cost effective way to do the market research and development for the next items that you plan to have manufactured overseas for your catalog? Do you suppose you'd hire 20-somethings fresh out of design school? Do you suppose you'd put an ad for designers in some online employment site?

No, if you're smart, you'd simply go to where creative people are already making the next new ideas and doing the marketing research for you by going from town to town and testing their work in front of an audience of cumulative millions of buyers each year -- the art fairs and the art fair artists.

And as an added bonus? The art fair artists are too small-time to offer up any legal resistance to your ripping them off.

Enter the photographers/spies. Go to the biggest art fairs in the country and go from booth to booth and look for the next ideas you want to have made in Pac Rim companies for your import biz. OR…….even better and more efficient? ....don't go from booth to booth -- go from crowd to crowd. Simply go to the booths that seem the busiest and see what the crowd is buying. Photograph THAT work and have it duplicated for your store.

This is a long way of answering that, yes, XXXXXX&XXXXXXX obviously witnessed my outrageous success.  One Autumn morning, as I was walking back from my mailbox to my shop leafing through their catalog, I was stopped dead  in my tracks.   I had just reached a page in the catalog that was my line of pots as interpreted through mass production.

And, no I can't prove it. And, no I can't do anything about it.. And, no the work wasn't exactly like mine (to manufacture the stuff, they cast what I threw....though some of the pieces were pretty much a dead-on copy of mine).

FRIEND:  John, That sucks. Do you now make an extra effort to create stuff that cannot be easily mass produced?

It's a good question. This problem isn't a new one. There's always been a degree of idea piracy going on at art fairs. And the better among us are really a front line of creativity -- and as such, really fruitful targets. Our survival demands that we continually move on, and we small studio craftsmen aren't usually married to a process that is so committed that we can't sort of "turn on a dime". That nimbleness was always our strength.

The thing that's changed everything is the exponentially easier and faster means the pirates have at their disposal to duplicate us. Between technological advances and easier access to the Pac rim, the game has changed.

One thing that used to favor us artists was the huge cost and commitment that the factories incurred in copying us. They had to be pretty darn convinced it was worth the process, because it was going to cost them LOTS to copy us in order to make it worth their mass-producing while. Yes, that's why they appreciated the degree to which they could rely on us for our product market research  , but still, it was a commitment for them to go into production on one of our items.

No longer. Now even they can do a short run at low cost. And they can do it fast. They can be in the market in a matter of short weeks, should they decide to start production. If they're a bigger concern, they are on it with the next catalog/season cycle.

But there are things inherent in my process that they will not do. They won't hand-throw. They probably won't high fire. There will be distinctives in my work that will matter in the market. But perhaps those distinctives will only matter to a smaller audience, and the larger audience I might have once had will be satisfied with the knock-off.

Nimble is the name of the game. But I'm old. Nimble is harder.

FRIEND:  I browsed a local fair here two weekends ago. The no photography signs were in evidence in all the booths. That's fine, but what of the online sales? You have nice images right there for the pickins.

I have many friends who won't sell online for that reason. It's a problem as my friend, Mike, found out. I guess if there's a small consolation, at least online there is little indication as to the success of the piece/line. At least online they don't see a line hanging out my booth and halfway down the aisle waiting to buy, letting them know that the duplication is worth the effort.

I think this insight is the only safe harbor -- be different and inherently harder to duplicate. It's a tall order, but probably the only avenue beyond faithful "followers" and the ancient artist marketing model based on some vague sense of mystique and notoriety. Certainly the possibility is always there that who the artist IS may be able to trump the competition from piracy. That's another LONG discussion though....