Thursday, May 31, 2018

Square Pegs & Pots

A true horseman
Expert in the saddle
In his nonchalance

He appears born to it
Clearly doing just what
He oughter

Take, for instance,
A ship in a bottle
You just know
It didn’t sail into there
So how did I end up
A potter?

Monday, May 28, 2018

Sitting In The Catbird Seat

 It's quiet in the shop at 5:30 ayem-in-the-morning. Except that it's not this morning. I opened the front windows to the social media chattering, whistling, popping, and general vocal mayhem that is the catbirds nesting in the crab apple tree that hangs over the shop.

It's nice to have company.

To Dance

He was a graceless man. 

The neighborhood kids called him "Plug". It fit him. He was stubby like a fireplug. If he dressed well, I never saw it. And he was too much of a character actor to ever be called "handsome". He passed his anachronistic military haircut on to his sons -- one of those sons was my friend growing up.

He shouted. Or he growled. That's because it's hard to shout around the stub of a cigar.
His wife tamed the family. Good thing, too. There were daughters.

Growing up, one rarely speculates the romance that brought our parents generation together. The world starts the day we are born and everything that came before just was.

And then I saw them dance. Plug and the wife out on the floor at a family wedding. The transformation was almost shocking. How could Plug and the wife suddenly become Fred and Ginger? How could they move so beautifully together? 

Dancing is an intimacy that even the most staid and modest are not embarrassed by. We know what's being acted out and yet we witness it with joy and without a blush. 

Plug will always be Plug. I'll still remember him puttering around his lawn. But I know now that he's not without grace.

 Abundant grace.

When Soft Happens

The clay I'm throwing today is so soft that I can plunge my hand into a 25lb slug of it and as quickly as I withdraw my hand the clay fills the void.

I inadvertently set a 25lb bag of this clay over a crack in the concrete floor of my shop for a few seconds. By the time I reached for it again it had slipped almost entirely into the crack. If it wasn't for that little twist tie that closes the bag, I might not have recovered the clay at all.

When I threw it down on the wedging table it splashed.

 I can only assume that when the clay factory was mixing this batch of clay up they did so as your typical one-part-per-million holistic apothecary might add his placebo into solution. I'm sure they added clay into the water when they were making this batch. I mean, I assume they did. It's not JUST water. It's at least cloudy.

The only way I've been able to throw shapes out of it at all is by joining it in hypostatic union (a term I appropriated from my college theology classes for its useful ambiguity. Don't worry, though. The theologians won't be offended at my pilfering their term. They don't understand what it means either)...
....anyway, I joined the clay in hypostatic union with a cloud of dust that I keep swirling above my wheel.

So, this lump of clay is lying on a psychiatrist's couch and he says, "Hey doc, I can't help but feel I'm being manipulated."

I'm torn with my choices regarding this wet clay. I may have to leave it to air dry for a while and then wedge it back up. Or I might put it in a very large tub and soak in it for a while while I ponder the problem.

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.