Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Feeling Glazed

Glaze kiln loaded. Check.
Glaze area shelves cleaned. Check.

Wish I loved glazing as much as I love making the pots in the first place. I don't. Glazing is my struggle and sometimes, my Achilles heel. But a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do. As my favorite husband says of even my best work, "It's not the steak, it's the sizzle." In short, make it red. Or blue. Or shiny. And here's another pithy and pertinent one, "No one wants to hear about the labor pains, they just want to see the baby."

This blog is about the labor pains AND the baby.

It's almost that honey time of year!
I'll be loading a few nice honey jars up on my website on Wednesday of next week. Check the site for the new ones.

In fact, if you want to bookmark the sucker, that would be great.
Now if we can get the Contact and Checkout pages to work...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Grrrouchy Potter

Spoiler alert: This is gonna be a grouchy post. If you need my sweet side... better wait till next week. It was occasioned by a telephone remark when I said I had to go, I needed to get back to work. The other person innocently said, "Have fun."

You wouldn't think "have fun" would get me so unaccountably grumpy.

It’s like this. I mean, just call me defensively crabby, but really, it is like this:

“What do you do?”

“I’m a potter.”

“Oh, that’s so much fun!”

The “f” word. It's often followed by, "Can I come and make stuff?”

I confess. Making pottery is kind of fun. But add this: It's business, too. It must be the tiara and wings that are doing it, but be honest- do I look like the Good Fairy of Studio Gift Time?

A grandma visiting her local children, on discovering I am a potter, said, “Oh, that’s so much fun! The children would love to come over to play!”

Um??? How to explain this? A working pottery studio isn’t a great place for kids to play. There are sharp tools, and equipment they can injure themselves on. They need constant supervision and guidance. And my work in progress is very easily damaged by being bumped or jostled.

This ain’t no hobby. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.

I'm happy to say I'm pretty busy. I'm usually too busy now to offer lessons. I have one kick wheel and my own lovely, dusty, orderly disorder. Maybe someday I'll take students again. But unless I invite them (I sometimes do), there isn't place for playful little or big guests just because "it would be so much fun."

I like my work. I like it very much. I like the muscles I get in my arms as I push the dense clay around on my wheel. I like having the expertise to give form and grace to a grayish lump. It’s not as easy as it looks, and mastering it is cool. I even use the word "play" sometimes. As in, "I'm playing with texture." (Accountants don't get to say that.) It suits me way better than lots of other jobs.

But let that not fool you for a second. It involves sweat and endurance and tools. It’s dirty and dusty and makes a big mess that needs recycling and mopping up. Often, despite all I have to do in the studio, it's hard to get down to it in the morning. It requires being available at all phases of production, at all times of day, according to the needs of the pieces at hand. It involves lots of time in the basement, lots of bending and lifting and plain old shlepping. There’s bookkeeping and taking photos and marketing my work, and updating my website regularly. My studio is something like Virgina Woolf's "a room of one's own," the place where I turn ideas and plans into pottery and sales. As for guests in my workplace... the tiara is askew and the wings- you know I don't really have wings, right?

Anyone see the irony in the fact that “have fun” makes me really, really cranky?

OK, all done with the kvetching. Now for the photo of some of the pots made in this rawware cycle:

The operative number on these is ten. Ten shellac-resisted honey jars with lids, and ten matched saucers. Ten carved washing cups. Ten nice big serving bowls, though they didn't all fit into this photo. All on schedule to be ready before Rosh Hashana.

Next week: shellac resist on some of the bowls, a bisque firing for the rawware, maybe glazing bisqueware, and absolutely fixing the glitch in my website shopping cart checkout. And maybe, work permitting, inviting a friend to visit briefly at the studio. Just for fun.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shellac Resist Honey Jars

Last week's honey jars were bone dry. It was time for them to get their surface designs. Instead of drawing on the pots, I decided to make raised designs on them.

That started with a pencil drawing. If you know me by now, you know that's probably leaves and stems to start, then random this and that as I go on. So it went today.

The pencil drawing areas got a coating of shellac. I used amber-colored shellac, so I could see the design outlines clearly. I brushed on two coats for a tough, durable shell.

Shellac dries pretty fast on bone dry pots. In 15 minutes, the honey jars were ready for sponging. A well-wrung little sponge wiped round and round the jar cleaned off a superficial layer of clay everywhere except where shellac had been brushed on.

The whole point of this exercise is, the shellacked areas stand out. They are raised from the slightly eroded, wiped surface.

You can see the raised designs of grass, leaves, those Cheerio kind of circles... They really have texture.

The shellac burns off each honey jar completely in the kiln, leaving the entire piece
the same uniform white when it comes out of the bisque kiln (the one where pots are changed from raw clay to bisque ware). These pots will then be ready to be glazed with colors and fired again.

Looks like I have a new craze for the moment. This was waaaay fun. My nephew Yoni took some short video clips of the process, and I want to put them up on my website once I have shots of the glazed, finished honey jars.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Planning Honey Jar Shellac Resist

Decided to forgo studio and computer today to get some sunshine and movement in kayaks with my oldest child. Aaaahh. It felt like summer. The honey jars will just wait a few more days to get their shellac-resist treatment.

So far the honey jars have come out like this:

The next batch, if all works right, should have a raised design of leaves or other natural pattern on each jar. Photos of the design process next week!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Debut of My New Website, or, How to Get a Website Built, Eventually

Finding a website builder the first time was easy. I wasn’t really looking. In the middle of a casual conversation about maybe selling my pottery online, my friend offered to help out. Although already versed in web building, she was looking to learn a newer website building program and this was her chance.

My friend, (to whom I am grateful for getting all this going,) told me right away that she would only have limited time to work on my site, since some pressing personal obligations had to take precedence. I was okay with this, since I didn’t know what I wanted in a website design anyway. I had lots to work through and decide.

She stuck with me (and vice versa) while we figured it out. In the end we spent a good bit of time getting most of the way there, but not quite all the way. Meanwhile, I sharpened my thoughts of what I wanted, and completion of the site finally became my priority. But my friend’s other obligations still had to take precedence over my site. We had to come to a parting of the web ways.

I needed to hire someone to finish my online shop. I really needed advice.

As I’ve seen many times, having an art education does not mean I know anything much about the business of art. In fact, when I was a ceramics student once upon a time at Kean College, e-commerce probably wasn't even in the lexicon.

So I had no clue, once I would find someone to do the job, what to ask for. How would I know what should be included in the agreement? What should the contract cover?

I contacted a fellow member of my potters guild, Kathy, who has lots of experience in web design. Our guild’s website design and hosting firm had disappeared mid-stream, and left the guild stranded. Kathy had regained ownership of the site for us, brought the site live again, and undertaken the job of advising the guild members how to maintain their pages. Well, it’s true what they say about getting a job done; ask a busy person. Although juggling a couple of jobs and babysitting a grandchild when I called, Kathy took the time to write out some questions for me to ask when seeking a designer, and what to specify in a contract. Here they are:
* * *
1. Ask if he will be giving you a proposal for the whole scope of work prior to the start. (Don't pay anything in full upon start - I usually do 1/4 of total project first - i.e. for a $1,000 job I get $250 to start, then out of the rest of the $750 I break that up into two parts. You would pay $375 at acceptance of the prototype; make sure you are 100% happy with it. The last $375 is upon completion, when the site is done with search engines, and everything is working correctly.

2. Ask if he charges for edits, and at what rate. My rate is per hour, based on quarter-hour increments. This rate should be clearly marked in his proposal or contract.

3. If he has to re-design, will he present you with a prototype first? I give my clients 3 prototypes.

4. Does the template have a back end? In other words, can someone else edit for you if his fees are too high for edits?

5. Will he supply text, or will he be asking as he goes along for the information from you? If so, how does he request this? He should give you deadlines, too - it keeps the site going. But there is a lot you can do to help prepare the site. Be involved as much as you can. After all, your site is an extended reflection of you.

6. As far as the search engine optimization - will he be pushing this out to the engines on a monthly basis, or is this something you need to do? If he does this, there might be a monthly charge.

7. He needs to add a sitemap on your site - metatags used to be the thing search engines use, but most are depending on sitemaps now.

8. Will he be providing you with site stats? I have a couple of ways my clients can see how their site is being hit, but mostly they receive a monthly email from my hosting company that provides how many hits their site has, what pages, and even lists who and where these people are.
* * *

I followed some leads, spoke with five or six designers, and whittled the list down to a designer who came well recommended, Leah Helfgott of I asked Leah to have a good look at my site-so-far. I suggested where she could be most useful and listened to her own thoughts on the site.

Keeping in mind Kathy’s suggestions (and giving her thanks in my head as I proceeded), I clarified price and time frame with Leah and discussed the other items mentioned. She had clear and specific answers. My site had been started in Wordpress. I asked to see what websites she had done that were specifically artsy, Wordpress e-commerce sites, besides the ones already listed on her business site. She sent me links to several. They were clean-looking and attractive, purposeful and easy to maneuver. Only then, sure that she could produce what I needed, I asked her for a contract.

Now that I had a plan, a partnership needed to form that would only work to enhance the plan. I made sure to cover all points that were important to me before signing anything. I was sure this would be a good partnership. Having a contract would protect Leah, too, by keeping me from contacting her too often with thoughts about this or that item. (I have a tendency.) In that way, we were both protected.

She sent me an informal contract via e-mail. I clarified a few further questions, received satisfactory answers, affirmed, and then sent her a check for half her fee, as laid out in the contract.

In one eight-hour day, during which I was available by phone and e-mail, Leah fixed some layout, dealt with several other issues, and taught me how to put up my own photos and text. I had really been wanting to "take ownership" of my site. It was a huge buzz learning to do just that. Almost everything was complete in one day, except the shopping cart, which I asked Leah to work through.

I paid the second half of Leah’s fee after the 8-hour day. Our contract had set an hourly rate for anything further. Since service so far only indicated that she would follow up properly, I had trust. My confidence was rewarded quickly. Within a couple of days after the rest of the work was completed, Leah had contacted and had an answer from the template theme creator, and repaired the broken shopping cart code.

After that, I had more to learn, photos to take and edit, text and photos to add to the site, and some questions for Leah. She put in about eight more hours of work, about 16 all told. I put in many more. Long story short, I have a website.

(I couldn't figure out how to make this>> a clickable link to the website, but continue reading and you will find one...)

These are the main points: If you are going to build a website to sell your art, do your research first. Look at websites to find their best aspects. Think how your online gallery will represent your work. Think about what colors will frame your art best; you can go to for that. When you are ready to find a designer, look for experience. But trust your own insights, too.

Read everything you can so that you can gauge the winds that are the current rules, trends and touchstones that guide the Internet marketplace. It is not my first web builder’s fault that we did not finish the first time around. It was to a good degree my own lack of planning and casual attitude early on. It was not a good template on which to build a business or a business relationship.

As for my website, I'm very happy to send you to! check often in the beginning. It is starting with just a few pieces, but I have more photos of work to take and put up on the metaphorical shelves. Meanwhile, I will continue to be hard at work in the studio, making new pottery. This week: honey jars and washing cups! Bisque firing, glaze firing, cleaning the studio, fixing up my little gallery space bit by bit, there’s an awful lot to take care of. And now, add website maintenance to the list. A potter has to wear many hats indeed! And I do not mind at all.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

More Teasers

More fun with photos, as the deadline to bring the website "live" comes whooshing up:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Figured it Out

I figured out how I was messing up the pictures on the website. Fixed 'em.

August 10th, about 1 PM, I will say in the voice of Igor, "It's aliiiive," come what may. I have some wee itsy imperfect things going on, but so what. Mistakes and all, I own this sucker now.

Now to spiff up the homepage, and connect the URL so you can find it when you want to.