Saturday, October 30, 2010

"How Long did it Take you to Make That?"

Image from, a good site about home-based craft business.

What do you do when someone asks you, "How long did it take you to make this?"

It is said Whistler's answer was, "All my life."

I like that. Because your work changes and grows all your life and what you do today is the sum and culmination of that growth and evolution.


An answer like that will--

1. Probably not be understood.

2. Come off as being flippant.

Besides, the questioner is usually not interested in an account of the hours and minutes you put into making something or the different steps you took to make it.

Some people feel stumped when face to face with art and the artist who created it. They have no experience talking about art. They're a little perplexed and intimidated.

Artists are sometimes seen, in the public mind, to be romanticised, exotic creatures, out of the main, someone slightly mysterious, ethereal, touched by the gods of creativity, owners of a 'gift'.

A little bit of that could be a good thing. But that's not why we are there, standing in a booth in front of shelves of your work, slightly exhausted, keyed up, waiting for customers to come in and buy something.

They are approaching you because your work has drawn them in. They would like to open up a dialog with you, but they don't know how. Picking up one of your pieces might be a bit too forward for some, afraid you'll land on them, make them feel they are obligated to buy something......

Anyway, as I said, they don't REALLY want to know the whole step-by-step story of how you made a piece. That is, unless they want to learn about clay or are truly the curious sort. So recognize it for what it is: A cautious opening, an attempt to talk to you about art.

On the other hand, you may be talking to a bean-counter. That guy who wants to figure out Work x Time x Material = That Price?

Don't go there. It won't work. You can dazzle the daylights out of that guy by peeling off facts about the time it took you to learn the skill, how long you studied or traveled or spent making that very piece with all the steps from pugging the clay to fishing it hot out of the kiln to grinding it's foot down.

He won't understand and by the time you get to about the third fact or so, his eyes begin to glaze over and he starts backing away. Besides, you didn't give him the answer he was looking for anyway.

"When I'm in the creative mode, time just goes away."

"That's a nice piece, isn't it? I'm really happy with the result. Handmade things just have a soul of their own, don't you think?"

"I made that on the wheel/by hand using slabs of clay/etc. The process is so complicated, I couldn't tell you how long it took, but it turned out well, don't you think?"

Always give an answer that will add value and lend uniqueness to the piece. Pick it up and hand it to the customer. (Give them permission to handle it.)

Talk about the color--maybe say, "That's an iron-based glaze." Or "Ceramic glazes are really a very thin coating of glass. That comes from firing it in a kiln at over 2000 degrees." (You can slip in a little education as you go.)

Encourage them to ask questions and start a relaxed, friendly dialogue. Talk about how you can use the piece.

"I really like a big, hefty mug for my coffee in the morning, don't you?" or "Isn't that a comfortable handle?"

"I have a bunch of bowls like this in my home and I use them every day, they are so handy."

"These make great gifts." "I love inventing unique pieces."

"This looks so great near a window where the sunlight can show off the glaze."

Tune into the customer. Try to hear the subtext of their question. See if they have a sense of humor, are wanting to learn, considering the piece for themselves or to give to someone. The quicker you can hone into where they are, the better.

Avoid those who are there for entertainment. Or those who will monopolize your time while other customers come and go!

The minute you are buttonholed by one of those, be nice, but make sure the other people in your booth know you're there to help them buy something. Make a point of saying, "Please ask me if you have any questions or need help." to them. Or disengage yourself from the "clinger" by saying, "Excuse me, I'll be right back." Smile. Leave, keep an eye on them, check back, but telegraph the fact that this is a business, not entertainment.

**Another comment that just kills me is, "Did you make all of this?"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A New Mold

The other day I decided I needed a mold of a half sphere.

I'd been prowling toy and variety stores to find a child's ball large enough to make what I had in mind.
Surprisingly, it was difficult to find but I finally located one after previously buying three of varying sizes.

I had a used box that was just the right size, but it was rather hole-y.

That's when I got the bright idea to line it with duct tape.
Duct Tape - the wonder fixer.

No matter how hard I tried, though, it was impossible to get the tape inside without some seams and wrinkles.

After the duct tape was all in, I coated the inside of the box with a liberal slather of cheap dishwashing liquid. Same thing for the ball I wanted to mold.

I mixed up the plaster and poured it into the box, then positioned the ball half-way in and half-way out.



There I was, one hand holding the container that had just held the plaster, the other pushing the ball down to just the right depth in the mold box.

What to do, what to do.

Luckily, I was able to grab a bucket filled with water and put it over the top of the box.
The distance between the top of the ball and the top of the box just happened to be at exactly the right level to keep the ball in place where it should be.


Otherwise, I could see myself sitting in a half crouch, holding down the ball in the mold until the plaster finally hardened.

Meanwhile, in the other hand, I still had the container I mixed the plaster in. (Too bad for that, it went into the trash 'cause I didn't have time to clean it out with water.)

Not impossible, but damned uncomfortable.

Sorry I don't have a picture of the ball or the whole thing when the plaster set.

I did have to wiggle the ball a bit and work it loose before everything really set solid.

I'm happy to report that the duct tape idea worked the box was very easy to dis-assemble and the mold, after a bit of a clean-up on the top surface (I don't care how the outside looks) is a beauty and I'm looking forward to using it.

Even thinking about making others in smaller sizes.

And maybe even a positive of the negative.

Next time, I'll be much wiser about logistics......

Friday, October 22, 2010

Handmade Books

This post in a slightly different form, also appears on my other blog,

I have an old book press like this one and I use it for fall leaves. I love lacy fall leaves; the ones the bugs have eaten holes in. I save the leaves from year to year so I have a good supply for when the spirit moves me.

I also hoard great paper, raffia and beautiful twigs. (Rocks too, but I haven't figured out how to use them yet---maybe a cut-out with a suspended rock.........)

No reason why I couldn't make a small, bas relief, very light-weight decoration from porcelain to use on the cover of a book. I once saw a potter flip a slab of porcelain to paper thinness. I wonder if there are ceramic book covers in existence.

Or maybe make half-round bosses to attach the binding on the outside.

Or create an interesting bookmark to coordinate with the cover piece.......

Making books is another thing I do when I'm at a slump with clay or it's too cold to go out to the studio. You know, when you're 'off' or stumped or just not in the mood.

The cover of these books are from a stash of old photograph mounting albums. I ran across a bunch of these, dismantled them and cut them to fit the pages, another stash of paper from a book publisher. They are off-cuts from a print run.

The second book is made the same way, but I had to figure out how to attach the bare twig to the back.

Breaking News:

I just googled ceramic book covers and found this:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sometimes When Things Go Wrong, They Go Right

This is a plate I got a little intense about when I was throwing it on the wheel.

I pushed the rim too far and it did this.

I cut it off from the wheel, laid it aside and went on with whatever it was I was doing.

Later, I looked at it and decided, "What the heck, let it dry."

I bisque fired it, tried a white glaze on it as a test firing and Voila. Not a bad plate.

So, don't be too hasty or too harsh about how your work turns out.

Besides, I don't think I could do this again if I tried.

Crazy Dream

Woke up this morning from a dream crammed with images and noises of being (and enjoying) a teeming, loud and crowded city, a high speed rattle-y water-taxi/train/bus ride with European sirens going and having to hang on for dear life.

I lost my contacts case (one I haven't seen in years) as it rolled off a table and onto the deck. An Asian woman was helping me find it.

I was heading toward adventure in a big city.

The thought, "I'm having a dream" when I saw my dog, dressed in a poodle suit, trampolining on my husband's bed only to wake up from THAT and realize Everything had been a dream.

And I only ate a tuna-cheese sandwich for dinner.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Travel, Customer Relations and Breakage: A Story

When my husband was stationed in London with the Navy, the wives' club would charter a bus to go to the sales at the Royal Worcester/Spode factory. They had a large showroom with seconds, discontinued pieces and experimental samples at very good prices. We would descend on the place like locusts. It was great fun. The ride from London, though long, was enjoyable. We had lots of time to shop, loaded the bus baggage area with well-packed boxes, stopped someplace interesting to have a meal on the way back.

I liked visiting the museum as much as I liked shopping at the outlet. Most of the modern pieces were not to my taste. I did buy a very plain set of china--pure white with a wide and narrow gold band decoration-- and could pick up interesting serving pieces that coordinated with it.

On one trip, I found two experimental casseroles completely covered with gold glaze. They were never put into production. They are quite stunning.

Anyway, to the story:

A rather operatic lady arrived at the store while we were there and as she shopped, we had no trouble knowing where she was in the building because she was quite vocal. A "Hyacinth Bucket"** in the flesh! Her taste ran to ornate and expensive and she had sales ladies running to the back room to find pieces or sorting through the stock for matches.

She finally settled on a set of chargers (very like the example below or maybe these are the ones) with various paintings of fish. She kept up a loud dialog/monologue while she directed the packing and paid for her set.

When she left the building, the sound level dropped noticeably. Peaceful shopping resumed.

But not for long.

In a few minutes, she was back - a couple of octaves higher, a lot more volume and drama added.

It seems she had tripped on the steps Going Out To The Parking Lot, dropped her packages and broke some of the plates.

The sales ladies were sympathetic. But their concern changed to wide-eyed amazement when the lady demanded the company REPLACE THE BROKEN CHARGERS.

Everyone was aghast.

You could see the whites of the sales ladies' eyes all around. No one knew what to say. Except the lady and she was saying a lot. Every time someone tried to discuss the problem, she just got more agitated. She even mentioned suing them for an "unsafe step".

Well, you can hear it now, can't you?

Finally, one of the sales staff suggested the customer step to the back offices and talk with a supervisor. So, she an a couple of the sales people swirled through the back doors of the sales floor, through an echo-y hall and finally, somewhat muted, the saga of the accident and the demands were repeated.

Some time passed. We resumed our business.

Then the reverse whirlwind began to happen, She was coming back. This time, sounding less staccato, softer, less Wagnerian. She was nearly cooing.

They had agreed to replace the broken chargers! Sales ladies scurried. Plates were packed. A porter was summoned to help her with her packages to her car. She was cajoled out of the building. A huge sigh arose from the sales staff.

Royal Worcester/Spode had class.

**Keeping Up Appearances comedy series, BBC America

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Funky Casserole

This small casserole, made in the form of a mizusashi*, is one I keep around in the studio. I like it's craziness and want to remind myself to do this kind of decoration again--but in variation.

Unfortunately, it was part of a group of pots I took for a review for a co-op gallery in a nearby town. I say unfortunately because when I got it back in the box of pots and unpacked it at home, the lid of this casserole was chipped--As in dropped.

Needless to say, I was very disappointed that no one said a thing to me about the accident. Even a "Sorry, someone dropped the piece during the jury process." Better yet, if they had offered to pay the sale price or even the wholesale price. Even just an apology would have been okay.

I know these things happen. I was once in a group gallery in a big show in downtown Seattle when a customer dropped and broke a very large and expensive pot. (Not mine, by the way.) What did she do? Nearly ran out the door!

Actually, all the potters had agreed that if anyone broke a piece, we would accept payment if offered, but just say, "These things happen," and let it go. Maybe take a name and number if the person offered and give that to the artist for them to settle the matter between them.

It can happen to anyone. I've dropped my own stuff on the studio floor and broken it to smithereens.
But why don't people have the fortitude to stand up and own up? Fear. Money.

I'm sure if someone had told me at the gallery that my piece was accidentally chipped, I would have said, "That's okay; things like this happen." It would have been forgotten. As it is, every time I look at this pot, I'm a little angry and sad.

I'm also glad I didn't join the coop. If they treated jury pieces this way, how responsible/honest would they be with my work?

Breakage is a subject that should be discussed before any show or arrangement with a gallery; just so the air is clear and everyone knows where they stand.

*Mizusashi: Large water container for use during Japanese tea ceremony.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Strictly Functional Show is Up

Go to for some real brain jump-starts.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Two Terra Cotta Pendents

I love terra cotta pendants.

The first one is slightly dished out.

Don't think it shows much in the photo.

I used black underglaze at the leather hard state to make the decoration, then fired it to bisque.

I didn't want to put a glaze on the finished piece, but did use liquid tile finish, which is a product for sealing terra cotta floor tiles.

The second pendant is sealed with the same thing.

Both are not that big--the black and tan is about 1 3/4 inches across; the second is about 2 1/2 inches long.