Retail Pottery

My pottery studio has evolved from amassing supplies, tools, and equipment. A friend recently Instagram-shared her Guatemala visit showing a potter making pots with corncobs for surface texture, and found objects to trim the ware. Here, in Southeastern Pennsylvania, my pottery making appears to support a vast retail industry.

My usual go-to is The Ceramic Shop in Norristown, PA for quick trips to pick up an item or two or 15. It’s where I order my clay, usually speckled brown 112, dark brown 266, and white stoneware 181 – all Standard clay bodies that I fire to mid-range. They make it easy to efficiently load 500 lbs. of clay or bags of chemistry into the car from their loading entrance, located on W. Basin street.

I also do my share to keep Amazon growing by leaps and bounds. From shop vac to buckets, shelves, and countless other supplies, ubiquitous Amazon purchases can be found organizing, storing, and basically supporting the pottery process throughout my studio and kiln shed. I’m sure I’m part of the reason for the increase in Prime membership fees. A Google search of a,azpm and Amazon is the top hit. Go figure.

A couple other retailers I’ve purchased from are Axner and Bailey,  Axner for specific items, such as bamboo teapot handles, fountain parts, or a roll of ‘dishwasher and microwave safe’ stickers;  Bailey Ceramic Supplies when that one special glaze I needed wasn’t in stock at the Ceramic Shop.

My most recent purchase was from Diamond Core Tools, for some diamond grinding discs. After watching those Instagram videos of potters smoothing pot bottoms in a matter of seconds, I overcame the mild sticker shock and was sold. I purchased the 8 inch 120 and 240 grit discs, which arrived yesterday. I also snagged one of those ‘sticky bats’ to try out – total impulse buy.

When I look around my studio, I can’t help but think about that Guatemalan potter making pots with found objects and corncob tools – straight from earth to ware. But it’s time to try out those new diamond grinding discs…

Kathystoneware at Bethlehem VegFest

The kiln has been firing with extreme regularity, prepping for the 2018 Bethlehem VegFest. With less than a month to go, I’m still adding to bins full pottery that will be for sale at the kathystoneware booth.

Saturday, July 14, 2018 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM EST at Daniel Rice Memorial Field
100 W. Lehigh Street  Bethlehem, PA 18018

Goldilocks teapots

 

WWGD?

The symmetrically spherical bowl of a wheel thrown teapot opens into a circle. The gallery runs around the circumference of that circle, and allows the lid to rest perfectly in place. A truncated conical spout further establishes the form. These three parts thrown on the wheel, with an added handle, are then assembled to form a basic teapot. More than that, it’s about getting those parts just right.

The wheel thrown teapot is a collection of graduated circular spaces and forms. Each radius diminishes, from the largest circular opening at the crown or foot of the bowl, to the solid circular form of the lid, to the base of, and then opening of, the spout. Circular opening, circular formed lid, then circular base and opening, each piece of this round geometry relates in size or proportion to the other, to create a perfectly interrelated form.

The use of calipers to measure the diameter of the opening of the bowl, can then be inverted to measure a snugly fit lid. Rulers work just as well to measure the diameter of the circular space and circular form, or a stick with a pencil line drawn on it. What matters most is the perfect fit -not too loose, not too tight.

Some potters offer that the spout’s length, from base to opening, can be measured as roughly half the diameter of the widest part of the bowl. This rule of thumb usually works in my favor. However, when it comes to measuring the diameter of the spout’s base and opening, I open and collar the clay until I see an echo of space in all of the parts. I know when it’s too small and when it’s too large. The base, the crown, the lid, the lid handle, all inform the diameter of the spout’s base and opening. The teapot’s circles echo throughout the pot.

The spout’s angle and its proportional relationship to the handle requires the final consideration in the building stage. Successfully wrestling the negative space that surrounds the pot can be rewarding when the form-to-space ratio produces the desired results.

Each time, when all is said and done, I hope I’ve made a pot that Goldilocks would choose.

exploration of limitations

There are so many choices in limitations. Options abound with the dark brown of the glaze-fired clay and only creamy matte glaze to points the way toward stamped surface decoration. In some cases one glaze color accent is applied, while in others, none. Options are endless, and I’m only just getting started to explore what is possible.

Prepping for a Craft Fair

Preparations for my first craft fair are revealing definitive signs of success. I’m the first one to admit that I’ve taken my time getting to this eventual point of participating in one of these events; it’s literally been years in the making. Things had to be planned. Lists had to be drawn up, and, being a list maker, I judged the success of planning by the number of items that move from ‘to do’ to ‘done’. Currently the ‘done’ list has become satisfyingly long, while the ‘to do’ list no longer produces even the slightest hint of anxiety. Minor tasks, such as purchasing sand for the tent weight bags, and harvesting newsprint from long neglected newsprint tablets, are two of only four tasks that remain un-checked.

Lists of pottery items topped the list, with goals for various sized bowls – some nested, for both human and animal use; mugs, pitchers and jugs of various sizes; covered pots, jars with lids, teapots, decorative items, and plates of various sizes and styles rounded out the list. I planned glaze ‘stories’ for groupings of ware, which took considerable research time through trial and error. I eventually chose three clay bodies, white, speckled brown, and dark brown – each with their own particular glaze story. My work, when seen as a collection, reveals a subtle nod to vaguely-cultural artifacts, so the clay body and glaze story were planned with care.

Setting the stage for display created more need for research and development. I built portable shelves, which I’ve blogged about earlier (see Tiny Increments). The display space was coming together after a practice tent set up on the back patio, and the groupings of tables and baker’s racks had found their respective locations.  To get a sense of how much square footage all of these large items required – the tent, two tables, portable shelves, two baker’s racks, and stacks of pottery bins, I gathered all of these items in one place. Then, with a comparative measuring of the interior of my Subaru with that grouping of large items, I had a huge wave of relief when I realized that my mode of transportation was a go.

Technology for point of sale was the next step in the process, since I’d be working with Square to manage the sale operations. I decided that my old cracked-screened I-phone 6 just wouldn’t do – it was time for an upgrade, and added a power backup source for my phone as well. In addition to the Square card reader, I snagged a Square Contactless chip reader, along with a stylus, and a business PayPal account to further support the point of sale. To keep my tech  gear handy, I decided on a  three-pocket denim apron.

Branding and Marketing were done all along this process. My daughter, who happens to be a graphic designer, did her thing and created the branding design for my business cards, hang tags, and large vinyl sign. A couple years ago, I had designed and ordered a pewter stamp, which I stamp on the bottom of all of my wheel thrown and hand-built ware. I enlarged this stamp design in Illustrator software and ordered a custom rubber stamp from Rubber Stamp Champ to personalize the handled brown paper bags I had ordered from U-Line for pottery sales.

The last few items that still need to be addressed are creating the price list, purchasing the sand for the tent weights, and prepping the hang tags with twine. I had purchased some 5 x 7 inch acrylic table-top sign stands to display the price lists. In order to save time instead of pricing every item with stickers, only certain one-off items will have stickers on them. The sand purchase and filling the weight bags is a quick task and the hole punching and tying twine to each hang tag will be done during some quiet evening on the back porch.

The list: craft tent, tent weights, 2 tables, 2 baker’s racks, portable shelves, camp chair, square, power back-up, apron, table cloths, wood crates, 20 crates of pottery, business cards and holder, hang tags, large vinyl sign, table top price signs, paper bags, newsprint, pencils, paper, scissors, tape, twine, cooler, sunscreen, hat, and cash for change

 

Yesterday’s grace

Ambition could be the title of the hopeful list of ware to be included under the next craft show tent. But I’m taking things one day at a time; throwing a dozen bowls one afternoon, and a clay brick’s worth of mugs on another. Large bowls next, and yesterday, it was teapots – only four teapots, to be exact.

I needed time to allow for personality, teapot personality. Cane handles were a must, but the rest was up to the flurry of happenstance and the what-if’s that come about when throwing has ended and hand-building commences.

From a utilitarian point of view, how would each member of this little quartet function? To fill, to pour, and to carry when tea is about to be served? How would this dark brown clay enhance the series of glazes I plan to use? Thoughts pause hands to consider these and other things, as little periods of grace make room for the future possibilities of each teapot.

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Off road authenticity

Of course my aim leans towards some image of near perfection, yet the spirit of authenticity, with all of its foibles, resides in my pottery. I admire what I consider to be the perfect balance in others’ ware, never in my own, though. I’m brutally honest about it – seeing through to the hand in the work beneath the finished glazed surface. I inspect with care until I uncover the flaws that lead me right back to making more.

Tiny Increments

Some things happen in tiny increments of time, especially those less glorious tasks. Fun jobs like planning and gathering, then using a mitre saw to chop wood into usable pieces for portable shelves occur in a time warp of effortless bliss. Framing shelving units – not so much.

So, I had researched long enough and had to prepare for the eventuality of the craft event. It was time to stop procrastinating; the shelves were going to happen. There would be no distractions – shelves would be built.

And they were. It took less time than anticipated and of course they aren’t perfect – they have fallen over once, taking a dozen or so pots to their doom. However, with some minor adjustments for improved stability,  these two sets of shelves should serve their purpose and function, for they are lightweight, portable, easily set up and taken down, and will hopefully not continue their villainous rampage against my pottery.

 

 

 

 

Precious Time

So, there was another hiatus from most things pottery. Only the rare occasion of throwing occurred, while new endeavors in my career as a high school design teacher elbowed their way to the forefront of each waking hour. A few years ago it was translating and teaching a high school web design coding course as a college level course – great for the high school students, opportunity-wise, and great for me, as a professional/intellectual challenge. I’m always up for a new challenge.

Last spring, another opportunity dropped into my somewhat-already-occupied lap.  Yearbook advisor! Of course I applied for the position; smiling when asked why I thought I’d be better than the other candidates for the job – there were no other candidates. You see, yearbook  advising squeezes like a boa constrictor on your free time. So, the next time I looked up from yearbook work, I heard song birds chirping in the spring morning sunshine and knew I had to return to my studio. That window of pottery time appears smaller now, and makes my throwing and creating time all the more precious.

The next little step

 

Thanks to my stylist-extraordinaire niece, mskfitz, and Sato Salon Organics, my pottery has been displayed and sold in a brick and mortar setting for quite some time now. When this retail opportunity fell into my lap, it compelled me to act upon part of my long ignored business plan to-do list (note the passive voice). Oh, I knew what needed to be done, but always considered every step forward a commitment to taking on that one big facet of pottery-making that didn’t hold much appeal. While making pottery provided an inherently creative process filled with countless opportunities of discovery, let’s just say that selling pottery did not rev these engines.

So, I performed some basic tasks: made a business card, set the pricing, and even showed up at a ‘meet the artist’ moment. Well, the business card revealed its hastily-made existence; the pricing was perfunctory thanks to a potter friend’s sage advice; and I survived the ‘meet the artist.’ I now found myself, unwittingly, on the potter purveyor’s path.

As far as branding was concerned,  I noticed that I desperately needed some professional help, and when I mentioned this observation in passing to my daughter, she replied, “That’s kind of what I do.”  After a quick comparison of our respective business cards, it became evident that she was my branding creative (eileenalot.com). So with my friends and family discount, I sent my down payment  via Venmo, contracting her branding services. I told her to take her time, that I was in no hurry.

Knowing full-well what the next mini-step required, I purchased the obligatory 10′ craft fair Ez-up tent with cloth panel sides and wheeled storage bag.  After watching several YouTube videos of how to set up the tent and how to put the cloth atop the frame, I made a sandwich and planned an evening with friends where margarita consumption and inaugural tent raising would occur.

Now, to heavily research how to build display shelves and make an itemized list, with pictures, of the necessary wood and hardware required to do so.