A sharing of ideas, techniques, successes and failures in the volatile world of pottery and family life.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Year End Wrap Up

We tried different things this year.

We stuck with the tried and true this year.

We questioned our processes.

We were confident in what we have done.

We expanded our horizons.

We played it safe.

Basically, our biggest change is on your screen.  We became much more aggressive in cyber marketing and social networking.  From what I've been learning this is such a new avenue that there are no experts at it yet.  Scary but exciting, too.  I feel like I'm on the cutting edge sometimes.  Not that I'm doing any edge cutting but I'm learning along with the rest of the world and that's pretty cool!  I've also been trying to learn how to take e-shop stats and analytics and use them to our advantage.  Uuum, yeah, I'll let you know when/if I ever wrap my brain around that one!

Last show of the year.
We did a few more craft shows than we (I) did last year and will be increasing that number again for next year.  I'm a big chicken when it comes to shelling out the big bucks for the high-end shows but after a couple of very disappointing shows this year I think we're gonna take the plunge for at least one biggie this coming year.  Again, scary but exciting.

I've made a living in the "real" world doing bookkeeping so I've always had a to-the-penny handle on our finances.  This year I've made an effort to dig a little deeper into sales analysis.  For example, instead of just recording how much I make at a show I now record how much of each item sold. Not that I had no idea before but now it's on a spreadsheet so I can see the whole year at once and start tracking what the trends are at each show, spring vs. fall, over several years, etc.  This should help us determine where we need to concentrate our efforts more and where we need to cut and run.

As for playing it safe the most important thing I've learned very recently:  When working with glazes ALWAYS wear a dust mask!  During my last glazing session I was doing some fussy painting where I have to hold the pot pretty close to see that I'm getting the glaze where I want it.  When I went to blow some of the dry glaze away I actually ended up inhaling some of it.  NOT GOOD!  A fever, serious coughing, trip to the Dr. and I'll live but big lesson learned!  Never again will this cotton-headed-ninny-muggins glaze without a mask!  Oye!

Overall, we had a great year!  Our show sales went up 65% from last year and our Etsy sales went up 35%.  Not too shabby!  Even though we've been selling for a few years now, I feel like I've moved a little more from a hobbyist to a professional artist, at least in my mind, which is where most of my challenges stem from.  I've found people actually seeking us out which is the most gratifying feeling. 

So, my friends, as we close out 2011 
and look into the face of 2012,
learn the lessons life is always teaching,
explore your gifts,
embrace your passions,
be cautious but fearless,
do what you love and love what you do,
and most of all,
be grateful for every little thing.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Just one more push....

I've been going a little crazy (or should I say "crazier") trying to build my inventory back up for my last 2 shows.  I've learned a valuable lesson this season.  Well, several lessons.  But most importantly:  You can never have too much inventory!  The show I mentioned in a previous post was very successful and depleted my banks and birdhouses more than I expected.  I had been a little worried about the next show which turned into a poopy day so my inventory levels, unfortunately, weren't changed that much.  With 2 more pretty big shows left in the season I want to have my levels back up so I have a good variety.

Birdhouses & banks in various stages of production.

I know!  I've had all summer to work on inventory!  What the heck?  My show seasons typically run from March to June then October to December.  So in between is production time.  (I haven't been doing summer shows after the one bad experience I had that involved a 3 day festival, a summer storm, a tent that wants to be a kite when it grows up and lots of breakable pottery.  But that's another post.)  Any hoo, I'm very limited to how much inventory I can store right now.  I have a small one-man studio and a small area in the garage to store finished inventory, tables, displays, etc.  My garage runneth over!

I received several orders at earlier shows that are needed for Christmas and Hanukkah so there's just a little more pressure to get things done asap.  With the super long process from start to finish (approx 4-6 weeks) I've been trying to speed it up the last  few weeks by turning the heat up in the studio.  If you rush drying the clay it will crack so I had to watch very closely to make sure the pots dried slow enough and evenly.  Then I preheated them in the kiln for a few hours to make sure all of the water was evaporated before ramping it up to ^09 (1693 degrees F).  Luckily, my first rushed bisque firing was perfect.  Whew!

A whole bisque load with no cracks!  Woo Hoo!

Now, all that's left to do is glaze like crazy and get them fired sometime tonight so they'll be ready Friday to load up for Saturday's show.

The first layer of the glaze load.
More banks, etc.
Oh, and the second most important lesson learned:  DON'T FORGET TO BRING YOUR CART TO THE SHOW!  Doh!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Poopy Day!

After last week's very successful craft show I was all ramped up (though a little nervous about my inventory level) for this weekend's show at a new venue.  It was at a huge county tech school in a very nice area about half an hour from NYC and run by promoters that I've worked with before. My expectations were high. 

After driving an hour to the school, there was already a line of cars/vans lined up in front of the school when I arrived so I parked about 6 car lengths from the doors.  I found my booth space and come back to the van to unload and realized I forgot my cart!  I have this old beat up cart that I can wheel 6 bins on at once.  Maybe because I hadn't brought it the prior week, because I knew there were firemen to help out, it didn't occur to me that I hadn't loaded it.  It was on my packing list.  Obviously, I needed to check that list one last time!  To quote the ever lovable Charlie Brown - "Aaugh!"

So, two by two, I start carrying in my bins. Arms aching, mood grouching I texted a little rant to my husband about the cart. Things started turning around! He's coming out in this direction later and will bring my cart. Also, 2 wonderful guys took pity on me and helped me bring in the rest of my stuff! My space was good and pretty close to the entrance. The extra time I had allowed for post-setup/pre-show browsing was gone. Oh well.

The show started at 10:00. Usually, there's a flock of early birds waiting for the doors to open at most shows. No flock. Hmmm.... Curious. After a while it became clear a slow trickle was the best it was gonna get. I hadn't realized this was the first year for this show and several of the more seasoned vendors were commenting how there's a glut of shows in this area making them less of a novelty. Great!

Needless to say I didn't do well. I don't think anyone did.  Several vendors packed up early (a big no-no!) and the mood of disappointment was cast over everyone. But my husband had delivered my cart so loading up went much smoother than the morning travesty. Unfortunately, the headache I felt coming on when I finally left was a raging migraine by the time I got home. Straight to bed for me. The difference in stress level between last week's show and this week's was huge! Making a profit definitely helps take the edge off of a bad day.

Our next show is local and less expensive. Since it's about 10 minutes from home I'll have my boys come out to help with the unloading and loading. But our last show of the season is the following weekend out in the same area as last week with the same promoter.  I've done that venue before and had a good show but my expectations have been knocked down a bit.  I have to learn to expect the worst so I won't be disappointed. This is not a philosophy that fits me at all.  =/

From our family to yours - Have a safe, peaceful and thankful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Everyone arrived safe & sound!
So I had my first craft show using "The New Packing System" and it went swimmingly (does anyone even use that word anymore?)!  Setting up took about the same amount of time, which I expected, but breaking down?  Breaking down was so quick!  Okay.  Not super-quick but quicker than usual.

I had a hard time with larger items not fitting back where I thought they were supposed to go.  I might have to label some of the spaces that are for specific items until I'm more familiar with the whole layout.  But considering my caflarfles I was pulling out of the lot 45 minutes after the show ended!  That's a record for me.  Unfortunately, I have to qualify my speed by informing you that this show was at a firehouse and all of those strong, brave firemen were on hand to help us load our cars (they wanted their truck bay back!).

This coming weekend I'll be at a high school that I haven't shown at before and I'm pretty sure the firemen or any other helpers won't be available.  This will be a truer test of the time it will take.  I'll let you know.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Customized Pottery Packing for Craft Shows - Large Items

Since I had good feedback on my last packing post, and I have items larger than a spoon rest, here's some ideas for show packing of larger items.

I had found rolls of 1 inch thick spongey plastic foam that I was considering buying to pack my larger items but didn't want anything that thick (space is at a premium!).  So, again consulting with Dad, he suggested that it might be cheaper getting styrofoam sheet insulation from HD.  So I checked it out and, of course, Dad was right!  Also, it was only 3/4 inch thick.

Six sheets - 14 1/2" x  48" x  3/4" for $7.25
The drawback:  it's styrofoam.  I hate styrofoam.  It's messy (hence, no snacks around) and not very eco-friendly.  Bu-u-ut, it's a one time purchase and I'm sure the plastic, spongey stuff isn't any friendlier.

Cut the slots to interlock
So using the same method as I detailed in my last post I measured and cut the styrofoam to line the bin and separate the items.  Just make sure the slots you cut for the intersections are as wide as the sheets so they'll interlock snugly.

I was fitting 5 or 6 banks in a bin using the messy newspaper and now can only fit 4.  Hmmm.  Dilemma.  More bins and quicker packing or less bins (that would be heavier) and slower packing.  Time is money (unfortunately) so the foam stays.  Also, it allows the packing to be tighter so those pesky pot holes will be no match for us!  Bwaa-haa-haa!

Everyone, go to your rooms!

 I did reuse some of the discarded newspaper to pack around the banks and fill up the wiggle room. No wrapping!

Getting all tucked in for the ride to meet their new owners (hopefully)!
The birdhouses worked out a little better.  I can fit 6 in one bin but have to alternate the skinny ones with the fatter ones so they're not too tight.

Snug as a... catapillar... bee... dragon... bird...

Once again, I'd be happy to help anyone who is trying to adapt this system for your own needs.  I'd love to hear your innovative packing solutions, too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Customized Pottery Packing for Craft Shows - Small Items

Since I started this blog I've struggled with sharing relevant info.  I'm not one to post for the sake of posting and my life's not interesting enough to use it as a journaling tool.  I want to share things that others will find helpful or insightful.  I want to leave a positive mark not just add to the cyber noise.  So what can I share?  My expertise is...  Well, not very expert.  I'm a pretty good potter but by no means a master.  I'm a wife of 21 years and a mom of almost 19 years and still looking for the instruction manuals.  Some days I feel like I've got less than nothing to contribute.

Today, however, is your lucky day!  I've been stewing on a problem for a few weeks now and solidified the resolution enough to give it a try yesterday.  It worked beautifully (well, not visually) and I'm hoping some of you will find it helpful.

I've been doing craft shows for a few years and I usually am on my own.  During my last show a few weeks ago my dad made the mistake of stopping by close to the end and found himself helping me pack up.  Lucky for me but I'm sure he'll time it better in the future. Now, for any of you who do the craft show circuit you know the bane of the process is setting up and breaking down.  Well, for potters, glass artists or anyone with fragile product the packing is slo-o-o-ow!  Have you ever moved?  Remember packing your dishes and glassware?  Every piece needs to be protected from breakage even if you're only going across town.  Now imagine having to do that every weekend.  YUCK!  I'd wrap every piece in newspaper and stack them carefully in the boxes.  I have the boxes labeled but at the end of a long day I'm not so careful whether I get everything in it's proper place.  Hence, I'm always one of the last crafters loading up my car at the end of the day.  DOUBLE DOG YUCK!  (and, yes, I used the word "hence"!)
The old packing hodge-podge

During our weekly phone call Dad and I were discussing possible solutions to my packing issue.  How can we make it quicker and still protect each piece and keep it organized? You've probably seen those fancy moving boxes with the cardboard dividers.  We were thinking along those lines.  Unfortunately, our pottery varies in size from spoon rests to large bowls and birdhouses and everything in between.  So I needed to customize.

The new Beautifulness!
Maybe I'm coming late to the game and you're sitting there shaking your head because this isn't as awesome of an idea as I think it is.  Too bad!  It's not often I impress myself and I'm still reveling in the prospect of leaving a show less than an hour after it ends.

In case you're mildly impressed and think this would help your craft show experience be less stressful I'm sharing my process.  Obviously, you'll be adapting to fit your own needs but you'll get the general idea and I'll be happy to help you out if you have questions or get stuck.  (And thank you, Mr. Huckle, for high school drafting class!)

Tools you'll need:
  • Graph paper or make your own
  • Calculator (maybe)
  • Pencil
  • Utility knife
  • Scissors (maybe)
  • Metal ruler or straight edge and ruler
  • Old cardboard box
  • Hot glue gun w/glue (maybe)
  • Recycled packing material
  • Snacks (optional)

Here are the steps:
The plan

The notched walls
Putting it together
Loading it up
  1. Measure the interior of the box/bin.  This bin's interior measures 20" wide x 14" deep x 5" high.
  2. Measure your items.  It's easier if you have similarly sized items to give you equal spacing.
  3. On the graph paper map out the plan.  This bin holds the spoon rests which need a space about 4 inches wide by 1 inch deep.  I have 30 spoon rests so my calculations gave me 2 rows of 14  and the extra 2 spoon rests will have to be relegated to another area. 
  4. Take your cardboard (I used a sneaker box for this grid but will need sturdier material for larger items), utility knife and metal ruler measure and cut the main pieces of your grid.  In the example I had 2 pieces 14" x 4" (side walls), 4 pieces 8 1/2" x 4" and 9 pieces 8" x 4" (cross walls).  You don't need cardboard on the outer sides.  My grid doesn't fill the whole bin so the 8 1/2" pieces are so I can fold the end to make a tab to glue to the outer side wall for stability.  If your grid fills the whole bin you only need inner walls and no tabs.
  5. Now you need to cut a notch for each intersection.  Each notch should only go up half way.  I cut one notch 4" from the end of each 8" & 8 1/2" piece and 13 notches 1" apart in one of the 14" side walls.
  6. Now you can slot everything together. 
  7. Line the bottom and outer walls of your bin/box with padding material.  (mine's recycled shipping material.)
  8. Insert your grid and load up your inventory!  For the left over space I've stacked some flat items with a sheet of thin foam or bubble wrap layered in between and 1 inch foam around the sides.  Not a scrap of newspaper to be found!
  9. Add another layer of padding on top (we don't want things hitting the lid when we can't avoid that pot hole!)
  10. Time how long it takes you to unload and load at your next show and report back to me.  I don't have another show until November and the suspense is killing me!
Next I'll be working on packing medium and large housewares and my birdhouses and banks.  Here's the link.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Shortly after graduating high school I worked at a florist starting as a driver then learning floral design and working in the shop.  After 2 years of starting in August to prepare for Christmas I couldn't do it any more and quit.  It made me feel like a Scrooge dreading Christmas, which is one of my favorite holidays.

This weekend was our first craft show for the fall/holiday season.  This is the earliest that we've done a fall show and my mindset is focused on the harvest season and Thanksgiving.

The show was in a church and vendors were spread throughout the building.  When the show started at 9:00 music started playing in the foyer, which was about 10 feet from the "Board Room" where I was set up with one other vendor.  A gentleman came in with a little boom box and asked if we would mind having music playing in the room.  Since my roommate was occupied he directed the question to me.  I declined because I've found the music can be distracting and just adds to the din when there are a lot of people in a small space.  As shoppers started coming (we had a very good show) I didn't even notice the music.  When it started quieting down after lunch I noticed it again.  It was Christmas music.  Of course!  What else would they be playing?

I'm sure there have been hundreds of marketing studies done on the effects of music on shoppers and being a vendor I want the shoppers to buy my amazing items.  ;-)   But as a shopper I cringe when I hear Christmas music before Halloween.  Probably because I've been a shopper longer than I've been a vendor I still have that negative reflex.  It was clear that many of our customers were gift shopping so maybe the music helped.  I just need to embrace my cringes and accept my roll in the pre-holiday madness. (heavy sigh)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Treasuring the family drama

It's been 15 years since we've had a legitimate ER visit with our kids. With three boys, who have a father who's parents were on a first name basis with the ER staff, I consider this a major miracle.

I said "legitimate ER visit" because we had a "false alarm visit" with the whole shebang: EMT's and an ambulance ride. Our middle boy fell out of a tree when he was 7 or 8. His brothers came to fetch me from the house and I ran out to find him laying on his back crying "Ooow! My back hurts! I can't move!". Hence, the EMT's were called in. He was immobilized and carted to the hospital in style. After a thorough exam, including x-rays, they cleaned the large scrape on his back that he had gotten from falling against the tree and sent us home. Very anti-climactic, huh?

Now for the drama. Our oldest boy had broke his arm when he was three. That was our first ER visit. He now works in a sheet metal fabrication shop and caught his finger in one of the machines yesterday. He had an open fracture and is now all stitched back together and resting in front of his video games. Poor baby!

I know. You're thinking "That's it?" and you're 100% right! Our family has had it's share of major drama but, thankfully, not directly involving the boys. We have been so blessed with healthy children and when little things like this happen to them I thank God because it can always be so much worse. I know parents whose children have addictions, chronic illnesses, life changing injuries or have died. My heart brakes for them.  We are so blessed!

So I'll take our little doses of drama and put them in our treasure box because everything that's put in our path, good and bad, is a challenge. How we deal with our challenges is what defines our character.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The proof is in the birdhouse???

This past summer has proven to be monumental in the development of our birdhouses.  We have quite a few of them on our deck, trees and patio.  We started putting them on our deck for decoration but last year put some in trees and under the deck (which is on the 2nd story) to see if we could get any birds to nest in them.

One birdhouse was in a grove of poplars in the middle of our yard and I'd seen a bird going in and out of it but couldn't make out what breed it was.  My dog, Oliver, was sniffing around at the base of the tree one day acting kinda funny.  When I went to investigate I found a baby blue bird on the ground!  Oliver and I sat back and watched as the momma coaxed the baby to fly.  The birdhouse they happened to habitate in was a baby blue fish.  Ironic, huh?  Unfortunately, I was so excited, I didn't think to get my camera.

A few weeks later, while resting in the shade after weeding (my favorite!) I heard a fluttering ruckus nearby and looked up to discover a house wren going into a birdhouse under the deck!  I think I actually clapped my hands (yes, I'm a dork!)  I sat very still and strained to hear tiny chirps.  We had several babies!  More claps.  I ran for my camera and started shooting.  All I can say is "Thank heaven for the person who invented digital photography" because I would have had to pay for several rolls of film to be developed to get the half dozen good shots I ended up with.

As if this wasn't enough excitement, Mother Nature has also proven to be no match for our birdhouses!  We experienced a 5.8 earthquake on Aug. 23 followed by hurricane Irene later that week.  They all survived unscathed! 

Can't wait to see who moves into the neighborhood next spring!

Friday, August 26, 2011

A little insight to my process

A 3 lb. lump of muddy clay.

Ready to be bisque fired,
then glazed and re-fired to cone 6 (2232 degrees F).
Home sweet home for some lucky birdies!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Upcoming Craft Shows

I just wanted to share some of the Holiday craft shows we'll be selling at this fall:
  • October 1, 2011 - Holiday Craft Faire, Bethlehem, PA from 9:00 - 3:00

  • November 12 & 13, 2011 - Whitehouse Fire Co Craft Show, Whitehouse Station, NJ from 10:00 - 4:00

  • December 3, 2011 - Crafts in the Warren Tech., Washington, NJ  from 9:00 - 4:00 
These are all well attended shows in which all vendors go through a jury process to ensure only high quality, handcrafted items.  

Hopefully, we'll be adding more shows as we get additional confirmations.

Please come out to do some shopping and stop by our booth to say "Hi" and  mention this blog post to get a discount!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Art of Being an Artist

My dad's been trying to get me to be an "artist" since I was a kid.  I was always making crafty things and sketching.  He encouraged me to go to an art school.  Besides the fact that the thought of going to college scared the crap out of me, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do.  I couldn't see myself as an artist.  The literature in the high school guidance office talked of Graphic Arts and that didn't appeal to me.  My four years of art classes in high school was mostly limited to painting and drawing, neither of which got me very excited.  So I did nothing.

For some reason having family and friends tell me I had talent didn't make me feel that way.  I guess I acknowledged it, to an extent, on a "crafty" level.  It wasn't until my pottery teacher's husband told me I was under pricing my birdhouse for a student studio show that I began to think of myself as marketable.  This took a while to sink in and take root.  I started selling at local shows and when I saw almost everyone who looked at my booth smile or even laugh I finally realized the definition of my gift.  I knew it was there but having third-party confirmation helped solidify it in my weak ego.  Seeing some of the joy I get from creating being passed on to someone else just from looking at one of my pieces.... priceless!

So, does being marketable make you an "artist"?  It shouldn't.  But in my mind, apparently, it does help.  Making something that excites my passion and seeing the intended impact in a strangers reaction makes me feel more like an artist (and that will be $40, please).  They're shoes I'm growing into and starting to feel more and more comfortable in.  But I need to walk around in them a lot more!