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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Note to Self:

Maybe if I write it down this time it'll sink in!  I'm sure I did this last year, too.  Trying to squeeze just one more order into the last Christmas firing.  Can you spell "Stress"?  'Cause I don't have enough I need to give myself a big, fat dose of more.  Really?  When will I learn?  What was Nancy Reagan's motto?  "Just say NO!".  But they really, really want this birdhouse: "It'll be perfect for Dad!".  And an owl bank inscribed for a granddaughter...   "NO!"  Well, I'm sure I won't be that harsh.  Middle-child diplomacy won't let me.

So, I'm getting it out there now:

Dear Universe,
I hereby declare the cutoff date for custom pottery orders for Christmas of 2013 IS December 1, 2013.  This is not to be changed, challenged or forgotten (hopefully) or pain of intense pre-holiday headaches, hair-pulling and hand-wringing will ensue with no sympathy of any kind to be given to the offender.

If I had a stone and chisel I'd etch it in.

I feel better now getting it out there so I can be held accountable when I'm wondering why big clumps of my suddenly grayer hair are missing next Christmas.

I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday enjoying family and friends.  I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Coming off the High

What makes you "high"?

Hopefully, not drugs of any kind (insert disapproving Mom-Stink-Eye here)!  I mean a natural high.  Something that makes you feel stupid-happy.

I'm still riding an unexpected high from the craft show we did yesterday. 

Not from packing up the car the night before and feeling I'm forgetting something. 
Not from waking up late and missing breakfast. 
Not from rushing to set up before the show starts with no caffeinated beverage to fuel me. 
Not from realizing what I forgot was one of my main display shelves and having Craig run it out to me (he's the BEST!). 
Not from realizing some of my banks didn't have stoppers in them (lucky for me Craig hadn't left the house with the shelves yet). 
And definitely not from sitting for the first 2 hours of the show seeing plenty of customers with shopping bags that weren't mine.

There's always  trepidation for me at the start of a show.  What if we don't sell anything?  Worry and self doubt are familiar companions.

My mood change started with the first sale.  Not a big purchase but it got the ball rolling.  A couple of returning customers, which is still new for me, a Christmas order for a hippo bank (been there, done that!), more sales than I expected and lots of smiles and complements made for an intoxicating combination, apparently.  I was exhausted but high as a kite at the end of the day.

I guess I'm still humbled that anyone buys our pottery. Maybe it's because I haven't done a show in over 6 months that I'd forgotten the rewarding validation I get from seeing people admire and purchase our pots.  That one-on-one interaction is very energizing and inspiring for me.

Unfortunately, we're not doing anymore shows until next year.  So before it wears off I better get to making some hippo banks!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

No winner yet!

No correct guesses yet!

Here's your chance!

Be the first to correctly identify what these are
and win one of your choice.

Here's the original picture
and the first clue is in the comments of this post.

These are dry and ready
for the bisque firing.

Any ideas?

Let's hear 'em!

And just for chuckles
Crazy Maddie dreaming of the ultimate belly scratch!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

True to Form

As usual, my intentions to go into production mode didn't happen immediately.  I thought about it all the time.  Intended to get into the studio every night.  It just didn't happen.  Until today.  I managed a mini-production until the Mommy Cab was called into service.  While I was out "someone" jumped into the studio and was still there when I got back.  So I got distracted by other things like food.

Spoon rests & soap dishes...

...and ???
What do you think these are going to be?  Keep in mind my slightly twisted sense of humor.  They will be slightly altered before being fired but the general shape won't change.

The first person (family members excluded. Sorry!) to correctly identify what these are will win their choice of a finished one when they're done.

The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right... and who is....  Oops!  Hehe!  Maybe I've seen The Princess Bride too many times!  =D

Start guessing and good luck!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Out of the Firing and into the Fire

I unloaded the kiln with our latest glaze firing over a week ago then promptly jumped on a plane (ok, several planes and slept in Dulles airport!) to AZ.

Beautiful but not green enough for me.
My mother's been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's and finally consented to move out of her townhouse where she's been living alone and 3 hours away from any family.   We found a place 20 minutes from my sister in CO and we all pitched in to pack up her house.  It was not fun and very emotional.  This is her 3rd and most extreme down sizing since I moved out and, boy, what a lot of STUFF!  Not a hoarder or pack-rat by any stretch but....  I'm pretty sure the IRS isn't going to audit a little old lady's 20 year old tax return.  =/

So we sifted a house full down to a trailer full and yesterday was move-in day.  Whew!  What a load off all of our minds!  I'm praying she settles in peacefully and makes some new friends.  Getting old SUCKS!

ANYWHO....  Onto a more pleasant topic.  New friends and happy homes came out of the kiln last week and there were a couple of disappointments (typical) but the majority came out great.  Another "Whew!".

Pigs Can Fly Bird House
Cactus & Lizard Bird House
Fat Frog Bank
Two Tone Turtle Bank

More to come when the sun starts cooperating and I can get more pictures done (I really need to get a better photo setup.).  Stay tuned, boys and girls!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It's a miracle! I can see!

How many times over the course of your life do you have moments of divine clarity?  You know.  Those "Ah ha!"s when you can see your future a little more clearly.  When your path is a little more defined.  When the little light bulb in your brain shines a little bit brighter because you've identified your purpose. Those moments for me are pretty rare.

It's common knowledge that in order to make a living as a full-time potter you have to do production pieces.  Everyday household items that have mass appeal and can be produced quickly and inexpensively.  I've resisted this path partly from pride, boredom and lack of time (especially recently).  Who wants to make the same dull thing over and over and over?  Craig likes making mugs and bowls but not me!  I love making my little friends with occasional housewares mixed in.  But not everyone's in the market for cute bird houses or banks.  And Craig rarely gets into the studio these days.  What's a potter to do?

After abysmal internet sales over the summer (granted, I've let my inventory dwindle) and only one show scheduled for the fall (too much other stuff going on) I've been feeling that I've got to shake things up. 

When I look back over the last year or so in my pottery business the message as been there:  Do production pots.   Crystal clear, plain as day.  But I'm stubborn.  I'm gonna do it my way.  If I make it they will come (and buy it).  Right. 

"How's that working out for ya, smarty pants?" 
--Wee Little Devil on My Shoulder

Sunday Craig and I went to the Peters Valley Fall Craft fair.  There were more potters there than usual so loads of inspiration.  I got to talking with this one fella who wasn't having a very good weekend.  He had done the show last year and did pretty well but this year he hadn't even covered his booth fee ($$$).  His items were primitive sculptures and wall masks.  He pointed to another potter down the row from him who he said was doing very well.  That guy was selling.... you know it:  mugs, bowls, platters, etc.  So this guy (I can't believe I never got his name or a card!) said he was gonna try again next year but he'll have one side of his booth with housewares and the other side with his art pieces.

So my clarifying moment came on the way home when Craig and I were discussing this and the prospect of doing such a big show.  I think seeing the sharp contrast between the success of the two potters at the show really drove it home for me.  Sometimes I can be a little thick and it takes getting whacked over the head with something like the side of a barn before it sinks in enough to register.  If I'm gonna be a profitable potter and grow my business I need to conform and do production.  (heavy sigh)

The truth of the matter is if your market won't come to you, you need to go to your market.  This doesn't mean I'm giving up on what I love to make.  It just means I need to focus more on what people are more likely to buy.  I'll just have to work my quirkiness into the dull stuff to make it more fun for me and my customers.  I have to remind myself that as much as I love when others love my little characters I get just as much pleasure out of someone loving one of my mugs.  There is a very personal connection between the maker and the receiver when something you've lovingly crafted with your own hands gets passed into someone's loving and appreciative hands. 

Now, where did I leave my glasses?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Faith, Family, Friends and Football

Blue Jean Baby....  As much as I love summer and the warm weather there's something comforting about slipping back into my jeans on that first too-cool-for-shorts morning.  Although my teen years were spent in the hey day of Jordache and Sergio Valente I was a steadfast Levis girl and still am.  Honestly, I think if I could have afforded the designer jeans I would have gotten myself some Calvin's but I now thank my empty purse of yesteryear for sparing me the pain of seeing myself in old pictures sporting a butt billboard.

We have our second pottery class this week.  The first one went really well and they're coming back for more!  That's always a good sign.  We went through very basic clay physics and properties.  I did a demo and then they got muddy.  I probably would have been much more nervous but these are ladies that I've known for years and they knew it was my first class so they were gentle with me. 

The weekend-long tribute to my father-in-law was amazing!

Included is an image taken from the portrait that started the ball rolling.

Al Nicholas started the football program at Mount Olive HS back in 1972 and still holds the record for most winning seasons.  The impact he had on his players was overwhelmingly apparent when we heard stories of how these now grown men have taken Coach Nick's principals and applied them to their lives.  Many of them now coach school sports and are passing those principals on to their players.  What a legacy!

T-shirts made specially for the occasion.

The Boys with their proud Grandpa and a squashed Mom.
And, no, I haven't started glazing yet.  Sheesh!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Good Things are a'Comin'

I just wanted to share a quick post to show you the latest bisque firing....

Birdhouses, bowls, leaf dishes, banks and mugs
.... and let you know what's coming up this week.

We're giving our very first pottery class tomorrow night (very, very exciting!) and ALL of the in-laws are coming in for the weekend.  You would think "Not so exciting." but actually it is.  There's no room at the "inn" so they're staying at the local B&B so that isn't exciting but it's less stress for me.  It's been many years since we've had the honor of all of them visiting at once.  It's gonna get loud!

The reason for the invasion?  Craig's dad is being honored for being an inspiring coach and roll model in Mount Olive HS football.  Some of the alumni and former football players have organized a weekend of activities and surprises starting at the season's opening game this Friday.  So you can imagine we'll be a little busy.

Hopefully, I'll get some pots glazed but I'm not optimistic.

The sunflowers are fading but the sedum and mums are gorgeous!

Everyone's enjoying the sedum.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Where are the BRAKES?!?!

Well, the "Limbo" is securely behind us and it's now full speed ahead!  We had the meeting with the town board.  Maybe we shouldn't have been so surprised, but what a nice bunch of people!  They were very receptive, made some good suggestions and were generally very supportive of local merchants.  There were just a couple of minor items to clarify about the parking spaces and determining any DEP restrictions (which could prove to be not so minor) since we're right across the street from the Musconetcong River.  But we're pretty confident the next meeting will be the last and everything will be "ok'd".

Oh, yeah!  And the sign is up!

Looking pretty professional!
On the pottery side, not so "full speed" anything!  I've decided to skip the craft show circuit this fall.  Between the new business and family activity I'm just not comfortable booking my time on anything else.  It's been years since I've done the Working-Mom-of-Three routine and now my sedate little life has been tossed into high gear and I'm a bit slow adjusting.  So rather than get in over my head I'll leave me some breathing room, thank you very much.

I'm still getting into the studio on occasion to get the inventory up for the holiday shopping season on our website.  The kiln is slowly filling up.  So, not to worry, I'm still getting my therapy!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Limbo, limbo!

Too much going on and nothing happening.  Everything seems to be in the process or patiently waiting.  Even the birdhouses are still waiting to be loaded into the kiln.  They're taking forever to dry in our lovely, humid NJ weather.  And here, I was afraid they'd dry too fast!  Silly me.

We finally got our Used Car Dealer license.  Can I get a "whoop, whoop"?  However, we still don't have the sign up (small town bureaucracy!) and are going to have to get the town board to amend our property use so we can have more than 10 cars for sale.  It's ridiculous the hoops they make you jump through but we have to play nice to get what we need!  You would think the town would be tripping over themselves to encourage small businesses to move into vacant buildings.  You would think.  =/

Taking a break from the madness to enjoy some of God's handiwork.

These re-seeded from the half dozen I planted last year.  For scale - the fence is 6 ft.

I love the different color combos.

I never realized how hard it is to take pics of butterflies!  Kudos to those who have the patience for it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bogged Down in the Mire

Wow!  I can't believe it's been so long since I last posted.  There's so much that's been going on:
  • Getting the new dealership licensed (any day now!), office set up, computers installed, etc., etc., etc....
  • Awesome trip to VA with ASP (detailed post to follow)
  • Ailing parents  =(
  • Summer gatherings  =)
Somehow, I did manage to squeeze in finishing up some of the birdhouses.

Cattails and dragonfly on the textured vessel.  I'm liking this look more and more.

Cacti and gecko (new design)

This is the hippo.  I'm not loving him.  I should have made the nostrils bigger.  If I don't trash him, hopefully, he'll look more like a hippo and less like a long faced bear when he's glazed gray.

Unfortunately, several are still sitting wrapped in plastic, untouched except for the occasional re-wetting spritz.  At this point, I'm pretty sure they're too dry and a lost cause.  So they'll end up being reclaimed.  Oh well, the only waste was my time.  Shame on me.

I hope you're all having a safe, relaxing summer.  And as they say in Appalachia -  'Ppreciate Y'all!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Birdhouse Factory

I've finally taken some "me" time to make something with all of the reclaimed clay that's been sitting in bags getting perfect.  Considering how infrequently I've thrown lately I was pretty surprised that I went 6 for 6 with the birdhouses.  The one on the far left almost went south when the sides got too thin hence the odd shape.  I'm thinking a hippo.... 

I had seen this slip technique in a couple of videos lately and gave it a try on the first birdhouse.  I'll be doing one of the Garden Series with this one.  I wasn't sure I liked it until I had put all six of the forms together and this one just sang to me.  The slip gives it a great sense of motion that really appeals to me.  But, being the conservative adventurer that I am, I won't be switching over to this look until I see how it looks when it's finished.

Tomorrow, schedule and drying status permitting,  I'll be making these boring forms into some animal and garden birdhouses.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The New Site is Up

Just a quickie to let you know we've been working on the website for Highlands Auto Exchange (this is why no pottery is being made).  The button is at the bottom of the left hand column.

I'd love some feedback on the general appearance, ease of navigation, picture quality, descriptions, or anything else you love or hate about it.

Thanks a bunch!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Where was I?

Oh, yeah.  Reclaiming.  Right.

Sorry but it's been a little crazy around here and my pottery is suffering for it.  I got into the studio on Mother's Day.  That's 2 weeks without a mud fix!  I don't know if I can manage much longer without some therapy.  (heavy sigh, drumming fingers anxiously)

Our used car lot will be opening June 1 and we still don't have our dealers license.  It's no wonder our country can't get it's head out of it's butt when the amount of paper (in our "paperless" society) we have to slog through to get the simplest things done (like an address change) creates such a mire that I just want to drive to Trenton and bang on someones head.  Sorry but it's making me a little crazy.  8D

Deep breath.  Back to some mental therapy, if not actual therapy.

Muddy Mud

The edges are pulling up.  Time to flip it.
Now it's time to make the clay.  The mud gets scooped out and spread evenly on the plaster boards to dry out a bit.  I usually spread it about a half inch thick.   Replace the lid on the bucket if you have enough for another round.

Depending on the humidity this step can take any where from one to three days.  This stage needs to be monitored closely or you'll end up RE-reclaiming if it gets too dry.


When the edges of the slab start pulling up from the board it's time to flip it over and dry it a little more.  I use a large plastic dry wall knife to help pry it off the board.

When the texture is like new clay it's ready for wedging and maybe a little Happy Dance!

Now, get reclaiming!  I feel better just writing about it!

Me?  I'm off to paint the sign for the new shop.  Stay tuned for some great before and after photos.  =D

Monday, May 14, 2012

And the Stirring Continues....

The clay's not at the right consistency yet.  =/

I shared my last post on one of my FB groups and several fellow potters said they use a paint mixer with a drill to mix their reclaimed clay.  Genius!  I've seen glaze mixed with one but it never occurred to me that it would work with clay.  When I asked Craig if we had one he came up with this baby -

...or so I thought.  I believe this is designed for mixing dry wall compound.  But it didn't fit in our corded drill and the cordless drill just didn't have enough oomph.

Look, Ma!  No hands!  It's stuck.
I also realized I probably didn't add enough water.  Not to worry.  I detached the drill, added more water and used the mixer with good old fashioned elbow grease.  Clean up was much easier!  Thank you Peeps!

I don't know about other types of artisans but potters seem to be a pretty ingenious bunch and very willing to share ideas, techniques and tricks.  No matter what barriers rise up before me there's always someone out there who's already figured out how to overcome it and posted it on YouTube or in a forum or blog somewhere.  Maybe it's because our craft isn't easy or inexpensive to pursue and out of necessity and financial constraints we have to come up with shortcuts and innovative ways to get her done.

If all I had to invest in were brushes, paints and canvas I'd have taken that trip to Italy by now and wouldn't have to take over half of the garage with my "stuff". Don't get me wrong.  I've tried painting but I'm mediocre at best and truly envy anyone who can create art in that medium.

I love my craft.  It's my therapy.  And though I feel like I'm just "mud-dling" through at times (very punny!) I have very supportive family, friends and cyber community to bolster me up and push me forward into uncharted (for me) territories.  Thank you all very much!  =D

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Recycle, Recycle, Reclaim

One of the things I love about the pottery process is there is very little waste.  I've often been called cheap but I prefer the word frugal or thrifty.  I just hate waste.  And I do want to do my part to save the planet.  OK!   I ADMIT IT!  I'M CHEAP!  ARE YA HAPPY NOW?  Geesh.

As long as the clay hasn't been fired it can be reclaimed.  I've seen many different processes and have taken bits from here and there to find a way that works in our small studio.  Short of picking up wet clay off of the floor (yes, clay can get dirty/contaminated), I recycle every little crumb a bit obsessively.

Bone dry scraps.
Everything from trimming scraps and failures on the wheel to pots that have cracked during drying or aren't up to snuff end will end up in the bucket.  But only dry clay goes in here.  Any pieces that aren't completely dry are left out to dry on a plaster board.

What we use:
Bone dry clay scraps
A 5 gallon bucket with lid
Hot water
Plaster boards

Clay's funny.  Wet clay submerged in water will retain its shape.  But if it's completely dried out it will "melt' when submerged.

A wet ball of clay just sits in the water.
A bone dry scrap dissolves in minutes.

The melted stuff is what we want.  If you try to reclaim wet clay the texture will be inconsistent and hard to throw no matter how well you wedge it.  The dry clay dissolves completely and will have a uniform consistency.

Adding hot water.
Once we have a significant amount of bone dry scraps we can start reclaiming.  I fill a 5 gallon bucket with the scraps.  It's easier to have the bucket where you'll be storing it during the process because once you start adding clay and water it's gonna get really heavy and sore backs aren't good.  Next start adding hot water.  Hot water dissolves the clay quicker but cold water works as well.  You'll hear the clay hissing and bubbling as it starts to break down.  I often quote the Wicked Witch of the West at this point:  "Look what you've done! I'm melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!".

Clay soup!
When about most of the clay is submerged I jiggle the bucket to help some of the air bubbles escape and settle the clay as it dissolves.  Then I cover the clay completely with water.  As it dissolves it'll absorb the water and turn into mud.  We like mud!

Keep the bucket tightly covered with the lid and let it sit over night.  Over the next few days I'll stir the clay several times a day.  This ensures every scrap gets dissolved completely.  Unfortunately, it's messy.  I use my hands so I can get all the way down to the bottom of the bucket and usually end up with thick mud up to my elbow.  Once I'm happy with the consistency I'll stop stirring and let it sit.  Excess water that hasn't been absorbed will rise to the top.  This I sponge off.   I've left the mud at this stage for weeks.  As long as the lid is on tight it'll be fine.

Probably this weekend I'll have another post with the final stage of the process so check back.  =D

Monday, April 23, 2012

My New Project

First, I will apologize to my pottery followers.  This is completely removed from anything to do with mud.  But I did sneak some creativity into my current project.

I've been working on getting the shop ready to open.  We've gotten the preliminary approval from the township and have sent the application to the state for our dealers license.  In between piles of paperwork I've been painting the office.  We settled on English Racing Green as our official color to tie in with the name Highlands Auto Exchange.  And because I can't stand boring white walls I thought the checker board was appropriate.

New wall before (yawn)
New wall after

Now we're very fashionable (I think)
Prior color was Painters Tape Blue

The view from the shop is much  prettier.  It overlooks the Musconetcong river across the road.  I might have to take up fishing.
View of the shop from the road

Craig had the brilliant idea of displaying and, hopefully, selling pottery in the office!  He's a genius!  So this is the wall I'm thinking of putting up some shelves/displays.  Maybe we'll do a special:  

"Buy a car - get a mug"!


Sunday, April 15, 2012

From Nothin' to Somethin'

The past 2 weeks have been mad busy and I wrapped it all up by catching my son's cold (thank you VERY much!).   So I spent most of today just vegging so I'll be up for working at the new shop this week.

While we were away, our carpenter, Jim, did a great job moving and removing walls and doors.

Wall was moved about 6 ft. to make the bay bigger.
So on my agenda this week is priming and painting the office area.  We've decide on English racing green and white as the company colors.  I'll keep you posted on the progress.

Oh, I haven't mentioned too much about the business have I?  It's called Highlands (hence the green) Auto Exchange and for the past 2 years Craig's been working with a friend who has a used car lot.  At this new spot he should be able to get his own used car dealer license.  It's been a dream of his forever to have his own lot and it looks like it's really going to happen.  He works so hard and I'm so proud of how well he's doing.

I've been doing his bookkeeping from the start but I really want to do more to help lighten his load.  So, hopefully, I'll be in the new office pretty much full time.  We're building a website and applying for the dealers license, etc.  It's quite a big switch to go from the sidelines to the front office but I am so up for it.

I have been blessed with a husband who, after 20+ years, is still my best friend.  We've been through our valleys and have come out stronger (Thank you, God!).  He has been so supportive with my pottery business and recognizes that it's my passion and not a silly hobby.   I hear from many artisans that their spouses don't support their craft as much as they'd hope.  I don't always recognize my blessings but in this case I do.  So now I have the perfect opportunity to reciprocate the support he's shown me.  And I'm so happy to do it!

Also, I must give a big shout out to Craig for being the star of the ASP auction fundraiser Saturday.  He did an outstanding job!

Well, I have to laugh.  When I started this post it was entitled "I Got Nothin'" because I wasn't feeling very inspired to write but felt a need to post something.  Apparently, I got somthin'.  =D

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Temporarily (I hope) Refocusing

Unfortunately, pottery as taken a back seat recently.  Fortunately, though, it's because Hubby's business is moving again.  That doesn't sound very fortunate since he moved in January but the space he's in now is zoned industrial only so he can't sell cars retail out of that location.  One of his dreams has been to have his own used car lot.  The arrangement he's been working with is a little complicated and I won't bore you with the industry lingo and details that I barely understand.  The new location already had a car lot there so that makes it super easy for him to apply for a dealers license.

I had a craft show this past weekend and usually that's my focus for the week leading up to it.  This time I had more of a "Oh yeah, I have a show Sunday." reaction when looking at my calendar.

Loving my new table covers, btw.
The hippo bank was my first sale of the day!

The show went very well and I really should have more scheduled for the spring but the thought of having to spend hours in the studio under pressure to get my inventory restored (did I mention the show went very well?) in addition to helping Hubby out with getting the new store ready, birthdays, getting pics done for eBay listings, bookkeeping, working on our ASP mission fundraiser (tickets still available!), entertaining In-laws, Easter, taxes, spring cleaning, more birthdays.... (gasping, head spinning, holding wall for support!)  Holy heart failure, Batman!  When did my life get so busy?

So, I'm going to take the spring and summer off from doing shows (though I might do the one in June at the Bethlehem ice rink.) and hopefully, hit the circuit really hard in the fall.  We'll see.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Lions

After anguishing over getting my lion looking right and getting some great feedback from everyone, here's the final results.

Big Guy

Little Guy

Not quite Mufasa and Simba...
But they're sooo CUTE!