Rationing

Feb. 6th, 2019 02:04 pm
offcntr: (rainyday)
Last Monday I started another production cycle, with only five boxes of clay. At 50 lbs. per box, that's only 250 lbs. On a good week, I can go through that in about three days; even taking it easy, I'd be out before Saturday. So I called my supplier, Clay Art Center, and told them it was time for another ton of clay. "No problem," they said, "It'll be two weeks."

Two weeks?

Yes, all their freight orders were backed up, due to schools restocking for the new semester. They'd also had a clay mixer break down, and only just got it fixed.

Which left me in a fix. I'm scheduled to load a kiln at the end of the month. I need a week for glazing and decorating, which leaves just about two weeks to actually make the pots. With no clay.

Well, not much. The first thing I did was take a long look at my throwing list, prioritizing, what's essential (more special orders), what would be nice (extra soups, stews, plates), what can wait until April (teapots and oval platters, mostly). March is outside of the production cycle, being devoted to taxes and organizing the van for the start of Saturday Market.

Next, I checked on the drying bat of recycled clay I'd loaded up just after Thanksgiving, and discovered it wasn't. Drying, that is. It was still the consistency of, oh, Greek yogurt, only a slight improvement on the applesauce-like slop I'd started with. I cut it up into blocks, set them up on drywall boards next to the space heater, then started with the actual throwing list.

As of Wednesday, I was down to two boxes of clay, and the blocks were still softer than tofu. Think I'd better cut 'em into smaller chunks and turn up the heat.

Spectators

Jan. 28th, 2019 11:40 am
offcntr: (bunbear)
Saturday was the Art Center's annual meeting and open house. It was also the day Denise and I were loading the kiln, so we had spectators. I don't mind, really; years of teaching experience leave me ready to lecture--or at least explain--at the drop of a question. Had a few familiar faces from other parts of my life, one of whom took this picture of me moving ware boards and was kind enough to text me a copy.
offcntr: (live 1)
It's January 1st. I have already thrown 24 pie plates, 15 baking dishes (in three different sizes), 12 batter bowls, 5 mixing crocks, 5 pasta bowls, a platter, and a dessert plate. Also rolled and cut 12 feet of 4x6" tile for a backsplash project. 

Start as you mean to go, I guess.
offcntr: (vendor)
People-watching is one of the true joys of doing art fairs; even when they don't buy anything, people are endlessly fascinating.

Case in point: yesterday morning, a group of four Chinese girls, college students, stopped in my booth, spent a several minutes looking around, pointing out things to each other, conversing about half in English, half Chinese, before moving on. A few hours later, they were back. Three of them were classic college kid-presenting, jeans, nice sweaters, no make-up, though one of them did have a very sparkly ball cap. The fourth one was much more dressy, with careful makeup and model-quality eye make-up: the little wings at the edge of the eye-lashes, a slight red shade all along the edges of the lids. Very exotic and classy.

The three college girls were very excited, comparing different items, patterns, checking prices. The fourth one was more interested in her phone, checking texts and occasionally reviewing her make-up in the reflective case, only occasionally commenting on what they others showed her. Eventually the three all made choices, explaining they were getting presents for their host families: a dessert plate with owl, a dessert plate with Canada geese, a dessert and toddler set with bunnies (for host mother and father). And everyone left happy, chattering, except Make-up girl.

A little while later, I stopped by Jon's booth to tell him about my little group. "Oh, they came to your booth, too?" said daughter Elizabeth. "The one with the cool eye make-up was all over Dad's pots, particularly the lavender ones. The others mostly just stood and waited for her."

I'm really so glad.
offcntr: (window bear)
Partly cloudy and dry today, so I took advantage of the weather to sort through my boxes of seconds for next Sunday's Kareng Fund Pottery Sale and Smash. Wound up holding one box back for the Club Mud sale in March, another was all bowls for Empty Bowls. Which left two big boxes and one small one for the sale, and another small one of things to break.

Sometimes you just gotta get their attention.
offcntr: (rainyday)
I took a box of mugs to the bank this morning.

Actually, it's a credit union, and we've been banking at this branch since we moved up to River Road in 2000. They're always friendly and helpful, set me up with a business account to clear checks written to "Off Center Ceramics" rather than my own name, and that time somebody stole my debit card number and bought a bunch of crap at a skater store in Minneapolis, they were invaluable

So this morning, I gave them all a Christmas present.

There's about a dozen people working there, between full and part-time tellers, managers and all, so I put together a box of slightly-seconds tall mugs--mostly oxidized in the firing, though there was one with a chip on the base. Enough that everybody got to have one.

I've done this before, for the window clerks at the Post Office, and the employees at my favorite (no longer open, sigh) copy shop. People I work regularly with, rely on.

Sure, I could have made a few extra bucks had I saved that box of mugs for our seconds sale in March, but the goodwill I get this way?

Priceless.
offcntr: (Default)
Two weeks ago, I told you about a little girl who came to my booth four times, to look at all my pottery, and show it to her brother, her sister, her mom.

Last weekend, she came in a fifth time, with her dad, to purchase a penguins dessert plate... that I had just sold an hour earlier.

Fortunately, I'd glazed two more for my firing, one a commission, the other just because. They both turned out well, so today she came back again (thanks, Avery!) to buy her penguins plate.

Sixth time's the charm. 

Time travel

Dec. 6th, 2018 02:02 pm
offcntr: (live 1)
In the day or two between the madness that was--glazing and loading and firing--and the madness that will be--unloading and sorting and an early morning trip to Olympia--I've been sorting through boxes. Old boxes, put in storage back in 2000 when we moved to this house. I've been finding lots of stuff to throw away, a fair bit to shred (tax forms from way, way back)... and some that's really kinda cool.

Like photos.

Here, for instance, is the earliest extant photo of Off Center Ceramics, circa 1993. Yup, our first year at Saturday Market, before we got a reserve booth, sharing a space (and points) with Kathy Lee, whose business, Useful Pots, provided the original of what later became the Off Center bear.



Contrary to Eugene-fueled preconceptions, that's not a bong I'm holding. It's a form of ocarina, an eight-note whistle, though as this one has one large sound hole rather than eight small ones, it's played by your palm, allowing all sorts of cool slides and partial notes.

I'm sort of appalled by how few pots I actually have in the booth, though I do see a stack of pie plates, dinner plates, banks and cookie jars. Plus some things I don't make any more, like an orange juice squeezer and a long oval fish baker. And the whistles.
offcntr: (bunbear)
A week ago Sunday morning, I was at Clayfolk in Medford, giving my Brushmaking and Decorating demonstration (or, as I like to call it, Making Art With Roadkill).

Now, there are a couple of ways to organize a 90-minute demonstration. You can choose a technique that's long and involved, and just do one or two pieces for the whole 90 minutes--Nancy Adams carving and modeling one of her elaborate relief-sculpted dragon pots, for instance--or you can sit down at the wheel and wing it, throwing pot after pot until you've run out of time or clay. If you have the throwing skills of, say, Tea Duong, this can enthrall the crowd indefinitely.

Because my demo is kinda schizophrenic, both making the tools and showing how I use them, and because I paint my pots so damn fast, I've come up with a system that works well for me, especially given the drop-in and -out nature of the audience. I'll wax my demo bowls and set up my glazing station, talking about my process and organizational system--color coded brush rests, really--and glaze a few pots. Take requests from the audience and decorate them. Then talk about my handmade brushes, make a couple of them. Go back to the other end of the table, glaze and decorate bowls.

Rinse, repeat.

I was on my third repeat, had used up all my prepared bamboo handles for brush making, was preparing to decorate my last pot when a little boy showed up. As is my habit, I asked him for an animal suggestion, and he came up with two I'd already done (a snake and a jaguar). Wound up painting a portrait of Karen Rychek's dog, sitting on her lap in the front row.

So, brushes done, bowls done, ten minutes left. I got out my Magic Paper (a water-activated paper used by sumi-e painters to practice), handed out brushes and a water cup and gave everybody a chance to try painting.The kid was fascinated by the process, loved the way the brush handled, painted circles and spirals just to see how the line went from thick to thin as the line changed directions. It was great fun to watch, and at the end of the demo, I gave him a brush to keep. Told him when he'd drawn something he was really proud of with it, to send me a picture.

Fast forward to this Saturday. I'm digging around in the restock boxes in the back of my booth when I hear, Look Mom, it's Frank's booth. There's Frank! Hi Frank!

I look up and say, "I gave you a brush!" Big grin, nodding like a bobblehead. "How is it?" 

It still works!, he says. His name, it turns out, is Evo, and he and his mom are looking for a present for his dad (she'd covered the rest of the family in Medford). They decided on a flamingo mug, and purchased it to smiles all around. Still looking forward to seeing his drawing...

But what were they doing three hours up I-5 from home? Thanksgiving, I guess.

offcntr: (snoozin')
We're in the home stretch as far as holiday sales go. Yesterday, we went from this:

To this!

It took us about 3-1/2 hours from start to finish, and we still need to do a little more work Friday morning, setting out Denise's paper, putting out business cards and shelf signage, but this will be the last time we have to set up the booth this year. (Holiday Market makes us take out the pottery at the end of each weekend, but the booth can remain until Boxing Day.)

I've been working on ways to better light the lower shelves for a while now, first with battery-powered button lights--which went through so many AA's--most recently with LED counter lights. They're bright, low-power, and can link together to only use one outlet. And they make a huge difference in visibility.

Unfortunately, mounting them is a problem. They come with little plastic brackets that screw into the underside of your cupboard or shelf, but those are designed to snap in once and stay there. Getting the bars in and out again at the end of the show--without breaking either the light or the bracket--was a challenge, as was stacking shelves on the roof rack to get to and from shows. I'd been having good luck using rare-earth magnets for my shelf signs, so ordered in some bigger ones for the lights.

Tried them out at Clay Fest and Clayfolk, and ran into some problems. To begin with, both the light bars and magnets are smooth, and the hot glue I used to attach them didn't want to hold. Also, two magnets per bar seemed to hold all right up until I tried to move the cords out of sight, at which point the lights popped down onto the pots. I wound up using box tape as a temporary fix, but it's messy and sticky and I needed something better.

We discussed possible solutions on the drive home from Medford, and decided to try this:

No, not electrician's tape. That's the anti-gravity device from the space program: Velcro. I got three yards of self-adhesive 3/4 strips from JoAnn Fabrics, which turned out to be just enough for all five light bars, with six inches left over that I used to mount a single button over a dark spot. We'll see how well it holds up over the next five weekends, but for now, I'm cautiously optimistic.


Tricksy

Oct. 31st, 2018 06:12 pm
offcntr: (rocket)
We never get trick-or-treaters at our house--it's a high-speed, high-traffic street, not many neighbors, lots of churches on enormous lots, so not worthwhile for kids to go door-to-door. We've even stopped buying candy; we just end up eating it ourselves, and neither of us really should.

Which is why I spent Halloween down at the studio, firing a glaze kiln.

It's a super-busy time of year. Three different glaze kilns were all loading yesterday--my big one, Don and Linda in the smaller gas kiln, and Shelley, Jon and Karen in the soda kiln. Fortunately, the soda kiln doesn't fire until tomorrow. It's tricky enough recording gas usage with two kilns firing simultaneously. Three might just break the treasurer.

Don likes to fire the small kiln overnight; he'll finish loading around supper time, start it off, watch it carefully through warm-up til body reduction, sometime around midnight. Then he'll set up his futon and bedroll on the work table and sleep until dawn, when he should just about be reaching temperature.

The bigger gas kiln is indoors, sheltered from the wind, so I can light it off around 8 pm and leave it to candle overnight. If I tune the burners just right, I'll be right about body reduction when I arrive around 6 am (if I'm too timid, I'll barely have red heat and have hours of extra waiting before the cones start to drop). This time I had it about perfect: cone 08 was down on top when I came in, not yet on the bottom, so I adjusted the air, gas and damper all at once, clamped the door tight and did body reduction right away. Meanwhile, Don woke up and checked his kiln, found cone 8 down, so we both had good timing.

He got cone 10 and shut down a little after 8 am, went home for a nap before the monthly meeting. I ran a few errands, tweaked the kiln, dropped off my ballot, tweaked the kiln, took minutes for the meeting, tweaked the kiln... you get the picture. For some reason, the top was running a good bit hotter than the bottom and not wanting to even out the way it usually does. I did finally get them within half a cone, but then the top pulled ahead again at cone 10, and I didn't want to wait any longer for the bottom, because if the top hit cone 11, pictures would start sliding off the pots. I expect carry-over to take the bottom to at least cone 9-and-a-half, which should be in the maturity range of my glaze, but I won't know for sure until Friday whether I have trick or treats.

Arrgh!

Oct. 15th, 2018 06:15 pm
offcntr: (snoozin')
Messed my back up during Clay Fest, lovely electric-shock spasms to the lower left side. Managed to get through it with afternoon lie-downs on a heating pad, acetominophen, and the help of a friend from church who loaded boxes into the van for me.

Having taken a long, slow Monday off, I'm definitely improving, but probably still a couple of days from studio work again, and no heavy lifting...

Sigh. Getting older sucks
offcntr: (Default)
Reposted from offcenter.biz:

Signs it's fall at Off Center Ceramics:
  • The fridge is full of apples.
  • Raincoat moves to the hook closest the door (waterproof shoes likewise).
  • Quilt comes back out of the linen closet to cover the toe zone of the bed.
  • Extra layers worn to Saturday Market and Club Mud (frequently forgotten there as the sun comes out around midday).
  • Pottery production goes into high gear!
After a summer that includes jaunts up into Washington and down south to Roseburg, fall sales are closer to home: Fall Festival in Corvallis, Clay Fest in Eugene. But looming over the horizon in November are my biggest show of the year, Clayfolk (the weekend before Thanksgiving in Medford) and the biggest continuous run of sales, Holiday Market at the Lane County Fairgrounds in Eugene, which we join in progress Thanksgiving weekend and continue right to Christmas Eve.

I've just unloaded a kiln to stock the first two sales; I'll need at least two more 50 cubic-foot firings to get me to Christmas. I just had a ton of clay dropped on my driveway last week. It's time to start making that into pottery.

Last sign of fall at Off Center Ceramics:
  • When we go to recruit bears for Saturday Market, they're all hiding under the quilt at the end of the bed...

offcntr: (snoozin')
So my firing got off to a great start this morning: orange heat in the kiln when I arrived at 6 am, the first cone, 08 (like negative 8) down on time by 7:05. I put the kiln into body reduction for half an hour, then adjust the damper and burners for the duration of the firing, checking the cones and pyrometer every half hour to see how things are progressing.

The pyrometer is all over the map, so I pull out the thermocouple and swap in the other one from the small gas kiln, assuming (correctly, once it cools) that age and corrosion have worn this one away. But the cones haven't begun dropping at the bottom peep hole.

At 9 am, cone 04 goes down on the top of the kiln. Still no movement on the bottom. By 10 am, cone 1 is showing signs of softness, I've fiddled with the damper twice, the burners three times, and if I'm not at my wit's end, I can see it from there. My next two shows, not to mention a bunch of special orders, are riding on the success of this firing.

I was in the bathroom when inspiration hit. I finished and flushed and scrambled for the kevlar gloves, pulled out the peep plug, and sure enough: I'd put the cone pack in backwards.

Cone packs, as we use them, contain eight cones, set in two rows of four. I use cones 08, 04, 1 and 4 in front, 8, 9, 10 and 11 in back. If I put the pack in back-to-front, that meant I was looking at the wrong cones. And in fact, cones 08 through 1 were all down back behind the front rank; the only cone standing was cone 4.

Which meant my firing was perfectly on track, and I stop could stressing and go back to mixing glazes, making tests and mopping the kiln room floor...


offcntr: (live 1)
Sunday was a little slower than Saturday; I managed to glaze serving bowls, colanders and cat foods, but not much else. Did get some nice patterns, for example, these servers.

Monday was much more ambitious. To get back on track to load Thursday, I glazed 65 mugs, tumblers and glasses, and another 16 dinner plates. This was just the first twenty.
offcntr: (be right back)
I wasn't at Saturday Market yesterday. And it's bugging me.

I've never been one to blow off responsibility. I answer phone messages, I hit deadlines, I never once cut class in either college or graduate school. If I'm in town, and it's not November (our month off), I'm at Saturday Market.

Except I'm kinda overbooked, right now. As I mentioned last post, I'm preparing for a couple of shows, doing publicity materials for a couple more. I'm locked into a firing schedule at my pottery co-op, and really needed Saturday to glaze pots.

But we had a plan... We'd set-up Market as usual Saturday morning, then Denise would mind the booth, and I'd bus over to Club Mud to spend some time glazing. In the afternoon, I'd bus back, we'd take down at 5 and go home together.

And then, on Friday night at supper, I asked Denise, So, we're going to do Market tomorrow?

With the most forlorn expression you've ever seen, she said Do we gotta?

Reader, I just couldn't.

And you know what? It was a really good choice.

I left home a little after 7 am, as usual, arrived at the studio fresh and ready to paint at 7:30. I worked more-or-less straight through 'til 5:30. Came home actually not too tired, had supper and a quiet evening.

As opposed to going to Market first, hauling boxes and booth parts and setting everything up, then getting to the studio at 9:30 already sorta tired. Working 'til 4, catching the bus again, and putting everything back in the van when Market closed at 5. Stumble in the door at quarter past 6, have supper and fall into bed.

So, an extra three-and-a-half hours work time and energy to use it well. I got so many pots glazed. And meanwhile, Denise pulled paper in the back yard.

ETA: I talked to some of the potters who were at Market Saturday, and I guess we didn't miss anything special. 11 am football game makes for long, slow afternoons.
offcntr: (be right back)
One question I got a lot last weekend at the Anacortes Arts Festival was Are you going to be in Coupeville next weekend?

Coupeville is on Whidbey Island, maybe an hour's drive over the bridge and down island; they hold their Arts Festival the week after Anacortes, and attract many of the same vendors.

A lot of artists on the circuit go from fair to fair. They load up their van at the start of the season, and don't come home until the end. Me, I can't do that.

To begin with, the cats would never forgive us; five days away for Anacortes is pushing it. If we stayed away for weeks at a time, you'd never find our bodies.

More importantly, I don't have the stock for it. I have a short-bed Chevy Astro, and packed to the ceiling with pottery boxes, I can just about manage one successful fair. To do another the next week, I'd have to drive home, restock, and drive back (essentially what I do in June between Edmonds and Roseburg, though they're in different directions). With an eight-hour-plus drive each way--plus a ferry ride--it just isn't worth it. (We actually did Coupeville for a few years when I couldn't jury into Anacortes. It's a nice, small festival, but never sold well for us, though we had friends to stay with so it mostly penciled out.)

But the biggest reason I don't go from show to show: I don't have to. Unlike most of the other folks on the circuit, I have a regular, reliable venue right here at home: the Eugene Saturday Market.

We've been doing the Market, rain or shine, for over 25 years. Over time, it's developed into a steady, reliable income stream, some weeks just grocery money, other weeks rather more. We can't survive solely on its income--hence the road shows--but with Market as a base, we can limit the times we go on the road to a manageable number, usually about six or seven. And because Saturday Market opens in April, and Holiday Market runs right up to Christmas Eve, we don't have to pack our entire income-earning for the year into a few short summer months (or drive to Arizona in the dead of winter to take advantage of off-season show opportunities).

An unexpected benefit? We stay in practice. We get a lot of comments from our neighbors at shows about how organized we are, how efficiently we set up and take down, even, occasionally, how well-designed our booth layout is (I know, I'm surprised too.). All skills we hone every week at Market. We practice our organizational systems--I'm working at improving inventory management--our selling skills, our product selection. And get to sleep in our own beds, not drive more than 20 minutes each way, and get paid while we do it.

And the best part? Because we set up on a square of sidewalk, I don't have to shim and level the shelves. I swear that's the hardest part of every road show set-up.

In the bag

Aug. 6th, 2018 08:40 am
offcntr: (vendor)
Once again, Anacortes had us the first booth in the show. It's an advantage--we're clearly visible, easy to find, hard, in fact to miss. It's also a disadvantage. Because people see us first, and they don't want to carry pottery around all day. I'll come back on my way out, they say.

Some may; most won't. Our solution? Pottery bag checking. We keep their bags for them, all day if need be, and let them pick them up again on the way to their cars. All I ask for is a name and phone number written on the bag. I'm terrified someday I'll have a bag of paid pottery and no way to get it to a forgetful owner. I always considered this to be an unnecessary precaution on my part: nobody's gonna forget their bag, right?

This year, it happened. Twice.

The first time was Saturday night. I left a phone message, texted. Finally closed it up in the booth and went back to the motel. She texted back, apologetic, Sunday morning, collected her bank later that day.

The second time was a little dicier. She left a pitcher with her name, but couldn't remember her phone number. I did have her email, from sending a receipt, so when she hadn't returned by a quarter to five, I sent her a reminder. And again, at 5:30. At 6 pm, with all the pots in the van and us starting to take the shelves down, I was getting seriously concerned.

Finally heard from her at 6:30. She had forgotten, hadn't taken our card (good thing, as the card has our home phone number, not my cell), was coming back into town to get the pitcher. I reassured her we'd be there packing up the booth 'til about 7 o'clock, and she arrived about 20 minutes later, apologetic, just as we were taking down the canopy.


Catching up

Aug. 2nd, 2018 01:30 pm
offcntr: (Default)
The last few days of a firing cycle are busy. Glazing fifty to seventy-five pots a day, then loading, firing, unloading. Sorting and pricing and loading the van for my next sale. I get a little behind.

The timing was tougher than usual too, this time. We usually load on Sunday, fire Monday, unload Wednesday, so I have Tuesday off, while the kiln cools, to catch up on chores, office work. This time we fired Friday, so my "day off" was spent at Saturday Market, and as the firing went 'til after 9 pm Friday, I was more than a little zonked. Add in the fact that the temperature hit 90° pretty much every day of the firing cycle, and you can see how things might get lost in the shuffle.

Like blog posts.

So here's three snapshots to catch you up while I get ready to set up in Anacortes this evening.


1. A para-fox.

I took an order at Edmonds last June for something new: a covered pasta bowl. The customer wanted a fox pattern; I asked if I should paint it on the lid or in the bowl, and he said Why not both?

Here it is ready to load into the kiln, looking lovely. Not show: How it looked half an hour later, after the know snagged on the roof of the kiln and broke off. Or the sound my heart made when that happened.

It's theoretically possible to weld a broken knob on with glaze, but it's anything but certain whether it'll stay put in the firing. Safer to start from scratch, for my September firing.


2. Koalaty workmanship.

Oh, right, like you thought I could pass that one up... And anyway, I had to show off something from what turned out a very nice firing.


3. Harvest time.

Last job before I went in to pack for Anacortes : Water the garden and collect the produce. Clockwise from top left, we have: Mystery red apples, windfalls from the Lutheran Church lot next door; snow peas, var. Oregon Giant, from our garden; blackberries, growing wild over the carport, because it's Oregon; Blue Lake green beans from our new raised bed; Gravenstein apples from our tree; and tomatoes, mostly Sungold cherries, which are trying to take over the whole garden.

So there's another thing handmade pottery is good for...

Flat stuff

Jul. 12th, 2018 12:00 am
offcntr: (snoozin')
Drying plates out on the driveway, while an old Greg Brown tune runs through my head:

Flat stuff; flat stuff. Way out to the, way out to the setting sun...



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