offcntr: (Default)
For years, my business cards looked like this: simple graphics, black ink on a nice card stock. I got them printed at an independent copy shop a short walk from downtown Eugene that employed one of our former Craft Center studio employees. They had a nice assortment of Wausau Speckletone papers, and Neenah Cottonwood card stock, which is what I printed the cards on. They printed 12 per page, and were super cheap--pennies per card--so I could afford to issue them like popcorn, to everyone who even might be interested.

Time moved on. Kinko's doomed the corner copy shop, and were in turn sunk by the big-box office supply stores. None of them carried specialty papers, so I had to start buying my own stock (Neenah Birch, a lighter, warmer-toned speckled stock) from a paper supply house and bring it in to the local Office Max, now a convenient bike ride from our new house on River Road.

Then Office Depot swallowed up Max and closed our neighborhood store. The copy shop employees got younger and less experienced, too used to pressing a button without thinking about how it affected the printed product. Every six months, it seemed, I was training in a new operator. Yes, it's two-sided. This is how the sides line up. Trimmed cards are 2 x 3.5", cut in this pattern. No, you can't let the computer shrink to fit page (seemingly the default) as this messes up the registration.

Everything finally came to a head about two weeks ago, when I went in to get cards printed for Ceramic Showcase. We can't print them here, I was told, We're not allowed to print two-sided cards in house anymore. We have to send them out to a regional printing center.

Yeah, not happy.

So I brought my 75 remaining sheets of Birch card stock home for Denise to use in book binding projects, and sat down at my computer to design a new business card. And went online.

Online color printers have proliferated since the days when I wrote this. Digital processing, economies of scale and sheer competition mean that a full color card these days costs what my black ink on speckly paper version did back in the day. This is my new business card.

I ordered 5000 from Clay Fest gets its postcards and bookmarks--for just under 2¢ each, including shipping.
offcntr: (be right back)

Took the day off yesterday to celebrate Easter with Denise, but today we had to face the fact that we're in countdown time for Ceramic Showcase. The van is well-stocked for a Saturday Market, but a three-day road show is another thing entirely. We need more of most everything, extra restock boxes of plates, soup bowls, tall mugs. Extra casseroles, baking dishes, servers, pie plates. A few things we only take to road shows, as there isn't room in our smaller Saturday Market display: tool crocks, covered canisters, yarn bowls.

Weather looking to cooperate, we pulled all our boxes out of storage, backed the van out of the carport, and spent all morning and half the afternoon sorting, boxing, and making notes on various inventory sheets. As always, there's never enough room for everything we might need, so we make trade-offs. This pattern in one size baker, a different in the other. How many of each size of serving bowl are we likely to need? Is this enough pie plates? (No, it's never enough pie plates.) It's kind of fun, in an exhausting way, finding things we'd forgotten we stashed away back in the dark days of January and February.

I also managed to get my demo materials, my sculpture, extra stands and lights and bookmarks for Clay Fest to distribute, all packed into the van,
though to do it I had to take out my canopy and stuff boxes under the floor. Which meant I had to make a hook for snagging them back out again. It's always something.

Tonight after supper we'll consolidate our notes onto two pages: a show inventory and a shed (i.e. back at home, sorry didn't bring it with us) listing. I've already started a looseleaf binder with parking pass, hotel info and the 19-page move-in packet.

Tomorrow I'll load up the roof rack, bake cookies for the weekend, print out my road show checklist and start ticking things off. Wednesday afternoon, we drive to Portland and unload the van at the Convention Center, spend all day Thursday setting up. Our first road show of 2019. Wish us luck!

Deep dive

Apr. 10th, 2019 10:56 am
offcntr: (window bear)
I spent most of firing day yesterday cleaning my studio space. I've got a semi-private room, a step up from the main space, but also the hallway from studio to kitchen area. I like it because it includes two big shelf units, but... it includes two big shelf units.

One of them is readily accessible, and holds work fresh from the kiln, glazed pots being held over for the next firing, a constantly revolving array of work-in-progress and work bound for home and sale. The other is tucked in an alcove, hard to move ware boards in and out of, and tends to just accumulate... stuff. It's like an attic, or the back of the hall closet. You never know what's in there, or how long it's been.

So I put on my dust mask, because the amount of air-born clay you can accumulate over time is frightening, got a sponge and a bucket, and had at it.

The first thing I discovered was I could tell how long it had been. I found blank inventory sheets dated 2001 on the top shelf, among other things, suggesting that the entire side had been little disturbed since I took over the space from Corey and Kelly back about then. I also found silkscreens and ink, and a box of Off Center Ceramics t-shirts from an ill-fated attempt to expand into the "I'm traveling and can't take back anything fragile" market. I think I only ever sold two, one rooster and one cat. This was a box of a couple dozen cats shirts, screen-printed, but without the hand-coloring that differentiated a yellow tiger from a brown-point siamese. They were also weirdly mottled in spots. Apparently, newsprint contains enough traces of bleach that it can take out the color of a yellow shirt where it touches.

I donated the silkscreens to Maude Kerns; they're restarting their printmaking classes this spring. The ink and fabric paints went in the dumpster, the shirts will mostly go to Goodwill, except for a few Denise kept back to wear. Anyone want one? I've got medium, large, and extra-large.

I also found a variety of broken bisque, test tiles, and old magazines, dumpster-bound. A pasta bowl with scarred rim, kept because it heroically gave its life to hold up the shelves when a kiln post failed. Some books that, after dusting, will come home to my studio collection. A couple of burnished, pit-fired pots from an earlier series of work than never really found an audience. And a bunch of small sculptures.

I used to teach hand building and sculpture, both at the UO Craft Center and later, at Club Mud. I didn't keep all of my demos, but I did keep some, which is how I wound up with:

1. A goose with a mustache, double chin and work boots. ("Self-portrait as an animal of your choice.")
2. A nude torso, self-portrait with bar of soap. ("Make a nontraditional gargoyle, modeled solid and and hollowed.")
3. This rather nice primitive ram sculpture, pit-fired. ("Seal two pinch pots together and build a hollow sculpture from them.)

Not sure what to do with all this stuff; I keep thinking I'll put the gargoyle on a downspout when I eventually build a kiln and its enclosure. For now, I've just cleaned everything off and consolidated them on a single shelf. I've still got half a dozen shelves to go through, and a few ideas about re-organizing the space to make it more accessible, possibly paint the raw wood. We did that on the front half a few years ago, and it really brightened up the space.

Maybe in another 20 years.
offcntr: (rainyday)

Or Hippy New Year, as one of our neighbors quipped. The first Saturday of April is the traditional start of Saturday Market, rain or shine. This is the Market's 50th season, so we particularly wanted to make the opening day.

In this case, we got a bit of both. We left earlier than usual, around 6:45 am, and caught about an hour's gap between rain showers to set up. Sun and rain played tag the rest of the day, with enough nice weather to bring out the customers (including one of my students from 30 years ago), and no pottery-crashing wind gusts, unlike last year. All in all, a pretty good day, and we even got a mostly dry spell to pack up in. (Well, the pots were all in the van before the showers returned, and we only got a little moist taking down the canopy at the very end.)

During slack moments at Market, we play "Hair of the Day," pointing out particularly outrageous or creative hair colors. Today's win was either a woman with a Hyacinth Macaw-colored bob (bright blue and yellow) or her companion, who'd braided long strips of colored cloth into his white beard. The other thing I noticed was how many women had green hair; I think I counted eight, including a mother and grade-school-aged daughters, in shades ranging from parakeet to emerald. We were wondering if this was the next big thing in fashion when, long about the seventh example or so, I figured it out: The Oregon Women's Basketball team had made it into the final four. (Sadly defeated by Baylor in the semifinals.)

One other thing new: the parking structure where I leave the van during the day has added a nifty feature: There's about a dozen spaces on the last stretch, between the spiraling parts and the exit, and they've installed signal lights on the ceiling over them. This way you can see if there are any spaces open down near the exit before you commit yourself and find that a) there aren't any and b) you have to go back down to street level, wait for the stoplight, and come back through the entrance again. This is a minor inconvenience on free-parking weekends, but more of a hassle on weekdays when you have to give your ticket to the attendant, get waved through the barricade (first hour is free) and then start all over again. I wonder if they'd had any accidents from people trying to back up to the turn?

offcntr: (be right back)

This is what I've been doing the last week, instead of posting here. Between the print workshop last weekend and the opening of Saturday Market this one, I only had five days glazing to fill the entire big kiln. I managed, I think--I'll know for sure when we load up on Sunday--but it took some long days on my feet, dipping and painting pots, to get everything ready, and more often than not, I collapsed into bed right after supper.
offcntr: (rainyday)
Hope for sunny weather!
sun oh sun i hope

A day away

Mar. 24th, 2019 11:52 pm
offcntr: (Default)
Taking a day off from my studio, to teach Laura how to repair a kiln. We're installing new elements on one of Club Mud's Skutt 1027s. It's so much easier dealing with 12 feet of springy kiln element with a partner to feed it out as you coax it into the grooves. Pinning it in place also goes much faster with two. We did the entire kiln, six elements and a new thermocouple, in just under three hours, with time off for lunch.

All set

Mar. 8th, 2019 01:57 pm
offcntr: (Default)
Finished setting up the (snow-delayed) Club Mud Studio Sale. One-of-a-kind, demo, clearance and slightly seconds pottery, at tremendously accessible prices.

The sale is open from 9 am to 4 pm Saturday, March 9, 2019 at Club Mud, 1910 E. 15th Avenue, behind the Maude Kerns Art Center, in Eugene.
offcntr: (Default)
Or doesn't, actually.

This is a first-generation Skutt Envirovent. It mounts on the bottom of the kiln, draws out sulfur dioxide and other nasties as they burn out of the clay during firing, sends them through aluminum dryer venting to the outside. Mine came, used, with the also-used kiln I bought last year.

It worked, kinda. I mean, there was still some sulfur smell, so I tended not to work in the studio while firing. Also, it was really noisy. This last firing, the noise quotient jumped substantially, and it began to vibrate so badly that it shook one of the peephole plugs out onto the floor, where it broke. I had to shut it down for the rest of the firing.

On Tuesday, I dismantled the kiln to get at the vent, then removed the squirrel-cage fan from its mounting. And found this.

For one thing, a good third of the fan vanes are missing. Just broken off and gone. I suspect that's why the thing was always so noisy and underpowered. I think it was broken when I got it. What made the vibration worse was that the cast-metal mount that holds the motor to the fan housing has also broken in two places, so the whole thing rocks and wobbles.

In theory, it's an easy fix, if I can get the parts. Take off the fan wheel and replace. Repair the mounting with some JB Weld (a metallized epoxy used in engine rebuilds). Put it back together and away we go.

Except. One of the disadvantages of this design, which Skutt addressed in Envirovent 2, is that the fan is constantly exposed to hot, corrosive gasses. (Water vapor plus sulfur dioxide yields sulfuric acid.) The hex nut set screw holding the fan in place is corroded to the point that no key will fit it, and the angle is completely wrong for drilling out the the nut or using a screw puller. Even if I could get the set screw out, I suspect the whole hub is welded onto the shaft. I can't think of any way I can get them apart that doesn't involve cutting off the shaft, which would render the motor unusable.

It's frustrating, because everything else about it is fine. The mounting plate and aeration box is stainless steel, and in fine shape. The elbow is heavy-duty cast aluminum, the exit duct stainless as well (and tough, to boot, it took a lot of banging to get the dents out of it when I bought it). The motor runs fine. It's just the bits closest to the kiln that are shot. (The newer design mounts the fan on the wall and runs a duct to the kiln. Presumably for just this reason.)

I hate to admit it, but I don't think this is fixable. I've put in an order for a new EV 2 with Georgies; weather permitting, it'll be on the truck from Portland next week. $491 just went out the vent-hole, and the studio is closed until then, as the kiln is sitting in inverse order, in a stack in the middle of the floor.

ETA: Well, it wasn't broke when I bought it. When I picked up the piping to take it outside, a whole bunch of little vanes and a lot of rust fell out onto the floor. So still very broken now.
offcntr: (berto)
This is the view from the courtyard doorway at Club Mud right now.

I'd say I'm here at least until the kiln is done firing. Possibly longer...


Feb. 25th, 2019 07:04 am
offcntr: (berto)
Finished loading the big glaze kiln yesterday afternoon around 3 pm, grateful to be indoors, as it was bucketing down rain outside, some of it running in to flood the south edge of the kiln room floor. (Fortunately, all the kiln shelves are up off the floor on cafeteria trays, so stay dry.)

By 8:30 pm, when I came back to light the burners, the rain was mixed with sleet, nasty, cold and wet. Wasn't too worried, though; the weather online said it'd turn to rain, tapering off around 7 am.

Woke up a little after 3 am to use the bathroom, and this was my view out the kitchen window.

That's a good four inches of snow down, more coming, fat, wet flakes.

We'd planned on me taking the van down to fire, as Denise needed the car for a meeting later today. Immediate change of plans. The car has four-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes; the van, not so much. I tossed and turned for about half an hour, decided I wasn't getting back to sleep, so rolled out again at around 4 am. Swept off the car, loaded up, and headed out. Slowly.

Surprisingly, River Road was actually plowed, up to the city limits (about two blocks south of our driveway). Didn't know Eugene even had snowplows, but saw the trucks coming up the northbound side as I turned onto Beltline. Beltline wasn't bad, though I kept it under 40; Delta Highway was much worse, so I came off at Sixth Street rather than continuing on to Coburg Road. Probably a good idea, though between snow and construction, the off-ramp was a definite challenge. One lane was cleared on Sixth, possibly by the EmX bus; Franklin was rather better, though Villard and 15th were ruts in snow, and I made the first tracks across the Maude Kerns parking lot.

It was 4:45 when I finally got here, to nice orange heat in the kiln. Had body reduction around 6:15, and the firing seems to be tootling along nicely. Also? As of 7:30, I measured six inches of snow on top of the kiln yard fence, and it's still snowing. Good thing I brought extra fruit and granola bars. I'm not going anywhere.

ETA: Aaand then it slowed down. Cones 04 and 1 dropped in good order, but it took forever to get to cone 4, even longer to 8. But the top and bottom stayed even, so I was reluctant to mess with it. Finally got cone 10 at 7:45 pm. Went home, had supper, and went straight to bed.


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.


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?

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.

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