offcntr: (Default)
Two in one day, though the second one wasn't so insistent, just a very nice older lady who'd broken her soap dish, and wanted to buy a new one, and you know? I couldn't think of a single potter at Market who made them.

It's a design issue, or construction or price-versus-time, possibly all three. A good soap dish has to have some sort of raised structure to keep the soap out of the water that runs off of it. It probably needs to be rectangular, to fit on the sink and accommodate the bar of soap. And it needs to be quick to produce, because, like spoon rests, nobody's gonna pay very much for one.

So throwing and altering is out. Hand-building is definitely out. Both take too much time. The best way to produce soap dishes is probably either casting or press-molding (though I think Buck Creek Pottery used to extrude them), and the few potters we have that work with molds concentrate on higher-value products.

Come to think of it, I used to extrude soap dishes, long, long ago, and like my sponge holders, I never sold enough of them to make it worth my while to make more.

Hot ideas

Dec. 22nd, 2018 10:05 pm
offcntr: (rocket)
Former potters are the worst.

They're always the ones with the great idea that you should totally be making and selling in your booth. I got one in today, chatting about how he used to love throwing pots, complimenting my work, then, just as he's about to leave, he does a Columbo and says, You know what you should be making?

Hoping to head him off, I gesture at my crowded shelves and say, "Does it really look like I have room for another item?"

Not to be deterred, he continues, You should make hot pads. Not, like, those things you use to take pots out of the oven, but the thing you put on your table to put hot dishes on. 

"You mean like a trivet?" Yeah, I used to make them in the shape of bread crusts (huh?) and you could totally sell them and... I forget the rest, but I made some comment about the difficulty of drying flat things so they stay flat, and eventually say that there's already someone doing that at Market, and I don't want to horn in on his business. Which is mostly true: Danny Young of Barbarian Pottery does brilliant press-molded tiles, which may be used in this fashion. But they're really gorgeous, and I'd much rather hang 'em up where I can see them.

But I couldn't help wondering, after he'd left, "If this is such a great idea, why aren't you still making them?"

offcntr: (rocket)
I got an interesting request last Saturday at Market: someone wanted three triangular plates.

Apparently, it's a significant birthday thing: their friend was turning 39, so they wanted nine triangular plates by three different potters, 3/9.

My first reaction? No way in hell.

I've had a few days to unpack that initial response, and I think it comes down to time, difficulty and practicality.

Time. Non-circular usually means hand-built, which takes extra time. Make templates, roll out slabs, stiffen slabs, cut and assemble. Or make a mold, dry it, bisque fire it, then roll out slabs and form them over it. Either way, what would take 3 minutes on a potter's wheel is now at least a couple of days, possibly over a week. For three plates. (Well, six, just in case. Always make extras when time is a factor.)

Difficulty. Drying slab-built plates is a fussy, time-consuming process. Clay shrinks as it dries, and if it dries unevenly, it will warp or curl. Even compression of the clay while throwing helps prevent this, but since a slab roller only compresses in one direction, you have to dry slabs much more carefully. I foresee several days on drywall squares, putting plastic on, taking plastic off, flipping them over. And over. And over...

Practicality. Ultimately, I just don't like triangular plates. They don't seem practical to me, corners that aren't convenient to eat out of, wasted space that's poking out, waiting to be chipped or broken. I could see doing trochoidal plates--three corners, but the sides are segments of arc, a fat triangle. But triangles? Nope.

Ultimately, it came down to time of year. I'm just too busy to deal with non-standard items when I'm getting ready for holiday sales, and I think the birthday was before my next firing? So sorry, but there's plenty of other potters to ask.
offcntr: (window bear)
Talking with a customer Saturday about the patterns I'd made specially for Anacortes--crab, octopus, sea otter and pelican--she says, You should do oysters! They're really popular here too!

Oysters? The little blobby lumps of calcareousness, filled with what looks like snot?

Oh, I've seen really cute drawings of oysters, with little eyes and... but that's not really your style, is it?

Yeah, no.
offcntr: (Default)
I don't know what it is about kids not wanting their food to touch. I know a lot of people's kids who have that flavor of fussy eating, and one of my customers seems to be encouraging the behavior in her grandkids.

Yep, divided, cafeteria-style plates, thrown and handbuilt from stoneware. They'll each get three pictures, too, one in each compartment.

They're incredibly tricky to make, as I have to catch them at just the right level of moisture to attach the dividers. Clay shrinks as it drys, and if the plate is too firm and the dividers moist, a crack will develop as they dry and pull apart. In the current hot spell, I threw them first thing in the morning. By just after lunch, they were firm enough to smooth in the dividers, and slow drying seems to have kept them from cracking so far. They're in the bisque kiln right now. Some time tomorrow evening I'll find out how many I have to work with for glazing.

These are not gonna become generally available. Way too much risk, way too much work.


Jun. 16th, 2018 06:55 am
offcntr: (Default)
Had a customer in the booth yesterday afternoon who really liked my work. Was going to send her husband over to buy a particular bowl for her, as it was her birthday. And she asked if I ever did commissions.

Yes, I said, I did the all the time.

Well, I'd like a bowl like that one, with no rim, just a straight side, she said, pointing to the batter bowls. That's easy enough, I replied. And I'd like it in a matte black glaze.

Aaaand that's where I had to say no.

I do take special orders all the time. Every firing has at least half a dozen of them, I've already got three or four in queue for my July kiln load. But they're generally a form I usually do, but with a particular pattern, or a new form but glazed and painted like my standard ware. I do not match colors, I do not test glazes.

Glaze is not like paint. You do not just buy a can at Home Depot and slap it on the pot. There are chemical interactions, with the clay body, the firing, the atmosphere in the kiln. Even the most reliable glaze in your firing situation will need extensive testing to adapt to mine. Best case, it will take at least two or three firings to get a reliable result, and since I fire the famous 50 cubic-foot car kiln only once every six weeks, we're talking a minimum three months, more likely six, before we get a finished pot. (A potter I work with at Club Mud has taken over a year on projects like this.)

Add in the fact that matte black glazes are notoriously tricky--they're just on the edge of devitrified (no longer glassy), and loaded with metal oxides--usually iron, cobalt and manganese--so I can't be sure the resulting glaze, no matter how lovely, is actually food safe.

So I explain the complications to her, and suggest that she find a potter with a black glaze she really likes, then ask them to make the bowl for her. It's far easier to throw a new form than it is to create a new glaze.

I didn't realize it was so complicated
, she said. (Few people do.)

And her husband never came by to get her birthday present.

offcntr: (bella)

Honestly, normally, this woulda gone on my list of things I'm not gonna make: napkin holders. But it's part of a special order, which makes it different.

The difference? Most of the pots on my Oh God No, Nope, Never list get suggested thusly: You know what you should make? [Ridiculous suggestion redacted]s! You'd sell a million of them! Whereas a special order says Could you make just one? For me? As part of this bunch of tableware pieces I'm also willing to pay for?

I mean, seriously, how can I say no?

Besides, it's January. I have time to mess around with design ideas, even if only for a one-of-a-kind item. (Though I'll probably make two, just in case.)

So here's my step-by-step attempt to make a napkin holder.

First, throw a bottomless cylinder, with smooth straight sides and a reinforced top, not unlike a utensil crock.
bottomlessa little like a tool crock
Then dribble water onto the wheel head, and drag it under the pot with your cut-off wire. This allows the bottom to slide as I reshape it from a round cylinder to an oblong rectangle.
stretch n slidewith corners!
Let it get leather-hard overnight, then mark where I'm going to cut away and reinforce the edges with an extruded coil that's about the same size as the bead around the top. After that, cut out the ends and smooth everything down.
reinforcementscutaway view
For the last step, I cut a slab to match the inner dimensions of the piece and attached it level with the bottom of the notch. Then it's dry slowly, bisque, glaze, and hope those big, unsupported flat surfaces don't droop in the firing. 
et voilawell, flattish

offcntr: (vendor)
A woman comes into my booth, announces I've got a great idea for you.

Okay, here we go again.

Twenty years ago, somewhere on the east coast, she bought a mug. On the rim of the mug was a small blue pig. In the bottom of the mug was another blue pig, looking up at the first.

You see? You give it to your friend, and when they get to the bottom of their coffee, there's a pig looking up at them!

I patiently explain that it's not a new idea; it's been done before. Heck, I've done it before. Back when I started making cat-handled mugs, the original commission had a small mouse in the bottom of the mug, that the cat was reaching for. Positioning the mouse down in the closed space, in such a way that the glaze didn't totally obscure it, was a pain in the butt. I finally decided to place the bisqued mouse on top of the glaze and trust it to stick down as it melted in the kiln, and even so, at least one fell over and stuck on its side.

Finally gave up on the mice, kept the cats. The cat's paw dipping into the top of the coffee was much funnier, anyway.
offcntr: (spacebear)
Had a fellow come into the booth yesterday with an... interesting request. He was in possession of his buddy's ashes. Cremation remains. Now if he'd wanted me to make him a container for the cremains, I'd have been totally ready. Said buddy was a hunter and fisherman, and the patterns I paint would've been perfect for the project. But he didn't want me to make an urn for the ashes.

He wanted me to make an urn with the ashes.  Mix them into the clay, or the glaze, or both.

Uhm, no.

Quite apart from the ewww! factor, there are technical issues involved. Cremains are not ceramically neutral. They're mostly bone ash, with a bit of iron oxide and other trace minerals. Bone ash is a flux, a chemical that lowers the melting point of ceramic blends. Mixed into the clay body, it might lower the firing range by a couple of cones. It might change the thermal expansion of the fired clay, causing the glaze to craze, or worse, shiver. Unless it's milled very fine and sieved, it might cause lime pop-outs, little chips popped out of the clay when calcium carbonate is calcined to calcium oxide, then rehydrated to calcium hydroxide, expanding and blowing bits of clay out of the piece.

A better use might be in a glaze. Bone ash is a component of a lot of microcrystalline iron glazes: Kaki, Shaner red. With some testing, I could probably even coax a workable version of my beloved Best Possible White out of it, subbing ash for the talc and whiting.

But there's the rub. Testing. I'd need to mix up tests, fire them, adjust the recipes, fire again. With my fifty cubic-foot kiln and once-every-six-weeks firing schedule, this project could take all year.

More importantly, not all tests turn out. The failure rate is high, unsuccessful tries are thrown out. And I just don't feel comfortable treating the remains of a person like that. Like raw material.
offcntr: (rocket)
It's one of those conversations.

He lives here in Eugene. He feels the need to reassure me of that, several times. His sister is visiting from South Carolina, so he brought her down to see Saturday Market, though he's never been, himself.

He's really impressed with my work, say it shows real artistic training. I admit to an MFA in Ceramics, but point out that I learned most of what I know about production pottery on the job, throwing for Slippery Bank Pottery in the early 90s, and have no training in sumi-e painting at all. My brushwork, my painting style is all totally improvised, and built upon years of practice on thousands of pots. He doesn't agree, argues with me. Clearly, I am the artist I am today because of my education.

He and his--strangely silent--sister move on, and I'm just wiping my brow in relief when he comes back. He as an idea.

Have I ever painted anything but animals, he asks? I admit I started with floral designs, but early on discovered I did much better painting animals. Well, he has a suggestion for a niche I could exploit. Have I ever painted lighthouses? I could paint them on pots and sell them at the coast. I have, in fact, and didn't do very well with them, but he's on a roll now. I could paint historical buildings, like Fort Vancouver. It would "expand my market." I say that I'd need a background in architectural drawing to do that well, which I don't have. Furthermore, I don't need to "expand my market." I can barely keep up with demand as it is.

He's surprised to hear this, even more surprised when I add that I've been making my living, full-time, as a potter for over 20 years.

He leaves, disappointed that he can't help the poor, desperate artist with his idea. Or, for all I know, assuming that I'm just too benighted to recognize the obvious brilliance of his suggestion. So I don't get to point out that people are already making that sort of thing, using decals, stencils, silkscreening or machine pressing, industrial techniques that allow them to sell much cheaper than I can with hand-painted pots. Not to mention how much longer it would take me to paint a building than, say, a hen and chicks.

Expand my market. Pfeh.


Jan. 25th, 2016 10:19 am
offcntr: (bella)
I may have mentioned before, I take a lot of special orders.

I enjoy them. I enjoy the challenge of painting a new pattern, which sometimes finds its way into my ever-expanding product line. I like the fact that my kiln firing is essentially paid for before I open it, and I rarely have problems with dissatisfied customers.

That said, there are limits. I don't paint dragons, I don't paint unicorns. I don't match colors; if you want a purple that matches your drapes, I'll happily refer you to someone else who's not averse to endless glaze testing. And I charge extra for not painting on pots. (Seriously. Where's the fun of that?)

In this kiln, I have a large set of tiles with birds and animals seen on a Lorane Valley farm (one of which, the barn owl, is already showing up on my other work). I have a pasta bowl with snail and rhododendrons, commemorating visits to a favorite aunt. I have his'n'hers dinner plates with a small airplane (his) and whitewater raft (hers). No, neither of these are likely to join my ever-expanding patterns list.

Nor is this one. But god, it was fun to paint. Jackalopes on a batter bowl, for a long-time patron from Silverton. I kinda want to send a picture to my favorite author, Seanan McGuire, whose Incryptid novels have brought cryptids like the jackalope, sasquatch, wendigo to urban fantasy literature.
offcntr: (vendor)
As I think I mentioned, I ran into a bunch of former students of mine at the Corvallis Fall Festival. This isn't surprising, after all. I taught for 10 years at the UO Craft Center, three or four classes a term, up to ten students per class or workshop. That adds up to enough subjects to form their own statistical universe, though the sample bias is probably extreme.

I frequently get asked whether I'll be teaching again. The long answer involves best use of my time, available workspace, energy levels, relative remuneration; the short answer? Probably not.

One of the folks from Corvallis asked about the Ceramic Whistles class I used to teach. We made ocarinas--eight note whistles--in a couple of styles, in either one or two three-hour session. I haven't made a whistle in years, but did remember where I'd filed the class handouts, so I was able to scan them and clean them up. Emailed them to Tina, and also to Renae, another Craft Center resident potter who's now teaching in Portland, and gets asked about ocarinas (ocarinae?) regularly.

And I thought I'd share them here as well. Picture one is for Andean-style ocarinas; two and three for European. Click to embiggen.


Jul. 13th, 2015 02:30 pm
offcntr: (rocket)
Artist and author Ursula Vernon has a charming habit, perhaps picked up in the south, of naming everything -bob: Thrush-bob and Turtle-bob in her garden, Drow (a sort of dark elf)-bob in her D&D gaming group. If she were still a potter (she was once), she'd probably call sponge-holders Sponge-bobs.

I got asked about sponge-bobs for years. Never saw the need, personally, since the sponge dries out just fine on the edge of the sink. Finally, after the umpteen-hundredth time, I decided to make sponge-bobs. Came up with a nifty little design, thrown, altered square, cut with slots. Gave me a nice little surface to paint, fit beautifully in the little spaces between pots in the kiln.

Nobody bought them. Nobody asked for them. I carried them around for eight months with nary a nibble, then put them all in a seconds sale, and swore off making them ever again.


Jul. 4th, 2015 01:06 am
offcntr: (berto)
Oh sure, I could make spoon rests. At one point, back when I was throwing for Slippery Bank Pottery, I'd make 240 of them a week.

That's part of the problem. I've made so many that I really don't want to do them again. Ever.

The other part of the problem is the time/money curve.

Everything in my booth is hand-painted: no stencils, no decals, as I say to the customers. If I hand-paint spoon rests, how much do I charge for them? Certainly no less than the lowest price item currently in the booth, $15 cat food dishes. But nobody's going to want to pay that for a spoon rest. I'd be hard-pressed to sell them for $10, people really want them for $5. I can't do that.

Well, I could. I've got a lot of experience painting fast, decorating pots. I could pare down some patterns to $5 level. Well, $7. But why should I?

I feel about spoon rests, and other cheap pots, like I feel about selling seconds: I'd be undercutting my own work. Sure, there are some folks who only have $5, and I'm not going to get any sales out of them, but there are a lot more who have the $15 or $20 or $22 for a toddler bowl, a dessert plate, but might instead buy a $7 spoon rest. I really think I'd lose money.

I know people with baskets of five-dollar pots in their booth. Some of them do really well with that model. Me, I'm okay setting my prices a little higher and letting some of the little ones get away.

'Stache tea

Jul. 3rd, 2015 12:34 am
offcntr: (rocket)
Got another person looking for a mustache cup last Saturday. For a long time, I didn't know what that meant--I assumed it was one of those 70's mugs with the beady eyes, beaky nose and enormous mustache on the side.

Nope, wrong. Apparently it's a sippy cup for grown ups, to keep their facial foliage free of coffee. Isn't mustache wax water repellant?

This is the sort of thing that would be easy if I were slip casting. Take my regular mug mold, make an extra plaster section that blocks off half of the top, so slip accumulates there as well as the sides and bottom of the mold, making the mustache "cradle." The whole thing is formed at one time, dries and shrinks together.
I don't do slip casting. With wheel-thrown mugs, I'd have to wait until the mug's leather-hard, then add a slab to the inside of the mouth blocking off half the mug. If the moisture content of mug and slab aren't perfectly matched, the mug will warp, crack, separate inside the rim or split down the side. For an object I get maybe one request every two or three years for, this is a huge amount of work and an unacceptable failure rate.

Explaining this does no good, of course. Just makes me part of the great anti-mustache conspiracy. (Has she seen my upper lip?)

Her final riposte is, "Well, if you'd had one, I'd have totally bought it."

To which my unspoken reply is, In the alternate universe where I make them, you'd have totally wanted a different pattern.
offcntr: (rocket)
Had a customer last Friday looking for a wine cooler--not the drink, some kind of pot. "You should have them! This is wine country!"

When pressed to actually describe the beast, she seems to want something like a tall, handle-less tool crock. "You fill it with water and pour it out and put it in the freezer for half an hour. It keeps your wine cool all night. You should make them. This is wine country!"

I ask her to explain why the fill and empty with water routine; should you chill the water or use ice or something? No, she finally says, it's because the cooler absorbs absorbs the water, at which point I can explain that my clay is stoneware, and doesn't absorb water. What she wants would have to be earthenware, which I don't use, lest I accidentally load some into my stoneware kiln, where it'll melt into a puddle on the shelf. She says she doesn't know why there should be different kinds of clay, and repeats "This is wine country!" Several times.

(I'm also dubious about making something to be soaked and put into the freezer. Leave it too long, and expanding ice crystals will turn your cooler into crumbles.)

In an unrelated note, "This is wine country!" becomes our catch phrase for the rest of the weekend.

"Boy, it's hot." "This is wine country."

"Is anything selling?" "This is wine country!"

"I've got a blister on my foot." "This is wine country…"
offcntr: (spacebear)
Okay, Denise took this one down at Saturday Market one day, back when I was doing radio. Someone wanted a ceramic water bottle. For their bicycle.

Think about it.

I can think of no universe in which this ends well.
offcntr: (rocket)
I've been starting a list of customer requests that I'm never, ever gonna make. Some because I don't have room in the booth for a new specialty item, some because I can't make money on them, some because they're just batsh*t crazy. Thought it would make a fun semi-regular feature.

Stay tuned...

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