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Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Turning Season, My Turning Wheel

The wheel turns. I saw yellow leaves fact all week we've been spotting them and Rowan and I look at each other and silently make a pact not to recognize them just yet.

Facts are facts. It's past Labor Day in NW PA and Autumn is here.

It's nearing the end of our first selling season at The Market Village here in Tionesta PA. I hardly remember a thing. It has been a blur, We moved out of our old place in stages, started bringing stuff into our new place in stages, and kept the studio running nearly nonstop while we moved, did repairs on our old house and our new house and got the old one on the market, while we also opened a new store, did summer events, filled massive wholesale orders and entirely missed the joys of living in a beautiful wild forested area beside 2 major bodies of water. We'll try again next year for that..I need some Kayak or Canoe time.

The point is, there has been way too much going on and right now, I may or may not be going through post-season decompression, followed by depression and perhaps a mid-career crisis.

Yep, I'm burnt out.

Lately I have been listening to a podcast by Ben Carter while I work call Tales of a Red Clay Rambler. It's been great, but also depressing because whenever you hear other peoples stories in clay and creativity you also inevitably compare your life to theirs, Most of what I have heard so far has been interviews with young people who have gone to undergrad, then graduate school and then done residencies and somewhere in their early 30's are starting to try to figure out how to make their art, do their work and make a living. Some are doing it, some need other jobs I was also a little surprised to hear the rough stories of some of my clay heroes. People I assume are making that living and are stable and deep in clay success bliss..but it isn't so. They make awesome work, but their venues have failed, they've had to not work for months, or years, or have even been forced into semi-retirement by illness. It was a wake up call that your actual success isn't measured by how many shows you have been in, how many of your pieces are on show posters handed out at NCECA, or how many potters know your name. It's more a combination of quality work and a satisfactory living, not much of which comes from other potters knowing your name. It comes from your market, whether you are selling at a farmers market, a storefront, a gift shop or a gallery of some sort.

I'm very proud to say that since 1994, I've made my whole income from selling my work. Sometimes it hasn't been much of one, but it has become increasingly more stable over the years. That's what I have been doing for the last 20 years. Instead of taking academic development time, I've been throwing work that is 1/2 step above production work and 1/2 step below being an exclusive studio potter with new bodies of work coming out every couple years and  having shows of my latest ideas in clay. I haven't done craft fairs, I've sold in strange niche markets that most people never even think of. Lots of the folks I went to school with at PSU took the standard path, they are professors or otherwise involved with academia while I have been in the trenches, trying to hold on to some deeply instilled lofty ideals, while also trying to get my work into the hands of every person I can. It takes a lot of mugs to make a living.

How many mugs does it take to make a living? Good question, when I feel like I am truly and consistently making a living, I'll let you know.

So you remember those beginning days at the community center or undergraduate school where you felt accomplished making 100 pieces in a semester?

I just got another order for 100 mugs for next I love my mugs, they're big, 16oz, round, comfortable to hold in a bunch of ways, and people like to cuddle with them. Round happy mugs, just like the round happy potter who makes them. They're beautiful and functional,  now for businesses we can add branded medallions. I also have 100 mugs for another order,,and I need 100 mugs for our  own shop. Now I have 300 mugs to make and that's just mugs! Damn does it take a lot of mugs to make a living. Now we don't live by mugs alone, so I have to consider the 200 plates on the list too and that's when I start to get sad, because all of this has to happen so fast I don't know if I can do it all without cracking up because we..I've been saying I a lot...but I mean we, because my wife Rowan works side by side with me in the trenches need a week off, but because we don't know how many mugs it takes to make a living, we haven't yet made a living which means we can't taken a week off yet. Got that?

We're tired.

So what's the cure?

We're adding some more stuff to the list! We're working outside the catalog a little bit..for fun and hopefully also a living. We're doing a special online only sales even on 11/15/2014. The details are here on Facebook

Is this the cure?

No. So far its been fun, a pleasant change of pace to work out Some seriously fine work there, also some not so serious. Some of it is whimsical and fun, some of it more archetypal. Most of it I like a lot and wouldn't mind too much if it hung around for a while.

Also, I've nearly run out of clay..which has slowed me down and I'm working through some reclaim making odds and one of a kind playful work while I wait for the next ton. Then its back to business.

But we're still burned out.

So what is the cure?

I bought some beer. No that's not the cure..but a bottle or two of beer is really nice, and it does take the edge off a rough day.

So what is the cure.
The cure is overcoming our work ethic and realizing that our fear of poverty isn't getting any better because we push out work at midnight because 12 hours ahead isn' t really going to make or break us.

It's going to have to be less self-control, less dedication, less willingness to work late hours.


More sleep. More sunsets, more picnics. More friends. Maybe lake time in a canoe.

I think that if we call it a night earlier..if we take the day off for something fun, that the rest of the time will be more focused and more productive. I think it's time to rededicate ourselves to the ideal of

The Day Off.

Maybe even two days off.

But it's so hard...I mean the answer is always work harder Work Faster! Do more!

Isn't it?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Snow Blown

We had a hell of a day today. We got another 4" of snow overnight, not too bad. We started by manually shoveling our walk. The walk in front of the house and the first 20 feet of the driveway went quickly, not too bad for a couple of overweight middle aged people. Rowan seems to have strained her back a little but an ice pack did wonders. 

This afternoon after the soreness set in, I thought the smart thing to do would be to get fresh gas and see if I could get the snowblower running. It was serviced 2 years ago so things were more or less ready to go since it hasn't been run since the servicing. It hasn't been used to clear snow since 2007 when it lived in Erie with Rowan. It was reluctant to turn over but it started to chug along nicely when I noticed the pull start didn't retract. Yep. Busted. Then it stalled and I tried to start it again with the foot of cord that would retract. It worked! I rolled it outside and the engine became steadier. I texted Rowan to come out and give me instruction (I'm a snow blow virgin) and she showed me how it should work. That's when we discovered it was stuck in reverse. Nothing we could do would make it go forward. So now we need service for 2 completely unexpected issues but the damn thing runs beautifully and starts with 1/8 of a pull!

Once all the snowblower adventures were complete we moved on to studio concerns. We had a bisc kiln to unload and had brought biscware to finish, which meant emptying boxes and setting up shelves and tables. And the slab roller :) because it was looking so sad and neglected.

Tomorrow we'll get the pots waxed and glazed and firing. I plan on throwing more pieces and then on Thursday our first clay delivery will arrive!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Getting settled

So, here we are in Tionesta,PA. This was our backyard this afternoon. It's really exciting to finally be here. It's beautiful, but currently quite cold!

The toughest part of moving is that we have to continue to make pottery, move all our stuff and set all the stuff up in a new space and there's only two of us to do most of it.

The studio is here and I've started making work and sorting out exactly how to set up the studio..not the big stuff.. like kilns, but the little stuff like my throwing station. I had it all set up so work flowed, tools were at hand. I need to find that flow again. Part of the difficulty is we still have things stored in the garage-turned-studio that shouldn't be our clothes dryer, which will go to the basement as soon as there is an outlet to plug it into :) and the gas grill, which will go somewhere...I don't know where...maybe up the stairs to the back porch. The plumbing still isn't hooked up and the heating situation isn't working out as planned. Its been so crazy cold! We're going to have to fire kilns continuously through the winter or put in a thermostat controlled heater of some sort. Brrrrr.

But speaking of kilns, we're firing our first one in the new studio tonight! It's loaded with all this stuff. Most of which is destined for Old Forge Brewing Co in Danville PA. They serve everything off of pottery there. It's really a fun place to eat!

We also got our www.hughespottery. shop all moved up and running. Stock is shelved in the new office, boxes are ready and the USPS will pick up on our porch. Local folks can use the coupon code LOCALPICKUP1 to remove shipping fees and pick the pieces up on our porch. 
We're really excited to be getting started in this community and hope to become acquainted with everyone as we get settled in! 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Winding down

Things are changing for us this year. We are getting ready to move to a new house and to a new studio. These are really big changes and it's hard to get used to.  One of the more difficult things that I'm dealing with is the idea that I have to wind down the studio that I'm in. It is very hard to intentionally stop. It's a little strange because right now it's a time of new beginnings. We are into the new year and everybody is starting new things. I'm still finishing up last year's things and looking forward to starting new things. I'm slightly out of sync with everything.

Last week was our minion's last day in the studio helping us. She is moving to Detroit or just outside Detroit -close enough as far as I'm concerned. The important thing is that it's too far away for her to continue to be our Minion. This means that I had to do my own studio chores, including, and most importantly the reclaim. Slopping it out, and pounding it out and slicing it and dicing it and wedging it and making sure it is actually useable.

In a way it's actually very relaxing to know that I have to stop and I have to do all the little things that I used to have her do. It's kind of cathartic, a system reset. Along with all the processing of reclaim that I did today, I cleaned up I swept up trimmings I sorted  some stuff and started to get ready for the big pack down for the big move.

We are starting to use up all of our materials. I didn't order more clay. I thought it would be best to have it delivered to the new studio. That is part of the reason why it is so important to keep up with the reclaim. We need it, it's pretty much all we have,  there are a few boxes of new clay, but it's getting down to the point where normally I would be nervous that I was going to run out.

I'm trying to finish up some big orders. And also getting ready for a big show at the end of the month. But I know it's all coming to a stop. After the big show I suspect we will be moving.  I'm excited and a little bit scared. My last few posts outlined the house and the studio it's really nice. It's a step up for us for sure., a really nice new place to be. For the first time my adult career I won't be working out of the basement. Just writing about it makes me start to get excited again.

Tomorrow I'll be pounding out more reclaim. And a bigger space on the floor will open up. It's starting to look empty. Guess that's a good thing!