Tuesday, November 10, 2009

As I slowly recover from the loss of my mother, I've been working a bit more in the studio and had an interesting thing happen.

An East Indian man walked in one day looking for "pots". When I directed him to the small gallery in the front of the studio, he explained he wasn't looking for "those kinds of pots," but the type of cooking pot that would double as a musical instrument.

The owner of the studio was a bit confused. But I immediately knew he was referring to a Ghattam. I suggested he search for one on the Internet, but he was more interested in finding one locally. The studio owner suggested someone might want to take it on as a commission piece, and looked at me.

Now, I've never thrown anything that large or in that shape before. But I decided it might be a good challenge to get me out of my funk. I even knew I would do it in two pieces: throw two bowls, put them together, cut a hole in the top of one and use the thickness around that to pull up the neck and rim.

I had quite a few problems with it (I've only made one so far), and am now letting it leather up a bit so I can trim out the parts.

In the meanwhile, I found out TRUE ghattams are thrown with metal filings in the clay to give them a metallic sound after they're fired. My response to that? "No way I'm throwing a piece with filings in it!" One piece I read even used the word "lead" when referring to these filings. An even more compelling reason NOT to use them.

Meanwhile, we'll see how my wonky ghattam turns out. If this gentleman doesn't want to buy my effort, I can always use it to store water!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Sadly, I lost my mother to lung cancer on Sept. 11. It was an intense summer and I'm now trying to slowly reboot my life.

One of the best things has been my return to work in the studio. I quickly got a commission from a previous customer when I reopened my etsy shop. She wanted a platter to match the tree of life Kiddush Cup (goblet) she bought from me a while back. It was the perfect challenge to get my creative juices flowing.

I handbuilt the platter and then added four "trees" made of slip around the rim.

So far so good. Hopes up that it successfully makes it through the bisque firing! I'll be sure to post photos when it's done.

In the world of the more mundane, I'm considering starting a monthly get together at my house called "Pottery Friday". Because of my schedule, it would take place at brunch time. I'd just have an open house for local potters to drop by and bring their food. I'd supply coffee and tea and the place to meet. Then we could just discuss our work, life, and the universe.

Of course, ideas need to become reality. I'm going to let the thought grow a bit in my head. Then I'll figure out a way to implement it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's been a while since I've been able to post. Actually, it's been a while since I've been able to do anything that requires dedicating time to myself.

One of the biggest reasons for this has been my mother, who probably has lung cancer, but whose struggles with the mazes of health insurance has delayed adequate testing for a definitive diagnosis.

But this is a pottery blog -- not a political/health issues one.

I did get back into the studio for a couple of days last week and worked on some pierced goblets and an "upside down bowl" teapot. I've enjoyed the teapot's progress and am making it a bit funky, with a sideways handle and a small lug handle in the back to facilitate pouring, since it promises to be a rather heavy item. I'm not sure all my proportions are right -- but I'll only know this once it's fired and the handle has been attached.

I keep meaning to bring a camera to the studio to do a photographic tutorial on my sgraffito techniques. But that, obviously hasn't happened yet. Maybe someday.

Meanwhile, I'm anticipating getting back into the studio more regularly to work on something other than mugs. Anticipation....... (is that Carly Simon in the background?)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A while back we had a stamp exchange and I received several wonderful stamps from fellow potters. I decided to use them in a quilt-patterned project and decided to make a funky vase. You can see the prototype below.

I'd like to try making a couple more, modifying some of the techniques I used in this prototype. For one, I'd use the glazing techniques in the original. In the other, I'd like to try slips for the different "panels". I even wonder how something like this would translate to a Chanukiyah (Chanukah menorah)?

I'm hoping to get to it once Father's Day and the end of the school year have passed, since that's also the end of my busy Hebrew mug time.

Another project I'd like to do is a blog tutorial, with photos, of my slip carving techniques. But that will take a bit more coordination, since I'll need a photographer.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I've now created several mugs in my "Birding" series. Whether they sell or not, they're a lot of fun to research and create. Part of the enjoyment is finding bird families that can be easily identified by their profile, rather than detailed markings.

As a birder, I've often preferred migratory songbirds to shorebirds, since shorebirds all seem to have similar colorings and markings, making it seem difficult to identify them from a distance. But I'm beginning to find this only applies to a few types. The majority of my profiles are of birds that live near the water, forcing me to realize that these are, possibly, the most diverse types of birds in a single habitat. After all, in profile alone, a warbler is similar to a vireo, which can be similar to a tanager. The profiled details in many songbirds are minor -- a slightly thicker bill here, a longer tail there -- but few dramatic, at-a-glance profiles.

Meanwhile, I continue to sgraffito birds, enjoying the profile, the settings in which I place them, and the pleasure when other birders see a mug and go "That's a ........."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

I've been pondering the mantra of "etsy success" for quite a while now, combining it with what I see regarding all the rest of the advice out there -- good photos, marketing yourself, participating in forums, chats, blogs, twitter, etc., etc., etc., until you don't have a second left in the day to create your product.

I think people have it all backwards. You don't list a bunch of stuff and then go everywhere to market it. Sure, people will look. But the trick isn't get
ting people to look. Additionally, as much as we like the concept of "views", "hearts", and "favoriting", it ALL comes back to placement.

Before even beginning to create a product, take a good look around. What are people listing in shops that carry your genre?

So, let's talk about coffee mugs. OY! Right now there are 243 pages of cups listed in Ceramics and Pottery. A mug is a mug and a green glaze is a green glaze. There are only so many shapes a functional mug can take, so let's put that a aside for a moment as well. In the end, how should one approach a mug that might sell?

1. When I'm just perusing mugs, I usually stop at ones that are eye-catching. This one by gracesheese fits the bill. It's red, it's patterned, and it's photographed against a background that just makes it POP. So, using this parameter, be sure you're making something that will grab the eye against all the other mugs around yours. In this case, color, pattern and background.

2. The next one that jumps out at me is this one by stepanka. Even though it's photographed against a non-contrast background, it just draws the eye because of the surface decoration. Again, it's something different from the sea of mugs surrounding it.

shoshonasnow has this mug that also pulled my eye. This time it was the combination of the color and the shape that did it.

Beyond getting noticed in a general search for something like mugs, you might also want to think about specific "niche" searches you might be able to fill. After all, a mug is a mug is a mug (aplogies to Gertrude Stein). What type of mug can you make in anticipation of things people might search?

One approach would be to check out the holidays. There are all sorts of things that would make a mug a holiday gift: something with familial personalization ("Mother", "Sis", "Best teacher in the world"), for Valentine's day -- a message of love such as this beauty by RedGateCeramics.

Personally, I've decided to enter the Jewish niche market. This works well for me: I'm Jewish, I love giving handmade gifts for weddings, Bnai Mitzvot (Bar and Bat Mitzvahs), and baby showers. I've simply put my ideas on the etsy market and it's been working well for me.

My experience has shown me that a great many of my sales on etsy were not impulse purchases. They were from people coming to etsy with something specific in mind. In my case, it's often a cup for their Jewish mother or father, an end of the year gift for a Hebrew school teacher, that perfect wedding gift for a Jewish couple. I've created product and then tagged it accordingly, so my customers, who don't know they're mine yet, can find me through the search engine (and in spite of rumors to the contrary, that search engine on etsy is still working).

You could just as easily take your products and think about potential searches you can fulfill. How about birdwatchers? Office workers who need a mug at their desk? Kids going off to college and want their mug to set them apart from the rest of the coffee drinkers in their dorm? Dog owners. New mothers and fathers. Outdoorsy people. Couch potatoes. They're all out there and, I'll bet, most of them use mugs. Why not make yours the one they crave????

In short? Etsy product success isn't always in the marketing -- though that's an essential part of getting yourself out there.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The first weekend in May is San Antonio's Empty Bowls sale. As potters know, that isn't too far away when we're talking about our craft.

For those of you who aren't aware of what Empty Bowls is, the following is an explanation and history lifted from the San Antonio Potters' Guild website:

Empty Bowls is an international effort to raise funds for charities that support the hungry and homeless. It began in 1990 when a Michigan high school students and their teacher wanted to find a way to raise funds to support a food drive. Just one year later the concept developed into Empty Bowls and since that time the 501 (c) 3 organization has raised millions of dollars to combat hunger. (For more information about the effort visit www.emptybowls.net.) There are Empty Bowls events staged by ceramic artists all over Texas and the nation.

Since I've hit a bit of a dead end with my current creative status, I think I'll be spending the rest of the week throwing bowls for this. This offers me several happy advantages:
1. I'll be doing some good
2. I'll be able to use studio clay (free), allowing me to experiment with different forms and glazes a bit more freely
3. It might just give me some inspiration, something that seems to be in short supply right now.

I think the shift from mugs and Judaica to lovely bowls with interesting feet might be just what's needed right now! As Mary Engelbreit says, "Life is just a chair of bowlies."

My advice to y'all? Find out when your area is holding an Empty Bowls event. Donate bowls, purchase bowls, eat soup, help the homeless. It's all good!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Remember I was talking about blue slip? Well, the pieces finally came out of the kiln and looked great.

Sadly, another piece (a wedding gift) also came out of the kiln looking lousy.

Can you tell which is which??? I'm SURE you CAN!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

If you've been following my blog you know I've gone a bit ga ga over slip.

On Thursday I took out my unused jar of Sky Blue Mason Stain and mixed it with the bottom of two days' worth of throwing sludge (otherwise known as "slip"). Some of the result now sits on mugs that have been sgraffitoed or had dragon's eye sprigs scattered over the painted slip band.

They now sit on the bisque firing shelf for the first stage of their transformation into functional pieces. I promise to post photos of them when they're done.

For now, I'll post a photo of my first dragon's eye mug (which I'm affectionately dubbing the "nipple mug").

Sunday, February 01, 2009


No, it's not something you spray on the sides of buildings or subway cars. It's a pottery technique. Basically, I took greenware (dried, but not fired clay), crushed it into a powder, added water and black mason stain (though you can add many different colors), and blended well.

Then I used this as a coating on the outside of leather hard pieces, after which I carved through to reveal the contrasting white clay beneath. Fire, glaze clear or with a transluscent color, and glaze fire. Voila!

In my case, I've been carving Hebrew "Mom" and "Dad". But last week I tried something different and took a couple of sketches from my friend David (see previous post), reduced them in size, and traced them onto the slip using a wood stick over a copy of his drawing. Then I carved through the indented lines.

The final results make me smile -- cuz David is such a wonderful doodler. Looking forward to more sgraffito soon!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

It's been a great week in the studio with sgraffito (carving through colored liquid clay to reveal the lighter clay beneath) galore.

In addition to aba (father), ima (mother), saba (grandpa) and savta (grandma) mugs, I took some of David's animal sketches, along with a stencil, and made three whimsical mugs. There was one I love so much it might well wind up in my cabinet for coffee, rather than in the etsy shop.

Of course, with sgraffito, the great consideration is glazing. Which glaze will show the carving, without being boring. I've been leaning toward clear glaze on the outside, with brighter colors lining the interior of the mug. As someone who's always loved contrast: color/black and white, matte/gloss, etc., this is a compatible voice for my designs. However, I'm in love with a lovely transparent cone 6 glaze called oribe (quite different from the cone 10 version). So I glazed a couple of the mugs with it.

They're out of the kiln. But I haven't had a chance to go over to the studio to see them, since someone else unloaded this firing. Tuesday is going to be fun!

Friday, January 09, 2009

It's nice to have a friend who makes wonderful doodles. Especially when he leaves them at your house, they inspire you, and then you get permission from him to use one of them as a centerpiece on your new deconstructed Seder set for Passover.

Thanks David!