Monday, January 12, 2015

Snow Jobs

Our lovely Tionesta home has been getting a few inches of snow every day. Not a huge dump and go blizzard, but a steady build. My commute has been a cold 20 steps to the studio with a carafe of hot tea and a dog who thinks snow is the best thing ever.

This weather has made it easier for me to decide to settle in, hunker down and be a homebody. I'm loving it. Rowan has been taking the time to create some really lovely homemade meals that we have been willing to go back to and consume every bit of the leftovers. There is no need to go out until we need groceries or the USPS.

Our promise to ourselves to work smarter has been in effect for a week now, it's been pretty good. We've been getting to bed before midnight and getting up between 6 and 8 and getting to work soon after. We work until early evening usually between 5 and 7 and I finally have had some time to relax, reflect and think. Its been a long time since I haven't felt completely exhausted and overburdened. This is nice and I want to keep it up as long as possible.

The best part is we have been getting a lot of work done. Rowan has even found more time to be creative in the studio. She's been making new things, working with me on the Forest Spirit things. We're building good stock and I feel on track for making this year one of working from a perspective of joy rather than burden.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I'm so excited for this year!

At this time of the year, it's traditional to reflect upon the last year and to make plans for the new year. The funny thing is, I often find that this is one of the only times of the year this is possible for us. This is usually the only true downtime we have!

As I look back the whole year is a blur. Last January we were finishing up some pottery orders and getting ready to move. This year we won't have to move, we also have no big pottery orders waiting. It is a clean slate. Which is nice. Also a little scary because there is no guaranteed income, but we won't dwell on will come, it always does.

 Last year we packed up all our things and moved from State College Pennsylvania to a small town called Tionesta, also in Pennsylvania. You can check out some of our previous blog posts to learn about our adventures in moving and getting set up here.

So what did we do over this last year? It has been a pretty amazing year. We moved, set up the new studio, set up a new house. We opened a new store. We got our old house ready for the market while doing all of these things. We did all the shows we normally do, we did all the wholesale orders we normally do plus some huge new ones. Most importantly we lived to tell about it. Barely. As the year came to a close, Rowan  and I took the time to be horribly sick over the Christmas holiday, which made us stop.


Which is really good because since we started working again, we've been much more conscious  about keeping the work day reasonable. Plenty of work has been done, and we've watched several movies, had evenings of television and have gotten to bed long before total exhaustion.This is new for us. 6.5 years ago we got married and immediately dove into workaholism.I think we can do better for ourselves.

So what is on our agenda for the upcoming year? 

I hope this year is the fulfillment of our goal to work smarter and with more joy. We need to remember that we are a married couple and still in love, and hopefully we can find our humanity again. I feel like we have been operating in crisis mode for several years. People ask what our inspiration for working so hard is, we joke that it is fear of poverty. Its not a joke. We always feel that if we don't work until we're ready to drop we're not trying hard enough. I think that we might be misguided. After 40-50 hours a week there are diminishing returns and no enjoyment of life. That is why not having a bunch of orders lined up right now, is a really good thing. It gives us the chance to work slowly and steadily, to get ahead, so that when all the big orders start coming in we are prepared. We spent all of last year behind and were rushing from crisis to crisis and order to order just trying to keep up. 
Some of the work I am most looking forward to doing, is more of the Forest Spirit Pottery. We actually just made our first new batch of it and we're thrilled. If you have been following along on our Facebook page you may have noticed that we had a one-of-a-kind online-only event in November focusing on the Greenman inspired Forest Spirit Pottery. It was a big hit for us because it allowed us to be entirely creative, we worked outside our normal production catalog and let our artistic spirits free! The best part is it proved to us that we can present one of a kind work to our fans and they loved and approved it! I want more of this kind of artistic joy for us!

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?