Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Another Kiln Day

Well, another kiln day has come and gone. 

Unfortunately, I overfired a little bit so half the stuff didn't come out as well as I wold have liked.

But, things will be changing in the new year!  I used to produce so little pottery that the goal of each peice was simply survival.  I'm now making stuff fast enough that I can be a bit more picky. 

For a long time, I was firing everything at cone 5 1/2.  Then I moved up to a true cone 6.  With this experiment, I have learned a few things.  Some glazes really like going hotter.  They come out more vibrant and melt better.  Especially the clear and the shinos.  However, some of my prettier glazes run like crazy and some of the color burns out when firing that hot, especially my hyacinth and some dark blues.

So now that I'm producing quite a bit more, I'm going to start separating my glazed ware according to the temp favored by the glaze on the piece rather than just the size and how I can fit the most into each load.

So I'll be taking all sorts of glaze notes from now on and hopefully I'll be losing less items during the glaze firing!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Modest Needs

It's the time of year when a lot of us exchange gifts, spend as much as we can on our small businesses to get that end of year tax break, and occasionally think about those who aren't as fortunate as we are.

I've always believed that when I was in a financial position to assist others, I would contribute to charity regularly.  But as the years have gone by, I've simply never found myself in a position of having so much money that I couldn't find a necessary use for it in my own home.  I have a list of home repairs that are simply waiting for the bank account to catch up to so I can get them fixed.

I'm also a bit of an all or nothing kind of person.  When I think about those who are in need more than I am, I immediately get overwhelmed with the amount of need in the world and can't focus in on what my paltry little contribution can actually do.  How can I donate $100 to a cat shelter when people are starving in Africa?  Contributing that $100 to cancer research feels like throwing it into a black hole of need rather than actually helping.  And how do I decide which need is the greatest and therefore the best place to put my money?

And what about those people in our neighborhood who just need a little bit of money to keep them afloat?  I've certainly been that person.  When the car goes south and I have an unexpected $300 repair bill that completely blows my budget.  In that kind of situation, the need isn't so bad that you're eligible for charitable help, but you still really need that little bit to keep you going.  I've been fortunate enough that my parents have always been in the position of helping me out and have had the inclination to do so.  But not everyone can spare a couple of bucks to help out a loved one through a little financial emergency.

So I came across an article today about http://www.modestneeds.org/ on CNN.  This is a site where they take those small requests and people pool their small contributions to help out.  It's a place where you can actually see what a $10 donation can do and how it will make a difference in someone's life.  I can spare $10.  I can probably spare $20, quite regularly. 

I've bookmarked this site.  I hope I'm able to trickle a few bucks there from time to time throughout the year.

I have no closing statement for this blog post.  I just read about the site, it looked like a great idea and I wanted to write about it.  So I've written about it.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chicken Roaster Trial Run

Well I finally got the fabled chicken roaster out of the kiln and we put it to use!  Learned a few things along the way but all in all, I'd say the design is about 85% there.

And here we go.

Here's our first look at it all nekkid.

Here's what we're going to stuff into the chickens butt.  Mostly lemon lime soda, a dash of worcester (I'm so not looking up the spelling for that), some garlic, and fresh rosemary.

Woo hoo!  It fits perfect!  The chicken slid right on so it was small enough to fit, and the chicken holds itself up with no problem so it's big enough to support the weight.  Awesome.

Hubby added some olive oil, salt and pepper to the outside of the chicken to get a nice crisp skin.

And it's time to go into the oven.  It's best to put pottery into a room temp oven and let it warm as the oven heats up rather than to put it straight into a hot oven.  Severe temp changes cause thermal stress and can lead to cracking and overall shortening the life of the pottery.  Just a little tip for you there.

Here's what we see after a half hour at 400 degrees.  Notice some of the juices flowing into the pan.

Ok, not very visible, but trust me, there were juices.

After the first half hour, hubby lowered the temp to 375.  So, after an hour and a half in the oven, hubby added some zucchini and potatoes.

And back into the oven for a half hour.  Oh boy, here it comes!

Oops!  A little spill.  That's because there was a lot of juice from that chicken and the walls of the pan need to be a bit taller.  And the handles need to be a little wider to make it a bit more stable when pulling it out of the oven.

That's a good lookin bird.

Carve right there on the roaster.  Can be carved at the table if you're so inclined.

Look at how juicy that sucker is!

Ok, this next pic is a bit gross.  This is what's left on the roaster after carving the breast.

And here's my dinner! 

So, conclusions!

1)  For a prototype, this is awesome.  Works just fine.  We're gonna keep it.

2)  Some of the moistest chicken I've ever had.  Seriously.  It wasn't stringy at all.  By the time I got my plate to the table, it was swimming in juices.

3)  If it hadn't been so late, hubby could have easily made gravy right there in the pan.  There was about 2 cups of chicken drippings in the pan.  Tasted them (to see if it was from the chicken or from the soda dripping into the pan) and he said it was a perfect chicken stock.  That's in the fridge now for cooking with later.

4)  The walls need to be a little bit taller.  They are about an inch high on this one and should be about 2 inches high to properly hold all the juice.

5)  The handles should be wider.  Having them narrow and centered made it a little wobbly taking it out of the oven.  And wider handles would be easier to grip with oven mitts on.

6)  Need a stronger flavor.  We'll be expermenting with various marinades and alcohols and sauces to see what flavors work best.  The lemon lime was a good idea but the flavor was too subtle so you didn't really taste it in the chicken.  But damn that chicken was moist.

7)  It cleaned up really easily.  All the hubby did was rinse it off and it looked ready to use again.  And it fit in the dishwasher with no problem.  I hate those things that take up 1/4 of the bottom shelf of the dishwasher.  This was able to sit on its side so more stuff could still fit.  Awesome!

All right!  So now all I need is some heat in my pottery studio and a couple of months to get some of these made with the new design improvements and we'll be in business!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Kiln day!

Yay!  It's Kiln day!  Kiln day is to a potter what Christmas morning is to a 5 year old.  Promises of wonderful things to be found under the lid.  Woo hoo!

Let's crack her open and see what we find shall we?

It's more of a personal load of stuff than commercial today.  A friend of mine made some Christmas gifts in my little studio.  Looks like the doggy dishes came out great!  We're also looking at a couple of tealight candle holders.  My first attempt at piercing.  The rims came out really nice!

Ok, let's see what the next shelf has in store.

Uh oh, that's not good.  I must have mismeasured the kiln stilts.  This mug was touching the shelf above it and fused to it.  Even worse, I don't have kiln wash on the underside of the shelf so it fused directly to the shelf itself.  Did a little damage getting the mug off.  Crud.

Well, the chicken roaster came out awesome!  My husband has been asking about that because he's anxious to use it.  I'm anxious to get it tested as well because I've had a lot of requests for them since I mentioned I was trying them out.

The two mugs on the other hand.  Obviously, they are really pretty colors.  Unfortunately, those colors ran like crazy.  I might be able to grind the bottoms well enough to make them useable but they won't be sellable.  I'm getting a little sick of having "useable but not sellable" mugs in my own cabinet.  Not sure it's worth the trouble of grinding them down.  So on the outside table they sit until I can make up my mind of what to do with them.  If there are any mosaic artists out there looking for shards, I've got a bucket full that I'm constantly adding to.

Ok, what else will we find?

More mugs and 2 of the upside down flower pots.  The pink mugs will probably end up on my artfire site even though I could have made better color choices.  They're perfectly attractive, just not eye catching.  The larger mugs belong to that friend of mine.  The dark brown mug ran a bit too but it's salvageable.  Another "good enough" mug for my cabinet I guess. 

Looking forward to planting a couple of things and trying out the flower pots though.

Ok, let's check out the bottom shelf.

That's 2 more of the little tealight holders, an incense burner, a cup that my friend made, and a big bowl.  The bowls rim is pinched in an alternating pattern to create a flower around the rim.  I'm not sure what I think of the green streaks.  Another friend of mine claimed this bowl and directed how to glaze it.  She wanted the streaks.  If it were up to me, I would have done this same color combo, but the dark would have been just around the rim to make a line that showed the pinched pattern more.  I like how it came out, but it's not how I would have chosen to do it.

So, that was my Kiln day.  Kind of a Christmas morning with one cool toy that I was really hoping for, and a lot of socks and underwear.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

We have a winner!

WOOT!!! We have a winner! Julie Behm will be receiving this lovely 4-way incense burner (along with instructions)!

Keep encouraging people to fan my facebook page because when I get another 50, I'm giving away another one.  And everyone who is currently a fan will be entered into the next drawing as well.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gonna give stuff away

I'd like to see a few more fans on my facebook page so I'm gonna do a giveaway!

When I get to 50 fans, one will be picked at random for a free incense burner.  And when I get to 100, another one!

So if you're interested, become a fan of mine on facebook.  I promise not to overload your newsfeed.  I post once or twice a week.

Uga Buga Bowls Fan Page

Pics of my feet 01

Without further ado, I hereby bring you the first in a series called "Pics of my feet".

And those were some pics of my feet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Been teachin!

I'm feeling the need to blog but don't have a whole lot to blog about right now.  My studio is somewhat shut down until I can get an electrician in to look at the wiring and come up with a way to heat it.  Fortunately, I got a larger check than I expected from one of my video clients so I should be able to spring for a decent heating system once I figure out what the wiring can handle.

One thing I have done though is a little teaching.  A friend of mine wanted to make some gifts for her family and thought that pottery might be the answer.  So she came over for a 6 hour lesson.  I warned her that what she wanted to make was rather challenging and probably wouldn't happen on the first day.

However, we were able to collaborate and she she was quite successful!  For the larger items, I made the bodies of the pieces while she added handles, did the trimming, and decorating.

Now, either I'm a really good teacher, or she had some skills that she didn't tell me about.  We did a general lesson of wheel throwing and after about 2 hours of instruction, I gave her some clay and told her I was going to take a break while she played around a bit.

I had to walk away at that point.  I wasn't allowing her to fail with anything and as a result, I had had my hands in each piece she had created so far.  So I wanted to give her the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn't without me constantly there to rescue.

She did really well!  Every so often I would pop my head in and offer some advice but I didn't touch the stuff anymore.  She made a cute bowl with a nice rim. Then she made a bowl that's a little wonky, but that's ok.  When it started to fold on itself, I advised her to stop and just let it be.  So it has just a little bit of ruffle through the bottom but since she stopped at that point, it looks like a design rather than what it really means which is that the bowl was about to implode.  And she made a cute little cup when I wasn't looking!

I was really impressed.  Then she came back the next day and we did all of the trimming and finishing work.  I can't wait to see if everything survives the first kiln firing!

In other news, I seem to be getting a really big response to my chicken roaster, and I don't even have one done yet.  It's going to be about 6 weeks before the prototype is even ready for testing but I'll be sure to keep you updated on the results.  I'm assuming it's going to have some kinks to work out and it will probably take a year or so before I'm confidant that I can make them for sale.

Wish me heat!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Facebook fan page

I never thought I'd set up a fan page for myself.  It seems so egotistical!  But I'd like to talk to anyone who might be interested in my pottery and I'm told that's the way to do it.

So you see that big empty box to your right?  Yeah, it's kind of sad being all empty.  Feel free to fan me on facebook and help make that look like I'm not a pathetic loser!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ugh, work stoppage

It looks like I'm not going to be working in the studio for a while. 

I went out there the other day and the space heater wasn't working.  Tried it in a few different outlets and nothing.  My guess is that some electrical thing shorted on the inside and as a safety measure, it shut the whole thing down.  Certainly preferable to a fire, but, ugh.

I know what you're thinking - I should just get another space heater.  Well, it's not that easy.  I only have 2 outlets in the studio.  A normal one in the wall that an electrician has tested as safe and another one in the air that the light plugs into.  Both of these are right by the door to the studio which makes it difficult to fit in all the things I want to plug in where I want them to be.

Yeah, not exactly the picture of safety there is it?  Plugging the last space heater into this was an experiment.  When I turn the light off, the power to this entire outlet turns off so it was easy to make sure that the heater wasn't pulling power when it was unattended.  Thus, reduced fire hazard.
Clearly something about this plan didn't work.  Maybe it was a crappy space heater that just bit the dust, maybe it was an electrical spike of some sort, I don't know.  I do know that I'm not going to use an extension cord to put a heater in a better location.  And this is the second space heater to go kaput on me out there so I'm REALLY not trusting the wiring I've got going on.

I've left a message with the electrician to find out what it would cost to put in another outlet on the other side of the studio.  We can't really afford to spend much but if the cost of an outlet (maybe they can install some sort of safety mechanism so if it gets too hot it will cut the power?) means I can keep the studio warm and work year round, it might be worth it.

In the past, I've generally stopped work in early October and don't really start up again until April or May.  This year, I'm really wanting to keep working and have been able to work into Mid November.

And of course, there's the Buster question.  He's spent plenty of winters outside so he's fine, but that doesn't mean I want him to be cold.  My job is to spoil him rotten (I'm very good at my job) so I'd really like to provide a heated room for him to live in.

But I just can't put a third space heater out there without making sure that the wiring can handle it. 

I have a lot of stuff made and drying, probably enough for a full kiln load.  So at least I can fire that and get it finished.  But I'd really rather be working on the wheel.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Etsy VS. Artfire - Market Research Experiment

* For those of you looking for tips on selling and just the highlights of this article, skip to the summary at the end.

As I get a little more serious about selling my pottery, I've started to look into venues other than Etsy.  While selling pottery isn't my main goal in life, it's important to me to appear professional in every way when I present myself to the world.

I've opened an Artfire shop just to see how it compared.  Oh by the way, this is going to be a long ass post.  You may want to grab a cup of coffee and a snack.  Don't worry, I'll wait.  Need a mug for that cup of coffee?  No?  Ok, can't blame a girl for trying.  We all settled in for a nice long read?  Ok, let's go.

In my twenties, I worked for a marketing research company.  Not the career for me, but I learned so much while I was there.  So in the spirit of what I learned there, I conducted a little Market Research on Etsy VS. Artfire - what do the buyers see?

Our players:

Me!  Yes yes, I rock.  No please, sit down.  No, no, really I don't deserve it.  PLEASE!  No applause, just throw money!

Bryan - Internet friend of mine.  In his early 20's.  We only chat every few months and it's usually brief.  Doesn't know anything about my pottery.  We've never met in person.  Zero knowledge of my preferences.

Paula - My BFF.  My biggest fan.  Insists on being present at every kiln opening and all of my rejects end up in her kitchen.  She does know my preferences on the experiment at hand so her opinion might be a tad tainted.

My Hubby - Tends to be a bit removed from my pottery hobby but loves that I do it.  Might have heard my preferences but is never shy to disagree with me so I trust his opinion.

The mission - Compare and contrast my shops on both Etsy and Artfire.  Then go to the front pages of each and try to find my stuff.

In order to show that I tried to conduct this experiment in such a way as to elicit real opinions and not just telling me what I want to hear, I'm now going to post the conversations I had with Bryan and Paula unedited.

[13:20] AlexMMR: do you have a couple of minutes to conduct an experiment for me?

[13:20] Bryan: Yes I do
[13:21] AlexMMR: Ok. I've gotten so good at pottery at thsi point that I really do need to start selling it. I've had an etsy store for a while but I'm thinking of moving over to artfire. So What I'd like you to do is to check out both shops
[13:21] Bryan: oh fun i'm all over this
[13:21] AlexMMR: tell me which one you would like better if you were shopping. Check out the main pages of both sites and tell me which one you would be more likely to purchase from
[13:22] AlexMMR: The first one is etsy. My page is http://www.etsy.com/shop/alexmmr and the main page is http://www.etsy.com
[13:22] AlexMMR: take a minute and look around. Go to the main page and see if you can even find my products, that kind fo thing
[13:23] Bryan: ok
[13:23] AlexMMR: Then after you've experimented there, try artfire. My page is http://ugabugabowls.artfire.com and the main page is http://www.artfire.com
[13:23] AlexMMR: I'm goign to make my husband do this too and blog about the results
[13:24] AlexMMR: brb while you experiment. Potty break.
[13:25] Bryan: Etsy was really easy to find you by searching by your name....your stuff is gorgeous on here too. Looking at artfire now....
[13:28] Bryan: oh artfire by a longshot! Etsy seems very one-off, buy a bowl, never see you again....artfire invites you back, it seems. They're equally user friendly, but artfire is much better to build clientelle or to get your name out
[13:28] Bryan: Girlfriend is here. I'll be back later. Glad i caught you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ok, so we have one vote for Artfire.  Let's hear from Paula.

[21:57] AlexMMR: wanna take a break from the sound and help me with an experiment on which pottery store I should focus on?

[21:57] Paula: ?? still trying to decide?
[21:58] AlexMMR: I just want to quantify my opinions iwht other peoples opinions. it will also give me something to blog about
[21:58] AlexMMR: I'm running an experimetn with people. I'm sending them to each of my stores and compare. And then the front page of each site and have people try to find my stuff.
[21:59] AlexMMR: So http://ugabugabowls.artifre.com vs http://alexmmr.etsy.com
[21:59] AlexMMR: then http://artfire.com vs http://etsy.com
[21:59] Paula: Well the Art fire site is WAY easier. I spent about a hour and played there the other day
[21:59] Paula: Looked up bowls, mugs, color - whatever
[21:59] Paula: WAY easier and your stuff came up a lot
[21:59] AlexMMR: oh awesome
[21:59] Paula: ya
[22:00] AlexMMR: how much would it matter to you if you had to join a site in order to purchase?
[22:00] Paula: your blue ruffle bowl came up a lot as did the heart bowls and the ...shoot - the light gold mug??
[22:00] Paula: I am totally screwing up the description
[22:01] Paula: honestly - if I have to join a site to by something. unless I REALLY REALLY love the product and literally can't find it anywhere else, I would move on
[22:02] AlexMMR: ok, that's what I thought about the joining thing too
[22:02] Paula does artfire require you to join??? I didn't notice that
[22:03] AlexMMR: no, etsy does
[22:03] Paula: oh - gotcha
[22:03] Paula: ya....I'm totally liking artfire

Okey dokey, that's 2 votes Artfire.  Believe it or not, that was the brief part of this blog post.  Now we get into the research I did with hubby.  I took 5 pages of notes on that conversation.  You might want to refresh that coffee. 

You're back?  Brave soul.  Here we go.

We started out at Etsy.  He did a search for "Mugs" and immediately said "oh forget it!".  There were 7760 listings on 370 pages.  Totally overwhelmed.  Wouldn't bother looking at any of them because there were so many.  Knowing my inventory, he looked up "Mugs Carved".  My stuff was on page 2.

I asked wht he thought of the competitors.  His general impressions on the quality he would find at Etsy.  The quotes I wrote down were "definite mix.  some plain.  some amatuerish and some professional and well done.  Half look like they were made by kids.  Some look very good."

We moved to my etsy shop and I asked his first impressions.  I got a half hearted "It looks ok".  I asked if having to join a website would prohibit him from buying.  He said yes.

We moved on to Artfire.  First impressions at comparing the two?  Artfire looks like you're buying from an artist.  Etsy, you could be buying from an amateur.

Artfire front page - it shows you more stuff.  It looks more populated with product.

Did a search for "Mugs" and got 23 pages of listings.  He said he would be more likely to search through all of those pages since there weren't hundreds of them.

He really liked the "Search within the search" function and said it made things a lot easier.  At this point, we discovered that my stuff wasn't showing up.  After troubleshooting, we discovered it was because he was searching "Handmade" and Artfire has their pottery in the "Fine Art" category.  I immediately posted a plea to Artfire to move the pottery category based on this finding and then recategorized all of my stuff to be found under "Handmade".

When we did search under "Fine art" (again, the average customer ain't looking for mugs there), my stuff was on page 1 of 14.

I was very surprised at what happened when we went to my shop.  The first thing he did was click on the artist blog.  It never occurred to me that he would be the type of shopper to give a hoot about anything other than the actual product.  Then he clicked on my bio.  He felt that there was more information about the artist on the Artfire shop page.  The tabs were not only visible to him but they invited him to click.

I asked what knowing the artist does to his perception of the products.  He said that he had a better feeling about the artist [since getting to know them a little] and that purchasing would be a more personal transaction.  "I'm more likely to like what I get." 

In general, the Artfire page looks more like an actual company website as opposed to a listing on Ebay.  On Artfire, the add to cart button was easy and he expected to be able to add to cart and keep shopping.  He also liked that he could easily see the various categories within the shop to narrow down his search.

We went back to Etsy to explore the means of getting to know the artist there since he didn't see those links the first time.  I pointed out the add to cart button there.  He said it was smaller and doesn't invite you to click it like it does on Artfire.

Here are my next notes, I don't remember exactly what elicited these answers.  "If I know what I'm looking for - Artfire."  "No info about artist on Etsy."  "More artist connection on Artfire."  "Artfire looks better, pure and simple"  "[he] wants to get to know the artist so when [he] purchases a gift for someone, [he] has a story to with it"  "quality of products about the same on both sites" 

Ok, I think we can agree that this is now a 3rd vote for Artfire.

*** So here's the summary

1)  Three out of three voters preferred to buy from Artfire
2)  Etsy has so much stuff, it's too overwhelming to actually look through
3)  Joining a site just to purchase an item will prevent them from buying
4)  I need to write more tags
5)  Artist blog and bio make a connection to the customer which increases their chance of buying
6)  Pics of my studio in my blog give the buyer confidence because the buyer knows it's not just someone who took a class and is selling off their rejects but rather someone who is committed to the craft.
7)  Artfire - Buyers are not looking in Fine Art for their functional pottery!!!
8)  Artfire looks like an artist commerce site.  Etsy looks like a random listing on Ebay. 
9)  Artfire invites you to shop around, stick around, and buy again.  At Etsy, there's a feeling of buy your damn thingamajig and get the hell out!
10)  The various links from the Artfire store (blog, etc) are visible and inviting to click on.  On Etsy, you have to really want to find them to look.  This leads to a more enveloping shopping experience.

11)  Customers generally prefer Artfire.  Period.  Game over. 

Rock on folks!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New products in development

I'm working on a couple of new things.  Sadly, only have pics of one of them.

Our household is populated by 2 humans and 4 cats, plus an assortment of fish, frog, and geckos.  One cat in particular is curious about everything and nibbles on everything.  His name is Mayday.  Trust me, he's earned his name.

Far too much text without a picture.  Let's change that.  Here's the Before:

Here's the After:

Mayday is the big orange one, Jipsee if the little black one.  Jipsee tends to win these battles.

Mayday is the main reason we have no plants in the house.  He can get onto every surface we have in the house no matter how high or isolated.  He finds a way.

So one of the things I'm working on are upside down flower pots. The goals is to be able to hang plants from the middle of the ceiling so Mayday can't get to them.

It's like a regular flower pot but the bottom is cut out and there are a couple of holes on the rim.  Put some twine through the rim holes so the pot can hang from the ceiling.  I'm working on how to make these so that water and dirt doesn't then fall out of the bottom where the plant pokes through. 

A lot of plants will grow straight down while others will curve around the pot and grow up.  Once I get a couple of them made, hubby and I will try a few different plants and see if they work well.  Once we have some successful plants growing when hanging from the ceiling, I'll make some more and make them available for purchase.

The next thing I'm working on actually got an enthusiastic response from the hubby.  This is a big thing.  Pretty much the only irritation I have with my husband is that his answers to any question have zero enthusiasm.  I get a lot of "this is nice" or "yeah, I guess we could go to a movie".  ARGH!!  So when I was telling him about this new thing that I'm making and he got excited and went to the pottery studio to see it, I was a bit flabbergasted.

Yeah, I hear you.  What the hell is that???

It's a chicken roaster.  I read something about how some people cook a chicken by mounting it onto a can of beer and then the beer infuses the chicken with moisture and flavor from the inside as it roasts.

Personally, beer is the last flavor I want anything infused with.  So with this, you can fill the cup with a marinade, spices, butter, etc.

Hubby suggested I add some large handles so I did that. 
Hopefully these are large enough to grip when wearing oven mitts.

And his first comment was "Oh cool!  The pan will catch the drippings so I can make gravy."  So I molded a little bit of a spout to make it easier to pour the gravy out.

Assuming this prototype doesn't crack as it dries or in the kiln, we'll experiment with some recipes and see what works and what doesn't and then readjust the design as needed.

It will probably be about a year before we have thoroughly tested these two designs.  Of course the plants will take about a year to fully grow (or fail) in the upside down pots and we'll want to try cooking with this pan several times before I start making it for sale.  But once both have been tested thoroughly in the wild, they'll be available to the public at large!

And because no blog post is complete without a little Buster, here he is, starring in what I like to call "Anatomy of a spoiled brat".

Notice the personal heater, the little cubby hole to trap the heat, the catnip infused bed, the custom made kibble and water dishes that are always full which he can eat from will still in bed.  Yes, breakfast in bed!  The lucky little bastard!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chat all fixed

I'm not sure what happened but the chat feature appears to be working again so I added it back to the blog.

If I don't answer right away, please don't be offended.  I do get up to go to the bathroom from time to time and I also leave the computer running when I go into the pottery studio.  If you get an away message, stick around for a minute or two, I may just have walked into the kitchen or something.  If more than a minute or two go by, I'm probably really away.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Artfire forums mess

There's a whole lot of hullabaloo going on in the Artfire forums right now.  I've read as much of the history as I can get my hands on and here's my understanding of the mess.

Some sellers were becoming inflammatory towards Artfire in the forums.  As always happens in any internet forum, those who are in the mood to fight got all up in arms and started bullying those few who dared to speak up and say "cool your jets".  The silent majority simply ignores inflammatory and bullying behavior and the few who enjoy a good fight just go on congratulating each other for being so brave to "stick up for themselves" when really all they're doing is fanning the flames.  So the flames get bigger and bigger.  Artfire admins decided that this was bad for business and shut down the few instigators and then deleted the fiery threads. 

When the admins explained why this was necessary and gave a hypothetical to help illustrate why this was necessary, everyone continued to flame because they would take the words out of context and react by gut instinct (which is easy to do when you're already pissed) rather than read the entirety of the reasons.  Thus, wrong conclusions were jumped to and again, everyone congratulated each other for being quick on the flaming bandwagon.  It grew out of control, even the Etsy forums exploded with misinformation about what was happening at Artfire.  So again, the admins said "enough" and deleted the thread.

Today, various threads are popping up with people complaining about how the admins have handled things.  They claim that they are just asking questions.  And how dare Artfire shut down their questions just because they disagree with Artfire admins!

I call Bullshit.  If you want to ask a simple question of the admins and get a simple answer, you email them.  Privately.  The only reason to ask an inflammatory question on a public forum is because you want the admins to shut you down so you can point a finger at them and scream "Seee?  Seeeee!?  It's so unfair!!!!  Who agrees with me???". 

The reasonable people are emailing the admins with their opinions privately.  They want to be heard and they are being heard.  The unreasonable want to scream in public and get an army of angry people to back them up.  It's a big ego boost to have an angry mob supporting you.

The forums are now being moderated.  They attempted to allow the artisans to moderate themselves via decorum and good common sense.  When given freedom, someone will always take advantage of it and ruin it for everyone else.  They scream the loudest and believe they are in the majority because they are screaming louder than those of us who are quietly discussing the issue with reason. 

We in the USA have the right to free speech.  All that means is that if we say something the government doesn't like, they aren't going to come to our door with rifles and shove us in a box until we shut up.  It does not mean that we have the right to use someone elses resources to be jerks, especially to those people providing the resources.  Just because you have the right to speak, that does not mean that Artfire is required to provide you with the megaphone and audience.

If you want to talk without moderation, start a blog.  It's free.  You have every right to say whatever the hell you want to say when you provide yourself with the resources to speak.

Artfire forum moderation is the correct business decision.  They have every right to allow the discussions that they believe will boost business and to erase those discussions that they believe will harm business. 

If you don't like it, start a blog, speak all you want, and blast them from the rooftops if you so desire.

If you want to ask questions regarding the changes and express your disagreement in how it was handled, go to the source - email the admins directly.  They will eventually answer you.

But don't go into the public forums that they are providing and talk shit about them and then get all up in arms when they don't kiss your ass for doing so.  They are doing what they believe is best for business.  That's it.  If you disagree, you are free to leave and you are free to setup a new shop however you damn well please.  But if you're going to use their services, you're going to have to play by their rules. 

I agree that forums should be moderated.  I'm glad Artfire is doing it.  I really don't want my potential customers watching a bunch of bullies bitch and moan about how the service they are taking advantage of sucks.  That's bad for my business.

Thanks Artfire.  You're going through some major heat right now and it's probably going to have a short-term effect on the bottom line as the bitchers and moaners shut down their shops.  But it's going to improve business in the long run.

Chat got all broked

I did a windows update on my computer and now the chat thingy I had on here says I'm offline all the time even when I'm around.  So I've taken it down for the time being.

In the mean time, I'm doing some experiments with friends and family to see which online venue they would prefer as a customer.  This is going to help me decide if I'm going to keep my store on Etsy or move completely over to Artfire. 

I'll start a poll here as well.  If you'd like to contribute to the experiment, take a look at both of my shops and the main pages for both venues and see if you can find my products.  Which would you be more likely to purchase from?

My Etsy Shop      Etsy Main Page  Can you find my pottery from the main page?

My Artfire Shop    Artfire Main Page

Feel free to comment with any thoughts!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Buster Scarf

We've had some storms the last couple of nights around here so I moved Busters kibble dish from the porch to inside the pottery studio.  I used to feed the cats in the studio but stopped because the raccoons were becoming far too comfortable in there and the cats would get chased out.  But since they aren't really accustomed to looking for food there and the dish is only large enough for one serving, I've decided to try feeding Buster in the studio for the time being.  We'll see how that goes.

But today, I didn't see Buster until about 5pm.  This is odd because he's usually hanging around a good 22 hours out of every day.  But he finally showed up.  Just sauntered in like he owns the place.

After dinner, I went back out to the studio to trim some bowls that I threw yesterday.  Well, apparently I wasn't paying enough attention to the boy.  As I was trimming, I felt a couple of paws on my thigh.  And the claws started digging in.  Oh crap, he's gonna jump!

Rather than have him jump up onto my bowl and tear my leg off in the process, I picked him up intent on depositing him onto his bar stool.  He was having none of the stool!  As soon as I got him in my hands, he scrambled up my chest, onto my shoulder and draped himself around the back of my neck.

Now look at the pictures. I'll post them again.

This is not a long, lean, graceful cat.  This is a big, solid, chunk 'o' cat!  This does not drape elegantly around the shoulders.  This is not a cat that I could walk around town with, hardly noticing his presence.  No, with him around my neck, every movement I make means several pounds of fur must tippy toe to readjust his weight to make sure he doesn't fall.

I figured oh what the hell.  Let him stay there as long as he has the patience to do the balancing dance.  This'll last all of 10 seconds and he'll jump to his stool.

I was wrong.

He stayed up there while I worked for a good 5 minutes or so before jumping onto my table to look at me in disappointment.  And then my neck was really cold.

If anyone has any hints or devices I could use to hold a cat on my shoulders, he'd really appreciate it.  I don't mind carrying the weight and whenever I hold him, he does attempt to balance up there.  Maybe I need to make some sort of shoulder shelf or something.

List your suggesstions in the comments!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Agateware video

Hey folks,

Someone asked me about the video that I talked about in a previous post so I'm going to try to post it here.  I hope this works.

Woo hoo! I think it works!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

It just didn't work today

I know I said I was going to talk about more test tile stuff but I'm not in the mood for that.

I tried to make some stuff today and it was just a day when the clay wouldn't cooperate.  Normally I have an issue if the clay is too stiff.  The wetter the better.  But today the clay I was using from my recycled stuff was actually too wet so I ended up making more of a mess than anything else.  And most of what I tried to make went right back into the recycle bucket.

I think part of it is that I don't really know what to make.  I've been concentrating so much on getting my online shops full of merchandise that when I went to make stuff, I got stuck in my head about what I should make for the shop.

I find that I can always market the mugs.  Mugs are easy to sell.  But I make good bowls too.  And yet I find that my bowls are still sitting on my dining room table waiting to be photographed and posted.  So when I felt like making bowls today, I was thinking more about how it's hard to sell bowls rather than just enjoying making them.  That always seems to be the kiss of death for me.

Maybe it wasn't even the clay that was bothering me.  Even as I'm trying to type this, my fingers are feeling clunky and they aren't moving as easily as they usually do.

Oh well.  Just an off day for me today. 

I'm working on moving stuff from my Etsy store to my Artfire store.  I'm finding Artfire to be a better place to sell, especially since you don't have to sign up for an account to purchase there.  But all of my advertising has been for Etsy so I'm kind of starting from scratch.

So I guess today can just be summed up as "oh well".

There's a chat widget on this blog and since I'm generally online all day, you're welcome to chat with me.  Don't have to have anything to say, just say hi!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Test tiles

Ahhhhh, test tiles.  What a pain the tush.  But so necessary.

I try out so many glazes and very few of them actually look how they look on the test tiles and color charts at the store.  Especially since I sometimes use white clay and other times use a dark red. 

I didn't want to use up a ton of clay and I wanted my tiles to be easily accessible so I could see my collection at a glance.  I also wanted to see how the glazes show or hide impressions and how it breaks over edges.  And I wanted the tiles to sit vertically in the kiln so I could see how much they run and flow.  Here's what I came up with.

I use an extruder die designed to make handles.  It's flat on one side and a nice gentle curve across the other.  I squirt out my long noodles and cut them to lengths of 4-5 inches.

Then I roll over each one with a rolling rubber stamp to make impressions on the rounded side.  And just so I have more flexibility in how I display them later, I punch a hole at the end of each one with one of my kemper hole cutters. 

As greenware, they take up very little space in the kiln.  I generally toss them into a mug or something for the first firing.

It's kind of hard to see in this picture but this is one of the stands I made for the glaze firing.  It's a wad of clay, about an inch and a half round ball.  When it's leather hard, I smack it into the table to make a nice flat edge.  Then I dig out the center to create a stand for the tile to sit in.  I want the hole to be about an inch deep so that the tile doesn't topple over in the kiln.

When I'm ready to test a new glaze, I put a number on the back (the flat side) near the hole with an underglaze pencil.  The hole will be the end that goes into the holder.

Holding the hole, I dip the majority of the tile into the glaze and hold for a count of 3.  When that dries, I dip it again but only about 2 inches.  On the third dip, I just dip the top inch.  This shows me what the glaze looks like at different thicknesses and just how thick it needs to be to give me the color I want.  This also puts the majority of the glaze at the very end so if it's runny, it has more room to run before it seals itself into the holder.

As you can see, when it's fired, it takes up very little space in the kiln.  And if the glaze is runnier than I expected, it should run either into the cup holding the tile, or onto the outside of it.  It might ruin the tile and the holder, but it doesn't ruin the kiln shelf.

Forgot to mention, when I make each tile, I write down the glaze info in a little booklet.  The number on each tile corresponds to the info in the booklet so when I get the tile back out of the kiln, I can look up which glaze goes with which tile.  I also have a central database with this info on my computer in case the labels get mixed up or something later on.

So look at all the information I have on this one little tile - obviously the color and texture of the glaze, whether or not the stamped impressions will show through, what the glaze will look like given the opportunity to run, how it breaks over a rim, what it looks like on a rounded and flat surface, will it drip beyond the line it's applied to, will it look differently if the coat I put on is uneven.  And since I do each glaze in a white and a red test tile, will the color of the clay affect the color of the glaze.

Then to display the tiles, I put some velcro on the back of each one and attach it to a piece of, oh crud, I can't think of the name of that board.  Foam core, that's it!  Foam core.  They don't sit perfectly flat (they warp in the kiln a little bit) but eh, close enough for government work.

The white tiles go on one side and the colored tiles go on the other so I can quickly look over all of the colors of glazes according to color of clay the piece is made of.   

I made labels with my handy dandy label maker and labeled each tile with the glaze color.  In my database, I also have info on the manufacturer and the code number of the glaze in case they change the name in the future.  And because you never know if two manufacturers are going to use the same name.

With this display set up, it's very easy to toss them into an old briefcase and set the aside when I don't need them.  It's also easy to pick up one tile to look at it with another one to see if the two colors would look good together or to directly compare them.  And when I run out of a glaze that I don't intend to replace, I toss the two corresponding tiles into an old mug in a drawer.  That way I have the info if I want to consider buying that glaze in the future, but I'm not looking at it as a possibility for a piece if I don't actually have any of that glaze available at the moment.

Next post will talk about a test tile system for testing various combinations together which I'm stealing from a new friend of mine.

And just for good measure, and because he was sitting there waiting for me when I went into the studio to take these pics, here's a shot of Buster hiding from the rain in the studio.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Universal wish list

For those of you who are selling your work, you might want to inform everyone you know of Amazons new "universal wish list" button. 

With the holidays coming up, many people are setting up wishlists to make shopping easier for their loved ones.  Amazon is the most popular but in the past it has been limited to only products that Amazon sells.  Now people can add any item from any web page to their Amazon wish lists. 

If you think you have something to sell that people might want to put on their wish lists for the holidays, be sure to tell everyone about Amazon's universal wish list button.  The link to more info on how to set it up is here.

By the way, feel free to add items from my artfire store to your own wish lists!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Neil Patrick Harris Mug of Pure Awesome

Normally I don't just post about a product I've put up for sale but this mug is just too damn awesome not to share.  So here it is, available for sale on http://alexmmr.etsy.com/  [quick update - this sold a couple of days after I posted this.  And my etsy store is closing in favor of Artfire]

What does NPH have to do with a mug that doesn't even have his picture on it? I'll tell ya. The lifespan of this mug will mimic the awesomeness of NPH's career.

It starts out as a serviceable mug. It does it's job of carrying your coffee around the office. It's a little bumpy, maybe even a little funny lookin. Co-workers will comment that it's a huge, bumpy mug you got there. But you know how inherently awesome it is, so you soldier on, a fan of your mug.

But you get sick of the comments so you take it home. And it continues to do it's job. Graduating from coffee to cocoa with marshmellows. Eventually growing into the mug that holds a days worth of soup when you're sick. Such a great mug, always there to do just what you need it to do.

Then it starts to appear in the office again. You boldly proclaim the awesomeness of your mug while your coworkers scoff that it was a childish novelty that can't possibly be so great as an adult.

But then they start to realize it's true power. Your mug sets you apart. Everyone knows when they pass by your desk and see this mug, that someone bold and brazen sits there. They see the wonderful colors cascading inside the mug. You have not wavered in your fandom for this mug and now the mug itself is seen as the true meaning of awesome! And you are the visionary who saw it's potential from the beginning!

Your coworkers now bow down to your mug in the break room, for they know that when you proclaim that you get the first cup of coffee, it means you get the ONLY cup of coffee! You're pounding it 28 fluid ounces at a time! And when your mug leads you to that coffee maker, all others cower in fear. No ordinary mug can stand beside your NPH Mug of Pure AWESOME!!! World domination is imminent!!

*ahem* Excuse me. Here are the technical specs:
Holds 28 oz

5 inches tall by 4 inches in diameter

Black glaze that bursts blue randomly throughout

Nice big handle for that man size grip

Thrown on the pottery wheel, altered, fired to cone 6

Safe for the microwave, oven, and dishwasher

Are you awesome enough to own such a mug?