Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Makin biscuits!

I love runny, drippy glazes.  And I really like experimenting with them.  Unfortunately, no matter how well I kiln wash my shelves, I end up doing a lot of maintenance to clean up the drips from the mugs and plates that secure themselves to the shelves.

So I've made some biscuits!  By extruding a thin coil, I was able to make several of these triangular clay things.  All of them are nice and flat and each one is the same height as another.  I intend to kiln wash them, and then I can put them under any pieces with potentially runny glazes.

I chose a triangular shape because I can add several together to help guard my shelves no matter how large a piece might be.

Part of the goal was to make them as short as possible so I don't lose a lot of kiln space.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Studio revamp

I'm currently applying for a job as a production potter.  It's pay by the piece, and she's currently wanting 100-200 pieces per week.  If I get this, it will be a fabulous job for me.

But my studio was needing a major overhaul because built for efficiency it was not.  It also needed a major spring cleaning.  It's a shed, it gets gross over time.  So I finally got around to it and did the overhaul!

These are the shelves behind my door.  They used to be covered in random crap but I threw all of that out.

1)  A hand held bug zapper.  Like I said, it's a shed, and it's fly season.
2)  Small shelves for random personal items.  I've got some incense, safety goggles, duct tape, stuff like that.
3)  These shelves will be set aside for only the production pottery.  The pieces are 4.5 inches tall so I changed each shelf to a height of 7 inches.  I think these shelves will hold about 150 of the items.
4)  My MIL gave me this house coat which is a little too small for me.  It's now going to be my pottery overalls type of thing.
5)  Went to McLendons and got legs for the shelves so I could raise them up.  Shelves on the floor never get used and this way I have storage underneath.
6)  Recycled clay that's ready to use.
7)  Bucket/extra seat.  I keep kiln wash in the bucket.

General work table.
1)  Buster bed.  
2)  Bug repeller thingy.  It's a shed, I don't like bugs, I'm doing my best.
3)  Heat lamp.  Our geckos died so we had an extra heat lamp lieing around.
4)  Recycling/drying center.  Scraps that need to be dried go on the black wire shelves.  The pan under the shelves catches whatever falls through and is where I reconstitute and mix the scraps.  The white things are plaster molds that I use as drying bowls for the reconstituted clay.  They sit on a wire frame of a table so they can dry from all sides.

Clay storage under the table.  Put most of the clay on a dolly so I can easily just pull it out rather than wrestling under the table.
Peg board of stuff I actually use.  Plastic bags, random tools, big spoons for mixing the clay, extruder.  Peg board, it's a wonderful thing!

Finally have a place to keep the few stamps I do use!
Moved the other set of metal shelves near my wedging table because they used to be half buried, tucked behind the table.

1)  Plastic bags that have been used or torn.
2)  Water storage.  I don't have a sink so I have to bring out bottles of water.  Empties on the left, full on the right.
3)  Odd clays.  These are special clays that I have set aside for some reason.  You're seeing some bags of blue clay, purple clay, and some of natural colors that I've marbled together for inlay.
4)  Random crap that I need to have available but don't use very often like a face mask and some stamps.

1)  I finally have REAL shelves for drying and storing my work!
2)  Wedging table

I'll store the clay from my potential new job under here to keep it separate from the clay that I buy.  I don't want to lose track of what my boss provides for me, I want to be sure to only use her clay for her products.

1)  These shelves used to be where the number 2 thingy is.  Buster would plop on top and grab at my hair while I throw.  But I'm not allowed to touch him much for the time being (he carries a bacteria that you're supposed to keep away from when pregnant and we're trying to get pregnant again) so hopefully moving this will encourage him not to touch me.
2)  I broke down the wimpy boards I was using for shelves and turned them into ware boards and set them up at a good height for transferring stuff from the wheel to them.  Easy to grab the board and toss it into the number 1 shelves, and they also fit into the production product shelves.
3)  My wheel!  And all the crap I need to be able to grab right away.

1)  Yes I watch tv while I throw.  Stuff is just cooler when you've got Dr. Who on screen while you're making it.
2)  Stamps and stuff that I hardly ever use.
3)  Slop bucket.
4)  Bucket for stuff that's throwable and doesn't need to go through the whole recycling process.  Like pots that didn't work that just needs a little bit of wedging.
5)  Art cart that my mom got for me.  It holds bats, has 3 little drawers for that stuff I need all the time, and it's on wheels.  Each of the 4 sides has storage so it's kind of the all in one cart.

And that's what my studio looks like now!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Didn't burn down the house

In the past, I've been too scared to run the kiln while sleeping.  It just seems to invite danger.

Well, last night I started it in the evening and let it run the nine hours on high over night.  The house is still standing! 

But I forgot about the fact that I'd have to wait a full day for it to cool enough to open.  The wait is killing me!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Found It!!!

I finally found it!  A replacement splash pan!  YES!!!

These are no longer made but they fit my Shimpo RK-2 wheel.  I don't know why they aren't made anymore.  2 piece splash pan that just slides right on (no taking the wheel head off) and the connecting piece has a shelf.

I purchased the shelf portion about a year ago when it randomly showed up at Seattle Pottery Supply, but a corner of it was broken off.  So when I walked in a few days ago and they had both pieces in pristine condition, it was like a light came down upon it and angels sang!

The guy said that it's the best condition they've seen one of these in for over 15 years.  And I got it!

Pics of my feet 02

Monday, March 7, 2011

Artfire SEO

One of the many reasons (and there are many) that I have opted to sell my pottery via Artfire instead of Etsy is the sheer intelligence of the marketing team headed by Tony Ford.

Where Etsy does what it can to promote itself as an entity, small sellers be damned, Artfire is constantly learning and then turning around and teaching us sellers how to be successful for ourselves.  When I head into the forums and ask questions, the knowledge I receive from the staff at Artfire would rival any education I could find elsewhere.  While one day I do hope to go back to school and earn a degree in Marketing, I'm grateful that Tony and his cohorts are so generous in sharing their knowledge.

To that end, they have written several guides on SEO.  All of this information is linked throughout Artfire, and Eos of Steampunk Sweatshop has compiled all of the information into one handy document.

So enjoy the fruits of their labor and learn all they have to teach you through these SEO Guides!

And keep checking out new information that Artfire puts out for their users.  SEO and marketing strategies are changing all the time and they really do work hard to keep us in the loop.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

Well, that didn't work

My test tiles showed that one of my reds over clear glaze makes a really nice red that shows off stamped designs.

So I diligently glazed a lovely set of teacups in clear.  Then I put on a coat of the red.  Then I put on a second coat of red around the top half, just in case that was too much glaze and it decided to run.  The goal was to intensify the red.

Instead, I got a lovely transparent red over the bottom half of the cups, and instead of evenly darkening around the top, the red and the clear decided to separate so that I ended up with fully glazed cups, but there are globs of red and globs of clear.

Interesting.  Might do that on purpose some day.  But for this set of cups, that's not what I meant!

Who wants a really cheap set of 6 red teacups?  I know where you can get some.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Product photography quick tutorial


Some of us have done testing and have discovered that a plain white background really does results in more clicks and more sales of products.  Yes, I still think that the black I advise here is pretty darned sexy, but the numbers simply don't lie.  The black background will give you a museum feel to your items, but pure white will sell more of them.  Other than that, what I wrote here is still valid.***

***And now the original blog post***

Pottery is notoriously difficult to photograph.

If you are able to get enough light on it, the light tends to reflect showing horrible bright spots.  If you don't get enough light, customers will have trouble really seeing what the product is.

I had to make a demo of my ability to use screen capturing video software so I opted to make a quick photoshop tutorial on product photography so I could share it with you.

Here are some of my random tips for taking the photos.

1)  Invest in good lights and a light tent.  No matter how much I white balanced my camera, when I was using either natural lighting, or the lighting in my home, I had to do a lot of work color correcting after the original photo was taken.  Since receiving some optimized lights, this has become unnecessary.

2)  The larger the light tent, the better the light diffuses.  Most of my products are rather small and could easily be photographed in a very small light tent.  But I've found that the giant light tent results in few bright spots on the pottery.

This is my current setup (but take pictures when the sun is down so you can control the light)

And this is the smaller tent in comparison to the one I've actually decided to use.

Obviously the smaller one would be much easier to deal with, but the images I get when using the larger one do turn out better.

3)  Go for a black background.  I've tried several different colors, patterns, textures, etc, and nothing has popped like my new black background.

Whatever color background you use, it's likely going to reflect in the shine of the pottery and slightly alter the color.  Or maybe it's our eyes doing that, I'm not sure.  As much as I liked my gray background, it still looked like a product sitting on a background whereas with the black, the product seems to stand alone and lift from what it's sitting on.

4)  Position one of your lights slightly behind the product.  When setting up lighting for humans, this is called a "hair light".  It adds a touch of highlight on the back of the person (product) which helps lift it from the background.

5)  Once you have your picture set up, white balance your camera.  The setting usually looks something like the symbol to the left.  Read your manual on how to do this.  This will teach your camera what white is under your specific lighting conditions so that the colors of your picture are life accurate.  This will save you a ton of editing later.

6)  Use long exposure.  The more light you add to your product, the brighter the hot spots are going to be.  But if you mute the lighting, let it be a little bit dark, and allow a longer exposure time for that light to get into the lens, you'll end up with much softer bright spots.

I've tried just about every setting on my simple digital camera and I've found that using the ASM setting, on shutter priority, allows me to adjust the exposure.  Before each picture, I press the exposure button the back, fiddle with it, and then when I focus the camera, it shows me what the image will look like from that exposure setting.  Adjust as needed.  For most of my pictures, I'm finding that 1/4th of a second is usually the best setting for my setup.

7)  Use a tripod and the camera timer.  The secret to clear crisp photos is using a tripod, setting the timer, and taking your hands OFF the camera for the actual photo taking.  1/4th of a second doesn't sound like a long time, but when you have to keep the camera absolutely still for that long, you'll find that your pictures are blurry because of minute movements while that shutter is open.  Even the motion of pressing that button for a quick shutter, you'll find that it's moving the camera more than you think it is.  Put the camera on a tabletop tripod, focus your shot, set the timer for 2 seconds, press the button, and take your hands off and wait.


No amount of editing can make up for a good picture taken in the first place.  Seriously.  It takes at most, 10 minutes to try to get a really good shot in the first place.  If you take a mediocre shot, you're going to spend 2 hours trying to edit it and the results aren't going to be as good as when you just take another 10 minutes to get a good starting picture.

If you're starting with a good picture, you're still going to want to do some editing to make your picture clickable.  No matter how clean your background, the dust and pet hairs are going to show up fiercely on it and you'll want to clean those out of the picture.  And you'll also want to make sure that the black is truly black in your picture, and not just a really dark shade of gray.  By manipulating the levels a touch, you can really pull your product off its black background.

Remember, most of your customers are clicking over from Google or Google Shopping and your picture is being shown as a thumbnail among many other pictures.  You want your picture to look sexy, even when it's itty bitty to make people click on you to see your larger picture.

So here is the quick tutorial on making a good picture particularly Google sexy.  Remember, we are going for subtle enhancement.  We don't want to edit it so much that it's no longer and accurate depiction of your product.  I've had this product up on Artfire for at least a year now, and 12 hours after I made this video and posted the new picture, it was sold.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wooden Stamps

I really like stamping on clay but tend not to do it very often because I hate the stickiness of it and I tend to ruin more pieces than I enhance.

I've tried bisque stamps, I've had some success with rubber stamps if I spray with WD-40 first, and metal stamps don't seem to be cut deep enough to get a good image.

So I'm trying my hand with wooden stamps.  But I really don't like the wooden stamps commonly found in the pottery supply stores.  I find them to be too abstract, too big to work on the curves of a mug, or just ugly designs.

So here's my little plug for the day.  I've found Catfluff on Artfire and she's bringing over some wonderful stamps from India that work really well.

The designs are like those you would find in a Mehndi or henna design book.  I think they might originally be made for applying henna, I'm not sure about that.  They are abstract, yet have design to them.  A very nice balance.  And the wood is cut deeply enough to make deep impressions that I'm hoping will be visible after the glaze application.

I'm finding that the finger shaped stamps are great for borders and handles.  They are thin enough to be visible inside of a curve but wide enough to really make an impact.

Over the course of an hour, I used this single stamp over and over again.  I started with the very wet handles and then moved on to the slightly too hard leatherhard mug body.  At no point did the stamp stick.

The wood is porous enough to absorb a touch of the moisture so the physics of the wood on clay make a natural release agent.  And the cuts are deep enough that the moisture evaporates almost immediately so the stamp doesn't get waterlogged as you continue to stamp.  It's just the balance I've been looking for.

Here are the stamps I've purchased (so far) but I've only played with one.  And I'm very happy with that one.