first day

first day
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
Over the past several weeks I've been mulling over life, work, my priorities, and how best to achieve what I want, long term, what my family needs, and how these goals work together. In the end, everything boiled down to the fact that I tend to have too much on my plate. Too many responsibilities (self-imposed, I'm just that way) pulling me in too many directions. I realized that in five years I'd like a happy family, a happy home, and a happy career as a potter.

After much reflection and a hard look at our finances, I decided to focus my attention on pottery and my family. Yesterday I resigned from the best job I've ever had- with a clear conscience and a light heart. I loved teaching at the museum. Love working with kids, especially fourth graders. My salary was more than adequate, the hours were good- when little boy was in school- but when I was working teaching I could only take care of my family. The job was seasonal, but I didn't have time to work on pottery like I felt I needed to. When I go weeks without having my hands in clay, I feel like a part of my life is missing.

So this means that pottery is a business- I've had a business license for almost a year, paid sales tax for almost 8 years, paid self-employment taxes for 8 years. Last year was an excellent year- my pottery income matched my teaching income. I was so so fortunate to have wonderful customers and friends supporting me.

This also means that my family will have to make a few small sacrifices. Gary and I both drive cars that are over 10 years old. Happily, but it will remain that way for longer than it would if I were bringing in a regular paycheck. I've had fun with etsy- buying from other sellers. I'll have to be a little more careful on that front. But little boy will be starting our public neighborhood kindergarten in the fall- it is in walking distance from our house. And I'll have much less driving to do, which will help reduce expenses somewhat.

This is a big step for me, but I'm excited about the potential- both in terms of growing my business and making a less-harried life for my family.

So today, on my first day of full-time self-employment, I made some ladybug pottery (haven't applied the bugs yet), trimmed some pottery from last week, and have a few pieces to pack and ship out. It is time to develop a new routine!

Thanks for helping me make this decision- your enthusiasm for my pottery and kind comments over the past year has really helped push me in a good direction. I'm excited to see what the future holds!

egg cups

Is it any surprise with my love of all things bird* that egg cups would be floating around in the back of my mind? I made these a few months ago and just got around to glazing them. I have a half-dozen more ready to be glazed, but these two are the prototypes. They're also intended - and have been since their creation- as birthday gifts for my sweet friend April. I thought they would work not just as egg cups, but as little vases for spring blossoms. The second set I made is slightly smaller, which is good, because these are a tad too big. That egg on the left- it is HUMONGOUS. Almost duck-egg-big. Not quite, but almost.

Happy Tuesday! And happy birthday, April!

*A few weeks ago when my son's godfather, Tom, was visiting, we were talking about chickens and birds. I mentioned that I wanted chickens again (alas, our yard is too, too small) and he reminded me that his daughters called me "Chicken Melissa" years ago, not because I had chickens (which I did eventually get a threesome of chicks), but because I wanted them. I had forgotten all about that.

erin's bowls

This beautiful photo was taken by Erin, a fabulously talented photographer and very creative lady. The bowls are a nesting set from Williams-Sonoma, but they're pricey and they're pottery, so that means that I really can't buy them. Whenever I see pottery I admire and could possibly duplicate, I just HAVE to try. All bets are off if the pottery is made by someone I admire or is completely different from my own style, but most people who know me know that I definitely like a challenge.

I saw a photo of this set, nested, on Erin's flickr page a few days ago and admired them, but this photo really stuck in the creative corners of my brain and wouldn't let go. I think that I'm going to try to make my own set of rainbow nesting bowls- definitely not this many (because my price for seven nesting bowls would make the W-S price look like a bargain, and I'd only be able to make a single set, to boot.), not quite the same (maybe white exteriors, colored interiors?), but it will be nice to have an idea to play around with in between the making of berry bowls this winter and spring. Thanks, Erin, for the inspiration, and for so generously allowing me to use your photo. If you'd like to see more of Erin's photographic genius, check out her flickr page.

Oh, we still don't have a data cord for the camera. Eventually (when we find the cord or get a new one) I'll start posting my own photos again.

weaning myself

Or attempting to, anyway. I'm trying to give up petroleum products in my shipping. This morning I bought 250 feet of corrugated cardboard and drug out my paper shredder. I'm afraid to completely give up the bubble wrap, but I'm using less of it. One possible downside- the packages might weigh a bit more, which would increase shipping somewhat. What do you think? The guy at the packaging warehouse thought I was nuts and wanted to sell me on the foam egg crate-type material (be still my heart, pottery arrives perfectly cushioned, as if traveling on air), but the stuff can't be recycled at all. My hope is that if you get a package from me, you'll reuse the bubble wrap and chuck the rest into your recycling bin.

working through an idea

Yesterday I told you that I'd take pictures of my work in the studio, but I'm not sure about how I feel about it. Here is my stoneware version of the venerable Picardie glass. I threw several of these yesterday and cut through all but one. This one was extra thick and I cut the facets as carefully as I could. I wasn't happy that the "shudder" lines were so visible. Even though I love handmade and worn, I'm not crazy about sloppy/choppy, which is how I think this looks. Although that being said, I'm not sure how I can justify my love for my very aged kitchen table. But the shudder marks made me wince:

so I rubbed the facets with slip after they were cut and re-defined the top and bottom curves of each cut with my wet fingertips. This single cup, not including throwing, took about 20 minutes. I did have to re-throw the top to erase the wonky (I left the cup attached to the bat as I was faceting)and I used my nifty metal edging tool to redefine the lip at the base. Yesterday when I was throwing, I did about 4 cups in maybe 30-45 minutes, with minimal finishing. I cut the lip for the base and left a ridge to know where to stop my facets at the top, planning to smooth it out with the top of the lip later.

Here's my dilemma, and I'd like some feedback. If you are reading this blog you either love/like pottery or you know me, so fire away. My feelings won't be hurt. This cup will have to cost well over $15. Even when(if) I get better at making them, I would think that I would still cut through every fourth one after I've spent 10 minutes throwing it and 15 minutes faceting it- the holes always happen on the last two cuts, which is what happens with the cafe au lait bowls, even though I've been making them for a while now. Little faux-picardie cup is only 3-4" tall. I will hold less than 8oz of liquid. This one is mine mine mine and will probably be shiny cobalt blue. I'll show you when it's finished. But if you were my customer, would you want one if it were, say, $17? I found a similar one on etsy that also had a lovely drawing on the bottom, it was not thrown but molded then hand altered. A bargain at $15, and I've decided to be selfish and not share a link because I want it myself!

Tell me true, folks, I need some feedback.

*** Good question about the weight. I took a new bamboo tumbler, dry but unfired. It weighed 11.6 oz. When glazed and fired, they range from 10-12 oz. The faux picardie tumbler weighed 10.1 oz, so I'm guessing that while they will have a substantial heft, they won't feel like handweights. The tumblers was also the same height, will probably hold similar amounts.

new pottery on etsy

I'm working on an update for etsy later this afternoon- these cannisters are going up. They are larger versions of my bamboo tumblers, one is sugar bowl sized, the other is perhaps sugar cannister sized. I still need to get the exact dimensions and volume for them. My son's godfather, a friend dear to Gary and me since before Gary and I were even a couple, asked me last year if I would work on a cannister set for him. Fitz is quite a baker- he makes excellent pizza crust and wonderful bread. He needed cannisters for different specialty flours and grains. These were my first attempt at his fulfilling his request. I'm not sure how well these would work for flour because they are not airtight, but I was pleased with their design.

flutes in progress

These are two fluted bud vases I threw and carved this week, both much more precise than my first flute piece. These photos are more blurred than I'd like but I've had a case of nerves and this is my focusing-on-something-else activity. The rear vase was fluted with a ribbon tool, the kind that comes with the beginner's 13-piece pottery tool kit. I love thise ribbon tools- there is a curved end that I use for trimming- that end typically wears so thin that it is no longer a loop- and a squared end, shown below, that makes a nice sharp line. The vase in the foreground was fluted with a Pampered Chef citrus zester. I tend to use it when the clay is wet and it leaves hundreds of rolly-polly strips of mud all over the vase. Works much better if I can make myself wait until the vase is leather hard to use the tool.

Here is my fluting set up. After trimming a foot and using a metal rib to compress the bottom and make it perfectly smooth, I prop the bowl up on nubbins of clay, or if it is a larger piece, I'll use my banding wheel. Since this is a small sauce-sized bowl, I just used a couple of coils of clay. I slice through the outer surface of the clay with the trimming tool, usually going from top to bottom in one breath. If I stop to breathe I wind up with little jags in the flute, so I have to cut a deeper, second cut, like I am here.

I flute my cafe au lait bowls the same way, except I use a tool that's made for making handles- one for mug handles, which I use for small bowls, and one for pitchers or jugs, about 3/4 of an inch wide. With these handlemakers I have to be careful to make shallow cuts or I will cut through the side of the bowl. This is especially a problem for those potters who throw a bit too thin rather than too thickly. Yesterday I cut through three of seven bowls because the walls were a mite too thin to flute- back to the reclaim bucket they go. I try to do these cuts in a single breath as well, or I find that the depth of the cut changes and looks clunky. Yesterday's trimming session was a short one, but I spent twice the time fluting the dozen or so pieces as I did trimming their bottoms.

sea urchins

When I was a little girl, my mother had a sea urchin in her bathroom. It was pink, plugged at the bottom, and filled with potpourri pellets. I loved how it felt when I ran my fingers over its nubby, almost sandpapery surface. I remember sitting on the edge of her tub, examining every detail of that sea urchin, wondering about the creature that it was. Ever since then, I've been attracted to them- I love their roundness, their varied colors, the tactile remnants of their spines. In 2003, I threw my first sea urchin. For a while, I made them almost obsessively, large and small, out of different colored and textured clays, all glazed white. Now they are all made out of a porcelain-like stoneware, still glazed white. Whenever I have a sale, there is usually one shelf with a dozen or so urchins in different sizes and textures.

Over on etsy I have one lonely sea urchin. I meant to post more, but when I dug into my sea urchin box I found that there were only two left. Because of the photo below, taken by dear Gary a year or two ago, I my muddled brain tells me that I still have several dozen sea urchins packed away. There is one in my bedroom, on top of the radiator shelf, holding a wonderful lavender and lemon peel candle made by my friend Elia (on the radiator so that it smells wonderful without having to bother to light and snuff), but the rest that I thought I had went home with customers, including my wonderful boss, at my holiday sale in December.

I usually begin my studio time with warm-up throwing. I wedge a half dozen golf-ball sized balls of clay and throw small pieces, like tiny bowls or bud vases, which are then usually dry enough to trim after I've finished my "big" throwing. It helps me with both my throwing and trimming skills, giving me an opportunity to experiment with fluting, slip trailing, texturing, and faceting. I'm sometimes skittish about experimenting on a bigger pristine piece. These warm-up pieces, once glazed, are stacked in a large basket or filled with flowers on a tray where my customers sift through them, finding their own personal treasures. The price point on these pieces is almost always low, most under $10, making them popular with younger and budget-minded festival shoppers (like me!). It always makes me happy to see a customer walking away with a smile on her face- these warm up pieces often do the trick.

This month my warm-up throwing has been all sea urchins. From golf to softball sized mounds of clay, I've been throwing an entirely new crop of sea urchins. Fluted, lobed, spiney, dotty, incised, impressed, big and petite sea urchins. This morning I trimmed one I'd made yesterday, then threw a few more. The urchins need more drying time and more care than my cache of tiny bowls and bud vases. I hope to have twenty by the end of the month, so you will be seeing urchins from me soon.


Yesterday, after tinkering around
with my etsy account for most of the day,
I listed a couple of cafe au lait bowls at!
Lots of online fussing, lots of fussing in the basement photobooth, a little nervous hesitating, but it is up and ready to be looked at!

Today I hope to post a few more items, which means more digging through my pottery bins and fussing in the photobooth for me! Time consuming, but happy work. Dale and Brin Baucum, of Baucum Pottery, also in midtown Memphis, once told me that the actual making of pottery is one of the least time-consuming aspects of a potter's business. At the time, I had no idea that I'd spend five hours online fiddling with things to try and sell my pottery. I thought the wheel was the end all, be all of a potter's life. Eyes opened.

I chose a variation of this photo for the shop banner- Gary took it last year at the Oxford Double Decker Festival in Oxford, MS. The early morning light illuminating my pottery was striking. It was the best photo of the day. That day also happened to be my best sales day ever, so keep your fingers crossed for me that I get in this year!

work in progress

wren creamer
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
This is a small creamer that I made on new year's eve, maybe. Tiny little pitchers have always reminded me of birds- even more so when they are short and plump. Early on I made a green pitcher with a long, curving spout that reminded me of an emperor penguin. This one was inspired by the early-evening trilling of a wren perched on my empty garden teuters. It's still rough, full of fingerprints and clay boogers (ahem, there has to be a better term for these, right? help me out, potters), but just looking at it makes me happy. Most of my pottery is more serious than this, but I'm feeling pulled towards a series of more whimsical wares.

When I was in graduate school at the University of Mississippi Center for the Study of Southern Culture , studying self-taught art and traditional crafts, I fell in love with face jugs. Scary ones, devil ones, funny ones- never could afford them, but loved them. I visited Jerry Brown Pottery in rural Hamilton, AL in 1997 and fell in love with them, but unable to afford them on my teeny graduate stipend, I bought a birdhouse, which was an extravagantly expensive purchase at $25. I still have that birdhouse, which now seems like a bargain. Now they're up to $30, which is still a bargain (look under decorative pottery).
As a beginning potter in 2000, I made a few face jugs (I'll dig them up and photograph them later) and figured out how to make them out of pinch pots for teaching with the former Greater Memphis Arts Council's Center for Arts Education in the Memphis City Schools. This is the first thing I've made with a face since, oh, 2003. And it felt good.

Happy Friday!