“…vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like…” – Francis Bacon
“It is beautiful beneath the sea. But if you stay too long, you’ll drown.” – The Three-eyed Raven
“Don’t run around with a bucket of lava in your hand.” – Minecraft Wiki
“It’s time to walk the left hand path, Richard.” – Bertram Gilfoyle
I’m doing that thing again. The one where I hoard little scribbled bits of blog stuff; unpurified ore; vainglorious hopes still in their roughest form. They piled up in the run up to my sale, because I was losing my shit (even more than usual) and didn’t trust myself to make any of them public. Afterwards, I fell into the sick pit, and all kinds of other rocks and crap that I’d just barely held at bay, to meet the deadline, came falling back in on me. I try not to post from the bottom of the hole.
So here’s the connundrum, though: unless I get this stuff off my scratchpad, it’s going to linger there, like a phantom limb. LIke I’ve got something waiting on my Clipboard that needs to be pasted somewhere, but I’ve momentarily forgot what it was, why it was important, and where it was supposed to be going. Brain = bad computer. These little postlets exist in my mind, queued up in my blogging thread, and it can’t progress without marking them for permanent deletion or setting them free to run. And I can’t bring myself to kill ‘em. I’ve gotta let it go.
Well, luckily for me, it makes no difference if anyone actually reads it. Luckily for you, that means you can skip this one with impunity, in its inane length and roughshod ramble. (+jesus god what an awful sentence+) I’m sure I’ll loop back to all these topics again in some form or other later, and probably better.
OK, you’ve been warned — this one’s going to be bonkers.
Sale’s done. Wow, I feel like a sack of garbage today. Don’t want to write; don’t want to think; don’t want to act. I got insta-sick after my sale; like almost the next day. I guess I stole too many hours there; ran out of clock.
Two months of cramming at 100% for the sale and this is what I get. Nice fucking victory lap. No reward for the stupid.
I put on my blinders twice a year to get to and through the sale. It’s so fucking hard to pull it off each time. I always end up behind schedule; I always try to do too much; something else, totally unrelated but unavoidable, always seems to pop up at the worst timing. Then, often just hours afterwards, the blinders get torn off my face and I see all the stuff waiting for me that I’ve neglected, delayed, ignored. It’s not good, Scott. It’s not good. Yikes.
sale blog sale blog
One of the worst parts of keeping a weekly blog all those years was right before and right after my bi-annual sales. I often punted or cheated — just a quick promotional reminder before it, and skipped the week after, or resorted to an image and a quote, or something quick like that. But even so, the week before the week before and after the week after were often still a bad blog slog. Too little brainpower to know what I wanted to say, or to say it well; too little time to squeeze it in without just burning myself out more in the process.
So it is nice here in DL land to feel relieved of that burden. With this pleasant reframing of my self-imposed rules, I get to come back to it when and as I can, and not feel like I have to narrate everything that happened; or maintain continuity to the “story”; or explain away all the high and low points; or philosophize on what it all might mean for me now or you later or everyone forever or whatever.
Like my Dream, that approach to blogging was shooting just a little higher than I could reliably hit. Also like the Dream, I’m glad I eventually found the wisdom to let it go.
So let’s see: my pots — about 80 of them — sold for an average of $34.42 each. My guest potters’ pots — about 20 of them, and boy do I wish it had been more – sold for an average of $30.91 each. As with every metric in my “business”, that’s a terribly small sample size, and so I remind myself not to make too much of it. But it’s a weird and seemingly outsized difference, and I’m not sure what it might mean or represent. Strange.
While I was mostly pleased with the result of the guest potters experiment — man, what a risk! — I do wish I’d sold more of their pots. I’d even have been happy to exchange some of my sales for more of theirs. Of course, I hope to sell ‘em all eventually. There are still some excellent ones left. I was glad that all three agreed to let their inventory roll through the summer and into my next sale.
Either way, now I know what that gallery owner meant when he said his happiest day of the month is the day he writes out checks to his artists — that is a good feeling. And despite the relatively small totals, I’m still inordinately proud of my 0% commission. Take that, capitalism.
So I jammed in a 5th firing right before my sale, even though I technically had “enough” pots after the guys sent theirs. I didn’t cut that last firing mostly because I just really wanted to do it — to prove to myself I could go on overdrive for a while longer, to “complete” the plan I’d made up in my head months before, to capitalize on the momentum with the new chimney… I guess also to help myself feel better about the sale inventory with the most recent pots, and the best firing results, on the shelves on Saturday at 10am.
But in hindsight, it probably wasn’t worth it. It was probably too much. It didn’t make a big difference in the sale results; maybe more a difference in perception than anything, because that last batch of pots were most of the new vases and the only domino patterns in the room. Some of those pots sold, and those that didn’t helped make the display overall more impressive. But most didn’t sell, as usual, and the totals would likely have been similar without them.
That last firing cycle really wiped me out and made me crazy at the end there — I almost lost it during setup week. In retropsect, that was time and energy I didn’t have left to give; I borrowed it, stole it, at interest, and have to pay it off now. Living on credit sucks.
When I hang out with veteran full-time potters — those rare people who’ve actually made a career out of it and make pots I respect — I get the sense that they’re like wild animals. They’re the wolves sniffing around the door in the middle of the night, and I’m the dog, meekly curled up on my pillow by the hearth.
Or trees — yeah, let’s go with trees. They are those few that have managed to survive, year after year, through every blizzard and drought, howling windstorm and creeping vine. The mightiest oaks; the tallest birches. In contrast, I’m an ailing Bonsai; spindly and unimpressive, only significant relative to the scale of my little dish.
Were they made of stronger stuff to begin with, I wonder? Is it simply a matter of better seeds? Or did they get lucky, and land in a friendlier spot, or avoid the rage of the forest fire that knocked me flat? Or, worse yet for me, is it simply that they sought out harder places to drive their roots down, that they strained more to reach the sunlight, that they chose to get by with less water, even when it was plentiful? Because if so, as laudible as those things are, it means my dogness or my Bonsainess are my own damn fault.
After holding it at bay for a long time, wary of the rumors of its allure, I dropped $15 on a post-sale reward of Minecraft for PS3. (Yes, I’ll confess here that I’ve been completely entranced by console video games for the last 20 years. Why not? How can your opinion of me possibly sink any lower? All that time, I’ve almost always had a game ongoing in the background. I usually find one and then obsess over it, playing it until there’s no fun left to be wrung out of its pathetic little codebase. There’ve been more lulls since M was born than there used to be, but still, when I get my teeth into something new, it’s wonderful, and great way to distract myself while I rest my back during studio breaks, or at the end of a long day. Yadda yadda.)
Anyways, part of my rationale/justification for getting this game was thinking that it might be a good entry point for M. She likes iPad games — with the kid-friendly and very intuitive touch interface — but she’s only watched other kids play with the more complex controllers. Those 18+ buttons can be a little intimidating, and she seemed to be thinking she couldn’t do it, like soccer with the boys at recess. I can live without her playing soccer, but video games? Oh hell no.
So I turned it on, she recognized the game from watching a friend’s older brother play at their house. She was excited right away. I walked her through the briefest of demos in Creative mode, explained a few buttons, and off she went. Within a minute she was unintentionally digging straight down, a 200 foot deep shaft, stuck at the bottom and couldn’t figure out how to even look up, or where up was. Hmm. I had to laugh, as it brought to mind the old joke about what to do when you find yourself in a hole.
We eventually got that sorted out, and now a couple weeks later she’s zipping around like a pro, building 10,000 foot towers and pimping out her house made of birch, gold and emerald ore. She wants to play a lot longer than her proscribed “screen time” allows.
Oh, just in case you don’t know the punchline: Stop digging.
where I’m going next
Right now I’m most interested in really thick sections of glaze — trying for heavy drips, glazes pulling on slips and underglaze, and glass pooling in texture. I just started trying doing some of all of those on the same pot, and some of those cups were the best of the last cycle. Which is super cool, because making them felt like taking the longest stride into unknown territory — I usually edge in very slowly, one cautious toe at a time. It’s rewarding to go for it like that and get a payoff.
To me, my clays in salt are so nice just bare, both the porcelain and stoneware. I like even the little hints of flashing or extremely subtle changes in texture from varying amounts of salt gloss. But if the whole pot is just that it has a similar monotone, austere feel as what I was getting from porcelain in reduction. I’m really excited by the layering and craziness of stacking lots of competing elements together. (Probably too many, but I’m going to try going too far to find out how far is enough.) For a long time I was a Leach-MacKenzie school acolyte, trying not to let surface compete with form too much; aiming for simple lines and relatively stable monochrome glazes, that depended on the forms being terrific. Often, mine weren’t, and those pots are really disappointing. Like I shot for the middle and still missed.
Another way of looking at that is to say my temmoku quota ran out, and now I feel like home is stamping and carving and pouring slip and having a brush in my hand. The version of me 15 years ago would be astonished at that change.
My new iFriend Oats
“I keep certain pots around for a while because I’m still studying them to see where the work goes forward from it… the thing missing from a photograph is how it feels to hold and handle.”
I do this, too. Now more than ever. My “secret stash” started as a huge indulgence that I only realized in the last few years is actually a necessity. I only give them up for sale when that shelf is so jammed full that nothing new will fit. Maybe I’ll post of photo of that shelf sometime.
I realized the same thing about photos a few years ago, too; how much less a photo can capture than having the actual pot in hand — duh! Why did that take me so long? So now I don’t hesitate to keep the unusual or most successful ones around for a while. Having those examples really helps me focus and find a re-entry point at the start of a new making cycle, after what’s usually a long break for sale time, etc.
pace, race, rats
In this brief moment after my sale (despite the despair-inducing illness), I do have this moment’s pause where I wonder if it’s possible to prevent that the next time around by just diving back in at a steady pace and trying to build up some ‘ahead of the curve’ reserve? My inner (and outer) skeptic says, no: that I’m too burned out from just doing it to keep going, that ‘getting ahead’ is a fantasy, that any ‘savings’ I might build up will just be spent by unexpected debits in the next cycle; or that even if I were to magically “get ahead”, my ambition would creep in and make me commit to more than I could comfortably achieve anyways.
Also, I worry that each marathon session actually grinds me away a little, in the long term — my health, my brain, my will — so that what seems worth it in the immediate goal is actually going to turn out getting me less of what I want over the next 4+ decades. Ugh.
When I solicited his reaction to my website redesign last year, C/Socrates/Witty objected (mildly) to the main link labeled “SCRAPS”. I’ve decided he was right. That’s too clever for it’s own good, kind of dumb, and — since Studio Sales really needs to be a top item — I should just consolidate the “scraps” stuff into other places and move Studio Sales up. I think it’s an improvement!
A prof at the U and long-term buyer of my pots, asked me to coffee to talk about some stuff he’s writing about. It was a blast. I most likely blathered on a lot more than was actually useful, but I really enjoyed having to think it through and answer questions on the spot. (Despite my raging cold.) I realized afterwards that I don’t talk about these things very often any more — I write about them occasionally — and so I was surprised at how hard it was to answer some of his questions. I may have been completely incoherent!
Some of the other makers he’s interviewed tend to identify other people with the “Artist” label, but not themselves. I seem to do that too, and the more I think about it, the more I doubt that’s a very helpful or useful perspective. Kind of an old crutch, actually. Seeing that slight of hand done by other people actually makes it seem kind of juvenile; more like a defense-mechanism construct than a rational, supportable position.
Also, I realized after describing the whole ceramics “Art vs Craft” debate and pottery vs sculpture and conceptual vs utilitarian and idea vs beauty, blah blah blah, that all my academic training and such that fuels all those perspectives is now going on 25 years ago. That’s fucking forever! Perhaps it’s time I just let it go and moved on on my own terms?
The Old Gods & The New have requested an ART gallery, so we shall have an ART gallery. Maybe. Sort of. But well-meaning and generous people requested my help with it, so I hauled a small batch of post-sale pots to town for the showcase bit; kind of a reverse dog and pony show, if you know what I mean. No sales, but EXPOSURE. Ah… the ever-popular, evergreen E word. Really, I’m not as cynical about this one as I make it sound; it would be better than nothing. Whether those Gods can actually spin it in a way that’s worth my while to participate — eg. subsidize that fucker so that the ART gallery’s take is south of 30% — is yet unknown. Probably unlikely. But ya never know. Yay, exposure.
My buddy Change-Master said,
”It’s all a balance. Give and take.”
To which I said, Yeah, man. Exactly. I don’t know why it takes a good 15-20 years in clay to figure this out, but it sure did for me.
Sometimes we give a little on the form to get the glaze to do just what we want. Sometimes we accept a slightly less than stellar glaze result to fit a few more pots on a specific shelf. Sometimes we give up money to make more of the pots we really, really want to make, even though they don’t sell well.
Mostly, it seems to me, we give more of our time and attention and caring to do all the little things in just the way they demand to be done. We’re not the first potters to bow to the fussy demands of white-firing clays. There’s an honorable tradition in bending our will to theirs’.
J/Archimedes came back to weld the bracing on my new chimney. It made it through two months, five firings and unknown quantities of howling winds, rain and hail without tumbling back to earth. Gratefully. So this is more of a long-term safety rail; where god please let ‘long term’ mean something less than three more years of fighting this little bastard until I get a new kiln.
I’ve got a clay order to pick up from my new-ish supplier. Half porcelain and half stoneware; a resupply for when Witty comes for our two-man Potterypalooza next month. I think my brain will explode. And I wanted plenty of material around to catch the splatters when it does.
I’m desperate to get back to the wheel already, but… hours. Sick. Other obligations. Goddammnit. Maybe, eventually, somehow. Maybe next week. A little.
Anyways… things I think about.
- NOTE: I’m changing up my convention for other peoples’ names here. Thus far, I’ve just used first initials, which I saw once on this blog I loved,IzzlePfaff.
(Back in the day when blogs were still a thing). Oh, whatever happened to you, Mr. Skot? That blog rarely failed to amuse me; written by a guy stuck in a job as a cancer researcher, whiling away his time prejudging bad movies while trying to prop up a side career in experimental theater. Circa 2005, that was way too close to home for me for it not to resonate. And at the end there, 2008 or 9-ish, he helped get me through some of those maddening 3am new Dad sleep deserts.
- I mean, check this out:
“Frankly, this year has been a huge pile of shit on pretty much all fronts (to the extent that a huge pile of shit can make crafty tactical maneuvers), and it's been a little demoralizing and a lot making-Skot-not-feel-like-doing-much-ish.”
- "Crafty tactical maneuvers!" Oh god.
- Oh, and I realize now that I completely stole his “tens of fans” idea. Sorry, Skot!
- Anyways, his first initials approach fulfills a few useful criteria, towards the goal of not punishing the innocent bystanders in my life by pulling them into the churn of my ongoing psuedo-autobiography:
1) Easy for me to implement. While writing, just omit the other letters of the name you were about to type.
2) Gives reasonably good anonymity if you don’t actually know me, but is more decipherable the more you do. That’s a nice balance, and makes a fun little game for actual friends, trying to sort out who’s whom.
- The problem with it, though, which I see now after running with it for a while, is that they’re super clunky to read. They were super clunky on that blog I loved, too, but I was willing to look past it. I’ve also discovered that it’s super confusing when more than one person’s name begins with the same letter. (eg. My wife and my best iPal are both Cs. That’s no schema to base a life story around!)
- So instead I’m changing to using nicknames. This is another convention that I saw best used in this series I Suck At Football
— oh, where are you now, Alex Pappademas? That was so great! - insert about two hours of Googling and catching up on Alex Pappademas — which I highly recommend even if you’re not into sports or are merely football-adjacent, because the writing is so good, and he takes a great pass at explaining and trying to get into a thing that everyone else seems to be into but he’s not. I should read the whole thing again. It’s terrific.
- Anyways, he wrote, “ all names of real people… have been replaced with those of noteworthy physicists”, which I thought was both brilliant and funny, especially since they mostly sat around in bars bemoaning the fate of the Cincinnati Bengals.
- So I’m going to try to come up with nicknames for my people as they pop up here, and then put in the effort — for you, dear reader! - to keep them consistent. It’d be funny to do them all as philosophers, but my philosophy knowledge is so limited that the gimmick would run dry really fast. I’ll probably just resort to some pretentious mix of historical figures, pop culture references, and nonsense haberdashery.
- For example, my builder/fixer/contractor extraordinare J is herewith Archimedes. (Because he’s got all the levers and knows how to use them.) My wife is The Admiral, for reasons which may become clear later, but probably won’t. Pixel will remain Pixel, because, fuck, shit, I mean, how do you come up with a better name than that? My former-philosopher/now-potter friend C definitely needs a PHILO name, but it’s tough deciding which one to choose. Diogenes? Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, however appropriate it may be. Socrates?(But, of course, pronounced in my head like the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure version?) Funny, but pretty obvious. Witty? (Short for Wittgenstein.) Hmm. Maybe. I’m pretty sure he’ll weigh in on this.
- Maybe I’ll eventually add a dramatis personae page in the meta section. That’d be fun. And surely a real crowd pleaser.