Friday, May 16, 2014

An Anxious Introvert in the Workplace

I am an introvert. I also have social anxiety issues. Which may come as a surprise to any of you who have met me at craft shows or classes or exhibitions. Then again, maybe not.

 I have survival techniques that I use to get me through social situations.  At craft fairs, you may notice that my booth is set up in such as way that I can stand behind my display. This is really important for my energy levels. It gives me guaranteed personal space within a crowd. It kind of acts like a buffer zone, from behind which, I am an expert on what's around me (my pots), and I can stay focused on the pots, thus distracting me from the throngs of people coming and going all around me. And while this, in combination with some prescription help, allows me survive a show, I'm still completely drained by the end of it. Doesn't matter how short the show is, I will be completely wiped by the end. To the point of just needing to sit in my living room, stare out my window at my bird feeders and just breathe. It's all I can do to have a conversation with my husband, I just don't have the energy left. I need solitude and peace and quiet to recharge. I can usually get my mojo back within a day or two, unless it's a giant show like the NY NOW show (5 days) or (shudder) the One of a Kind Show (11 grueling days). For these types of shows, I can easily spend a day crying after it's all over. (I don't know. Pure exhaustion I guess) But it can take up to a week before I have enough energy to get back into the swing of things.


I've been thinking about this lately because of the recent spring sale for the Potter's Guild of Hamilton and Region, where I was the featured artist. I had two tables (instead of the usual one) front and center and there was some expectation that I was to be by my tables because undoubtedly people would want to meet me and talk to me.  Now the only problem with this is that I had no table to stand behind. I was right beside my work, in the middle of the crowds, totally unprotected personal space. And it kicked my ass. My anxiety came on hard, and for anyone who suffers, you can completely relate: nausea, trouble breathing, fast heart-rate, light-headedness, all the while smiling and answering questions and trying to hang on for dear life until I could leave. I couldn't stay for the whole show. I made it through half of the first day, one third of the second day, and the whole last day (which was really only a half day).

I'm proud of myself for managing what I did, and I had an absolutely amazing show! But I was completely wiped. And since the show ran Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I had exactly 4 days to frantically get ready for yet another show the following weekend, I had no time off for recovery time. I had to drag myself outta bed, force my way into the studio and keep on going. I hate doing this. I can see the results in the quality of my work and all I can think about is needing to take a break.

I guess this is where burn out can become a serious issue.

I've been trying to do all the things you are supposed to do. I do yoga about 5 times a week and I can't recommend it highly enough. I meditate - though I've been slacking off a bit lately. I go for walks around my parent's farm as often as the weather allows, but sometimes that just doesn't cut it. I would love to hear how other introverts manage the stress of craft shows, or how other people cope with social anxiety in situations where you have no choice but to be outside of your comfort zone. And of course on the burn out topic - how do I nip this sucker in the bud? I'm pretty sure there's no easy answer. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spotlights and the Un-Comfortable

So I've been having some fun trying lots of new stuff and whatnot. Playin' around. My latest exploration with intaglio glazing led to this little gem which I decided to submit to the Hamilton Potters' Guild's biennial juried exhibition "Glazed Over".
 It was kind of a 'just fucking do it' decision. I don't normally do this sort of thing - it's a little outside of my comfort zone. I dropped my piece off and hoped to forget about it. I even bailed on the jurors comments and had asked someone to pick up my piece should it not be accepted into the show.

Two days later I got a phone message.
"Please attend the opening, your piece has won an award".

My first reaction was an uncomfortable laugh. Followed by confusion, and then sheer panic. This meant I was going to have to get up in front of people. No easy task when one deals with anxiety issues. As my anxiety welled, I tried to figure out what was going on. I won an award! I should be thrilled! And yet I was anxious. Did I even LIKE the piece I submitted? I've been playing and trying new things, but was this piece MINE? Was that MY voice emanating from that plate? Then my thoughts swung to my Bachelor of Arts Degree. I have always been uncomfortable with the institution that my degree was granted from. It has a reputation. And really, given my background, its a wonder I was even accepted into the school in the first place. The entire time I was there, I dealt with feeling like a fraud. I had never taken a high school art class. No workshops outside of school. Nothing. And yet there I was attending one of the most prestigious art schools in the country. No pressure. Ugh.

My husband and I made arrangements to go to the opening. My parents decided to come along, and take us out to dinner beforehand to celebrate. The show itself is wonderful - all kinds of amazing works. And there was my plate (displayed sideways, but hey, what can you do). With my anxiety welling, I hunkered down until award time. And there it was. The Ontario Crafts Council Design Award. In a fog with my heart in my throat I made my way to the front. OK. Smile. Shake hand. Take award. Smile. Race back to the safety of the corner. Ugh. By this time the gallery was packed. Mom took my picture by my plate and I was outta there. Fresh air. Breathe......

A Design award. One of my profs voices kept ringing in my head: "You shouldn't make work. You should just design it." I should have been thrilled but I couldn't shake the uncomfortable knot in my belly.

It's been a few days and I've had a chance to digest everything that has just happened. I tried something new. It was well received. I won a design award! The work that I want to make definitely leans towards design. The kind of work that I am most drawn to leans more towards design. And honestly, I just want to make pretty pots. I want to make pots that people want to use. Every day.

I've been playing. Pushing my work forward. And I won a fucking award, y'all!!! That's pretty fucking cool:)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Falling in Love With Play

I've been testing and trying new things here and there, and mostly feeling untethered. I felt like I desperately needed to do something, ANYTHING, new to help me stay on the right side of sanity.

Much of what I have been doing hasn't amounted to much. Annoying wastes of raw ingredients, frustration, disappointment, a bunch of "meh" until it reached a point where I didn't even care if something worked or not. I gave up on expectations, threw in a bunch of "sure, what the fuck, why not?" kinda tests, and took some time to sit down with what I had been doing to see what I could glean from it all.

Here's where it took me:

I have been interested in decorating my work with flowers for quite some time and decided to draw those flowers in glaze. But I didn't want to leave the background on the pot unglazed, as this would stain over time. So I applied a layer of matte white where I wanted my design to be.
 Applying a red glaze directly over the matte white would result in a fuzzy and washed out line, so I carved a peony design right into the glaze with pencil. Next I filled in the pencil lines with red glaze using a slip trailer, applied a wax resist and glazed the rest of the piece.

 I was actually impressed with the results! There's room for improvement, and a very definite path to follow.

While I was at it with the peonies, I decided to try some diagrams of particle collisions. My inner nerd loves this stuff so I used the technique described for the bowl to carve out the following diagram, only this time instead of doing the carving with a sharp pencil, I used a stylus for mishima that my husband made me that has a very fine point. Behold!:
A much crisper line was the result. Unfortunately I dipped the whole mug in my slate glaze before I realized what I was doing. Ultimately I would like the top portion to be glazed in the orchid glaze, but a test is a test, and I'm still thrilled with the results.

The next step is to fine tune the pieces and give it another go. And needless to say I actually look forward to opening my kiln after my next firing in the next few days:)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It's 2014!!! How did that happen?!?


I remember that it was August....
Then I blinked and it was October....

And now it's halfway through February in a new year.
Funny how the experience of time is so subjective.

2013 was an amazing year for me. I was incredibly busy with wholesale orders, shows, custom orders and a new brick and mortar shop that I share with my amazing mother who grows lavender, processes her own oils, makes soaps, lotions and all kinds of amazing lavender products.

Then 2014 happened.

So far the year has been off to a rough start. I was struggling through trying to make some new work and get it ready in time for the NY NOW show ( a wholesale trade show in New York). While I found myself headed in an interesting direction, there was just no way that the work would be resolved by the time the show came up. Which turned out to be fine anyways since the show was a bit of a dud. First it was Superbowl weekend, which I was well aware of and just assumed it would be slow until after the celebrations ended. Then there was a dumping of 8" of snow in New York, with airports closed and flights cancelled. Then it rained on top of all that snow. Then there was an ice storm.

So yeah. The show wasn't all that great. Which can be a little frustrating but what 'cha gonna do?

At present, my spring schedule isn't all that crazy. (I seem to recall asking the universe for a much needed chance to slow down...)

 BUT... as I'm coming to grips with my present situation, I can see that this is the PERFECT opportunity to continue working on that new line.

And that's the hard part.

It's always so tough to try to narrow down which direction you want to take your work. Right now I'm struggling with the idea of decoration. I feel split in two directions. Part of me likes the idea of keeping things simple and minimal, while another side of me wants to go all crazy with line work. All I can do is try, try, try and see where I end up. I know that it's not unusual for me to take hard rights and completely veer off of my path at any given time in my creative process. And I also know that it's hard for me to just let go of ideas, and see where my process takes me.

So here we go...
I'm off and running and have some tests cooling in the kiln.
Purples, blues, reds and blacks oh my!

Friday, September 20, 2013

This is what happens when you're stressed....


So my summer has been a little stressful to say the least. I've been busy with orders and throw in a personal crisis and the scale tips my life into chaos.
Recently I was bombarded with three orders for dinnerware and told that said orders were due in one week.

Ha!

I don't think so.

When things are crazy busy, it takes me 6 to 8 weeks to get orders out the door. So when I asked why it was I hadn't been informed about the orders earlier, I was told that the emails I was supposed to get daily for 7 weeks telling me the orders were waiting for me, weren't being sent.

Lovely.

So I promised to get these orders out the door within 4 weeks and everyone was happy.

Except me, apparently.

In my rush to get things produced and out, I misread the actual orders. Where there was one place setting, I assumed it was for a set of four. And that's exactly what I made...four times as many place settings for each order.
And that's what each customer received.
Yup.
That's how awesome my summer has been.
So while I'm suffering through day 7 of a particularly stubborn headache that JUST. WONT. GO. AWAY., I'm also suffering through the humiliation of having to explain how it was I managed to fuck up so bad.
What can I say?
I'm human. And under a lot of stress.

People keep saying to me that being so busy is a good problem to have but I beg to differ. I am painfully aware that one can kill their business by being TOO busy, just as easily as you can kill a business by being not busy enough. And stuff like this, is exactly how one does that.

So clearly I need some extended time off. And a bottle of wine. And since I don't have time for the holiday, the wine will just have to do. Maybe I'll throw in some tequila for good measure.

Friday, August 9, 2013

"You Need to Take Care of Yourself"....Ummmmm..... What????

I've been hearing this a lot lately: "You need to take care of yourself."

Ummmm....sure.

AND HOW THE FUCK DO I DO THAT?!?

Things have been crazy busy this year. And it just hasn't stopped. Orders started rolling in the end of January, after my show at the Buyer's Market in Philly, and they just haven't stopped. Usually things slow down (read: hit the breaks) at the beginning of June. Not this year. Things kept rolling, full steam ahead. Orders kept coming in, pots kept going out. It's been amazing actually. And somewhat stressful. But I've been managing, thanks to the help of amazing family and friends. And the whole time I've managed to take at least ONE day off a week (more or less). I stopped working nights, and have made an effort to do what normal, non-stressed, regular people do, by making sure I take time to get out and visit friends and take in a change of scenery once in a while. And let me assure you, this does NOT come naturally to an introvert such as myself!

And yet, a recent crisis threw everything through a loop. (And no, I won't be going into details), but my fragility became very apparent. I can't do it all. I can't get everything done on time, done right, trouble-free.

I am human. I can only do so much. When the shit hits the fan, I can't work miracles. So people keep saying "you have to take care of yourself!". And yet, I have no idea what that means. I make time for myself, I try to be realistic in my expectations, I recognize when I'm stressed and need a break, I have the ability to say "no" to projects that I know will only hurt me more than help me.

So what does that mean? How, exactly, does one 'take care' of oneself? When the people I love need me, I'm sure as shit gonna drop everything and do everything I can to make things better. And fuck everything else.

No really.

The pots can wait.
The orders can wait.
The bills can wait.

What's important to me are the people I love and they will always, ALWAYS, come first. No. Matter. What.

I feel very fortunate to have the amazing customers that I have. I have made an effort to communicate with everyone who is currently waiting for things from me, to explain in simple, honest terms, what is going on, and when they can realistically expect their orders. And every. single. one. of them has completely understood, and given me the space I need to make sure they get the best pots I can make, in the most realistic time frame I can muster, while still managing to keep my wits about me.

I am grateful that there are caring, and compassionate people in this world. I am grateful that my customers are caring and compassionate people. I am grateful for those that I love, and those that love me back.

I LOVE what I do, and I try to do my best every day, to make others happy, to meet the expectations of others, to make sure everyone who does business with me is getting to best I can muster.

Unfortunately, that's not always possible.
And for those times that its not, I'm deeply grateful for those who understand that I am only human, and can only do so much.

So for those of you affording me space right now, you are amazing, and your compassion is deeply humbling.

May karma be kind to you.
~Melissa

Thursday, June 6, 2013

"Fun" With Those F*%&ing Stains

So several years ago while I was developing my "Slate" glaze, I was playing around with some other colours for my matte glaze as well. At the time, I tried a commercial stain called "Blackberry Wine" in my base glaze. I thought it was lovely but not quite what I was looking for at the time.
 

I added a bit of another stain called "Pansy Purple" to push the colour away from burgundy and more towards a dark wine colour. While the colour was exceptional, I lost all of my matte-ness, and shiny was definitely not the look I was after. (The photo doesn't really do the colour any justice, but here it is:)


 As usual, life got in the way and the colour tests got pushed to the back burner. The test tiles went into my huge box with 11 years worth of other test tiles and there it sat collecting dust until recently.

I am still interested in an eggplant coloured matte glaze for my Classic Collection and decided recently to revisit my Blackberry Wine stain. I mixed up a quick sample, based on that very first test as a starting point and was all excited.

Until I opened my kiln.

The colour had all but drained from my glaze and I was left with this rather anemic looking ugly gray. Certainly NOT what I was after.



Now let me explain a wee bit for those not so technically knowledgeable regarding the finer points of glaze chemistry: the stain that I am using to get the original colour uses chrome and tin. These are fickle fiends and require very specific glaze chemistry to pull off their colour magic - no zinc, fire under 1260'C, no magnesium in the glaze and lots of calcium. Check, check, check, and check for the matte glaze that I am currently using.

So what the fuck happened to my colour?!?

An excellent question and one which I have no answer to.

At first I thought maybe I could juggle the calcium in the glaze a bit - perhaps there was TOO MUCH so I bumped it down to the optimal range.



As you can see, the colour got even worse. At least the last time I was getting some speckles of wine colour. This time, nothing but an ugly, flat field of gray.

So I thought I could try adding some other stains to help boost the colour, like that Pansy Purple I tried before:


Or a Deep Crimson:


Better. But not the colour I'm after.

I even tried the Pansy again in a greater concentration:


While it's sorta lovely, there's still too much speckle there for my tastes and the amount of stain required to get this is horrendously high (16%).

So where does that leave me?
I have no flippin' idea.

I am currently at a loss as to why this particular glaze is behaving the way it is, and why it's changing SO FREAKING MUCH from test to test. I'm wondering if there's just too much kaolin in the glaze for the stains to truly come out? Except that I have a stone matte glaze with 5% Blackberry Wine in it and the colour shows up just fine. Or maybe there has been some sort of change to the ingredients that are in the base glaze that I am unaware of? Something coming from a new mine, with slightly different composition? After all, it makes no sense that a glaze that worked fine not three years ago is a complete disaster now. If anyone has any thoughts on this, feel free to post comments. I'm always open to insights.

In the mean time, I'll continue trying to get the colour I'm after. I'm presently trying a new base glaze so we'll see. These things never go as planned, and always seem to take waaaaaaay longer than I'd like. But so it is (sigh).