Monday, July 9, 2012

Meditating on Mugs

For the last few weeks I have been plugging away at the largest wholesale order I have had to date.

400 mugs.

While I was excited to GET this order, I was kind of dreading MAKING this order. That's a LOT of freaking mugs. Some potters don't even MAKE mugs. Truth be told, they're a bit of a pain in the ass. They are fussy. And time consuming. And it's hard to get what they are worth when selling them.

When asked up front if I could make that many if I were to get an order for them, I made sure to think long and hard about what I was potentially getting into. Prior to this, my largest wholesale order had been for 100 teapots. That was a complete nightmare. Everything about that order was difficult and I was not eager to go there again. EVER. But having had that experience under my belt, I was better able to work out what would be involved in making so many mugs. I have plenty of time to work on the order, and I'm getting a very fair price for them. Really my only concern boiled down to all that repetitive throwing.

When I first started potting full time, the most I could make of one thing at a time was 8 pieces. Anything after that and my attention span was shot. Without being able to focus on what I was doing, the quality of the pieces would very quickly deteriorate, and along with it, my mood. Fast forward 7 years to the beginning of this year, and I was able to do anywhere from 12 to 18 pieces of the same thing before the inevitable boredom came crashing in.

Really, the best thing about production work is  being able to chart your progress. So far, I have 360 mugs thrown. And I have really seen a change in my ability not only to make them, but to focus as I go. I can now throw 48 mugs in a row, and the 48th mug looks pretty much like the first mug. I have found that within the first dozen, I slip into a bit of a meditation. Time seems to become irrelevant and everything around me is gone. It's just me and my wheel, and a small spinning lump of clay. My hands seem to have figured out what they're doing and I can almost remove myself from the process and let them do what they need to do. It's much the same sensation one gets when running. You reach a certain point where everything flashing around your brain is just gone. A point where you're not thinking, you're not worrying about the banalities of daily life, you're not stewing over what happened yesterday, you're not thinking ahead to tomorrow, you're just here. Now. In the moment, in every moment. It's incredibly liberating. It's incredibly refreshing.

In all honesty, I am really enjoying this order. I thought for sure I'd be having nightmares about mug after mug after mug, but they haven't (yet) made their way into my sleep. We'll see what happens after I start all that packing!

How about you? How's your endurance for production? Is there something that becomes a meditation within your own studio? Tips or tricks you'd like to share, feel free!


  1. 400 mugs! 400 MUGS! That's amazing:) Congrats! I hear you about the brain melting boredom of production work! When I'm at my sewing machine i put on my head phones and watch (more like listen) to episodes of tv shows online. Madmen, Buffy, 90210, episodes of Dragons Den... it's addictive and the time zooms by!

  2. Excellent work! You got into the zone! The danger is people will expect you to make 400 mugs all the time now...! I'm still on a small batch repeat level of about 12 pots in a session - partly out of choice but also because whenever I throw for too long I do my back in or (more recently) my neck! But this is inspiring stuff. Was it weird going back to throwing non-mugs?! And can I ask how many extra did you throw to guarantee survival of 400?

  3. Hi Jude,

    It wasn't weird at all to go back to throwing non-mug stuff. In the middle of this mug order I also had shows to get ready for, so after getting my daily allotment of mugs ready, I had to throw other pieces. I did notice a different mindset with my other work though. The mug "zone" carried into the other things I had to do and I found my throwing has been much more efficient overall.

    I finished throwing the mugs yesterday (yay!) and did 480 in total. From what I've completed so far, I seem to lose about 1 mug for every 30 or so - handles crack, I botch the trimming, etc. So at that rate, I've got plenty of extras, which is good, because I'll probably want to take a break from throwing them for a while and can use the extras for upcoming shows!

  4. Love getting into the mug zone, its so ommmmmmmmm.