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.


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.


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.
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."



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.

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).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

NYIGF vs. BMAC: Comparing the Shows

Feltware Cups.  Photo copyright Blackbird Photography

Last year, I tried the New York International Gift Fair in January and again in August. This year, I decided to try the Buyer's Market of American Craft. My reasons were twofold: most of my buyers from the NYIGF also went to the BMAC, and the BMAC is significantly cheaper. So how do the shows compare? Here's my thoughts:

- BMAC is less expensive. Significantly. my booth in NY was $4000. in Philly, $2250. But I did notice that the costs for everything else was comparable. Electrical fees in Philly were higher, and I got slammed with a "material handling fee" of  $350 for choosing someone other than the official show carrier to deliver my crate to the show. That sucked. I also had to have floor covering in my booth which was unnecessary in NY. This wasn't something that I had in my crate, which had been stored in New Jersey since the August NYIGF, and I didn't feel like dragging a carpet across the border with me so I had to rent one for the show. It was way overpriced and they didn't even install it properly so buyers were tripping in my booth.

- BMAC is ONLY handmade. Which is awesome. This means the buyers that show up know all about handmade, know that it's pricier, know that we can't crank out 10000 widgets in 4 days. I didn't have to deal with complaints about pricing which is a huge bonus. It gets tiresome defending my right to make a living wage.

- NYIGF is MUCH larger, because there's so much more at the show. There's suppliers and products and designers from all over the world. The show is MASSIVE. which means there's more buyers there. But that's not to say they are all there for the handmade. The handmade section is actually much smaller than what's available at the BMAC.

- I didn't see as many of the big buyers at the BMAC. If you're goal is to get picked up by Anthropologie or somewhere like that, your chances would probably be better at NYIGF. And I didn't see as much of the media in Philly that I saw in NY. There was no House and Home, no Martha Stewart Living, no Country Living. So if you're looking to hook up with media, NY would be a better option. And none if this is to say that these people weren't at BMAC, but I didn't see them, so maybe they just didn't stop by my booth (which is entirely possible).

- Both shows are very well organized and staff communicate regularly and easily with vendors. I had no problems with set up or tear down, or getting questions answered before, during or after either show. Now I have my entire booth packed into a 3x3x5' crate which gets delivered right to my booth, becomes part of my display and gets picked up there after the show, so I don't have to deal with move-in, move-out or waiting for my crate to be delivered to me at the end of the show.

So down to the nitty gritty, how did the shows compare?

- I picked up as many buyers in Philadelphia as I did at BOTH NY shows, as well as re-orders from buyers I met in NY. BUT, the orders were smaller.

- I had a lot more follow up to deal with after NY, buyers who left their cards but weren't interested in placing orders at the show. This tripled my sales from what I wrote on the show floor and I got orders as a direct result of the NY show right into January of this year.

So what are my plans moving forward?

- I haven't decided if I will do NYIGF in August again or not. I guess I need to get on that and make a decision.

- originally I was hoping to do both the BMAC AND the NYIGF next winter but I heard some nasty rumors about the superbowl being in NY the same weekend as the gift fair. This does not bode well for hotel rooms and I have a hard time believing buyers will come to the show when hotel room prices are hugely inflated. I'll look into this further so see what's going on, but if it is the case, count me out.

- I'll definitely be back to BMAC. It was a great show: more affordable, fun to do, wonderful buyers, amazing vendors. BUT, due to the auto show booking the convention center the same weekend that the buyer's market is usually there, they had to move the show dates for next year. Waaaaaaaay up - to mid January, which is early for buyers. It means weather is more unpredictable, it's the same weekend as another wholesale show (Orlando) and the week before NY. We'll see how this plays out. It's entirely possible that it will have a negative effect on the BMAC next year but only time will tell.

So if you've been thinking about either show, there's my 2 cents. I had two bodies of work with me at the show, my Classic Collection, and my Feltware line. So have a peek and see how it may compare to what you'd like to take to the show. If you were at either show, feel free to share your thoughts!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Long and Short of It All: I'm Terrified

Tea Set - Classic Collection. Photograph by Blackbird Photography

Tomorrow I leave for Philadelphia for the Buyer's Market of American Craft.
This is a wholesale trade show where retailers and gallery owners come and have a look at my work and (hopefully) place orders for their shops. I have been doing this type of trade show since 2006. This will be my first time in Philly.

Despite the fact that I've done this for years, despite the fact that I'm very comfortable talking to retailers about my work, despite the fact that I literally know my work inside and out, despite the fact that I know how these things go and should have nothing to worry about...

 I'm terrified.

Each show is the same, actually. Whether it's a wholesale trade show, or a retail craft show, the terror is the same. It sets in sometimes up to a week before the actual event. All rational thought seems to be jettisoned, and I become overwhelmed with anxiety; trouble breathing, panic, upset stomach, short nerves, trouble sleeping...

And it's all silly, when it comes right down to it. And ultimately I KNOW that. But that doesn't stop the deluge of evil thoughts: will people like my work? will I make any sales? will I be invisible at the show? will some catastrophic event blow the whole thing to smitherines? Will the global economy crumble the night before the show opens? What if none of my previous buyers come back to re-order? What if customers come and storm my booth to scream at me and tell me how much they hated my work and wished they never bought any?

See? Silly.

But I suspect I'm not alone in all this pre-show inner torment. And I wonder if all these negative thoughts are something that plague other artists as well.

Feltware Cups, photograph by Blackbird Photography

We embark on our 8 hour drive tomorrow morning, bright and early. When I get to the show, my crate with all my stuff will be sitting patiently in my booth, ready for me to unload. I'll set up my little space, retreat to the comfort of the hotel, endure a long, sleepless night, choke down some breakfast while trying not to gag, clean myself up, and trek down to stand in my allotted 100sq feet and wait. And the people will come. I'll chat up retailers and gallery owners, talk about my best sellers, share some laughs, meet some amazing people, and more likely than not write at least SOME orders. Repeat this for three whole days, pack up my stuff, and trek home again. And then I'll sit in the quiet solitude of my living room, surrounded by my cats, and cry. Even if I have a completely kick-ass, knock-my-socks-off, amazingly awesome show, I'll cry. It's a release of all the tension that I endure to get me to the show and through the show. It's the result of being an introvert, a deeply private person who has just displayed my heart and soul to be judged, mocked and loved by complete strangers. It's nothing bad at all. It's just the accumulation of emotion that needs to be cleansed.

And then I'll be back in my studio, making pots, sitting at my wheel where I'm happiest, and life will continue. Just like that.

So am I crazy? Probably.
Am I alone in all this? Probably not:)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Bracing Myself for What's Ahead

Well here it is. Day one of a new year.

I was hoping that this year, I would work less. Take some actual days off.... have a week that ends.... that sort of thing.

And yet here it is, January 1, 2013 and I'm in the studio working.

2012 was good to me. New York was good to me. I'm pleased I took some of the risks I did last year and I'm really feeling like I have turned a corner, and that momentum is starting to build upon itself, instead of me forcing it forward.

A giant order of mugs kept me busy for several months, and I also added an amazing wholesale client who reorders every 5 weeks. I make little dipping dishes and cruets for a specialty olive oil shop which has proven to be very lucrative for me. It's getting my work out there, which has all been decorated with a wee little stamp that says "the Raging Bowl". (I worked on "Branding" in 2012 and can honestly say I'm happy with the results!)

I have lots of new adventures planned for 2013. This February I'm heading to Philly for the Buyer's Market, another wholesale show. I'm hoping this one will be a better fit than the New York Gift Fair. While that show was good to me, I never really felt like my work fit in there. We shall see what Philly brings. And while I'm nervous about losing any momentum I may have started at the NY show, I'm throwing my all behind the Buyer's Market. I bought my first ad - in the guide that the show gives out to everyone that comes, and I also found out I'm going to be featured in the same guide. I have put together a mailing list of potential clients so that I can send out promotional material before the show. I've actually been doing homework! (I made a conscious decision to spend some time on marketing in 2013. We'll see if my efforts pay off.)

I've also go lots of new work coming down the pipes! I'm looking forward to learning some very new and different skills as well as building on and evolving my Arabesque collection and playing with new colors to add to my Classic collection.

Now I just have to work less.
Which probably also means working more efficiently.
So what do you say, 2013? Gonna help a gal out?

What are your plans for 2013? Taking some new risks? Heading on new adventures? Let's hear all about it!