Monday, October 5, 2015

To Anne

This summer, a friend and mentor of mine, Anne Armstrong, passed away rather suddenly. It was shocking and a reminder to live my life as best I can every single day 'cause you just never know...
 When I moved home after art school to set up my own pottery studio, I wandered into Anne's shop and basically begged her for a job. She laughed in my face and said she didn't need any help. At that moment, her husband wandered in and laughed in her face. She smiled and offered me a one-day-a-week part time job. Before the end of my first day, it became 2 days a week.

Working with Anne was incredible. She taught me all sorts of things that school neglected to (like all the businessey stuff art schools steer clear of). I would watch her throw pots as I mopped the floor, or sieved her glazes, or load her kiln. I watched her wield a brush like a master and decorate simple, functional forms in fluid,  confident strokes. I learned tips and tricks that only decades of experience can teach.

Anne helped me get the footing I needed to get my own business off the ground. She was incredibly supportive and was always there to answer questions, offer advice, and crack a joke. She made a mark on me and my work, and I can't even begin to describe the influence she has had on me.

This past Saturday, I spent the day helping her family have a farewell sale, selling off studio furnishing, tools, supplies and of course, her pottery.

Anne was in business for over 40 years. She traveled a lot to craft shows, taught workshops, had work in galleries and published in books. She had an incredible and loyal group of customers fans. And to see them out in force on Saturday was incredibly humbling and awe inspiring. I was struck with joy and grief at all of the people who wanted just one more piece of Anne to bring light into their homes.

I will do you proud, my friend, and wouldn't be where I am without you. Thank you for everything.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Shifting Sands

This year marks my tenth anniversary as a full time potter. It also marks a shift in the direction my business is headed.

When I first dipped my toes in the full-time-potter world, I tried to get my work out locally. While everyone loved it, very few bought and it became apparent that if I was to make a living, I had to either make new work for the local crowd, or send my work out into the world through markets that were a better fit. So off to the city I went, where my post sold well enough to keep me going and pay my bills.

I am now at a point where I have come full circle and would rather engage my local crowd than haul a truckload of tables, pots and tents all over hell's half acre. And I seem to be figuring it out, slowly but surely.

And not without a lot of help either. 
I now have a fabulous shop that I share with my mom, who makes incredible hand-crafted body and home care products out of lavender that we grow and harvest right on our own farm. I have a potters wheel out near the shop so I can interact with customers while throwing, and give people a chance to see what this pottery thing is all about.
 There was a time when I never imagined I would be cranking out orders of 400 mugs at a time. And there was also a time I never imagined that I would enjoy throwing for small audiences, talking about what I'm doing as I'm doing it and yet that is exactly where I find myself.
Over this past year I have made some incredible partnerships with several local businesses, Like this amazing place, or this amazing place. I have figured out how to make my business fit in the local scene and I am excited to see where things take me.

There's only one thing in this world that can be truly counted on, and that's change. I am enjoying my current transitions, and looking forward to what lies ahead.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

10 Years

This winter will mark my tenth year as a full time potter.

And that's kinda a big deal to me. Over the years I have watched friends and acquaintances struggle or thrive in their own craft business. I have seen incredibly talented people throw in the towel, or be pushed out of the market. I have seen people give their own blood sweat and tears only to have their lives give way to family, financial pressures and the general reality of everyday life. And yet here I am. Still swimming.

Swimming, swimming, just keep swimming.

I would not be where I am without the love and support I receive from the people around me. I would not be here, marking this anniversary, were it not for my parents. Or my husband. Or my friends. All of whom have been there for me, as a shoulder to cry on, a board to bounce ideas off of, the muscle in the background keeping the cogs greased, and the people who put up with my obsession/passion/need for pottery.

And while those closest to me have been invaluable in my journey, the picture needs to be much, much larger.

This year has marked a shift in my approach to my business. I have reached out and am making all kinds of amazing partnerships with other business all across my community...

With a local botanical garden for commemorative pieces celebrating all they do within the community...

With local chefs and restaurants for a month long culinary lavender festival...
With a local cakery for stands and plates...

The work is all about community. All about helping and being helped. About reaching out and offering support to ensure my community is successful. It's about karma. About putting good out into the world. About being a part of a larger whole.

While I want to be successful in what I do, I can't do that alone. I haven't done that alone. And I AM a part of a vibrant, dynamic and successful community. Local community. I want the people around me to be able to thrive in their dreams. If my own little small business can in some way help raise the profile of other businesses in my community, then I'm in. If we can find ways to promote each other, spread awareness, and strengthen our little corner of the world, we all benefit. Especially when so many others within that community share the same values - offering unique, quality products or services that focus on fostering a healthy, vibrant community - that bring people together.

I can't even believe this year is happening. I can't believe that I have found myself a part of this larger whole. The ideas haven't stopped since the new year began. And everywhere I turn, there's opportunities to be had or shared, and community that's growing. And to it all, I have to say,

Bring it...

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!