Thursday, April 23, 2009

Getting Organized

While the glaze load is firing I decided to review and reflect on my work over the past four months. My cat, Butter, was doing some thinking, so he inspired me to do the same. You might recall the ceramics classes were cancelled at the college this semester. Therefore, we've only had two or three folks producing any work for the kiln which means there's only going to be this one glaze firing. So all my eggs are in one basket, so to speak.

I mainly used two clay bodies B-Mix and Soldate 60, with the occasional Black Mountain thrown in. Pieces I made included pinched cups and bowls, textured pendants, hand built vases, textured plates, cups, pitchers, leaves, and tiles, faux bois vases and sculptures, miscellaneous sculptures, woven crosses, baskets and trivets. I also experimented with slips, stains, oxides, glazes and barrel firings. As I'm typing this list I'm amazed at how many different forms I've made and all the experimenting I have done over the last four months. Sometimes I think I should have accomplished more, but this list has made me realize I've done quite a bit since January.

Bear with me as I think out loud here. It's kind of late tonight to start, but this post has made me realize I need a master list of everything I make, an inventory. I see a list as something important I must do. I can use the list to examine the work I have done, make improvements and changes, see what pieces sell, and decide what pieces I should make in the future.

This is kind of a eureka moment for me. Up till now I've just made whatever struck my fancy or what I felt challenged to do. I still want to do that, wouldn't Butter make a nice sculpture? But I also want to think about selling more of my work, so I need to think about getting organized. I'm still not up to par, maybe I'm not thinking so clearly, so tomorrow I may read this post and think, what in the heck was I talking about, maybe not.

Do you have an inventory or list of the pieces of pottery you make, how did you organize it? Do you have catalog numbers for your pieces? So far I see I'll need functional and sculptural categories and then some sub-categories under those. Oh, I just realized I probably need a list of glazes, slips and oxides I use. I would also like a print catalog with a photo of the pieces I have made, like a portfolio. Do ceramic artists have portfolios?

All of a sudden this is all very important to me. Please don't laugh, the business end of art isn't taught in school, so I have to learn and do these things as I go along when I find a spare moment. Good night, I leave you with St. John's Wort, Hypericum 'Ruby Glow', a favorite of florist's because the dried berries are used in arrangements.


  1. hi Linda- As usual your post is very insightful and honest. You bring up a very good question. At the last show I was at there were three or four of us visiting after it had closed. The potters (full time, professional) had different ways of keeping their "business side of art" going. One admitted tracking EVERY piece she has ever made for the last 15 years -pricing, size glaze used etc.!! The other said she just wings it a couple of months prior to a show and customizes her "inventory" for the projected audience (in terms of styles, pricing, quantity).

    I try and always take digital images of each piece I ship off to the Galleries. I do plan monthly inventories that I track in Excel. I need to know what has sold, how quickly and what is still out there not selling. Keeping my pricing fair and organized has been really important so like items are not out of line between Galleries -because customer DO comparison shop. Keeping notes and these inventories is helpful because what I think and what IS varies from time to time :o) I also have my "idea" and "must do" journals that help fill in when I'm not sure what to make for the week too.

  2. Last summer I was fortunate to take two week workshops (back to back) with Val Cushing & Ellen Shankin. They both emphasized the importance of having 'making lists' in the studio. (I use a dry erase board). This list should consist of current pieces you make, the amount of clay to make it & any glaze notes. I find when I go in the studio those days when I'm not inspired if I just start working from that list -- I'm soon ready to be in my studio.

    I augment that with a journal that includes what sells -- maybe a size/glaze change. This journal doesn't have anything to do with being creative necessarily -- it's just information I need for the business end of making pots.

    I also keep a file folder of each show I am in -- shows entered/rejected & galleries that have carried or are carrying my work. I have actual copies of inventory sheets & copies of photos (printer copies).

    That - in a glance shows me what sells, what the price was & glazes I used.

    It's worked well & not too high end or time consuming.

  3. Butter looks very dramatic up there surrounded by the clouds. Great place for thinking.
    Thanks for bringing up the questions, Linda and I appreciate reading Judy's and Cindy's thoughtful answers.

  4. Linda, I think you are right on track. Still though, you're firing issue might be a problem in the selling department. Trying to produce in a learning or recreation center enviroment is not easy. So give that some thought as you move forward and how it might work out for you. When folks start seeing you are selling and place an order, you will have to deliver. . . just a future thougt!

  5. pottery is a creative outlet for me these days, so i'm not nearly as organized as I am in the rest of my world. Somedays, I think organization is way over-rated. Yes, I'm learning alot too from how others do things. I can write down a list of things I need to do.... don't we all!

  6. It has slowly dawned on me that I do need to develop a "line" of work that can focus my efforts a bit. I think I need that now as part of my development, but also as I try to find my way commercially. I am finding that being a member of a potter's co-operative is starting to help me with this, as I have shelves to keep full at the gallery there, which is more educational than just leaving a few pots with a dealer. Seeing what pots "work" together in a display, and what sells, and what doesn't, and having 11 other members of the co-op to learn from, and compare prices against is also a real asset even though our work is all quite different.

    When I leave my work at galleries, I do now take a digital photograph of each piece, and keep a list of what I have left at the gallery. Digital photographs are very helpful, and are a safeguard against miss-understandings. P.

  7. Hi Cindy, thanks so much for your thoughtful response. A list of fifteen years of information must be quite lengthy. I am so glad you mentioned Excel which would be a perfect way for me to make up the list. As time goes by the price will be important too since I won't be able to remember all the information. In fact recently I had a repeat customer and I had to try and remember the price of an item I had sold to them before.

    I have been more diligent at taking photographs of everything, but the photos aren't grouped just random, I want to organize those too. I also want to keep track of the names of folks who have purchased certain pieces so I can have a mailing list for a possible future open studio or sale. I have an idea journal, but not a must do journal yet, as time goes by I assume I will have one of those too. Thanks again.

    Hi Judy, thanks for all your information. I like the dry erase board idea, easy to glance at with clay spattered hands. I am just now getting to the point where I may be making sets of items so the list will become more important as time goes on.

    I think the making list is important. For me it is so easy to go off on a tangent and forget what I 'intended' to make - again that dry erase board will keep me on track for the day, week or month.

    I am so glad you mentioned shows as I have been in several, but don't have the info organized from them. I've been so busy making things I have neglected some of these housekeeping duties.

    I think actual copies of the photos is important since they are easy to look at rather than looking on the computer, especially if the computer has a melt down. I am now have a duplicate of digital photos on a disc as a back up too. Thanks for all the info it is very helpful.

    Hi Barbara, thanks, isn't Butter cute, like he's saying 'look at me' I'm king of the world. Ha Ha!

    Hi Mary, thanks so much, you are correct about the firing issue. Right now I'm only making one of a kind pieces, so there isn't the ordering issue. Although I have had a couple of folks want a repeat item, but they were patient and waited till I could get it done. I do have another resource to fire my pieces as a back up for the Cone 10 work, but it is a distance away and cost is a factor for that resource. This summer I am branching into Cone 5/6 and I have my own kiln. This is one of the reasons I wanted to make up a list as I want to be as efficient as possible with what I make and fire. I have had a couple of requests for custom orders and I am still trying to figure out if those are what I want to do or not, or rather just have stock available to choose from, so far that is what I have done, time will tell I guess.

    Hi Amy, thanks, I have felt the same way about ceramics, it is a wonderful creative process for me, but as time goes by I am starting to acquire quite an inventory and I only have so much room, hence my thought of trying to keep track of what is popular so I can at least make more of those.

    Also there is the financial aspect of ceramics, it isn't an inexpensive art; I sometimes think it would be much less costly to be a painter and my photography has been fairly inexpensive for me, but I happen to like the clay right now and can't help myself. My creative drive is stronger than it has ever been in my life before and I intend to branch into other forms of art in the future. I have always wanted to try water color and encaustic painting is another area of interest to me. Over the last two years I have painted several acrylic paintings for my home and enjoyed that immensely, but I have never taken a class in painting other than many years ago.

    Since I like the making and glazing part and each pieces has been my design, I now don't mind making repeats. I just love it when someone choses my work and appreciates the art behind my making it. I am also seeing I can improve my making skill by making repeats of items I have made before.

    Right now I see myself transitioning from the 'making one of everything I can think of'... to... 'think about which pieces you like to make, which pieces folks like that you happen to make, and try to improve on those, and perhaps make those pieces in different sizes and glazes'.

    My inventory is also starting to outgrow my space so I need to think about what to do with the inventory. Thanks again.

  8. Hi Peter, thanks for the insight. I envy you the coop, once we sell I hope to move to a place where I live closer to some other serious potters and a coop would be wonderful, I think, for the reasons you have stated. I belong to one pottery guild, but they are quite a distance away and I can't drive to their meetings. I do take all their workshops if I can which they offer twice a year and that has been very beneficial to me. My present location is out in the middle of no where. There is another guild in the other direction I had thought about joining too, but again, they are too far to drive to go to their meetings so I am not sure what benefit joining would be for me, so I will have to see about that.

    I think back to my 35 mm camera days and wonder how I would do all that I do now only having that resource, thank goodness for digital.

    You have hit on two important words I need some time to cogitate about 'a line of work' and 'focus'. Right now I need to focus on my work and where I am going with it and hence my sudden desire to get more organized. I think if I can get a bit more organized I may see some patterns developing which will help me to focus and perhaps discover a line of work. Thanks again.

  9. First off - Butter is adorable in all the photos, makes me miss my kitty...but the new dog addition to our household makes it out of the question to get another cat. :( It's like he's on doggy drugs when he sees a neighborhood cat strolling around. The older dog, is like, "So what dummy, it's just a cat!" But, then again, she grew up with our cat, who called all the shots...teehee.

    In regards to inventory, lists etc. - I think you're spot on!

    I keep loose lists, but could do much better in this department.

    I stopped wholesaling this year because I found out that I really hated having a deadline, but I almost think you have to do it if you want to make money as a potter - sort of a 3-4 prong approach to selling.

    1. Sell stuff yourself online and in person (studio sales, fairs etc.)
    2. Consign work to galleries - income comes in fits and starts.
    3. Wholesale easily reproduced items.

    I used to photograph everything; now I only photograph better stuff.

    My mentor keeps meticulous (and ridiculous) journals that detail glazes if she strays from her normal routine, everything made, kiln journals with firing times, noting pieces in kiln, making journals. etc.

    I think Cindy is right - start with an easy spreadsheet type list that you can use to keep track of inventory (that comes in handy with taxes - my husband asked me about ending and beginning year inventory for taxes, but I had to guess, cause I have those "loose lists".)

    Include, retail, consignment, and wholesale pricing, date sold and to whom (you never know when you might need that info some day when the museum comes knocking for a career retrospective :) ).

    I guess the list can be as elaborate or simple as you decide - you can also track popular and less popular items that way rather than relying on memory.

    If you love what you're doing, pottery wise, maybe it's time to swing for a kiln of your own? That way you don't have to depend on others firing your work and can really push yourself and experiment.

  10. Hello~
    Butter is a gorgeous cat!
    I like your organizing sense and only wish I could say the same about my own. The Hypericum is beautiful. I had never seen the actual blossom.
    Thanks for the visit~ Karrita

  11. Hi Linda,
    I really love this post, I am so there with you on this organisation problem. You have so many really good comments here I can’t add much more. I think however that you have done most of the ground work by just writing this all down.
    I used to have a really successful pottery making domestic table and garden ware, it was very hard work, I had people working for me and I did make money. The tiger that chased me then was the braying customer. Then, about 9 years ago I decided to sell up and make the pots I wanted to make on my own. It is much harder on your own. The only tiger that chases me today is of my own making and anyway I try and do things in the opposite gear now, pulling the help I need towards me, rather that pushing myself towards it.
    As to grouping work…isn’t it the method that holds them together? Because that never changes, the discipline is contained within your chosen method/materials and the pot’s personality (the image) is all over them.
    I love your puss cat, but I am a bit scared of his image turned to stone…don’t let him see it. How long has Butter been driving?

  12. Hi Cynthia, don't know if you recall or not but Butter adopted us - just showed up one day, he reminds me of a syphinx.

    I think you're right about having more than one venue to sell your art, and your three categories hit home. The last four months I have made some items I could see as mass produced and wholesaled which would allow me to make the individual, one of a kind pieces.

    I'm starting with the spread sheet and am definitely getting more organized.

    I do have a used kiln, which I got wired and got a pyrometer for as it is non-programmable and I plan on firing it within the next month. This will be Cone 5/6 as that is the max it will go. I have heard of several other used kilns for sale, but since I want to move I am hesitant to invest in equipment I must move so I will make do with what I have for now. Thanks for all your information and insight into selling ceramics. Yes, I see I need to keep much better lists for that museum retrospective in the future.

    Hi Karrita, welcome, Butter is definitely a special cat and turns up whereever we happen to be in the garden. This particular hypericum has very small flowers. There's a shrub variety which has larger flowers and also a ground cover with medium flowers. When I planted my garden I tried to use plants which could double as cut flowers, purposefully seeking out long stems and berry producing plants. Thanks and come back again.

    Hi Kitty, nice to see you here. What a thoughtful response you have provided and I must think about it some. I see a domestic table and garden ware business as daunting and I don't think I'd want to do that unless I farmed everthing out to others. I think you're correct, I find when I write things down in my blog I am more apt to accomplish them and my thinking out loud, I find very useful. I've known the feeling of those wanting me to create pieces for them which created an external push on me. I much prefer to have the ceramic pieces themselves be the impetus which makes me strive to complete them and, at present, I see myself trying to balance the two, hence the thought of making a list and somehow a comparison.

    Butter's never driven before, but just appeared on the car that day; I doubt if I could capture his regal personality well enough, so there's little worry he will see himself reflected in clay. As I said earlier, he appeared in the garden one day three years ago and has never left since and I marvel at the good fortune to have found him as my garden friend. Thanks so much.

  13. I'm glad to have happened upon this blog. Very good information. I am new to the clay business, and I am just now getting into some local markets and the River Arts District Stroll is in June. This info will help me put together an inventory strategy. I had been doing a lot of one-of-a-kind pieces or sets and finding my inventory was woefully small. About two weeks ago I wrote a list like "Ten plates, ten bowls ten mugs, etc." and it seems to be a better plan, but not as satisfying artistically. How do you balance the business with the art?

  14. Oh, by the way, my very dear friend is Linda Starr, in Los Angeles. She's an attorney. Any relation?

  15. Hi Nelle, welcome; so far I haven't balanced it all. I've just made what I wanted, now I need to get more organized and see what sells and what is more popular, but I may find it hard to do that, as I like making what I like making when I like making it. Good luck with the River Arts Stroll.

  16. Oh Nelle, I meant to say, no she is no relation. My husband's name is Starr and his family was from Finland. When they immigrated via Ellis Island, they chose their name out of the phone book because no one could pronounce or spell their last name.

    I was just thinking, hope I never need one, but wouldn't it be funny if I had a court case and my attorney's name was Linda Starr? "Your Honor, Linda Starr here, representing Linda Starr".

  17. first I love the photos of your cat!

    I am keeping track of my ceramics... I do a drawing in a sketch book of each one (quick drawing) with notes about clay, glaze, etc... and once it's fired I note the result. I should photograph each one and put a photo of it in the book as well but I haven't been doing that... I just keep track of dates, formulas and successes/failures :)

  18. Hi Kyle,

    I am glad you commented here. I was looking for your blog the other day and I couldn't find it in my favorites. Thanks about the photos. My class is up in two more week and I plan on taking some time to get real organized. I am wanting to make a portfolio too as I just needed one the other day. As time goes on I am seeing the notes are important, as I can't remember all I do and the types of clay either.


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