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Divided we plate

Realized this morning I hadn't posted the finished pictures of the divided grandkids' plates. Here they are. Yes, that's the same pony in two different poses. And I really need to do more with that chicken...

Home-court advantage

One question I got a lot last weekend at the Anacortes Arts Festival was Are you going to be in Coupeville next weekend?

Coupeville is on Whidbey Island, maybe an hour's drive over the bridge and down island; they hold their Arts Festival the week after Anacortes, and attract many of the same vendors.

A lot of artists on the circuit go from fair to fair. They load up their van at the start of the season, and don't come home until the end. Me, I can't do that.

To begin with, the cats would never forgive us; five days away for Anacortes is pushing it. If we stayed away for weeks at a time, you'd never find our bodies.

More importantly, I don't have the stock for it. I have a short-bed Chevy Astro, and packed to the ceiling with pottery boxes, I can just about manage one successful fair. To do another the next week, I'd have to drive home, restock, and drive back (essentially what I do in June between Edmonds and Roseburg, though they're in different directions). With an eight-hour-plus drive each way--plus a ferry ride--it just isn't worth it. (We actually did Coupeville for a few years when I couldn't jury into Anacortes. It's a nice, small festival, but never sold well for us, though we had friends to stay with so it mostly penciled out.)

But the biggest reason I don't go from show to show: I don't have to. Unlike most of the other folks on the circuit, I have a regular, reliable venue right here at home: the Eugene Saturday Market.

We've been doing the Market, rain or shine, for over 25 years. Over time, it's developed into a steady, reliable income stream, some weeks just grocery money, other weeks rather more. We can't survive solely on its income--hence the road shows--but with Market as a base, we can limit the times we go on the road to a manageable number, usually about six or seven. And because Saturday Market opens in April, and Holiday Market runs right up to Christmas Eve, we don't have to pack our entire income-earning for the year into a few short summer months (or drive to Arizona in the dead of winter to take advantage of off-season show opportunities).

An unexpected benefit? We stay in practice. We get a lot of comments from our neighbors at shows about how organized we are, how efficiently we set up and take down, even, occasionally, how well-designed our booth layout is (I know, I'm surprised too.). All skills we hone every week at Market. We practice our organizational systems--I'm working at improving inventory management--our selling skills, our product selection. And get to sleep in our own beds, not drive more than 20 minutes each way, and get paid while we do it.

And the best part? Because we set up on a square of sidewalk, I don't have to shim and level the shelves. I swear that's the hardest part of every road show set-up.

Fully octopied

Just closed the books on the Anacortes Arts Festival for 2018, and I gotta say, I'm impressed. I knew we'd done well--five empty pottery boxes in the van coming home is a pretty strong indicator--but had no idea how well. We're up over $1400 from last year, making this officially my second best show ever. (After 2014 Clayfolk.)

Why so well? I have a few ideas, but no firm conclusions.

For one thing, the weather was perfect. Sunny, breezy, temps in the low 70s. No blistering heat and smoke, like last year, or rain, or (I still shudder to remember) gale-force winds. So the customers were out in force. As were my collectors--Friday was by far my best day of the weekend, largely due to repeat customers coming early for the best selection. Though we still had good business right up to the end, with two sales happening as we were packing up at 5 pm Sunday.

Probably the biggest reason, and the only one I could really control, was what I brought.

Octopuses and crabs.

Some sea otters, too, and that nifty new pelican pattern, but I really went hard on octos and crabs. Soup bowls, stew mugs, tumblers and tall mugs, plates and pie and dessert plates. Serving bowls in medium and small sizes, covered crocks, short and tall. A pitcher, a pasta (should have been two, but someone bought the crab in Eugene the previous week), baking dish and big oval platter. And almost all of it sold. I think I brought home two plates, a couple of tall mugs and a tumbler, and the octopus teapot.

Case in point: my first sale Friday morning--half an hour early, while we were still setting up--was a crab small squared baker and medium serving bowl. My third sale, to a young woman who's been working toward a full table setting--and themed dinner party, she promised pictures--was an octopus platter, dinner plate, soup bowl and two dessert plates.

Also big this year: banks. Sold both pigs, both elephants, both chickens, all four cat banks, a T Rex and both brontosaurs. (The second for a little boy who asked, Why's he look so derpy? His dad came back later, said he couldn't stop talking about the derpysaurus. Think that's what I'm calling them from now on.)

I'd think that means it's time to raise my prices on banks, but they still don't sell anywhere else, so for now, we'll stand pat.

Although I didn't see Arden--my youthful collector from Edmonds--this year, I had an Arden-like experience, a little girl, maybe 10 years old, dragging her grandma into the booth, saying Look! Cat! And fox! And... So I played my second favorite game (first favorite is getting little kids to put their finger in the elephant bank's trunk so I can make trumpeting noises at them) and asked her what her favorite animal was.

Well, I like foxes... but I think my favorite are horses. So I show her my horse-patterned soup bowl, with the Appaloosa, bay and pinto horses and she makes this big gasp and goes up on her toes and just goes speechless and and points at it and vibrates.

When she finally remembers to breathe again, she says, in one continuous exhale, that she brought a bowl home from the fair but her grandma had broken it but she promised to replace it for her. Grandma asks, Is this the one? and she nods like a bobblehead and after Grandma has paid and I wrap it up, she insists on carrying it herself and walks off hugging the bag. Saying This is my new favorite booth.

God, I love my job somedays.

In the bag

Once again, Anacortes had us the first booth in the show. It's an advantage--we're clearly visible, easy to find, hard, in fact to miss. It's also a disadvantage. Because people see us first, and they don't want to carry pottery around all day. I'll come back on my way out, they say.

Some may; most won't. Our solution? Pottery bag checking. We keep their bags for them, all day if need be, and let them pick them up again on the way to their cars. All I ask for is a name and phone number written on the bag. I'm terrified someday I'll have a bag of paid pottery and no way to get it to a forgetful owner. I always considered this to be an unnecessary precaution on my part: nobody's gonna forget their bag, right?

This year, it happened. Twice.

The first time was Saturday night. I left a phone message, texted. Finally closed it up in the booth and went back to the motel. She texted back, apologetic, Sunday morning, collected her bank later that day.

The second time was a little dicier. She left a pitcher with her name, but couldn't remember her phone number. I did have her email, from sending a receipt, so when she hadn't returned by a quarter to five, I sent her a reminder. And again, at 5:30. At 6 pm, with all the pots in the van and us starting to take the shelves down, I was getting seriously concerned.

Finally heard from her at 6:30. She had forgotten, hadn't taken our card (good thing, as the card has our home phone number, not my cell), was coming back into town to get the pitcher. I reassured her we'd be there packing up the booth 'til about 7 o'clock, and she arrived about 20 minutes later, apologetic, just as we were taking down the canopy.

Oyster? I hardly knew her!

Talking with a customer Saturday about the patterns I'd made specially for Anacortes--crab, octopus, sea otter and pelican--she says, You should do oysters! They're really popular here too!

Oysters? The little blobby lumps of calcareousness, filled with what looks like snot?

Oh, I've seen really cute drawings of oysters, with little eyes and... but that's not really your style, is it?

Yeah, no.

Catching up

The last few days of a firing cycle are busy. Glazing fifty to seventy-five pots a day, then loading, firing, unloading. Sorting and pricing and loading the van for my next sale. I get a little behind.

The timing was tougher than usual too, this time. We usually load on Sunday, fire Monday, unload Wednesday, so I have Tuesday off, while the kiln cools, to catch up on chores, office work. This time we fired Friday, so my "day off" was spent at Saturday Market, and as the firing went 'til after 9 pm Friday, I was more than a little zonked. Add in the fact that the temperature hit 90° pretty much every day of the firing cycle, and you can see how things might get lost in the shuffle.

Like blog posts.

So here's three snapshots to catch you up while I get ready to set up in Anacortes this evening.

1. A para-fox.

I took an order at Edmonds last June for something new: a covered pasta bowl. The customer wanted a fox pattern; I asked if I should paint it on the lid or in the bowl, and he said Why not both?

Here it is ready to load into the kiln, looking lovely. Not show: How it looked half an hour later, after the know snagged on the roof of the kiln and broke off. Or the sound my heart made when that happened.

It's theoretically possible to weld a broken knob on with glaze, but it's anything but certain whether it'll stay put in the firing. Safer to start from scratch, for my September firing.

2. Koalaty workmanship.

Oh, right, like you thought I could pass that one up... And anyway, I had to show off something from what turned out a very nice firing.

3. Harvest time.

Last job before I went in to pack for Anacortes : Water the garden and collect the produce. Clockwise from top left, we have: Mystery red apples, windfalls from the Lutheran Church lot next door; snow peas, var. Oregon Giant, from our garden; blackberries, growing wild over the carport, because it's Oregon; Blue Lake green beans from our new raised bed; Gravenstein apples from our tree; and tomatoes, mostly Sungold cherries, which are trying to take over the whole garden.

So there's another thing handmade pottery is good for...

Today's tabletop theme is...

Babies! Goldfinch and fledglings, killdeer and chicks, baby squirrel, lamb, bear cub, bunnies. It's like kindergarten in Zootopia.

Signs of the times

Many years ago, Saturday Market hired a marketing consultant from Portland to come down and give an off-season presentation at the WOW Hall to us artists about selling our work.

I don't remember more than two points he made (One of which, Don't crowd too much into your booth, I blithely ignore.)

The other point was Don't hide your prices. He said many artists/craftsfolk don't clearly label their prices in the mistaken idea that people will ask them, thus starting a conversation that will eventually lead to a sale. It's more likely, he says, that they'll assume the item is outside of their price range, and walk away rather than being embarrassed by asking about something that they can't afford. Show your prices, he said. Make it easy for them to get past that first hurdle. They're likely to be surprised at how reasonably priced your work is, and be more willing to talk to you about it.

We took this advice to heart, and almost immediately bumped up our sales by a quarter.

Meet the "shelf talker" (a term I stole from my days at the printing plant, where we made them to show prices for Heileman's Old Style). It's nothing more than a little product-and-price sign, inkjet printed on card stock and laminated with clear box tape. We have at least one for each type of pot on the shelves, two for high quantity items like soup bowls and painted mugs.

For the longest time, we stuck them on with sticky poster putty, which worked great... except in spring and fall, when it was too cold to stick and needed to be peeled off the sign and rubbed vigorously between one's palms. Or in high summer, when it started to melt, leaving sticky traces behind on the shelves at the end of the day.

About a year ago, I had a brainstorm: I found a source online for reasonably cheap rare earth magnets. One or two quarter-inch magnets on the back of each shelf talker and some carpet tacks nailed into the edge of each shelf make setting out the shelf talkers on Saturday mornings literally a snap.

Glazing again

As the specter of my August shows looms ever nearer, I'm back in the studio again, glazing pots. We have bakers:

I'm also experimenting with a new pattern or two, getting ready for a coastal show in Washington. Pelicans, anyone?

A marvelous bird is the pelican:
Its beak holds more than its belly-can.

Also working through a big list of special orders, including a set of dinner plates:

(She sent me a list of 26 different birds; wants eight each, bowls, plates and--I think--mugs, with no duplicate patterns. I'm being very careful to check each one off after I've used it.)

And something you'd think would be a one-of-a-kind item, a manatee butter dish.

You'd be wrong. I just took an order for a second one, this afternoon.


My studio is really only about half mine. When we moved in, 18 years ago, we left half of it for storage, metal utility shelves all along one wall, stacked with boxes of miscellany, all numbered and indexed on Denise's laptop. Oh, we had such plans for organizing!

Eighteen years later, some of the boxes are unpacked; many are still there. Added in is a whole bunch of other stuff that just got piled between the back of the work table and the shelves, basically to get it out of my way. More boxes showed up around the periphery, shoved to the side and stacked against the wall. We never seem to manage to find time or energy to deal with them.

But we're finally trying. Denise retired from her service-provider job at Lane Community College at the end of spring term, when her blind student/client graduated, and she's been beginning to tackle some of her boxes in the living room, so I decided to attack three that were definitely mine in the studio.

The top one was labelled Frank's Dresser Top. Lots of easily recyclable stuff: Handouts from my QuickBooks class, and pretty much anything involving the Blair ArtsSpace. The former never turned out useful, as QuickBooks seems designed for businesses that buy wholesale and resell at retail, or possibly provide services, with no cost-of-goods-sold. My business, which manufactures and sells pottery, just doesn't fit their system, as least as of 1998 when I took the class. These days, I just use a hand-rolled Excel spreadsheet. The latter, an ill-fated attempt to build an artists' live/work community that we put a bit over two years into, never came together, and the developer ultimately sold the lot. I think there's a brewery there now.

Other stuff was document and then recycle: The originals to my attempt at a wholesale products catalog (later superseded by my website). Sales tallies from our first Holiday Market, and second year at Saturday Market. A bunch of old newspaper clippings featuring yours truly.

And a few things I don't quite know what to do with, particularly original artwork from our first few years promoting Off Center Ceramics (and Useful Pots, our booth partner). They're lovely things, ink on coated paper or film, and I hate to just toss them, but I don't want to put them in another box.

The second box is way easier: ancient check registers and duplexes. Shred and compost. The bottom box is old tax forms, each with that year's ledger. I think most of them are shred fodder as well, but I'd like to do a little data-mining first, get show sales recorded on a comparison spreadsheet I've been maintaining since I computerized my books in 2008.