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Catching up

I never have time to post while I'm glazing. Well, maybe not time so much as energy. I'm on my feet all day, for one thing; I've tried decorating pots sitting on a stool, but find I can't reach the brushes and colors, and spend too much time getting up, sitting down, tripping over the seat. I can sit down while waxing the bottoms of pots, but for decorating, it's standing or nothing.

The days also tend to run long: 8 or 9 am to 5 or 6 pm, plus the commute, half-an-hour each way if I drive, twice that if I'm on the bus. Cook supper when I get home, and I'm done. No energy or brain cells left to write words or even post pictures. Assuming I remembered to take pictures.

Well, I took a few, at least, and finished up glazing this morning early enough that I had time to go to the Farmer's Market, work on the kiln and still get home in time for a nap and do a quick post before supper.

First, an update: Here's what the napkin holder looks like glazed. The snowy owl creamer is also part of that order.

Oddly enough, I didn't sell very many of the more affordable sizes of serving bowl at Holiday Market, just the biggest, $60 ones. So I'm making replacements; also, another special order (the heron).

And lastly, a bunch of plates. I sometimes wonder whether I could simplify my life if I only did line drawings, no color. It'd certainly be faster.

Some patterns would be just fine, I expect, but some totally need the color.

Loading the kiln tomorrow...

WTF, Google?

I think it was a month ago, the phone calls started.

I mean, I always get calls for Off Center Ceramics, usually from credit card processors. The usual one targets “toy and hobby store owners,” they’re all robo-calls, and I just hang up on ‘em.

No, these were different. These were people. One of them asked if we sold pre-made tiles and glazes. One asked if we fired paint-your-own pottery. The most recent one wanted to know if we sold Skutt kilns. Huh?

(The answers, by the way, are no, contact The Potter’s Quarter on Coburg Road, and you really need to talk to Georgies.)

But I couldn’t figure out where these people were getting my number. It’s not a secret, by any means. It’s on my business cards, it’s on my website, heck, it’s even in the phone book, not that anyone still looks there. But anyone who had my card or my website would also have a fair idea what my business actually is: making and selling pottery. Through galleries, art fairs, Saturday Market. Not from here at home.

Denise finally figured it out. Playing around on her tablet, she searched for Off Center Ceramics on Google. What came up first was not my website, but a Google Business listing, that said “Off Center Ceramics, Pottery Store.” With my address, phone number, and a completely imaginary listing of business hours. (Monday through Friday, 10-5, Saturday, noon-4, closed Sunday.) And a Google street-view image of the front of our house.

Creepy, much?

If you’ve seen these things, you may have noticed the “Is this your business?” link. I pressed it, God help me, to see if I could make the thing go away. Got a phone call with a confirmation number, and now I’m in control. Only not so much. Take the business description: I seem to be limited to Google search categories. So I can say “Pottery Store,” but not “Pottery Studio,” or even “Pottery.” I can change the hours, but not, apparently, make them go away entirely. If I Remove Listing, it’ll still show up on Google and Maps, I just won’t be able to control it. The only other option seems to be “This Business is Permanently Closed,” which I don’t want to do because I’ve seen that marker on other Google entries, and I don’t want people to think I’ve stopped making pottery.

Most frustrating of all, I don’t know where the damn thing even came from. I didn’t create it. I bounced around Google’s unhelpful help pages for a while, finally got a phone number where supposedly, actual people answer the phone, wrote it down to call next morning. I also remembered that my domain name registry, Network Solutions, keeps sending me emails offering to manage my information on Google, so I wrote their number down as well.

The next morning wasn’t much better. Google’s automatic switchboard shunted me around in circles and finally dumped me on their advertising representatives, after ten minutes on hold. Who told me I had the wrong department, and offered to transfer me again. I said “Not if it means another ten minutes of Muzak,” so she made sure someone was available to pick up immediately, bless her.

Still got no help. They insisted I’d set the whole thing up the previous evening, as their records showed I’d verified at that time. They said there was no way to take it down short of declaring it Closed, though they did show me where to click “No customer services are available at this location,” which means my address becomes “somewhere in Eugene, Oregon.” So, mostly wrong instead of wildly so. They also have no explanation of how it got there in the first place. “Someone with access to your Gmail account must have created it.” Nope. “Our algorithms don’t harvest that information.” Oh yeah? Like I said, unsatisfying.

Network Solutions wasn’t much better. It wasn’t us, they said, Can’t help you. They did say that if your WhoIs information is public on ICANN, Google can and will harvest it to do this kind of thing. I can prevent it from happening again, if I have them make that information private.

Barn door, horse.

So today I’ll have to spend some more time in their control room, trying to do more damage control. Fix the link so it goes to my website index page, rather than just the contact frame. Try and take down the street-view photo, or at least replace it with a pottery picture. See if I can kill the business hours section entirely.

And the capper? They seem to have done the same thing for Denise’s paper making website, Pulp Romances.

WTF, Google?


How to fold a napkin...


Honestly, normally, this woulda gone on my list of things I'm not gonna make: napkin holders. But it's part of a special order, which makes it different.

The difference? Most of the pots on my Oh God No, Nope, Never list get suggested thusly: You know what you should make? [Ridiculous suggestion redacted]s! You'd sell a million of them! Whereas a special order says Could you make just one? For me? As part of this bunch of tableware pieces I'm also willing to pay for?

I mean, seriously, how can I say no?

Besides, it's January. I have time to mess around with design ideas, even if only for a one-of-a-kind item. (Though I'll probably make two, just in case.)

So here's my step-by-step attempt to make a napkin holder.

First, throw a bottomless cylinder, with smooth straight sides and a reinforced top, not unlike a utensil crock.
bottomlessa little like a tool crock
Then dribble water onto the wheel head, and drag it under the pot with your cut-off wire. This allows the bottom to slide as I reshape it from a round cylinder to an oblong rectangle.
stretch n slidewith corners!
Let it get leather-hard overnight, then mark where I'm going to cut away and reinforce the edges with an extruded coil that's about the same size as the bead around the top. After that, cut out the ends and smooth everything down.
reinforcementscutaway view
For the last step, I cut a slab to match the inner dimensions of the piece and attached it level with the bottom of the notch. Then it's dry slowly, bisque, glaze, and hope those big, unsupported flat surfaces don't droop in the firing. 
et voilawell, flattish


Reposted from offcenter.biz, January 22, 2018.
variety pack

It's a new year, and that means back to the studio for me. I'm at the wheel today throwing odd lots: six small covered crocks, six honey jars, six cream pitchers. Two tumblers, four stick butter dishes. It's a big change from yesterday, when I was all about the production: 28 soup bowls, 20 more for the Empty Bowls sale. Two days before it was twenty tall mugs and two dozen painted ones.

It's still slightly amazing how easy throwing comes after all these years. It certainly didn't start that way.

I was a terrible pottery student. Oh, I loved the clay, worked hard at it, but I Could. Not. Center. I braced and I pushed and I wore the lump down to a nubbin and still, when I opened the hole, it was off-center. (No, that's not where my business name came from; that's a story for another time.)

I drove myself crazy. I drove my instructor crazy. She finally made me get off the wheel, go back to hand-building for the rest of the term. (She's also the sabbatical replacement teacher who missed the fact that I was throwing backwards, left-handed. But I digress.)

I came back to the wheel from a different direction: I'd seen a film about traditional Korean potters (narrated by Mike Wallace, interestingly enough), who used the wheel for coil-building. Pots were roughed out from enormous coils, the size of your wrist, then paddled together and thrown thinner using wooden ribs. I didn't achieve that scale, but tried the technique out with smaller coils and wound up making some progress, and a nice set of big fat coffee mugs for my class final.

Some time in my second semester, I finally learned to center, by working one-handed. I'd apparently not been coordinating what my hands were doing, and what one hand centered, the other pushed off again. Keeping only one hand on the clay--the other locked on my wrist, maintaining pressure--allowed me to finally produce a centered lump of clay, a centered opening, and (since I'd learned all the raising, thinning and shaping techniques while coil-building) centered pots. And then I was lost forever.

I kept throwing after class ended. Heck, I kept throwing after I graduated. I learned how to center properly, and made so many pots. I traded glaze mixing and kiln loading for studio time, spent all my evenings and weekends in the studio, bought my first kick wheel from a student in the art history class I was teaching (as a sabbatical replacement). I had my first experience with art fairs (barely made gas money at Norskedalen) and the value of celebrity endorsements (when the band on stage at River Fest--Smith & Mayer--told people to come check out my pottery, they did. And bought things.).

I took summer pottery workshops. Two weeks in Tuscarora Pottery School, in Nevada; a week at the Pigeon Lake Field Station in northern Wisconsin. And I spent a week's lay-off from my graphics art job researching and applying to graduate schools. Which brought me here, to Eugene.

A two pie weekend

pie squared
Two pottery organization meetings this weekend. At opposite ends of the state (Clayfolk in Grants Pass, Showcase in Aloha).

Both of them potlucks.

Standards must be maintained. Even if it means using up my entire stock of frozen apple slices. (That's okay; there's still rhubarb and blackberries in the freezer.)

It's full of stars

Or rather holes in the shape of a star. Two hundred thirty four of them, to be precise. People keep asking, so I counted.

Mandala 2

Or, rather, hand-ala. Two dozen handles firming up in the studio. I'm always trying to come up with ways to fit more handles onto the bat; I think this one hit maximum handle-age.

Another view:

Oh, thank goodness

Denise and I went to the Saturday Market Board meeting last night.

I generally avoid these things, as too often I wind up getting vocal and the next thing you know, I'm on a committee. This time, though, we felt the need. She'd heard people talking at Holiday Market about Saturday Market opening March 30 in 2018, and I wanted to voice an opinion.

First thing to say, Market board meetings are really well-organized. Part of it was the process, parliamentary procedure amended by a step-by-step system that made sure everyone got to speak in a defined sequence. Part of it was the presider: Outgoing chair Willa was brisk, organized, and kept everyone in order without stepping on anyone's toes. They dealt quickly but thoroughly with several member issues, seated the new board members and elected officers, then slid onto the New Business: Starting date for 2018.

Turns out 2018 is one of those weird years where, because of a quirk of the calendar, there's one fewer Saturday between the beginning of April and Thanksgiving. That's one fewer selling day, one day less income for the Market as an organization. There's also the sense that weekends in April are better attended than later in spring, and having only four instead of five means less cash-flow as well. Someone also suggested March 31 could be a "soft opening" that allowed our new Market staff to shake-down the experience of opening the doors before the real opening on April 7.

On the other hand, starting in April is what we're known for. It's practically our brand. And I'm not sure I believe the April-Saturdays-all-sell-better argument. Opening weekend, sure, I've have great opening weekends when it was pouring rain. Pent-up demand needs to be met. But only on opening weekend. Other weekends in April are all over the place. I also tossed in the fact that April 1 is Easter, not necessarily a big deal for many of our vendors, but it might be for the customers, and I'd like for once to celebrate the holiday without being exhausted by Market.

Other points started popping up. We have precedent for this: turns out in 1985 they opened the season March 30. New board member Kate did a little research on her phone and announced that March 31 was still in Spring Break. Twenty-two thousand students not around to celebrate the new season with us puts a damper on the festivities. Diane had done an unscientific survey on our Facebook page and replies were running 2:1 against early opening (though she admitted that she didn't know how many replies were from current members, as opposed to retired). And Lyn pointed out that our fiscal year is actually April 1-March 31. Not only would this mess with the 2017 closing numbers, it wouldn't even pay for itself. Credit card sales processed and employee expenses would post March 31, but cash proceeds wouldn't be deposited until April 3.

Market manager and staff were asked for a recommendation, but declared themselves neutral on the subject. Ultimately, Eli moved that we open on April 7, and the motion carried. We stayed a little longer, but when I found myself tempted to volunteer for Standards Committee (again), made our goodbyes and went home.

Oh thank goodness.

My mandala

AKA pre-centered clay, ready to spin.
Bat pins!

Was getting ready to (finally) make mugs this morning when I took a close look at the head of my wheel and saw something surprising: the bat pins were nearly worn away.

I didn't even know this was possible. Bat pins are supposed to be forever, sturdy little bolt heads that hold your throwing bats in place. If anything is supposed to wear out, it's the holes in the bats themselves, particularly the masonite ones. They're always getting loose and wobbly; I've started sticking a sheet of old t-shirt fabric on the wheel head to keep the bats from sliding back and forth.

Well, it turns out the bats weren't entirely at fault. Or maybe they were--the back-and-forth friction, along with the abrasive qualities of the clay, seem to have worn a good sixteenth-inch or more off the pins all the way around, on one pin, all the way to the hollow center of the head. I had to take off the wing nuts, lever out the pins with a vise-grips, and take a set, along with a representative throwing bat, down to the nearest hardware store. (I could have gone to the ceramics supply instead, but only if I wanted to pay four times the price.)

I should have taken a flashlight. Socket-headed machine screws were in the back-most layer of a three-deep sliding hardware thingy. (You know the kind, like sliding closet doors covered with tiny, badly labeled drawers full of every screw and fastener except the one you need right now.)

I finally found what I needed, 3/4 inch pins with a 1/4 inch head. Cost me 86¢ for two. And the best part--almost making up for a lost morning's throwing--is that my bats don't wobble anymore.