Sunday, 19 August 2012

20. Out with the Old and in with the New.

Hello Potters and friends,

So, what's out and what's new? Here's the answer.....

My kiln has had a bit of a face-lift this week.

The elements began to pop out of their grooves, to the extent that I got quite worried. They still worked OK but I knew they would soon interfere with the shelves, props and, heaven help us, the pots themselves.
I checked out this problem on the web, hoping for a quick and easy solution. I was advised to do all manner of things from,  'do nothing until it all goes bang', to, 'heat up the kiln to 500ºC, then switch off, but with blow-torch at the ready start pushing them back in.' 
Want to hear my advice?   -   Don't!   Pay for an expert to replace them for new.
When the old elements came out they shattered like thin glass as they touched the floor. You can see all the broken ends in the picture, and the rest, which was in 1 centimetre bits, had to be swept up.
My lovely repairer, who had travelled some miles from Stoke-on-Trent, did it all in an hour and added U-shaped pins to hold the new lot in. 

So, as the weather got hotter and hotter this week, reaching an unbelievable 33ºC, I have been very happy to retreat to the cool of the basement and get on with experimenting with throwing porcelain. 
If you haven't tried working with porcelain then I can only describe it as...different. 
It's softer than stoneware and a lot more plastic when wet.  If I pulled the walls a bit too thin then I had a collapse on my hands. It was like learning to throw all over again. Then, lifting the pot from the wheel  was very dodgy at first, as it seemed to move around and lose it's shape. But these qualities are not all bad. I had a pot go off centre quite dramatically yesterday, and because of it's elastic nature, it was very easy to run my hands up the pot and bring it back to centre.   

I use Ming Porcelain from Scarva Supplies in Northern Ireland.
There are many different porcelains and each one may react differently but, for the moment, I'm going to stick with this one.

You'll see there is a ridge just above the pattern. This is because I threw the wall thicker than I would normally to prevent that collapse, so at the turning stage I began paring it away, but had to stop above the pattern. I really liked this effect of a pot within a pot, and so I turned other pots in the same way.

I'll probably adopt this as my porcelain style. No-one needs to know that I threw the tops too thick!

I burnish the bases of flat bottomed pots before putting my stamp on them, as it stops hairline cracks appearing that may have been due to uneven drying out. 

So, we're all still learning. There is always something new to have a go at. I'm really enjoying working with a clay that feels so different to what I'm used to. It's making me take a second look at my technique, and it may change the shape and form of the next lot of pots I make. 

You might like to see some of the finished commissioned pots that have been waiting for the kiln to have its face-lift.

The miniature salt pots with flat spoons below.

The spoons needed to be so small and thin that I had to make them out of porcelain. Stoneware would have definitely cracked. The pattern stamped into the rounded end I designed to hold the grains of salt.

2 kitchen utensil pots looking suitably ethnic, I hope, as required.

And last but by no means least!

While having a cup of tea in the garden yesterday, I sat watching our tiny harvest mouse visitor.
Luckily he didn't run away when I called out to Alan to fetch his camera. 

So, relax in the summer sun.
Enjoy the garden visitors.
Think creative thoughts
Happy Potting Folks.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

19. The Price is Right.

Hello Potters and Friends,

Well, I said I'd discuss the pricing of my pots, so here I go.
It's a really difficult subject but I think it's important for us all to share our points of view on the subject. So this is how I try to tackle it.

Firstly, I think we all would agree that we shouldn't over-price, nor under-price our work but aim for a fair price.
I make, mainly, functional pots, i.e. mugs, bowls, jugs....what Simon Leach calls "repeat ware".
I also make pots that are individual  - the one-offs.  So I have two different types, two different pricings.

I make the 'repeat ware', as the name suggests, in batches and can throw them on the wheel fairly quickly.
People tend to buy mugs and such-like tableware in sets, so it makes sense to bear this in mind when setting a price. The acid test, as with all pricing - is, would I pay this amount for these cups?

I sell small coffee cups at £7 or £7.50 each.  The spoon rests (front of the table) £5 each. So a set of 4 cups is £28 or £30. To my mind, that is about right. If I raise the price people might go away with one or two at most. Or even worse, go to their local store and buy mass produced crockery.
Price is also important in another way too. People want to feel comfortable as they wander around your studio or showroom. We want them to think that they've made a very good choice. This is the right place for them.  Have you ever found yourself in an expensive shop, quickly realising that there is absolutely nothing you could afford? But once in, you feel trapped. It can make you go a little cold sometimes, and getting out of the door is all you can think about.
But a simple solution is to visit lots of other pottery shows and check out their prices.

Some people have tried to encourage me to put up my prices on my functional ware. But I've seen the results of over-pricing. There has been a drop off of sales and a build-up of unsold work, which inevitably leads to a stagnation in the workshop - not to mention a dip in reputation.

But the one-off individual pots are different.  I don't make 20 an hour. As everyone is a new product, there is more experiment and creative thought involved, as well as labour. Inevitably, the price of these pots reflects this.

But the important thing is to keep potting, keep learning and keep up the enthusiasm.

But now, back to this week. Mugs are still very much high on my agenda, and it's been a dozen handles in particular.

I had a bad start working with clay that was far too soft. I couldn't get the handle to retain its shape, it flopped about, it split and finally I had to scrape it off the cup and start again. 
I took some fresh clay and wedged it up good and proper! I rolled out my handle and left it on newspaper while I had a cup of tea. Catching the clay at the right moment is crucial but my advice is keep testing it and don't be tempted to roll out too thin. Firstly it will look like you've been mean with the clay, and secondly, it's more liable to show cracking as you bend it. 

Before fixing this one on a coffee cup, I was able to decorate it with a toothed tool.

But it hasn't been all work and no play. And I even got Alan away from the Olympics on TV.

Here we are with the flamingos at Peter Scott's Wildlife Park, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.

They know how to show off to the visitors!

Rosie, with her flamingo red hair. I love it!

Bye, for now 
Happy Potting Folks