Saturday, December 17, 2011

Low & High Fire in the Same Studio

I've worked on several school kilns in the last month where the teacher is interested in doing some cone 6 work in addition to the low fire work they usually do. There is absolutely no problem with this, as long as the proper precautions are taken.

The greatest worry with keeping glazes and clays for more than one firing range is that the low fire materials may get into a high fire glaze load. Earthenware clay, which is formulated to mature around cone 04, will melt (yes melt, like into a puddle) at cone 5. When this happens it ruins the kiln shelves, and typically flows into the walls of the kiln, destroying whatever bricks and elements it comes into contact with. To prevent such a catastrophe, I recommend using a two different color clays for the low and high fire. If you are already using white clay for low fire, use a brown clay for high fire. If you are already using terra cotta for low fire, use a white clay for high fire. This way they can easily be identified. White clays all look the same once they have been bisque fired.

Glazes are another problem. While it's rare that an over-fired glaze will ruin the kiln, it can definitely ruin a kiln shelf and all the pots next to it. To keep from putting the wrong glaze on your pots, figure out a way to color code the glaze jars. I recommend putting a stripe of red tape on all glazes that go with the red/brown clay, and a white stripe on all the glazes that go on white clay. Keep it simple so that the students won't get confused.

Another concern is with the firing itself. It is not uncommon for someone to program their kiln for cone 5 when they meant to do cone 05, and then everything melts. One way to keep from getting confused is to simply use obviously different cones for your firings. Instead of cone 05 and cone 5, use cone 04 and 5, or 05 and 6. If you have a computerized kiln, once the firing starts hit the 'Review Program' button and make sure you programmed the correct cone temperature. If you have a manual kiln, color code your cone boxes the same as your glaze jars. Red tape for the red/brown clay, white for the white clay.

Last, any time time little shards of a pot end up on the kiln shelves or on the kiln bricks or elements, whether from blowing up in a firing or from breaking during loading and unloading, they must be vacuumed out. Just like an over-fired pot, those little shards of low fire clay will melt in a high fire. If that melted shard is on an element, it can ruin the element. If it is on a shelf, it will have to be chiseled off the shelf. Keep your kiln vacuumed out and clean and it will last a lot longer, and save you a lot of money in repair costs.

Hope this helps. Happy firing!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blog Listing

One of my sinks was featured as the 'Clay of the Day' on the Shady Grove Sundries blog. It's a nice little blog that showcases some great work, mostly from Etsy. I'm honored to be a part of it. Check it out!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Holiday Show

I have two fairs/shows/sales coming up this holiday season! The first is a fundraiser for Our House of Hope K-9 Rescue on November 6 at the Adler Park Bob Davis Lodge in Libertyville. I did their holiday show last year, and it was a ton of fun. We adopted Annie, our lovable mutt, from OHH. It's a great organization that does a wonderful job of placing dogs in forever homes. Stop by the sale and do some holiday shopping!

The second show is the Holiday Show at Architectural Artifacts in Chicago. AA sells architectural salvage pieces. If you've never been in their store, you've got to go. It is AMAZING! 80,000 square feet of old stuff- doors, tiles, mantles, lights, etc. You name it, they've got it.

In addition to these shows, my students will also be hosting a student pottery sale here at my gallery some time in November. I'll post details as soon as I know them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Summer Art Fair Recap

What a summer! My first season of art fairs was totally exhausting but totally fun. I must say I do love hanging out in my booth all weekend talking to people about my pots. Total ego boost! As this was my first year, I definitely made some mistakes, but also had some great successes. Here's a show-by-show recap of my inaugural summer of fairs:

1. St. Charles, IL- Rain, rain, rain. Light rain on Saturday, total monsoon on Sunday morning that shut us down. Aside from that, it was a great first fair experience. The people running the show were very nice, and well organized, and despite the rain I still managed to make a little bit of money on Saturday. Several other artists that do the show every year said that it really is a good show for them, so I'm going to give it another try next year.

2. Cambridge Pottery Festival (Cambridge, WI)- I was really excited to do this show, since I've been hearing good things about it for years. I wasn't disappointed. It's set up in a huge park, so there was plenty of room for everyone to shop and for my boys to run amuck. Cambridge had the easiest setup of the entire summer. I was able to pull my car right up to my booth location and leave it there during the whole show. Piece of cake. Sales were very good for me, and I met a lot of great potters. I'll definitely be doing it again.

3. Spring Green, WI- Another great show. Easy setup on Friday night, and great people. The show is set up in a straight line down 5 or 6 blocks of the downtown, with booths on both sides of the street, so there are no bad booth assignments. Sales were great, and I won first place in ceramics so I get automatic entry into next year's show. I'm definitely going back.

4. Skokie Art Guild Fair (Skokie, IL)- Skokie was not a good show for me, or for most of my neighbors. The weather was hot, my booth location was awful, and attendance was horrid. There just weren't very many shoppers. The folks running the show were very nice, so I can't complain there, but I will not be going back to this show.

5. Kohler Art Center Festival (Sheboygan, WI)- What a great show! The quality of the art work was excellent, and the show was very well organized. They know what they're doing. I had my best one-day sales the first day of this show, but the second day was awful. The weather report said it was supposed to be brutally hot, so it scared everyone away to the beach. The heat wasn't nearly as bad as predicted, but I think everyone had already made plans. Luckily a customer called me the next day and ordered a sink, which bumped my sales up to a respectable number. I'll definitely be applying to Kohler again next year.

6. Clear Lake Art Sail (Clear Lake, IA)- I decided to do this show because it was near our favorite summer vacation spot, and it was just a one day show. Attendance was great, but people were not buying. Luckily some family friends made up for it and I had a really good day, but without them I would have been lucky to cover the cost of the booth and the gas to get there. I will not be doing this show again.

Annie had to ride in the front seat all the way to Iowa.

7. Racine Art Guild Starving Artists Show (Racine, WI)- The morning rainstorms combined with being a Sunday meant that this show didn't really get started until 11am. Then everyone packed up at 3pm to avoid another storm that ended up going south and missing us completely. So this was really only a 4 hour sale, and in that sense it was a good 4 hours. That said, I don't plan on going back. I only sold small things, and the overall attendance was not that good.

8. ASOA Oak Park Fair- I think this fair needs to be scheduled differently. It is currently a 2 day fair, on Friday and Saturday. Friday, for me, was a complete waste of time. Saturday started and ended good, but was bad in the middle due to a mid-day rain storm. I think it could be a nice little one day (Saturday) show, assuming they also increased the quality of the work. Until then, I'm out.

9. Bucktown Arts Fest (Chicago, IL)- This was my most highly anticipated show of the season. Bucktown is a hip neighborhood full of young professionals just waiting to spend a ton of money on handmade objects, right? Apparently not. I had an awful weekend. I think this fair is as much of a block party as it is an art fair. So while there were a ton of people milling about, I just wasn't making any sales. And those pieces I did sell were all on the small side. I think my location had something to do with it, but I also think that most of the people there were just out looking for something to do close to home. And to top it all off, setup and teardown were awful and my booth was on such a steep hill that it took me an hour just to get my shelves set up. I may try it again if I can get a different booth location and if there aren't any other shows that weekend that look better.

My view at the Bucktown fair.
The outdoor theater was right in front of my booth.

10. Mt. Mary Starving Artists Show (Milwaukee, WI)- Best show ever! One day, easy setup, close parking and awesome attendance. Everything sold at Mt. Mary must be $100 or less, so there are a ton of bargains to be found. Even with a $5 entrance fee, there were several hundred people lined up to get in at 10am. I sold more than the entire Skokie show in the first 20 minutes! Sales slowed down after 1pm, but I did as well as my best 2 day shows. I hope to get into this show for many years to come!

The crowd waiting to get into the Mt. Mary fair.

Overall, it was a great summer. I made a lot more money than if I had stayed home, met some great people, and learned a lot about what people want when shopping for pots. I'll apply to at least half of this year's shows again next year, and try out a few new ones. Meanwhile, I've got two holiday shows to get ready for. Details coming soon.....

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Endless Summer

Well, I haven't posted in about 6 weeks, and I apologize. It has been the craziest summer EVER, and it is finally coming to an end. My 10th and final art fair of the summer is this Sunday, the Mt. Mary College Starving Artists' Show. This show is a great way to end the season, as everything must be priced under $100.  Word on the street is that major bargains can be had, since the artists want to clear out their inventory before stocking up for next year. I am going to go with that system, and try to get rid of as many pieces as I can. After a while you just get tired of seeing some of the same pieces over and over in your booth! So I'll be selling my large $250 jars for $99, and maybe even a $400 sink or two at crazy low prices. Come up to Mt. Mary College on Sunday and get some bargains!

Starving Artists' Show

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Kohler Art Fair, Day One

Today was great. I set a new personal record for one day sales! And to make it even better, I sold a vessel sink and a couple of my new lamps. The weather report this morning called for rain, but it never came. It did get pretty muggy in the afternoon, but my booth is in a good location where I get a nice breeze. Lunch was delivered to my booth by the folks at the Arts Center cafe, and it was delicious. Overall it was a wonderful day. Fingers crossed tomorrow will be just as good!
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.6

Friday, July 15, 2011

Spring Green Art Fair

The Cambridge Pottery Festival was a great success, although I totally tanked in the throwing competition. I'm just not used to throwing really wet buff clay. Oh well. Sales were good, and I met  lot of great people. It was my first (out of 2) profitable fair!

Two weeks later was the Spring Green Arts and Crafts fair in Spring Green, WI. What a great little town, and what a great turnout for the fair! My sales were even better than Cambridge, mostly due to the sheer number of people in attendance. The local Lions Club sold more than 2700 bratwurst and hamburgers on the first day, and the women's swimming team used over 60 pounds of meat for their tacos-in-a-bag. Don't come to Wisconsin if you don't like to eat!

My booth was busy all day both days. The steady stream of customers made the time fly by. I sold about 25 fishing lures and a lot of pitchers, lidded jars, and even a large platter. At the end of the fair a local business made a large wholesale purchase for their store. To top it all off, I won first place in the ceramics category, which included a cash prize! Tony Winchester won second place.

I met a lot of interesting folks, and had a great time people watching. Here's my list of winners for the weekend:

Best t-shirt saying: I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Best thing said to me: Did and old guy wearing a white tiger t-shirt and pushing a wheelchair come to your booth yet?

Best thing overheard in the booth next to me: Melanie, I love your gourds.

Best thing seen driving home: A Michael Jackson impersonator in full costume dancing on the skywalk over the highway in Madison.

So even with the cost of gas, hotel and food, it was a very profitable weekend. This weekend is the Kohler Art Center Midsummer Festival of the Arts in Sheboygan, WI. It promises to be a very well attended fair, so sales should be good. Wish me luck!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ultralight Bass

A nice bass caught on my new ultralight porcelain lure. Crappie love them, too!
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.6

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cambridge Pottery Festival

The Cambridge Pottery Festival & U.S. Pottery Games will be held this weekend, and I will have a booth there for the first time. My students are requiring me to participate in the pottery games, so I will also be competing in the throwing competitions, in the heavyweight bracket (that refers to the amount of clay being used, not the weight of the competitors).

The throwing competition

So come on up and watch me compete! The fair will be held from 9-5 on Saturday, 10-4 on Sunday.

The Pathfinder is packed to the gills. Tomorrow morning I'll strap my tables and canopy to the roof and head to to Cambridge.

Friday, June 3, 2011

St. Charles At Fair

This past weekend I took part in my first ever art fair, the St. Charles Fine Art Show. I packed up all my pots on Thursday and headed down to St. Charles on Friday afternoon to set up my booth. Setup went smoothly, and the people running the fair were very nice and helpful.

Packing up the Pathfinder. I filled it top to bottom, front to back.

Saturday morning I was back in St. Charles by 7am to start unpacking my totes and getting everything set on the shelves. This went smoothly, too, and I was very happy with how the booth looked. Shoppers started wandering in by 9:30am.

The first piece I sold was a fishing lure. It was a huge relief to actually sell something, and it got me excited for the rest of the day. Unfortunately the weather was a bit overcast all morning, and by mid afternoon it started to rain. It never rained very hard, but it kept coming off and on for the rest of the day. While people did stay out and shop, the fair was never very busy. I did manage to sell some nice larger pieces, a teapot, and 10 more lures. A lot of people stopped in my booth to look around, so that was good. At least they saw something they liked well enough to take a closer look.

We had all been watching the weather for several days, and the forecast for Sunday kept getting worse and worse. Every 12 hours they would lower the expected high temperature and increase the chance of storms. On Thursday the weather reports were saying that Sunday was going to have a high of 91 degrees with some clouds. By Sunday morning it was down to 67 degrees, with an 85% chance of storms with 80mph wind gusts and 2 inch diameter hail.

I arrived in St. Charles Sunday morning to dark skies and cool temperatures. A huge storm was sitting over Iowa and western Illinois, and we were all watching the radar on our smart phones to see if it was going to hit us. At 10:45am it hit. Massive downpour. The parking lot where we were set up had a 1/2 inch of water on it. It would let up slightly every now and then, but not much. Around 11:30am the winds started up and I had to hold onto my canopy so that it wouldn't blow away, even with an extra set of weights on the legs. The manhole-size drain 20 feet away was overflowing with water, and my booth had a small stream running through it. Luckily the winds passed after 20-30 minutes, but not before they had ruined a few canopies.

By noon the fair organizers said we were free to pack up if we wanted. I checked the radar again and saw that only about 1/3 of the storm had passed so far, so I ate lunch and started packing, in the downpour. I head home at 2:15pm, soaked to the core, with no sales for the day.

On Monday I set up my canopy in the back yard to dry out.

After expenses, I still managed to make a little bit of money, so the fair wasn't a complete waste. I think some of the other artists weren't so lucky, though, and several of the 2D artists had their work ruined by the rain as it got inside of frames.

I would definitely consider doing the St. Charles Fine Art Fair again. It was very well organized and the people running it were very nice. They even fed us lunch! Up next is the Cambridge Pottery Festival on June 11 & 12 in Cambridge, Wisconsin. I hope we have better weather. Keep your fingers crossed!

Monday, May 23, 2011


New teapots that came out of the kiln a couple of weeks ago. One was sent to Cedar Creek Gallery in North Carolina for their big teapot show.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.6

Monday, May 2, 2011

More Good News

Today I received acceptance notices to 2 summer art fairs. What a great way to start the day! The first was Art Sail in Clear Lake, Iowa, and the second was the Skokie Art Guild Fair in Skokie, IL. Neither are really big fairs, but they usually have good attendance and are well managed, so I should have a good time at both.

This brings my summer art fair total up to 8. I'm still waiting to hear from 2 more, and there are still 2 other smaller local fairs that I haven't decided on doing yet. I think maybe I'll wait and see how the first few go and then decide.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Palm Pots

I loaned some planters to the First Presbyterian church in Libertyville for use in their Palm Sunday services. Carl Sokoloski did a great job of setting up the displays, and gave me a nice mention in the church bulletin. Thanks, Carl!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kohler Art Center Fair

Oh happy day! Today I received notice that I have been accepted into the Kohler Art Center's Midsummer Festival of the Arts! I am very excited about this fair, because from what I've heard they really treat the artists well. Plus Kohler is a giant in the ceramics manufacturing world and they have an awesome collection of  ceramic art at the center. Hope to see you at the show!

For those of your that haven't been to the Kohler Art Center, it's worth the trip just to see the restrooms. Each was designed by ceramic artists of very different styles, and they are all amazing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Delayed Again!

For the umpteenth time, an art fair to which I have applied has decided to take a few extra days to finish the jurying. Aaaugh! This time it's the Kohler Midsummer Festival of the Arts. They were supposed to email acceptance/ rejection letters today, but instead they sent an email that said the results won't be ready until Monday due to the large number of entries. That worries me. More competition is bad! Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Stacked Planters

When I throw large planters, like 25 pounds or more, I make them in 2 or more sections. If I want them to join seamlessly, I stack the two sections immediately after throwing them, do a couple of pulls and then stretch them into the form I want. The seam never shows and never comes apart. But sometimes I want the joint to show. Here are some photos showing that process:

First I thrown the base piece. Note the thick rim. It gives me a nice wide area on which to attach the top section, and will also be a design element in the finished piece. I let this piece set up to soft-leather- hard before attaching the top. This particular base piece was made with about 12 pounds of Standard 553 Buff clay. It's a little groggier than what I normally like to use, but it throws very nicely.

Next I throw the top section, leaving it about 3/4 of and inch thick. It will be pulled and thinned after I attach it to the base. I usually make this in a cone shape, because it's easier than opening it really wide, and it's more stable once I attach it to the base. There is no bottom to this section. It's just a ring.

After scraping all the slurry off of the top ring and scoring the rims of both sections, I flip the top ring over and place it on the bottom section. Then I cut off the bat and work the two pieces together, making sure they are well joined.

I like to clean up and refine the lip before I start pulling the top section. It's easier to deal with it while the wall is still thick and stable. Then I pull the top section to thin it out, and shape it to achieve the final form.

To make 35-45 pound pieces, I will throw the base section with two 12-13 pounds pieces, joined seamlessly, then add another section using this method once it has set up a bit. In theory, I could keep adding sections. The problem is that they don't always stay perfectly centered as I work upward, and it would be very difficult to control if there was too much wobble.

This method also works very well with smaller pieces. My students often do stacked forms with 5-8 pound sections, because that's all they can center. It allows them to make much larger pieces than they could in one piece. Give it a try!

Friday, April 8, 2011


I started throwing large planters this week, in preparation for my 7th Annual Garden Sale. This year's sale will be held on May 14th from 9am-5pm, with a planter-only pre-sale on May 7th. For those of you not familiar with my garden sale: I make and sell stoneware and porcelain planters of all sizes, and my gardening-expert friend Judi Hendricks sells annuals and herbs. The big bonus is that Judi will create beautiful arrangements in your newly purchased planters so you don't have to mess with the planting when you get home. Pots from previous year's sales may also be brought in to be planted. It's a fun event and a great way to kick off Spring.

These planters are made with Standard Ceramic Supply's #306 brown stoneware clay. It's an awesome clay body that I've never had a single problem with. I've used it for cone 8 oxidation and cone 10 reduction, and it never warps or cracks, even on these large pieces.

My large planters vary in size from 25-45 pounds, made by assembling wet sections and pulling and shaping them. A 3 piece, 32 pounder takes about 20 minutes. I'll often add another ring to the top after letting it set up a bit over night. Using this method I never have to center more than 15 pounds at a time, which really cuts back on the wear and tear on my wrists. Plus a generally get larger, thinner pots than if I did them in bigger pieces. I'll post some pictures soon showing the process.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mt. Mary Starving Artists' Show

This weekend I received an acceptance letter to the Mount Mary College Alumnae Association Starving Artists' Show! This is one of the shows I really, really wanted to get into this summer. It's supposed to be totally crazy, and it's only a one day show. Apparently people tailgate for several hours before the show opens at 10am, and then they come running. One of my friends said she does as well as most 2 day shows! Upon checking out their website, I found that it's ranked #61 in the top 100 fine art fairs in the country by Art Fair Source Book, which ranks shows based on gross sales. So it promises to be a very exciting and (hopefully) profitable day. Time to start making pots!

P.S.- One of my students also got into the show! Way to go Linda Zepere!

Intuit GoPayment Part II

Today I received my new credit card swiper to use with my Motorola Droid phone. I had to make a quick call to customer service to figure out how to use it, but that only took a minute and it's working great! Turns out you have to enter the sale amount before swiping the card, which is the opposite of most card readers.

It's an amazingly simple little machine- it just plugs into the headphone jack. The only annoying thing about it so far is that I have to take the protective case off the phone in order to get the swiper to plug in all the way. On the plus side, it has a long strap attached to it so it will be harder to lose, and has a little plastic case to store it in. I think it's going to work very well at the summer art fairs. The only problem will be if I don't have a cell phone signal at the fair.....

Friday, April 1, 2011

Web Hosting Dilemma

Today I spent an hour doing 30 minutes of updating on my web site. GoDaddy has been hosting my site for about 6 years now, and while I never have any trouble with the site going down, or with customer service, their online site builder is totally buggy. I have to do everything 2 or 3 times to get it to work properly. And it seems to get worse every time they make 'upgrades' to the system. I don't know if it's because I'm using a Mac, or if it's a pain in the butt for everyone, but I've tried 4 different browsers, and none of them seem to fix the problems. So I'm in the market for a new site hosting company with an online builder. I'm trying out Intuit's system, and so far it seems to work pretty well, however their pricing may be an issue. Time to run some numbers...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Intuit GoPayment

I've been using Intuit as my merchant services processor since December, and I've been very happy with them. Their rates are not quite as low as my previous processor, however Intuit is very easy to deal with, and their web site is awesome. Plus their rates will go down once they put out a card reader that works with Mac. For now I have to key everything in, which means higher rates. It comes out to only $20-$30 a month more, but it's worth it for the ease of use.

Today I added Intuit's GoPayment service to my account. It allows me to process credit cards through my Motorola Droid smart phone, and includes a free card reader that attaches to my phone. The best part is that there is no monthly charge, no additional service fee, and no cancellation fee. No extra fees at all! I should receive the card reader in the next couple of days, but I'll be able to key in to the account this afternoon. Once I have a chance to try it all out, I'll let you know how well it works.

Rejection, Rejection

As the title says, I received two rejection notices this weekend! First from Art Fair on the Square in Madison, WI, and second from Morning Glory Craft Fair in  Milwaukee, WI. So not a great weekend. I'm most bummed about the Madison show, because it is a HUGE show, where people sell TONS of work. But I've applied to a few others, so hopefully they will come through for me. Keep your fingers crossed!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Overworked Elements

Today I replaced the elements on an L&L Jupiter kiln. The old elements were well beyond their usable lifespan; they should have been replaced months or years ago. A good rule of thumb is to have a kiln checkup every 1-2 years if you're glaze firing to cone 6 or hotter, or every 2-3 years if you're glaze firing to cone 04. The most important part of the checkup is to check for element wear. If you can't do the checkup yourself, then call your local kiln tech. It will cost about $50- $75 for a checkup.

The simplest, although least accurate, method of testing your elements for wear is simply to take a good look at them. If the coils are starting to bunch up or lay flat, then there's a good chance that they are worn out. The most accurate method is to check them with an Ohm meter, which measures the resistance of the elements. Once the resistance is 10% off from the original, your elements are no longer firing efficiently and should be replaced.

Whatever you do, don't fire your kiln until the elements burn out. It will cost you more in the long run, for two reasons. First, you'll be spending more on electricity due to the inefficiency of worn elements. Second, replacing really old elements is more difficult and damages the kiln. Why? Because as elements wear, they expand. In an older L&L kiln, like the one I worked on this morning, they expand and become wedged into the hard ceramic element holders. To get them out, you have to use a pair of needle nose pliers to pull them out in little pieces. So instead of taking 5 minutes to remove all the elements this morning, it took about 80 minutes. That's an extra $100 at my normal hourly repair rate. In addition to the wedged elements, a couple of the element holders also cracked and had to be replaced, which took another 10 minutes. Add in the wasted electricity from the worn elements, and you've got a couple hundred dollars or more.

In non-L&L kilns, the expanded elements cause major damage to the bricks when you take them out. Because the grooves in the brick are so fragile, they easily break when trying to wedge a now-too-large element out of their grooves. At $10- $12 per brick, plus labor, the extra charges can add up fast. Replacing a brick involves unstacking the rings of the kiln, removing all the hardware from the case, loosening the body bands and sliding out the old brick. Once the new brick is slid into place, it usually needs to be filed down to sit flush with the old bricks, and then the kiln can be put back together. It's not a fast process!

So keep up on your kiln maintenance, just like you do with your car. Your kiln will last longer and save you hundreds or thousands of dollars over its lifespan.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring Green

I'v been accepted into the Spring Green Arts and Crafts Fair ! It's supposed to be a really good one, so I'm very excited. Spring Green is home to Frank Llyod Wright's TaliesinCave of the Mounds, and The House on the Rock, so it's a pretty busy tourist area. There should be lots of people at the show!

The House on the Rock

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

CLC ARTcetera NEWS: Teapots: An Invitational - Neil Estrick Grayslake,...

CLC ARTcetera NEWS: Teapots: An Invitational - Neil Estrick Grayslake,...: " Neil Estrick Teapot $120 porcelain, Cone 8 oxidation (8.5' x 10' x 7')  Statement: There is a cupboard full of handmade mugs in my ki..."

Mugs, Mugs, Mugs

I finally finished a batch of mugs, and I'm thrilled with the results. I tried out some new glaze combinations and new forms, with great success!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Illinois Internet Sales Tax

This week the governor of Illinois signed a bill that would require all internet retailers with affiliates in Illinois to collect a 6.25% sales tax on all sales to residents of Illinois. This law has some god points and bad points, but what disturbs me the most is that several companies like Amazon have decided to dump all of their Illinois affiliates rather than collect the sales tax. Amazon did the same thing in Colorado recently, and I think it's just plain wrong. 

Amazon should step up and collect the tax. I feel that their action is no different than a corporation moving its manufacturing to another country. The company grows with the help of the little guys, then dumps the little guys to keep their profits up. The almighty dollar wins again. Many of Amazon's affiliates are small businesses who rely on their association with Amazon to keep their business going. Amazon knows that their bottom line won't suffer because they have affiliates in other states that will pick up the business, and they don't seem to care that the Illinois affiliates helped them make a lot of money up till now. I have to believe that Amazon can afford the costs associated with processing the sales tax.

What I really like about the new tax law is that it does something to help level the playing field between internet retailers and brick-and-mortar businesses like mine. For the last several years I have lost many sales to the internet because I have to charge my walk-in customers sales tax. On a $1000 pottery wheel that's $70 in tax, more than the cost of shipping from an online retailer. I've even had my own students go online rather than buy from me because they could get a wheel cheaper. Online-only retailers also have lower overhead and fewer costs than physical stores, so they can usually offer lower prices. Add to that not having to charge sales tax and they've got a very big advantage over the local shops. Making them charge sales tax would decrease that advantage a bit, and give back to the states all the sales tax revenue that has been missing for the last 15 years. Remember, most of the things that people by online used to be bought locally, with sales tax.

That said, I don't agree that the new tax law is a good idea. Yes, Illinois, like every state, loses $200 million a year or more in sales tax revenue due to online sales. And yes, Illinois is in a budget crisis. But as we've already seen with Amazon, there's a good chance that more revenue will be lost by businesses avoiding Illinois altogether than will be collected in internet sales tax, and ultimately the little guys will suffer. The problem cannot be remedied state by state. There must be a national internet sales tax so that there is no advantage to any one state. And it must be paid to the state where the seller is registered, not where the buyer lives. Small businesses cannot handle the amount of paperwork that would be required to pay sales tax to all 50 states. The taxes could be paid at the same time as the local sales tax, and it would be very simple to handle. It's a simple solution that would bring needed revenue to the states, and give local shops a chance to compete in the market.

So we'll have to wait and see what happens here in Illinois. Hopefully the small online retailers won't suffer from their loss of affiliation with Amazon. The last thing we need is for more small businesses to fail.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gerstley Borate

Last week I said that Gerstlet Borate is crap, and I stand by that. No glaze materials has caused as much grief and stress over the last 30 years as Gerstley. Why? It is very inconsistent and relied upon much too heavily.

Without getting too technical, Gerstley Borate is the cheapest, easiest way to get boron into a glaze. Boron is a popular glaze flux in mid-range and raku glazes. Most other sources of boron that are available are water soluble, which we don't want in our glazes. The only other good non-soluble options available are frits, a powdered glass that is made to a specific formula. These have always been much more expensive, which causes a lot of potters to avoid them. We potters are notoriously cheap, you know. Gerstley also has the benefit of being thixotropic, keeping glazes suspended in the bucket very well without the addition of clay. Many popular Gerstley-based glazes have little or no clay in them, so reformulating a glaze with a boron source other than Gerstley results in a glaze that settles badly in the bucket. 80/20 White Crackle Raku is a good example.

The actual mineral content in it can vary widely, causing radically different results in glazes. While it can be somewhat exciting to be surprised by the results coming out of the kiln, you don't want to have to reformulate your glazes every time you open a new bag of Gerstley. We rely on the consistency of our raw materials to make it easy to reproduce glazes over and over. In some cases our livelihood depends on it.

I spoke with a representative of one of the big industry clay suppliers a few years back, and he was appalled that potters ever used Gerstley Borate in glazes, for exactly the reasons I just said. He told me that it had primarily been used to make roofing tiles, which didn't need much consistency at all. Remember, almost all of the materials that we use as potters are mined for industry, not for us. There are not enough potters in the world to keep a clay or glaze material mine open.

Every few years (or less) for the last 30 years, Gerstley's mineral content would change as they worked through the mine, and people would freak out because their glazes didn't look the same, or were very runny, or not runny enough, etc. So they would do what they could to reformulate the glazes until it changed again.

I was working as a tech for A.R.T. Clay in Sturtevant, WI when they closed the Gerstley mine about 10 years ago. Mass panic ensued and I got calls from worried customers every day about what to do. Everyone wanted a direct substitute, but at the time there wasn't one. I did what I could to reformulate my customer's recipes using a boron frit like Ferro 3134, but that didn't always work. Many recipes had 50-70% Gerstley, and 3134 just doesn't fit into recipes like that.

Laguna clay bought up what was left of the warehoused Gerstley when the mine closed, and has been selling it for the last several years. As far as I know they still have some, as it is still in their catalog. Fortunately, some of the materials suppliers realized what was going on and developed great direct substitutes for Gerstley. These substitutes are frits, so they are more expensive, but they are 100% consistent. I use Gillespie Borate from Hamill and Gillespie whenever I run into a recipe that calls for Gerstley. It seems to have a little more melting power than Gerstley, so I always reduce it by 3-5%. It works great, and since it as a man-made product, it should never run out.

So if you're still using Gerstley Borate, realize that it is crap and that it will thankfully run out eventually. Start testing your glazes with substitutes NOW so you are ready to go when it does run out. It can take several firings to thoroughly test a glaze, which can mean at least a couple of weeks without your favorite glaze. Or sell off the Gerstley you have and get into a 100% consistent substitute now and save yourself some headaches.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Glazing Mugs

Today I am finally one step closer to restocking the inventory in the gallery. Over the last month or two I have delivered a ton of pots to other galleries, thereby depleting my inventory, and I haven't had much time to build it back up. Today I am glazing 26 mugs, which should fill half of the mug rack. It's a start.

Some will have spots and stripes, some will have just stripes. When done, they'll look something like these:
It takes about 2 1/2 hours to glaze this many, which isn't too bad if you consider 26 mugs will retail for $780. Total time for each mug including throwing, trimming, attaching a handle and glazing will be about 12 minutes. Add another 2 minutes for loading and unloading them from the kiln and sanding the bottom, and that gives me about 4 mugs per hour. Of course, making them is the easy part. Selling them is another story......