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shawnhar

Reputation for selling cheap pottery

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A bit of backstory: I'm getting close to 50 and had a low level corporate job for the last 15 years. 5 years ago my wife bought a floundering consignment business for 10k and now she makes more than I do.  I want to be a potter (or own a studio), but health ins, stock options and 401k will make it REALLY hard to take the leap when/if the time comes. 

I took pottery in high school, really liked it and a little over a month ago started going to a local studio a few times a week, yesterday I threw a 15lb planter and it looks like a nice medium sized planter. The previous planter same size was broken while waiting to bisque fire and I got to see the cross section, I was pleased with it even though I had to trim it to thickness on the bottom, the other 2 I am confident have a much better cross section. Anyway the point is, I will likely have 3 large planters that would sell immediately for $40 and my wife has been selling my beginner pots already for $5 and $10.  Those beginner pots I would not have sold, they are "My Memaw took a pottery class and made this" level, but my wife's argument is I would have thrown away 50 bucks already. The 3 planters will be decent pots I can feel good about putting my name on and were specfically requested by my wife, after this I'm going back to practicing mugs/handles/glazing.

 - Now, several folks here have expressed thoughts that it is dangerous or foolish to be selling these sub-par pots at low prices, that doing so could undermine my credibility or reputation in the future. Also that I should be throwing everything back in the bucket straight from the wheel if it does not meet standards, this I agree with, sort of, but I have to practice trimming and glazing too, and trust me, I throw and cut entire days. But these glazed beginner pieces, even though they are not up to my standard, can be sold cheap in my wife's consignment shop, rather than becoming landfill. 

I have not signed a piece yet, I've been putting my initials. My wife keeps telling me they need a signature, that the customers all look on the bottom to see if there is one, but it's not like they are looking for a known name or a local artist, they just want to know that it is made by an individual and not mass manufactured, that it is a unique piece by a single person.

I don't understand how this could hurt me. It's not like these people are talking among themselves about the cheap, sub-par pottery they got from me, and no one from galleries or high end shops is going in there and making a mental note of Shawn's cheap pieces. They have to be cheap, it's a consignment shop of used stuff, no one will ever pay $40 for a mug there, even if it was made by a master. When I reach my proficiency goal, I won't be able to sell pieces in her shop, her customers won't buy them at my price.

So, I am brand new and don't know what I don't know yet. I do know making junk on purpose to sell cheap is BAD for ME. I get that. What I don't get is why I should make enough money along the way to being a good potter, that I can pay for my studio time, the clay, and make enough to justify buying a wheel for home.

Any input greatly appreciated!

 

 

Edited by shawnhar

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Personally, I don't think this hurts you in any meaningful way. The only problem is the embarrassment you might experience when you run into these pots years later. My mom has some of my beginner pots in her house. I wish I could steal them and throw them away. It's not the quality that bothers me. It's about being reminded of my hubris in once thinking it was a good pot. But although it makes me cringe, my mom is still proud of the potter I am today. So really the only problem is my personal embarrassment.

I would advise you that selling your work in a low-end consignment shop is not going to lead to a meaningful income. This is the only real issue I see in what you're currently doing. Starting out there is fine, but you should strive to move up and out of that level. 

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(I would advise you that selling your work in a low-end consignment shop is not going to lead to a meaningful income. This is the only real issue I see in what you're currently doing. Starting out there is fine, but you should strive to move up and out of that level. )

I agree with this 100%
The only issue with selling them is seeing them later in life-but this may never happen.
My mother died and this beginner pots came back to me-I kept a few to keep me humble.
I think you need to sign all your work as a matter or professionalism .
I thought after 8 years (5 at university) and 3 on my own I was a good potter-looking back at the work I was way off base.It was functional but really was still beginner work.I just saw some at a friends/famliy 90th birthday party. The forms where ok but they all had issues.
I would keep your day job for some time while doing clay.
Edited by Mark C.

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Thank you Mea and Mark, I value the feedback.

I certainly am aware my wife's shop is not a meaningful source of income and I am not looking at it that way. I do not expect any meaningful income from this for 3 years at least, maybe never, but it would be nice if it could pay for it's self while I'm learning. 

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Cheap, sub-par, not up to standard...cheap, sub-par, not up to standard...." Those beginner pots I would not have sold, they are "My Memaw took a pottery class and made this" level to me" really says it all.  I often try to find "an easier, softer, way" but have come to learn there ain't no such thing.  The practice of putting poor goods out on the market also cheapens the craft, dilutes the art, and detracts from the professionalism of ceramicists/potters/clay artists, in my opinion. The public, in effect, is being "taught" that cheap, sub-par, not up to standard "is" the standard. I think that does a disservice to the field in general.  

I do not want my "less than" pieces floating around my community, signed or not signed. It is sorely tempting, but in the long run just not worth it if I want to cultivate a decent reputation for decent work.   Doing it "anonymously" to make a few bucks from folks unlikely to know the difference felt icky to me the one time I tried it.  It turned out to be me just realizing that I really don't want to claim the pieces that are not up to standard... I couldn't take any real pride in them, even if they all sold, it becasue I knew they weren't up to snuff, even if the buyer did not.  I often ask myself how I would feel if so-and-so (any really good clay master) picked up that piece. Not to compare myself against a master or better potter, but more as an integrity check. If it makes me twitchy to think of so-and-so seeing that pot, then it isn't going on the market. Nor will it be given to family or friends, another slippery slope! I have become close friends with Mr. Hammer and even on an excruciatingly low budget I take great satisfaction every time I get honest and put a "less than" out of temptations path.

One way to pay yourself something, as you progress, is to develop a line of simple, attractive, pieces that may not be anything fancy but can be sold inexpensively and still carry your name on the bottom. Make a lot of "whatever", up to par,  meeting standard, and use the consignment shop as an outlet for that.  Then, when the better-made planters are displayed, with your signature, chop, or stamp on the underside, there is no disconnect with the other work you have out there.  (Never ask Lee to be brutally honest-she just can't help herself. :rolleyes:)

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30 minutes ago, LeeU said:

The practice of putting poor goods out on the market also cheapens the craft, dilutes the art, and detracts from the professionalism of ceramicists/potters/clay artists, in my opinion. The public, in effect, is being "taught" that cheap, sub-par, not up to standard "is" the standard. I think that does a disservice to the field in general.  

This is a myth, it doesn't actually work this way. The opinions of the customers who are buying the good-quality professionally-made pottery are not affected by the newcomer work at all. They can see the difference. If anything, the newcomer work makes the professional work look better, because those types of customers can see the years and thousands of pots in between. People who cannot perceive the difference are not who professional potters are trying to please anyways.

So, newcomers, welcome and go for it!

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Grats on making a buck. Money is money, and if you need it to get away from a job you've had enough of, sell the pots as is.

Suggestion: Can't you just sign them Mee Maw until you're satisfied you're doing better work? What I'm saying is, pretty sure no one ever went to court over lying about making lousy beginner pots, I think you'd be forgiven if you did. Unfortunately if someday Mee Maw's work shows up on the Antiques Roadshow worth thousands you'll be hard put to prove you're her unless you document carefully. 

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37 minutes ago, yappystudent said:

Grats on making a buck. Money is money, and if you need it to get away from a job you've had enough of, sell the pots as is.

Suggestion: Can't you just sign them Mee Maw until you're satisfied you're doing better work? What I'm saying is, pretty sure no one ever went to court over lying about making lousy beginner pots, I think you'd be forgiven if you did. Unfortunately if someday Mee Maw's work shows up on the Antiques Roadshow worth thousands you'll be hard put to prove you're her unless you document carefully. 

That is hilarious! Now I really want to sign them that way.

Lee, thank you for the honesty, I like that you value the integrity of artisan-ship enough to defend it,  it reminds me of guitarists with real talent lamenting the "Brown-eyed Girl" guitar players on every patio doing it for cheap and I get it. But... I am not sure I would ever offer a pot for sale if it didn't meet my internal criteria, at some point, "good enough" will have to suffice. My astrophotography is the same way, anyone that doesn't do it thinks my pics are awesome, but all I see are the flaws. I can't look at pots the same way, there is no time to become good, the only question is can I become "good enough" to eek out a living doing it, can I learn a skill to supplement my SS check, could I pay the bills if I had too. I am not, nor will I ever be an artist, I can't sell myself as one and pretty sure no one will ever pay more for anything I make just because it has my name on it. If I the only way I could make 30k at this was to make terrible $5 bowls all day then guess what I will be doing. I will never be embarrassed by something I made that sold for money, that's the reason I am doing this.

The feeling of accomplishment and ownership, pride, meaning, fulfillment,  joy, purpose, direction, expression, all that ends after the pot comes out of the kiln and I see the result. That pot is now free from any entanglement to me, if a million people bought a million of my pots for a dollar just to talk about how I'm the worst potter in history, I'm good, reached my goal. Don't get me wrong, I want to be awesome, but the reason you or no one else can hurt my feelings is because this is about money, financial viability, am I/can I be good enough, can I produce enough, do I have what it takes to make this happen.

Having said that, "I" am not all about money, not that kind of person, if I were, I'd be a televangelist and scam people out of their money. I want to make an honest living with no deception or shady sales techniques.

I want to be proud that people bought my wares, even though nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever meet my internal standards. I will always see the flaws in everything I do.

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$30,000/year with $5 pots is 6000 pots per year. Is that realistic?

I make about 2000 pots per year, and trying to lower that number this year to be easier on my body.

@Mark C. might be making 6000 pots per year, but keep in mind he’s been doing this for 40 years. That kind of speed and skill cannot be gained quickly. 

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Shawnhar, might you be selling yourself a little short now? You have been working on this for only one month and you can see your improvement during that time.

Perhaps no one will buy a pot of yours just because it has your name on it. I am guessing that is true of lots of very fine potters! People buy their things because they see them and just love them!

I have bought lots of people's work in clay, always because I love the piece and never because of the name of the potter.

Have you gone to some craft shows near you to get an idea of what people are doing locally and the prices they charge? 

 

 

 

 

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The best advice I can give is practice your craft-throw until thats something you can do almost with your eyes closed. Learn to be efficient in motion and moving things the least .

Work towards an efficient  space for working in-work flow should control the layout if you get that chance.

learn about glazes and firing until they are mastered at the same time you are learning to master production throwing

I did not start out with this in mind as you are doing-it just happened to me.

I never count pots made say in a kiln load as a total-yes I know I have 100 sponge holders in a fire or 150 mugs but never a total. I'm not wired that way-I really do not want to know.

I most likely would say wow thats crazy if I counted all those pots. All I do is keep track of the tons per year used and I peaked a few years ago at production and income and am slowing down on a planned schedule slow down.I have no plan that takes me to zero pottery as I like the medium so much. I can say I see day when I'm just making pots for fun not money. 

I have been fortune enough in life to do something that I really enjoyed and never felt was work until later in life. It has been a bit hard on the body but its been very good for me in terms of a living.It takes a long time to gain traction and good work helps that move ahead faster. 

Today we unloaded two glaze kilns and packed that into near 10 banana boxes and a few other smaller boxes.My van can hold 75-80 boxes

Today I counted up my sponge holders made and priced in boxes of 100 and I have 3 in back stock(300) and started a new box today from two kiln loads -I'm still make them at 50-100 a week. I have 150 spoonrests  and need 350 more for a summer show.I like to have those small stuffers in every load or I feel I'm wasting space .

I am a space efficient person and wasting kiln space goes against my grain.

Start working in series say 12 of this or that at time -trim the same way.It will all fit together.Time is on your side.

 

 

 

Edited by Mark C.

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GEP--hope we can agree to disagree. I don't think what I wrote about what the general public, untrained in ceramics, "learns" from  "cheap, sub-par, not up to standard" (not my words, not my description) pieces, such as often found in consignment shops-especially lower end shops-is a "myth".  

I wasn't looking at it from an "us" and "them" distinction that separates people who know good professional work vs. people who don't (and therefore it doesn't matter what those who don't know experience).  I was looking at the pots in the shop as "representing" handmade pottery-- that it is an opportunity to elevate people's awareness of ceramics; that to choose to put out sub-par pieces (or "seconds") in a setting where people are unlikely to know the difference is a bit of a  disservice to the field in general-so I guess I am standing by my own words! :)  

My perspective is based on observations that I have heard asserted and discussed many, many times over the years in various arts & crafts circles.  Art classes are being cut from secondary schools, colleges, and universities nationwide, funding has long since virtually dried up for sustaining art education even at current status, and, anecdotally, an unfortunately high percentage of community classes and local pottery workshops seem to be of mediocre quality,  lacking even basic technical instruction and science. This is a great site, but some other clay boards are filled with an appalling degree of wrong information and poor practices that people learned in their pottery class --vigorously defended, asserted, and passed on to newcomers as gospel---it is sad.  

Overall, my comments are more about the tension and subtle ramifications of being at odds with oneself! We know when a piece just isn't quite where it should be, and it is that inner conflict--do I sell it anyway, do I give it away--that resonates with me.  (Shawnhar, I hope that nothing I said came across as an attempt to hurt your feelings--it certainly was not meant to.)

Edited by LeeU
put "other" before clay boards, to avoid confusion

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@LeeU I can agree to disagree. From what I’ve seen, there is no such thing as one a piece of pottery that represents all of us. We are all individuals, making individual work. The world does not see us as a collective entity, 

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Don't underestimate the value of having a retail outlet.  I think it's great that you can move some pottery in your wife's consignment shop.   You do realize that you are cutting out the middle man and if her space isn't 100% full, the venue is basically a free place to sell.   (no opportunity cost for your wife's business)   And it does give you a place to steer 4th quarter Christmas sales.  (half of my yearly sales are Nov/Dec)  Many potters do not get the benefit of Christmas sales because they don't have an established outlet.

The BUYER is the judge of your work.    Unless you are considering acceptance in juried art shows.   I started this business way too late in life to worry about making a "name".   I have customers that buy the Dirt Roads brand but initially buy it simply  because they like it.   Repeat purchases or gift requests may be attributed to the Dirt Roads brand.

Most of my line is pure production pottery and NOTHING is discarded because it's "not good enough".     Two years ago, I started a "gallery line" with prices mostly ranging from $150 to $500.     Have sold around 30 of these pieces.   They are  bigger and more free form than my production line and I glaze them myself.      I would do more if I had time.  You can always aspire to creating a "gallery line" but I see no reason not to sell your less than perfect pieces.  Maybe create a nicer display in the consignment store.    The clientele for some consignment businesses can be really good.    More of a market for "vintage" not second hand or used.  There may be opportunity to sell a little more expensive than $5 there.  Easily consider $25 to $50 price points and maybe a few ornaments thrown in at lower prices to nab some multiple gift buyers.    Since that consignment business is successful, there may be a good customer base there.  

Take care in how you absorb critiques from other artists.  

And yes you should sign the pottery.  Everyone looks.    I sign everything "Dirt Roads By S. Grimes".  The gallery line is just "Sharon Grimes".

 

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I want to point something out (mostly for @shawnhar) that the ones who don’t mind newcomers selling their work are the ones who have blazed a successful trail and understand that this doesn’t affect them. And we can still remember that we broke in at ground level too. 

@LeeU, I’m not trying to minimize you by disagreeing with your opinion. I’m trying to do something very different, which is to explain that this idea (newcomer work lowers us all) is a statement of fear, not of reality. It gets passed around in art classrooms and clubs, but in the real world it disappears with a quiet puff. You are on the verge of sticking your toes in professional waters, and I have the same feelings of welcome for you. I’m proud of you for trying this, and I want you to succeed. I’m trying to show you a better mindset for succeeding. 

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Apply this to other things ... is a good painting worth less because someone else sells theirs for cheap in a garage parking lot? Does crafted furniture suffer because you can get cheap sets at the local hardware chain? How about great cooking? Fine hotels? Designer clothing?

My pet peeve has always been that the great potters don’t move UP ... vacate the low price area ... and widen our price ranges. I should never be able to buy a piece of excellently crafted work in the same price range as a beginner  efforts ... but ... sadly I can.  The price range is not nearly wide enough to make people appreciate the difference.

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Wow thank you for all the great comments! I hope no one found my rambling diatribe offensive, just trying to describe my reference fame. I don't want to make cheap items, but until I have the  skill to command a higher price it is so. Lee, I did not take it that way or mean to imply it

Mea and Mark and Sharon, thank you thank you for the experienced info and suggestions, I will not be wasted on me. Sharon that is a great idea about the gallery line, and my pieces are blended into the inventory spread around  and it is a high end shop, she won't take clothes unless they are perfect condition and won't accept anything junky.

 My last 2 planters are waiting to get bisqued and they are decent, far better than any of the other pots I've made so far, if the glaze goes well I might get $50 ea. Made a deal with myself that if I can gross the cost of a wheel, then I'll get one and start putting in a lot more hours.

 

Thanks again everyone!

 

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I make my living with small stuff-under $50 mostly.I find folks like to buy smaller items and they add up..

Sure they can buy over 100$ items at my booth but most do not. They want mugs and glasses and sponge holders over the big dollar items.

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"this idea (newcomer work lowers us all) is a statement of fear, not of reality".  I think I am being misunderstood.  My opinion/observation is in no way fear-based, and it is rooted in reality. I absolutely do not believe that newcomer work "lowers us all"-that is a misrepresentation.  My comments were about thinking judiciously, critically, and consciously, about the various facets, including in a wider context, when work is put up for sale.  I commend anyone who takes their craft seriously enough to even bother worrying about what they stick on a shelf or how much they charge for it.

 

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a thought ina bit different direction.  I  know where you are, I have been there, most of us have.  When hand made pottery first started showing up in my area after a trade school open a ceramics dept, people didn't know good from poorly made and all sorts of student work was offered up for sale, hundreds of 'learner pieces' at school sales.  Guess what, the best sold!  The rest didn't.  the better the pottery got, the more demanding of quality the local buyers became.  Heavy, lumpy oddly glazed pieces still do sell here,( make it blue) but better pottery sells better.  When a local complained she didn't receive an even division of proceeds from a group sale, the answer was, "Want more sales?  Make better pots, don't complain about those who have struggled and learned how to do more, work to get better, up your game".  

You have indicated that you aren't reallyl proud of what you are offering right now, and that you see changes, growth, in what you are making.  What about laying off of sales right now, say for 3 months, if you are really critical of your work, cull pieces as soon as they are thrown, cut things in half to see what your are really dong, trim tightly, risk trimming through some,  YOU WILL SEE HUGE CHANGES in 3 months.  Then put out your better works and go back to the critical examination of what you make going forward.  Also, with the 3 month's result, raise the prices , maybe double, and see what happens.  Your wife will see how people react to the newer , better work, and the higher prices.

Edited by clay lover
punctuation errors

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If you are dead set on selling your beginner wares continue not signing them.

some perspective:

so i have decided i want to install roofs, i've got a little training under my belt but my roofs aren't up to the my own standards but hey i could start selling my services now for cheap and make a little cash while learning...I'm sure those cheap roofs won't come back to bite me in the butt once i get good enough to charge more.

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PSC I live in a very wet climate so a good cheap roof is what need -any chance you can fit me in the schedule?whats a few leaks as long as the price is right.

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On 4/20/2018 at 8:19 PM, GEP said:

$30,000/year with $5 pots is 6000 pots per year. Is that realistic?

I make about 2000 pots per year, and trying to lower that number this year to be easier on my body.

@Mark C. might be making 6000 pots per year, but keep in mind he’s been doing this for 40 years. That kind of speed and skill cannot be gained quickly. 

Mark made 6000 pots, in the time it took for us to have this conversation...

2 hours ago, shawnhar said:

Might be able to get this guy for cheap...

I love that guys videos.  No matter what he is making, it usually starts with him mining clay, making a kiln, and going from there.

 

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