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Narrowing it down_things to make

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How to narrow it down? There are so many great ideas out there for things to make. How to choose a "signature" look? How to choose what is worth repeatable lines of work? I don't want to be one of those Etsy people who stocks one of each thing and everything is different, which is mostly what my supply of finished wares look like at the moment. Anyone have a secret formula or meditation for this? 

 

 

 

 

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The secret is to map out and understand your own value system, regarding aesthetics and purpose. For some people this is easy, while others will never figure this out. The central question is “who am I?” The works you make reflect that question. Don’t think of it as a choice, you are not “picking” a style or genre. That’s a shallow approach that will lead you nowhere. This is about figuring out your own mind and letting those values guide you. 

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Are there some things you do that you find more compelling in the moment than others? 

I think in any field it works to concentrate in a few areas while also experimenting with different stuff off to the side that may become an important part of the body of work at a later time or may instead be only a diversion to flex different muscles.

I think too of people who work in "lines." A fashion house will offer a line for Fall and one for Spring and the next year in Fall the work looks different but also recognizably the designer's own. In each season there will be pants, shirts, dresses, and maybe something formal, and all the pants will be similar in shape, all the dresses and so forth, and everything in the line will be connected by theme and color scheme.

But the themes and colors will be different the next year.  The shape or a type of embellishment or something may be retained as a trademark look.

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Biggest first question is ... “ How long have you been working with clay?” Which leads to question number two ... “ How many different things have you tried?”

One way you can make the kind of “narrowing down” choice you are talking about is by opening up to any area of clay that catches your fancy. Try it all and you will find something that grabs YOU ... a form technique or style that feels comfortable. Then you can focus and refine.

I’ve  noticed that many new potters want to monetize their work before they have had any of the fun of exploring. They hold their work up to public pricing way too early in their journey. Why miss the huge Galaxy of options that the clay world presents?

Mostly, I suspect, because people around them ask more about making money than they do about the joy of learning to be good at something. Resist and explore.

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39 minutes ago, Chris Campbell said:

 

I’ve  noticed that many new potters want to monetize their work before they have had any of the fun of exploring. They hold their work up to public pricing way too early in their journey. Why miss the huge Galaxy of options that the clay world presents?

Mostly, I suspect, because people around them ask more about making money than they do about the joy of learning to be good at something. Resist and explore.

I hear what you are saying Chris, and often some may skip over something because they don't see a market for such, however. .. .trends come and go, and if you are in to something different even though it does not seem to sell well, it could eventually.

I think that one of the big characteristics of one who is able explore different venues without having to worry about money making is that they have a first career where they make money, and then work in the evenings or weekends at pottery to relax/recharge. Then something happens and they end up doing more and more switching to more of what they really have come to love.

 

best,

Pres

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I honestly think that “narrowing it down” is a much larger and more important subject than “making money.” It is about your growth and refinement as a human being. It’s a worthy goal to aim for. 

The fact that a well-defined line of work is easier to sell is a collateral benefit to the gains in your self-awareness and comfort level with yourself. 

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I think play needs to factor heavily into answering this question for yourself. 

What sounds fun? See a technique you like the look of? Give it a stab and see if you like it. Someone say something about a material you've never heard of? Get some and try it. See a neato form that someone else made and want to put your own spin on it? Great place to start. 

Your "look" comes from exercising your taste, and the only way to figure out your taste is to make a BIG bunch of stuff.   After a while, you start combining your favourite ideas in ways that won't seem like a big deal to you, but no one else seems to have put that together in exactly that way yet. After all, the *only* thing Peter Pincus is doing is painting individual mould pieces with different colours and then doing the full cast of the piece....ha.  

Now, that last example is what happens when you take the principle to the nth degree, but it applies to all of us.

I like to give myself problems to solve. A lot of potters use function to take some of the myriad decisions off the board by keeping some things constant, and allowing the freedom to play in specific places. For instance, is there an item that's trendy in the marketplace, but you kind of hate? Design one that you actually really enjoy. Set a few boundaries, and then ask yourself "what if...?"

 

edited to add: it's super important to keep your sense of fun and enjoyment of the process. We all here know that there's a huge proportion of your experiments that just plain fail. If you get hung up on making a product that works out the first time every time, you'll get so discouraged, or you'll let other people's opinions sway you too much to allow your taste to develop. 

From experience, I know that hearing how everything takes time and you have to build skills is super obnoxious when you're a year or two into your clay journey. I hated hearing it too. If there was a way around it though, I would happily share it. 

Edited by Callie Beller Diesel
Added

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Are you selling now? If you make pottery on a regular basis it does seem like it's almost imperative to sell it, but ya can just box the best pots until you have few hundred and then do a few shows to see how your work is received by customers. 

If you are fairly new to pottery (your question implies you are)  what's the rush to zero in now. It will take some time to get a shows worth of pots together if you are brutal on quality and that will be time of tremendous growth as a potter.

Edited by Stephen

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To answer the question from another angle, on how to design a product line:

Start with a form you're really comfortable making, and can riff on easily. For me, this is a mug. I ask myself a bunch of questions. What kind of mood will the end mug user be feeling when they use this piece? What form, what glaze colours will encourage this feeling? Are they being calm and meditative? A white glaze over a red clay body makes really subtle details that are noticed in moments of focus. Feeling nostalgic for grandma's house? What about using some tissue transfers in an interesting way to hint at that? Rose gold the colour of the season? I kind of like that. How can I use that in a way that no one else is?

 Once I've got a mug or other small item worked out, I'll take some of the design elements from that mug and see how I can apply them to other common forms, like bowls.  Now how do those design elements scale for larger serving pieces? How do I make a butter dish/sugar bowl/compost bucket that relates to these other pieces? Do I need seasonal items like gravy boats or bud vases to go with this?

If this sounds like an insane amount of work, it is.  I tend to only introduce a new surface treatment or 3 a year, and new or redesigned forms 1-2 at a time. It's a slow process, because you have to take some of your experiments that you like to market, and see if other people like it before you commit to making an entire line. But when you get a solid combo, people come back for more of it, which is generally desirable. 

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Engage in your clay work fully and completely when you do it.  Learn to think critically about form, function, meaning, and expression in your work.  

What you’ll find is that as you engage and think and work is that your artistic values shake loose from the small decisions and your style comes from that.  And you keep doing that, with a critical eye directed at yourself, you’ll find yourself with a style that’s growing and evolving.

Personally, I’ve found the question “what should I make?” bogs me down and stifles my drive.   It’s a valid question, and important if you want to sell your work.  But it feels like pressure, and I’ve found a lot more satisfaction constantly asking “Can I make this?” or “What would happen if...?” and then weeding out what I don’t like.  

Find what makes you happy to produce.

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2 hours ago, Tyler Miller said:

Engage in your clay work fully and completely when you do it.  Learn to think critically about form, function, meaning, and expression in your work.  

What you’ll find is that as you engage and think and work is that your artistic values shake loose from the small decisions and your style comes from that.  And you keep doing that, with a critical eye directed at yourself, you’ll find yourself with a style that’s growing and evolving.

Personally, I’ve found the question “what should I make?” bogs me down and stifles my drive.   It’s a valid question, and important if you want to sell your work.  But it feels like pressure, and I’ve found a lot more satisfaction constantly asking “Can I make this?” or “What would happen if...?” and then weeding out what I don’t like.  

Find what makes you happy to produce.

Wow, that's a lot of good advice. 

@Tyler: artistic values shake loose from the small decisions and your style comes from that -Gold

@CBD: ((had to look up Peter Pincus. My eyes hurt now)) Design one that you actually really enjoy. Set a few boundaries, and then ask yourself "what if...?" 
 If you get hung up on making a product that works out the first time every time, you'll get so discouraged 

-At least 60% of my first firings look like yard sale items, you're right I'm sorely tempted to lean toward the things that came out well and spend less time pushing forward in my designs. 

@Stephen -the rush to zero
-Point taken. Not technically selling but right on the verge. 

@Gabby: But the themes and colors will be different the next year.  The shape or a type of embellishment or something may be retained as a trademark 
-practical advice for getting cohesion without getting dull. 

@Chris: more about making money than they do about the joy of learning to be good at something. Resist and explore. 
-Point taken. Partly it's just a blank canvas thing, I'd like to start a new figure sculpture but I've let one go into the scrap bucket already this year because it suddenly looked ridiculous. I want to do wall sculpture but also mugs, etc, etc. Also, while I'm not immediately desperate for sales it's part of my necessary financial plan over the next couple years, it's that or find something else for about 20% of my future income. Also, more importantly it's been a life goal of mine to art/craft things as a steady income stream. Do I want to sell the gunk from my first few firings? not really but I could, I've seen the stuff in the shops and mine is better. I'm more worried about in six months when I'm doing the improved versions, about raising my prices for the new/improved versions. I've been working pretty steadily with clay for 3 yrs now, I feel it's time for it to start giving back. 

@GEP: The secret is to map out and understand your own value system, regarding aesthetics and purpose. For some people this is easy, while others will never figure this out. The central question is “who am I?” The works you make reflect that question. This is about figuring out your own mind and letting those values guide you. // I honestly think that “narrowing it down” is a much larger and more important subject than “making money.” The fact that a well-defined line of work is easier to sell is a collateral benefit to the gains in your self-awareness and comfort level with yourself.  -You understand  what I'm aiming for. Who am I and what do I want to express through my work, however menial, is a question I can't quite answer yet, but getting closer. 

 

 

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7 hours ago, Marcia Selsor said:

if you go to the thread by Pres, "What is your favorite form to make" there are many ideas of why people make what they do. 

Marcia

 

Could you possibly link that thread? I did a search and nothing came up in titles. 

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We are so lucky to be potters ... the world of clay is incredibly huge ... you could spend three lifetimes and not cover it all. And ... weirdly, the more you know the less you know and the more there is to discover, so set your sights on discovery and the rest will follow.

ITS FUN!!! ... ooops, that’s a secret ... I forgot ... Muggles all over will be annoyed to hear that artists have fun. 

We’ll have no more of that! 

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Are there pots living in you that have not come out yet? 

yes the field is vast, but only some lives in you.  

I know I make interesting pieces. I always have. But you did not see the pile that went under the hammer to make that piece.  And liking is so subjective. My daughter would never buy my piece because she really likes calm pieces.  My form is not that good yet.  BUT just coz someone likes my work doesn’t mean I like it. It’s more about getting out what resides in me and then looking back. 

After repeated comments on my marks I’ve finally had to admit to myself and accept I love Mark making. Holding a leatherhard pot in my hand and altering it is my favourite time of process. But then mark making itself is a huge field.

Looking back to your childhood might help. I have inherited my fathers love of history and my mothers fight for the down trodden. How to put them together is what I am grappling with.  How to capture hope and not despair or anger is what I am struggling with.  I am so blown away recently with Minoan cups (cold liquids) that look so modern.  My next series will be inspired by them but my subject matter will be more political.

The more you make the more comes out. Unconsciously my post pregnant belly started appearing without me consciously doing so. Sphere I discovered, not perfect sphere, is my favourite form .  I didn’t know I liked the sphere till I found all my forms were most commonly spherical   

If you have to think and try to find it - then forget it.  

Look back at your stuff and see if you can find a common thread.  

I learnt a big lesson from a proff. Never throw any sculpture away-  esp when you have worked on it a while. Work on it. Try to solve the problem. Or leave it aside. You might be fatigued by the piece. Then visit again later and take a hammer only after you live with a glazed piece for a while.  Even tho you end up talking a hammer it has taught you much about yourself in the meantime. 

Making is not easy for me. I suffer. Finding a form is no trouble (making might be) but surface is huge.  It’s a gut wrenching process as I try to make up my mind. But in a good way. Same thing when I am living with the pot. 

But one thing I know. I can make series and I enjoy series. but my Etsy this year might not look the same next year.  When that happens I have to see what clients define.

I work other jobs because I am not ready to sell yet. My pots are getting there, but are not there yet.   I still don’t throw well enough. 

Living with other people’s pots help too.  I love so many of their work but would never make anything like that myself.  

Look at more pots. Anywhere you find them.  That will help too.  Listen to the red clay rambler will help too.  A big place for me - artist statements.  You will have to rule some of them out, but a lot of them are genuine and their work reflects that. 

Whew! There! I said it all. It’s a topic that comes up at school a lot. And our community discussions have helped many students discover clay perhaps is not the easiest medium for them to speak in.  

Edited by preeta
Some errant text

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Please know upfront that I am not meaning to sound cavalier or unprofessional, and that I take my work and what skills I have seriously. However,  I also  go with what I like, adjust as I choose in order to evolve, give thoughtful consideration of feedback from others, and yet, ultimately, I don't care all that much what anyone else thinks.  My artist statement is WYSIWYG. 

When I retired and went back to clay work, I spent a fair bit of inner energy grieving over "where I might have been, what I might have been making" had I been able to enter the field after my training (top flight ceramics dept./top flight art school) and worked to develop a serious career in ceramics.   After working thorugh that and shaking it off, and confronting the realities/some limitations of my world today, I concentrated on cultivating an attitude of gratitude for the luxury of being able to just go with the flow as the spirit moves me. 

What super-charged me to get back in the game, even in the shallow end of the pool, was meeting John Baymore & some of his colleagues, &  getting to fire (2x now!) in the Fushigigama  anagama he/his students built. He directed me to this Forums site, which is a solid blessing.  Everything everyone posted above is applicable and valuable, so no need to say the same things some other way--it's all pertinent to the journey of finding one's way and expressing with clay some aspect of one's self.   

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