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Why Is Our Work Better Than Imported Work?


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#21 Min

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Posted 16 May 2014 - 02:08 AM

I’m part way through reading “Artist Survival Skills - How to Make a Living as a Canadian Visual Artist” by Chris Tyrell. The point he makes about why customers buy from an artist is for the story they can tell about the purchase to their friends, family, whomever. Something catches their eye, they or the artist initiate a conversation which leads to a story that they can then pass on when someone sees the piece in their home. It’s about conversations that the customer can relate to and want to tell again.There isn't much of a story to tell when you buy a mug at the mall.



#22 nicolesy

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 10:18 PM

A thirty-forty year career always starts in year one, for everyone.

This is probably the most uplifting thing I have read about becoming a professional in anything. I am a hobbyist potter, only been at it for a few years, but I take it very seriously. I'm very critical of my own work, and wish that I could have someone sit down and give me an honest critique. :) I know that if I keep it up, I'll get better, but it's not easy to take that first step!


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#23 oldlady

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 05:16 PM

Nicole, you live in a perfect place to get a good critique.  there is a local potters guild you can join.  talk to employees at the gallery downtown whose name escapes me right now but I remember "Mother Goose".   (I think)  Portland is one of those places where if you twirl around and throw a rock it will probably hit a potter.  most potters are very happy to help a new person. (I am now going to look up that gallery)

 

Found it, the Real Mother Goose, Portland.


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#24 nicolesy

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 06:28 PM

Nicole, you live in a perfect place to get a good critique.  there is a local potters guild you can join.  talk to employees at the gallery downtown whose name escapes me right now but I remember "Mother Goose".   (I think)  Portland is one of those places where if you twirl around and throw a rock it will probably hit a potter.  most potters are very happy to help a new person. (I am now going to look up that gallery)

 

Found it, the Real Mother Goose, Portland.

Yes, OPA! I've had the membership application on my desk for a month now. Thanks for the kick in the butt, I'm dropping it in the mail tomorrow. :)


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#25 oldlady

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Posted 19 June 2014 - 09:27 AM

HOORAY!  YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT!!!  AREN'T  YOU LUCKY!


"putting you down does not raise me up."

#26 Natania

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 07:34 AM

I think it is important to provide people with an alternative to mass produced work. Not everyone will take advantage of the opportunity we offer. Have you ever wondered why the target cup is 2.99 when its been made on the other side of the world? Why is it so cheap for a cup to travel, and so expensive for me to do so (lol)? Because the company who makes the cups has externalized the cost by using underpaid laborers and fossil fuels. Who pays the rest of the price for our 2.99 cup? The person in china who earned less than a penny making it. I heard on the radio that the average fast food worker in China has to work 3 hours to afford one fast food meal, as opposed to one in America who can afford one after one hour of work. If you haven't seen the Story of Stuff (www.storyofstuff.org) then you should, it is amazing. The truth is that cheap target cup is part of an unsustainable system that damages us all, destroys the planet and creates more toxins than one would ever guess. Without makers offering the option of handmade, ethically sourced ware (as much as possible) and other goods, the public has no choice but to continue to support this system. We here in the west have a lot of power with every dollar we spend to help or harm. I think makers of handmade goods should try to educate our buying public as well as sell to them... most of us have no idea where all our stuff comes from (it just appears on our doorstep from Amazon). Isn't it our responsibility as consumers to be aware of how/where our stuff is made, when possible?

 

 

P.S. some states are offering renewable energy options through their electric companies. All my electric will be from renewable sources starting July 1....



#27 JBaymore

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 10:51 AM

The truth is that cheap target cup is part of an unsustainable system that damages us all, destroys the planet and creates more toxins than one would ever guess.  

 

 

Oh so very true of so many products taken for granted here in America. 

 

 

Isn't it our responsibility as consumers to be aware of how/where our stuff is made, when possible?

 

Unfortunately Americans generally don't give a crap about that.  The ultimate "goal" in this country is all about money, and cheap is equated with good.  Most people don't brag to their friends about how good for the world the purchse they just made was. ..... they tell everybody how cheap it was to buy.

 

best,

 

..........................john


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#28 Natania

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 11:40 AM

That is so very true too, John. I'd like to think that makers can help change the American mind set one person at a time (but there are so many darn people and they are all constantly watching adds for cheap stuff!), but the reality is that if change is going to occur on a scale that could even begin to matter it will probably have to be through legislation. However, "Made in America" seems to be gaining some momentum as a movement in hand-made luxury goods through small independent shops.... but I must admit that I don't have a lot of faith in the American capacity for altruism over greed. Perhaps the key is to combine the two!



#29 Stephen

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 02:44 PM

I think its somewhat a myth that just keeps perpetuating itself that the American public just doesn't give a damn about anything. There are millions and millions of people that care a great deal. They fight big corporations daily on tons of issues ranging from food labels to the way animals are treated. They support thousands of artist by buying art week in and week out, buying expensive alternatives to big box goods. 

 

Everyone in my life space certainly cares and our houses are full of artisan made art and our kitchens are full of hand made pottery.   



#30 Tyler Miller

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 02:57 PM

I feel the need to make the not-so-popular observation that artisanal crafts do nothing for anyone with respect to the environment and the goal of sustainability.  

 

In India there were concerns over the excessive use of disposible tea cups by the railway and their effect on the environment.  It was suggested that the railway adopt the traditional, disposible, "kulhar" cup, made of earthenware.  It was thought to be environmental friendly,  cost effective, and to boost rural employment.  The truth, however, was that in order to meet demand, 100 acres of soil per day per state would have to be consumed (and soil is a non-renewable resource, after all), the increase in pollution from the kilns would be massive, and the increase to rural employment and income marginal.



#31 Bob Coyle

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 09:11 PM

 

I feel the need to make the not-so-popular observation that artisanal crafts do nothing for anyone with respect to the environment and the goal of sustainability.  

 

 

You got it right there Tyler... we are all a part of the problem but I would hope that we could try our best to be as small a part as possible. I think if you look at the overall energy balance, most small artisans might even come out ahead of the game in that the tremendous hit on the environment of packaging, shipping, and distribution of goods, that mostly come from far away, is missing.

 

I fire electric, and here in New Mexico electric is very dirty using mostly low grade coal. The local utility does have an option though called “Blue Sky” which you can sign up for at a little extra money. If you sign up you are supposedly getting 80% of your energy from wind power. They keep upping the cost and don't advertize the option, but it is there. I'm sure other utilities provide similar options, although they only do it because they have to and you might have to search.

 

Even wood fired kilns are at least using energy sources closer to renewable than coal or gas.

 

And probably the worse environmental hit comes from the fact that the West still has an overriding throw away mentality, and the upwardly mobile East is catching on to the disastrous concept of “convenience”. Why wash dishes when you can throw them away? If a plate chips...throw it away. If the colors of things you bought are “out” this year...throw them away and get some new ones.

 

But if you found beauty in a vase or a mug or a piece of non-functional art you might well continue to use it for years to come. Sometimes a well used cup or bowl becomes more beautiful than a new one. This, for sure is one edge we have on K-mart.



#32 DirtRoads

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Posted 21 June 2014 - 02:48 PM

I've found a significant market for "Hand Made Here".  "Here" can be county, state or US.  And "hand made" also commands a premium.   I'm located in the lowest socio economic market in the US.  But even here, there are quite a few customers that really want "Hand Made Here".  Yesterday i had a customer drive 18 miles to buy a hostess gift (36 mile round trip).  They wanted something in the $20-$30 range and said it needed to be "special" so she came to Dirt Roads.    I know exactly where they live and the route they drove.  They rode directly past a gift store (5 miles), a Walmart (7 Miles) , 3 more stores that  have gifts (8 miles).  Now making a short turn they could have also accessed a Dollar General, Fred's Dollar Store and 3 more stores that have gifts.  I'm at least 10 miles further from any of these retailers.

 

About 1/3 of my sales are in county and  drive that exact route.    So they are all driving  on average an extra 20 miles (round trip) to get something "Hand Made Here"  i.e. "special'.      I have plenty of add ons  that usually double a customer's purchase intention.  Yesterday that customer picked up jewelry, a wedding gift, and a few ornaments in addition to the hostess gift,  making total sale about $120.

 

Hand made pottery is something special and there are plenty of customers that recognize that.



#33 JBaymore

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 11:16 AM

Hand made pottery is something special and there are plenty of customers that recognize that.

 

Yup..........

 

But at the same time whiile that sale you mention happens, some thousands went to the nearest Walmart.

 

Yes... there certainly are those that appreciate the qualities of the locallly handmade object, but the vast majority of folks in America just want convenience and cheap.

 

While I am certainly for some of the concept of the "Made in the USA" campaigns that some folks use, there is often a "jingoistic" aspect to too much of that stuff in some cases, and in some others it is simply a blatant cynical commercialism approach (just use the phrase to catch some market-segment sales). 

 

The same thing goes for the "green" label that many folks try to use to sell stuff.  Sometimes it is certainly genuine.... but sometimes it is nothing more than a convenient marketing gimmick.

 

best,

 

...........................john


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Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

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#34 JBaymore

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 11:38 AM

As we broadly look at the thread topic......... some arguments for and against the ceramic cup:

 

https://alumni.stanf...rticle_id=28752

 

http://www.pbs.org/w...up-contest.html

 

http://greenresearch...ney-and-energy/

 

http://au225.blogspo...ramic-mugs.html

 

http://www.csrintern...isposable-cups/

 

http://link.springer...1007/BF02393618#

 

best,

 

........................john


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Immediate Past President; Potters Council
Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

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#35 Chris Campbell

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 01:26 PM

The economic effects of the loss of a "middle class" has to be added to the list of reasons why sales are declining. People who in the past might have had $30 to spare for a hand made object once in a while are declining. I think they still like and want the pottery, but cannot afford it.


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#36 Mark C.

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 01:59 PM

For me the middle class is still buying my pottery-especially mugs-Now more than ever-this has been true in the southwest and pacific northwest as well as Nor-cal

That said many are return customers (40% approx) and I have done the show for at least 20 years.

My outlet galleries also have seen a jump in pottery sales so far this tourist season.

As far as Tylers quote

 

(I feel the need to make the not-so-popular observation that artisanal crafts do nothing for anyone with respect to the environment and the goal of sustainability.)

I agree 100% with this- potters do not have a light footprint-I do feel better (but its self serving I'm sure) that I do save some paper cup and such use with all my funtional wares.

They can last several lifetimes if not dropped.

 

my 2 cents.

Mark


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#37 Benzine

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Posted 23 June 2014 - 11:13 AM

John,

 

I remember you posting the waste/ pollution difference between a disposable product and a ceramic product before.  Wasn't the conclusion, that a person has to use the ceramic item at least one hundred times, before it evens out with the disposable item?


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#38 Babs

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Posted 24 June 2014 - 11:40 PM

5 cups of tea a day, help that is only a couple of weeks and in that time I would have used how many throw aways? Not feeling logical today so don't use my math.



#39 TwinRocks

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Posted 02 August 2014 - 11:37 AM

Coming from a separate field of handmade (in terms of what I've sold), it is mostly about the personal touch. Factory made goods may be the standard, the circumstances of those products existence tends to be rather depressing (made by people who are struggling with poverty and move away from family for work. Indentured labor, bordering on or crossing into slavery). When someone can meet the hands that made the goods and have a positive look at the background of an item, it makes them feel good about stretching their budget to make that purchase. It doesn't matter if it is better or worse, it is a different experience. A lot of the purchasing people do is based in want and not in need. People want things that make them feel good, so if you make things that you feel good about and you share that with them you've captured their attention in a way big box stores really can't.

#40 Patsu

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Posted 02 August 2014 - 08:51 PM

I agree with the previous poster and would add to that.  People find strength and comfort in their own humanity when their personal surroundings are expressive of distinctive, human character. Human character can be frail, it can be reaching, but that is the essence of the character that many seek in the art objects that they keep, and cherish. Character in the artists, but perhaps more importantly, that speaks to their own character, so much so that they pull it into their very own worlds. Even in functional ware, 'character' in a piece can be very moving to the heart and mind.  I think too many potters work to avoid character.  Why they seek to achieve this, is a rather uninteresting mystery to me.  I make repeat ware, but I do not trouble over whether or not I'm outdoing a 3-D printer or slip cast form. I use calipers and make similar forms, but am not restricted to only that.

 

If you sell with a seconds table, or perhaps reveal a minor flaw in a piece that motivated you to price it at less than a similar piece, upon being asked why that piece costs less, you may be greeted with pleasant disagreement - the customer may say, "but that piece has character because of that." Twice recently I've been paid much more than my asking price for pieces on my seconds table - once double, once nearly so.  Not that this occurred after my having said anything particular about the pieces.  

 

Some good potters' work looks like wal-mart, flawless forms with interesting glazes, but that seem almost devoid of human character.  They seem impersonal, distant. Some people just don't want to open their cupboard and see expensive artisanal pottery, that might as well be slip-cast. They want to see a reflection of their own humanity in there, human essence, and human essence, is not perfection - for even the most professional, skilled potter, has human failings; perhaps they don't surface them in their pottery, either through skill or will.  I'm okay with my humanity surfacing in mine; I worry about quality in terms of functionality, safety, absence of toxicity, strength, solidity, suitability to purpose - stuff like that. That's my center and the focus of my study.  I don't seem to get too caught up in predetermining whether or not I am weakening the field of pottery overall, by selling ware in forms that might not hit the idealized forms of any given type of pot. I am confident in my works even though I have not spent a decade at it.  I have never had a return or complaint. If it happens eventually, I will make it right.

 

Potters are giving away raku and pseudo-nonfunctional ware that does not carry with it a label indicating that it is not food safe; one could argue that doing so, puts non food safe ware into an uncontrolled ownership stream, potentially anonymously so. And has been, for a very long time. One almost has to be knowledgable in pottery in order to recognize the difference and many probably don't really know whether the pots that they were gifted, are safe or not, but they still use them. One could argue that it is better for the ceramics field to have folks work toward the confidence necessary to produce quality, trustable ware as opposed to arbitrarily giving away questionable or irresponsible works.  And sorry if it offends but, generating good pottery doesn't have to take a decade or even a single class to accomplish - welcome to 2014 - and if it is taking a decade, that might be cause for concern.  At least there is some accountability, when a work is sold.  Apologies to raku makers btw; I think raku is great though I don't do it, just trying to draw an analogy. 


"In everything, never do as others do." - some ancient mystic's grandmother





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