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Member Since 28 Jan 2013
Offline Last Active Nov 10 2015 10:02 AM

#95526 "i Covered Expenses ....."

Posted by Stephen on 09 November 2015 - 01:28 AM

Hi Mark,  I wasn't talking about hours in the way you mean, I was posing an example of someone trying to figure out what a normal 40 hour job making $20 bucks an hour would look like from selling pottery at shows.


I do know you do really well at shows and it’s hard to hear the numbers you toss out and not feel like the situations hopeless. I try to remember that you are who you are and have 40 years of building up to those numbers, at least I assume you had to build up to it. I do know you are in your sixties so that means you started out in your twenties and I am assuming you had much the same road to travel as we do in figuring this out.


Right now 8-12k seems completely out of reach but it was our first full season with what were probably a bunch of crappy shows that we picked from festivalnet.com. They were supposed to all be juried but in reality didn’t seem so.  We are trying to go to any that we can to preview and will try a whole new line up this year and drive further if we have too.


Feedback was always good and our sales really did seem as good or better than anyone else around us and we matched up reasonable to anyone who would talk numbers so I don’t think others were doing big bucks and it was simply no one liked our pots. I am not one to ignore the obvious and would have no problem facing that fact if that was the vibe and at the end of the day we have confidence in the pots.


We also had a number of follow-up buys after most shows from folks who bought and wanted more as well as folks who picked up a card and then ordered the next week so that spoke well for the quality.


So yeah, will hope to at least earn more than we spend doing each show (the original post), learn what we can at every show we go to, improve the quality of shows, improve and change up the work and try to keep a good attitude at the same time. The good news for us is that we don’t need to hit those kinds of numbers, 2500-3k for an average show with an occasional breakout would work just fine and we would likely do a dozen of those a year and work to add other revenue streams to that. I am not looking at any of this as loosing my a## though. If I was opening a pizza parlar I would probably think like that but this is not an investment, not really. If it was about money we would have never embarked on this in the first place.


Aside from low revenue though, we had a great year and a wonderful time at every show. met a lot of wonderful people and I think added a lot of long term customers. We have a non-pottery project sidelining us for Nov and Dec so seeing what x-mas looks like for us will have to wait a year. 

#95514 "i Covered Expenses ....."

Posted by Stephen on 08 November 2015 - 05:48 PM

Well I think some of the issue with new potters is not really thinking through what success looks like.


As an example let’s say you need to make a 42k salary ($20 an hour on 40 hour week) selling pots at shows and for the sake of argument you can do one show each month and your expenses beyond yourself is 10% and your extra employment contribution and health insurance adds another 15%. Let’s further plug an average $1000 show cost.


In this world that's $65,000 worth of pots a year and $5416 worth of pots you need to sell on the average at each show if shows are all you do. That’s to have the same take home as a job paying you 42k a year.


No matter what level your work is at I would guess that very very few reach that mark consistently in the beginning and may never hit consistently over their careers. The ones that can both hang on until they reach it, or develop additional ways to sell enough pots to do so, make it and those that don't have to add in a job or reduce their income needs. Like John pointed out, this I think is where folks get disillusioned and quit if they really didn't think it through and understand the level of success they need to reach to make a living selling pottery strictly at art shows.


I think most potters don't reach this level of success and have to make the hard choice to reduce needs to live on a more realistic modest potter’s income or continue pottery as a sideline.

#95378 "i Covered Expenses ....."

Posted by Stephen on 06 November 2015 - 01:11 PM

great blog, thanks!


I think a lot of people think 50% wholesale cost is steep but for many the cost of retailing it themselves at shows is going to be in that same neighborhood, or higher, until they figure out the right mix of shows.


Still though, just to defend this attitude a little for those of us starting out.


There is a point where the 'cash in' passes the raw expenses of being there and you start paying toward the myriad of other cost. When I say out loud, as I have, that at least we broke even, I meant that we didn't actually spend more cash to actually do the show, not that it was a success or a true 'breakeven' scenario. This is our first full season and we are obviously going to be spending a lot of donated time at shows trying to figure this out and find the right mix. So far we have always exceeded this number and that means that even our worst show was financially a neutral event and helps by providing exposure, gaining new customers and all the other positives that come from selling your work directly. This number pays zero toward anything else and in effect its like giving away 35-40 pieces of pottery. Even that has an advantage of keeping the inventory moving and us making new work continually. Until we can find a dozen truly good shows for our work I think we are going to be doing lots of these and consider the process a good one, as long as the shows do not become a cash drain.


We have two numbers, $500 and $1000 would be typical. A local show (inside an hour’s drive) cuts show expenses in half so once the till passes $500 the show is actually providing something toward the business. A 3 day show takes us 5 days as we go the day before and come back the day after. Using our RV this number is closer to a grand. I don't count any non cash expenses at all for this number and also don't count food.


We will likely go back to shows close to or exceeding $1500 and might even do a couple of lower ones that seem like they have potential. I guess I'm saying that while I totally get how to read a balance sheet, this is just not that kind of business when you start out because it just takes time, think multiple years, to figure it all out and simply having a show not further drain your cash is actually a victory.

#92433 Fusing Glass With Clay

Posted by Stephen on 11 September 2015 - 03:57 PM

But even though all looks like it works perfectly and u love the effect, according to at least one large art glass company it will very likely separate eventually. I was told the properties of art glass and pottery clay are not compatible and fusing the two will not work long term and they strongly recommend against it.

#92242 Fusing Glass With Clay

Posted by Stephen on 08 September 2015 - 12:44 PM

I would strongly recommend contacting the art glass companies b4 using on anything other than Raku and even then adjust how I used it. I have been told their glass is not compatible and even though it may appear to fit it is likely to fail over time and of course if its in any type of utility use that could/would be dangerous. 


I don't usually get caught up in these debates but since the glass companies themselves advise against it even though they stand the most to gain convinces me to listen. I would hate for something I made cause someone a problem or even harm down the road.

  • Min likes this

#90780 Making Pottery Or Metalsmithing

Posted by Stephen on 13 August 2015 - 11:04 AM

whatever u guys do, do not mix glass and pottery. I have seen several instruction sheets on it and I contacted THE major art glass company and they made it clear that it will not work no matter what others say. Their glass is not compatible with pottery and just because it appears to work in time it will likely fail. Not, it may fail but it will likely fail. They said they have tried to get the word out but the folks that are pushing it will not stop. One of the biggest concerns is that someone will put it in something like a bowl and glass will shiver off into someone's food but glass separating from pottery in any form during use or display could be a huge problem. 

#90589 Going Price Of Mugs

Posted by Stephen on 10 August 2015 - 12:50 PM

and if you are going to work in the higher end of price points and your work can command those price points I have to wonder if pushing the envelope on functional ware is the way to go, at least at art fairs.

At art shows I think a lot of the buys are impulse to a point and pure art pieces seem to be the way to go for the higher price points. We easily get $50-$100 for vases and into triple digits for hand painted artwork but I think most functional ware would just languish with just the occasional buyer who appreciates the more complex pot. Obviously if you sell half as many at twice the price you are much better off but I don't see it going like that. I see the $50-$60 mug, $150 mixing bowl, $400 platters etc.. selling at a fraction of the pace that more moderately priced, less ornate pots (such as $20-$30 mugs, $60 mixing bows & $100 platters) sell and that's what builds the show totals. If you are not trying to make a living and sell 20-30 expensive pieces at a 2-3 day show I am sure if feels very satisfying. Chances are you pay your bills with the day job and produce lower quantities of your high-end work in your spare time. It's more about the pot than the process and you can do whatever you want to the pot and just charge more.

I think full time career potter versus part time artist really is a game changer on pricing unless you really have a reputation to keep that register ringing.

Mea Rhea sells at I think some of the most prestigious shows in the country and she topped hers out at one size (large) and $35. I think everyone here will agree that Mea's pricing is very likely to be well thought out and her skill level puts her toward the top in ability and she is a full time potter so I have to give her approach a lot of weight.
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#90356 The Art Festival Plan

Posted by Stephen on 06 August 2015 - 12:17 PM



Why not move the series to an ebook format and offer it through your blog and on Amazon. I for one would love to both support your effort and at the same time I get a great ebook in my library that I can reference at any time. I have a couple of these already that I think I paid $10-$12 for and they were great when we were putting it altogether. I think it's great that you give so much information out freely in the spirit of helping fellow potters but I think everyone gets that things like this take an extraordinary amount of time to prepare and wouldn't mind in the least compensating you a little for that time. 


We have had shows much lower than your worst and actually didn't get too bothered about it because you, Mark and others had talked about some of these points in your blogs and forum post so we were able to quickly understand the reason our revenue wasn't happening. By being able to relax and enjoy the pottery customers we did get the show was not a bust in the least. Frankly if we just end our second season at breakeven I will consider the season a great success. We are also taking the advice of going to see as many of the shows this year that we can before we apply for next year. We have found at least one show that was juried that said all the right things on their site and then we found ourselves in a gigantic party atmosphere surrounded by buy/sell booths, we barely eked out 5 days of road expenses but the show still had some pluses and it was on the beach so there was that :-). 

#90345 Going Price Of Mugs

Posted by Stephen on 06 August 2015 - 09:55 AM

I love the process of making pottery and certainly want to be the very best I can be at my craft. Pottery has a rich history all its own and is not art to me.


As a small studio potter it seems perfectly natural to make items that sell well because unlike art that is often just made for its own sake and is often not about commerce, hand made pottery is hand fashioned by a studio potter much like it was hundreds of years ago, to be both esthetically appreciated and functional in nature to be used in my customers daily lives. Besides an attractive soap dish with a nice crackle glaze dresses up a countertop and adds a touch of class to a bathroom or kitchen and its fun to be part of helping someone do that to a part of their lives.    

#90318 Going Price Of Mugs

Posted by Stephen on 05 August 2015 - 06:04 PM

Stephen, that's a brutal setup and tear down.

yeah, we bought a festival display setup from a small company out of Arkansas that takes a while to pull together. It is very sturdy and has nice tote bags for the parts but the whole thing takes a good hour to unload and assemble. By the time we unload, put up the tent, put up signs, find water for and attach the leg weights, assemble the display and un-wrap about 350 pieces of pottery and arrange pots, table and tent for sale with 2 of us working fairly steady its about 3 hours from start to finish. We could probably cut as much as hour off of it if we absolutely had to but it would be pretty miserable working at that pace. We are changing to boxes with card board dividers to try and make the boxing and un-boxing not require any wrap. Hoping this will trim half an hour or more off the process. In a perfect world, with two of us working, I would love to see an hour and a half set-up and an hour take down but doubt we will ever get to that.


We've always had plenty of mugs and they have so far been a big part of sales but I guess if they were not plentiful many of the customers who have bought them may have bought other types of pots. It just seems like a lot of people are drawn to the mugs and they often buy other things as well.  

#89149 Square's Capital Lending Program

Posted by Stephen on 19 July 2015 - 10:40 AM

I agree with S Dean I think. If a small operator was trying to bridge a cash flow gap, say Jan - Mar (after some unexpected expense) and then chunk it back in show season it really does not seem to be bad business to me. Obviously show artist should plan ahead for whatever their slow/no show period is going to be but life sometimes does not cooperate with good plans and the business may be in otherwise perfectly fine condition. This rate in that situation would be pretty competitive and would likely be better than using credit cards. A bank line of credit other than against your home may not even be an option. These days a lot of home owners don't even have equity available for a LOC against it with so many still upside down. 


Square tossing a 'fairly low cost for what it is' loan program in the mix I don't think is predatory and just because someone needs a short term loan does not mean they are not doing fine with their budgeting. I have had unexpected expenses that are waay more than I would have planned for. Get a couple big unexpected expenses and anyone might have to scramble to patch a cash hole. Higher priced credit is not by definition bad.






note: I'm also showing my age by admitting that those rates for a business loan with no collateral just don't seem that high to me. Fifteen years ago those would have actually been pretty good rates for a secured business loan to most small businesses. But times have changed.

#88700 Quality Of Work Sold?

Posted by Stephen on 11 July 2015 - 03:14 AM

A huge toss rate? You mean like having 6 pots you kept in your house and nothing else, for nearly 2 years of pottery? Hmm, sounds familiar...  :blink:

well yes that would be a huge toss rate assuming you made a lot of pots. 


Since you are posting this in the business section I'm a little unsure of your original post though. You mentioned that you examined high end pottery at the mall with the flaws you mentioned so I didn't get the impression that you are talking about new potters, as some here are suggesting, but rather professional potters that are selling flawed work.


I think most agree we shouldn't sell flawed work but in your post you clarified these flaws as being even the slightest surface issue down to even one pin hole. I'm just not sure that's realistic for folks that make and sell pottery for a living or do I even agree its even a good standard since it leaves no room for interpretation or individuality and what is art without that.


While I respect your dedication to your craft I worry that you have come to the conclusion that only tight flawless work has merit. I also got the impression that it may have really taken a lot of the joy and fun out of pottery for you since you had to cycle through so many pots to produce the flawless ones. If nothing short of perfection is acceptable then hand crafted pottery is a tough one. 

#88550 Quality Of Work Sold?

Posted by Stephen on 08 July 2015 - 03:01 PM

Not sure I would use years to qualify potters, I think plenty of folks turn out a few pots as a hobby here and there, mostly for gifts or prototyping, so even if they have been doing it for 5-10 years they may still be making a lot of bad pots.


I personally don't think the problem is when they sell but rather what they sell. As long as a potter, of any duration, only takes professional level work to a show it's fine. That just means a huge toss rate when u start out that's all. Of course the artist gets to decide what he/she considers to be professional level work and that's as it should be, right?

#86837 Should I Start Pottery Or Not? Advice Please.....

Posted by Stephen on 09 June 2015 - 11:00 AM

and the expensive part is only if you have the means to make it so.  Clay and glaze are so cheap they are not even worth considering really.


A new kiln cost in the 1500-3 grand range and you get a shiny programmable kiln, used kiln, maybe a hundred or two and you learn to work with witness cones and a kiln sitter to turn off (that can be fun too but ya have to hang with the kiln instead of the bar with John, actually you are supposed to sit and watch the shiny new one do its thing as well).


New wheel 8,9 hundred bucks, used you can probably score for a couple of hundred or less. New slab roller, a grand or so but a rolling pin from goodwill might set you back a couple of bucks.


My point is that you can take a garage and deck it out with 10-15 grand worth of really nice new studio equipment or you can get the same functionality with a carefully assembled assortment of used stuff and work arounds such as a rolling pin and it really does not have to affect the quality of your pottery much or the fun you will have. Actually the cheap equipment might add a more romantic feel about the whole thing.   


by and large potters are a pretty cheap bunch so no one's going to make fun of your 25 year kiln you scored from a school auction for $50 B)

#81081 Buying A New Wheel! ^_^ Yes!

Posted by Stephen on 08 May 2015 - 11:15 AM

Guinea you might want to call Marc Gaiger, the potter who designed it, and get his take on the comments above.


The tool looks very similar to the one I saw in the video I initially mentioned. That potter I think made his himself when he, like you, was faced with giving up the wheel because of severe arthritis. Although I don't remember who he was I do remember that he had been a potter for 4-5 decades and they had both a huge shop and gallery and he was producing professionally using his centering and opening tool so he seemed to have figured out how to throw with it without sacrificing quality. Of course I couldn't access the structure of his pots but he had a throwing demonstration that looked liked it spun true. 


Good luck with it all. I know you love pottery but I would really figure out something so you are not just sucking it up and just going for it, injuring your hands in the process.