- Ceramic Arts Daily Community
- → Viewing Profile: Likes: Stephen
StephenMember Since 28 Jan 2013
Offline Last Active Today, 10:39 AM
- Group Members
- Active Posts 477
- Profile Views 13,848
- Member Title novice
- Age 55 years old
- Birthday October 2, 1960
Posted by Stephen on 11 April 2016 - 10:45 AM
yeah you are being more than a little naive, but that's OK, lots of people approach wheel throwing having no idea its as hard as it is to get good at and the folks that are really good make it look so damn easy :-)
I applaud your "I can do anything attitude". The wheel is something that stops a lot of folks interested because it usually takes a lot of hours of failing miserably before you can produce anything at all and popping out a 2 foot pot in your first year or two of throwing is probably wishful thinking.
BUT maybe you will master it very quickly, go for it and be patient if it seems like its taking forever to get the hang of it because that is more the norm than those that master it quickly.
Anyway, good luck with your project and have fun!
Posted by Stephen on 24 March 2016 - 12:49 PM
I just finished reading a thread from a few months ago and it came up again why folks like me do not use their full names.
Just a word why I'm just Stephen. First off I am not doing this to not have accountability for what I say. I truly do try with every single of the few hundred post I've made to be respectful, kind and hopefully helpful in some way.
I also do my very best to not post about things I don't know about, or at least I think I know about. Since I'm just a struggling novice five year potter that means its usually about business (since I ran a smallish non-pottery business for a decade) and equipment which I have spent waaay to much $$ on and did research on and have some studio time with.
I am a 55 year old computer programmer and Stephen is my real name. I am married to the most wonderful and talented artist who has been making beautiful work for going on twenty years and five years ago now we embarked on making pottery not just her serious hobby but our livelihoods. Actually earning a living making and selling pottery. She quit a dozen year graphic design gig three years ago and I left my 10 year programming job last July. Its been a daunting task that we are committed too.
This is an industry forum where thousands and thousands of both amateurs AND world renown professional potters interact daily, either directly or by reading. The lurkers probably include many, many serious heavy hitters and many of the ones that do give their names are department heads at prestigious educational institutions, pros with 30, 40 year artist careers, teachers with decades of helping students realize their talent and everything in between.
I have struggled often with putting the rest of my info here. Once I do that that it is no longer is just Stephen tossing in his two cents on a subject or asking for help with freely given background.
...but Stephen Doe with ABC Pottery, married to artist Jane Doe.
I know it may seem like an easy thing to do but WOW. Now anytime someone surfs on our little pottery or one of us up come my post. Did I say it right? Did I come off as a moron, arrogant, obnoxious, smug etc?
I mean really, me even talking in the conversation with this group on the surface is silly and humbling. I seriously don't even know if I could really participate if I had to justify my right to with my identity because in reality If I was in a room with most of you I would simply be humbled, respectful and most of all quiet.
- Chris Campbell likes this
Posted by Stephen on 18 January 2016 - 11:28 AM
Great post from Mike. I would only add that doing shows is something that we find to be very enjoyable. Highlights a great point though, there are different ways to make and sell those 3000 or so pieces of pottery and how you decide to do it will also decide your lifestyle to a very large extent so I would think that part through pretty thoroughly. At the end of the day this is going to be your new job and you will often be doing it in 10-12 hours stretches. There are plenty of full time potters making a good living just doing shows once they find the right shows and product mix. Likewise running a retail operation with a team of potters might be ur thing as it is Mike's.
I do wish you the best, it's exciting taking time in life to shake things up and rearrange your life to better match what you want it to be.
- nancylee likes this
Posted by Stephen on 16 January 2016 - 02:55 PM
Just read through the thread and it sounds like you have some great advice to ponder. We are getting ready for the third season and from that I can tell you that the ramp up is by far the hard part and so many projects we really didn't see as the big time sinks they are.
The first year was basically no revenue dollars to speak of and about 20k in expenses (not counting building additional 300 feet of studio space and the previous a 15k or so of equipment. We bought lots of additional tools and supplies and made the 4-600 or so pieces that always stay in inventory as we organized. Just like someone who has to go buy their opening inventory, as a full time business you will need to make yours. We have about 30ish forms and have 5-30 of each depending on how they are selling and that adds up faster than you think.
Probably more like 6-7k HAD to be spent to get things in motion and much of the rest was discretionary spending for additional studio equipment (we added 2 new wheels when we could have made 1 work for 1 1/2 people throwing) and we always have bought new figuring we would benefit from the extra longevity. Cutting this out and being frugal and buying the additional stuff you need used or only as you actually need it might make it where you don't need to actually front that much cash the first year but you do need to sit down and do some math because I bet you are going to need to spend at least some money in the transition and then fund the initial inventory. You could obviously just make between shows we but opted while prototyping to make inventory to start with. We live in the Northwest and the shows are spring until x-mas and some are bunched together and we didn't want lack of inventory to be an ongoing consideration when we look for shows.
We did get in a couple of shows the first year but mostly spent about 9 months doing this prototype and make process. It was busy too because you are setting everything up and just figuring out and outfitting your booth burns days of time researching and then incorporating. Our business spread-out too. When it was a glorified hobby it took over a 500 foot garage but as a business it needed another 300 foot of studio space and has consumed an additional 300 in our house so it really is occupying over 1100 feet of space. This is a comfortable amount of space but again its just 1 1/2 potters.
I don't think its the money we spent as a takeaway but rather the huge time sink the transition from serious hobbyist to professional that needs to earn a living. If I had any worthwhile advice I would encourage you to sit down and list off everything single thing that in your view would need to be accomplished to be able to feel, in your own mind, in business as a professional artist.
1) Opening slate of forms and at least a few in opening inventory.
2) Resulting stock of studio equipment, clay & glaze materials and misc supplies to make these forms
3) Business organized (sole proprietor ship or llc) and all your paperwork figured out and organized for continuous routine operations.
4) Slate of shows (we did 9 last year and we are considering going back to 3 of those)
With this list you can start to see where money will actually start flowing through to you having a paycheck and I think that's where reality hits so many. They spend months and money they don't have getting everything in motion and then when they hit that first round of shows they may be surprised that they have a whole string of shows where they only bank a marginal amount above the cost of doing the show. For me I thought when I was planning the 2nd year the solution would be to simply do more shows but it's really not that easy as we don't know the right shows and even ones that might grow into money makers like Mark C and GEP report are just in there first year so that 1500 show might be a 3000 or even 4000 show 4-5 years from now. We come out of every show with follow-up orders and interest. We also found ourselves at festival type events where folks are there to have fun and often party instead of buying art. Add to that the ones that turned out to be full of buy sell tables off cheap imports, most of the year was not spent making any money but rather learning the ropes.
This year we should do a little better picking the slate of shows so we are hopeful that we actually bank a few dollars above expenses.
If you on the other hand did that entire list above and did a 6 show slate for a couple of years as you continued your full time job then in 24 months, when you are 57, you would have already absorbed all of the non-earning time sinks involved in transitioning to full time pottery and can simply sign up for more shows and not miss a beat. Out of the fist 12 shows you do that first 2 years part time may give 3 or 4 good shows to do your first year and that would be a huge victory.
I'd also try and decide if you really get the reality of making and selling $50,000 worth of pottery a year to earn a $25-30k salary. If you average around $25-30 a piece then you will be making about 3000 pieces of pottery for a full season. Probably a 5th of it will not make it to the booth or will not sell and remain in inventory at the end of the year and you will have to pay 15% of that salary into payroll taxes.
Either way, good luck. Shows and traveling and seeing new places is fun and handmade pottery customers are the best. I really think they have no problem paying reasonable prices and I think most handmade buyers do have an opinion on what they think is reasonable in their area. We cater to the $22 mug, $45 mixing bowl type crowd which I think is middle of the road and seems to be the right range for the buyers that get the whole thing to start with. Not everyone can afford to hire a pro to sit down and throw a mug just for them.
Posted by Stephen on 14 December 2015 - 11:18 AM
Putting a minimum of two or three hundred per item on custom orders will make a lot of sence. Doing a couple of $25 mugs for a custom order is absurd from a finacial standpoint if u are not using the regular form but fussing around with a $500 platter might work out. Even minimum extra effort means zero or negative margins for low dollar items and if you have to redo something it gets rediculious.
Obviously there are other compelling reasons to do them here and there but I would caution to not don't fool yourself into feeling like you made a good sale on such an small order without one of those reasons.
Seems right though that you do them yourself and see how it works out with your business.
Try to smile though if/when it goes to crap and just chalk it up to research :-)
Hey Ray, why don't you knock out that old c order for your old friend and just send it to them out of the blue, free of charge, with a note that their old order just surfaced in your paperwork and you realized it was never filled. Will probably put a smile on their face and might re-kindle an old friendship.
- rayaldridge likes this
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.
- TallTayl likes this
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.
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.
- DirtRoads likes this
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.
- Chilly likes this
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
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.
Posted by Stephen on 10 August 2015 - 12:50 PM
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.
- GEP likes this
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 :-).
- Diesel Clay likes this
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.
- GiselleNo5 likes this