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Ceramic project, not sure if I should take it - opinions?

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Hi there! This is my first time posting but have read and learned many great things here.

I have been throwing on the wheel for about 1 year now in my studio. My level is perhaps lower end of intermediate, maybe, not sure. I've taken one class so mostly self taught, have made big vessels and small vessels with throwing and combo coil/throwing to get tall (around 18").  Everyday I learn something new.

So a great opportunity came to me today. I would be making vessels, of their designs, for a prominent company. They would show these vessels at an industry market and if orders come in, I would make more. I would submit a cost proposal for the first 2 sets delivered and would be paid accordingly if approved.  My hang up is the time frame in which they would want the 2 sets of 3-pieces to be delivered.  The time frame is 5 weeks from start to completion to arrival to their show  which is in the opposite coast of where I am located. I'm attaching an image of the basic parts of these vessels I made today which still needs trimming. Essentially a rounded bowl attached to a tapered base with 2 handles. Not complicated except there is a larger piece. The pieces are sized 1) 7" diameter x 7 h,  2) 10.5" dia x 10 h, and  3) 15" dia x 6 h. All  with about 3/16"  - 1/4" thick walls.

While I think I can form these pieces , my feeling is 5 weeks is not enough time. I'm figuring 1 week to make samples for their approval (color and finish), 1.5 - 2 weeks (because of my skill level and in between clay stiffening times) to form the 6 pieces, which leaves only 2 weeks to dry completely, bisque fire, glaze, final fire, packing and shipping. I fear any rushing of the drying  process will result in a cracking.  It's still relatively dry where I live now and not yet the rainy, wet season. 

I am wondering what everyone's thought is on the time frame. I haven't had to make anything in ceramics with a deadline so I haven't had the experience of timing how long it takes for clay to dry.  I usually finish a piece and let it dry very slowly while starting on another.  I started an order of 40 tea mugs 2 weeks ago that are due in December! Wanted to make sure I had plenty of time for the entire process. If you were an experienced thrower, would you take on a project like this to be done in 5 weeks or is this an unrealistic time frame?  Thanks in advance for your thoughts!


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Hi and welcome to the Forum JMWP,

Here are a few things to consider...Let's assume you can produce and ship the samples in the time frame mentioned. If they are accepted, how many more would you have to produce and in what time frame for the new order? Do you have the time and inclination to work under their requirements. As you say, drying time is a consideration and if any of the pieces crack during the drying or bisque firing, you will probably be screwed. I would pass on this particular project and others like it until you have a better idea of what YOUR production parameters are. Get your 40 mugs done before you consider another potentially big project.


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I agree with @JohnnyK . I am an experienced potter who has done oodles of wholesale work, and even I would turn it down. Those pots are large and complex, full of potential to fail while drying. Plus, if the first sets are accepted and taken to the trade show, you would have no control over the production demands after that. It's the type of situation that  can easily become a nightmare for a one-person pottery shop. If you are getting into production work, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to understand your production capabilities in realistic terms, and maintain control of your time. 40 tea cups by December is a much more sensible deal. Stick to those types of opportunities. 

The buyer also sounds like they don't quite understand the process of handmade pottery. That's another reason to say "no thanks." I wouldn't let someone sell my time if they don't understand what I do. 

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I do custom work for some businesses in my area. I personally won't guarantee a delivery of a custom order sooner than 6-8 weeks, even if I am easily capable of delivering earlier. If something goes wrong, I want space to be able to remake the entire project.  If all goes well, I deliver early.

The only way I see a project like what you describe being deliverable in that time frame is to have the bisque ready to glaze when the orders come in. You'd need some sales estimates well in advance for that, and as Mea already said, you'd need to have a solid handle on what your capabilities as a potter are and what your chosen materials will do.  

I would not have taken on a project like this in my first year of throwing, either. It would have been entirely too much. Even if I were to take this on now, with the experience that I have, I wouldn't have done it without being able to negotiate for extending the delivery time, capping the numbers for sale, or even perhaps by taking a pass on this year's industry show and preparing  the bisque for the next one if they really need that short turnaround. When presented with a slightly unreasonable project by a potential client, it's a reasonable response to counter with a more workable soloution. 

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This scenario made me wonder whether the prominent company approached a relative novice because experienced potters wouldn't take the offer.

When an opportunity seems to be too good to be true for someone at ones level of skill and experience,  there is often a catch. 

You did absolutely the right thing to check with seasoned professionals before responding.

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