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shawnhar

Makin a living with electric kilns at cone 6?

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I'm making my living out of a 7 cu ft electric in my back yard. I do about half as much weight as Mea does, but I'm still building my business: I'm only in 3 1/2 years at this point. I was originally trained at cone 10, but I was obliged to learn cone six chemistry because of availability. 

In my area, gas kilns that you build yourself are regulated under the same section of the building code as industrial boilers and tar sands equipment. This didn't mean much until a couple of industrial accidents meant that code enforcement for custom built gas heated appliances got pretty draconian across the board, and certain pieces of equipment, like burners, are now only sold to you if you have a gas fitters ticket. (Good for workers, but a PIA for potters.) The upshot of this is, you can't build your own gas kiln anymore, and the pre-built gas kilns that come already certified are not a purchase someone who's building a business with no bank loan can afford right off the hop. Think $2000 for an electric vs $10,000 for the gas. Gas kilns now are only in arts centres, colleges and residencies that have the budgets for them. 

So all but the older potters in my area that have been grandfathered in are making a living out of electric kilns. 

I decided when I made my permanent switch that rather than bemoan the loss of the surfaces you get in gas reduction, I'd embrace brighter colours and learning more glaze chemistry. Electric firings are definitely much easier than gas, but I'm personally finding cone six glaze chemistry is more interesting at this point.  I'm playing more with how glazes really react and using different fluxes to draw things out of the clay body beneath than I did before.  

I still try and go to Medalta once a year to fire the salt and soda kilns though, because I still love the surfaces you get with those firing methods. They're different aesthetics, but I love them both.

 

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4 hours ago, liambesaw said:

Wow, and I thought $0.11/kwh was bad!  Thank you cheap Washington hydroelectricity

Thats about almost free  compared to our costs down south.

I have time of use meter and only occasional bisque in an electric and only off peak hours-its to small at 10 cubic feet to really get much work done anyway.My gas kilns are so much cheaper to operate.

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@Callie Beller Diesel " I'm playing more with how glazes really react and using different fluxes to draw things out of the clay body beneath than I did before. "

And I have been playing with clay that specifically cause reactions in glaze. Trying to find your voice in clay comes down to whatever restrictions come with your geographical area. Utility costs, codes, material availability, shipping, and the big factor: local markets. Learning to service your own kiln is beneficial as well. If you are already well down the road of electric and are familiar with the process: stick with it unless electric costs are just too prohibitive.

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Sweet!~ Looks like there are tons of folks using electric to make a living. I got the impression people were using the giant kilns from watching tons of utube videos of potter's studios to get ideas for my own, I guess an electric kiln is not as interesting a talking point, and several of the potters I know of here are using big kilns as well, one has a raku car kiln. At .10 kwh the cost of electricity is not a concern, it's WAY more expensive here for gas. I am definitely getting production kilns and will probably stick with Skutt since that's what I have been using.

 

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I've found that one of the greatest benefits of working at cone 6, regardless of what type of kiln you use, is the abundance of commercial glaze products. If I need a certain color to use as an accent for a special order I can just buy a pint. Or if one of my students wants a glaze color that I don't have, they can buy their own. My students are happier knowing that they aren't limited to the glazes I provide in the studio.

I would totally explore cone 6 reduction if I had a gas kiln. I've seen some nice work coming from that, and the fuel savings are huge compared to cone 10.

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I have 2 friends , at least, who make a living with ^6 electric. Here are links to see their work: Sue Tirrell, Montana and Anne Fallis Elliot, Manitoba

https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/ceramics-monthly/ceramic-art-and-artists/ceramic-artists/sue-tirrell-contemporary-american-frontier-ceramic-artist/

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10212462765186267&set=a.1084915405206&type=3&theater

when Anne lived in NYC she sold at the Guggenheim gift shop among other place. Shereturned to manitoba after 30+ years of producing in NYC.

Sue's work was recently on the cover of ceramics monthly. She retails her work across the US including shops at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia, Visions West in Livingsto and Bozeman , Montana, online galleries like the red lodge clay center. 

 

Marcia 

 

 

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On 1/18/2019 at 6:23 PM, GEP said:

My firing cycles come up every 2.5 weeks. It usually involves 3 loads of bisque, and 4 or 5 loads of glaze. I run the bisque kilns while I start throwing the next cycle. Then I spend 3 days glazing (1 day for each bisque load). Each glazing cycle produces $5000 worth of pots. 

Really good production here.    Lack of production is the failure I see most often in pottery businesses.   Second is not getting the distribution right.   How much do your  shows cut into your production?

I have 3 electric kilns (10.2 cubic feet each) and have a pretty good pottery business.  I have one full time employee in the pottery side of my business and another full time employee that makes jewelry and runs the show room.

"Making a living" means different things to different people.  I support myself, 4 dogs and 27 cats from this business.   I have Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance ($730) a month and have funded a couple building projects from the business.  I consider it a profitable business.  I will NOT live hand to mouth and don't scrape by.  I never do without anything.  And neither do the animals that live here, including medical care when they need it.     I don't like pottery enough to stay in it if it wasn't profitable.   I do like the pottery business pretty well (not as much as most people here do) but it's profitable and it was a really easy business to build  (consider I've built other retail businesses).     Also, to add to my profitability I have a jewelry business in the same location.  Between the 2, it's more than enough to make  what I consider  "a good living" which includes giving nice gifts to people in my family and donating to make the world a better place for animals. 

Edited by DirtRoads

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1 hour ago, DirtRoads said:

How much do your  shows cut into your production?

Shows cut into production a lot! Especially the ones that require out of town travel. But of course a business doesn’t work if you only produce and don’t make any effort to sell. So making time for shows is necessary, but that’s why it’s crucial to choose them wisely, to avoid spending valuable time at unproductive shows. I put a lot of research and legwork into picking shows. I still end up in bad shows sometimes, but the goal is to minimize that as much as possible. 

Also, when I’ve been in my studio producing for two months straight, I really need to get out and talk to people! In addition to unloading the inventory. The change of scenery is valuable to me, psychologically. I’d go nuts if I never left the studio. 

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24 minutes ago, GEP said:

Also, when I’ve been in my studio producing for two months straight, I really need to get out and talk to people! In addition to unloading the inventory. The change of scenery is valuable to me, psychologically. I’d go nuts if I never left the studio. 

I find the same doing as much wholesale as I do which to most would not be a lot, but throwing 120 pieces with lids or handles doing the glazing and turn around with grinding clean up gets me a little batty for company.

Working with Cone 6 is something that you arrive at many times from an exposure to gas kilns in college. Spoiled for the ring of stoneware or porcelain, The early dream usually of gas gets subverted by the high cost of housing and building a gas kiln. When living in a city even as safe as they are, getting a permit is often jumping through too many hoops. So here comes the electric kiln and ease of use with the lack of fire and excitement of a collapsing door! I find that with dipping, spraying, splattering and brushing that almost any pot can have a richness of surface that reduction does, and with lower overall costs.

 

best, 

Pres

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