Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Employee of the month

I haven't been making a lot of pots this year, I did my last wood firing in October of 2013.  I did make quite a large number of pots this summer but 3 firings worth went straight to the landfill.  I took a part time job at Home Depot in February to help make up the difference for not making and selling pots.  I've been teaching for six and a half years and a carpenter before that, and while I've taken the occasional side job this is the first time I've worked in a structured work environment since 2006.  I think artists tend to be self starters, we're creative thinkers and problem solvers, as well as go-getters.  We (or at least I) work best independently.  I've worked in retail, food service, and construction and I've quickly advanced to some type of leadership/management position in all those jobs.  My motivation has never been just financial, I'm a stubborn, independent problem solver, and being in a position of leadership gives me the opportunity to do things the way I want to do them.  Since starting at the Home Depot I've been named employee of the month twice and have been offered the opportunity for advancement and a new career path, this I politely declined.  It's easy to be enticed by steady income and benefits, I've been down this path before but I know better.  No matter how far you advance and how much freedom you're given the independent spirit will always be stifled and possibly broken.  This is okay for some, but not for me.  I want something that's mine, I control it, it lives and dies with my decisions. 

It's strange to find a meaningful quote in such a strange place as the Gilmore Girls, but nonetheless I think Luke, the grumpy diner owner, said it best when his nephew dropped out of school to work at walmart and then criticized him for working in a diner:

“I own this business, kid! I built it, this is mine! I’m not at the mercy of some boss waiting and hoping to be chosen employee of the month for a couple extra hundred bucks and a plaque. I’m always employee of the month. I’m employee of the year, of the century, of the universe. You should be so lucky to have a job like mine.”

I like that it's not about the money, it's about the freedom and the pride of building something.  "I built it, this is mine!"  Indeed.  I look forward to hitting it hard in 2015.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I think I've made a huge mistake...

I've been blessed with good kiln karma, I've built 14 kilns and they've all worked properly right from the start.  But this kiln...this kiln is a fickle bitch. I've had one semi-successful firing, which I understand now was clearly a taunt from the kiln gods, and many false starts.  I tore down the stack and enlarged it, I'm currently getting the top portion rebuilt.  More air?  That must be what it needs.  That's the only thing left to tweak.  All of karma's unrequited bad kiln fortune is playing it's course and SURELY we must be done with all that by now. 

It's easy to read too much into situations, is the universe telling me I made the wrong choice?  Nah, that's silly talk.  Or is it?  Hmmm. 

6 weeks to my next show and not a single pot made for it, not to mention the more pressing task of fulfilling rewards of all my kickstarter backers who have shown much patience with my kiln fumbles.  Sometimes this job sucks too.  But...the dude abides.  Onward to the studio.


Friday, June 13, 2014


I'm back at it in the studio, making pots and getting ready to fire the new kiln.  My first firing is tentatively scheduled for next Sunday, the 22nd.  I have my electric kiln hooked up, I haven't fired any pots in it yet but I did fire my cast burner ports and it performed admirably.

I mixed up my usual four batches of clay which is about 1300 pounds.  That used to be two firings worth, not sure what it is now.

I'm slowly getting pots made but I'm having trouble getting a rhythm going.  I'm used to making large runs of pots for two wood firings.  30 soup bowls, 20 serving bowls, 60 cups, a dozen teapots, etc. With a smaller kiln it seems ludicrous to make enough to do 3 or 4 back to back firings.  So the cycle will change, 8 cups here, 4 serving bowls there.  That's going to be tough for a workaholic type potter like me.  For me working on pots is an addiction, at the end of the day I need to see boards full of pots, and of course it's never enough.  It's hard to stop at 4 or 6 or 8.  My studio was setup to hold enough pots for two firings with the idea that I would eventually be building a two chamber wood kiln.  For a variety of reasons I decided last year that a larger kiln wasn't in the cards for me.  So, I dunno.  I'll figure it out though.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Nearly there!

I got right back to work on the kiln as soon as I arrived home from Minnesota.  I'm just about finished but I have a small punch list to knock out.  I still need to cast salt troughs for the firebox and set the bagwalls, set up the burners, and build some storage for the kiln shelves and posts.  

I put up a metal roof for the shed and flashed around the chimney.

This is the door frame and the I-beam trolley system.  The beam is about 12' long and extends out the side of the shed.

The oil burners require a much smaller and tapered port.  I found these plastic funnels that were just the right size.  I built a little frame and cast them using Mizzou castable.  They should work just fine.

Here is the 99% finished kiln.  The door is constructed of high alumina soft brick, this is the same brick I used on both of my previous wood kilns and it held up pretty well.  I coated the kiln side of the brick with a thinned down mix of AP Green #36 high alumina cement.  I wanted to use greenpatch 421, which is fairly common amongst potters.  My supplier was out of that and recommended the #36 as it has a higher amount of alumina, about 70%.  I did discover that it will not bond if there is any dust on the brick, which is a tall order for soft brick, but I think I made it work.  Time will tell if that coating makes a difference.  The door track works great, I can move the 700# door with one hand quite easily.  I'm excited about it!

I mixed clay several days ago and it should come out of the racks in a week or so and then it's on to making pots!


Sunday, May 11, 2014


We had a great time in Minnesota this last week.  We spent some time up at the north shore doing some hiking and sightseeing the nature.  In Texas we lack the kind of nature that I love, tall trees, rocky hills, rivers, waterfalls, etc.  This is a photo of Sadie and me at Gooseberry Falls, north of Duluth.


The St. Croix pottery tour was insane.  I've never seen so many pots and so many people buying pots.  I was able to meet a few people in real life, plus briefly catch up with some other folks like Dan Finnegan, Michael Hunt/Naomi Dalglish, and Linda Christianson.  There were a few potters whose work I was excited to see in person, and knowing that I would be heading up there I saved a few bucks for some pots.  Since we flew up and I had a tiny budget I was limited to small pots like cups and bowls.

I picked up some cups by Sam Taylor, Mark Shapiro, and Dan Finnegan.  Sadie picked up a Randy Johnston and a Linda Christianson.

I also got these nice pasta bowls from Kent Mclaughlin and Bob Briscoe, and a dinner plate by Sarah Jaeger.  I'm not usually one for bright colors but I've always loved these blue pots she does.

These cups are by Michael Hunt from Bandana Pottery, the one on the left is mine, the other two I picked up for some other folks.

I saw this large slab dish (about 15") in the middle of the Bandana pottery display and I loved it and couldn't stop talking about it, but it was too expensive and a little too large to carry home.  Sadie decided to buy it for me as an early birthday present, that was really nice of her.  I picked a winner.

Tomorrow it's back to the kiln build.

Cheers y'all!!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Golden arch.

The arch is up and the steel work is mostly complete.  It's been a long few months, I'm going on vacation.

Cheers y'all!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Build

Here is an update about the kiln build, I'm making some good progress, I'm starting the steel work this weekend and would like to get the arch up as well.  Next Tuesday the lady and I are heading to Minnesota on vacation for a week.  I'm going to hit up the St. Croix Pottery Tour for a day, I'm really excited about that.  So I'm trying to cram as much building in as I can before we go.  

I like arches with a steep slope, not quite a barrel arch but pretty close.
Back to the grind.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Coming down and going up!

I'm excited that my kickstarter is finished and I was able to raise what I needed to get this new kiln up and running.  I started taking down the wood kiln a couple weeks ago, trying to sort what was reusable and what wasn't as I took it down.  

Look at those gaps!

Above the grates there was getting gnarly!  I tried to save the bagwall to use as a classy lawn ornament but it was just too heavy to move.

Not much left.

I snapped chalklines for the kiln and laid down a layer of self-leveling compound so that the foundation was perfectly flat and level.

Today I laid up the concrete blocks for the foundation and layer of cement board on top so that I start with a perfectly flat area to lay brick.

Here is the kiln shed, my studio is just to the right.  I'm going to put a metal roof on it once I get the stack through the roof.

Well, that's all for now.  I'm hoping to start laying the floor of the kiln tomorrow, I also need to go track down a brick saw.  I started loosely planning this project almost a year ago so it feels good to see it start coming together.  


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Oil Burner Update

The stars finally aligned themselves this week and I was able to fire the university kiln with my waste oil burners.  Things went pretty well, I had a few small issues during the firing that I was able to resolve or at least troubleshoot for the next firing.  I made it to cone 10 in about 11 hours using 27 gallons of waste vegetable oil.  The two biggest issues I had were the burner nozzles clogging and my air compressor not being able to keep up.  The latter was an easy fix, I was able to commandeer the department compressor so I had one on each burner.  I'm going to have to invest in a much larger/higher CFM compressor for my kiln.  That was an unexpected expense but I'm glad I figured it out now so I can budget that in.  I think the clogging was due to the oil not being adequately filtered.  The burners drew from a 5 gallon bucket and I had a 100 mesh sieve that I poured the oil through.  While attempting to remove sediment from the sieve I cracked it and put a couple small holes in it, so I think quite a bit of sediment made it through.  I was able to clear it quickly with a wire brush but it could lose temp pretty quick if the clog happened for too long.  I'm excited to know these things work and have that stress behind me.  It makes it a lot easier to move forward with getting the kiln built. 

In other news, I picked up an electric kiln this week.  I've been looking for a used one for a couple years but I had a pretty long and picky list of what I wanted.  My patience paid off and I was able to pick up a computer controlled Skutt 1227 for an extremely small amount of money.  It came from an elementary school that was having mandatory equipment replacement and was used at most 4 times a year.  It was a 3 phase 240 which is an cheap style to rewire as the elements don't need to be replaced, but lo and behold when I got home it turned out that it had already been rewired at point in time.  Score one for the home team.  The pieces I do with multiple layers of slip don't take to raw glazing so this will be a useful tool for me.  I don't know why I haven't taken a picture of it yet, but here it is tarped up in my truck. 

My kickstarter is over in 6 days.  I am currently $480 short of my stretch goal which will help with a number of additional expenses for the kiln.  If you are interested in contributing you can click here.  I still have plenty of brushes available for your contribution or would be happy to make some pots for you! 



Friday, March 21, 2014

Kickstarter Update

My kickstarter project has reached 93% of the funding goal in 72 hours! That is just amazing! I am blown away by the generosity and support, thank you so much. There are still 26 days left so plenty of time to contribute if you are interested.  If there is anyone out there interested in contributing but not interested in the pots I have a plethora of deer tail brushes available.  The brushes won't show up on the kickstarter page but you can specify by sending me a message via kickstarter.  The best part ist that the brushes are available immediately.  You can contribute to the existing rewards:
$15 for one brush
$35 for two brushes
$50 for three brushes

You can view the project here.

Cheers y'all!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Kickstart my kiln.

Hello to all my loyal blog readers.  If you've been keeping tabs then you know that I'm in the process of tearing down my wood kiln and replacing it with a new kiln.  2013 was not a stellar year for the pottery business so I've decided to try an alternative method of funding for the kiln.  My initial plan was to try a "buy a brick" program that a few other potters have used with success, but not having the web skills to set that up left me seeking other options.  I have chosen to go with Kickstarter, they have a proven track record as well as a great format that's easy to use for computer illiterate folks like myself.  If you're not familiar with kickstarter, the basic idea is that you contribute and in return for your contribution you receive a "reward".  In this case you receive a certain piece or pieces of pottery depending on your contribution.  The kickstarter format is all or nothing.  So if the funding goal is not reached then the project is considered unsuccessful and the backers aren't charged. So that's it in a nutshell. There is a short video and a lot information about the project on the site so I won't go into it here, the video is also at the end of this post.  My project can be seen by clicking here.

To make it an incentive the pieces you receive for your contribution are below retail and shipping costs.  The pieces will be shipped out after the kiln is up and running, but if you're local or catching me at a show, you are more than welcome to come by the shop and pick out your pot(s). I also will be more than happy to send pictures of pieces for you to choose from.

As an added long-term bonus I intend to write an article about my burners with full disclosure about their construction and operation.  Open-source kiln firing, if you will. 

Well, that's all I have for now.  If you have any question/concerns about kickstarter, my project, the rewards, the universe, etc. I will be more than happy to answer them.

Cheers y'all!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Steady slabbin'

I poured a slab yesterday for the new kiln.  It's an 8x10 slab, enough room for the kiln and the apparatus for the oil burners.  I've positioned the new slab right outside the studio to make loading and tending the kiln easier.  It'll have a roof over it sooner or later.  This coming week is our spring break and I'm hoping to make some headway getting the wood kiln down and maybe getting this one started. I busted up a wheelbarrow full of pots from the shard pile and used it as fill underneath the slab, an offering to the kiln gods if you will.  I did this with the last kiln and that kiln produced great pots.  Maybe it's just an empty gesture but why tempt fate?


One of these days I'll actually get to make some pots.

Cheers y'all!

Saturday, February 22, 2014


I appreciate the comments on the last post, it's nice to know there are people out there still reading this thing.  We all have a different take on things, and of course different needs, but I think it's important that we not let ourselves be taken advantage of.  If you're willing to go "the extra mile" for your galleries then you need to make sure that it is on your terms and your choice.  Remember that the galleries don't exist without us but to a certain extent we can exist without them, so who is doing who the favor? 

I've been wholesaling for the last few years and it has been very good to me.  This year was a particularly rough one.  Most of my work went to the east coast but last fall was a doozey for that region.  One of my smaller galleries was on their last leg and the government shutdown put them out of business, my largest gallery had to scale back and haven't reordered from me, that is a pretty big hit for me.  I haven't taken an order since the summer, so I'm not sure how things are going over there.  I opted not to go to Baltimore this year, with my kiln needing a rebuild I just didn't feel comfortable committing to it.  It also gave me a chance to take a breather and reconsider how I'm marketing my work.  I'm not sure that I want to commit to wholesaling on the scale that I was, but I'm not ruling it out yet.  Having a new kiln with an easier turn around might make those commitments easier. 

I've been taking a bit of a sabbatical since October.  I've spent a lot of time working on my house and property.  I'm starting to phase back into the pottery.  I spent the last week cleaning up the back acre, it was one huge gigantic trashy mess.  Wood piles and 5 foot weeds.  Here is a nice before and after. 

I'm digging out an area next to my studio to pour a slab for the new kiln.  Over the next couple weeks I'll be disassembling the wood kiln and sorting out what is salvageable.  I'm hoping to get it built during March and get firing again sometime in April/May.  I don't know exactly when I'll get back to making pots but it shouldn't be too much longer.  I'm also considering a showroom expansion and having regular hours, but I'm getting ahead of myself there.  Well, that's all I have going on here right now.  Hope all is well with you all.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Taking advantage.

I've had a couple of negative experiences in the last few months and thought I might share them here.  I'm not really sure who reads this (feel free to chime in and lets get the conversation going) but if you're an old timer then this is nothing new for you, if you're a hobbyist or an up and comer then maybe this might give you some forewarning for these situations and you can decide how you want to do things. 

I was invited to take part in a group show last fall, it was a good theme and a really good group of potters so I was excited to be a part of it.  The gallery wanted a photo of a piece that would be included in the show for publication/promotion, that's not abnormal or unreasonable at all, done.  A week or two before delivery he sent an email asking us to shoot images of all the work for the website...I was sending about 25 pots, so that seemed like a bit of a task.  I was going to have to haul out the photo setup, get it all dialed in, shoot the images, and get them edited to be uploaded.  Anyone who shoots their own photos can tell you that all that takes about as long as making the pots, which means in a show situation you are doubling the amount of work for less money.  Anyways, I really toiled over this which seems a little ridiculous, but it really frustrated me.  In a 50/50 consignment situation (don't even get me started on the bullshit that is consignment), or really any split situation with a gallery/shop, it is my understanding that you are paying them 50% to cover the marketing and selling of the work.  I definitely feel that shooting images of the work falls into that category.  Back to the story, rather than confront the gallery owner and argue my case I simply decided to play ignorance and just didn't shoot images of the work.  I never heard from him once the work arrived about the images...but the show was a success, I sold a lot of the work so I was happy with that, I still haven't been paid, but lets save that for another post.  Even though this was months ago it's been on my mind a lot.  It just lends further creedence to my belief that the artist-gallery/shop dynamic is seriously flawed.  I had decided to let it go, this situation happens so rarely that it's not worth getting more worked up about. 

Last month I heard from a former student of mine who works for a small museum.  She asked if I would like to sell work in their gift shop, it seemed like an easy opportunity to maybe sell a few pots.  It was consignment but it was with someone I knew so I made the exception.  She told me what type of pieces they wanted and I let her know that I had the work and could send it to them.  The next day she informed me that the director wanted me to send individual photos of each piece with dimensions and descriptions...these aren't big pots we're talking about, a lot of cups and smaller pots.  I opted out of that arrangement because to be honest it just is not worth my time.  I would have to do all the work I have to do to post on etsy, then pay to ship all the pots in hopes that I might get half the price at some point in the future, no way.  I can understand that since they may not have been familiar with my work they would need photos, I keep a stock of photos for just such an occasion.  Also with higher priced work that may be a more reasonable request.  The situation just left me fuming, and as you can perhaps tell by now I am not good at letting go of situations that leave me feeling like I'm getting screwed.

I have the very fortunate luxury of being able to be selective about how and where I sell my pots, I can't dismiss that.  But, I feel that these situations take advantage of us and our need to make an income.  If I weren't in a situation to be selective I would probably let myself be taken advantage of to try and make those few extra bucks, I'd have to!  I inform new accounts that if they are unable to see my work in person I am more than happy to provide them with a visual catalog of what I can do, I'm not sending individual images of every pot.  When I'm offered consignment I politely decline and let them know that I don't do consignment, if they ask why then they may get the short polite answer or the longer scathing answer, it depends on my mood and the kind of operation I think they're running .  There are exceptions of course, taking part in group shows or shows where the gallery is merely a location and/or didn't curate the exhibition.  I do have one consignment account, but he has a proven track record and sells more of my work than most of my wholesale accounts, and he always pays on time.  He has treated me very well so I see no reason to rock the boat. 

So what's the point of all this?  I don't really have one.  I'm just sharing my frustrations and how I choose to approach these situations.  When I was starting out I would jump at any opportunity to get my work out there, but I'm 16 years in and feel that I've paid enough dues to not have to put up with this kind of stuff anymore.  I don't intend for that to sound egotistical, but there has to come a point where you have developed experience and enough of a reputation that you don't need to be put through the ringer to sell some pots at a little shop.  I'm just so frustrated with some of these places asking for a cut and demanding more work from the artist.  I make it, you sell it, end of discussion.  Bring back the guilds! 

Cheers y'all!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Oil Burner

Yesterday I tested out the oil burner I constructed.  It seemed to work very well.  I tested it with diesel, knowing that oil would be difficult to light without preheating.  It does need a couple of tweaks but overall I'm fairly satisfied.  The manufacturer of the nozzle stated that a fan was needed so I followed their CFM requirements but I didn't notice any difference with the fan on/off or at different speeds.  So I'm not sure about that one.  This friday I'm going to hook it up to our gas kiln and give it a test and see what kind of temp it can produce on its own and how much fuel it consumes, that will give me a reasonably accurate estimate of BTU's.  If it is adequate then I can move forward with tearing down my kiln and building the new kiln. 


Thursday, January 9, 2014

New Brushes on Etsy

I've just finished uploading a whole bunch of deer tail brushes to my etsy page.  There are a variety of sizes available and they all ship for free in the US.  Generally speaking the fuller the brush the floppier it will be and will tend to leave more gestural marks. Straighter tips will tend to be less floppy and yield better control but will not give as loose of a mark.  If you have questions about the brushes or need advice on what may be best for your application you can convo me on etsy and I'd be happy to help you figure it out.

Here is a picture of the brushes I use.  I've been using these for about 4 years, the two on the left make all the stem/leaf type patterns as well as some line work.  The middle brush is much smaller and stiffer and it's used for small lines and banding, the fourth brush is used for large leaf type marks as well as for laying in glaze.  The last one is used for applying glaze dots.  One might think that I saved the cream of the crop for myself but these were all brushes that had some sort of flaw, seconds if you will.  The first two have brush tips that were too small for the openings, even though the epoxy holds them in place just fine, they look a little silly.  But they do the job just fine. 

You can see my etsy page here.


Saturday, January 4, 2014


Happy new year to all my blog readers!  I haven't been working in the studio for quite some time now, since mid-October!  I had a few shows for the holiday season as well as two weeks out of town visiting family for the thanksgiving and Christmas, so I haven't been slacking the whole time.  I don't have any pending shows or orders looming so it seemed a good time to take a break and figure out my kiln/firing situation.  I have a waste oil burner all set up and ready to go, I'm going to test it out this week to make sure it works as intended and IF it does work I will test it out on one of the kilns up at the school and see what kind of power it has.  If all that works out I will be dismantling my wood kiln in short order and I will be building a smaller 30-40 cu. ft. salt kiln.  This means that I will be able to continue the body of work that I've been producing, which to be honest would be a huge load off my shoulders.  When I decided to stop wood firing my first plan was to switch to reduction firing which meant having to find a way to translate my work to a new type of firing or develop a new body altogether.  Not to mention clay body, glazes, etc.  If I can't get these waste oil burners to work then that might still be the way I go but we'll keep our fingers crossed.

Since I have had plenty of free time it has given me the opportunity to get back into making brushes.  I had a pretty good run of making brushes back in 2009 but with graduate school and wholesaling I didn't have the time to keep up with it.  I started making them because I needed some brushes that would make the specific types of marks that I like to make.  There are a few brush makers out there that make really nice brushes but they tend to be very expensive due to the embellishment.  I used to have a couple really nice brushes from a guy named Keith Lebenzon that were awesome...until my dog got ahold of them. I think I paid in the $50 range each for them back in 2002.  So I just wanted to make some no frills simple brushes that make nice marks and hold a lot of liquid for painting on clay...that won't break the bank if the dog gets ahold of them.  The brushes I use to decorate my work are from the first batch of brushes I made back in '09, they've held up great and they've certainly taken a lot of abuse.  I rarely follow my own recommendations for caring for the brushes, I don't even know how many times I've left them sitting with slip or pigment on them for days.  I know for certain I have one sitting in the studio right now that has been caked in Reeves Green since October, I'll give it a rinse and it will be good as new (though I don't recommend this). 

I'll be putting the brushes up for sale on etsy starting next week.  They're priced in the $18-25 range with free shipping. 

I'm thinking of putting together a website for the brushes, so if you are a satisfied user of my brushes and would like to contribute a photo of your work and/or a glowing recommendation of my product I'd love to include it.  You can email me brandon(at)supportyourlocalpotter.com

If you are a clay supplier or a retailer that might be interested in selling my brushes I'd be happy to talk with you about that opportunity.