Thursday, June 03, 2010

Process. Pottery Graveyard. End Results.

One reason I have this blog as a separate entity from my website is so that I can discuss the process of making. As festival/sale season is creeping up I am reminded of the frustrating questions I get asked including my favorite one: Why does this cost so much?

Let me explain the process and why handmade ceramics costs what is does...

First I throw the pieces. Last Saturday I threw 50 pieces including mugs, dip bowls and soup bowls. This takes about 3-4 hours. The next day I come to the studio and trim them and attach handles. Again that is another 3-4 hours. I lost about 5 pieces just within this step. Work starts to dry out quickly in my studio despite efforts to create humidity for the pieces. Then I let the pieces dry while covered and come back to the studio and flip them upside down to dry. I use Standard Clay's 240. Its a smooth white stoneware that is often mistaken for porcelain. Its more forgiving that porcelain with the rich white color I need to accent my glazes. This clay likes to crack when drying to quickly. If the pieces aren't flipped then the bottoms dry and shrink too quickly and cracks occur along the bottoms. These pieces get scrapped and thrown back into the recycle buckets. Also consider that sometimes handles don't attach properly. Before I even put pieces into the bisque fire I lose 15 pieces. That is a 30% loss of work before the first firing. For every 100 pieces thrown, 30 end up in the pottery graveyard. R.I.P.

The bisque firing (at cone 04) is where any further problems with handles will present themselves. This firing is about 8 hrs. Then I glaze the pieces and fire them again to cone 5 for another 6-8 hrs.  You can't assume that these 70 pieces will turn out as planned. I have a set of glazes I rely on while continuously trying new colors and combos. Glazes can run and crawl. Or maybe a bisqued piece was under fired and now the glaze has pin holes. I won't sell a piece at full price unless it meets my high standards. Any sub par is sold as a "second" for a discounted price.

So here is the breakdown:
8 hours of making (throwing and trimming)
8 hours of bisque firing (1-2 firings are necessary depending on how big these 70 pieces may be) = 16 hrs
6-8 hours of glazing 
6 hours of glaze firing (w/3 firings) = 18 hrs

For a grand total of 38 hours. That means I roughly only make 2 pieces in an hour.

Now factor in supplies such as clay and glaze. I like bright colors therefore they are not cheap. Then there is studio rent. I teach out of my studio just to negate the rent from my bills. And don't forget insurance. I have liability insurance on my studio and equipment and because I teach in my space.

Then there is the method of selling your work. Galleries take 40-50%. Wholesale means you sell your work for 50% of its retail value. Online venues mean cuts from your profits and listing or web hosting fees. And more art shows cost at least $100 to enter. If you travel to a show then there are traveling expenses such as gas, lodging and food. I try to do shows where I know my lodging is free but this summer I am doing a show where its a necessity.

So now do you want to ask me why mugs are $25-30?

My prices on pieces are slowly being raised this year. Its necessary. I have to reflect the cost of rising studio and supply prices. When you factor in the other elements besides supplies, rent and time you realize you are selling yourself short. Remember that when you buy handmade it is appreciated because you are buying art. Not everyone can throw pottery. You are also helping to sustain the local economy.  
I appreciate every sale.

No comments: