Jan 11 2008

A fresh year and fresh clay

Raku Bottle, Anne Webb
The holidays are over and life is finally getting back to normal. A much needed the break and change of pace but now I am happily back to making pots again, and looking forward to the first show of the season and starting a fresh new year.

Just before Christmas I took the plunge and went ahead and opened an Etsy store. What the heck is an etsy, you ask? Well its an online marketplace (not an auction site) where independent artists can list and sell their handmade items of all kinds. You can find the most unexpected things if you look.

Sushi plate & bowl, celadon and tenmoku glazes, Anne WebbI first checked Etsy out 3 years ago and at that time, I admit, I wasn’t terribly impressed. Since then, though, it appears to have has grown exponentially. I was happy to find a growing amount of quality work there as well. What spoke to me the loudest is that things were actually selling and for fair prices too. I have sold quite a few nice pieces on eBay (despite how other potters have said how they had done there) so I am most certainly willing to give Etsy a try too.
My store link, by the way, is http://webbpottery.etsy.com

Knowing there is a renewed interest of people going out and actively looking online to buy handmade and to support indie business actually picked me up a bit and gave me a renewed outlook for the new year. I’m not a big or regular shopper except for groceries usually, but this year as I was out looking for stuff for my girls, I couldn’t help but take notice of how much shabbily crafted junk was in the stores leading up to Christmas, mostly cheap, shoddy imports from China. Sure some of the prices looked pretty good, but that’s little consolation if something is obviously of totally inferior quality and looks really cheap. Needless to say, aside from a few low-tech toys for the girls, I ended up making most of my gifts or buying/trading with other local craftspeople.

Made me think.. do people know what they’re buying anymore? Stuff, stuff, and more stuff. That disposable consumerism mindset – quantity vs quality and all that. Evidently its very easy to become complacent for the sake of convenience, accepting whatever big corporate retail conglomerates put on their store shelves, and believing it when they tell us that we must have whatever *it* is. Sad.

Lotus Garden, Raku Vessel, Anne WebbAs a craftspeople, this is something we are constantly scratching our heads over and are all too aware of. People want the big houses, the big car, the pre-fab room settings from “Rooms to Go”, and would rather buy art/accessories from places like “Pier One” than have something unique made by a local artist or artisan. Cookie cutter people. No originality. See and be seen. Automatons who can’t think outside of the box. And the saddest thing, they don’t know the difference either. What does this say about our culture? And more importantly, what does this say about our future?


Nov 10 2007

‘Art Soup’ – Mobile’s Annual Empty Bowls: Feed the homeless

15 Place will be holding its annual Art Soup empty bowls event during National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week to benefit Mobile, Al’s homeless.

Regional artists of various mediums, not just clay, donate a piece of work: their interpretation of a bowl.

Friday, November 16th, 6 to 9 pm
Cathedral Square Gallery, 260 Dauphin St, Downtown Mobile
Tickets: Just $35 from the 15 Place web site

“…eat hearty soups, drink assorted beverages, munch on artisan breads and gourmet cookies, dance to a great band, BAYRUNNER this year, and at the end of the evening take our bowl home.”


Nov 7 2007

"Oh what a lovely hobby!"

My pottery teacher of years ago once told me (warned me, actually, when I expressed interest years ago in potting full time) “Pottery is a hard way to make a living”. It is very true. A potter needs to be a skilled artist, technician, manufacturer, marketer, administrator, and sales person, among other things, as well as being physically able and have a thick skin.

Throwing pots on the wheel, in reality, only represents a small portion of what goes into producing a finished pot. For every two three days of throwing, there are four or 5 days of doing other tasks. Pots still need to be trimmed, have handles attached and decoration applied, and patiently monitored as they dry slowly before they are loaded into the bisque kiln. If they survive the bisque firing , they are then glazed and loaded into the gas kiln. Because our shelves are so badly warped we also “wad” the bottoms of our pots before the final firing (wadding: dry china clay and alumina hydrate mixed and formed into balls which are strategically stuck to the bottom of the pots to evenly support the base of the pot on the kiln shelf).

A few examples of other tasks we do involve: clay preparation (digging clay, pounding/sifting/”slaking” it down, mixing it, moving it back to the drying area, pugging it (if you have a pugmill, we dont) wedging/kneading it for right consistency); Glaze preparation (measuring out raw materials and mixing glazes in 5 gallon batches; testing of new recipes or color variations also done in smaller batches; doing glaze chemistry); Kiln building/maintenance; Lifting/Carting bags of raw materials & clay; Loading/unloading the kiln; Shipping; Setting up web site / online sales; assembling and maintaining a sales display to take to shows, for example; preparing for and traveling to shows; Find ways to market work (new shows, online marketing, wholesale & consignment opportunities, etc.); etc

When things go wrong with pottery, they tend to go really wrong. Its very disheartening & demoralizing when you have lost half or more of a kiln load of pots that you have worked weeks to produce, due to some glaze, clay, or firing problem. Its even more disheartening when equipment is inevitably going to conk out when you most need it (usually in the last stretch toward a show). Things can go wrong even when you do things right.

We just had a string of bad firings where some of our usually most reliable glazes, thanks to an ingredient problem, not only came out unrecognizable, but fluxed out and ran all over and destroyed shelves. (Raw materials used in pottery are different clays and minerals all mined from the earth, are only as pure as the mine, and can change over time and according to the mine.) The problems are still not quite resolved. I lost I would say at least 1/3 if not more of the work I’ve made this fall due to one thing or another, but mostly due to these glaze problems. Its not just the financial loss, but the emotional strain that hits hard, and doubly so when you have to cancel that show that you were counting on the income from. When you make pots you’re not just manufacturing; you are so connected to your product in every aspect of production, its a lot more, well, personal. For a while there I didn’t want to see clay.

A friend of mine similarly had some very bad luck with some commercial clay (for which, incidentally, the shipping cost more than the clay) she made all of her pots out of for her fall show season. A week after her big fall sale, a customer brought back $300 worth of pots, then another customer did the same. All or most of the pots had quarter-cent sized hunks of the side of the pot popping off. Lime pop-outs apparently, which can take up to 3 months after the firing to appear. Months of work, large financial commitments (show fee, natural gas, clay, etc), and possibly her reputation tarnished, all because of a faulty raw material or the clay not being mixed properly by the supplier. The supplier was very gracious to replace the clay, but the propane has been burned, the pots have been sold, the money has already been spent, and the remainder of her inventory is questionable… and her pride bruised.

We keep making pots because there is always something that pulls us back. Art for arts sake? Bull. Working artists still have to eat and still have expenses like everyone else. Its not impossible to survive off of one’s work but making pots for a living (or any art full time) takes commitment, perseverance, and drive, it is not for the faint hearted.


May 29 2007

Last Spring Art Market & crafts as a livelihood


Our last spring art market (and spring show for the year) was this past Saturday. It was a very nice day and surprisingly active quite early, thanks to the Market on the Square farmers market which takes place weekly on the opposite side of Cathedral Square. Lots of positive feedback from artists and patrons alike.

Anyhow this time of year is always a good time to reflect, regroup, catch up on some orders, and somehow account for how quickly winter and spring passed by..

Here is another video from the CBC broadcast archives that was interesting and, once you get past the early 70s-ness of certain things, it still pertains to a lot of issues artists and craftspeople still face today.

The description from the CBC site about this video:

“For the Cammidges of Vancouver Island, crafting is a family affair. Andrew, the father, makes clay pots; his wife Joyce dyes and spins wool; and the children are expected to master a craft, too. The family has joined a growing number of Canadians who have turned to crafts as a livelihood. But it’s no easy ride: in this CBC report, the owner of a craft supply shop says the odds aren’t in favour of the professional craftsperson.

The link to the story: The Crafty Family


May 21 2007

Webb Pottery & First Saturdays Art Market, Mobile AL

No, we haven’t fallen off the planet, just everywhere but the keyboard.
Here are a couple of shots of some raku pots I snapped at a show this weekend. Stylized dragonflies and lotuses bottle & a sweet bay magnolia jar.

Other news.. this spring’s last First Saturdays Art Market will be at Cathedral Square in downtown Mobile on June 2nd from 9 am to 3 pm (NB relocated from the Royal & Government location). There will be pottery and painting demonstrations, and starting at 7:30 am on the other side of the square will be Mainstreet Mobile’s Market on the Square farmer’s market. Hope you are able to join us as we go out with a bang.

(fyi This jar is one of the completed pieces from my February 3rd blog entry, where it appeared in unglazed.)


Feb 22 2007

Pottery Up on the block

One of the pieces we have up on ebay this week:

Raku Pottery Plate
Incised Spiral Design
approx 11 7/8″ W

by Anne Webb, Webb Pottery

ebay Item 130082820501

To view all our auctions, search for our
ebay ID: webbpots


Feb 4 2007

First Saturdays Art Market – downtown Mobile AL

Mark Saturday March 3rd on your calendars.

Artists around Mobile and surrounding areas are getting ready for the first of four outdoor art market days that will take place in Downtown Mobile. We have a growing list of participants including painters, printmakers, folk artists, potters, jewelers, glass artists, sculptors, and more.

For more info and updates in coming weeks, please visit our website/blog: http://artmarketdaymobile.blogspot.com/

Hope to see you there!


Feb 1 2007

Beautiful Handcrafted Sinks and Udu, Air, and Skin drums

Rusty Wiltjer - Waterford MaineStarting back in the early 90s, in the early days of Clayart and various pottery newsgroups, there was a group of us who used to log onto the #pottery channel on mIRC, spending long hours happily clicking away at the keyboard talking about anything related to clay, pottery, glazes, firing, kilns, design, life as a potter, apprentices, etc etc etc.

One of the people I haven’t lost touch with from the channel is Rusty Wiltjer (aka Grulox). Rusty has been potting for over 35 years now and is one of the more technically capable potters I know.

Wiltjer Pottery Sink For the last few years, Rusty has focused on developing and producing his handmade sinks, including his pedestal, vessel, and self-rimming models. They are all individually made on the potters wheel, glazed, then high-fired in his gas kiln . I’ve seen a lot of sinks potters have tried to make out there and .. well, there are handmade sinks, and there are handmade sinks. Rusty’s a precision thrower and his sinks are thrown well, designed well (including back-flow), and are finished well.

Wiltjer Pottery Air Orb 2H DrumWhen I visited his site yesterday I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of clay drums he now has up …and each with a sound clip! Its amazing how a slight variation in vessel shape can affect the tone and pitch. Did I mention Rusty also drums professionally and has on and off since he was a kid? For some time now he has been having a weekly drum gathering session at his house where a bunch of like-minded percussionists (I assume all on handmade or primitive drums?) get together and just jam.

Wiltjer Pottery - Captain Drum Head, 28Rusty’s studio is nestled just outside the town of Waterford, Maine, about one hour north of Portland. If you would like to find out more about his sinks, drums, and pottery, or would like to contact him yourself, please feel free to check out his web site www.wiltjerpottery.com.
Rusty Wiltjer live performance.. in his bandana
Here’s a picture of Rusty playing a live performance with singer songwriter Kristen Short. (Nice bandana eh?)


Jan 21 2007

Art Shows Anyone?

In these days of rising costs of materials, operation, gasoline, travel, and show fees, artists are having to rethink how they do business.

Most artists I know have had to face the reality of being more selective and discerning about what art shows they do. Travelling 800+ miles to do a show, paying an exhorbitant show fee (cuz the organizers are getting greedy – $1200 for one outdoor show in Michigan which is preposterous!), with no guarantee that you will even make expenses is just not feasable. Some people I know who still travel away for shows try and be smarter by clustering their show bookings, but even then, one person I spoke to last summer, who did 3 shows on one trip, said his gas alone was at least $800.

In an attempt to be creative and get something going in our area for artists (which hopefully for some will mean less travel), our group The Coastal Artisans (a collective of 13 artists formed last year) in conjunction with the Museum of Mobile (the history museum) , are presently working on putting together an art market (official name yet to be announced) right in downtown Mobile, across from The Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center and the Museum of Mobile on the SW corners of Royal and Government Streets in the green space where the old city hall used to stand.
Our mission is to benefit art, culture, and tourism in the city of Mobile and surrounding area, while at the same time providing self-representing working artists with a quality local event where they can show and sell their work. Like the Coastal Artisan show at the Botanical Gardens in December, the market will have an eclectic mix of invited artists presenting in a range of mediums. It will run the 1st Saturdays of March through June. I should have more info soon on the Coastal Artisan blog/website.

Just a few of the Other attractions downtown: On March 3rd (the first day of the art market) is The 18th Annual American Cancer Society Chili Cook-Off over in Bienville Square, just a couple ofblocks west. The Museum of Mobile has an exhibit on the “Transatlantic Slave Trade” starting Feb 7 that is supposed to be very good. The Exploreum has a wonderful exhibit “A day in Pompeii” running through June, and in their IMAX Dome Theater will be “Greece: Secrets of the Past”

Jan 16 2007

The new year, Pottery, Growth

Anne Webb Pottery Stoneware Pitcher with Stylized Iris Brushwork Design
A big part of the appeal of pottery for me has always been the ongoing learning curve; no matter how “advanced” you get there is always some new avenue to explore, experiment, and discover.

I’ve been experimenting with brushwork for a while now, trying different styles, brushes, pigment, and subject matter. The brushes that I like best for the designs I’m doing are ones that Lowell has made from local bamboo and deer/dog tail hair. Each brush has its own personality and make for a nice spontaneous bold brush stroke.

Anne Webb Stoneware Pottery Pitcher with Stylized Iris Design, 2004Today as I was cleaning up my computer hard drive, I came upon some photos from over the last few years. I was intrigued at how much some pots and designs have changed or evolved in a relatively short period of time. A natural progression I suppose. I had been told that the more you do an image, the more it seems to take on a life of its own.

It never hurts to go back every so often and revisit and reflect upon your work from the past. It can be a good point of reference or even source of inspiration.