Friday, December 2, 2011

Battle of the bowls

battle of the bowls

My eye is drawn to pattern and so the flower shaped bowl, with its complex symmetry, has become a signature form. The second bowl is the flower bowl just before the rim is altered into the waves. Something inside me has been wanting to stop there. So, in the middle of my busiest season, I took  time out to throw 4 of each.

There is no clear winner yet. The flower bowls sold out faster but those who bought the round ones loved them a lot.

When you love pottery as I do, certain pieces appear as if I've been searching for them a long time only I've just remembered that I lost it. They feel both utterly new and utterly familiar all at once. Both bowls evoked this type of reaction, so I don’t know if I should choose just 1 to continue, even though that is far more practical.

Which do you like better?

Sunday, November 27, 2011



I rarely start out to make these insanely elaborate decorations. You would think that after 70+ hour weeks in the studio making pottery, I’d just make a pie, or stick flowers in a vase. But my mind is racing with imagery. At the market I just have to have these particular lime green mums, and…not those…not those…oh, have to have these bright red mini carnations! And then they have to be meticulously arranged. Like this:


And the funny thing is, I never feel closer to my grandmother than when I am obsessed with getting the pie crust to look just right. I can so vividly recall her lattice crust and the way she used a zigzag cutter to cut the strips.

This Thanksgiving, my daughter returned for the first time a grown woman. She went right to work in the studio, making pottery for her Etsy shop, MarciG. When she helped me cook and bake, I was amazed at how much she knew without being told. And then it occurred to me how many years she’d silently been there, just watching.

Flock of Love by MarciG

I think what makes us family is not so much our genetics, as we are all so very different. It is rather this silent language that runs through us.

marci lee

We make our nests, our homes like a monk prays, or like a little bird sings.

Raised In Love from OneClayBead

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dinnerware, Frequently Asked Questions

RJ_dinnerware_4 comp minimalist_set_3 comp
Thanks for your interest in my dinnerware. I have sold functional tableware for 35 years. I’ve used my own dinnerware set daily for 20+ years, as have many of my early buyers. I use special techniques to compact the particles of clay densely, and test my glazes for durability so the pieces are much stronger than commercial dinnerware. I have many sets to choose from, which are available on Delivery times are included in each listing. Here are the most FAQ’s:
Do you offer a discount for multiple sets/ large orders?
No. As each piece is made individually, one at a time, it doesn’t save me any time to make large quantities, so I offer the best price I can on each piece, regardless of quantity. I make 2X the amount of pieces you order, choose the best ones for you, and sell the less desirable ones on Etsy as dinnerware seconds.
What are seconds?
Seconds don’t function as optimally as first quality pieces, or they do not coordinate as well with my sets. I love the look and philosophy of wabi-sabi, which prizes individuality and peculiarity in functional objects. If plates that wobble a bit, small glaze bubbles, or slightly bowed surfaces don’t bother you, by all means, purchase and enjoy my seconds. You’ll have to watch for them as they become available but as hundreds of people have noted-
Your seconds are better than most people’s firsts.” Why is that?
I‘ve made pottery for a long time, and sold through top level American Craft galleries, where you are are held to very high standards. Today every hobby potter opens an Etsy shop and sells their work before it has technical integrity. Some of it is alright. Some of it is awful. Here is a comparison:
Why is a foot rimorganic_soul_dinnerware_4_comp important?
One of the crucial techniques that I use is to add a thrown foot rim to the bottoms of my hand built pieces. This adds stability, making sure that the the wonky nature of organic forms, which I love, does not mean that they rock and wobble in use. It also gives a lift to each piece, so that when they stack the fluid organic edges don’t press against each other, causing tension that will lead to stress cracks and eventual breakage.
You can see how my foot rim affects stacking in this comparison of plates:
plate comp
in bowls, both my foot rim and consistent curve affect stacking:
bowls com
What are other advantages to having my dinnerware made by a master artisan?
There are many functional mistakes that fledgling potters make. Here are some to look for:
flawed pieces
Bowed plates- Do you see how the plate surface curves upward towards the middle? This will cause sauces and juices to run towards the edge and pool.
Shallow lip- Imagine carrying food from a buffet to the table on a plate with a shallow lip. Food will easily spill. This problem is compounded when the plates also bow upwards in the middle. Do you really want to embarrass your guests this way?
Spotty glazes- Some glazes are intended to have a mixture of translucent and opaque qualities, which gives them visual texture. Drastically uncontrolled, or spotty, glaze application, however, means that the glaze is too thin in places to hold liquids. These pieces will deteriorate with dishwasher cleaning.
really crappy plates
foreign materials stuck on- I discount the price for this, and sell them as seconds, pointing out the flaw so that you can decide if that’s something you want to live with or not. Beginners don’t know how to control for this and it occurs so frequently that its just part of their acceptable quality.
crap bowl
Technical ignorance- Crushed glass can be put in the bottom of pottery. It will melt into a beautiful thick layer. However, it has a deep crackle that cannot be cleaned so it is not safe to use these bowls in serving food. This is from a listing that states “This little dish is microwave and dishwasher safe. The glaze is lead-free and is food safe too.”
crappy plates 2 _DSC4542 copy
Sharp edges- The plate on the right is from my Moonshadow collection. Notice the softened edges. On the left, as noted, the sharp edges are uncomfortable to hold and chip easily.
Admittedly, there are subjective lines between what is an original design and therefore intellectual property, and what is an idea that any artisan is entitled to see in someone else’s work and copy. Technical differences are objective. I have tried to stick with these in my comparisons here, and I have not intended to embarrass nor denigrate, but rather to educate and explain my own prices and the decades of experience and continued education I bring to my own work.
I am grateful every day for those who purchase my pottery. I hope it brings you years of daily joy, and a meaningful heirloom to be remembered by in future generations.
click to see:
My website 
my dinnerware- full sets 
check available seconds

Monday, October 17, 2011

Beatles vs Stones

I liked the Rolling Stones better than the Beatles, and if you were a teen in the late 60’s to 70’s, this choice had to be made. It defined who you were. Maybe it still does.
I am listening to Keith Richards’ book, Life,  on CD in my studio, and then caught Martin Scorcese’s documentary on George Harrison the same day. Keith was the guitar player for the Stones; George for the Beatles. I was struck by a sharp contrast between these 2 British rock stars who rode the same wave to fame.
George used his music to say something important. It was message driven music. He railed against the Tax Man and advocated Eastern mysticism and philosophy. Whereas Keith was obsessed with what he could learn from playing guitar. He was driven by a need to get a chord he’d heard or a blend of sound that felt right. George was a teacher who used art in his lessons. Keith was a student and his art was his teacher. And that’s why I’ve related to Keith and the Stones more than George and the Beatles.
It's not that I disliked the Beatles nor mysticism, and George wrote some of the best, like Here Comes the Sun and Something. It's just that, as far as music goes, George wasn't all in the way that Keith was all in. There's this old quote that gets attributed to different people, that goes:
"If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you."
Music was that thing within Keith that saved him. And that is what pottery is like for me. I'm not expressing joy or awe in my work. Joy and awe are expressing through me when I am making pottery, and that's why I make it.

I don’t have anything to say with my art, yet it has taught me to live a life filled with satisfaction. What I find there is beyond words, beliefs, theology.

flower bowl in OneClayBead
Who are you, as an artist? Stones or Beatles?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Marketing Tips from Steven Jobs and Me


Apple CEO Steven Jobs was truly brilliant. He left many great quotes as part of his legacy, and here is one that stands out for me:

"We've never worried about numbers. In the market place, Apple is trying to focus the spotlight on products, because products really make a difference. [...] Ad campaigns are necessary for competition; IBM's ads are everywhere. But good PR educates people; that's all it is. You can't con people in this business. The products speak for themselves."

In contrast to this I also read the Etsy forums, which are full of advice on how to market your work. You know, you can Twitter and ban together as teams to dominate Front Page coverage and do a Feasibility Analysis and give your work away for free in order to attract attention. And yes, I've tried all these things and more at one time or another.

The sad reality of Etsy is that only 5% of the 290,000 sellers on Etsy are making over $30,000/ yr in sales. And in the face of this overwhelming failure, they are intent on marketing more, marketing better, and marketing different.

Not that marketing is bad… but as Steven Jobs says, it focuses attention on your products. So if marketing more, better and different  isn’t working, it might be time to focus on improving the products. For an artisan, good products don’t come from making what everyone else is making. Good products come from connecting to that adventurous inner desire to try something new, to master a technique, to innovate, to push something known into the unknown.

My rustic ceramic bowls, hand sculpted with vintage lace textures and up to 7 layers of glazes are where I'm currently pushing the boundaries on functional pottery.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I invited a few local creative clayfolks over to my studio to show them  tricks that have made me successful on Etsy. These are people who already have a unique body of work. That’s the #1 thing. I believe that the second most important element for success is how you style your photos.

Above is a One Clay bead necklace from my My Tribe collection. I used natural sunlight, a vintage looking Boho shirt, and a model with no makeup and carefree hair. This one is all about natural beauty. It’s for a woman who wants that look, and meant to draw her in to look at the close up photos that are second in the listing.

Here are a few other successfully styled photos from the Artisans Gallery Team. Notice how each one is so much more than a catalog shot. The photos make a statement about the work, and tell us who the target audience is for that artisan. (Click on any photo to learn more).

From Birribe, the scarf pops against a subdued palette and the rustic bowl says ‘handmade, and ‘timelessly fashionable’.


From Starbags, a playful, fun and energetic styling photo says that this is for a woman who is light hearted and adventurous. She needs a bag that has personality but is made well enough to withstand her capricious and active lifestyle.

From Polestar, this conveys a message that the necklace will be front and center, a focal point for your outfit. Simple and powerful presentation.

From WolfArtGlass, the recycled shot glass is shown emerging from the bottles- a clever way to convey the process and its eco friendly nature. The target market- eco conscious buyers- are defined instantly.

From Ileaiye, the styling shows us a comfortable and flattering shawl in the easy going pose of the model. The white textured brick background also says urban. The styling successfully says that it is made for a woman who needs hip current styling but demands comfort.

From LeshasWorkshop, “turn your shoes into boot” is perfectly conveyed. The buyer is modern, youthful, sexy, and confident.

As Rod Stewart once sang “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?”  I enjoy styling my pottery. it’s another artform unto itself.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

the TuckooandMooCow story


I met up with Sarah-Lambert Cook at the Big Crafty in downtown Asheville. She’s using her drawing talents to capture a niche audience with quirky miniature jewelry based on literary and film characters. If you enjoy The Hobbit, Monty Python or Shakespeare, her zany meets cute world will wow you.

Here’s how she went from unemployed to full time artisan, in her own words:

I began listing items in May 2010, selling art and the hand painted jewelry. In the first few weeks, sales were few but steady. Since it was mostly the jewelry, I decided I ought to focus all of my energy on that. But life threw a curve-ball in August when the store I was working at in Kansas closed. My husband and I decided it would be the perfect time to pick up and move east. My parents were living in Atlanta and offered us the front room of their house until we could get settled. For seven months we lived in one room as storage space, bedroom and studio simultaneously.

Emboldened by reaching 80 sales by the end of October I stopped looking for work and focused my energy on Tuckooandmoocow. Researching, networking, renewing, and creating new designs paid off! I had almost 200 new sales the next month! Business stayed steady through Christmas, and when things didn't slow down much for the rest of winter, I knew I had it.

Now, we live in beautiful Asheville, NC and are able to depend on sales from TuckooandMooCow to support us. There have been things that didn't work: shipping UPS express international is a cluster-cuss for everyone involved, staying up all night for more than 3 nights in a row will cause a massive migraine and creative burnout, and with made-to-order items there must always be time budgeted for unforeseen circumstances. Some things have been godsends: Etsy is a community of artisans, not just solely a venue, so getting involved in some aspect of that can be very helpful to your business and your sanity. As TuckooandMooCow grows, I'd like to eventually be much more self-sufficient and not purchase settings, but make them myself.

I haven't had a full day off since November, but I'm happy and the rewards have been worth the effort.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pottery Loved by a Potter

I’ve always been opinionated, especially about what looks good, and really, there should be some sort of syndrome named for how opinionated I am about what is good or bad in pottery. Maybe 2% of all pottery made qualifies as even good, and then only maybe 10% of that qualifies as something I like. So there may be worthwhile pottery that doesn’t make my list but you cannot convince me of that, so don’t even go there!
So here are pieces by a few claymakers whose work enthralls me at the moment:

By Romy and Clare, it’s the organic shapes that push  the barriers of function without being unfuctional that really awe me. And the modern version of hand painted fruit. I just love it, and everything they do!

From HodakaPottery, it’s how harmonious and quiet this piece seems, while using so many design flourishes. Really quite stunning.

By JustMare, it’s the soft, subtle glazes paired with the twig handle- such an original interpretation of a mug!

You know I'm a fan of MarciG! Even if she wasn’t my daughter…. I’d be in awe of this huge emerging talent. Her pieces are magical and functional.

By peifferStudios, the organic shape that utilizes both stained and glazed areas is alive with that peace that comes from knowing nature intimately.

This is someone to watch! She has always had a unique vision and she’s really coming into her own lately. Keep your eye on DBabcock!
By WhitneySmith, this pine cone inspired set of nesting bowls is visually sophisticated and flawlessly executed. Whitney is a creative giant whose work evolves in new directions as if a fine geneticist is cross breeding nature with clay.
When I look at pottery, which has been made by human hands for over 10,000 years, the words of Werner Erhard come to mind:
“Any idiot can walk the path when shown it. But out here, there is no path. The path is made by your walking. “
And that’s what I love to see. Someone following their own muse, forging their own path, speaking in an ancient tongue but saying something that takes you into a yet uncharted inner terrain.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cover Girl

I received so many appreciative and encouraging replies to my interview with Handmadeology, which was first published on Marketing Creatively. Thanks, Lisa! It is an honor and pleasure to have my interview  chosen for the April cover.

Pottery is a path of irony in that shaping clay day after day shapes you. Centering the clay on a wheel centers you. The zone of pottery making requires a zen attention to mastery of simple tasks. It is no wonder that success, as a potter, is rich in intangibles, and financially modest. My stepsons have BA’s and are on fine career paths. My daughter will be attending a private university, thanks partially to my pottery income and that of her own. I own a home furnished with fine art and collectibles, with gardens and views that are daily gifts of inspiration. My marriage is happy.

I wake up most days eager to explore a bit of new territory with clay. It’s a good life, overall.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Graduation 2011

marci on stage
Marci and Lee
When I first held my beautiful newborn girl, I thought of all the milestones in her life to come. Her eyes, so large and inquisitive, told me that her smile would be an answer to my every question, and that one day she would walk beyond my home and into a life of her own imagining and dreams. Eighteen years have passed, and I watched her walk across the stage to graduate high school, with honors. In a few short months Marci will begin college at High Point University, as an interior design major. She makes me proud!
toast 1
Here are some of our friends and family who came over to celebrate Marci’s graduation.

Monday, April 4, 2011

SEO for your Etsy Shop

That’s right- Search Engine Optimization. Don’t let your eyes gloss over! If you can upload a photo to Etsy without making a piece of jewelry resemble a squid, then you have the capacity to make Google results work for you. Or you can ask Cindy of cindylouwho2. She has researched Etsy and SEO, and I will be a customer of hers when her SEO shop opens, because Google changes the rules more often than the ref at your daughter’s soccer game.
The last big change was in late February, when Google demoted “content farms”- which have content that was copied from other sources. In articles across the web, Etsy was consistently named as a winner in this new shift! My views from Google, and consequently my sales, have benefitted from this! If yours have not, read this! I asked Cindy for practical changes we all can make to use Etsy’s higher ranking for own own shops.
Lee: Why did Etsy come out as one of the 5 top winners from Google's recent decision to penalize the content farms?
Cindy: Legitimate shopping sites did well overall with the changes, & Etsy was one of the top in that group.
If you are putting your Etsy content anywhere else online, make sure you change the titles & descriptions at least a bit to avoid this duplicate content problem.
Lee: Does the new motivation to make and click links in treasuries boost Etsy's SEO overall? Does it boost the SEO of often featured shops who get clickthroughs from the treasuries?
Cindy: Yes, in general, having pages well-linked internally is good for SEO, so if one of your listings is in a lot of treasuries, that definitely helps! Any internal link back to your shop – in a treasury, in the forum, comments in the Storque, on public team threads – is helping the page linked & helping Etsy overall. It takes a lot of these little internal links to make a real difference. However, it is usually easier than getting the higher-value external links, so internal links are an SEO tactic that should not be ignored.
Lee: One of my teams has a blog with static pages that are the copy and pasted bios of team members. Are these duplications of content hurting the blog's ranking and/ or authority? Should we all be looking to reduce duplicate content on our promotional sites across the web?
Those sorts of cut & paste pages might hurt in at least two different ways.
1) There is the possibility that Google will consider the copies to be the authoritative page, & give the copies a higher ranking than the originals.
2) If you have links on many pages that are of low value in Google’s eyes, it can actually hurt the original page.
It doesn’t usually hurt you, especially if there is unique content on the page with the copies, & the pieces copied are a small part of the original pages. Be careful to link back to the original pages on the copied page! Teams often include links directly to the shops, rather than the links to the page where the bio came from (usually the profile page). Including the link to the original tells Google that the content had another source. Additionally, you can link to the shop, for extra SEO benefits.
Here is a level-headed discussion of duplicate content, although most readers will find it more relevant for blogs & free-standing websites than for Etsy:
Lee: Is there a different formula to come up in Google images search?
Cindy: Yes, the search algorithm for each part of Google is different. There’s not a lot we can do on Etsy to make our pics rank on Google Images, other than what we already do to help the rank of the listing page itself.
Lee: Is it good or bad to put  links (to our own shop) in our shop listings? How about outbound links to another shop?
Cindy: Linking to a shop section or your shop home page is good for those pages, in terms of SEO.
Linking to another shop helps out that other shop. It is not entirely clear to me that linking within Etsy is good for the page with the links on it, but the scant evidence I have seen points to “Yes!
Additionally, Kathy of OhYum advises us to use the renew/sold option rather than creating a new listing each time when we can.

Kathy:The more often a specific page (ie: URL) is looked at,  the higher Google wants to display the page.
Here’s one more tip from me: Google rewards new content. I make incremental changes in my shop announcement and listing copy weekly. Two years ago I didn’t know the difference between a keyword and a corkscrew, and here I am giving sage advice and selling like I actually understand anything on the internet!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I’ve been eating my staging props

In order to show the size of my pottery, I've been using food as staging props. I scour the produce and bakery sections for food that looks good. I've gotten quite anal about it, actually.

I know I’m starting to sound eccentric in the grocery, but when I saw these great looking radishes, I picked through every bunch to get the perfect color. It sort of annoyed another woman, but hey! I need my radishes to be bright RED, ya know?!

I’m glad that Valentine’s Day has passed. Because my diet has gotten healthier. How would you like to have this on your counter staring at you after you’ve used it for staging?