The Mission: to explore, create and inspire!

thePatientPotter is a blog that is designed to encourage and inspire fellow Potters and Entrepreneurs as it takes them through the challenges and triumphs of a 'potter on a mission'.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Channel 4 Came and Went

Last week was crazy! Tuesday Galen Culver from Channel 4's 'Is this a great state or what!' news segment called to do a story on my pottery. We set a date of Thursday for the interview. I had 1 day to get ready. I spent that day cleaning my studio and throwing some vases to have inventory on my shelf.

He came on Thursday and filmed and talked for about 2 hours. On Friday the segment aired and those 2 hours were condensed into 2 minutes! Galen did a great job! You can see a video of the segment at Go down to the middle of the page to the 4th video and I'll be in that group. I have had a lot of activity on my website and emails because of this show. Thank you Channel 4 and Galen Culver!

This week I've been mainly focused on designing the vases I threw for the show. Vases are my favorite things to make in the studio. I love the shapes and how they fit in my hands when working on them.
This vase I carved in my 'Trapped Vines' design. It is now sitting on a shelf waiting to dry enough for me to brush off all those little clay blobs. Then I can clean it up.

This is a design I call 'Whispering Wheat'. It will be a serving dish that I hope a current customer can add to her growing dinnerware set.

These two vases are designs I just made up. I think the one with the leaves is my favorite at the moment.

This one I decided to test a porcelain slip on. I plan on carving a design in the white slip area that will allow the red clay to peek through.

Monday, April 7, 2008


I woke up Friday morning with my stomach feeling queasy and my head pounding. I went down to my studio, looked at the clay blobs around my potters wheel and decided I just wasn't in the mood to throw. So I went in the garage and loaded my kiln for a glaze fire. The rest of my workday was spent in the office catching up on paperwork. It's amazing how far behind you can get when you take a vacation.

***OBSERVATION***When you have your own business, every hour of every day is occupied; there is always something to do. I took a 4 day vacation recently and while I certainly enjoyed myself while I was gone, coming back to work has been quite stressful. With no assistant or co-worker to do my work while I was gone I have been struggling all week to try and catch up. Something or several things will have to be put on the backburner to make up for the missing hours. It's a huge juggling of priorities act. ***END OF OBSERVATION***

On Saturday, I was finally able to unload the kiln around noon (I started the kiln at 5:30 am the previous day). Here are my favorite pieces from this load.

Great Box for Shipping Pottery!

One of the most asked questions potters ask other potters is 'how do you ship your pottery?'. I have always had great success wrapping my pottery in bubble wrap, placing it in a box that has about 3 inches of space between the pottery and the box and then packing it tight with peanuts. Most potters will tell you that you must double box your pottery. The reason I bring this up is because of a package I recently received from Axner.

My husband is building a ball mill for me (I will blog on this later). I ordered 2 porcelain jars that will fit the base that he is building. The box that these porcelain jars came in I thought was a piece of art. Simply made but built to protect. The box was about 3 inches larger than the jar and had 3 inserts that the jar sat in. A carboard surrounding the jar and a top and bottom that closes the jar in. The cardboard that surrounds the jar has about a 1" flap on each side that keeps the jar from hitting the outside box. This box is something anyone could make and I know it works because one of the boxes came damaged (see photo) but the jar was not. These jars are very heavy yet those 1" flaps kept the jar safely away from the damaged area.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I walked into the studio this morning with empty workstations. My goal was to change that as soon as possible.

What I started working on first is a small refrigerator magnet of a Route 66 historical building here in town. I have sculpted this piece twice so far in my quest to get one that I like. I'm getting tired of remaking it. This is my third one. I am going to make a mold of this one before I do the detail work. Then if I screw up or just don't like it, I can make a new one like this real quick.

What I did today was clean it up. I also made sure there were no undercuts.

This is pretty much ready to make a mold of except that after I saw this picture I decided to trim off some of the left side. Now it's ready to make a mold.

Next on my list was to clean up some crosses that I made yesterday on the slab roller.

These crosses have become such a staple in my studio that I can pratically do them with my eyes closed. It is so much quicker making 10 of one thing than one thing 10 different times.

I needed to throw something today. My drying shelves are completely bare and that just can't be. According to my schedule I need to throw mugs. It's been about a month since I threw some mugs so I decided to throw some stoneware mugs first to get in the swing of things before using my red clay.

After throwing the 3rd flop, I decided the clay was too plastic and would never give me a good mug. This is recycled clay. What I'll have to do is wedge it with some new stoneware and try again. I gathered all of the clay and covered it in plastic. I'll wedge it tomorrow.


It was hard waking up this morning. I literally stumbled into my studio. Once I began surveying the different stages of production I had going, I became jazzed. I want to fire a cone 6 kiln load tomorrow so today's goal will be to finish up everything I want included in the load.

I stained 10 crosses with black iron oxide which finished these up. Messy job. Have to wear gloves.

Decided the letters on these hearts needed to be filled in with stain to make the letters pop. We'll see how they turn out. These are the first to get finished. They'll go to Sara to be designed into keychains. If they look good and work good (not sure the holes are big enough), then I can put them through to be finished for the Brownie Troop coming in April.

And loaded the kiln. Included in this load are 4 ice cream bowls, 1 herb planter, the mini vases I glazed yesterday, 10 crosses and about that many hearts. I also threw in some test porcelain beads for Sara to design with.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Today I spent 5 hours in the studio. I am surprised that I was only able to finish a few pieces in that time. You would think that with 5 hours I would have accomplished a lot more but I was doing detail work on one ups and that's a slower process.

What I'm working on are some mini vases using Linda Spalding's designs. Linda contacted me through my Etsy store and asked if I would make some small vases using her designs. When she emailed me the designs I was thrilled. I thought I could have some fun with these and so far I'm right. These little things are a hoot! She wanted them to be 3-5" tall. I am limited to the colors I have in my studio so I can't follow her color scheme exactly. What I am ending up with are her designs with my flair added in. This is what I did today.

I also stained some crosses today.


It felt good to get in the studio and start working again. Empty shelves greeted me as I strolled in at 5 am with a warm cup of tea in my hand. Hopefully by the end of the week these shelves will be full of glazed pieces ready for the kiln.

I could only work for 2 hours today so I decided to finish up some small projects. There were 2 small pieces that I wanted to wax and a mini vase that I needed to finish glazing.

I also went over my production list to see what I needed to concentrate on for the week. It looks like I need to throw some more mugs in both stoneware and red clay and roll out some more crosses and heart key chains.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tour Bus Update

The barn has been built and Guy is almost finished laying down the gravel drive to it. This gravel will become a semi-hard surface after it has been wet a few times. Every night he brings home a truck load from work and unloads it before dinner. He has it all inside the barn too because this is where our vehicles will be parked. Once the vehicles can park in the barn then I get to transform the garage into an easy accessible studio. Can't wait!

Quick Tool

I saw a 3"x5" rubber stamp at Hobby Lobby a couple weeks ago that was not glued to any wood or holder and was on clearance. Because I liked the design, I bought it knowing I could use it on my pottery somehow. After playing with it for a few days, this is what I came up with.

A stamp tool that will put a neat round design anywhere I want one. All I did was cut a circle from the rubber design that fit perfectly on top of a 1" dowel I had laying around. I then glued it using Elmer's glue (which is my favorite glue in the studio) to the top of the dowel.

You'll start seeing this stamp show up on my pieces here and there.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fresh from vacation and a new routine!

Fresh from vacation, I am anxious to work in my studio. I don't know about you, but vacations always make me creative.

Working at home, with distractions and too much accessibility for the family, becoming diligent in my work is a constant quest. I have found over the years that the best time to work in my studio is when the family, animals and the world is sleeping. Yes, sleeping. So, this week I adjusted my routine to start my workday at 5:00 am Monday - Friday. I get up, throw on some work clothes, grab a cup of hot tea and work in the studio until 9:00 am. That gives me 4 hours of uninterrupted production time. Nice. Going to bed at 9:30 pm is fast becoming my other routine. The next routine I want to incorporate into my work week is this blog. I am thinking that maybe once a week, at the end of the week, would be a good time to sit down and analyze the week.

I made a discovery this week. For the past 10 or so years I have used faithfully, glass Starbucks mugs to drink my hot tea from. In my studio, I have one of those electric hot plates for mugs that you plug in to keep your beverage hot. Although my tea when using this has never been hot, it will keep it warm throughout the day. Two weeks ago, I started using some of my stoneware mugs to drink my tea out of. Side note: In my home I use my reject pieces daily to test them out. I can't believe the difference in the temperature of my tea when using the stoneware versus the glass mug! My tea stays hot, not warm, but hot - all day long when sitting on the hot plate. What a treat!

I started this week on Tuesday instead of Monday so production was minimal. I also didn't have any red clay to throw so I mainly worked on the slab roller. I needed to add more crosses to my inventory and I wanted to come up with a small piece that would appeal to a Brownie Troop that is coming to tour my studio in April.

This is my slab roller setup. It includes a Northstar slab roller and a table with a drying rack. On the right side I have a shelf where my stamps and texture tools reside. It's a nice setup although the lighting is bad. When I move upstairs to the garage, lighting will hopefully improve.

This is what I came up with for the Brownie Troop. My daughter who makes jewelry said these would make nice key chains. I made a few batches stamping 4 of each letter up to 'm'. The last batch I forgot to add the hole, so this morning was spent using a dremel tool. When these are finished I will give them to my daughter to work up as she sees fit. We want to keep them under $5 a piece if we can.

We have had wonderful Spring weather this week which makes for speedy drying of my pieces. The best place to dry outside is in my East courtyard on the patio table. Perfect drying conditions.
Last but not least, I am trying a new drying method for my mug handles. Bonnie Staffel, one of my favorite potters, applies wax resist to her mug handles when leather hard. This slows the process of the drying on the handle letting the rest of the mug catch up. I am trying it for the first time and will let you know how it goes. This is what I managed to get out of the studio this week. Mugs, crosses, hearts and two test bowls for next weeks production.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Evaluating 2007: part 4

In order to process my hand-dug clay efficiently, I will need $12,250 to drop out of the sky and into my grateful little hands. Until that time though, I think I will start saving up for the one piece of equipment I think is most important, the Ball Mill. I believe the Ball Mill will make my clay more plastic and easier to work with. This would be a great starting point for me. I’m thinking I might be able to use it to mix my clay as well, which will also improve the plasticity. I’m excited about that because my red clay, at times, can be quite stiff to work with and better clay makes for better product.

Bailey Pottery has the best price at $702 for the unit, $95 per each 1 gallon jar (need 2), and $9.79 per lb of pebbles (need 16lbs). Total $1048. plus shipping.


Up to this point, inefficient methods of processing my clay have been reasons I was tempted to purchase outside clay for my studio. What I would like to do now is analyze the aesthetic reasons why I'm tempted and then figure out how I can overcome them.

The first one is color. My hand-dug clay is RED. Oklahoma Red to be exact. Red clay means lots and lots of iron. Lots of iron in clay overpowers whatever color glaze you apply to your pots. Most colors applied to my red clay come out brown. So far I have found only 2 glazes that look good on my red clay; midnight blue and a satiny, metallic brown. To get pretty colors you need a light colored clay. The clay I purchase is a nice light tan, color works well on it and I can get whatever look I want. What potter doesn’t like to play with pretty colors?

In my research I have come up with a few things I could do to remedy the color issue with my red clay.

- Send samples of my clay to a laboratory to have it analyzed. This will allow me to experiment with making my own glazes using a glaze software program that I got for Christmas. I need to know exactly what my clay is made out of in order to make a glaze that will fit well and maybe have color. To have my clay analyzed it will cost me approx. $100.

- Run my clay under a magnetic field to remove some of the iron. I have wanted to try this to see if this is possible. The one thing I don’t want to do though is change the color of my clay. The fact that my red clay is Oklahoma Red is a huge selling point in this neck of the woods.

- Use a Majolica glaze. Majolica is an opaque white glaze that covers dark clay. You can then paint your design in colors onto the white glaze background. Typical Majolica pottery looks like this.

- Use a Slip. Slip is clay, water and pigment. When mixed to a consistency of melted ice cream it is possible to change the surface color of a pot with one application. In this way, it provides a solid colored background for paint or glaze and is an inexpensive way of making dark clay appear white or another color. What I would do is make porcelain slip - porcelain is a white clay, and cover my red pot with it. That would give me a white base. The trick here is to make sure the porcelain slip will adhere well to my red clay through application and firing. Once that is accomplished then there are lots of things I could do with this slip. I could paint on it, brush it on the pot like paint, dip the pot in it, cover the pot entirely and then carve a design into it down to the dark clay underneath, etc.

All of these methods of coloring my clay is feasible and would be fun. I especially like the slip method and have already tested it on a few pots. To be good at any one method though will take time and will require patience on my part. I also really want to get my clay analyzed. I think this would speed up my testing and give me the security of knowing my product.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Evalutating 2007: part 3

The second bottle neck, which would quickly follow the first, is the mixing of the clay body. Right now I mix 3 batches by hand, over the course of 3 days, to give me my 25 lbs per week. I use a bucket and a spoon. The mixture is rather thick, and hard to mix, so I know I’m not mixing it thoroughly. I justify poor mixing by wedging the heck out of it when I use it. Wedging is both time consuming and the reason I have Carpel Tunnel so it would be beneficial to not have to do it.

To remove this bottleneck I would need:
- Commercial Mixer ($1500)*
- Pug Mill ($3500)*

*They make a new Pug Mill now that combines the mixing and the pugging for $4300.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Evaluating 2007: part 2

Evaluating 2007: part 2

Will I get bored? Will I still be able to do everything I’m doing now?

Right off the bat I need to throw these two questions out the window. What was I thinking? Clay is clay. I will just need to adapt my clay to suit my needs as I go along. So, let’s start analyzing the reasons I bring purchased stoneware into my studio. I want to adapt my red clay so there will be no need to bring in purchased clay.

Purchased clay is all bagged up and ready to go, as much as I need, when I need it at $9 for a 25lb bag. My red clay goes through a cleaning, drying, pulverizing, mixing and then an excess water removal process before I can use it. In one week I normally process about 25lbs. My biggest obstacle in processing my clay is the pulverizing of the dry, clean, clay chunks. I do it by hand using a wooden hammer. It creates a lot of dust and needs to be done outdoors. It can’t be windy outside because the fine dust particles that we cherish so much blow away. It also can’t be really cold outside because I’m a wimp. I can handle about 2 hours of pounding before my hands cramp and give out. 2 hours gives me enough clay powder to make 25 lbs of clay.

To rid myself of this bottle neck, Michael Cardew in his book, Pioneer Pottery, says that I need 3 pieces of equipment:

- Laboratory-size Jaw Crusher ($4500)
- Plate Mill or Pulverizer ($1750)
- Ball Mill ($1000)

What this equipment would do is take my 1-1.5” size hard clay pieces and bring them down to powder form. The Jaw Crusher takes the initial pieces down to ¼”. The Plate Mill will take the ¼” pieces down to a fine sand size (which is the size my hammer gives me). The Ball Mill will take the sand size down to an impalpable grade. It would be wonderful to have these. My clay would be better because the particles would be finer making it more plastic. But, we are talking about a lot of money. There has got to be a better way to take chunks of dried clay and reduce it down to sand size. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Evaluating 2007: part 1

I usually spend the month of January evaluating the previous year. How close did I stick to my business plan, where did I grow, where did I slide, what did I accomplish, what do I have yet to accomplish, etc. etc. etc… By February I usually have a new, slightly revised business plan and know exactly which direction I want to take in the new year.

This year was no different although it is taking me longer. I should be done with this by now. But this year is different. I’m tired of not making money so something has to change, but what? I spent all of January thinking about this pottery business and what I need it to do for me and what I need to change in order for it to do what I needed it to do. The bottom line is, I need the business to make money now. Up to this point, I needed a business that could be flexible for my family; I wanted family first, business second. Now that my youngest is 16, and managing life on her own pretty much, flexibility is not a priority, but money is. I need this business to step up and give me an income.

Now, how do I take the business that I have, which only brings in petty cash here and there, to the next level where it actually pays me an income? I read in a book once, that in order to be successful in business, you need to become an expert in what you do. At the moment, in pottery, I do a little bit of everything. I dig my own clay, I purchase clay, I make functional ware, art pieces, sculpture, I do wheel work, slab roller, I do special commission work, I do production work, etc… There are so many things you can do with pottery and of course I want to do it all. Obviously I can’t become an expert in all things pottery so I need to choose one area and focus on becoming really good at it.

My one area of expertise could be my Rt 66 Oklahoma Red Clay. It is hand dug from my property and not too many potters actually hand dig their own clay. It makes me unique. It has also proven to be the area of interest to the local media and other potters. This would be the most obvious choice, but will I get bored. Will I still be able to do everything I’m doing now? Stay tuned as I analyze this.