LESSONS FROM CLAY #2 PRODUCTION VS CREATIVITY

LESSONS FROM CLAY #2 PRODUCTION VS CREATIVITY

Ok great, You’ve got this awesome creative handmade business, and you’re selling your creations to all the people and shops who love it. Woo Hoo. So make another 20 of those. Better make another 50. Boy you’re really selling out of those fast, make another 100. I can’t believe that 100 are already sold! Shitballs, make 200. Boy oh boy, I have to make another hundred of those things that keep selling… huuhhh. Yes, yes, they’ve sold out, but I’m making some more over the weekend. Ok, so I better make more of those things that everybody wants. I should make more of them, then I’ll have the time to make something new. I've got these great ideas for new things, I just have to make more of those things first, then I can be creative again. Gotta chase the $$$ right?

Yeah, well… I've finally learnt that production and creativity are 2 completley different things. I know it sounds obvious, but it took me a long time to figure this one out. And I'm still finding a balance between the two.

I always thought I was running a totally creative handmade business, then one day I started getting the feeling that I was on the hamster wheel. It crept in like a fog and hung around for too long. I couldn’t understand why I felt so exhausted. What would I possibly have to complain about/feel tired about/feel bogged down by? After all, I was running my own creative business, I was my own boss, I could choose my own hours, I could rock up in my pajamas. What’s the deal?

Then after a few years, every time I got large orders for ‘popular items’ I would feel this feeling in my chest like a heavy weight. Why did creating pottery feel like this? And then I realized that there’s no creativity here what so ever. It’s stale. It’s stagnant. It’s old. I’ve been making hundreds and thousands of that same item for over five years, and there’s nothing about the process that excites me, ignites me or feels sacred in any way.  And this type of production takes up 80% of my business! Uh, oh. I have orders to fill, and I have people counting on me to make this STUFF! Now I have to do it, or else…. the world will end!

I can hear you saying “Well, just get someone else to make it for you.” (or suck it up) It’s a smart business move to expand and hire staff, more productivity, get someone to do the shit jobs that you’re sick of. I thought about it. I thought about it a lot. And instead of moving down that path, I chose to go a different way. A potentially scary and risky decision that might cost me some sweet business $$$.

Remembering the reason I got into pottery in the first place was to express my creativity and play in any way I felt like... to be free. I made so much stuff, that I had no where to put it all. I realized that I was more in love with the process than the outcome so I made many, many  pieces and started to sell them (I like a little repetition and consistency in my work). People started buying them (yippee) and it made me so happy that other people also loved my work, to think it brought them joy too! Then when I turned it into a business, I rose to the demands of production, I ran a tight ship. The more I sold, the more people wanted, the more people wanted, the more I made, then years later, my focus had shifted entirely to make what people want… make what and how many they ask for (after all, that's where the money is right?) but it was too much hamster wheel for me. I needed five people to handle the workload of production and business management I was doing, and I was only one person! EXHAUSTION. BURN OUT. RESTRUCTURE.


This lesson has been a tough one. This process of figuring out what my business is and how it works. How to please people, and provide a good product and service, and still remain creative and free. For me it is so intrinsically tied up with my heart, which is unusual in business to always operate from the heart. But I hold dearly the essence of why I create in the first place. That place where creativity comes from is so new and expansive, it is sailing into uncharted waters. It's is about not always taking the same path. 

I like that my work is made by me, totally me. And that I put my heart in it.  It is sometimes difficult to navigate this in the business world of retail and wholesale. But I realize I can say yes, and I can say no. I can choose projects and creative challenges that ignight me. I can have a break from products that don’t excite me any more, I can take time to play with new ideas and how important it is to come up with new and exciting products. 

And at the end of the day, I am a potter. I love to create things. Some of these things are for sale. Interested?

LESSONS FROM CLAY #1 EXPECT DISAPPOINTMENT AND FAILURE


Ceramic work can be an intense and deeply inward process. If porcelain was a cult, I'd be it's loyal devotee. I love it. I want to share with you the lessons I've learnt from working with that buttery stuff I squish between my fingers. The first lesson?

 #1 EXPECT DISAPPOINTMENT AND FAILURE

Ouch.

This morning when I opened the kiln to take a peek at my latest glaze firing, I saw 3 porcelain rings that had fallen and stuck themselves to the middle of the kiln shelf. Rings broken, kiln shelf buggered and my precious time wasted. Years ago, this would have pissed me off. Today, I’m surprised it even gets a mention is this blog.

This kind of shit happens all the time in pottery. Things explode, glazes drip, hard work fails. If you keep doing it, you get better at it, but doesn’t necessarily equal less failure. Things just sometimes go wrong. Not to mention each time you take on a new challenge, when the testing process can be full of failure and broken dreams. But the more you experience ‘things not turning out’, the quicker you recover from disappointment. It becomes just another part of the process.

Expecting 100% of everything I do to be total success is such an unrealistic expectation, yet at the beginning of my work with clay, this is how I thought. A few months of hard work, and a few entire kiln loads of disaster quickly shook that expectation down a notch (or ten). 

If we forget that failure can happen, we are shaken when it arrives. When we know it might show up at any given moment, if we truly know that its always a possibility, and understand  completely that our hard work, and our ideals about ourselves can crumble in the opening of a kiln door, then we are unafraid of it. We do it anyway, because Knowing that there is a risk of failure is part of the fun. There is no challenge in a predictably perfect outcome. That's so boring. Failure keeps you fresh.

Adapting this philosophy to other areas of my life, means that I am less aggravated by experiences that don't live up to my expectations. I expect a shit coffee 50% of the time, and enjoy it when I receive a perfect one. I expect customer service to be consistently bad, my food to arrive not exactly how I ordered it, I expect my telephone company will dick me around. I expect half of the things I do to work out, most of the people I know to disappoint me, and when that disappointment comes I can deal with it. When I fail at something I can learn from it. This doesn't mean I have to lower my standards, just be more realistic about how life truly is VS how I want it to be. 

Biting into that shitty floury apple is bound to happen, the question is what's your response to it?