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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It ain't cheap, it ain't easy


I remember the first time I saw someone throw a cylinder on a potter's wheel. I was smitten, right then and there. I was at the state fair in Raleigh in the yesteryear pavilion. That was 10 years ago. I took a class the next week with Syd Luck at the community parks and rec center and I didn't look up from clay until this past year.

10 years of classes, workshops, seminars, working as a studio assistant to pay my way, teaching classes  so I could have a kiln to use, using recycled clay because I couldn't afford to buy clay just for testing and learning. Working out on my deck and in my kitchen and in the upstairs bedroom in all sorts of conditions. Saving and saving and writing grants to get a kiln and a wheel and a studio..... if there is a hard way to be a potter, I did it. I watched doctors and business executives come into the community studio and spend whatever they wanted on classes and supplies and never took any of it seriously, it was just a hobby, while I was trying so hard to make it a way to earn a living as an artist. Bleh....... it took all my love for clay away. The marketing and the selling and the paying for show booths with what little money I had from selling my work, the pushing and shoving to try and get noticed by galleries and magazines and other potters who I respected. The endless testing and learning and failure and then some success that kept me coming back like a crack head. I wish I had just kept it a hobby.

And so let me see now, where in the fuck did all that get me?....... I still have no money, I haven't made anything I care about in over a year, except a few bowls that were nice. I'm published in a few books... I once had a woman that read the article about me in the Raleigh News and Observer say to me, "you are going to be really big one of these days".  What was that? say again? big.... now just how exactly does that happen? How does one get "big"?

I made some really nice work, made some people happy, shed some tears and laughter with those that loved my work, that was the best part of all of it for me. But I got off the train for awhile, I needed a break, not sure if I am ever gonna get back on it. Something broke and I really don't know what it was or what to do about it, not sure if I even care......


Which leads me to these photos of soap. Of course I need something to occupy the greedy creative that lives in my head. "Give me something to do" it screams at me.  Can't weave, can't make jewelry, Wesley's belongings are occupying that room right now and Wesley occupies my heart and my time right now. But she will be gone next week and there will be plenty of time for doing, for making.

When I took the soap making workshop back in June, it was fun, it was easy and I needed some ME time. The instructor brought all the tools and all the ingredients, pointed here, pointed there, I did as she said, and I made soap. Doing it on your own is a whole other matter. First there are the pages and pages of vendors online to weed through, deciding on ingredients and recipes and properties for healing or moisturizing, or whatever.

There is a lot. It's like clay. Do you want earthenware, cone 6, wood fired, raku, slip, oxides, scraffito, terra sig..... it's the same with soap. It's endless, the choices to be made, the direction to go. And just like with pottery: explosions in the kiln, glazes running, crawling, peeling, kilns over firing, etc, etc. , soap can go wrong. It can seize, it takes forever to cure, colors can change, lye can burn (bad), scents fade too quickly, things happen and you have throw aways. It's all hard work!

And there lies the secret...... work hard. When I think about the potters that are at it every day and making the craft of pottery their life's work, they work hard. Gerry has been a photojournalist for 30 years, he started out as a stringer for a local paper, and he worked hard to get the job he has today. He is in a very elite group of photographers, and they all work their asses off to stay there. The soaps I like are made by crafts people who..... work hard. There is no easy way to create quality work. You spend way more money than you should have to and you put in way more hours than any sane person would, because you love the craft you make and you are proud to create a quality product.

I want to explore this soap making thing, I have a vested interest due to the skin cancer that is flying through my family right now and the worries I have over the general state of our chemical obsessed planet. But it is not cheap and it ain't easy if you want to do it right. I sucked it up and bought the things I needed to experiment with a few batches, flew through all of it in no time and I have very little to show for it, except more experience and understanding of soap. I screwed up several batches due to lack of knowledge and carelessness, expensive lessons learned. I am no where near close to making a batch I would call a true success. I spent an entire day testing essential oils, trying to come up with fragrance I like, and I am close to considering just making unscented soap. Those folks who are creating wonderful smelling soaps have got something going on that I am no where near close to understanding. This scent thing is mind boggling! Where to even begin?! At the end of the day, I was dizzy and nauseous and really sick of aroma, I just had to go outside and breathe some fresh air.

I have filled a journal full of notes and as I go back to the beginning and read over them, they start to look like my first clay journals. Full of ideas and recipes and color inspirations, but still no clue about how to make a really good product, ugh the baby steps of craft. And then I remember those early days of pottery making. Already thinking of selling my work before I could even make a decent mug handle.  I find myself thinking of selling soap, what would my booth look like, how will I price items, what will my packaging be like, where will I sell it. Never mind it's been a month and I have yet to make a bar I would even consider selling! I am giving some away though. Testers..... you gotta dip those toes in the water if you are a maker of craft. But none of this is for the faint of heart or the empty of cash. The essential oils alone are outrageously expensive and cost prohibitive to a great extent. I am very conservative with the testing and experimenting, which makes it difficult to get a really good idea of what works and what doesn't.

So, I go back to those days this past February in my mind. Quiet days spent with our monks while the snow fell outside and the fire crackled inside. I slow down, I take time to think about how lucky I am and how so many blessings fill my life, and I spend time with my family and my friends and my chickens. Slow...... is how I want my life right now. I feel no rush to meet a deadline or get product out the door. I would like to make something wonderful to sell, I would actually like to earn a living creating craft, but it will take time and hard work and there is time for that soon, for now I count the next four days until Wesley moves out again and the house is still without her, and maybe I will cry for a day, missing her warmth...... and then I'll go make some soap or maybe even wedge some clay and throw some bowls, Who knows what crazy thing I might attempt in the coming weeks! I really should just go get a job somewhere.... if I just had a skill or two left from the old days, ha!

15 comments:

Trish said...

Hi Tracey.. Experience IS the journey.. :).. Envelope yourself in the time with your daughter. Excitement of craft will come again.
That's all I got tonight, except come to Alberta for tea!! :)
Cheers. T.

Dennis Allen said...

Just remember when all the miners rushed to the Klondike it was the guys who sold shovels and pans who struck it rich. The ugly secret of capitalism is that whether you are making art, machine parts, or anything else it takes a tremendous amount of work, and failure to make a good living with your own two hands.

Michèle Hastings said...

Reading about your exploration of soap making sure makes me appreciate why handmade soap is expensive. Silly me thought is was like baking a cake... follow the recipe and voila, you have soap! Boy was I wrong.

smartcat said...

Another idea from one who is allergic to most soaps and detergents; I only use Neutrogena (NOT an ad) unscented original soap. If you could come up with a pretty, clear bar I would become your customer for life.
A new adventure is happening in your life! Slow down and enjoy the process of learning a new language.
Have a lovely last few days with

smartcat said...

OOPS! Hit PUBLISH) by mistake!
I started to say have a lovely last few days with Wesley! Mothering demands many changes in us!

Debbie said...

Thank you. I, a school teacher, have spent all my free time and money the past 5 years learning to throw pots. Can throw like a bandit, but can't glaze for shit! I'm finally getting a number of good pots and NOW what do I do with them. I give most away, will sell a few cheap at Christmas show. I decided to keep it a hobby, albeit an expensive one, because if I make it work, then it loses something. Got plenty to do that is WORK, so I'm just keeping it as "fun." (Although it is a fairly labor intensive version of fun, as you know.) As I labor in the hot Louisiana sun to glaze, reclaim, haul buckets, etc., I remember that there are women who crochet and do needlepoint for fun. Go figure. Anyhow, thanks for reinforcing my decision. I'm just not sure it's worth the money and hassle to try and sell them for profit.

Michael Race said...

Nothing wrong with hanging with chickens! We decided to put that creative effort (and plain old hard work) into the garden; at least we'll eat!

Lori Buff said...

Slow is good for the soul. Enjoy the days with Wesley, enjoy the journey of making soap or whatever else interests you.

Tracey Broome said...

Trish, if only I could just run up to Alberta real quick,love it there so much.... I agree, there is more to the journey than just selling...

Dennis, love this analogy, I'll keep it in mind, hmmm... Being the supplier, that's the ticket!

Michele, just like people think clay is so simple, just throw a cup and put it on the shelf! The expense comes from the ingredients, I had no idea!

Suzi, I love the idea of trying to create an allergy free soap, give me a month or two :-)

Debbie, I have 10 years in clay and I still can't glaze either, I stick with raku and oxides, much more forgiving of my ineptitude:-) if you want to sell some work, my advise is start off slow and local, friends, craft fairs, farmers markets, there is little cost involved for those shows and sometimes there is a good buying crowd. Can't hurt if it is a low cost venue.

Michael, good to hear from you, how is the cape?! We are with you, raising food and chickens is in our future!

Lori, agreed, slow is good for the soul, the monks gave me a good lesson in slowing down this year!

Lori Watts said...

Sometimes I am amazed how similar our thoughts are, yours and mine...
Someday we'll meet IRL. It'll be a hoot.

Tracey Broome said...

Lori, I know! Sometimes I draft a post, see yours that is almost exactly the same and delete it since you said my thoughts! That happens with several other bloggers too. heightened awareness a friend of mine used to call it :)

June Perry said...

I suspect gearing your production to a niche market like new age/organic and/or very high end spas, gift shops, (small guest sizes to sell to B&B's) etc., may be a possible way to go. Although higher production costs, that might also mean less competition from all the hobby soap makers selling at craft shows.
One soap makers book that I was reading this morning mentioned that as shows, he also has uncut blocks of soap, so he can cut off small pieces for people to try. He keeps samples of those approximate sizes and sells them by weight. He also said that he doesn't use very fancy labels because people would only use the soap for display, rather than using them. And of course, his reasoning is that if they use them, they'll buy more. He also gave a couple of recipes of his best sellers which I have duly noted in my notebook!

Tracey Broome said...

Hey June, there are more soap makers out there than there are potters, not sure I'm ready to get in that fray again :) for now it's just soap for us and friends, we'll see how I feel when all the closets are filled with soaps ha!

June Perry said...

Same with me - soap for family and friends. When I have the closet full of soap, then I'll start making lotions, lip balms, deodorant, etc. :-)And of course, there's always the pottery waiting for attention as well!

handstories said...

Tracey, you've touched on so many of the things I thought about this week! & I agree, that continuing in love & passion is the best path- wherever it leads.