Take Home a Piece of Laughing Orange

Today I feel inspired to go to work because I attended the Artisan Center of Virginia’s Conference this past weekend and have to say that I have so many things on my list of things to do and add to Laughing Orange that I am certainly having to prioritize them all.

First though, I want to give a shout out to the ACV because I am thoroughly convinced that they have their act together better than any organization that I have been involved with for a long time. Sherri Smith, the executive director of the ACV is a “fireball” of energy. She and her board seem to have so many great things going that I am overwhelmed by their excitement about artists and helping artists in our state. I really enjoyed that they take a twofold approach to an artist. First, they seem to understand that an artist can be a different animal and at the same time they understand how politics work and that they need to use the approach with legislature that artists are small businesses that have a serious place at the economic table of our economic situation. Bringing these two things together involves a lot of discussion about how to bring the artisans out of their shells to participate and to also get the funding or support needed from local governments to see them as a viable resource for communities.

When I attended Berea College 30 years ago, Phyllis George, former first lady of KY helped to revive the craft movement and wrote several books to help promote craft in KY and across the US. I know that she saw the need for handmade items to be appreciated, but I also think she saw this as a way for the state of KY to bring in revenue and to help that state’s economy.

I’ve written about this before, but handmade items are not being sought after due to so many of our products being imported in from China and sold here so inexpensively. As a country, we need to put more value on handmade items, if for no other reason than to help bring back the jobs that have been shipped overseas. But more importantly, we need to recognize that mass produced items have no meaning to us. Vanessa Bertozzi, the Director of Community at Etsy was the speaker for our lunch on Saturday at the ACV conference and her talk was about the importance of handmade. She started her talk by asking, “if your house were to catch on fire, what would be the one item that you would take”, (other than other family members). My first thought was my laptop, but as she went around the room and I heard others say things like their old photos, their quilts, their grandmother’s doilies, I realized that I have all my beloved quilts hanging on the stair railings and I don’t know what I would do if something happened to those.  They are irreplaceable. They are extremely special to me. They are handmade!!!

When Sherri Smith came to our county several months ago to give a talk about our county possibly getting an artisan trail, she brought up that we have forgotten how we once had to craft a bucket to carry water, forge our own tools to work in the garden, grow our own foods and put them up for winter, quilt our bed coverings and build our items from our own hands. Even myself, the queen of “I could make that”, heard this and it took me back to a time when these things were commonplace and not mass produced. Today, we go into a Michael’s if we want to make something and they have basically, put all the parts in a package for us and we are assemblers as opposed to artists or craftspeople. We have built a society that assembles kits and thinks of ourselves as being creative. To me, Michaels is a “cheater store” where people can feel a sense of creating.

This brings me to another point that I thought about and was discussed this weekend, which is, the amount of hours that an artist or craftsman will spend on an item only to have to not really be compensated for that quality item in the end. I do this all the time. I will spend countless hours on an item and get really frustrated when the Walmarts of the world take the value of my handmade item down in the eyes of my customers. If our economy is going to improve, if the jobs are going to come back to the US, we need to value our local artists and craftspeople and understand that they may need to ask a higher price than Walmart in order to survive in this new economy.

So, with all my new sources that I have been introduced to this past weekend and with my items sitting downstairs calling my name I really need to stop here and spend some hours at my craft. If you have any topics that you would like to discuss or have me discuss by way of my new adventures, please send me your comments and suggestions. I want to do more of the blogging and sometimes am hung up on what to write about. If you know that I make something that you are interested in knowing more about, let me know. I won’t promise you a kit from Michael’s but I will certainly help you with steps and processes.


Preparing to Rise at the Artisan Center of VA Conference



This weekend I am going to be attending my first conference as an artist. I have signed up with the Artisan Center of Virginia’s Conference in Roanoke called “Rising Beyond Expectations”. I have been impressed so far with the energy of the Artisan Center’s efforts to help the artists and craftspeople of our state. I think they are realizing that we have a population of craftspeople that can add to the economy and add to the ability to create jobs and products here in the US. The conference is going to offer workshops that I hope to gain some insight as to how to continue to grow my business and market my work.

The artisan trail that our county is implementing in partnership with the Artisan Center and our own tourism department will help both Agri-artisans as well as craft persons to promote their businesses. Many of these workshops will address some of the issues that a artisan will be confronted with to get involved with this new adventure. I am really excited to get this going and to be involved with this county wide project.


WORKSHOPS FOR EVERYONE: ….artists, artisans, agri-artisans, entrepreneurs and all who desire to take their endeavors to the next level!

The New Horizon Is A Designer’s World: An engaging Panel Discussion with James Thurman- North Texas University, Alison   Pack- Radford University & Jennifer Anderson- Hollins University.

“There is Art in Marketing” Sandra Tanner, Virginia Tourism Corporation: Marketing plans made easy and lots of great insights and tips for reaching your markets.

“The NoBS Guide to Networking” with Sarah Beth Jones, Nary Ordinary Business Services: Discuss why networking is important, where and when networking happens, and how to find your comfort zone in situations that can sometimes feel daunting.

“Etsy 101” – with Vanessa Bertozzi, Etsy: Learn how to become part of a global market place in a vibrant community of 15 million buyers and creative businesses.

“A Gardener’s Odyssey: From Clay to Food ” with Jim Kvach, Master Gardiner: Find out how one gardener managed to change clay into food where clay is abundant and top soil thin in this informative and upbeat conveyance of lessons learned.

“Entrepreneurs, Artisans and Taxes: Can we all get along?” with Dennis Peltier, EA:  Find out the answers to your burning tax related questions.

“Educating & Inspiring the Next Artisan Generation” with Alison Pack, Radford University: Through the eyes and experiences of students at the Governor’s School as told thru images and narrative in this vibrant discussion of the importance of educating Virginia youth about contemporary craft.

“The Demo – Educating the Public and Customer Service with Fun in Creativity and Affinity” with Judy Ligon, Ligon Art:  Explore the importance of doing a demo as a means to engage public in what you love to do in this hands-on workshop.

“Art As A Business” with Marc Willson, Small Business Development Association: Are you ready to sell your work? Find out how to show your work in ways to make people want to buy it and how to talk and write about it in order to make it more appealing.

“Artisan Trails of Southwest Virginia Viewshed” with Debby Loggins, Round the Mountain: After Creating fifteen artisan trails throughout the 8,624 square miles defined as Southwest Virginia was a challenge three years in the making. What’s next?

“Pricing Your Work” with Neva Bryan, Round the Mountain: Discover why pricing is important, the psychology of pricing and a step-by-step to pricing your products.

“Think It! Ink It! The Craft and Art of Printmaking” with Jennifer Anderson, Hollins University: Join in a conversation on fine art printmaking….the history, types of print and how contemporary artists make art and develop community through printmaking.

“Global, Social, Mobile, Local – How Going Green Doesn’t Mean Going Into the Red” with Helen Nunley, Pretty Good Designs: Going digital and paperless no longer means spending tons of money. Learn about some of the many choices of free or inexpensive solutions from which to choose to help you and your business “go green.”

“The Artisan Mosh Pit”: A special session where you are invited to voice your questions, concerns and suggestions for a facilitated discussion with tourism, economic development, arts and cultural community leaders.

Vintage Woodstock Festival




Just a quick post this morning to let everyone know that I am doing an event this Friday night in Woodstock, VA called Vintage Woodstock. I have never been to this event, but it is local, and I am trying to be as local with my new work as possible. If you are looking for something to do this Friday evening, head to Woodstock, and stop in and see my new fairy garden items and new mug designs.

I’d love to see you there!




The jury is still out…

Yesterday, I spent the majority of the day on my computer. I have a ton of work to do in the studio but I need to start looking to the future and where to show my work and how to build a resume’ that reflects my skills that are not printing or printing related. I have several mentors in this new life that are giving me advice. Both are giving me excellent advice from their years of doing what I am now doing and while I really don’t feel that I am ready to apply to major venues or to major art related organizations but if I don’t try I won’t know, right?

Zapplication.org is one of the places where artists can find venues, fairs, if you will, that I can go and set up a tent and sell my work. I am looking for more local events and not wanting to spend a lot of time in my car. Time in the car is time away from producing and creating work. So I dove into the process yesterday morning and soon realized that my color correcting skills, again, will come in handy for preparing images for review and juries. After getting to know Zapplication for a few hours and uploading some images, I now know how to get venue information to schedule fairs for the coming months and years.

Items need to be photographed and done simply and look professional. I do this for my Etsy shop. Lots of time is spent to get my work onto the web and keep me out of my car, hopefully allowing me to not have to travel and have my work travel through the internet. I photograph my own work and then I use my color correcting skills to put the professional touch on the images so that they best represent the art. The gray balance is key. Using a backdrop that is a vanishing white to black provides my grayscale to allow me to check this gray balance and correct for that. Theoretically, if you have a good gray, the other colors should fall in line and because I am working with RGB not CMYK , I have a much larger color space to deal with and don’t have to worry that my colors won’t match the original art.

Taking the advice of my mentors, I chose to apply to the Artisan Center of Virginia first, to be juried, in hopes to be included in their list of juried artists. I learned about the Artisan Center of Virginia when I went to a meeting that our county tourism put together to include local artisans, agri-artisans, B & B’s and restaurants to put together an Artisan Trail in our county to feature local talents and unique businesses. I was really impressed with the talk that the director of the Artisan Center gave and wanted to be a part of this wonderful benefit for artists. Hopefully, even without juried status, I will be included in the trail and be able to get traffic here at my house from tourists to our county. I will get a sign to put on the house with this logo stating that my house is an Artisan Trail Site. That would be cool! And again, no traveling, they come to me.

I spent most of the morning, gathering images and checking the color and the resolution to meet the requirements. Each site seems to need a different pixel width. Then I needed to put the packet together to include, in addition to images, a resume’, an artist statement, a business card and of course the application fee.

My statement surprised me, being easier to write than I thought. The AC of V has a  document that helped me get started and that is usually the hard part. I then just talked about what I do in the process and what has inspired me to find the “voice” that I have in my work right now.

Artist Statement

My work deals with frogs and fossils, birds and nature. I am intrigued by layering and stacking of images and colors on my pottery. I love to experiment with a “story” being told in my work. A story that you see and imagine while you are examining my pieces. 

Using clip art, that I get royalty free from the web in the form of a photoshop brush, I combine these images in a theme, print them out on paper, cut them out with nail scissors and apply them to my wet clay pieces. When the final layering process is complete, I may have several layers of paper embedded into the clay under layers of colored slips (which are colored clay). The paper is removed to reveal the colors underneath and the shape of the images that I chose to put on the piece, telling the story.

After being in the printing world where graphic arts were a big part of my job for over 25 years, I was laid off July of 2011. In college I had been a ceramic apprentice for a couple of years and had always regretted not continuing with that life. My husband bought me a potter’s wheel for Christmas of 2010 and I saw my skill levels come back and help me to realize my dream of being a potter. Being laid off couldn’t have come at a better time.

Being a newbie, I hope that in the next year or so to expand my line of products to include more complicated shapes. I have seen my skills really improve in the past 6 months so with every kiln that I unload I see many improvements and can only hope that that will continue in the coming years.

I packed up the items, took it to the post office and sent it off. The deadline is June  1st. Now we just wait and see…I think being a newbie that I don’t have a chance but I need to jump into the mix and see what they say. I could get some great feedback for the future if I don’t. In the meantime, I have lots to catch up on today waiting for me in the basement. And eventually, adding more images to the Zapplication.org site to find additional venues in my local area to sell work.

Fundraisers and donations…

Being asked to donate bowls for a local soup bowl dinner was the motivation I had to try my hand at becoming a potter full time. That challenge tested my skills to see if I would be able to mass produce an item with consistency and to meet a deadline. It was fun. I donated 25 bowls. Each one decorated similarly with frogs and a colorant swirl to give the illusion of water. I understand they were a hit and were some of the first bowls to go.

Now, with the economy still having effects on all of us, the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter is having an additional fundraiser to try and help local folks make ends meet. I was again asked to donate an item. This item could be a single item and would be used in a Bingo style fundraiser. I have wanted to do some frog vases so this was the opportunity to do several and let them have first pick at the lot and  the rest could travel to Blandy Farm with me on Mother’s Day.

Here are the four vases that I made for the shelter… they chose the one with the froggies holding hands and I have to say, I think it will be a popular item but more importantly, I hope they are able to raise funds to help folks that are trying to make ends meet.

A Week of Handmade Work…

sculptural frog on the rim

Last friday I threw 10 mugs and 5 bowls. 15 pieces. Those pieces took most of that day to make. Over the next 7 days, those 15 pieces were brought to a finished level but only up to a point.

Pottery is a slow process. It is something that I am learning that I need to accept the slowness of the process and be patient. I am getting there but, after being in the corporate world for so long where presses were running at $1000 an hour and you were upstream of those presses, preparing the work so as to not have a mistake stop the presses causing that price to go up for the company or the customer. I have had to slow myself down and have a different set of expectations for how quickly things get made. I don’t have a customer waiting, at least not one that I can see just yet, I also want the work to be the best quality that I can make. There is no point in hurrying if the quality suffers. That is also something that was important in the corporate world. If the press had to wait, it was better to get the work done in the best quality as possible to avoid an additional stoppage or material waste.

My last post was of the trimming process of those items. I wanted to try and show that there are many steps that go into a handmade item. After the trimming was done, the handles were made and with each step the items are packed into a plastic box and wrapped with plastic to avoid them drying out before the next step can be completed. Another reason for the slow drying is to avoid attached pieces from separating from the piece. The moisture content of the handle and the cylinder that it is attached to will even out and putting them into a damp box or under plastic allows the moisture content in the entire piece to become consistent.

The decoration that I have chosen to add to my work is a time consuming process in that I add a white clay body slip over the brown clay and then either draw through that slip or add a stencil that holds the white clay back from the brown clay. Then some color is added and clean up of areas where the clay or color may have bled into an area where I don’t want it. Then I am adding the sculptural frogs and give each one a personality so that each piece is unique.

Handmade items are special. What makes them special is that they aren’t made with a machine, except for the wheel, and are given the attention that sets it apart from a mass produced item. That said, I’m not sure I will ever achieve the production potter status. I can see that I will use the production mindset but I don’t ever see having a set “line of work” and have items that I make for a while and then when I get bored with the pieces that I am making, I will create a new item to make for a while.

So these 15 pieces will then get fired when they reach a dry state. The firing will take about 8-10 hours, then an additional 12 hours to cool. Then each piece will be glazed and fired again, an additional 8-10 hours with the 12 hours to cool. Of those 15 pieces, there will be pieces that I will discard because they won’t be the quality that I want to be representative of my work. Some of those little “blips” will stay in because that is part of the “handmade quality” that I want to achieve.