Sunday, December 21, 2008

Here's a Bowl of Mixed Nuts for the Holidays

This is my last post for 2008, and I'm happy to report that I've met my goal of putting up a halfway decent article each week. OK... you be the judge of the quality here. It's been a lot of fun writing this blog, and I'm pretty sure I'll keep it going next year as I've gotten a lot of positive responses from fans and friends. I do like the process of writing, and I think that this blog is a good way for me to share my thoughts with the people who buy my work.

Here's a few odds and ends for the end of the year:
"The Goddess of Turkey Media" - I'm kicking myself for not having made at least two dozen of these plates last week. I got an email request to "do a joke about that Sarah Palin video with the turkeys" from a customer in California. After watching the YouTube video, the joke pretty much wrote itself. My initial thought was that this story was a flash in the pan and Wally pots with this design would get old quickly. But the image and story is something that is fun to remember, so I'm going to put this design in my webstore as this could be a great decorative Thanksgiving object to treasure for years to come.

"The greatest gift of all" - I think the best gift that I will have given this year is going to be the one that I made for the sheer fun of it. I'm in a guys' book club that meets at irregular intervals, usually at cheap restaurants where we usually don't talk much about the book that we read. It's a group of men who are a bit older than me and have interesting lives with very successful, eclectic careers (film making, oil exploration, etc.). Last week we met at Bert's house because he has been laid up with a back injury. He and another member of the group traded stories about the misery of sitting at home all day in pain, whacked out on drugs with not much to do but feel like crap. The day before, as Bert's wife was putting up the Christmas tree, the two of them reenacted that memorable scene in "It's a Wonderful Life" where George Bailey goes totally bonkers in the family living room on Christmas eve. Suffice to say, Bert just doesn't have the Christmas spirit this year. Driving home that evening, I realized that I could make a nice commemorative gift out of this story. A week later, the ornament was out of the kiln and I literally ran it down to their mailbox. I live exactly five miles from their house, along the route of my favorite fifteen mile run. Bert called just a few hours later and he and his wife were totally thrilled with their ornament. Bert's wife is a former potter and their home is filled with some truly amazing pots. I'm glad that their collection now has one of my best pieces in it.

"Yippie-kai-yay, Merry Christmas!" - While my all-time favorite holiday movie is and will always be "It's a Wonderful Life", I now have a close second. We were decorating our tree last week and we wanted to put on a Christmas movie but we had a problem. All of our holiday films are on VHS and a lightning strike last summer took out our VCR. Monica had just bought the first "Die Hard" movie on DVD and Lori remembered that the story takes place on Christmas Eve so we put it on. Man! This is the perfect film to prepare you for the stress of the holidays. What are our mere trials and tribulations this time of year compared to John McClane's epic duel with a pack of terrorist/thieves?!!! Christmas music and imagery abounds in this film, as in the scene shown below. I love that moment when McClane's first casualty shows up in the elevator wearing a Santa hat! This film brings back fond memories of Los Angeles for Lori and me. Our first home was just a few miles away from "The Die Hard Building", as we called it. Lori commuted to UCLA where she worked and got her degree, and the cheapest gas station en route was "The Die Hard Gas Station" featured prominently in the film. To top it off, we had seen Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepard filming a scene from the TV show, "Moonlighting" one time when we were getting off a plane at LAX. The show was just starting to take off and Bruce Willis was still a relatively unknown actor. I made eye contact with Bruce and he gave me one of those patented eyebrow raises as if to say, "You've seen my show, right?" File it all under, "I love LA".

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

That dude who got elected president is right. Change IS coming!

Permit me to lapse into the introspective, self-absorbed mode of blogging that was discussed a bit in last week's post. No, I'm not going to show you a picture of a super clean toilet. But I will bare my soul to the world just a bit.

The topic for this week's post is, "How is the current world economic crisis affecting Wallyware Pottery?" The short answer here is, "A whole lot". Ever since the mid 1980s, I've been selling the majority of my work through fine craft galleries. Since then, the fourth quarter of the year has always been the pleasantly busy time of year with each kiln load filled with wholesale orders that get shipped out of the studio the day the pots are unloaded from the kiln. In our heyday in the late 1980s, I had a potter working for me and two decorators painting for me during the holiday season to meet the demand. We had clipboards filled with orders and at times the galleries had to wait up to six weeks to receive their orders. My overhead was a lot lower then, and the cost of everything has gone up significantly for a number of reasons. Needless to say, I used to make a darn good income when we lived in Los Angeles! But this year, the majority of my steady accounts didn't even place their regular holiday orders, and the ones that did sent us much smaller orders than in the past. So I have a lot of pots in my stock room right now and I'm looking at next year realizing that I need to find some new ways to make money. And I'm not alone, am I?

The one bright spot in all of this is that it has inspired me to be more creative. My online webstore was languishing for a number of years and I'm putting more energy into it now and it's paying off. Thank goodness that my fans are still buying my pots! I'm actually getting more orders than last year through the webstore right now, but the size of the average order is significantly smaller than it was just a year ago. As Bill Clinton would say, "It's the economy, stupid." So with the slower sales, I've been more inspired to come up with new designs. My "What's New" section is a real testament to the fact that I'm trying hard to keep this business from going under. The new 401K mug and that Obama ornament are selling pretty well. This blog and the spin off "Stump the Sage" blog have been wonderfully fun to write, but I'm not sure if the time spent on them has been worth it in terms of sales. I'll probably have the imaginary monkey that writes the "Stump the Sage" blog get lost in a plane crash in the jungle in January. Things either wax or wane, and that project should start to wane soon. But it was wonderfully fun to create and it was nice to get a "thumbs up" from Bret Saunders on the radio last week. So the exercise of writing once a week has been a good challenge for me and I'm glad I took it on.

The other thing that is going to make my business change a lot in the new year is the fact that my assistant, Kelly is leaving in mid-January for a four month semester at sea program. Kelly has been working for me for over a year now and she is an absolutely perfect person to work with. She's great at the details of painting and shipping pots, and she is a true friend who is very easy to get along with. To top it off, she is a distance runner with amazingly similar tastes in music, movies, etc. Having her work for me is like having another way-cool daughter!

So rather than hire someone new right off the bat, I'm going to grind out a couple more kiln loads before Kelly takes off and put the pottery studio in a dormant mode if the orders don't come in next month. And I'm guessing that this is going to be the case, considering my orders have been slow the past few months. We will still have pots for sale in the webstore, of course, and I'll be putting a lot of energy into trying new marketing strategies via the web. But I'm preparing for the worst, and to meet my financial obligations to my family, I'll probably have to look for a paying job. This is a bit daunting as, in all honesty, the only things I'm really exceptional at are making pots, running long distance and rock trivia. One of my goals with all this is not to be a disgruntled middle-aged man who feels sorry for himself. I love a good challenge! But it's going to be damn weird as I haven't had a "real" job since 1978, my senior year in college.

So how do I end this post? How about some nice pictures from earlier this week. On Thursday morning I sent Robin an email and invited her to come up to paint pots for holiday gifts. It's something she and Monica have been doing ever since they can remember. She brought her boyfriend, Noah and they had a nice afternoon raiding the refrigerator and painting pots. Noah is carving out more and more notoriety in the local cartooning scene, and I like his work a lot. It was really fun to see what he came up with for the pots. He's got a comic talk/book signing with John Porcellino coming up on 12/20 at Kilgore Books. If you live in the Denver area, check it out!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A blog about a blog about blogs

My eyeballs are hurting. I've been scouring various "best of blogs" websites this week because I thought it would be fun to write a blog about all the blogs out there. The other day I realized that I started writing this thing a couple of months ago without doing much research at all on what other people are doing out there on the internet. So plowing through the blogosphere this week was fun for a while, but in the end it left me overwhelmed by the quantity and underwhelmed by the quality of it all. And my starting point on this adventure was! I can only imagine how dismayed I would be right now if I had been scouring the average or below average sites. So let me share with you some of the good, the bad and the ugly...

The good: Stuff White People Like is a delightful read and the author really knows how to gently poke fun at people whose ancestors hail from Caucasia. I loved his take on topics like hummus and marathon running. This site is a real treat!

The bad: I'll run for Donuts was the winner of "best sports blog" on and I can't imagine why. He does have a snazzy banner that looks like the Dunkin' Donuts logo, but the rest of it is drivel. This week's post features a pic of his clean toilet and endless chatter about the minutia of his life. Oh, and his posts on how he trains for his five and a half hour marathons are even more boring. It left me screaming like Nancy Kerrigan after she got hit on the knee, "WHY?! WHY?!! WHY?!!!!"

The ugly: Temporary? Insanity, the Egomaniacal Ramblings of a Mildly Deranged Housewife is well written but it's downright creepy. I stumbled on to this one and read the 12/03/08 post entitled "An Addiction". Here the needy, pathetic blogger/guru is discussing her inner demons and threatening her faithful readers with the ultimate form of internet suicide: hitting the delete key on her blog. It's fascinating to read the responses from her sycophantic friends and fans in the comments section of this post, but in the end you feel bad about the unhealthy trip these people are on. Maybe there are happier posts in this blog, but the ones from the first week in December were rather dismal, in my opinion. My advice: go outside and get some fresh air and exercise instead of spending all those hours glued to your computer.

But I have a weird side, too, because a couple of weeks ago I started a second blog! I'm a huge fan of rock trivia and I've won well over a thousand dollars worth of concert tickets over the years with my musical knowledge. My favorite contest is called "Stump the Sage" on KBCO FM in Boulder. Bret Saunders, the DJ, channels the spirit of a crabby know it all and answers questions from the audience. If you pose a question he can't answer, you win the prize. So I put together a fan website hosted by MY alter-ego, a caustic genius monkey with psychic powers. It's called "How To Stump The Sage at KBCO". I'm pitching the concept to the program director this week, because it might just be a good ad for my business. I'll keep you posted.

And speaking of business, here's our latest mug design! We're rolling a bunch of them out of the kiln on Tuesday....