In my first pottery class at the University of Portland, the instructor would almost weekly bellow out, “you guys are going to end up throwing pots at the local flower-pot factory if you don’t shape up!” This was fairly inappropriate and odd for a beginners class, but the thing was, it sounded totally awesome!
The pottery had a large walk-in kiln that was about 30 feet long. This would be filled and fired everyday.
One employee cut clay all day long for the potters. He would take a wire and chop up a 25 pound bag of clay into 12 or 24 squares.
We didn’t take the time to wedge these small squares into balls as is normal. Instead, we threw them hard at the wheel head, so that it stuck, and then threw the square into a little flower-pot.
I got to where I could throw about 260 of these in 6 hours. I broke the process down into very small details, so that I would only pick up and put down a tool as many times as needed. I really stream lined throwing that flower-pot into the minimum of touch.
Getting into this kind of austere and repetitive groove is oddly pleasing and beautiful.
The guys throwing the big pots had been doing this work for years and could smoke cigarettes and throw at the same time.
I only lasted 3 months at this job because I was in so much pain. After work, I would jump into my car and start greasing up my forearms and wrists with a jumbo size jar of Icy Hot that I kept stashed. Then at night I would go to sleep with ice packs on my forearms. Clearly I was not meant for throwing over a thousand pots per week.
But what I did find, is that in my own studio I am comfortable with making 100 small pots, or 30 to 50 larger pots per day.
When I am making silversmith earrings for instance, I am surprised that the number is usually only 1 to 10 sets depending on the difficulty.
Using production methods doesn’t mean that your work will become homogenized, the pieces are still handmade, and incorporating variation into each piece is one of the perks of not using machines.
I once stopped by the studio of a guy who used to throw at that same flowerpot factory, and there he was throwing 300 to 400 pots a day with a cigarette and coffee habit that seemed to be fueling the whole operation. His philosophy on production was that you need to have so much work that it was coming out of your ears.
Just produce like a maniac, then sell the heck out of it….pretty solid advice.
Exactly how I made those 35,000 objects
When I put a piece into “production”, I have a serious of steps that I take, and I use this for any craft that I am working on.
Figure Out The Steps
I will make a small run and figure out how to make the item and the various steps.
There can be a wide variation in each at this point. I usually take some notes and keep the best one as my ideal to reference in the future.
I may do this process several times and get feedback selling my prototypes to customers before I settle on my final design.
I pick a number that I think will be the maximum that I can make with the materials I want to commit, the size of my space, and what I can tolerate both physically and mentally.
I pick a big number because this is a place in my process where I can directly increase the profit. Repetitive tasks and taking the items through in stages are going to reduce your per hour labor on the item.
You may want to start with a smaller batch and work your way up, this would be a more reasonable approach.
Break It Down Into Stages
I break it down into the smallest steps I can reasonably take, and repeat the step to each piece before moving on to a new tool or process that needs setting up.
I will define in my head what that first step is, then just deal with that (only), until it is done…..”STEP ONE COMPLETE” I usually announce to no one in particular, it feels like an incredible accomplishment to me! Then the step 2 announcement, and so on.
This is a kind of one woman Henry Ford factory.
Push To The Finish Line
I can’t stress enough that if you are going to work production methods like this, no matter the quantity or the technical ease or difficulty…… you have to drive it…..push through all the processes until they finished. Think forward to that last step that you want to see, I always see myself putting the items into a box totally finished.
Just plow through to the end, what ever it is going to take.
I may be starting to sound like an old grizzled factory boss here, but this is what it is going to take to have enough work to support your brilliant “crafter” lifestyle that you are banking on.
I have made over 35,000 of my own objects from start to finish with the majority being production pieces made in the above manner. This sounds like a lot of pieces but life time potters can go well over a 100,000.
If you would like to share some of your triumphs or struggles with producing your work (below), I would love to hear you.
Kind Regards, Holly