Progress Over Perfection

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Back in August 2015, while pulling my kiln and wheel out of storage, I happen to find to see a YouTube video on the topic of learning a particular skill with deliberate practice. In the video “Learn To Kickflip in 5 hours And 47 Minuets.‘ The user Mike Boyd filmed his practice sessions from start to finish, landing a Kickflip. He had no skill of doing this at the start. After watching the video, I felt inspired and tried to focus on progress over perfection.

Progress Through Failure

When I first started making pots again after almost ten years or more, amazingly throwing the first bowl was easy but the next 25 were hard. They would end up collapsing, have thin bottoms, or simply go off center. I had to take a step back and work on the skills separately from step one to finish. First, I practiced centering, a very basic skill that one would learn in a beginner’s class. I found that centering one pound clay pieces were much more challenging than the five pound. Since most of the pots I would be throwing to fill my niche were created from one pound of clay I needed to practice this skill to cut down on time, material waste, and frustration. Needless to say, I ruined many pounds of clay before I was able to achieve my goal. But each time, with each step I was able to have a learning experience built on the failure, to have a centered mound of clay on the wheel. I had to repeat these learning steps through the whole process, from wedging the clay at the start to finishing with a nicely glazed pot. I have to admit the whole experience was quite humbling while remembering just ten years ago when my skill level was much higher. Some days I just wanted to toss the wheel, kilns, and pots in the creek. I had to set the goal of progressing a little each day with one thing, rather than being perfect.

Progress Through Practice

A person can have all the positivity and inspiration in the world, but if they are not progressing then it all is useless. Most ceramic artists and potters can create basic forms on the wheel rather quickly. But being away from ceramics so long I had forgotten how to throw most forms. I had to practice the essential forms that I would be throwing most, which was a simple cylinder shape, for cups, and wider cylinder forms for bowls. I made large amounts of ugly pots, wasted clay trimming heavy pots, cracked pots while loading the kiln, over fired pots, under fired pots, and melted a few kiln shelves. But with the view of progress over perfection I was able to have a somewhat enjoyable time experimenting with different parts of the process to find out what worked and what did not. I also had to practice with the raw materials to see what they could do and how far they could be pushed. One example where this took place was adjusting the glaze recipe for it to work correctly on the clay body I was using. I had to know how each material in the recipe reacted and how they all worked together. There were plenty of online resources to help with this process and having the small kilns I was able to fire out test tiles until I had a result that looked somewhat good. I then was able to practice putting a lot of ugly glaze on a lot of ugly pots. Friends and family thought the were nice and wanted to take them home, but I knew better. I needed more practice and progress over perfection.

Progress Through Time

After all the screw ups, piles of ugly pots, and glaze mishaps, I had to take the time to reflect on what I had learned and scrounge up what appeared to be the best-looking pot and have a drink, relax, and view where I was. Many time this is done easier with a friend, family, or even a stranger. A stranger has much better feedback in my opinion because they are allowed, to be frank and not worried about offending if they have no emotional or family ties. I was able to pass some of these ugly pots around to folks and ask them what they thought and took their opinions and feedback to heart and changed some things I was doing wrong and didn’t know it. Just because I may have thought a form looked correct, that did not mean others thought the same. At times, it can be a very sobering and humbling experience to receive constructive feedback, but over time, it will come, for the better or worse. I also took the time to view the works of other ceramic artists. Applications like Etsy and Instagram were excellent resources to view ceramic art and ideas. I was able to compare and contrast different forms to have a better understanding of what expectations artists and buyers were setting. Seeing the work of others forced me to take the time to look critically at the many processes it takes to create a finished piece and see if I could progress more by building skills in each area which in time would add value to the finished piece.

Unlike the YouTube user Mike Boyd, in the video referenced above, I was not able to complete a pot in five hours and forty-five minutes. I’m not even close after five months. I believe I have progressed. What I thought to be an excellent form last month, I now see maybe it was not. And what I am doing today, I see many opportunity areas in my skill level that needs developing, from wedging the clay to when the customer receives it. For a perfect pot can be created, marketed, and shipped. But if any part of the process is not of the highest quality, the whole chain can be easily broken. Creating a decent pot is only twenty percent of the entire process. I do not know what a perfect pot is, but I am beginning to know what it is not.

 

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Artist /Founder- Alford Wayman

 

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While researching the start up the Creek Road Pottery, I quickly came to realize that running a business would be much more than making pots. Months before I even thought about creating a pottery I went through the Business Model Canvas course given by Steve Blank on the Udacity website. The class was very helpful in organizing and researching the many areas of a business that would need developing. One area was developing Revenue Models. Within the many revenue models, there was Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

When I was perusing my degree in ceramics, we learned a lot about art and little about marketing ourselves and the work. At the time, it was believed that the way to make money and sell art was through galleries, trade shows, and studio storefronts. Many who went on to pursue their masters degrees ended up teaching which gave them a position of recognition through the university they were employed. Others would leave the field due to lack of finances, student loan debt, or have to take on other jobs outside the art field to earn a living for themselves. But today all of that has changed, and if the artist can put on a few hats or have processes automated, handed over to paid services, or use applications, the jobs can become manageable once again. Below we will look at some applications that can assist the artist in writing content geared toward SEO.

Yoast SEO Plugin

One of the simplest tools that helped SEO management when creating posts or pages was the Yoast SEO plugin. This plugin built for WordPress has a simple install and came with a host of features that helped with content writing, page analysis, Meta and Link elements, XML sitemaps, RSS optimization, and much more. The Yoast SEO also grades the post and ensures that keyword usage in the headings and content. It also gives a list of most used words in the post so that the writer can make changes to up the ranking. This plugin also shows the total word count of content and also monitors SEO for title and descriptions of posts. With the plugin writing content, creating titles, and descriptions much easier.  And with the color coded indicator buttons, it was easy to see if my attempts at SEO were on the right track or not.  However, SEO cannot be adequately managed without better content. With Google’s new standards, the search engine will be far more selective about how it ranks post and information.

The Grammarly App

Another tool that is very useful for SEO, content creation, and management is the Grammarly program. Grammarly has a free version that installs as a plugin to most browsers and also has an extended paid version with many added features. These features allow the user to make informed decisions about how to use words, grammar, punctuation, and flags wordiness. It also claims to enhance vocabulary and grammar usage. As Grammarly flags issues, the user can remember how to use words or punctuation.  Also, there is a built-in search that can detect plagiarism and alert the writer or content provider that a text was copied.  If you have written content outsourced, it may be wise to paste it in Grammarly to see if the text is original or copied.

 Shopify SEO Manager

Artists who sell online have plugins that one can install with the store packages.  One of these would be the Shopify SEO Manager. Since SEO is important to ranking and sales, stores like Shopify, Etsy, and others have both plugins and free classes and resources on how to post items and create descriptions for products. Many have Google result simulators, page speed integration, site map management, and SEO issues scan built in. Many times when creating a post or descriptions, the artist would fill up the meta tags with as many keywords as possible.  Now with the new Google SEO standards, these types of loaded fields will have a lower ranking.  Even though these plugins can be somewhat costly, they offer simple solutions to the user to alert them if they are compliant or not. Users also post case studies, which can be very informative. Although some of the studies are sensationalized, one case study that I found very helpful was the creation of ThinkPup.

So as one can see even though it may take some time to learn SEO, there is much more help by the way of applications and plugins that can make writing content and listing products much easier for the artist.  These programs also can not only save time but take the guess work out of SEO, and if keywords or phrases meet the search requirements. The artist is then able to use some of this free time doing the things they enjoy, which is making quality art for his customers.

By  Al Wayman

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www.creekroadpottery.com

Welcome to Creek Road Pottery!

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We are happy that everyone has stopped by for a visit and we have been working on the website to get it ready for for future content.  We would like to thank everyone who took part in the pilot order program.  It was a big help as we find our areas of strengths and opportunities. It was always my dream to open a ceramic pottery and work clay.  Running an operation is hard work and keeping track of everything has been both fun and challenging. I have a full time job so the pottery is a part-time endeavor for now.

Currently I am working many areas of the business at once. Making the pots is only about thirty percent, the rest is learning to market yourself to customer segments that you would like to target. There are many areas we need to improve in.  One area is to add more glaze colors to the pallet I have.  When I started out running tests and composing a glaze I at first wanted to keep it simple so it would cut down on cost to the final prototype when it came to raw materials.  I was able to find a recipe with only four ingredients. However, this had to be modified to the clay body I was using.  The clay body had large amounts of Iron in it that would come out during the firings and interact with the oxides in the glaze.

Also there was, and still is, the issue of to much reduction in the kiln, causing both the clay and glaze body to go much darker then planned.  In the future I plan on allowing more space and air flow through the kiln to allow the glaze to oxidize and this should bring about the nice blue/green colors I am trying to achieve. Once I am able to get a few more of these challenges worked out the color should be more stable and add value to the ceramic ware.

A huge help was having small electric kilns that could be turned into gas updraft kilns by purchasing a simple kit (shown below).  This allowed me to have two kilns that can fire off twenty pound propane tanks with little effort. With the lower gas prices I am able to get two firings off one tank. The kits were easy to use and by cutting a simple hole in the center of both the top and bottom of the kilns and the process of firing was simplified.

 

Another big cost savings that happened quite by accident was the small gas kiln that I had in storage is built in sections.  This allowed me to run smaller loads of orders without using extra gas or waiting to fill a large kiln load like some of the larger potteries. I was able to simply take a ring or two off, place the lid on and fire one or two orders at a time. This add value to the customer experience because it cuts down on wait time, which I found when researching, can take up to 6 weeks for an order to arrive from a larger pottery.  My goal is to get custom orders down between two  or three weeks.

In the next few weeks we will be trying to mail out new orders and also researching how to improve packing and shipping.  Shipping charges currently are quite high due to the weight of the pots and extra packing material that is needed to ensure safe delivery.  We will be looking at some packing techniques used by others in the trade and also be researching some ideas that can simplify the whole process but still manage a high degree of quality. Currently the cold weather has delayed some firings.  With the sub freezing temperatures it was a worry that the small kilns would cool much to fast and cause cracks and crazing.

Stay tuned to win free pots as we do more prototype testing to find out what is important to people and what they like. Craftsmanship, Quality, and Customer Service are the big three items we are working on. We appreciate any feed back or ideas you may have.

Once again we thanks everyone for stopping by. I have a long way to go but am having a blast working with you all.  The guys have been upbeat about getting their pictures on the website.  There are even links to their Facebook pages so you can learn more about the team.  Once we get all the administrative things out of the way and streamline the process things should get mush easier. Once again thanks for all your support!  Be sure to leave a comment below and say hello!

 

– Al Wayman,

Creek Road Pottery