MATCH STRIKER VIDEO
“Who cares?” This is the question I ask myself all the time. Who cares about the work I do or anybody does? How do we as a craft community share and grow as a field? How do we get others to care about the things we care about? As social media becomes increasingly omnipresent and critical to small businesses, these questions about the relationship between internal passion and external outreach become more pressing and relevant.
Over the course of the past two years, photography has inched back into my ceramics studio practice through the photo-based social media app, Instagram, where one posts their own images and view those of others from all over the world in real, or almost real, time. It can be a marketing tool for businesses, but more interestingly, an educational one because content can be rich and easily digestible.
The unique tactility of ceramic material and the many steps involved in the process make it easy to show with vivid clarity how beautiful many moments are in making anything out of clay. As a way to promote ceramics and my pots on Instagram, I try and pay particular attention to parts of the process that will never be seen in the final piece. The corkscrew of trimmed clay, the viscous splash of slip, the gear-like shadow of a scalloped plate edge as it rotates on the wheel.
I’ve often advocated for new ways to present pots by taking them out of their staid, uniform backgrounds and into the untidiness of real life. How do we as makers fashion visual stories for our work? How did we present them as the complex objects that they are and imagine the countless contexts that they can and will be put in as independent objects? As a marketing experiment, I recently posted a single pot daily on Instagram to announce a new listing in my Etsy shop. The surprise was that it worked as a sales tactic, even when the pot wasn’t shot in any kind of straightforward way. In fact, some were hardly visible or were only shadows, but they ostensibly held up as beautiful images that led to people checking the listing. Pushing the idea of pots in real life one step further, in some images I also allowed myself the liberating shift from photographer to art director, something I’d only done in promotional postcards and videos. I used Photoshop liberally to support the concept in an image, not simply adjust exposure. The absurd became a way to garner laughs in an attempt to take the stuffiness out of product shots.
Like any tool, Instagram can be used poorly, or be a great resource to show technique, life style, objects, aesthetic, and engage about ideas. It’s perfect for those of us with dirty, clay-splattered hands, who have room in our pockets for a smart phone through which to engage the world and share pieces of our lives. I’ve developed a kind of Instagram guide by which I filter content and decide what to post, because it keeps me on track and hopefully the quality of images and content high. We all engage in social media for different reasons, so if you just had a baby or just fell in love, disregard the manifesto. This is geared toward the maker who’s marketing online, so adjust for your own interests and remember that there are exceptions to everything. Although these tenets may seem negative, they’re designed to fight mediocrity, make the experience more effective, and keep today’s identity-obsessed ego in check.
THE INSTAGRAM GUIDE
1. The first question is always “what is the value?” What does this post contribute? There are so many ways to answer this question, but if you don’t have an answer or don’t believe in it, no one else will either. Approach postings from the viewpoint of a total stranger who knows nothing about you now or your past. This emphasizes the need to post interesting content or a compelling picture. Assume that no one cares about the minutiae of your life. Ask “who cares?”, and your gut will tell you.
2. Post from the heart. Same goes for work and don’t anticipate the audience.
3. Share something interesting and educational. This might take a little extra energy in research time, but it’ll be worth it. And unless it’s completely self-explanatory, include a description or more information about what your relationship to the subject is.
4. If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it at all. Waiting until the right image comes along is better than pushing through a crappy picture to meet a self-imposed deadline. This standard can fluctuate, which is ok, but if you have serious doubts, opt not to post.
5. Try to pace your images. No one is waiting for you to post. And don’t post more than five images a day (though in prolific periods, it’s necessary). 1-3 times a day is ideal.
6. No selfies. If you’re a super model, you’re allowed to post two self-portraits a year, but the rest of us should limit it to one annually (if at all). Unless you’re under twenty-six (supposedly the age of American adulthood), too many selfies comes across as narcissistic. Sometimes it’s nice to see the face behind the postings, but what really counts is substance.
7. Don’t journal unless the image either has a timeless quality or its immediacy is relevant and helpful. Unless it’s breaking news that people might care about or you’re participating in a larger event, the image should hold its own a year from now, not just for the next ten minutes. No one cares about your lunch unless you’re a professional chef or you’re eating bugs.
8. Take time to make your image beautiful. Don’t post grainy, unclear images unless they’re good grainy, unclear images. Personally, I don’t care about iPhone-only shots, I just care about good quality images that don’t have foggy or refracted starbursts from a greasy iPhone lens.
9. Pick the quintessential image. Instead of posting a dozen (or even three) different angles of the same thing, choose the shot that says it all. Keep this tenet in mind when you take the picture in the first place.
10. Pictures should be able to stand alone as beautiful compositions. The exception to this is straight documentation, in which case, say something interesting in the caption.
11. See your Instagram gallery as a whole work of art. Think about the grid and how choosing and sticking with one filter unifies the entire gallery. Think about segues and the flow between pictures left to right and even top to bottom.
12. Post lifestyle pictures when they help others get a better sense of how your world contributes to your art and how they’re intertwined.
13. Post pictures of things that inspire and why. Our aesthetics are much more than the mediums in which we make. Start to make connections between things both for yourself and your audience.
14. Limit family and pet pictures. It’s great to see the friends and family, but we don’t need to see them all the time unless they’re directly relevant to your work. Exceptions include funny pictures and cute ones too (I know, so subjective). There can’t be enough laughter in one day.
15. Let people into your creative decision-making. Sometimes it’s really interesting to crowd source ideas and let people in at that vulnerable stage when you’re trying to make a decision. Of course you don’t have to take their advice.
16. Show moments in the process that you love. Sharing your love of making is the best thing in the world and will translate.
17. Moments of natural wonder never get old. Lens flares are in this year, but might not be next year, so get your perfect angle into the sunset now. Personally, I love seeing pictures of summer from the southern hemisphere during January in the northern hemisphere.
18. Be a part of the community and not a snob. The fantastic thing about Instagram is that it’s more of a meritocracy than Facebook. Content matters more than who you know. Having someone from half way around the planet let you into their world is a privilege. Yes, you’ll want to curate who you follow to some degree in order to not miss those feeds you love the best, but follow for the sake of their photos alone.
19. Like other people’s pictures liberally. Likes are free and are a great way to support your community. All upside and no downside.
20. Embrace the randomness of Instagram. You never know what you’ll see at any given moment. This allows you to follow a hash tag from anywhere and anyone. It’s the much-needed modern version of flipping through an encyclopedia in the good old analog days. #heyandhavefun
Please note that this was originally published in the 2014 NCECA Journal and has been modified slightly.
A month ago, Christa Assad, a fellow potter, broke her back when she jumped off of the second story porch of her house that was on fire. She lost all her possessions; she lost her clothes, documents, family heirlooms, everything. For the next three months at least, Christa is confined to a stiff brace, so that her back can heal.
The ceramics community is tight and operates like a close-knit family. It’s also the warmest, most generous community I’ve ever known and so when collectively we heard about about her accident, the first response most of us had was one of deep empathy and a desire to help someone who has has been such a dynamic, giving force within the community. Christa’s pots have soul, while still retaining technical perfection and a sense of invention. More recently, she’s been making socio-political sculptural work about the conflict in Syria and its connection to her own heritage. Not only is she a great maker, but she’s an amazing showman in the best possible way, giving style and life to what is often a fairly solitary pursuit. Whether you’ve only had the pleasure of seeing her on stage or have worked with her for many years, Christa is family.
For the next month, until April 1st, myself and a few friends have set up a donation page to go toward Christa’s living expenses, medical bills, and rehab costs for the near term. We’re also collecting money for artists who want to raffle off their work for Christa. The plate above, with the drawing of one of Christa’s classic teapots, is my piece for her raffle.
A big, fat thank you to the ceramics community and all friends of Christa’s for rallying around a friend who is family!
Update as of March 31, 2014: Christa is in great positive spirits and healing well! Her financial situation is still unclear, however. We have been amazed and blown over by the incredible financial support and are now at almost $48,00, well beyond the $15,000 goal we had set. Below is a picture I took during my demonstration at NCECA where the audience is making a C for Christa. We missed her presence there and took a moment to send her our love.
Hello, hello from the new studio!! All is well and I’m working as hard as I can to build up some inventory in both earthenware and porcelain. This holiday season, there are a few ways to buy my pots:
First, I’ll be trickling work out on Etsy through posts on Instagram from now until December 15th. Instagram has become a staple for me in terms of staying in touch with people and in hopes of getting more of you on board, I’m posting about these single pots on Instagram alone. I’ll post on Facebook later, but Instagram will be the first place to get news. Download the app on your smart phone, follow my feed, and you’re good to go.
On Sunday, December 15th, I’m in a craft show called Picnic in Portland, Maine so if you’re in the area , stop by and say hello.
The big holiday sale will be Tuesday, December 17th at noon EST on my shop. Don’t worry, I’m a fast packer and your pots will be to you before Christmas.
Special thanks to the talented Mike Wilson for making my 2013 postcard! I’m a child of the 70′s, what can I say?
Here I am again at the family cottage where I first landed a year ago last June. The cottage is an old friend with its distinct, musty smokiness, with its little spit of rock that juts into a little cove. There is a constancy here that’s a kind of anchor in my life. I decided to come home to Maine not only for the most important reason of caring for family, but also because I needed both a reconnection to the past that the cottage embodies and a major change.
Lately I’ve been thinking not about the exciting sort of change or the unwanted sort of change, but about the uncomfortable, gambatte sort. For the past few months, I’ve been taking swing dance classes a few nights a week. As an introvert, this is far beyond my normal comfort zone for a number of reasons and there is dependably one moment a week where I cringe inside (at myself, not anyone else). When I do, I remind myself that I want to be good at this thing that I don’t have an innate talent for, because I really love doing it. The fun trumps the cringe or as they say in class, “ the road to Coolsville is through Geeksville”.
I have a theory that almost all potters had an affinity for sports and video games as kids, developing their hand-eye coordination naturally. Although I’ve always felt confident making and doing with my hands, coordinating my feet, in fact my entire body and my brain on top of that, is a struggle. The mental exhaustion I felt the first few weeks of class and continue to experience after a few hours is similar to learning to throw pots, except much more humbling and challenging.
No one miraculously gets to be a good potter without having had (and continuing to have) the discipline to practice repetitively for hours on end, days on end. Gaining skill is inherent to craft and part of the cycle of problem solving and problem making that Richard Sennett talks about in “The Craftsman”. As soon as we master or solve one difficulty, we create another in order to move forward. Because being a cold beginner is not a position I’ve put myself in for years, it’s both fascinating to me as an educator and exactly what I need at this juncture in my career and in my life. The reality is that my stomach for failure ebbs and flows. On the nights where it feels less tolerable, I call it quits early knowing this is a long term commitment. Some nights, the gambatte spirit kicks in to pull me through, while other nights it feels easy because I get lost in the simple pleasure of moving. Thankfully, the trajectory of my development from a beginning ceramics student who sanded off the skin on their hand to where I’m at now is not in the too distant past. I can already see that I’ve come a long way at the same time as I can see how far I have to go.
I love the total focus that dance demands, the escape from the digital world into the kinesthetic. There is no question of not being present. The space of being present is a track that is being replowed in my mind, a track that has gotten caved in like a collapsing snowbank with distractions and superfluous details. When I was first in the studio as a student, I was fortunate that it was before cell phones tugged at our attention constantly. I practiced and practiced until I could intuit how much pressure I needed to make the floor on a cup or how to complete a scalloped ridge on the side of a bowl. That kind of proprioception, the act of muscle memory where doing replaces thinking and we know subconsciously what our body is doing, is what I’m looking for in dance because when a good dancer dances, it appears to be a holistic joy boiled down to its essence. Being able to intuit something leads to much more complex and interesting questions. I trust my gut all the time with aesthetic decisions ranging from the height of a beam, the color of a finial, or the exposure of an image. What I want now is to have that proprioception about body and movement that transcends studio tools and existing artistic frameworks. I’m afraid of complacency in the studio and dance is a force against it. Our value as craftsmen lies not in the objects we create but in the capacity we have to recreate well-made stuff again and again. Not only that, but when we have conditioned intuitions, we can play, and playing is what life is about.
In moving to Maine, what’s become clear to me in pushing past my comfort zone is that it’s more possible because of the reciprocity I feel with this place. There is such an abundance of beauty in Maine that I feel fed from many angles- the people, the land, the ocean, the architecture, and the objects. My new studio is getting close to being done and will be another kind of beginning. Every day I wake up and count my blessings.
Thanks to GlobalGiving, our charity for Handmade For Japan, you’ll be able to triple the impact your money has when you win this cup of mine in an eBay auction slated to end on Monday, March 11th at 9pm est. If you donate before midnight, March 11th, GlobalGiving will match your donation 200%, so $25 becomes $75! And even if you don’t participate in the auction, please consider donating, even if it’s $10. Every little bit helps!
March 11th marks the two year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami that devastated the region north of Tokyo and claimed upwards of 19,000 lives. While there has been some progress with infrastructure in the region, there’s still much to be done to rebuild livelihoods and normalcy, especially for children in Tohoku and those in Fukushima. The Japanese government has received much deserved criticism for its slowness to help evacuees and its continued lack of transparency regarding issues of radiation in Fukushima. GlobalGiving is funding almost two dozen Japanese organizations dedicated to making the lives of Tohoku residents better. Some of these charities include leadership training for local youth, support for orphanages, broadening radiation sensor networks, and connecting aspiring entrepreneurs with local business leaders to stimulate economic recovery at a local level.
This porcelain love bird cup with silver luster will go up for auction on eBay on Sunday, March 10th at 9pm and end a day later at 9m est on Monday, March 11th. The bidding will start at its retail value of $160 and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to GlobalGiving who will match it 200%.
I’m pleased to announce that the winning bid was $668, so with the double matching grant, $2004 was made for GlobalGiving’s Japan Fund. Thanks everyone for spreading the word and bidding!