Category Archives: How-to

Search Engine Optimization for Clay Bloggers

This is another big one, but if you (or someone you know) has a blog or website, or you are planning to one day, I think this information will be pretty valuable.
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When you write a clay focused blog, your intention is that someone out there will read what you’re writing. In the beginning you’ll have friends and family that will read your blog regularly. Then maybe some regular customers and other ceramic artists that you’ve gotten to know.

But if you want to have other people, people outside of your circle, start reading your blog, you need to put some effort into it. There is some straight up time that you need to invest, and then there is a bit of retraining yourself on how you blog to help get others to find your blog.

If I Google “Pottery Blog” or “Ceramics Blog” or some sort of similar thing, I’m surprised at the top 30 results. There are things that haven’t been updated in years or month, or ones that are sort of spammy. But some of my favorite (and I know highly read) pottery blogs aren’t near the top listings as they should be. Why aren’t they?

One of the reasons that I really love blogging is the community that has developed around it- of other bloggers, regular readers and commenters. I think if the ceramics blogs were a little easier to find it would just boost the community even more. So I thought I’d share with you some of the search engine optimization that I have researched and implemented over the years. There is a lot of information here, but it’s all basically free. You just need to put in some time and energy and you’ll get some great results. Here you go…

Have your own domain name.
This is something that I can’t stress strongly enough. Google doesn’t seem to index sites that are name.blogspot.com or name.wordpress.com very well so they can come up low in search results. And if your domain name has something in it like your name, or something describing your process, that will be an added bonus to help get better search results.

You can sign up for a domain name for only $12/ yr. on Joker.com (Network Solutions charges $35 for EXACTLY the same service). Or if you’re using WordPress.com, it’s $15 for your domain name and hosting for a year, or if you already have a domain name, then it’s only $10 for hosting/ yr. If you’re using Blogger, then it is no extra cost once you’ve purchased a domain name (hosting is free!), or you can buy your domain name directly through blogger. By purchasing your domain directly through WordPress or Blogger you’ll save a step in the whole process of setting up your own domain. It’s a VERY small investment for your biggest impact (think about the price of postcards…). And it’s a heck of alot easier to tell people your blog’s address. While I use Blogger, if I was starting a new blog I’d start with WordPress.

Label your pictures.
The top 3 ways people get to PotteryBlog.com:

  1. Google
  2. Direct (bookmark, email, typing in address)
  3. Google images

I label all of my pictures very conciously. I might name something: stoneware-vase-soda-fired-Emily-Murphy.jpg* It’s long, but Google likes all the descriptor words and my images come up very high in search results. There was a period of training that I had to go through, but it’s second nature now and doesn’t take much extra time. I mix it up too. Use “sodafired” and “soda-fired” or maybe I’ll throw in “Chicago” or “pottery.” It allows different pictures to show up in different search results.

*You might have noticed the dashes in my image name. You can’t have any spaces in your image name (at least in Blogger you can’t). Use a “-” or “_” to separate words.

Watch your language.

  • Diversify your words. This is another one of those things that you have to train yourself on. Words. Google loves words. Words are the main reason that your blog/site will show up in search engines. If you just have pictures with minimal text, Google won’t pay that much attention. That isn’t such an issue with blogs. But what you can do is diversify your words. For example, don’t just use the word pottery: use clay, ceramics, tableware, stoneware, porcelain, dinnerware, pots, etc… mix it up. Do this conciously at first and eventually it’ll flow when you write. Below I have some information on Google Analytics. One thing that you can see on Google Analytics is the key words and phrases that people are using to find your site. Maybe you think that everyone is searching the term “pottery” because that is your go-to search term. But you might find out that everyone else is looking up “honey pot” and “wax resist.” You just don’t know what people are searching for, but if you diversify, you’ll have better results. You might be inspired to write about wax resist more often because that is what people are searching for.
  • Use straightforward titles for your post. The title becomes the url for your post. If it’s full of useful information, it’ll do better in search results. If you use WordPress and your url has %P=5 or something like that in it, there is an easy setting that you can change so you have better urls.
  • Use actual text, not images. This one is a problem on a lot of websites. You want to have control over the fonts, so you turn your address (for example) into a nice little graphic. Unfortuately it makes it so Google can’t “read” your address.

Get incoming links.
Incoming links give you status. Along with the words that you use, it’s the top thing that gets you up high in search results. You can get them for “free, ” you can pay (not something that I do), or you can link to someone and have them link to you (sometimes it’s reciprocal, sometimes not).

  • Sign up for various blog search engines. It won’t actually get you much traffic via the sites, but it is usually a free incoming link (just Google “free blog listings” or “blog search engines”, etc…) Here is a list of search engines by type. It might give you some ideas.
  • Link to your blog from your social networking site, like Facebook. You can even add your RSS feed on different sites, like here.
  • StumbleUpon. This is huge. I’m always surprised and the number of visitors I have from StumbleUpon. I don’t even know how to expain it. Just go there and see. There are days when it’s my #1 referrer.
  • Link from your regular site to your blog (sounds obvious, but it must be said).
  • Link to other people’s blog. Share a link to a specific post on their blog on your blog. Be GENEROUS with your links. And then be patient, they’ll come. I’m not a fan of asking someone directly “I’ll link to you, if you link to me.” Put it out there and it’ll come back to you (both good Karma and links). The top referrer sites for my blog (outside of Google and my own site) are Michael Kline’s blog and Ron Philbeck’s blog.
  • Comment on other people’s blogs. Do it because you want to, but enjoy the side effects. People are more likely to read your blog if comment on yours. They want to see who is reading their blog, so they’ll follow the links. There is often a place for your website to be listed. Or at least a link to your Blogger Profile where a link to your blog can be found. And it’s also the best way to be part of the great and generous community of clay bloggers. Some great conversations happen all happen in the comments. The more comments you put out there, the more that you’ll get on your site. And commenting is good for the soul.
  • Combine the previous two points- comment on a blog on your website (with links and everything). It could be the start of a great conversation.

Think local.
One of the main reasons that you have a clay blog is to get your work known in the world. People that live near you are the ones most likely to come to your booth at an art fair or stop by your studio when it’s holiday shopping time. Make it clear where you’re from, and get it out there that you’re a potter/ tile maker/ sculptor who live in mid-size city, USA. And if one of your loyal blog readers happen to be visiting you mid-size city, they’ll be excited to come visit you.

  • Are there blog sites just for your area? (For me there are several, including: ChicagoBloggers.com and ChicagoBlogMap.com.)
  • Do you belong to a guild, art group or some other group that has a website that will link to you?
  • Are there free papers and sites that you can list in for “things to do” or “galleries”?
  • Is there a local tourism site?
  • Put your studio address on every page (usually a footer) so that search engines can associate your pages with your location.

Encourage your readers.
Once you have people hooked on your blog, you want to make it EASY for them to keep up with your bountiful postings. There are 2 main ways to do it.

  • Use an email list. Clay people aren’t necessarily blog readers, but you want them to be. The easiest way to do this is to set up an mailing list where people can sign up to automatically get an email from you whenever you write a new post. I think there is also a way to do a mailing list through FeedBurner. I have mine set up through Google Groups (go here if you want to see it or sign up for it).
  • Have an RSS or Atom feed and encourage people to use it! If you don’t have a feed, people are going to have to remember to come back to your blog and read it. There is so much to remember to do, don’t make people remember to manually go back to you blog to see if you wrote or not. I read 90% of my blogs through my blog reader. For more information on using a blog reader, go here.
  • Remember that clay blogs are still pretty new and there is still a lot of educating to be done. Do some educating on how to keep track of blogs. If you don’t want to write about it, you can alway share the link to my post about the subject.

Is anybody out there?
A common feeling that is had by anyone who blogs is that no one is reading it. Well, it just isn’t true. There are ways to find out who is reading your blog. When you start getting back the results and realize that people from all over the world are reading your blog, you’ll be energized and you’ll write even more than usual.

Just remember, it’ll take time- usually up to a month, to start getting true results from these sites.

  • Google Analytics. I LOVE Google Analytics! I can find out where people are coming from from countries to actual cities and towns. I can see all incoming links to me, find out how long they were on the site, etc… I love seeing the key words and phrases too. Some can be quite surprising.
  • Google Webmaster. I haven’t figured this out, but you should sign up for it and see what it does for you. It has some tools to help Google see content on your site. Some of what it does is handled automatically by the blog software.
  • Feed Burner A good way to manage your RSS/Atom feeds, and potentially a mailing list. You can also find out how many people are subscribed to your feed. If people are reading your blog via a blog reader, they will not show up on your Analytics results. You need something like this to find that out.
  • Technorati I can easily keep track of all my incoming links (from other blogs) on here.
  • Quantcast I just discovered this, so I don’t have enough info to know if it’s good or not.

I hope this was helpful to you. I suspect this will be one to bookmark and take a while to go through (if you’re a blogger). If there are some tips and tricks that you use, share them and I’ll update this post. Although I am talking about search engine optimization for clay bloggers, it’s applicable for websites and non-ceramic focused sites too. If you think that other people might find this post useful, put a link to it up on your site. Thanks for reading!

Protect your remotes.

(This is one of those things that might be obvious…) 

Remotes are pretty important in a clay studio. They keep you from actually pushing any buttons on the stereo and causing a premature death of the stereo (I speak from experience on this, several times over). But the remotes can get crusty too, so you have to protect them.

You need plastic wrap (although I don’t actually suggest the kind pictured below, it’s just what I had in my studio), scissors, tape and of course, your remote.

You can use plastic wrap, dry cleaner plastic, a clear plastic bag. It will tear eventually, so 2 layers of plastic is suggested.

Generously tape up the folded ends on the back of the remote (I hope that’s obvious!).

And voila! You’ve got a fully protected remote! The sensor part works perfectly through 2-3 layers of plastic. If you use a thinner plastic wrap than I did it will be a pretty tight fit.

Enjoy the tunes!

Masked Mugs

I’m getting ready for a soda firing next week…. and that means that the big pieces are drying and I’m focusing on the smaller pieces, like mugs that will dry more quickly. So many mugs…
I use masking tape on a lot of my work to mask out slip areas. Each side of the mug is different from the opposite side, and all the mugs are different from one another. You can see the mess of masking tape that is sticking to my table after I’ve finished up with a baker’s dozen of mugs. (A mess… but a satisfying mess.) I was excited to find masking tape in about 6 different widths last week. Oh the possibilities!

I’ll post pictures of the finished mugs after next week’s firing! Hopefully there will be a bunch of goodies to show you (and maybe finally some pots will be up on my Etsy page!).

The Quarter Trick

This is a little trick that I picked up from my friend Jordan Taylor for throwing platters. I find it extremely useful so I thought I would pass it on to all of you and maybe you’ll find it useful too.

The quarter trick solves three problems that arise from throwing platters:

  • Instead of having to both wedge and center one large mass of clay, you can break it down into two pieces which reduces the strain on your body
  • It helps you more easily judge the thickness of the floor of the platter and adds consistency if you’re doing multiples.
  • And it allows you to compress the floor of the platter REALLY well so you don’t have to worry about any future problems of cracking.
So here is the quarter trick
Wedge up and center your first lump of clay. This piece is going to be the floor of your platter. I used 8 lbs of clay which gives me a slightly narrow but thick foot (great for putting holes into so you can hang it). You can vary the weight depending on the ultimate size of your platter. But I find that the 8 – 9 lb. range works for a variety of sizes of platters since the size foot isn’t necessarily that different.

 

Center your clay and compress the heck out of the floor. Place a quarter in the center of your centered clay (I use a 1974 quarter). 
Wedge up your second piece of clay and place it on top of the quarter. I tend to use between 8 – 12 lbs. of clay for this second piece, depending on the ultimate shape of the platter. 
Open up the platter and establish the curve.
TAKE OUT THE QUARTER!!!!
And clean it off so it doesn’t become part of your reclaim. (I speak from experience on this one.)  

Then finish off your platter as usual and be aware of the thickness of the floor.

This platter isn’t actually the platter that is throw above. That platter is sitting in my studio waiting to be trimmed. But this platter was thrown in the same way.

Surface Decoration Techniques: faceting with a wire.

Faceting the walls of pots is a great way to change the surface of a piece. The facets can be highlighted with atmospheric firings and glazes that break on high points. There are many ways to facet a pot – wet or leather hard, with a wire or a special faceting tool, with a straight wire or a curly wire. Each choice will give you a different final look. I do have a personal preference for faceting while wet. If you facet right on the wheel after your piece is thrown, you can still alter the shape while pushing out from the inside of the piece and you can “re-throw” the lip which is great for a drinking vessel! And if you happen to go through the wall of your pot, you can still re-wedge the clay and try again. 

Below are images of a sample cup of wire faceting techniques:

 

top left: a curly wire that I made that you can see in a previous blog post.
top right: a Bill Van Gilder Wiggle Wire.
bottom left: a Mud Tool straight wire tool.
bottom right: a Mud Tool curly wire

And below you can see the finished result of the sampler cup:
clay body: Lillstreet Soda Clay
firing: soda fired, c. 10 reduction
slip: top half dipped in Bob Briscoe’s Slip for all Occasions
glaze: rutile blue
This is part of my “Surface Decoration Technique” series.
I have been creating, soda firing and documenting simple straight sided cylinders with a variety of surface treatments for examples for my classes and this blog. The original idea was to create demos to show students that aren’t specifically “my pieces.” The fun result of this project has been that it’s given me an excuse to return to things long forgotten and to try some new techniques.
Watch out for upcoming tutorials with lots of pictures and slip and glaze recipes. 

How to: make a cut off wire

I have some issues with the standard cut off wire. They can break and it usually isn’t easy to replace the wire. Sometimes you need a longer wire to cut off a big platter. And sometimes you want something different from you wire – either a thinner wire or maybe something that will add texture.

To make a cut off “wire” that fits your needs, this is what you need to get started:

  • A pair of corks. I prefer the rubber wine corks.
  • A drill with a small drill bit.
  • A wire of some sort: fishing line, thin wire, a stretched out spring.**
Drill a hole into the center of your cork.    

Thread your cord, wire or spring through the cork. If you’re using fishing line, thread it through multiple times and tie a couple of knots. If you’re using beading wire, use a crimp bead. If you’re using a spring or other single ply wire, twist the wire after you thread it through the cork.


An added bonus: they float!
Next blog post will have some images of the wires in action.

**Some ideas for “wires:”
  • Fishing line of whatever thickness you prefer. You can find it as hardware stores, Target, craft stores, sporting good stores, etc…
  • If you prefer to have an actual wire, beading wire is perfect! There are a bunch of different brands out there. Look for multi-strand braided wire. You can find it at craft stores and anywhere they sell beads. Or you can find it here.
  • To make a wavy texture wire, you need to find a spring that is made from a thin gauge wire that will be easy to stretch out. I have found the BEST springs at one of my favorite stores – American Science Surplus in Chicago (and they only cost 20 cents!). Unfortunately, they don’t sell the exact wire online, but you can get a package of assorted springs from them here, and I’m pretty sure that you can find something that’ll work in the package.

Check out some more of my “How to” posts. If you have any suggestions for future tutorials, send me an email or add a comment!

A Happy Soda Firing

I fired last week. When I’m done glazing, but before I load the soda kiln, I sit down and roll hundreds of wads for the bottom of my pieces. It always takes a ridiculously long amount of time. Time when I’m feeling a bit anxious about getting things done on schedule. When I was rolling my wads for this last kiln, it was a sunny day, and the morning sun was hitting them in the most beautiful way. I took this picture to share with all of you. My happy spin on a less than fun job.


Wadding Recipe
for the soda kiln (pretty standard) (by volume):
  • 1 part EPK
  • 1 part alumina hydrate
  • medium grog to taste (not really, but you know what I mean…)

I roll my wads ahead of time and put them in a plastic container (the ones from the local Thai take-out place are the best). Then I glue them to the bottoms of pots before loading (Elmer’s glue). Breaking up the wadding into steps keeps my hands cleaner and helps me avoid the problem of getting wadding where it doesn’t belong.

A shot of the front of the kiln. It was an interesting firing. I reduced the amount of soda that I added by about 25% or so.

(new) Soda Mixture:

  • 1.75 lbs. of soda ash
  • 2.25 lbs. of soda bicarb
  • 4 lbs. of whiting

Mixed together with 1/4 of a 5 gallon bucket of wood chips. Mix together well, then add enough water (while mixing) to the consistency of oatmeal cookie dough. I add it on an piece of angle iron through the ports on the front of the kiln when c. 9 is soft. (More on this in a future post.)

Below are some tea bowls that I got out of this firing. 


How to: Make a texture roller for clay

This project is instant gratification. Something that is not that common in the world of clay. With this texture roller, you can use it as soon as the hot glue has cooling, which is very fast. It’s a great project to do in a class, or on your own so you have a custom tool that no one else has.

Supplies:

  • a roller of some sort (cut up pieces of PVC, empty rolls of tape, couplings for PVC, plastic rolling pins from the dollar store or craft store).
  • a sharpie.
  • a hot glue gun. They only cost a couple of bucks.
  • extra hot glue sticks.

Draw your pattern onto the rolling pin. It’s easier to work out the pattern before with a Sharpie than it is later with the hot glue. Think about some sort of connected pattern, they tend to have the best results. And don’t go overboard with the lines, you’ll regret it later. And remember that the hot glue line aren’t going to be perfect, so just go with the imperfection.

While you’re drawing, plug in your hot glue gun. Make sure that you do it on a surface that you can toss when done, like newspaper or cardboard. When you’re done drawing on your design, start gluing. Be a bit heavy handed with the glue. If the lines are too thin, they won’t show up on the clay as well.

After the glue seems cool, start rolling away… The first attempt might stick a bit, but after there is some dusty clay on the roller, it won’t really stick.

If you’re not a hand builder, a nice use for one of these textured slabs is in the bottom of a thrown and altered casserole.

Useful web tools for the potter

There are some great web tools out there for ceramic artists that are simple, straightforward and easy to use; not unlike a good pot. You probably aren’t surprised that I spend a lot of time both in my studio and online. When a question or problem arises in my studio, I head to Google.

I have put together a collection of these (free!) tools that I use to make fast work of some of the less fun parts of clay- like glaze chemistry and shipping.

Get ready to do some bookmarking!

calculations for the ceramic artist:
Celsius to Fahrenheit calculator and vice versa
weight conversions (grams to pounds, etc…)
basic glaze calculatorMetric/Imperial Converter
metric/ imperial converter from Clayzee
volume calculator – how much does that pitcher hold?

shipping:
compare carriers on iShip. Figure out the best deal on shipping your pots.
USPS postage calculator
UPS time and cost calculator

firing information:
Orton Cone Chart – pdf download
firing temperature color chart – pdf download
firing chart – what happens to clay

other helpful things:
This to That – tips of what sort of glue you should use (surprisingly useful)
Picasa – a FREE photo organization program that makes it easy to edit, print & upload images. A program that I can’t imagine owning a digital camera without.
Doodle – create a poll and figure out the best time for a meeting. I have used this a lot when organizing meeting times for an organization (like a guild or co-op).


If you have any web tools that you like to use, send me the link!

Simple Tweaks to a Better Wheel Set-up

I have seen too many potter friends suffer with back problems over the years. It’s made me be very conscious about the health of my back and my efforts to stop any problems before they begin. Every potter who throws at a wheel has a different set-up. Although mine is based on a pretty traditional set-up, I have tweaked it enough to be both a more efficient work space and back friendly.
You might notice that there is a 2nd wheel in the background. I have a throwing wheel and a trimming wheel. I love being able to move back and forth between the two wheel and not have to clean up and change the set up. I keep either my Giffin Grip or my foam bat on my trimming wheel. I have it set up in the corner of my studio so I do not track any clay trimmings around my studio.

I know many potters who throw standing up to alleviate any potential back problems. For me this just creates another problem from being on your feet all the time. I think the most important thing I can do is to constantly change my tasks (throwing, trimming, wedging, decorating, glazing, paperwork, cleaning, etc…) and my sitting and standing positions throughout the day. Sometimes I will even give up efficiency for this.

Another thing that I did to help keep my back happy is to get a new throwing stool. After a ridiculous amount of research, I found this great potter’s stool: Artisan S-2 Stool that I bought from Clay King. It’s totally adjustable- both the height and the tilt. It tilts your hips into your work so your back can stay nice and straight. This has made a HUGE difference for me. I also put my non-pedal foot on a brick to keep me balanced and symmetrical.

You might have also noticed from the picture the mirror in front of my wheel. I started doing this a couple of years ago and it has also made my throwing life much happier. It took me about 2 days to get used to it (I had to remember to look up!). It stops me from constantly cranking my head over to the side to see what my piece looks like. It also makes a huge difference in the forms that I thrown. I can see exactly what is happening by looking straight ahead. You can make sure that each piece you throw actually has the shape that you think it does. The result is that both me and my pots have better posture. My back and neck are straighter and my pots end up having more lift.

I feel like I’ve lost a lot of time over the years looking tools on the other side of my splash pan. To stop this problem from continuing, I built this little shelf on the right side of my wheel. All the tools I use regularly are kept right there- nice and easy for me to find. (The mini-Altoids tin is perfect for a pair of bat bins). The tools in the picture are on the list of “clay tools that I cannot live without.” (I’ll talk about that in another post.) This little shelf mean less bending forward trying to search for the clay covered rib that has slipped under the splash pan…. My throwing bucket sits right in front of the shelf also for easy access (I’m right handed).

I realize how much I miss my tweaked space when I am teaching and do not have this set up.
A couple of (cheap!) things that you can do, even if it’s in a shared space, like a classroom:

  • Tilt a standard throwing stool by sticking a 2 x 4 under the back 2 legs. You can even drill into the wood about 1/4 – 1/2 an inch so the stool won’t accidentally slip off the wood.
  • Get a mirror. A hardware store, thrift store or Ikea are all great places to find a mirror. The just lean it up against whatever is in front of the wheel- shelves, a table, a wall. You’ll really see a difference in your throwing, and your back might be a bit less achy.
  • Keep your tools and water bucket on a stool next to your wheel. You can keep the stool clean by putting a bat on top of the stool, and tools and bucket on top of that.

update (10/29/07)- a post from John Zentner about his standing wheel set-up on his blog pots and other things.

update (10/30/07)- another great post from Anne Webb at Webb Pottery about her favorite tools and her wheel set-up.

update (10/30/07)- an article from the archives of Studio Potter magazine on back problems and potters.

update (10/31/07)- a post from Jeanette Harris about tools that she can’t do without.