Category Archives: The Business of Pottery

Four Years of Pottery Blog!

How it All Began

It’s a bit of an anniversary for me… It’s been 4 years since I first started writing PotteryBlog.com. It all started about 4 and a half years ago at NCECA – Indianapolis. I had attended a number of panel discussions and lectures given by writers, editors and publishers of both books and magazines. I found myself inspired by the words I had heard throughout the week and the conversations had, but I wasn’t quite sure where to go with it. I knew that I wanted to write, but the time lines for traditional media didn’t appeal to me. Magazine articles usually took about a year to be published, and books could be 3-5 years. I wanted to go in the direction of something less formal and with more immediate feedback, for now.

On the trip home from Indianapolis, a conversation started with my friend Brian Boyer (programmer, writer and potter). He really felt that a blog was the direction to go in with my post-conference energy. Ian and I had many conversations at home and he had been urging me to start a blog throughout the previous year. My hesitation was that I didn’t know any other potter that was writing a blog about clay. A huge part of blogging was the connections with other bloggers writing in the same field. Blog writers are great blog readers, and when you begin to link to each other, your audience can grow exponentially. But after the conference, and my conversation with Brian, I realized that it was what I was going to do. And so I went home, registered the domain name: PotteryBlog.com, and soon I began to write. I had no idea where it was going to lead me, but I knew it was were I wanted to be at that moment.

A Slow Start

When I started this blog, I had to do a lot of educating. The question that I got from most of the clay folks that I talked to about my writing endeavors was “What’s a blog.” I guess it’s a question that I still get, but in the beginning it was the question that I got from everyone that I talked to about it. I continued to write for the next 2 years. Not on a super regular basis, but regular enough. A couple of years into it, I had that nagging feeling that maybe no one was reading my blog. A large part of writing a blog is personal, so theoretically, I would continue to write with or without readers. But when you send your words and images out there, you do hope that someone is reading them.

Why do I Blog?

The other top question that I get on a regular basis is: why? Why do I spend my time and energy into writing this blog. Why do I “give away information for free” (their words, not mine)? The answer is pretty simple: information is free. I would love to give away pots, but it’s not the most sustainable business model. Ian (my significant other of 12+ years) is an open source programmer. He’s rubbed off on me over the years. The idea with open source is that the programming code and/or the process of writing it are open for others to see and use and that by making it public, the larger community will benefit from the sharing of information and collaboration. With programming, you can easily do this regardless of geography. With clay, it’s not so obvious on how to do it, but I think blogging is has been a good way to do “open source ceramics”. If I give you a pot, now you have a pot and I don’t have that pot. But if I give you an idea then we both get to keep it.

The open sharing of ideas might be the overarching reason on why I write, but I’ve discovered many more benefits to blogging. I have found that writing has greatly impacted my work. The conversations I have with myself about my own work have grown and evolved, affecting the aesthetic decisions I make daily about my pots. As a visual artist I’m used to falling back on the thought that my work will speak for itself. I hope it does, up to a point, but there is something to be said for backing it up with words. And obviously not everything I write is that profound (like instructions on covering your remote with plastic). But when I have to be more serious and thoughtful about my words, like when writing an artist statement, it comes easier than it ever has before. The habit of writing makes writing easier.

Getting Re-energized

Two years after I began this blog, I once again found myself at NCECA (Louisville) and throughout the week had some amazing conversations with people that “knew me” from my blog. I suddenly realized that my blog posts were not just disappearing out there, but they were being received on the other end by ceramic artists that not only knew what a blog was, but were excited to be reading one that focused on clay! Once I had the knowledge that people were out there across both the US, but also around the world were reading, I was energize and completely dove into the blog.

When I got home I started writing more regularly. I also started to pay attention to the statistics on who was reading my blog. And I set up an email list so readers could automatically get an email with each post. Knowing people were out there on the other end really pushed me.

Some Nice Side Effects

I’ve had a website of my work, in one form or another for the past 9+ years. I used to be conflicted about having pots online. They are 3-dimensional and tactile; things that don’t usually go so well with the internet. I think that a blog helps add other dimensions to the piece. You can show the pieces in progress. Talk about the process of making. Show the pieces in use. Talk about inspirations and frustrations in making. Some of the blanks begin to fill in and the connection between maker, pot and user has grown stronger. Stronger than I ever could have imagined way back when I began my first adventures online.

There have been some great and unexpected side effects of writing my blog. It turns out that it is the best kind of publicity: it’s publicity as a side effect. I get to put my efforts into what I want to do: write, teach, share my work, and connect with others. And it just so happens that it’s publicity. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been asked to be in a number of invitational shows where the curators, jurors and gallery managers have found my work and gotten to know it through this blog.

It’s also allowed me to keep up with regular customers. They can check in and see what I’ve been up to easily. The email list, RSS feed and blog reader instructions have been really important. I wrote a while back about the concept of 1000 True Fans. I’m far from it, but my blog helps me on my path.

The Ceramic Blogging Revolution

Ever since my return from NCECA in Louisville 2 years ago, something really exciting is happening! The number of clay focused blogs has grown exponentially and an incredible international community of clay bloggers has developed. It’s a community that I feel very lucky to be a part of, to have these relationships with my readers and other pottery bloggers. I’m learning a lot, both technically and personally.

What’s Next

I have at least 6 other posts in progress, and another dozen ideas in my head, but if you ever have any suggestions, I’m glad to hear them and respond to them. I find that the more I write, the more I want to write (like this past week).

I will continue to have tutorials, studio updates and show announcements. But I’m also expecting the unexpected, just like when I began. You never know where life (or a blog) is going to take you.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please share your thoughts about pottery blogging with me and the other readers in the comments, it’s an important part of the process for me. It would be quite a different experience entirely for me if I wrote without comments. The posts would become static. This post doesn’t end with this sentence, it ends with the last comment at the bottom of this page.

Analyzing your Blog or Website

A brief follow up:

First of all, I want to thank everyone for the incredible response to this week’s posts, especially the overwhelming response to the Search Engine Optimization post. There is some great energy happening around the clay blogs this week- conversations starting had by commenting back and forth, linking and sharing of one another’s posts, and lots changes being made on the pottery blogs to improve search results. I’m so glad that it’s been useful and may have sparked the interest of some of you out there!

I have gotten several questions on why I am planning on making the switch from Blogger to WordPress. Luckily, Cynitha of Colorado Art Studio just happened to write this fantastic post today that just happens to answer this exact question in it. She made the switch a little while ago. It’s also a must read article if you were at all interested in my post earlier this week about SEO. I know it’s all a bit overwhelming, but you just need to jump in and start chipping away. (I’m reminding myself of this too.) One part of Cynthia’s answer that isn’t quite the same for me is that she was switching from a .blogspot account to her own domain so some of the growing pains won’t be the same for me since I am already using my own domain name (that will only really make sense if you read her post).

Cynthia also shared this fantastic website for anyone who has a website or blog: websitegrader.com
It seems like a great tool for telling you what you’re doing right with your site, what you need to do and how you’re doing in comparison to similar sites.(It doesn’t tell you this, but you’re limited to 2 comparison sites at a time.) And you can go back and see how your improvements are working. It pointed out to me some meta tag and descriptions that I’m missing. Oops! When I make the switch over to WordPress, I will put some serious time and energy into improving my ‘grade’. I’m feeling really excited and anxious to make these changes now, but I’ll be patient…

I will go into depth about this whole change over process when it actually happens. We’re leaving in a couple of days for a big trip, so I’ve decided it would be best to wait until we get back to do it. I was having flashing of breaking something in the move, and then being out of the country for a couple of weeks and the blog being broken the whole time.

Good luck to all of you working on your blogs!

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!

Yunomis and Postcards

A few updates:    

In a few hours (March 28, 2008. 10am ct) the Yunomi Invitational 2008 exhibition at Akar is opening online. You’ll find several of my tea bowls in their online exhibition(!). My artist statement & resume are up on Akar’s site now. I can’t wait to see the show tomorrow. My tea bowls are in very good company! More to come on the show…

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My friend, Gary Jackson, put together this wonderful super sized postcard for me to take to NCECA last week. If you’ve come upon my blog via this postcard, welcome! If you’d like to sign up for the potteryblog.com mailing list, just go here. If you sign up, you’ll automatically get an email whenever there is a new post. Or of course you can always sign up for the RSS or Atom feeds. I’m looking forward to hearing from the new readers out there. I’ve got a lot of interesting things in the works, many of which are responses to suggestions from potteryblog.com readers. Thanks for all of the emails and comments!

1000 True Fans

Thanks to BoingBoing, I found interesting article that seems applicable to ceramic artists.Kevin Kelly’s thesis is that one approach to make an good, steady living is to build up a base of 1000 “True Fans.”
from Kevin Kelly’s article:

  • A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

Each of these True Fans will spend, on average, $100 per year on your work. You end up with $100,000 gross annual income. After all the expenses (taxes, insurance, materials, show fees, etc…), you end up with a solid living.

1000 fans probably seems like an overwhelming number. But if you look at as 1 person per day for 3 years, that’s a little easier. Or maybe you have 500 True Fans that spend $200 per year. And it’s possible that you aren’t selling directly to that group. You can have super loyal fans that are buying your work through galleries and shops.

So how do you do it? I think the best possible way is to make direct connections with the buyer. It makes a lot of sense for potters. You’re making work that is meant to connect the maker with the buyer. Your artist statement, wording on your website, the writing on your Etsy shop can have a more personable tone to help establish that connection. The time that you spend meeting with customers at your studio, art fairs, gallery openings, workshops, classes, wholesale and retail shows are invaluable. And of course, a blog is a great way to connect with people :)
After you connect with people that really love your work, you’ll have to figure out ways to maintain and build up those relationships. Special sales and discounts. Early alerts to sales, personal emails, etc…

As a full time potter in the year 2008, I definitely get the questions (often from other artists): how do you do it? how do you make a living as a potter? This is an interesting way to look at it, and is an interesting approach to your business if you’re looking to build it up or try to
make it more stable.

I hope you take some time to read the article. Kelly goes into quite some depth and looks at different scenarios and ways to gain True Fans. What are your thoughts?

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!