One of my son's favorite TV shows was The Science Channel's How It's Made. We'd often watch it together - amazed as those complex machines lifted, spun, cut, grouped and packed roll after identical roll of toilet paper, chain-link fence and hot dogs (eww.) We were both more impressed by the movement of the robots than the products they made.
Unlike the products featured on How It's Made, our pottery gifts are entirely handmade. Real, flawed human beings handle every step of its creation, from the Italian guys hand pressing, trimming & cleaning the clay to the New Hampshire gal who carefully wraps, packs & ships your finished platter.
All of this humanity means that everything about our pottery is imperfect. The shape is imperfect - some slightly misshapen, others embossed with the maker's finger prints. The painting is imperfect - humidity and temperature effect its thickness & viscosity. Since our studio is in an antique mill, if it's windy outside, it's windy inside. Even moving air effects the outcome. So does a bad night's sleep. The end result is that each piece is truly one of a kind. No two pieces are ever exactly alike, no matter how hard we try.
Our designs are produced on bisque - unfinished white earthenware clay that is hand pressed & kiln fired to 1900*. Our bisque arrives by shipping container, eventually finding its way to our noisy, dusty mill. It arrives by skid and the guy who delivers it knocks on the door in such a distinctive way, we all know who it is.
Since a 4x4 skid takes up half of the shipping area, we're usually in a big rush to get it out of there. Unpacked boxes are flattened for recycling, which is awesome because for years our boxes ended up in the dumpster. Once unpacked, each piece is carefully inspected for flaws. It's rare that a piece comes out of the box and onto the shelf without some work. Bumps and other small imperfections are smoothed away with a stilt stone. Irregular bottoms are leveled by rubbing the pottery foot across the abrasive surface of a kiln shelf. It's a noisy, grindy process and the air around the table gets cloudy with bisque dust.
Some flaws can't be repaired, including cracks and holes caused by small clumps of dry clay left on the press. Some of these rejects are returned to our distributor - some are donated to local teachers and artists. Only the hopelessly damaged pieces end up in the dumpster. We really hate throwing stuff away.
Before leaving receiving, a number of shapes get "striped" - penciled guidelines drawn on shapes destined for the cursive table.
In the last 10 years, I've devised a number of tedious, time consuming ways to stripe cursive guidelines on our plates. Our earliest system was simply a pencil line along a ruler, over and over again. This evolved into templates made out of stencil plastic and painter's tape. By far the most brilliant device is that little pencil-perforated gadget sitting on the table. In a moment of genius clarity, I saw us striping an entire plate in one motion. I built a rough prototype, worked out the bugs and eventually had working models built by the carpenter dudes down the hall.
The final step of our receiving process is stacking cleaned bisque on a cart and sending it to production. I'll show you the production side of things in another post. TTYL.