Shipping Woes

I shipped 70 packages before having a single break! 🙂

But then had 3 break in one month. 🙁

Message from Etsy User with photo of broken bowl

The main difference in that month is that I started buying boxes. As business was picking up, it was getting too hard to find a good quality, proper size recycled box each time I was shipping something. I bought some boxes in various sizes from a local box company and then…3 breaks.

As you can imagine, I’m one person making pottery, so each time something breaks, it’s a major loss. Not only have I put lots of work and thought into each piece, but I’m only just now making multiples of each piece. 2 of the breaks, I had to make the pieces again from clay, so that’s about 2 weeks until they get a replacement.

Initially, I thought it was the boxes, but I now think the answer was that I was using the smallest box possible for each shipment, instead of focusing on safety.

I posted my question to a very large online pottery group and got lots of different answers, but the majority said to use more packing materials, use only new packing materials, and possibly double box. I watched videos of potters packing things, I read articles, then I bought some larger boxes and Ranpak from Amazon.

Now here’s what I do:

  • using new bubble wrap AND Ranpak, wrap a mug and put in 6x6x6. Fill any empty space with paper or peanuts
  • double box when possible – a mug goes into 6x6x6 and then into 10x10x10
  • in the space between the 6x6x6 and the 10x10x10, I fill it completely with whatever I have – peanuts, paper, bubble wrap
  • shake to make sure there’s nothing moving

I’ve shipped 6 since then and so far so good. I also shipped my first international order! Will hear about that one in a week or two.

Update 1 month later 6-23-21: it’s been a slow month as I haven’t been working much, but I shipped 14 orders and not a single break! I think the double boxing is really key.

Fast Drying without Cracks

I’m doing my first in-person sale! It will be at my local coffee shop, which doubles as an excellent art market. I’ve even bought 2 incredible pieces of art from pop ups there.

May 16, 2021, Hooked on Colfax, Denver, CO

Reading online, people who do a lot of markets say that small things sell best and not to expect too many large sales. They’ve also said that mugs sell well. So I’m focusing this week on trinket dishes, spoon rests, tea bag rests, and mugs.

(I promise this is getting to the drying part.)

I have a custom order for 11 mugs AND I need mugs for this sale. Since I normally let mugs dry in plastic bins for around 1.5 weeks, that won’t work…the sale is in 8 days!

I read all the things in this article and decided to try a couple. I threw 3 quick mugs yesterday and attached the handles as soon as the mug bodies would support them, handles and bodies leather soft. One thing the article doesn’t say is how the handles stay stuck that quickly, so I improvised. I used Magic Water as always, and propped the handles (attached to the mugs) against the wall.

One of the sections said to use toilet paper to wrap the handles, so I did that on one.

One of the sections said to cover with plastic, so I did that on one. But I thought I’d also try the TP trick under plastic, this being science and all.

So let’s review:

  1. handle attached, wrapped in TP, left out in the air to dry overnight
  2. handle attached, wrapped in TP, left under plastic overnight

I came in this morning to find the one left out overnight (#1) was almost dry AND the handle stayed attached under the TP! #2 looked fine and was still pretty wet. I took them out of plastic and let them dry in the air, #2 with TP re-wrapped on it.

….waiting for drying, back in a few…

It worked!

They look ridiculous drying with toilet paper all over, but it works!

The ones that I attached handles to the same day as throwing and wrapped in TP (#1) had ZERO cracks, the ones I covered overnight (I ran out of time that day), and attached handles first thing the next morning (#2), got a few surface cracks that were easily fixed.

Look at this beautiful attachment! <3

In conclusion, mugs can be made quickly in a dry climate. When you know, you know.

Etsy and Other Frustrations

I sell on Etsy, pretty much exclusively. It’s a pain in the butt because everyone is grabbing for the same traffic, each listing takes a long time to make, and of course the algorithm is a bit of a secret. Since I spent 20+ years writing software for the internet, I have a pretty good idea of how Etsy search works, but that doesn’t help much because, well, it’s fairly obvious.

Most search engines do a sort of “scoring” and your listing will show up higher if it’s scored higher, right? With Etsy, title+tags = high score for that keyword. For example: if your title is “this that” and you have a tag that says “this that” exactly, then you’ll score fairly high for “this that.” However, there’s other magic with how many people click, like, and buy your “this that,” and your review stars, how many listings you have, and other things. If you join a group that likes your stuff but doesn’t buy, you might score lower. If tons of people look at your stuff and never click, you might score lower. The funny thing is if you make your photos look good, your title/tags are relevant, and people review you well, you’ll get more sales.

I know why I’m not getting a ton of sales, I don’t have a lot of listings and my shop is a little all over the place. I make what I like, so whatever 🙂

I learned a lot from some YouTube videos and some Facebook groups (including a paid one). And in the end, what really matters is: the quality of your photos, your listing info matches your product, and you have good customer service.

Cookies in pottery

In another installment of random things I’ve learned since doing pottery as a business, COOKIES!

Cookies are little pieces of clay you fire and then have in the kiln as coasters. The main use is to catch glaze that might drip off a piece so it doesn’t get on the kiln shelf. It’s a lot easier to throw away a small piece of clay than to grind and re-kiln-wash a shelf. But I also use cookies so I can glaze all the way to the bottom of my pieces. Since glaze permanently sticks to anything it touches, you have to leave the “foot”, or the bottom part that touches the kiln shelf, unglazed. Since I don’t want to leave a visible ring of clay color at the bottom, I put a small cookie on the bottom of nearly every piece to raise the glazed ring up so it’s not touching.

Since doing this, I’m much happier with how my pieces look.



It’s a small change, but one that I think makes a big difference when trying to look professional.

Materials I use for making pottery

Everyone who makes pottery uses different tools, but the main materials are clay and glaze. Since I live in Colorado, there’s an amazing clay manufacturer here that makes their own versions of the name brand clays. Rocky Mountain Clay makes a clay that’s identical to BMix from Laguna, but it’s better because it’s fresh. My first order from them, when I went to pick it up, the guy at the front said it had been made that same day!

For glazes, I mostly use Amaco with some Mayco, Opulence, and Midnight Ceramics thrown in. I’ll start making my own soon, but I try to keep my obsessions to one at a time.

I like using simple tools, especially tools that can be used for multiple things, but my favorite thing that I use is a Giffin Grip. When I made pottery regularly back in California, the thing I hated to most was centering a leather-hard piece and sticking it down with clay to trim. If I wanted to take it off the wheel to check the thickness, I had to center again and re-stick it…or worse, throw a chuck! I know these are “traditional” ways to trim, but it was literally my least favorite thing. So I got a Giffin Grip and now I LOVE trimming. Boom.

Giffin Grip Package SALE - The Ceramic Shop
Giffin Grip

The other specialty tool I’m in love with is a bottom setter. Yes, I could have made one, but again, one obsession at a time. I got this for Christmas and I use it every time I throw. It “sets” the bottom to exactly 1/8 inch so I don’t have to use a pin tool and it helps me to open the form, something that was sometimes painful after having carpal tunnel surgery.

Bottom Setter

Besides these 2 tools, everything else I use is standard and simple: drill for recycling clay, pin tools, sponges, rolling pin, cookie cutters, etc.

Home pottery studio

In October 2020, I created a home pottery studio. I had always planned to have a studio in the garage, but two things really propelled it forward: lack of studio space in Denver and the pandemic. I got a wheel and started making things, but kilns were backordered by months. I became a member at a ceramics art gallery while I waited for my kiln to arrive, but I was turned off by the lack of masks and the way they looked down on me for making functional ware.

Once I had my kiln, I started firing things and trying out glaze combinations. When I had been a member at a studio back in California, they made their own glazes, so I had never really had to think about it. Back then, I had bought a few just to experiment with, but waiting 1-3 weeks for things to be fired put a dent in my experimentation – it was difficult to keep up with my notes and compare them with the finished product.

It turns out that experimentation is my jam! I love trying new combinations and methods of application – underglazes, overglazes, lusters…even multiple firings and different temperatures. Now that it’s March 2021, my experimentation is getting more focused and I have a few things that are regularly selling in my Etsy store.

If anyone is reading this and thinking of creating a home studio, here are some important things I’ve learned:

  • ventilation is key – get a good vent for your kiln, have a good way of circulating air if doing lusters
  • clean a lot – the silica in clay is toxic, so clean with water and don’t trim dry
  • keep things organized – how many times a day do I look for my scissors? Many.
  • take copious notes – on firings, glazes, techniques…everything!

My “why”

A little about me: I was a developer/software engineer for over 20 years, I started to really burn out but didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. In the meantime, my partner and I were trying to adopt a child. The waiting was intense and everyone around me suggested I “get a hobby.” Throughout my career, I had done lots of different things like volunteering, traveling, and I’ve always been an avid reader, but I had never had a hobby, per se.

Enter pottery! I took a class at a place that was walking distance from our house and I found that I really enjoyed it. Once the class was over, I became a member…then I took a more advanced class at a famous pottery studio, then I met an elderly famous potter and became friends with her, learning from her and helping her with things she needed done.

Through all that, I realized I had found what I wanted to do! I really enjoy making functional pieces, but it turns out I’m pretty good at making figurines too.

Now I have a pottery studio in my garage and I share my love of clay with my kiddo.