If you make art, eventually you’ll come across someone who won’t like your work. They might even hate it, hurl insults, and tell you why they’re right and you’re wrong. Always remember— trying to please everyone is a trap. Take criticism for what it is: a sign that your art is powerful, and that you’re not making art for critics, or for everyone. You’re making your art for your fans, and your love of the craft. Admit that this is enough, and ignore the rest.
Almost 2,500 years ago, ancient Spartan warriors fought in the Battle of Thermopylae. These warriors were outnumbered by their challengers – just 300 Spartan warriors to an invading army of millions.
The Spartans had to utilize ingenious survival tactics to stay alive, one of which being a simple drinking cup, a ‘Kothon’, to strain off and trap elements of dirt and silt from mud puddles when drinking. When met with a challenge, even as simple as finding a way to hydrate, the Spartans persevered.
Author Steven Pressfield writes about the culture and battle techniques of the Spartan warriors in many of his books, including The Warrior Ethos. In collaboration with Steven, Joel handcrafted a modern-day Kothon Mug style, inspired by the fearlessness, discipline, and perseverance of the Spartan warriors.
Today, we may not drink from mud puddles or need to forage under combat conditions. But we all face our own obstacles and internal battles – pain, injustice, even death.
Being able to persevere through these obstacles is where real success is found. For the Spartans, and for us, too.
We hope you enjoy this Perseverance Giveaway. Good luck!
(estimated reading time: 4-6 minutes)
For about 15 years, I’ve been making pottery full-time. First as a student, then by starting Cherrico Pottery. After handcrafting about 30,000 pieces of pottery, I can tell you from first hand experience that making pottery is really hard.
I’m a “production potter” which means I make pottery in repetition, in a variety of styles and colors, for people to eat and drink from. Each month, I handcraft about 500 pieces of pottery. Then, a team of employees sand, polish, pack and ship each pot to customers, for people to use and enjoy in their own homes.
It’s a good living, but that’s a lot of pottery to make by hand.
Repetitive work is tough. If you’re not careful, you can get overuse injuries:
- back strain from lifting heavy clay boxes
- neck and shoulder knots from hunched over work
- carpel tunnel wrist pain from throwing or sanding pots
For long-term sustainability, of both employees and me, I need to continually explore ways to reduce the strain on our bodies.
Two years ago, I began a research project. I tested having a version of my “Cosmic Mug” designed and made in a factory, by other workers. I created “Cosmic Mugs” to inspire us to think about how all human beings are connected, through the cosmos. So, why not use factories globally to create thousands, perhaps millions of mugs?
The goal was to get the price down to $19.95 for a pair, with free shipping, so anyone could afford Cherrico Pottery.
At first, China seemed like the perfect place to mass produce porcelain, a.k.a. “Fine China” because the Chinese have spent 2,000 years mastering the craft. With 1.4 billion people and hundreds of porcelain factories, they can make thousands of artistic mugs fast, cheap and with remarkably high quality.
After choosing a factory, I designed and bought roughly 1,000 mugs at about $10-$15 each. Most sold for about $26-$36 each.
That’s a pretty good start, considering over 800 sold and only 200 remain.
Next, I got a quote for a larger order of 10,000 mugs. They could be finished in 30 days, at around $4 per mug.
Sounds great, right!? That’s a 60%+ lower cost up front for me. That also means lower prices for customers– win win?!
Not exactly. I decided not to buy 10,000 mugs. Instead, I’m ending the project.
Why I’m Ending Our “Factory Designed Cosmic Mug” Project
After the remaining 200 Factory Designed Cosmic Mugs sell out, they’ll be gone for good. Seriously. No April fools.
Years of diving deep into the business of factory sourcing has given me one key takeaway: factory work is really hard on people.
I want my art to be good for all humanity, not just profitable.
For a quick glimpse of what it’s like to work in factories, these two documentaries are enlightening. Both helped influence my decision to start, and also end, my project.
Here at Cherrico Pottery, we considered building a factory ourselves, to have more control over how people are treated as employees. We already have a large studio. Maybe we should keep expanding.
Where would you rather work: a factory or a studio?
Factories make things faster, cheaper and more profitable. The problem is people are treated like machines.
Studios make things with creativity and connection. The problem is the products can’t scale in quantity, requiring higher costs.
The world needs both. But where would you rather work?
I’d rather work in a studio, but I’m also lucky enough to be able to say that, and choose that. Most people don’t get to make that choice.
For millions of people, perhaps billions, factory jobs are the only jobs available. Some factories might be wonderful places to work. Others might have terrible working conditions.
Regardless, if people didn’t need to work 8-12 hour shifts on the factory floor, do you think they still would?
Robots and Universal Basic Income
The world needs manufacturing. Most of the objects we’re surrounded by were made in factories, including whatever smartphone, computer or device you’re reading this on.
What will happen as robots continue replacing people in repetitive factory work? Robotic hands might even be dexterous enough to craft pottery soon.
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Maybe robot help won’t be such a bad thing. Ideas like Universal Basic Income or “monthly citizen income” could let more people meet their basic costs of living. Then, perhaps more people could work on jobs that fulfill them personally. If machines can help reduce hard labor, why not let them?
After robots help reduce the hard, human cost of manufacturing, then maybe we’ll revisit using factories to make “Cosmic Mugs” affordable enough for anyone on the planet to experience them.
Until then, I’m headed back to the studio. No more time spent sourcing from factories. Instead, I’m putting that energy into exploring new art. The challenge now is making the best art I can, in appropriate quantities and fair prices, and trusting that people will still support it.
Charity events, silent auctions and raffle ticket fundraisers can be great ways to raise money for worthy causes. People ask us to donate pottery to their charity events regularly. They’ve been asking for years, and I used to say yes every time.
But a few years ago, I started saying no.
It’s not because we get too many requests. Even if we donated one pot per week, that’s only 52 pots per year, out of the 6,000+ pots we made last year.
It’s not because people don’t want the art. People might not bid the full $165 retail price for a Cosmic Mug at a charity auction, but it would definitely help raise some money.
There is one main reason why I don’t donate art.
I believe people should support artists, not ask them for free art.
Put yourself in the shoes of an artist. Which would you rather have someone say to you:
“Donate to our event please. It will support a good cause and get your name out there.”
“I just bought your art!”
If I donate my art to charity, then it tells the charity that it’s okay to ask other artists for free stuff too. That’s the problem.
Too many artists struggle to sell their art for what it’s worth. I believe artists are some of the last people in society that we should be asking for donations. You would never ask a doctor, lawyer or banker to donate their work to a silent auction.
What We Do Instead of Donating Art
Instead of donating pottery, we just let our pottery be available for sale on store.cherricopottery.com, cosmicmugs.com and to our Patrons. Then, we donate a portion of the money to charities that we care about, and keep a public record here, to help keep us accountable:
You shouldn’t donate to every charity who contacts you. We don’t, because that would be impossible. Every time I mention donations, we tend to get a flood of requests.
Just this week, another person emailed us asking us to donate pottery to an event for their son, a 10 year old boy who is fighting cancer.
Stores like this are so sad. Of course it makes me want to donate! But giving art and/or money to everyone who asks isn’t sustainable. Business, like everything, requires balance (I told them we can’t donate pottery, but we’re happy to donate some cash instead.)
It’s not important to donate to everyone who asks. What’s important is that you stay open to the idea of supporting charities, and actually do it consistently.
We simply pick a few good causes, and then make sure we’re giving consistently. Then, when we have stronger sales or another good cause comes to our attention, we can give a little more.
Society works best when we all make an extra effort to be of service to others. Donating money might not be the best way to solve problems, but it helps, and it’s our way of giving back beyond just making art.
We’ve been enjoying some warmer weather here in Central Minnesota and soaking up the sunshine. So, for this month’s free pottery giveaway, we’ve picked pots with bright glazes that really pop when in the sun.
This month, 3 winners will receive a beautiful pot paired with one of our favorite books. These books have guided the work of Joel as an artist, business owner, and individual, as well as the members of our team.
Enjoy a preview of these inspiring books:
“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
“When I force myself to utter the awkward phrase, “I am grateful,” I actually start to feel a bit more grateful…It’s basic cognitive behavioral therapy: Behave in a certain way, and your mind will eventually catch up with your actions.” – A.J. Jacobs, Thanks a Thousand
Do you have a piece of Cherrico Pottery with a Cosmic or deep blue Nuka Cobalt glaze? Try taking your piece out into the sun and watch the many bright colors and tones come out. And we’d love if you shared with us – take a picture of your piece in the sun and tag us @cherricopottery on Facebook or Instagram!
Hope you enjoy, and good luck!