[Clayart] Handmade

kathi at lesueurclaywork.com kathi at lesueurclaywork.com
Sat Aug 6 21:57:26 UTC 2022

In the nineties I experimented with using a RAM a press. I had a friend who bought one and when she ran into financial difficulty she offered it to me at a very good price. I didn’t think she should sell it and offered to lease it for a year. I would guess that most RAM presses used by studio potters today were bought then because RAM was actively marketing to the studio potter in Ceramics Monthly and at the Rosen wholesale show. I had two dies made from which I could make multiple products. Dies are expensive to have made and few studio potters make their own. They have a finite life and have to be replaced after a time.
What I learned from this experiment is that pressing comes with it’s own set of problems. Setting up the machine is time consuming. Charging the die takes time and the first pressings are throw away. You do not get a finished product off of the press. Every piece requires hand finishing. And, as my friend Karim of Motawi Tileworks said, pressing allows you to make a whole lots of seconds really fast. 
In my case, I did lots of altering of the forms that were pressed. Most of the potters I  know who press do the same to the point that it would be difficult to know a piece started on a press. In fact, when the Michigan Guild of Artists (who puts on one of the Ann Arbor summer fairs) was taking up the question I took in two pieces, a casserole and a tray, and asked them to identify which was was pressed and which “handmade”. Everyone identified the tray as RAM pressed. It was not. It was made on a styrofoam form I had fabricated. The casserole was pressed, the knob and bottom hand trimmed. I questioned what was the difference between a tray that was pressed onto a form by my hands and one pressed onto a form by a machine other than time.
In the end I decided pressing was not for me. Pressing less than fifty pieces at a session was a waste given the time to set up. I found I could make those thirty pieces faster by hand than pressing given all of the set up time. Then, there is the issue of space. I’m a one person studio operating out of one thousand square feet. There is just not enough room to store all of those pieces to be trimmed. Then, the kiln space. My kiln is large, but I would have to be firing every three days to keep up with what the output of the press could be. I couldn’t see how I could make, bisque, glaze and fire that frequently. Yes, I could have bought a large building to work in. But, I like stepping out of my back door to go to work, taking a break any time I feel like it.
All of the people I know who still press have people who operate the press. They do the finishing. I have no desire to have employees. I’ve seen too many artists get caught up in the idea of going big and having employees. From woodworkers and potters to fabric artists, in the end they all realized that they were working round the clock to make payroll for their employees. There is nothing sadder than seeing an artist at a show panicking because they haven’t made enough to make payroll when they get home. 
The few who I’ve seen use the press to great advantage, such as Bill Campbell, have a lot of space, reliable employees in an area where labor is cheap (except for Motawi who make the most expensive “handmade” tiles on the market), and a large wholesale market or a shop they sell directly out of. 
The idea that a potter who presses, or jiggers, can undersell the person who is making everything by hand is just not true. It comes with it’s own set of problems and expenses and they are probably netting out less than the potter making everything totally by hand.

Kathi LeSueur
Sent from my iPad

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