The old adage that time equals money is especially true in any labor-intensive activity. Making pottery is certainly an endeavor that requires direct labor to produce pottery for sale. Handmade pottery by definition requires physical attention from the potter during many stages of the operation. There is the forming, trimming, drying, bisque firing, glaze making, glazing and glaze firing. Additional tasks include studio cleanup, ordering raw materials, sorting and packaging ware, and the list goes on. Indirect labor is also required in different amounts, depending on how the pots are promoted and finally sold. Many potters do not fully realize the number of individual hours necessary to produce and sell pottery. When looking at the true costs of making pottery, the cost of clays, glaze materials, and even equipment, is marginal compared with the time and labor involved. Whether thrown on the potter’s wheel, handbuilt, slip cast, jiggered or pressed, labor is in fact the largest percentage of cost. The potter should always use the rule that decreasing labor costs will have the most direct effect on increasing profits. In many instances, there will not be one large labor-saving element, but several small labor-saving steps will add up to a significant reduction in costs.

Where a potter works is logically the area where the most time is spent. New studio construction offers the best time to plan and set up an efficient workspace. However, an existing studio can be rearranged for greater production and increased efficiency. Whether the studio is located in a large commercial space or a residential basement, the efficient layout of equipment and individual workstations will greatly reduce wasted energy and redundant motion. The potter has a finite
amount of time and energy to make pots, and studio layout greatly affects how much time is spent on the actual making of pottery. Moving one piece of studio furniture, such as a wedging table, closer to a potter’s wheel will save steps and time. Placing tables, glaze buckets and storage containers on wheels so they can be easily moved will offer greater flexibility and utility of studio space. Often, the inflexibility of equipment or supplies within the studio limits efficient production of pottery. Minor details in the production operation should not be overlooked, as pottery making is made up of small, labor intensive, manual operations.


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Follow the Clay
Think of how the moist clay will physically move through the studio in every stage, from forming through packing. A large studio does not necessarily mean a profitable operation. It is quite possible to have a cost-effective pottery in a relatively small studio. One area of production should flow logically to the next. For example, clay delivery should occur near the clay-storage area, which should be near the wedging table, which should be near potters’ wheels and other forming equipment. Moist clay is heavy. One cubic foot of clay weighs about 50 pounds. When the potter has to carry 500 or 2000 pounds of clay into the studio, it can suddenly become very expensive clay.
If moving a few boxes of clay seems like a small point, it only illustrates how tight the profit margins have to be calculated in the enterprise of making pottery. Ideally, the potter should take the clay out of the plastic bag, place it on the wedging table, then onto the potter’s wheel or handbuilding table. Casting-slip operations should have the slip storage tanks and the mold-pouring tables within close proximity.

Small Steps Equal Large Savings
The process of reducing labor costs in the studio can be evaluated using a simple economic equation. How expensive will it be to organize an efficient studio setup vs. the greater production of pottery it will offer? Will such an investment pay for itself in a relatively short period of time? For example, if a studio needs extra shelving and worktables, will the expense of buying or constructing studio furniture translate into an increased amount of pottery?

Any situation where the potter has to double back over his or her footsteps is inefficient, wasting limited time and energy. Working around clay scraps on the floor, or equipment not stored away safely, can contribute to wasted motion in the studio with the added concern that any type of studio accident caused by an unsafe condition obviously will impact the production of pottery. The ideal studio should have a concrete floor sloping to a central drain. After a day’s operation, the potter can simply hose down the entire floor surface, removing any clay particles or clay scraps. Realistically, very few studios can be constructed for total efficiency, but incorporating as many ergonomic and energy-saving design elements as possible will greatly reduce costs. Often, a few minor changes in an existing studio can result in better working conditions. Potters should look at each area with the goal of eliminating wasted motion, increasing floor space and creating greater flexibility in production areas. It is only natural to become conditioned by habit to work around problem areas. At a certain point, accommodation of extra bags of clay or glaze materials lying in work areas slows down production and creates wasted labor. Try to avoid a situation where a sink is located downstairs or upstairs from the glaze-mixing area. Constantly walking up and down stairs to obtain water is labor intensive, time consuming and possibly hazardous due to potential water spills. Real estate, whether land or studio space, is expensive. With this economic rule in mind, precious floor space should not be used for storing cardboard boxes, unused glaze containers, or other items that don’t directly contribute to pottery production and profit margin. Shelving in as many places as possible is essential. The greater number of objects that can be kept off of the floor, the better the utilization of space for pottery production. Shelving does not have to be permanent and is often less expensive and more flexible if it is constructed out of wood planks and cinder-block supports.

Nonpermanent shelving can be easily moved according to the current production needs of the studio. Every studio accumulates a great number of tools and supplies. Without care, the studio environment can become hazardous; therefore, the studio must have adequate storage space for equipment and tools. Temporary worktables can be made from plywood and foldable sawhorses. The tables increase studio space, can be set up and broken down very fast, and are useful for storing pots until they can be loaded into the kiln. Moist-clay storage can be located underneath the wedging table, which reduces distance and labor required to move the clay in the first stages of forming. Storage bins for raw materials should be placed under, or at least very near, the glaze table. The placement of tools within reach of the potter’s wheel will make for
greater efficiency when throwing. Many hours are lost when looking for misplaced or lost tools. Any or all of these measures will reduce the time and energy spent moving raw materials, as well as physical strain on the potter.

Choosing the Correct Kiln Size
The size of a kiln, whether it is fired by gas, electricity, wood, etc., can play an important part in the flow of work through the studio. If the kiln is too large, it will take an inordinately large amount of time to fill, delaying the production of finished pottery. If the kiln is too small, it can be excessively labor intensive to load and unload in short intervals. While there is no specific rule, several considerations should help determine kiln size. To determine the most efficient size, the potter should first calculate the work cycle for making a given amount of pottery and then figure out how much space it will fill. Many potters will actually make pottery for a one- or two-week cycle and then stack the unfired pots on shelving to determine how many cubic feet of space the pots will fill. That is the size the kiln needs to be. The choice of equipment should not be determined by the price of the equipment but by how efficiently it will help in the production of pottery. Good-quality, ergonomically designed equipment will pay for itself in the long run, due to greater production and longer useful life, compared to less expensive, less durable equipment.

Studio Location
If rent is low, but the studio is located a distance from where the potter lives, is it a real savings? The potter will have to travel frequently to monitor forming, drying and kiln firings. In this case, an inexpensive studio rent becomes an expensive time-and energy-consuming element in the production process. The true cost of the studio is the potter’s energy level and travel time. The ideal location will take travel time into consideration as an overall cost of operation. Researching the studio location in relation to its neighbors is also an important factor in renting or purchasing a studio. If the studio is located adjacent to other people’s work areas, problems can arise due to kiln firings and hours of operation. The studio can be located in a commercial district with the possibility of walk-in customer traffic. While such locations can be expensive compared to areas with less traffic, they offer the option of direct sales from the studio. These sales present many benefits, as the pots do not have to be packed or moved from the studio. A retail/studio combination also gives the public a chance to watch the potter at work (always a crowd pleaser), thus increasing sales potential. Many hours spent packing and traveling to craft fairs or other shops, or preparing orders for shipping, can be better spent making more pots. Any situation that promotes sales directly from the studio cuts transportation costs and saves on investments of time and labor.

Evaluating the True Costs
One of the most costly false economic beliefs is that reprocessing clay will save money. Reclaiming scrap clay is labor intensive, time consuming and takes up valuable studio space. The cost of moist clay is relatively low, compared to the labor required to process scrap. The potter should use his or her time in the most valuable way possible, which means making and firing pottery and not trying to recover used clay. The same principle applies when potters are involved in mixing their own clay. Mixing clay requires capital investments in clay mixers, pug mills, raw-material storage and environmental venting. Clay-mixing equipment and supplies use valuable studio space for no return on investment. Potters who mix their own clay are, in a sense, operating a business to supply their original business of making pots, and should reconsider this costly operation.
Another false economy that does not directly impact studio layout, but illustrates the point of looking carefully at any activity associated with making pottery, involves the true cost of firing any type of kiln. The cost of fuel is insignificant when compared to the labor required to produce pottery. A famous story involves a potter who tried to save money by building a wood-firing kiln because his pottery was located near a broom factory where there was “free” scrap wood. This type of economic decision totally overlooks the true cost of labor when stoking a wood kiln for many hours or days. In the past few years, many potters
have decided to fire their gas kilns to Cone 6 (2232°F) instead of higher stoneware temperatures. The fuel savings with the lower firing temperature would be marginal at best. The real savings comes from the time saved in the faster heating and cooling cycle of the kiln. Time is a more valuable asset in the pottery studio than fuel. The aesthetic quality of the pottery produced is only one factor in the eventual sale of the pottery. Often, more economically significant factors, such as the effective placement of equipment and supplies within the studio, affect sales of pottery more than the actual look of the ware. Since time and labor are the largest costs in making pottery, it makes economic sense to design all activities within the studio to reduce these two largest factors in production.

 

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