Here’s the good news. You have finally gotten most of your pots through all the stages of firing, and there they are, just out of the kiln, laid out on the table, all splendid and finished. A giant sigh of relief now that it’s all over.
Here’s the bad news. It’s not over yet. About a quarter of the work and effort is still to be done. Yes. Welcome to the dispatch preparation, documentation and the packaging part of the exciting wholistic ceramic art production process.
Now if you are lucky, there is someone on your team who is anal-retentive about details and loves nothing more than to have every last part of the process bolted down and perfect. Here are some tips that may save you time.
Look at every vessel just out of the kiln with a fresh eye and sort out any that are not good enough to make the cut. Are there any hairline cracks? Any bumps or inclusions on the clay surface? What about the glaze – is it up to scratch? When you hold the piece, does it feel smooth and finished? What about the foot ring, are there any bits of kiln shelf on it or is it rough and likely scratch a shelf or wooden surface?
Carefully sort through the kiln load and find those that are good enough as they are, those that will be once you fix a few things, those that you need to find a local market to sell them at a discount and those awful enough that they to be binned right now before you have second thoughts.
Grinding, polishing and dusting
Some of my work is porcelain with illustrations on an unglazed surface. The inside is usually glazed, so the piece is functional, but all of the outside surfaces have to be polished with wet and dry sandpaper to achieve a smooth buttery surface. They are lined up on a sink and rubbed with three grades of paper from medium-coarse to ultra-fine. At the same time, the foot ring is sanded until it is smooth.
Each piece is then carefully hand washed and allowed to dry before a final inspection for hairline cracks that generally show up during the washing process.
It is essential to make sure each piece is immaculate and dust-free - no customer or gallery owner expects to wash a piece of newly received ceramic ware.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND DOCUMENTATION
Accurate documentation of your work is essential so that gallery owners and retail outlets know what you are delivering, what it looks like are sure about things like price, item number, description and even fundamental things like the artist’s name.
Each piece should be identified by an artist’s recognisable seal stamped into the ceramic surface, a signature or mark or if you are a production potter, your business name applied as a stamp inside the foot ring with underglaze and fired into the piece. That way, the ownership is clear even if months go by from the time you deliver to the time it is sold by the retailer.
Our delivery documentation begins by taking an identifying photograph of each piece - or a generic photograph of the line of work if you produce many identical pieces.
You should record the details of each piece manually or electronically - ideally using a word-processing template, a spreadsheet or a database of some kind. That way, you will have all the information you need to printout delivery documents and invoices for your work.
The delivery documents should include the following:
A cover sheet with your name, trading name, ABN number, postal address, contact details and banking details or preferred method of payment (bank-to-bank transfer, cash or cheque)
A complete list of each item in the delivery including the following information on each piece: serial number, item name, price (see below for methods of calculating this), a marketing description, identifying photograph (and a marketing photograph if possible).
A sheet outlining your terms and conditions of sale which you need to prepare with your accountant, lawyer or business advisor
A copy of this documentation should accompany the delivery of the goods and to be safe, a further copy emailed, so you both have records of the documents and the time they were delivered to the gallery or retailer in case of any dispute later on.
PACKING TO REDUCE BREAKAGES
Packaging your ceramics for dispatch to customers needs to be approached systematically. The key is to make sure the work is surrounded by material that stops it from moving around, absorbs any vibrations or shocks and has some resistance to crushing forces.
Two methods work well:
A single box method where a well wrapped smaller-sized pot is placed in the centre of a box that is filled with packing material. The carton should be 150 - 200mm bigger than the work in it, and the work must be positioned in the middle.
The box-within-a-box method suitable for larger, or fragile, or more expensive work. Here the work is first packed in a box as above, and then that box is placed within another box filled with packing material.
The ceramics should first be wrapped in tissue paper or foam wrap to prevent scratching and abrasion of the finished surface. Each item, no matter how small should be packed separately.
Make sure any protrusions like spouts etc. are well wrapped too. Wrap the entire pot in several layers of bubble wrap and apply masking tape to secure.
Packing fill materials include poly chips, crumpled newspaper, packing peanuts, foam, airbags or a combination of these. The use of polystyrene sheets to add rigidity around the work is also recommended.
The boxes you use should be made of robust corrugated cardboard - new or undamaged at least. Make sure each item is surrounded by at least 50mm of cushioning and be placed at least 50mm away from the walls of the box.
Tape the box closed with 50mm packaging tape. Run the tape along where the flaps of the carton join, then run two or three runs of tape around the carton, perpendicular to this.
Make sure the box is clearly labelled with the delivery address and your return address and contact details. Remove any old labels if you are recycling. Use stickers to indicate the way up the box is to be transported and make sure that the box is clearly labelled as FRAGILE.
Place any delivery documents in an envelope and tape this to the box.
Think about insurance for valuable items.
If all of this seems too hard, there are packing services that will do the lot for you, and take responsibility for losses and breakages.
Remember to notify your customer that the work is on its way and ask for a confirmation that it arrived safely.