Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Cost of making a bonsai pot

People often ask me how much it costs to make a bonsai pot.  There are so many factors to consider.  If I was making mass produced pots of a certain size, shape, glaze etc it'd be easy enough to work out. Well, not easy, but easier than working out the cost of the way I make my pots.

I don't have a set size, they are all different.  Sure you can weigh the clay before you make the pot on the wheel so you know how much you are using, but when you trim the pot up when its leather hard, you're taking clay away. Wet clay is heavier than leather hard or dry clay, at what stage do you weigh it? All too complicated and not what real pottery is about.

I'll list some of the costs.

One of the 2 biggest expenses, freight from one end of the country to the other on top of the price of clay makes it very expensive for the hobby potter, we don't get big discounts like clubs do. I like to use 2 or 3 different types of clay, depending on what I'm making, all different prices. Nailing down the best clay to use and getting the results you want, also means alot of experimenting, and also if not successful, a bit of wastage.  I'm very lucky in that I have a mentor who is helping me out with a variety of different clays to get the best results.

 POTTERS WHEEL              
 I feel that you must learn how to use the wheel with some confidence. Its really an essential piece of machinery to have if you're wanting to make different types of pots.

You need many different sizes of these to make a variety of work.  Used both on the wheel and for drying on.

May need replacing regularly if using grogged clays. Although you can purchase some quite cheap basic tools, if you want them to last a bit longer,(sharpness) it pays to get better quality ones.

This is another BIG expense in New Zealand.  My average bisque firing takes at least. 9 hours, and then the glaze firing can take as long as 12 hours depending on the temperature the clay matures at. Stoneware clays fire higher therefore costing more.  With our power prices increasing regularly over the years, many potters are moving on to other areas.

If making up own recipes the colouring oxides and materials are expensive to buy.   Premade glazes in powder form can be bought at a cost, but making your own generally works out cheaper if you have the materials.  I don't use brush on glazes as I like the more spontaneous look of a poured on glaze.  Brush on glazes dont work out to be very cost effective if you're making large pieces. Thats just my opinion anyway.

This is another must, if you are serious about making pots.  You might say that why don't you just use the local Pottery Club kiln, it'll work out cheaper than buying your own kiln.....wrong....in the long run it doesn't.   Apart from the cost, you have to take into consideration the cost of travel to and from using the kiln, the transporting of fragile greenware, working in with others using the kiln etc. etc. In my case a 68km round trip to the pottery rooms, the cost of petrol in New Zealand is very high and still rising.  Its so much easier to be able to do a firing when you're ready and not have to rely on others.  That's a big must for me, as I like to be independent and not bother others.

 Even though most kilns will come with some shelves, furniture etc, its never enough.  Because bonsai pots are shallow, you are able to put more shelves than normal in the kiln to make it more cost effective.  With more shelves means using more props etc.
Firing cones are good to use to check the temperatures are correct.  My kiln uses a kiln sitter, so each firing uses a small rod.  These aren't cheap either, and come in box's of 30 if I remember correctly.

that will have to be binned!  Especially relevant when making larger bonsai pots, the bigger the pot, the more chances of cracking etc happening  during firing, so that's a pretty good reason why you don't see alot of potters making very large bonsai pots.

If the cost of my time was added onto the cost of the bonsai pots, nothing would sell, as it would be too expensive for most.  Making a large oval pot can take 2 or 3 hours of careful hand building to get it to an acceptable standard.  Then theres the drying time and constant turning to make sure they dry evenly.

I think I just need to stop there...........I'm sure there are alot of other small expenses I haven't thought of. But I'm kind of thinking that most will say why do you bother.  Sometimes I wonder that myself, if I'm lucky I might break even with the total cost of most pots.

Why do I do it?.......because I enjoy it,  there's something  very calming about sitting at the wheel creating something.  Sometimes its spontaneous, sometimes its with a purpose in mind, but either way,  I plan on continuing making these bonsai pots.... it just feels right.  I've learnt to trust my instincts.

As far as cost goes, everything has a cost....... but if you really want to do something , there will always be a way!