February 2, 2010

Setting up a successful Pottery Studio Space

Seems like just yesterday that the studio opened. It has been 3 years. Setting up the first space was easy. There were 3 simple steps:

1. Find the space.
2. Buy a bunch of stuff
3. Fit it in the space

I honestly didn’t give it much thought, but for the most part it worked pretty well for the first year. We were small and not very busy so I couldn’t really see the inefficiencies that were there.

Because of my job as an electrical engineer, about 1.5 years ago I took a class on Kaizen manufacturing. And Six Sigma manufacturing. What you may ask do these crazy things have to do with pottery? Well it is easy. Basically you break down what you do into a process for example and try to organize everything so you reduce waste in movement and spent time.

It is funny to see the studio in this light, and I started to break it down into steps:

1. Receive the clay and materials
2. Move the clay
3. Wedge the clay
4. Throw/hand build the clay
5. Store the peices
6. finish the pieces
7. Fire the pieces
8. Glaze the pieces
9. Fire the pieces

In between all those wonderful events, there is a lot of hand washing, and towel grabbing, and tool finding, and cleaning, and straightening up.

It is funny how things happen. 1.5 years ago I took that Kaizen class for my real job, and Steve joined the studio. Steve came from a business background where he owned his own fabric stores and distribution. He has brought a lot of processes to the studio because he would always throw little snippets about what if you do this or that, or in my business everything was on dollies. So I decided shortly after that to put all of his knowledge, my process training, and the knowledge of what it was like to live in the space for the last 3 years. And re-arrange everything!

I begged all my members to remove their tools and stuff temporarily in order to “make the space better” which in turn caused them to clean out their spaces. I got a double bang for the buck on this! It is amazing how much stuff people accumulate that they forgot they had. Not to mention we found so many missing tools. And don’t ask me how or where, but for some reason we found over 40 wooden stirring spoons all over the place. I think one my members kept loosing hers and going to the dollar store to buy more :).

We gutted the shelves and took them apart, and rearrange the shelving and added dollies under just about ever table that had and under part.

This alone gave us tons more of room and a more work able space. It seems now that after another 1.5 years of living in this space we have outgrown it. I am proud to say that we have a few more permanent members and now we are adding more space to the studio by renting the adjacent bay.

And now the process starts over again, and as I sit an write this, I can’t help but ponder about the new space. We have to start over again, but this time I have to take into account every single large piece of furniture, shelving, potters wheels, slab rollers, wedging tables, extruders, machines, tool cubbies, re-organize them to create a flow that circles around our kiln room/delivery area so as to minimize movement while maximizing space.

It is daunting and fun. I made a list of all the equipment that needs a home, and using graph paper (thanks again to steve) block cut outs for each piece of equipment and moving it around and around until I find a flow/storage/space proportion that works.

I will post it once I am happy with it!

So to recap on how to setup a successful space is whether you have equipment or haven’t purchased it yet:
1. Start from you kiln room and where you get your clay. If possible make this the same space
2. Picture a big circle with the kiln at the top position and work outwards from the kiln room.
3. Start with clay storage->wedging tables -> wheels/or workspace -> keep the slab roller close to your work table
4. Then start coming back in towards your kiln again ->cleanup area and tool storage ->shelving for WIP (work in progress)-> glaze area -> back to your kiln.

Not all spaces are built the same but if you spend some time working on how you process your pieces, any space can be extremely functional.

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