Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mugwonderful Christmas Gift Ideas!

It's getting close! With under three weeks left until Christmas, there's still time to give some fabulous mugs from Mug Revolution! I thought I'd show you some of the mugs that are still in stock and ship out right away.

First up is the soup mug. These mugs are versatile and can be used for lattes, soup, and just a general purpose bowl. I like them because I often heat up food in the microwave, and the handle does not get hot, making it easy to pull out. Soup Mug ordering info!

For your friends or relatives who love dogs, check out the Dog Lover's Mug! These puppies are quite popular. (I hear you groan, bad pun, but I simply couldn't resist!) Dog Lover's Mug ordering info!

While it's too late to order a Paw Print Mug as a gift, the Paw Print Kit makes a great gift! You can add a gift certificate to your gift to cover the cost of the mug-perfect! Paw Print Mugs ordering info!

The Classic Mug is our most popular mug. Supplies are getting low, but there are plenty of the 8 oz. mug in stock. This little mug is perfect for children or for people who like espresso or any beverage in small quantities. Classic Mugs ordering info!

And finally, if you want to give the gift of mugs but simply don't know what exactly to give, here's a solution: Gift Certificates!

Hopefully you are now armed with a time saving, gift giving set of ideas! Have a wonderful day!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Feature Mug: The Bend, Oregon Mug

For those of us lucky enough to live in Bend, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of the natural beauty that surrounds us. All that's needed, in the midst of a busy day, is to take a momentary break and just look at the breathtaking views we have here. The gorgeous Bend, Oregon Mug logo captures one such Central Oregon landscape. The logo depicts juniper trees, sagebrush, the Cascade mountains and Canada geese.
I get so busy in my day to day life that I forget how lucky I am to live here. But, every day, whether I want to or not, Kelty, our Border Collie, lets me know she needs her walk, and on our walks I am reminded just how wonderful it is to live in such a gorgeous place.
If you're interested, here's more info on the Bend Oregon Mug!
That's all for now–busy days indeed in the studio. I shipped out a couple of hundred mugs last Monday and am working on the last batch of 250 mugs to be shipped on December 14th.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Busy Days!

Here it is, just over a month before Christmas. This has been one fast year, I'll tell you! The big news is Mug Revolution's new website which is getting rave reviews. The site was developed by Island Pinnick, a Bend, Oregon web developer. The photography was done by Joseph Eastburn, also from Bend. Amazingly talented folks, and I was fortunate to have them collaborate to make the site so beautiful, and so functional. Thanks again Island and Joseph, you guys truly rock!
The site launched on October 2. Since that time I've been super busy with orders. Sales have gone up overall this year, which is amazing considering the economy. Fortunately, my mugs are a) really nice and b) affordable, and they do make nice gifts. I could say that I was smart to focus on making mugs, but really, I've always loved making mugs and if anything I am very fortunate.
I'll keep this short for now- even though I just fired the glaze kiln yesterday, I've got to get the next batch started so I can ship them in time for Christmas.
If you've read this far, I've got a little treat for you. If you would like to order a personalized mug for Christmas, and you would like a stylish thumb rest with the first initial of the name on it, as pictured at the top of this post, I will do the thumb rest for free. All you have to do when ordering is indicate in the comments section in the shopping cart that you saw this offer on Mug Revolution's blog, and that you would like the thumb rest.
I have not had a chance to add this product to the website, and likely won't until after the holidays.
Take care of yourself as we go through what is both a wonderful and at the same time stressful time of year.
All the best to you!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On being frugal

My house is a short distance from a public school where I like to take my dog Kelty for walks as there are some wonderful trails on the butte just behind the school. I've stopped going there this summer, since the school district is doing a huge, multi-million dollar renovation. I went over today to check it out, as it's Saturday and the crew is off for the weekend. Looking around, I got the sense that they had too much money and had to spend it all at once.
I spent many years in public education before leaving several years ago to start up and eventually work full time at Mug Revolution. Seeing all the school projects under construction (some desperately needed, like the new building for the alternative education students, some questionable, like a state of the art baseball field, seemingly built to host the little league world series, complete with heated sidewalks) made me think about the way I've changed my attitudes and practices of spending money from the time I was a public school employee, to now, when I am self employed.

Fixing the kiln
I've noticed over the past six months or so that my gas kiln had a few bricks that needed replacing. My first thought (which is what I would have done if I had taxpayer money at my disposal) was to buy all new bricks and re-build significant areas of the kiln. I was prepared to drive to Portland, spend $500 on bricks, and take a few days out of my schedule (read: my summer vacation) to do the repairs. I pondered this for a few days. I looked at the kiln. I read my kiln building books and stewed on it. One morning, I woke up and thought, "Wait a second. Why don't I try to replace and repair just the dozen or so bricks? I've got replacements here, leftover from building the kiln 10 years ago. If it doesn't work, what's the harm? If it does, I'll save driving over 300 miles, $500, and two-three days that would come out of my vacation." I followed that course of action, finished up all the repairs yesterday and fired the empty kiln to red hot to set up the mortar. I opened the kiln this morning and am thrilled to say that it looks good as new.
Fortunately, I was able to do the repair inexpensively. As a small business owner, I had to. You have to work as frugally as possible to make a living from pottery.
And you know what? I'd much rather be in a situation where I use my creativity to solve problems. Not having the luxury of a big budget helps you to think in new, innovative ways. In some cases, like my kiln-repair situation, not having a big budget helped me to see the most obvious solution was also the cheapest solution. Problem solved. Now, back to the mugs!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How I became a full time potter

Early Years

At some point in the 1960's, when I was a kid, my mother took some pottery classes and she was quite taken with it. Eventually she had a studio in the basement with a kick wheel and a small electric kiln. While she always encouraged me to explore with clay, my main interest as ten year old was playing with the kick wheel and a complete fascination with the kiln. One day Mom wanted to show me how dangerous the kiln was. She opened one of the peep holes and put in a small piece of newspaper, which immediately caught on fire. "See how dangerous this is, Owen?" she said. I'm pretty sure I said yes, but thereafter whenever she fired the kiln I would get out small pieces of newspaper, take out one of the peep holes, and catch them on fire when she was not around. Of course it never occurred to me to thoroughly clean all the bits of burnt newspaper from the floor, and I had to resort to mumbling "I don't know" when Mom would confront me with the evidence and ask if I had done this. The concept that the house might burn down as a result of this, of course, never entered my mind.

In time my mother was able to quit her job as a legal secretary and work with clay full time, at one point building a good sized wood firing kiln which she filled with wonderful pottery made in her studio, which was at one point in time a chicken coop! I recall making and selling a checker set for three dollars when I was 9 or 10 years old. It seemed entirely too much effort and work at the time compared to the money I made. Looking back now, I suspect that at that early age my initiation into the financial rewards of pottery had just taken place!

It seems that clay runs in the family. My great-grandfather was a potter in or near Vertelka in western Ukraine in the mid to late 1800's.

I Get Into Clay

In 1987 I moved from Toronto to Southern Oregon. A couple of years later I took a community education pottery class at what was then named Southern Oregon State College (SOSC). The teacher was Jim Romberg, who is well known as a fine raku artist. He was a wonderful facilitator, and allowed his students to have access to the pottery studio any time of the day or night, so long as we did not interfere when he had a credit class in session.

While going through a painful divorce, I devoted my time outside of work to bicycle racing and pottery. (While I no longer race bikes, cycling remains one of my passions, along with photography.) As my skills with clay grew, what were first gifts for friends and family became sales. Encouraged by the sales, I started doing street fairs, and had some success with them. At that time, I learned how to make as many different functional pottery items as I could, from mugs (of course!) to teapots to dinner sets and more.

I moved to Bend, Oregon in 1994, taking a job with the local school district in the printing department. Naively thinking that every college that had a clay studio would be as open as the studio at SOSC in Ashland, I was very disappointed to learn that the hours of studio access at the local community college were very limited. I asked around and was able to rent studio space at the Blue Spruce Gallery, which was an outstanding pottery gallery and sadly no longer exists. But at the time it was wonderful, and I sold some of my pieces in the gallery which was encouraging. One day the former owner of the gallery, Mike Gwinup, was in the studio. I had been thinking about buying a small used gas firing kiln for $800 I asked Mike if he thought that was a good price. "For $800 you can build a real kiln", he said. When I pressed him further on the concept, since I knew absolutely nothing about kiln building, he agreed to help me with the project. At the time, I had one of the best landlords a potter could ever have - a landlord who thought it would be cool if I built a propane firing kiln on the concrete slab that once was a garage, near the alley at the bottom of the yard. So, Mike would give me a list of things to do, I would do them, he would come over and inspect what I had done, and if it was done properly he would give me another list of things to do and we would repeat the cycle. In a month or so, I had a gas firing kiln!

In time, my wife and I moved to a larger house and I was able to set up the studio that I currently work out of in the garage. "Why put a car in a garage when you can put a pottery studio in it?" I've always said that!

The Mugs Take On A Life Of Their Own

Sometime in the year 2000, I came home from work and had a message on the machine from some company called Oxygen. They had found my website,, which was a site I did to sell my whole line of functional work. They wanted to know if I could make them some mugs for an upcoming conference that Time-Warner was putting on. I did a bit of research, and discovered that Oxygen was a new cable network that Oprah had recently started. They needed 200 mugs in less that two weeks. I did not have any mugs in stock - in those days almost anything anyone ordered from my site was a custom order - so I did not get the order. But a seed had been planted, and I thought that some day I would like to create a web business that only sold mugs.

In 2006, my wife went back to school to get her RN degree. The two year course was incredibly demanding of her time and energy. One day it dawned on me: I should do that mug business now! Susan will never accuse me of spending too much time in the studio - she barely has time to say good morning to me before she has to rush off to class! And so, I started putting together the first version of Initially, Mug Revolution made one size mug (now known as the large, 16 oz. mug) and it was only available in one color: Green/Blue.

I fortuitously took a class at Central Oregon Community College with a Search Engine Strategies expert by the name of Andre Jensen. After following his advice, started to get a lot of on-line sales, and as time went by I started to see that my dream of becoming a full time studio potter was looking more and more possible! In September 2008, I was able to hang up my printer's apron after 30 years of a very wide ranging and fulfilling career, and have been working with clay full time ever since.

The Future of Mug Revolution

When people hear the story of how my small company has grown and prospered, I often hear them say "Soon you'll have to hire employees!" It is interesting to think about that, and while the day may come that Mug Revolution does indeed expand and have employees, it will happen in its own time. I don't equate success with the size of the company. Success to me is having a customer tell me that they are using the mug that they bought from me and it has been their favorite mug since the day they got it. The fact that I can find customers through the internet who understand that a high quality handmade mug is well worth the cost, and the fact that I can support myself and take the time to make each mug without rushing through it to get it done is satisfaction in itself. Well, enough said! I see by the clock it's time for a coffee. Excuse me now while I wander off to the studio to try to find where I put my mug. It's there somewhere, I put it down and it disappeared...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lots of new stuff!

It has been a while since I've posted here. Thankfully only two or three people (and my dog Kelty, who I read the posts to before publishing them) have noticed that, and you guys have been kind enough in allowing me time to get my thoughts together. Ok. None of that is true. Truth is, the dog only pays attention to me if there is some possibility of getting food. And there is nobody who has said "Geez, Owen, when will you be updating your blog?"

I had great intentions of getting the blog in order. I was going to write serious, scholarly articles and contribute my tiny bit of knowledge to the universal database of pottery techniques. Then, the Christmas holidays ended, and I had orders to fill, and had to get back into the studio.

In February I started a blog post on mug handles and how I've arrived at a handle that I really like, and that people like, and how it took me years to figure out what kind of handle really works on a mug, and I never finished the post. I happen to own two mugs made by a very well known potter who has written a well known book on functional pottery, and I took pictures of his mugs to show that his handles are really, um, disfunctional, in my humble opinion. I was going to take him on! But I didn't finish the post. I've just realized that the reason I did not finish the post is that I have started too many things. And I'm in the middle of too many things, and I'm finding that I just want to get these projects, as I like to call them, turned into reality, and then do more new stuff. (I will finish and publish the post on handles one of these days, I promise.)

Just after New Year's, I signed up for a Pilates class. It's twice a week, at noon, and each class is an hour long. It has been tough for me, and way out of my comfort zone, and because of that I've stuck with it. (Best time I've ever had in my life was in my early twenties, traveling alone in Mexico, completely and totally out of my element yet somehow that forced me to be open to everything I was seeing and experiencing. The closest experience I've had to this recently was watching the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" in the theater.) And in the 3 months since I started Pilates, I've realized that this is the best thing I've done for myself and my body in a very long time. So until the nice weather really arrives here, (which can be in July, seriously) I'll be doing Pilates, then switch to get as many bike rides in as possible before cold weather arrives next fall, damn her.

My 19 year old son and I have signed up for a bike tour at the end of June. It'll be super, I've gone on two tours before with this company, which is run by two very good friends, and a lot of the people who I have met on those tours go every year. It's like a family reunion, except that you genuinely like everyone there. Anyhow, twice a week my son and I meet at lunch at the gym and do a spinning class. We'll switch to real riding every chance we get to get on the roads.

So, I'm doing okay in the physical fitness department.

I hired a web design programmer at the very end of 2008 to update Mug Revolution's website. This has taken a lot of time, and quite frankly has been somewhat frustrating in that it is taking forever to get done, and I'm used to being able to do all the updates by myself. However, the site is now relaunched, looks really good, and the list of things to fix keeps getting smaller, so that's a good thing. [edit, 12/09-I had to fire this guy in June! No, I did not fire him in my kiln, though truth be told there were times I would have liked to, sad to say. Bad, bad experience. But I am super thrilled with the new site my new developer created. It is getting high praise indeed!]

So, that's 3 new things. What else?

I've got several mug related things that get on the list:
  • a new glaze color (earthtones), soon to be announce on the site
  • a new "Bend, Oregon" mug
  • a new "Love mug"
  • a new, small, 8 oz. mug
  • a new product line, soup mugs
  • a new "Mother's Day" mug
  • and, potentially, beer steins. Sample steins look awesome and I may add them to the product list on the website.
And today, I had a new, wider door installed in the studio. This is the door from the studio to the kiln area, and for years I've had to do acrobatics to carry boards filled with mugs through the narrow door, and back through the door when the firing is done, always worrying that I'll bump the board and drop it. It's never happened, but I've always had that worry. So, I hired a contractor and today was the day. So glad it's done, and looks good!

Sheesh! That's a lot of new stuff. I didn't mention that I've joined a business group and also have been taking a class at our community college for small businesses. (Wait...I just did mention that. I should have started that sentence with "I should mention...". Had I done so, I would have not had to clarify the use of the word "mention," and potentially piss off the two people who might chance upon this blog and read it. It is a dangerous business, this blogging. Live and learn, eh? It'll never happen again.)

'Nuff said for now. I'll be back soon. I'll be super pleased to hear your comments on the new, improved, and shinier website, how your life is going, and your observations on the current state of mug technology.

All the best! Owen

Friday, January 9, 2009

I thought it would be slow after Christmas

I really did. Last year I was pretty busy in January, but I had a thought in the back of my mind that maybe this year would start off slow because of the bad news we keep hearing about the economy. However, two of my regular customers placed nice sized orders, two new customers placed a nice sized orders, I have orders that were placed on the website since Christmas, and all of a sudden I'm swamped. 

A lot of good stuff is going on, too. KPOV, Bend's community radio station, placed an order for logo mugs, and I will be getting some local underwriting spots broadcast a couple of times a week. I'm interested to see if I get any business as a result of this. 

At any rate, a short post this time--but better to post good news than no news at all, right?

OK, everyone, all the best until next time.