Ceramic Arts Daily instructional DVD’s released!

2015 has been quite eventful!  In January, Shoji and I welcomed our son into the family six days before our daughter turned two.  We took an epic 2 1/2 month road trip and spent the month of May working at the incredible Archie Bray Foundation!  Needless to say, I haven’t had a lot of time to make work or keep up with my website.  Hopefully, my Potter of the Month Series will return soon as I have an amazing group of potters who have expressed interest in being a part.

For now, I’d like to introduce the launching of my new instructional DVD’s!  It seems like just yesterday that I was approached by Ceramics Arts Daily with the idea to film a “fundamentals” DVD for wheel-thrown pottery.  As a part-time teacher, part-time studio potter and former apprentice for a wholesale production potter, I was up to the challenge!  After all, I love the idea of giving back to the community that has given me so much joy and purpose!

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Leaving the Archie Bray Foundation

To find out more about the DVD’s and to view clips, please click here.

Happy Potting!

Sue Tirrell: Potter of the Month

With the annual NCECA Conference rounding the corner, and the first days of spring upon us, I figured it was the perfect time to feature Sue Tirrell’s spirited work!  I have been a fan of Sue’s work since I can remember…being particularly attracted to the narrative aspect in combination with her unassuming forms and vibrant palette.  I’m also intrigued by how her pots inform her sculptural work and vice versa.

White Horse Dinner Plate

White Horse Dinner Plate

In the interview, Sue gives succinct advice about how to market your work as well as explaining the realities of building and maintaining a studio art practice.  Sue also expands on how both Art School and life experience have helped her to shape a successful career.  Find out why Sue connects her creative process to that of a sourdough starter, why the word “whimsy” just isn’t descriptive enough and why horses are an integral part of her narrative.

Enjoy!

How did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education?

4th of July Parade, Red Lodge, MT (1985)

4th of July Parade, Red Lodge, MT (1985)

I took my first ceramics class during my freshman year at Cottey College, a 2-year liberal arts college in Nevada, Missouri. My strengths and interests were in drawing and painting, so I thought I would end up in illustration or graphic design. I signed up for ceramics because I had never worked in a 3-D medium and it sounded like fun. My first teacher was Cameron Crawford, who currently teaches at California State University, Chico. He was really tough and I found clay to be extremely frustrating. I’m pretty stubborn though, so I kept after it.

Studio-2I ended up taking ceramics the full two years I was at Cottey before completing my BFA at Alfred University in Alfred, NY. I chose Alfred because they had 6 dynamic faculty members in ceramics and an extensive facility; also, I liked that it was in a rural setting. Having a network of peers and faculty that were both rigorous and supportive was a tremendous experience. Everybody worked incredibly hard, but we had a blast doing it. I came home to Montana during my summer breaks to work for a couple that made production pottery and jewelry.

It is hard to describe how beneficial it was to have this experience sandwiched between semesters at Art School. I learned to be a better thrower, what an efficient studio and home business look like and, most importantly, I saw how being an independent artist is really a lifestyle. I really think I got the best kind of education during these years—creative investigation and development punctuated with practical experiences in a production environment.

How do you feel that your formal education prepared you for your career in ceramics?

I was fortunate to have been surrounded by teachers and peers that were encouraging and supportive, but at the same time had extremely high standards and expectations of me.. It was really exciting to work with colleagues that were always pushing their work to the next level and trying

Red Unicorns Platter

Red Unicorns Platter

new things. I think this is a really helpful way to begin a career—observing that even if you are working alone, there are others in the clay community working just as hard–or harder–than you, to be better every day. Art School also taught me about asking questions and considering what motivates me as a maker and why. Working for the studio potter in Montana taught me about making things that people want to use and, therefore, purchase; about taking care of my equipment and taking care of my back; and about managing my time (something I continue to struggle with! ).

I was first introduced to your sculptural work and then years later fell in love with your pots.  Did one (sculpture/pottery) come before the other or have you always worked on them simultaneously? How do they inform each other?

Circus Rider With Dog and Hoop

Circus Rider With Dog and Hoop

I’m really not sure which came first! I fell in love with functional pots for the simple way they connect the maker to the user. I’ve always made pots, but I never felt like I had a unique hand with functional forms. My strengths were in the surface, not the forms, so making pots wasn’t something I did regularly. As a result, my undergraduate work dealt mainly with abstract, landscape-inspired sculpture. At the same time, my drawings on paper became more dense and sculptural. I began making figure and animal sculpture when I graduated and came home to Montana in 1998. I loved the landscape-based work I made in school, but once I returned to the landscape that I had been away from for so long, I felt I didn’t need to make it anymore.

My horse Charles

My horse Charles

That year, I found myself in Miles City, the largest town in Eastern Montana, running educational outreach programs in rural schools and communities for the Custer County Art & Heritage Center. I loved driving the lonely highways and dirt roads, stopping to admire herds of cattle, horses and sheep. I boarded my horse at a farm nearby that was also home to goats, dogs, chickens, geese, burros and a giant pig. There were even a couple of bison at one point! This was the closest I had ever been to being a farm-girl, and I wanted to tell stories about the animals in my sculpture. When I moved to my current home and studio in 2005, I became a full-time studio artist and began making pots again to supplement my income.

Trick-Roper Platter

Trick-Roper Platter

Currently, pots are my main focus, but making sculpture allows me a mental break and the chance to take a drawing from a pot and turn it into a more complex, three- dimensional narrative. Each body of work informs the other—I started drawing people on my pots because there were things I didn’t think I could achieve with sculpture, like trick-riders and horses flying through the air or a skier encountering a polar bear. Now I am taking some of those drawings and translating them back to sculpture.

sue side by side

I love how you describe your work on your website as “Folkloric pottery and sculpture with a modern sensibility”. Can you expand what you mean by this?

Grey Rabbits and Poppies Dessert Plates

Grey Rabbits and Poppies Dessert Plates

Well,the short version is I was tired of the word “whimsical” being used to describe my work so often!  Whimsy implies that everything is all sunshine and flowers—and some of my work IS just that, which is perfectly fine. However, a lot of it tells a more complicated tale. I want my work to evoke memories and spark conversation in the audience. The best feed-back I get from people are the reasons why they relate to a piece. I have heard stories about beheading chickens, midnight lambing duty, encounters with bears, favorite dogs, and swimming in the ocean with horses. I love how people identify with certain animals, and that a mug or platter or sculpture can enhance that relationship through a shared

Winter Rider Detail

Winter Rider Detail

narrative. I often use bits and pieces of folktales or fables as a starting point for a piece, making the reference vague enough that the viewer can imagine their own version of events. To further this ambiguity, I use a combination of traditional-looking details and modern touches so the piece can’t be placed in any specific place or time. Often the imagery itself can look “vintage,” but the vibrant colors and animated carving on the crisp porcelain canvas give it a more contemporary feel.

How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?

Vintage Photograph

Vintage Photograph

I draw a lot on the rich history and physical beauty of Montana and the West and my experiences in it. I used to visit a lot of antique stores when I lived in Eastern Montana, making a bee-line for the boxes of old photos. I looked for images of people with animals, specifically women and horses. These photos have served as a starting point for many of my sculptures. I also loved looking at old horse tack and vintage textiles—quilts, embroidered pillowcases, crocheted doilies and tablecloths. All these objects beg to tell their stories, and they find their way into my work through color combinations, textures, and direct drawing references.

White Rabbit Teapot and CupWhen I am finishing a body of work, I always take something from that group and add it to the next—like a sourdough starter. Similarly, I might think of something new along the way and save it for the next piece. I like the unity this creates in my work over time. The changes may appear slight, but to me they are significant.

Do you have a favorite “creature” to draw? If so, why?

My first pony Cocoa

My first pony Cocoa

Horses! I have been obsessed with horses as long as I can remember, and I have been drawing them since I could hold a pencil. Drawing was how I got to know them before I had the pleasure of meeting one in person. I got my first pony when I was 8 and I have been riding ever since. I also love drawing rabbits. I had several pet rabbits when I was growing up, and I showed them, along with my horses, at the 4-H fair each summer. Having the privilege of this intimacy with animals gives me endless inspiration. I love to see them come to life each time I finish a drawing.

You are lucky to live in Montana where despite its remote location and sparse population, there is a rich ceramic history and incredible community support for clay. Recently, a group called Montana Clay was developed to help promote ceramic artists/craftsmen/schools/art centers/galleries/etc in the state. Can you talk about how Montana Clay formed and what your involvement is in the group?

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.27.48 AMYes, we are very lucky! Generally speaking, Montana has a notably vibrant arts scene, and the ceramics community is especially large and tight-knit. Montana Clay is two things: A website clearing-house of information related to ceramics in the state of Montana and a loosely organized group of artists, teachers, and advocates. The site includes links to schools, universities and residency programs, art centers, museums, galleries, and artists who are currently living and working in the state. The group itself welcomes anyone in Montana who is involved in the ceramic arts to gather once a year to share ideas, plan exhibits, celebrate each other’s achievements, and have a kick-ass potluck! Montana Clay provides a very inclusive, supportive means for artists across the state to stay connected in what can otherwise be a very insular vocation.

How did you decide to settle and build a studio in your current location and how has your studio practice evolved?

I moved to my current location in Southwestern Montana when I married my husband in 2005. He had a teaching job here and I was ready to move back to the mountains after spending 7 years on the beautiful plains of Eastern Roadtrip knittingMontana. I set up a studio in the unfinished basement of our house and divided my time between art-making and a number of part- time jobs. During the first few years it was hard finding my groove—up until that point I had always worked in a communal studio setting so the solitude bothered me at first. I also had a hard time giving myself permission to call what I did in the studio my full-time job. Gradually, my artwork kept me busy enough that I could quit the other jobs. In 2009, we put an addition on our house that included a large basement space which became my current studio. Today, my biggest challenge is finding a balance between my studio practice and other areas of my life. I find it very easy to work long days and not take breaks between deadlines. I know my body and mind suffer when I get into that routine, so I am trying to be vigilant on that front!

Being in such a remote area, how do you best reach your audience? What kind of advice could you give someone wanting to market their work?

I have found that my audience is best reached through a combination of gallery representation and my own efforts to present my work through home sales and craft fairs. Having a diversity of marketing strategies enables my work to be seen in many places at once. I rely heavily on galleries that have a strong client base and web presence to sell work on my behalf. Everything involved in marketing and selling online—photography, uploading each item, communicating with buyers and shipping—takes an enormous amount of time that could be spent working in the studio. I love all the galleries I work with, and they do a MUCH better job with outreach than I ever could.

Painting Dapples on Horse Plate

Painting Dapples on Horse Plate

When personally marketing work, I would suggest use of user-friendly internet mediums, studio sales, local arts and crafts fairs, and workshops. Facebook and Instagram are easy DIY marketing tools. You don’t have write exhaustive, image heavy blog posts, but giving your followers a peek at what you are up to on a regular basis keeps your work in people’s minds. The same goes for attending openings, workshops, and lectures in person. If you stay visible in your creative community, your work will receive attention, too. I also promote my work closer to home by having an annual studio sale and attending a regional craft fair every year. To prepare for the studio sale, I send out a postcard to

Building up Surface

Building up Surface

everyone I know and give them a discount if they bring a friend, or if they wear a fancy outfit (my sale is always on Kentucky Derby Day!). I clean the house and studio, make some pies, and put a sign on the road to encourage passers- by. I also make sure I leave out a notebook for newcomers to leave their contact information for future sales. This is a great way to engage your community in the work you do. The people who attend my Spring Sale are mostly friends and neighbors, but the event has become an annual tradition and I really appreciate the support of my little neighborhood. The first few years you may not sell much, but it goes a long way toward building a loyal, year-round client base. Plus, you get a clean studio and leftover pie at the end! I have also been doing one craft fair per summer for the last 4 years as a way to test the waters in a new market. I choose an event in a town where I have no gallery representation, is within driving distance, and provides a fun atmosphere when I’m not working.

Carving a chickenI have learned a great deal over the years about what works well at a fair and what doesn’t. Fairs are physically and emotionally exhausting, especially for ceramic artists. Schlepping your work to and from a fair is BACKBREAKING work. You can have a rogue wind that wrecks your tent and breaks your pots, or a weather event that keeps your patrons away. Spending 8 hours a day on your feet talking about your work gets tiresome even for the extroverts among us. Overall, most of my sales come through galleries and that is ideal for me. I like the personal interactions with customers at a fair or my studio sale but that is not a sustainable business model for me year-round.

What other hobbies/interests do you have to balance your studio life? Do any of your hobbies inform your work?

My husband and I love to cook and garden, which is a great way to spend time together. I keep a few chickens in our back yard (for egg production, pest control, and drawing purposes!) and I like trail running with our dogs. My most consuming personal interests are horses and knitting.

My new horse Mabel

Like I said before, I have been a horse-crazy girl all my life and I know I am an artist because of horses. Early on, I made up for any horse deficits in my life by drawing them. Herds of horses filling notebooks, unicorns in the margins of my math homework, blueprints for my dream farm on brown paper bags. As I have grown up with horses, my knowledge of them has expanded and my ideas about them are more complex. Building a relationship of mutual trust with a half-ton prey animal is no small thing. I am currently working with a young horse, so this concept is on my mind every day. She is learning to follow my direction and I am learning to give her confidence in my leadership. It is a new way of thinking about human/animal relationships that fascinates me and will continue to for years to come.. She is learning to follow my direction and I am learning to give her confidence in my leadership. It is a new way of thinking about human/animal relationships that fascinates me and will continue to for years to come.

I learned to knit as a child and picked it back up when I graduated from college. It is a warm, dry, tactile, and portable craft that I can do when I travel or to unwind at night. The repetitive structure of the patterns appeals to me and feels similar to the carving I do on my pots.

Icelandic Sweater in Progress

Icelandic Sweater in Progress

Like ceramics, there is no end to what you can learn in knitting. Sweaters are my favorite thing to make—they are like making teapots. Each piece of the garment has to be well crafted and and integrated with the other parts in order for the finished piece to function properly.

An unexpected bonus of these two pastimes is meeting people, learning lessons, and stumbling upon ideas that I would never encounter in my studio life.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?

Chinook Rider

Chinook Rider

Learn all you can about what it takes to work in this field. Find a job or volunteer in a local gallery, museum, or art center. I spent seven years working in a small community art center where I not only taught ceramics, but learned about framing, hanging, lighting and shipping artwork; writing and tracking grants; fundraising, and outreach. I even learned about building pedestals and industrial carpet cleaning! I left that job with skills that I use every day in my own studio practice, and developed contacts with museums and galleries that gave a huge boost to my career as an independent artist. I also recommend reaching out to artists whose work or career path you admire. Most people are happy to share their story with you, and many would welcome you working alongside them in exchange for their knowledge and expertise. You never know if you don’t ask. The time I spent working in a local potter’s studio was a very different experience than my college education but was equally important.

To find out more about Sue and her work, please visit her website:

suetirrellceramics.com

And…Sue currently has a solo exhibition of new work on display at Red Lodge Clay Center.  Click here to view the show.

Joseph Pintz: Potter of the Month

The 2015 Potter of the Month series kicks off with a potter whose pots pepper my kitchen cupboards: Joseph Pintz.  Joe and I met at the O_tr_7iaQw4UaZneZSz5tbzIAjiwjy3a2q-yR9bX2B4Archie Bray Foundation in 2006 and became fast friends.  I’ve always admired Joe’s work and his work ethic.  His pots are timeless.  He pairs no-nonsense forms with rich patinas that speak of history and use.  What results are handsome, thoughtful, generous pieces that beg to be used.

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nesting bowls, earthenware, 5.25 x 12 x 12,” 2013

In the interview, Joe discusses how his background in anthropology helped shape his perspective of what it means to be a potter, how he balances a full-time teaching job with an active studio practice and where he looks for inspiration for new forms.  Enjoy!

How did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education?  I took my first ceramics class at a local community art center while I was studying anthropology at Northwestern University. At first, ceramics was just a hobby but my interest continued to grow over the years. I decided to go back to school to learn more and was a post-bacc at Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville. At the same time, I was lucky enough to work with Dan Anderson as his studio assistant. I went on to earn my MFA at the University of Nebraska, while working with Gail Kendall, Pete Pinnell and Eddie Dominguez.

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breadpan, earthenware, 18 x 2.5 x 12,” 2010

How does your background in anthropology influence the type of work you make (forms/surfaces/etc)?  I think my background in anthropology not only influences my work but how I look at the world around me.  Through my study of anthropology, I learned how material culture functions within a society.  I find it fascinating that much of what is known about early cultures comes purely from the archaeological record.  Even a humble shard of ceramics can reveal a wealth of information about traditions, values, and beliefs.

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dinnertable, earthenware & wood, 35 x 78 x 32,” 2014

For thousands of years, the role of art was to communicate or comment on culture.  Art was not separate from daily life; it was a central part of it. The work of anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake focuses on this link between art and culture. She redefined art within a cultural context as ‘making special’; art takes everyday experience and elevates it out of the mundane.  As a potter, I strive to achieve this age-old goal in my own work.

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pair of chevron boxes, earthenware, 6.75 x 11.25 x 7.25,” 2013

How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate/graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  Since I did not study art in undergrad, I had a lot of catching up to do while I was a post-bacc as well as in grad school. I worked hard and tried to learn as much from my mentors and from my fellow grads as I could. I was lucky enough to be able to teach several ceramics classes in grad school and that helped me figure out that I wanted to go on to teach at the college level.

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hayrake, flat hoe, serrated hoe, rake & gardening tool rack, earthenware & wood, 11 x 60 x 64,” 2013

While your tableware is in kitchens across the country, you also make sculptural objects. Can you talk about the two seemingly disparate bodies of work and what makes them cohesive?  I see my functional and sculptural work as different sides of the same coin. Both types of work address the idea of utility but in different ways. While we as potters are used to thinking of pots as functional, we can often overlook many of the other objects that serve as tools within the domestic realm. My series of life-sized ceramic sculptures based on kitchen utensils and gardening implements explore how these tools fulfill our physical and emotional needs.

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Pulper, earthenware, 7 x 18 x4”

How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?  I often find inspiration at the antique store or in obsolete objects that are made out of all different kinds of materials, from metal to wood to stone. Functional objects have a strong association with the hand and their worn surfaces tell a story of use and labor.

When working up to a new vessel form, I often start out by making a solid version and then hollow it out. I find that working reductively frees me up, allowing me to find the form more intuitively. If I find that I need to make a series of the same pots, I often make a bisque mold to help speed up the rest of the pieces.

You have spent countless hours researching layered combinations of terra sig colors, glaze colors and other patinas. Can you talk a little about your palette and why you gravitate to the colors/surfaces you do?  In grad school, I was fortunate to take a iH79piXbI5AEgj9-A6yx6aXosKteRu9-4rv21UoIa98glaze chemistry class with Pete Pinnell. I did a lot of testing of sigs and glazes and tried to come up with a surface that would have the same richness and depth as layers of old weathered paint.

eH2RC8oT8i6OZBfeHEVMX3kumDgs-lTz7fXM0mLWWbkFor my functional pots, I primarily use a white crackle slip and a pastel glaze that I developed in that class. I often use colored sigs with patinas and oxide washes on the more sculptural pieces (or the exteriors of functional pieces such as boxes).

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double dish, small dishes, bowl & cup, earthenware, double dish: 1.25 x 7.5 x 6.75,” 2013

Do you have a favorite form to make? If so, why?  I seem to make quite a lot of bowls and shallow dishes. As someone who loves to cook, I suppose that I like the options that these pots present for serving different types of food.

Do you have a favorite studio tool that you just can’t live without?  A4HsjRMt23HHTvF8H85AIkz3ODVCoWVrALL2L8SGEKAI am sort of a hoarder when it comes to tools (as the two huge drawers full of them in my studio would attest to). But, I regularly use only a handful of basic commercially made tools when I am hand-building my work.

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mallet

The one tool that I make myself is a wooden mallet that I use to pound out my slabs. I cover the surface of the mallet with canvas so it is less likely to stick to the wet clay.

Aside from an active career as a potter, you also teach full time and have since 2007. I have rarely seen someone balance both as well as you. What’s your secret(s)?  I wish I knew what the secret was to finding that balance! After my time at the Bray, I was lucky to get my first teaching position alongside John Balistreri at Bowling Green State University. After four productive years there, I secured a tenure track job at the University of Missouri.  Academia is challenging because it puts a high value on what you do in the classroom as well as your creative research.

Although I typically teach only two days per week, there’s always something more that needs doing on my school to-do list, from repairing studio equipment, to ordering supplies or serving on departmental committees. Also, the fact that I have my working studio at school right off the classroom makes it challenging at times to switch gears between my roles as teacher and artist. But, I enjoy working along side my students and I think it helps them to see firsthand how much effort it takes to be a working artist.

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mason jars, earthenware & wood, 55 x 62 x 5.5,” 2014

So, I have learned to be flexible and try to creatively fit in my making around the demands of the classroom. My workflow can fluctuate widely from week to week during the academic school year, but summer vacation offers the space and uninterrupted time to work on either larger sculptural pieces or to make a large batch of pots. I have learned that it is important for my own mental health that I make it a point to get some making time in on a regular basis.

You’ve spent time at residency programs across the country, most recently in Roswell, New Mexico. Can you talk about what your time as an artist-in- residence has meant for you and your work?  In 2006-2007, I was a year-long resident at the Bray right after finishing up graduate school. That year was very formative time for me; the residency gave me the time and support to focus on producing a solid body of work. I also was able to put in a lot of time trying to get my work out into the world to make connections with galleries.

MpwxqAshEMiXLJYoack8gbrmwG-wSZFeAWLjxgAviJILast year, I was lucky enough to able to do a year-long residency at the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program. After six years of teaching full-time, the gift of the uninterrupted time to be able to devote myself completely to my work was a true blessing. I am very grateful for this opportunity and to the University of Missouri for supporting my research leave.

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Kristen Martincic, double ladder pool, three-plate etching w/ aquatint on mitsumata, 14.75×18.5″, 2012

Your partner is also an exceptionally talented artist (probably best known as a printmaker?). You two have collaborated on work in the past. I am curious how you two feed off each other’s creative processes?  I was lucky enough to meet my wife Kristen Martincic while in grad school. I am grateful to have a partner who understands and supports the challenges of being an artist. We both put in long hours in the studio and often help each other troubleshoot problems. Kristen has a solid background in ceramics and we have collaborated on several ceramic pieces in the past. We are planning on a body of work that combines her interest in swimming pools with my focus on vessels for an upcoming two-person show at Turman Larison Contemporary in early 2016.  Here’s a link to find out more about Kristen and her work : www.kmartincic.com

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pair of pitchers, earthenware, 9.75 x 8.25 x 4.5″ (each), 2013

You recently redesigned your website. Can you talk about what prompted the change and why you selected the hosting site you did? Can you offer any advice to someone wanting to build/design their own website?  About a year ago, I moved my site to a customizable website template through Virb.com. Their designs are simple, clean and easy to navigate. I had recently started having my work photographed on a white backdrop and that prompted me to redesign the layout of my website.

When it comes to building your own site, I would say it is important to look at a lot of artist sites to get an idea of what you like and what you don’t like. There is no right or wrong but it is important that you have a clear idea about how you want to present yourself and do so in the most professional way possible. Be sure to get some constructive feedback from people you trust before your site goes live.

Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?
What kind of advice could you give someone wanting to market their work?  Since quite a bit of my time is taken up by teaching, I am SqYW5G2gfZQD6gxy9UmOCyY5-viCihqpq00v_Ca90Z4happy to let the galleries I work with take care of the marketing. I have my work in about a dozen retail galleries around the country. Sales can vary a lot from place to place but there are several galleries that have really supported me and my work over the years: Schaller Gallery (St. Joseph, MI), Turman Larison Contemporary (Helena, MT), The Museum of Contemporary Craft (Portland, OR), and Penland Gallery (Penland, NC)

Learning how to market your work takes time and often involves learning some tough lessons through trial and error. First, you have to decide what road (or roads) you want to go down. While some artists choose to focus their efforts on establishing a local clientele, others choose to do the craft fair circuit, while others choose to have galleries deal with the sales (and many artists do a combination all of the above). Each route has its advantages and disadvantages, but I believe it is important to get your work out there and striving to take advantages of all the opportunities at hand.

If you go the gallery route, I would say that getting your actual work in front of a gallery owner really helps. So, when I was starting out, I applied to lots of juried shows. Several of the galleries I am working with now started off with my having one piece accepted into a juried show at their space.

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teapot, earthenware, 6 x 12 x 5.5″ (each), 2013

The other way I have gotten into galleries is by researching which ones I think my work would fit into best and whether they carried other artists who’s work I admired. Although the “cold call” technique doesn’t always pan out, it can’t hurt to try if you present yourself in a professional manner.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?  Working as a potter can take its toll on your body, so it is important to take care of yourself (a lesson that has become more and more apparent to me as I get older). For me, this means taking the time to eat well, getting enough rest, and finding time to fit in exercise.

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wheelbarrow, earthenware & mixed media, 57 x 23 x 24,” 2013

I think that anyone making a living in the arts has a tough row to hoe ahead of them. But with hard work, dedication and some tenacity, you can find (or create) a way to make it. As John Cage said:

“The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all the work all the time who eventually catch on to things.”

For more info about Joe and his work, please visit his website: iconceramics.com

 

Bryan Hopkins: Potter of the Month

With a new year on the horizon, I’m excited to close out 2014 in style with Bryan Hopkins!  Bryan consistently impresses me with his innovative, architectural forms and his inquisitive, technical research into soft-paste porcelain.  His range of work is smart and sophisticated, yet approachable and honest.  In the interview, Bryan explains what keeps him engaged with porcelain, what outlets are best for his work and why he chooses to use “common” textures for his surfaces.

Enjoy!

tn_1200_909aefc9c6e93c83cf81e0f59573a3b4.jpgHow did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education? Both my parents were teachers, and although my mother taught pottery and sculpture in a high school, my brother and I were not exposed to art. My father taught mathematics and played sports, and I gravitated to those activities. I went to college for mathematics and had to take an art elective to graduate. A friend was taking ceramics so I decided to sign up, too. Within a semester I had dropped my math major and started taking art courses. I graduated with a B.S. in Liberal Studies with minors in Art, Photography, and Political Science. My MFA is from SUNY New Paltz in Ceramics.

e39545fba91c497c82cf75e77452299fYou settled in Buffalo, New York and set up a personal studio. How have you been able to establish yourself in your community and gathered support? When I moved to Buffalo I decided to join a group studio (Buffalo Arts Studio- BAS) as opposed to working in isolation. The BAS had about 20 artists then(we have 40 now), and no specific ceramics area. Another artist and I gathered support to build a clay center as part of the BAS (which is a 501(C)3 org.) complete with a designated kiln room, teaching classroom and 8 clay artist studios. There was an opportunity to run the gallery space of the BAS so I did that for about 6 years, being paid if there was money available- and there usually was not. The time spent doing that was a great introduction to the Buffalo art scene, and led me to have the confidence to curate and set up regional and national ceramics exhibitions

26f0abcdc1b1ca4bf85357ac164bd13eWhat decisions went into you selecting a place to settle? The woman I was dating in grad school lived in Buffalo, and when I visited it seemed like a good place. The idea was to give it a try, and that was 19 years ago. Buffalo has a lot of opportunities for people who are looking, and the city really is what you make out of it. And I did not have to have a full-time job, other than my studio, to support myself. My mortgage now is less than my rent was in college in 1989, and it makes a big difference in my approach to my studio practice when decisions are not based on selling to make ends meet.

You teach part-time at Niagara County Community College.   As a potter who also teaches part-time, I am keenly aware how teaching can cut into studio time. What I am interested in knowing is how does teaching inform your work, studio practice, etc? Teaching does not inform my work or studio practice, and it never has. What teaching allows me to do in my studio is to not care about selling work, which gives me the freedom to push, to experiment, to be unapologetically self-indulgent. What affected my studio practice deeply was having a son (Lucas is now 11). Being the “primary caregiver” meant a complete change in my schedule to keep up with studio demands of orders and exhibitions. I have a good work ethic, but my studio practice became much more efficient and time was much more focused. I do find teaching 3-D design allows me to explore (through my students) ideas not suitable to clay. Like inflated biomorphic forms, or book art. Teaching is fun for me, and I encourage my students to be playful in their problem solving, which is how I approach my studio practice. So for me, teaching does not inform studio: studio informs teaching.

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Same vessel as below, but lit from within to showcase its translucency.

tn_1200_02e8c6abdcf0d476f063a12d6208a047.jpg You’ve worked in porcelain for the past 20+ years. What is it about porcelain that keeps you engaged? I am a perfectionist, so porcelain and I are made for each other. White, translucent, smooth, and no grit. I hate gritty clay. Porcelain is not passive in the outcome of a piece- porcelain is a partner I am working with, trying to negotiate simple issues like verticality. It has a mind of its’ own and I feel I do not simply “use” porcelain, but I feel we are in a long-term relationship.

You used to wheel- throw your cups and now you slip cast them. Can you talk about what prompted the change? The change had to happen because I wanted texture fully around the cup, and there is no other way to do that (with porcelain fired to cone 11 in reduction) and keep the cup round. And all the cool kids were casting, so I thought I should try it. I would like to say I hate making molds, but they are necessary, and I can not afford to pay someone to make them for me.

2390c15e39c84a33884417c91f40e85cHow do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas? For about 3 years I did not look at any current ceramics or craft publications that had photographs, and I did not look at any web sites of clay artists. That was about 1999-2002, pre Facebook and Instagram, so it was not so difficult to ignore images. My work went through a major shift then, when I stopped using colored and atmospheric glazes and went to a single clear glaze, to focus on form. I was looking at lots of books of Asian pottery, pre-1900 European porcelain, fabric design from Russia, Hans Coper, modernist architecture, and lots of post World War 2 European ceramics. That detachment was important because I felt influenced by too much- seeing what was being validated in the magazines of craft and art was too much. I got Clary Illian’s book (A Potter’s Workbook) in 1999 and did all the “assignments”, and that was wonderful for me. I was asked to make a salt and pepper set in 2003 for a show, and since then I have found great pleasure in ec4385bac90c423b93c74c6b901dea51trying to revive defunct or little known forms, like egg cups and toast racks. I draw a lot- not well, but I go for quantity over quality. Mostly I draw overhead views of what I make, as I can visualize the side view. Those are re-drawn in my studio on a dry erase board, and then transferred to clay.

What does a typical workday look like for you? I work in the studio M-F, and never on weekends. I get up at 6:30am and make lunches and get my son on the bus. I am in the studio (2.5 miles from my house) by 7:45am. On M, W & F, I work until about 4pm (in addition to making work, that includes all studio business like banking, marketing, etc), then either get my son afterschool or go out on my bike for a couple of hours. T & Th are my teaching days, so I leave the studio by 1pm to teach a 2-5 class, then a 6-9 class. Home by 9:30pm, asleep by 10:30 every night.

What is your most valuable studio tool? I have this weird little wooden stick a painter gave me about 15 years ago I can’t do without. Or maybe my flex-shaft rotary tool I drill holes with.

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You recently embarked on a research project that resulted in a couple of successful low-fire porcelain recipes. What prompted this research and how do you plan to add these clay bodies into your studio practice (that had previously been exclusively cone 10/11 reduction)? I had been using a cone 10 porcelain, made in Australia, for almost 9 years, and it was no longer going to be imported to the USA, so I decided to try making it myself. In that quest there are lots of variables, one of which is temperature. I had heard fddcdb04b722379aefbad8be82e98409of soft paste porcelain but knew nothing about it, and a simple internet search came up with stuff called frit-clay. About a month after reading about that I contacted a guy I heard of who was making stuff out of what he calls soft past porcelain. He got back to me a couple of months later with a basic recipe which, coincidentally, I was already using- the clay component is what my cone 10 recipe is based on, so I had lots of very white clay around. After 60 different clay tests I settled on 2 recipes and plan on using them exclusively for light fixtures and cups, adding encapsulated stains for color. They will be at NCECA this year, in the Objective Clay gallery in the Expo Center, and as part of a show I am curating at Bridgewater State University called Dialecticians.

You separate your work into two categories: “Function” and “Dysfunction”. You describe your Dysfunction series as follows: “My work is based on the premise that the clay vessel is capable of more than holding fruit, presenting flowers, or decorating a sideboard, and that there are additional functions of the vessel, such as containing the intangible (light, shadow, idea).” I really love that you address this idea and wonder if you can expand on it a bit more. For instance, how do you decide when the vessel no longer become “capable of holding fruit, flowers, etc…” ? I said that? Well, I guess technically all my work can 77921f79b1924416871f3bd577d8f6f0contain, say, limes- but the Dysfunctional series is not strong enough to do that safely, or practically. Vases with holes in them are not easily utilized to hold a bouquet of flowers, but Ichibana arrangers use them all the time, regardless of assumed or actual fragility. I think what I was getting at with saying “additional functions of the vessel” is that a pot can be contemplated as can a painting. Ceramics is a sub-section of “art” (like painting, dance, lithography, etc) and is capable of conveying ideas and concepts as well as being decorative and useful. Not every object made from clay needs to serve a utilitarian purpose, so stripping any necessity of utility frees me up to push people’s ideas of pots, and porcelain specifically.

You talk about how you transfer low-brow, common textures (construction-grade lumber, diamond-plated steel, etc) onto a high-brow, “precious” material (porcelain)? Can you explain more about this contrast and how it adds content and acts as an access point into your work? Anyone who has been to Home Depot knows OSB (maybe as particle board), so it helps me to get people in to porcelain by association. I grew up 09ef80eb79ce45baa45552138d39c419working-class and I identify with that class still, not just income-wise, but culturally. But I love porcelain and want my friends to as well, so it is essential I add common textures to my work to get my friends to in to it. These simple textures are understood to be of building materials by most people, and then the question is why? Porcelain has always been precious and expensive. If you grew up with a China set in the house, it was not used daily, so again, precious. The textures are at odds with and opposite of precious, and question that assumption of objects made in porcelain.

You’ve sold work at numerous retail craft shows and wrote an eloquent article for Studio Potter entitled “What’s That For” where you talk about the importance of the marketplace as both a place to educate and to learn. Can you briefly describe how you select the craft shows you do and how they have been part of your studio practice? Over the past several years I have been applying to retail craft shows based on whether there is someone who lives close I can stay with. That makes it much more affordable, and a lot more fun.

tn_1200_169e9fc2f1ff40816797d782cefa8c67.jpgCraft shows are exactly that- shows. I see them as very important to my career and livelihood. Craft shows are great marketing opportunities and I have lined up workshops and visiting artist gigs because of them. Professors from surrounding colleges bring students to those bigger shows and it is always fun to talk to people who are new to the filed, and will some day be sitting in the (uncomfortable) chair I am siting in my booth. I usually get a commission or two from each show, and I enjoy the opportunity to work with a customer on specific pieces that are a little different from what I typically make. Like a toast rack with 9 slots (absurd, right?!)

Which marketing venue(s) (website/social media sites /galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work? East coast, metropolitan, in-person sales. I find I do not like selling on-line or over the phone, although I do it. No etsy yet. The Clay Studio in Philadelphia sells a lot of my work, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show is great for my work, when I can get in to the show. I just had a great time in Demarest, NJ, at the School at Old Church Pottery Sale. I have taken part in bigger studio tours and sales around the country, and find that it is best to meet the people you sell to- it helps them understand your work better, and build a stronger relationship to, say, a mug that person will use every day for years.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?  Find a good place to live, and a good person to share your life with. Take care of your whole self, not just your studio self- your career is a Grand Tour, not a match sprint.

For more information about Bryan and his work, please visit his website:

www.hopkinspottery.com

 

 

 

 

 

Adam Field: Potter of the Month

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Ohbuza Onggi 2008

This November I corresponded with the exceptionally talented and social media savvy Adam Field!  I met Adam in 2009 through a mutual friend and have been following his career ever since.  His porcelain forms are austere and honest and the rhythm of his decoration is meditative and precise.  In addition to his carved porcelain work, Adam is accomplished at producing traditional Onggi storage jars.  He published a video a few years back highlighting the Onggi process.  Click here to link to the video.

The combination of traditional Onggi fermentation jars and intricately carved porcelain works formed Adam’s career as a distinguished ceramic artist.  In the interview, Adam discusses how he balances these two “lines of work” and how he’s been able to establish himself as a full-time potter.

Enjoy!!!

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Covered Jars 2014 (photo by Alan Wiener)

How did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education?  My path to pottery was by way of photography. I was fortunate to have had some exceptional art teachers who gave me an early introduction to photography.  But, the mass migration from darkroom to hard drive in the late 1990s left something to be desired for an idealist like myself. My disillusion with digital technology coincided with my introduction to pottery.  Much like working in the darkroom, I found studio pottery to be a gratifying and challenging balance between structured technique, intuitive decision-making, and spontaneity. My education, after undergraduate school, has been largely self-directed and diverse.

6 year old Adam

6 year old Adam

Three experiences stand out as being most significant: learning to throw production ware as a studio assistant, working at a ceramic supply store in the Bay Area, and apprenticing at an Onggi studio in Korea. Throwing production early on was important because it challenged me to make the same form repeatedly, allowing me to hone in on the subtleties of crafting a form while developing skills in efficiently moving clay. While working at a ceramic supply store in San Franscisco shortly after graduating, I was often responsible for answering question from customers about everything from low fire china paint to cone 13 wood firings which led me to develop a habit of educating myself on a wide range of topics. During my time there, I was also encouraged by the owner to take workshops, which exposed me to a wide range of makers whose construction methods I had never seen before. Looking back, this was an essential period in my development.

My Korean Onggi mother

My Korean Onggi mother

My apprenticeship in Korea was certainly one of the more valuable experiences both professionally and personally. Being removed from my comfort zone (and nothing does this quite so well as being thrust into a foreign setting) forced me to discover who I was. The practical value of my apprenticeship was, in some ways, very similar to the value of throwing production forms in college. I didn’t have to think as much about designing a perfect form; I was instead focused on a single task. The thread that runs throughout much of my background is that all of these experiences

Ohbuza Onggi 2008

Ohbuza Onggi 2008

took place outside of academia and with some degree of practical application. My education has mostly occurred in a real world setting.

You spent a year in Korea learning how to construct traditional Onggi pottery. Can you talk about how this experience informed your work, work ethic and career path?  

Ohbuza Onggi

Ohbuza Onggi

In 2008, I moved to Korea for a rare opportunity to apprentice at Ohbuza Onggi under Onggi master potter Kim Ill Maan for one year. Documenting and sharing ancient Onggi techniques offered me a unique glimpse into a disappearing ceramic tradition that has continued to play an important role in Korean culture. Engaging with those traditions, techniques, and people who are dear to me was very gratifying.  I came to Korea with some solid skills in

Ohbuza Onggi

Ohbuza Onggi

the way of wheel-throwing and developing form as well as surface decoration. Through the apprenticeship process, most of those habits were transformed as my focus was placed solely on the repetition of the traditional Onggi form. Having to recreate these vessels allowed me to see form in a more specific way, giving me a precise vocabulary not just for the language of Onggi pots but also for the language of pots as a whole. I came back from Korea equipped with new approaches to describing and creating form.

Rolling coils at Ohbuza Onggi, 2008

Rolling coils at Ohbuza Onggi, 2008

An attention to detail extended even to the way the Onggi studio was set up. There was an economy of motion to how my teachers worked—all the tools were in the right place, and each movement would lead to the next action. As a result, I’m very careful to keep my studio clean and organized so that I don’t get in my own way with clutter.  When I first arrived in Korea, the expectation at Ohbuza was for seven 12 hour days. Had I not requested less, this would have been the work schedule for the entire time I was there. Work ethic is essential to the Onggi studio culture.

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Onggi Jars 2013

One of the obvious results from my time in Korea is that I now produce a line of functional fermenting Onggi jars that is distinct from my carved porcelain vessels. But this unique experience also prompted me to document and share a glimpse into a Korean Onggi studio with  with other potters around the world.  While in Korea, I starting producing videos on traditional Onggi techniques and posting them on YouTube. The response to these videos was significant with total views approaching 250,000. The project has been seen around the world, and reached far beyond my intended audience of clay people.  This inspired me to continue creating videos as a resource to my colleagues and to a broader audience than just those working in clay. When I returned from Korea, I found that people were more familiar with me and my work because of the videos. This eventually led to greater opportunities within the clay community.

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Hide-N-Seekah 2013

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Line pattern development

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In the studio

You are the founder of the social media driven scavenger hunt known as Hide-N-Seekah. Can you talk about how you came up with this project and how it’s evolved since its inception?  My return from Korea in 2009 marked an important milestone on my path to technological enlightenment—I bought my first cell phone…a smart one!  The decade of industry research and development since my departure from the darkroom had seen major developments in digital imaging.  Quality phone cameras had become ubiquitous and were now providing a quick intuitive photo option; it was like having my own pocket darkroom.  New photo editing and image sharing apps like Instagram made it possible for me to connect with other image-makers and clay workers while fostering the photographic dialogue I had learned to love as a child.  Instagram became my sketchbook with a window to the world, an easy way to gather and share my visual inspirations as they struck me.  Unlike a sketchbook, the social aspect of Instagram informed and inspired my studio practice by providing welcome feedback on my posts and a continuous stream of fresh imagery from others.  While Instagram had proven to be an ideal platform for creatively sharing and gathering images and ideas, it was lacking a large clay community.  Through following professional skater Tony Hawk, I learned that Hawk connected with his followers through something called “finders keepers,” a game in which he would hide a full, autographed skateboard he had been using for the past few months and leave visual clues on his Instagram feed about its whereabouts. The first person that found the skateboard could keep it. In an effort to encourage more participation from clay artists, I created and

Exploring through collaboration with Peter Pincus

Exploring through collaboration with Peter Pincus

debuted a similar interactive Instagram scavenger hunt called Hide-N-Seekah around the 2013 NCECA conference in Houston, TX.  The project was a success and participating artists gained an average of 500 followers to their Instagram feeds.  The population of clay people on Instagram had grown considerably, invigorating the virtual exchange of information. I am optimistic and confident that communication within the clay community will continue to benefit from new social media platforms and future advancements in digital technology. If anything, Hide-N-Seekah has gotten harder to produce, because the hiders have more eyes of on them than ever. Logistically, it’s had to evolve in ways that would allow me to keep one step ahead of the seekers.

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Large Jar 2014

Like many potters these days, you’ve led quite the nomadic lifestyle, setting up a home studio in various locations from Hawaii to Colorado to most currently, Montana. Can you talk about your decisions to keep mobile and how it has influenced or affected your work?  My decisions to move have been based on opportunities that I give real consideration to, allowing myself to think openly about the future. When possibilities are presented, I try to take advantage of them in spite of the difficulties that they sometimes bring. I have tried to live my life without fear, trusting that not only will things work out, but that risks I take will somehow contribute to my success. To me, success is defined as a growth in my work and deepening relationships to communities and people I care about.  By being forced out of my comfort zone, I develop new ways of creating meaningful connections.

It seems as though you are always on the road giving workshops and lectures across the country. As a father of two, how do you balance studio/family/travel?  

Workshopping at Walnut Creek Civic Arts, Walnut Creek, CA

Workshopping at Walnut Creek Civic Arts, Walnut Creek, CA

It’s a difficult balance, though working from home studios for most of our children’s lives has given us more time to be engaged and present than what a regular 9 to 5 job would allow. While traveling for workshops can be difficult not just on me but on Heesoo and the kids, the reality is that income from workshops has been a reliable source of financial support for our family.  Also, the experiences and interactions with the greater clay community during these trips allow me to return to my studio energized and inspired.

Your wife, Heesoo Lee, is also an extremely accomplished ceramic artist. Do you two ever feed off eachother’s creative process or collaborate on pieces?  

Trax Gallery Exhibition with Heesoo

Trax Gallery Exhibition with Heesoo

I would say that Heesoo and I act more as critical sounding boards for one another; we very rarely collaborate on pieces. When we met, both of us were well on our individual paths in regards to our studio practices. But to be able to have another person in the studio to bounce ideas off of has been extremely helpful over the years.

How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas  Ideas in my work originate from many sources. The first source of inspiration for me is often the most recent series I’ve made. I like that each cycle of work can build on previous ideas, pushing them in new ways. I’ve also become very

Sources of inspiration

Sources of inspiration

disciplined about photographing things in the world that strike me as interesting so that I can later return to the images in order to decipher my interest in them: is it their composition, line relationships, pattern? What about this excites me? Within the last five years, I’ve been

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Stacking pots, exploring new forms

developing new forms by stacking fired pots in different configurations. This allows me to efficiently explore formal relationships of the vessel.  Finally, I’m particularly interested in the idea of joining in on a conversation that historical vessel-makers have engaged in throughout history. Examining a skillfully made object from the past is not just about connecting to another human, but connecting to the unique act of creation itself. This excitement fuels my impulse to make.

Can you talk about your decision to simultaneous make both intricately hand-carved porcelain pieces and traditional stoneware Onggi fermentation jars?  

Carving detail

Carving detail

For me the functionality of a pot has always been important  though I was initially hesitant to make functional Onggi jars in the States. Over time, however, found that I felt a responsibility to carry on the tradition that my teachers so generously shared with me. Because of recent recognition of the health benefits from fermented food, there has also been a huge growth in demand for these vessels in America over the last several years. By working seasonally to accommodate this demand, I can diversify my income.

Onggi making at the Archie Bray Foundation 2013

Onggi making at the Archie Bray Foundation 2013

Because of the polar opposite nature of each of the processes, they both serve different purposes. The porcelain allows me to focus on detailed and time-consuming tasks while the Onggi offers a completely different rhythm of production. (It takes me 6 weeks to fill a kiln with carved porcelain, whereas it takes me less than 1 week to fill a kiln with Onggi jars). The opportunity to shift focus provides both physical and mental relief.

What does a typical workday look like for you?  I tend to work best late into the night, so I often get started mid morning and will be in the studio until 1 or 2 AM. This allows me to complete professional tasks like emailing and phone calls during regular business hours.

Onggi decoration practice

Onggi decoration practice

What is your most valuable studio tool?  The honest (and possibly unpopular answer) is my camera. It allows me to capture, record, process and revisit visual ideas that I hope to continually incorporate into my work.

At what point in your career did you make the decision to sell your pots for a living? Could you describe how you came to that decision? Being a family of 4 with two working-potter incomes, what choices/sacrifices have you made in order to construct sustainable careers that support your entire family?  

Four Seasons Maui Artist Program 2007

Four Seasons Maui Artist Program 2007

I started selling my pots for a living in Hawaii. I arrived there with a job moving furniture for interior designers and was simultaneously selling my work at the local farmer’s market on the weekend. Both of these experiences helped me to realize that there was a demand for the work I was making, not just at the market but for the interior designers with which I worked. I gradually transitioned into selling my work full time by taking on fewer hours moving furniture and spending more of my time making pots until I reached a point where being a full time studio artist was sustainable.

Juno and Hana #potterykidlife

Juno and Hana #potterykidlife

I made a choice early on that I would hold myself to strict standards of professionalism in my work in order to give my career as a Potter the respect that it deserves. I believe that this has had an impact not just on the way I conduct business, but on the work itself. More specifically, I’ve made a decision to diversify streams of income in my practice.  This includes not only having two lines of ceramic work—carved porcelain and Onggi—but also in developing a strong social media presence, working

on the set at Ceramic Arts Daily

On the set at Ceramic Arts Daily

with Ceramic Arts Daily to produce an instructional DVD, and maintaining a regular workshop schedule. Sales of Heesoo’s work have always been a helpful source of income for our family. Living with the uncertainty of reliable income can be difficult, but the primary sacrifice is probably time, which means making the time we do spend together as a family as meaningful as possible.

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Covered Jar 2013

Your work is in numerous retail galleries across the country. Can you talk about how you selected the representation you did? What kind of advice could you offer someone wanting to approach galleries for representation?  The first set of criteria was a strong online presence as well as an active brick and mortar gallery space. I also looked to galleries that were representing some of my favorite ceramic artists.  While many of my peers have told me that they never solicited a gallery for representation, actively pursuing relationships with galleries has been essential to developing exhibition opportunities for me.  Not having had the same network of connections as someone coming out of graduate school gave me more motivation to approach galleries in the first place. I also regularly applied to juried shows that often led to future invitations to exhibit. If I was giving someone advice on how to approach galleries for representation, I would recommend conducting oneself professionally in all aspects from emails to image quality to prompt follow-ups. This also means presenting one’s work with consistency and quality on all fronts.

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Shipping off Onggi

Which marketing venue(s) (website/social media sites /galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?  Throughout my entire career, the artist program at the Four Season’s Resort has been by far the most profitable venue.  However, a desire to be closer to family and an interest in pushing my work in new directions brought us back to the mainland where I was no longer surrounded by such a high concentration of customers.  I found that social media provided new ways of connecting me with my customer base. I have chosen not to target one specific online venue, but rather try to have a strong presence on multiple social media platforms and in online galleries. Right now, the majority of my income comes through email orders (mostly Onggi), direct sales at workshops, and gallery sales. Each venue introduces my work to a different cross-section of people.

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Another happy Onggi customer!

As a current resident at the Archie Bray Foundation, you are lucky to be immersed into a large community that supports ceramics. What are the most important steps you take to market your work to your local audience when there isn’t this type of instant community of support?  In Mauii, Durango, and Telluride, I made it a point to sell at local farmer’s markets, not because it was necessarily the most lucrative venue, but because I believe in the ideal of connecting directly with the local community. Involvement with farmer’s markets put my work in a specific context. Selling alongside farmers and other artisans and craftspeople in the area became a way to educate and connect personally with customers. This included not just discussing the functional or technical aspects of my work, but communicating the philosophical role of handmade pots directly to the customer.  The contacts that I made from the summer farmer’s market helped to build a local following that eventually translated into studio sales throughout the rest of year.

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Stopper bottles 2014

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?  Make the work that you love making. It can be a trap to be successful with work you’re not excited about. Challenge yourself to continue growing that work in new directions.

Once you are making pots you‘re excited about, it’s important to support your efforts with professional behavior. So much time is invested in the aesthetic considerations that go into making good pots. I believe it is important to give all other aspects of one’s career the same degree of consideration. My advice can only be based off of my experiences, but I believe that much of the success of my career has come through building upon opportunities that exist outside of traditional boundaries. I want to be clear that there is nothing easy about making a living as a potter. It is a difficult and nonstop task. But, when approached as an artistic venture in itself, it can be extraordinarily fulfilling.

To find out more about Adam and his work, please follow these links:

 

Molly Hatch: Potter of the Month

For the month of October, the lovely and accomplished Molly Hatch!  I’ve been excited to pick Molly’s brain ever since we first met at Arrowmont in 2012.  As someone who is enamored by the history of ceramics including the link between ceramics and design, I associate Molly with the continuum of ceramic artist/designers like Russel Wright, Eva Zeisel, KleinReid, Alice portraitDrew and others.  The idea of breaking into the design world is not a new concept and I admire the tenacity in which Molly has pieced together a successful and fulfilling career by designing thoughtful, accessible products and simultaneously creating stunning, one-of-a-kind artworks.

While I am attracted to all of Molly’s work, what I particularly enjoy about her design work is her ability to keep the hand a significant part of the finished product.  Her forms are carefully crafted and her drawings are approachable, folksy and active.  I respond to the apparent naiveté of the drawn images…abandoning rules of perspective while embracing a certain energy and rhythm inherent to her drawing process.  No matter what Molly is working on in her studio, her creative voice is unmistakable.

In the interview, Molly discusses what inspires nearly every aspect of her art-making, why creating utilitarian objects is essential to her practice and what exciting new projects she has in the works.

Enjoy!


How did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education?

My introduction to ceramics was as a student in undergrad at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I took a summer course in wheel throwing through the SMFA CE program and fell in love with the process and the functional nature of pottery. I think I was drawn to the medium because I could make things that I appreciated in my day to day. If I needed a mug, I could make one. It wasn’t until Kathy King came as a visiting artist close to the end of my time at the SMFA that I was shown that I could draw and paint on the surface of my ceramic pieces the same way I was drawing and painting on paper. It was this realization that pots could be drawings, which completely sold me on clay as a major focus for my work from then on.

After graduating, I went on to work for Miranda Thomas as a production potter in 2000-2001. After leaving Miranda Thomas a year and a half later, I did a couple residencies, taught some and traveled for a bit and landed at the University of Colorado at Boulder for graduate school. I received my MFA in 2008.

How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career?

Piazza-20140721–8106I think being immersed in a traditional fine art school environment and coming to clay later on in my undergraduate career gave me an advantage. I feel that the Museum School curriculum allowed me to try many things that I might not have otherwise. Developing my interest in drawing and painting really allowed me to excel in ceramics. I also feel that the SMFA program really prepped me for being self-directed in my studio practice. I learned quickly as a student there that you get out what you put in and it really prepped me for a disciplined studio practice after undergrad.

Ceramics was the medium that helped springboard your career. Now that you have one foot planted firmly in the “design-world”, what keeps you rooted in the ceramics community?

My love of ceramics and its role in decorative art history informs almost everything I do—both in my one of a kind artwork and my designs. I find that the design world respects my intimate knowledge of ceramics and its history. My love of working with clay and the materiality of clay will always be important to me and remain at the core of my studio practice.

You mentioned that you spent time working for Miranda Thomas, a production potter in Vermont, who was trained by one of Bernard Leach’s students, Michael Cardew. You also worked at the Kohler Factory as a resident artist. How did these experiences help shape your career?

Working for Miranda Thomas was absolutely formative. I hadn’t had much time in the ceramics area during undergrad—having only committed to clay in my Junior year. I was definitely behind technically in clay. Working for Miranda gave me the consistent time at the potter’s wheel, throwing 40/hrs a week, often 100-150 mugs in a day by the end of my time there. I was immersed in the production pottery tradition Miranda inherited from Leach via Cardew. This really gave me a sense of what it would be like to try and work making pots for a living as a production potter. I quickly knew that I too many ideas that required a lot of surface decoration, I wanted to be able to expand on those ideas. As a studio potter, you inevitably rely on repeating your best-selling pots to make you a living, I knew I was seeking out a different model, but wasn’t sure what. I headed to graduate school shortly after in order to try and find out.

Working for Miranda was also aesthetically influential. I find that I learned most of what I know about form and function during my time with Miranda. The Leach tradition is so strong, the pot forms are so influential. I am proud of this heritage and it shows in much of my work.

My time at the Pottery Residency at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in the factory at Kohler was fantastic for me. This residency was timely–in my first year out of graduate school. I needed the financial support of the fully funded residency as well as time to reflect in the studio outside of graduate school. Working on the factory floor alongside the factory employees was fascinating and career changing. My time as a resident at Kohler was influential in my decision to work with industry after being approached by Anthropologie only a year after my Kohler residency. Seeing how the employees worked—so much of the hand was still in each of the objects they cast. It was eye-opening to see a different side of industry than what I had been exposed to previously.

How do you come up with new designs? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/designs/ideas?

artisan3-685x895My creative process for my product design is a bit all over the place to be honest. I am constantly seeing ideas for new products. I can find myself inspired at a flea market, during travels, looking through one of my magazines or often when I am on Pinterest. Anytime I feel an idea come on, I write it down—I always have a notebook with me!

Both in my one of a kind artwork and when designing, I typically search for surface inspiration once I have a formal concept. This is done in my library or online, often I get to do this research in a museum with the aid of curators. Once I have source imagery to work form, I typically sketch on paper or in photoshop to develop the concept so I can execute the idea. Most of my design partners and gallery clients require me to submit sketches before I finalize artwork.

Once I have the green light from my art director or client, I will make the piece or finalize the surface design. This can take multiple tries before I settle on the actual item for production. If I am working on a ceramic prototype, I often make a couple extra prototypes in case they do not fire correctly. When I am making my one-of-a-kind pieces, I generally use a scaled photoshop sketch to work from.

Heritage Collection for Twig New York

Heritage Collection for Twig New York

Once the company I am partnering with has my prototype, they send it off for sampling. This typically takes a few weeks to two months. Once the initial sample comes back from the factory, we review to make corrections and make sure its is looking how we want it to. Once the item is approved it goes into production and then typically hits shelves 6-9 months after the initial prototype was made. I don’t typically see payment for the work until the royalty check comes 3-4 months after the item hits the shelf. Often I get paid an advance or a design fee initially, which helps with the wait.

What is it about utilitarian objects that keep you engaged? Do you have a favorite object to make for the home? If so, why?

23907_10151160607172599_1686539614_nI think that utility is an access point. We all know how to relate to a plate—we use them every day. Plates are quotidian by nature and that is attractive to me. In my one-of-a-kind artwork, I work to elevate the plate to an art object—the status of a painting. I love that anyone—educated in art or not—can have a way into looking at the plates on the wall—whether they delve deeper into the concepts I am working through or not, it feels inclusive. In my design work, I aim to make those same art concepts more accessible financially through mass production.

Right now, I am really enjoying pattern design. I am working on my second quilting fabric collection and I am having a blast! It’s a real challenge making patterns repeat by hand.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I have a 5 year old in kindergarten, so I am up by 7:15 or so in the morning to get her to the school bus by 8:15 am. I let our chickens out in the morning—give them food and water and then I start my day as my studio is in the garage behind my home. I work on the deadlines that are approaching and budget my time as best I can to meet deadlines. I want to keep the art directors happy and my clients happy—coming back for more! I am often multi-tasking paperwork, social media, one-of-a-kind objects and design work in any given day.

1505490_10152046663882599_75071898_nI typically bring lunch to my worktable and eat while I work. I am often interrupted during the day by phone calls, so I have gotten good at putting things down and picking them back up again later. I usually have a lot of projects going simultaneously.

My daughter comes home at about 5pm with my husband, so I break to spend time with them. On a good day I will exercise during that time—or work on our garden. Most often I am making dinner and prepping for the next day.

After my daughter goes to bed in the evening around 8:30pm, I return to the studio to work until 11:30pm or 12am. I often get my best work done during this time of day because the time is uninterrupted by emails and phone calls. I always save the things that I want to concentrate on most for the evenings.

Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/art or craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work? What kind of advice could you give someone wanting to market their work?

I could write a book about this! I am learning as I go, like the rest of us. I use Wix to host my brand website, I use blogger for my blog, etsy to sell some hand-decorated items and society 6 for some cool surface products. I have never done a craft fair!

Piazza-20140721–3095I grew my following and career through the typical craft gallery route—The Clay Studio in Philadelphia was one of my first galleries. Things have changed so dramatically since I started out, that I think up and coming artists have a real challenge in sorting all of this out. However, to develop a strong online following through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest you are well on your way to making good direct sales online. I use Pinterest and Instagram all the time to sell work that is in my Etsy shop. Generally emulating what is working for other artists selling to the same buyer that you want to or are selling to will help. I think having a strong brand identity/artistic identity goes a long way in propelling one’s career forward.

Your design work is in numerous wholesale/retail shops: Chasingpaper.com, Twig New York, Anthropologie, blendfabrics.com, Galison/mudpuppy, V&A museum shop, etc. Can you talk about how you selected the representation you did? What kind of advice could you offer to someone wanting retail or wholesale representation?

I worked with Anthropologie for four years and a few other companies independent of agency representation before seeking out my agency Moxie to help me manage and launch my brand in a bigger way. I have now been working with my agents for a year. It took me ages to realize that through my work with Anthropoligie over the five years we have collaborated, I inadvertently started a lifestyle brand. To solidify that and capitalize on the start Anthropologie gave me, I hired Moxie to help me be more mindful and strategic about developing my brand so that I could have a long-term career as a designer.

CupDisplay-e1359229780586If you want to seek out an agent, or work with retailers like Anthropologie, make good work! Anthropologie finds people the same way you or I might. Through galleries, trade shows, articles and simply walking into a shop like the Clay Studio in Philadelphia. Be open-minded and opportunistic. You never know when an opportunity will come along to license or collaborate with a larger company. I would hesitate to sign on with an agency for many reasons, you can do a lot on your own and be paid in full. However, agents have the ear of many buyers and companies thanks to relationships they have fostered for years. This is a huge foot in the door and a leg up as an artist—but it comes at a cost. Agents will take anywhere from 25%-40% of your earnings! Similar to a gallery. It took me a long time to find an agent that I wanted to represent my work. I looked at other artists the agency represents, had many meetings about the way our relationship would work and took my time with my lawyer to go over the fine print of our agreement. In the end, I chose to work with Moxie because my agents there are really interested in fostering brand growth rather than selling as much of my surface design and product design as possible and burning out the brand before its even had a moment to grow. We have developed a real strategy for brand growth and licensing and the kind of companies I am interested in partnering with. Working with Moxie has been incredible so far.

It looks as though you now have exclusive representation for your one-of-a-kind work through one gallery, Todd Merrill, in NYC. This is an atypical route for potters who usually seek representation in multiple clay galleries across the country. How did you choose this one gallery to work with? Have you completely stopped selling individual handmade pots (cup/plate/etc) as one-of-a kind work?

Todd Merrill does represent my one-of-a-kind artwork exclusively. My work started to receive a lot of attention thanks to working with Leslie Ferrin in 2011-2013. Leslie took my work to some of the premier art fairs and it was selling well—we kept raising prices according to demand and my work had the opportunity to become more detailed and larger-scale. I started to see that my work needed to be seen in both the art and design fields, so I sought out new gallery representation and Todd Merrill has been an excellent fit. As a design gallery that sells decorative arts and furniture, Todd has an unusual gallery. In regards to the benefits of exclusivity, Todd and his staff do so much for the work from installation and shipping of artwork, to prepping contracts and dealing with commissions and press inquiries. The cost of the art fairs alone is so high and unapproachable as a single artist. What Todd does for my artwork I simply couldn’t do on my own—or online.

MH_050414_01_72dpi-930x551As a studio potter, I was better off selling direct to customers or taking large wholesale orders. My work never did best in the context of the traditional gallery model—I always did better in well-styled home interior and design shops and selling online.

How do you deal with the “balancing-act” between your one-of-a-kind pieces and your manufactured design work?   How do you keep both ventures similar enough so they don’t conflict with each other? How has keeping both types of artistic outlets helped your career and your creative pursuits?

This seems to work itself out a bit. I advocate for both equally. My reach is much broader in my design work, but the artwork is providing me with an equal income as the design work. It’s about a 50-50 split. They support each other in many ways—even the making schedule for the design world alternates busy times with the art fair schedule…its kind of perfect. I need the long—slow process of the one-of-a-kind projects. These typically require a ton of research, design and making time. Usually I spend about 2 months working on one piece from throwing the plates to painting and firing.

10393844_10152494187537599_1657669832532908747_nWith the design work, I usually have much less time to design—industry is responding to trends and is constantly in search of the new. I turn around some design projects in a day—others in a few weeks or a month. I love the quick nature of the design work and the collaborative nature of working with other people and companies on products.

One idea I really connect to: your ability to offer good design to the masses. I am often conflicted about the prices I have to charge for my handmade mugs. I would love for my audience to broaden, but the market for my work is what it is…very small. Decoration takes a lot of time as does well made form.   Could you expand on the experience you’ve had with your own work? How you were able to broaden your audience without sacrificing content, decoration or design?

I have Anthropologie to thank for giving me the low-risk opportunity to try manufacturing my pots to see how they would translate. Putting some of the designs that I knew were best-sellers out of my studio into production at Anthropologie without having to change the designs has allowed me to offer the ideas I have worked out in my pots to a very large audience at affordable prices. I love the idea of manufacturing allowing for the work to be more accessible and affordable. When I was first approached by Anthropolgie I not able to afford to make the work I was making—in other words, I needed to find a way to make more work at the same price point or lower with simpler decoration so that I could make a living. Design was what allowed me to keep the integrity of the original pot design and still make a living.

What are your thoughts on “the handmade”? How do you keep the idea of the hand or handmade in your design work?

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 10-1.47.33 PM

Molly Hatch, “Tea Garden” Collection for Blend Fabrics

My design process hasn’t changed at all from when I was working full-time as a studio potter. I design 1:1 prototypes that are sent off to be manufactured. So I make my prototypes as I would a handmade pot. This allows me to retain the nature of the original in the final product.

In my surface design, I do almost everything by hand with a little help from some basic knowledge of photoshop. So the hand stays in the 2-D artwork as well as the ceramic objects I design. This keeps a consistent identity and look to all the items that I design.

In my one-of-a-kind pieces, I make these by hand—so the hand is inevitably present. It’s important to me that the one-of-a-kind pieces are related, yet different from the design work. Sort of “couture” to a “ready-to-wear.”

You’ve had a lot of success collaborating with museum collections. The two that come to the front of my mind are the large commissioned wall “painting” you made for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (456 hand-painted plates based on two 18th C. plates from the High Museum’s decorative arts collection) and the soon-to-be-released book, “A Teacup Collection: Paintings of Porcelain Treasures”, you created while collaborating with the Clark Art Institute’s collection of over 200 18th C porcelain teacups.   Can you talk a little bit about these processes? Do you have future projects in the works that we can look forward to?

IMG_1156-930x620With my one-of-a-kind artwork, I typically work by sourcing a museum collection or an historic object. As a contemporary decorative artist and designer, I think of myself as making work in a continuum. I love the idea that someone looking at one of my plate paintings may have a sense that they are looking at a familiar image and form, but that it is hopefully a new experience of that familiar thing—sourcing historic imagery allows for that familiarity to exist.

I also source museum collections and archives in collaboration with curators in an effort to bring attention to artworks that the curators feel are overlooked or difficult to exhibit. Getting permission to source historic artwork as well as the blessing of a curator feels like the right thing to do in making derivative work—even when the artwork is in the public domain.

“Physic Garden” (the piece at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta) was an exciting opportunity to make a piece that reflected the museum permanent ceramic collection as well as an opportunity to make the largest piece I have made to date. There was a lot of risk on both the museum end as I had never made such a large piece. Luckily, it went off without a hitch—it took some creative problem solving at key points, but it worked well.

acfc66_c4a3cb7218de457d83ad014cbebc48fe.jpg_srz_335_381_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzMy book with Chronicle titled “A Teacup Collection: Paintings of Porcelain Treasures” started with a visit to the archives at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. I was intrigued by the over 200 18th century teacups housed in the collections at the museum that hadn’t been exhibited much. It was wonderful working with the curator at the Clark to take source images and make paintings of the cups for the book. Chronicle was intrigued by the book concept and quickly picked it up as the publisher. I am very excited that this is my first book—working with Chronicle has been amazing.

I have a few other prospects for museum projects coming up, as well as a couple new books that I cant quite talk about yet—but all good and very much related to these projects.  For a sneak peek of the illustrations from Molly’s upcoming book, “A Teacup Collection: Paintings of Porcelain Treasures”, please link to designer Lisa Congdon’s blog entry here.

You mention how very few ceramic artists have tapped into the e-course market. Can you talk a little bit about your decision to produce an online class and the process it took to make it a reality?

The only online workshop I have produced is still in process and will run in the fall of 2015—as far as I know Diana Fayt is one of the only other ceramic artists who has an online course. I decided to take advantage of my ceramic surface book that is due to be released in summer of 2015 to make a complimentary online workshop. I am thinking about it like a workshop and not a course because the format is very similar to a face-to-face workshop—instead, it is online and takes place over several weeks.

acfc66_467643df5ffe4ce1bd86cf0ca2529e51.png_srz_312_383_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzI have often felt like the face-to-face workshops I teach in the traditional workshop environment like at Anderson Ranch and Arrowmont are incredibly expensive and require a lot of time and resources for anyone attending. There have got to be tons of art teachers and hobbyists out there who want to take a class on ceramic surface for an affordable fee ($150 for 5 weeks). My hope is that my forthcoming book with Quarry titled: “New Ceramic Surface Design Handbook” will compliment the online workshop and that the online workshop will provide participants with much of the same information as the face-to-face workshops, only at their own pace, affordably, through recorded demos, once a week interaction, lots of downloads as well as a community to interact with. My hope is to offer more information to more people for less money.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?

These days, markets are changing so fast. I think that the biggest things to consider are: being an opportunist, being open minded and aiming to market your work through as many channels as possible. It is increasingly important to have a strong online presence and marketability. Try to find a voice that is consistent and your own—consider the idea of branding and what your “brand” is all about. Learn about basic small business nuts and bolts. I can recommend Craft Inc. and Art Inc the Craft Inc. Business Planner from Chronicle Books. These are fabulous resources for making a go of a creative career in today’s marketplace and have helped me a lot.

I think it is important to recognize that when you are joyful in your making or designing, people see your joy in the final product and in turn want to have a part of that joy. Make things for yourself and find joy in your making!


 

To find out more about Molly and her work, please visit the following sites:

Piazza-20140721–2855www.mollyhatch.com  

http://mollyhatchstudio.com one of a kind works

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Molly-Hatch-Ceramics Facebook

https://twitter.com/mollyhatch Twitter

http://instagram.com/mollyhatch/ Instagram

www.vimeo.com/mollyhatch video links


 

 

 

Kip O’Krongly: Potter of the Month

This month, I’m delighted to feature Kip O’Krongly as Potter of the Month!  It turns out that Kip and I both grew up in Anchorage, Alaska although our paths never crossed until recently.  We met at Arrowmont’s Utilitarian Clay Symposium in 2012 and although we didn’t have much opportunity to get to know each other during the symposium, we now correspond regularly as members of the Objective Clay collective.

okrongly_2I’ve been intrigued by Kip’s work for a long time and was excited to learn more about her layered surfaces.  Kip’s work is sensitive to ideas of food and energy and the links between consumer and environment.  In the interview, she talks about what prompted the new direction in her work and what piece of literature helped motivate her to make the shift.

Enjoy!

How did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education?

image_1I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. While my childhood was brimming with art classes and creative activities, being an artist never occurred to me as a possible path. Ceramics wasn’t even on my radar when I was a kid – I’m so envious of the many schools I’ve encountered in Minnesota with amazing clay programs for youth! I was a sophomore at Carleton College when I first stepped into the clay studio, and as the story so often goes, I was instantly smitten. Carleton was a great clay kick-start, but it was in the years following undergrad that I truly learned what it would take to run a clay business and find my own ceramic voice.

image_2Despite plans to set up a studio in the San Francisco Bay Area after leaving Carleton (where my husband was starting graduate school), I quickly came to realize my undergraduate skill set paired with an extremely high cost of living was a tough mix. From that point on, I’ve often partnered my work in clay with other jobs to cover my expenses and take pressure off selling work as my primary income. From things like working as a dental assistant, baking part-time, running a community center clay program, to teaching clay classes and workshops, these jobs have given me the resources to continue developing my studio work.

image_3There were a few educational opportunities that have profoundly shaped my artistic path. First was an apprenticeship at Whitefish Pottery in Whitefish, MT from the summer of 2003 – summer 2004. There I beefed up my undergraduate skills and learned the ins and outs of running a production studio (I fired an endless string of bisque kilns and pulled 1,000’s of handles!). Along with gaining experience in a production setting, came the space, materials and time to develop and push my own work (for the first time outside of an academic setting). It was a transformative year of working intensely alongside a group of artists passionate about clay.

In addition to my time in Montana, applying to take workshops at places like Haystack, Anderson Ranch, Penland and Arrowmont have been invaluable supplements to my undergraduate training. While two weeks doesn’t seem like much, it’s amazing how working so intensely with such talented people has helped my work evolve.  All of the craft schools across the country offer scholarships and work-study options, so despite the high initial price tag, there are some more affordable ways to participate.

image_4I can’t talk about my education in clay without mentioning Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis. I worked in a number of positions at NCC starting in 2008 as a student, transitioning to a studio artist in 2009, the Material Technician and a Fogelberg Fellow from 2009 – 2011, and the Anonymous Potter resident from 2011 – 2012. While I moved into my home studio in 2012, NCC is still a huge part of my ceramic life. I continue to teach and exhibit work regularly in their gallery and was just awarded a $25,000 mid-career McKnight artist grant. The amazing support from NCC, along with the insights of staff, studio artists and visiting residents has been like my own little version of graduate school. I am immensely grateful for Northern Clay’s dedication to clay education and ceramic artists and can’t imagine being without the support of this fantastic community.

image_5How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?

Once I discovered clay, the studio art component of my undergraduate education became an intensive time of repetition and daily practice (or: I spent a lot of time in the studio wrecking pots and slowly learning techniques). While the formal aspects of my education were immensely valuable (from skill building in the studio to the broad education a liberal arts degree provides), it was some of the informal experiences that truly left an impression on my ceramic career path. One of the most memorable moments being a trip to Linda Christianson’s and Jeff Oestrich’s studios along with two other ceramic students (Kristin Pavelka and Juliane Shibata – both of whom still work in clay!). Meeting with working artists in the field (and such lovely ones, at that) was what ignited my desire to become a full-time clay artist, and gave me a sense of what a career in clay could potentially look like.

Your work made a huge shift when you lived in Pittsburgh. What prompted the change from traditional pottery ideas to politically charged narratives?

My husband and I took the extra-long route from our home in Seattle to his first teaching job in Pittsburgh via a road trip through Alaska and Canada. Back in my home state of Alaska I physically witnessed for the first time incredible changes happening in our climate – temperatures were undeniably hotter and glaciers had retreated miles since I left Anchorage in high school. I decided during our visit that I wanted to somehow talk about issues of climate and energy in my work, but I wasn’t sure how to make that happen just yet.image_7

image_6These ideas gnawed at me for another year and a half until the tipping point finally came in 2007 when reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. His narrative following foods from their sources to our tables (and the complicated food-energy web that results), gave me a written framework to visually explore. Pollan’s book, along with the vast array of food and energy related documentaries that pepper our current foodscape continue to inspire my food and energy themed ceramics to this day.

How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?

Developing new forms and ideas is a slow process for me, but comes most often through steady work in the studio. I’ve found that ideas drift into focus as I’m in the act of making and I need to be present enough to grab hold before they slip on by! In an effort to nab image_8these bits of inspiration, I keep a whiteboard in my studio to easily jot down thoughts and sketch forms. I am an avid NPR listener and new ideas are often sparked while I’m working away and listening to the radio (Radio Lab is one of my favorites!). Sometimes I’ll mull over an idea for months (like how to make a solar panel stencil, or what form makes sense for a teapot body), while other times things seem to snap quickly into focus (like the need to talk about livestock generated methane via farting cows). It seems like working consistently, listening carefully and tuning into intriguing or unexpected connections has been the key for me as I develop new surfaces and forms.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

One of the most challenging aspects of being self-employed is balancing work, social and family life – especially when you work from home. While I certainly think keeping to a schedule is helpful for anyone who is self-employed, one of the things I value most about my job is the flexibility I have. Some days I’ll spend 12 hours just working in the studio (although, that’s not actually my favorite way to work!) and some days only 3 – 4 hours in the studio and the remainder of the workday doing some assortment of answering emails, photographing work, packing and shipping pots, mixing slip and glaze or loading a kiln (and a walk with the dog!). There are times I’ll focus solely on applications, class proposals or be off teaching or at meetings – it all depends on what deadlines are coming up. I’m an avid list maker (there’s nothing more satisfying than a big fat sheet of crossed off to-do items), love to organize and plan, and am an absolute slave to my digital calendar alerts!

I find the drawn narratives on the surface of your pots intriguing. Why is it important for your drawings to be composed on pottery forms? Why do you choose the forms you do?

okrongly_6I find drawing on pots to be a slightly subversive way to get an idea into people’s homes and lives. A pot is something that you use and see on a regular basis, share around the table with friends and family and it’s my hope that this work promotes discussion and dialogue in a personal space that other art forms can’t often do. I like that you can hold pots in your hands and really explore them and their surfaces – they feel so intimate as a result. My interest in pots that participate in meals means that my work tends to live in the realm of functional ceramics. I gravitate toward forms that are simple and sturdy (so they can survive many runs through the dishwasher!), while at the same time giving me a smooth and open base for decoration.

How long have you worked at your home studio south in Northfield? What were the most important steps you took to market your work to your local audience?

My husband and I bought our house in the summer of 2012 and I began converting a playroom into my studio space that fall (as my Anonymous Potter residency at NCC came to an end). The studio modifications took a lot longer than anticipated (which I have sense learned is the case for all house projects!), so I didn’t start working in my home studio until December of 2012.image_9

Even though I’ve now been working in Northfield for almost two years, I’m still getting to know my local market. The most important part of developing that relationship has been my involvement with the Northfield ArTour. Every October, over 40 artists in the area open their studios to the public for a full weekend. Inviting people to visit my space and purchase work directly has made me feel much more connected to the local community. This year, I volunteered with the ArTour planning committee, which has tied me into the artists in the area as well. I’m also part of two local artist meet-ups each month (one with potters, and one with a group of artists in multiple media), on the gallery committee for our local arts guild and I attend as many local art-related events as I can. All of these areas of okrongly_3involvement have been a great way to increase my local contribution, to raise awareness that I’m a working artist in the area, and to learn about upcoming opportunities. I’ve also been chatting with two of the galleries in Northfield and am investigating the farmer’s market and fall food and arts festival as potential ways to expand my local presence.

Your work is in numerous retail galleries across the country. Can you talk about how you selected the representation you did? What kind of advice could you offer someone wanting to approach galleries for representation?

Figuring out not only where you want to sell your work, but also where your work will actually sell can be a challenge. Make a list of places you’d like to see your pieces and then do some research. What artists do they carry year-round? What is the mix of functional vs. sculptural work? Does the gallery lean toward high fire ceramics (and are you an earthenware potter)? What price range do you see? Does that fit within your price range? Do they have any open calls for exhibitions? For me, I’ve found exhibitions to be a okrongly_1great starting point in developing a relationship with a gallery. Typically, if your work sells in a show setting, a gallery will be open to trying out a larger selection of pieces. I’ve also found that a number of galleries do some sort of holiday sale where they broaden the number of artists they carry for the holiday season, which can be a low-pressure way test the waters.

When approaching any gallery (either to participate in a show or to be taken on as a gallery artist) having high-quality documentation of your work is absolutely vital. I take my images myself using an EZ Cube (which I love). If your work is complicated to shoot, or you’re not yet comfortable doing it on your own, absolutely pay someone to do it! The quality of your images can make or break any application, no matter your qualifications on paper. If you have any questions about your images, seek out the advice of someone who knows what to look for – an instructor, an artist who exhibits regularly, a gallery representative. I’d be happy to look at anyone’s images!image_10

While targeting galleries you’re most interested in makes sense, being part of ANY show is a great way to raise awareness of the work you are making. Be prepared for a lot of rejections. Even if you’re making fantastic work, sometimes it just won’t fit well with the overall space or exhibition vision. And once you do nab an opportunity, make sure you pack and ship it professionally and do things on time. Every interaction is a way to make an impression – good or bad! You’d be amazed by how often galleries receive poorly packed pots or communication that is unprofessional. It’s the seemingly small details that often result in you getting invited back for another opportunity with a gallery or not.

Which marketing venue(s) (website/social media sites /galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work? What kind of advice could you give someone wanting to market his or her work?

Aaaaah, marketing. Despite the fact that my father’s business is in marketing, I don’t know that the gene was passed on to me! I have found this to be a difficult part of my studio practice because it’s something I just don’t particularly enjoy. While it may not be a favorite aspect of my business, I do know it is what’s required to get my work out into the world. In terms of marketing advice, I’d say that having a web presence in some way, shape or form is mandatory. A website is a great way to house your body of work so interested folks (consumers, galleries, fellow artists, etc) can see a collection of pieces and learn more about what makes you tick as an artist (here again, images are paramount!).

okrongly_7While I do have a website, I’ve largely outsourced a good deal of the day-to-day marketing by electing to work with galleries rather than pushing the work myself.   Either way you’re paying for the marketing. You take the 50% gallery rate, or you pay with your own time and money.  A hybrid of these two options for me has been working online with Objective Clay. We’re a group of 14 ceramic artists, from all over the country, who work together to create a unique online space for content and selling work. Pooling our resources has been a wonderful way to broaden the audience for, and awareness of, all of our work – I’m excited to see where this virtual space goes in the future.

In terms of craft fairs, I’ve found the initial financial investment to set up a stellar booth and lighting situation, along with the often-expensive booth fees, keeps me from diving into that particular market. There are some local fairs that I could envision as a starting point, but right now the gallery work (along with my fall studio sale and Objective Clay web sales) make the most sense for me.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?

okrongly_4Making a living working in clay has meant a lot less time in the studio than I initially envisioned. Running a small ceramic business (any business, really!) requires so much more than making the product (from photographing work, packing and shipping, finances, marketing and promotion to seeking out new exhibition opportunities, teaching and writing grant proposals – just to name a few!). And while I never would have imagined this as I started working in clay, there have been times when going into the studio felt like a job with a capital J.

When you solely rely on pots to cover your expenses, you put serious pressure on how much work (and the kind of work) you make. You’ve got to make a lot of pots and have them in a lot of places just to support daily life and studio expenses. You may find that after awhile what once brought you joy, now has lost that initial spark. I know, I know, how could you ever feel sour about working in the studio? Trust me, it can happen. It happened to me. I have found though, the best times in the studio come when I’m bringing in (at least a little!) predictable income and the direct pressure is off my pots.

As I talked about earlier, I’ve had many other jobs to supplement my own creative work.

okrongly_5So, I’d suggest getting a (ideally part-time!) job and keep the freedom to make what you’re passionate about making in the studio. Spend all the time you want to develop strong forms and thoughtful surfaces. Play, experiment, apply for shows, take some business classes, talk to lots of artists; slowly build your business. But most importantly, recognize that there are as many ways to work in clay as there are people. There is no ultimate path, no right (or wrong) way to make a living. Keep yourself open, set some goals, be willing to make mistakes and you’ll get to where you want to go.

 

For more information about Kip and her work, please visit her website:

www.kipokrongly.com

New Work and Upcoming Events

logo-ocI am so honored to be a part of this online collective, objective clay, and am excited to announce that all fourteen artists are posting fresh, new work for the month of September!  Click here to link to the website.  Some of the work is so new, a couple of us decided to write a bit about our “shifting ideas” on the blog.

Along with the objective clay feature, there is a newly published online article that may help give a little insight into me and my work.  Jan Grice did a beautiful job transposing our conversation into words.  Click here to link to the article.

In other news, I have a few workshops coming up this fall.  Indiana University’s Ceramics Guild is bringing me to Bloomington, IN on Oct. 1st-Oct.3rd.  I’m looking forward to a homecoming of sorts…and to visiting the Indiana University’s Art Museum’s noteworthy collection of African Art!

Also, I’ll be giving a one-day workshop in Lodi, NJ at Ceramic Supply, Inc. on November 8th (10am-3pm).  The workshop coincides with their annual open house event.  If you’re in the area and have a chance to drop by, it’d be great to meet you or to catch up!

Last but not least, expect the latest addition to the Potter of the Month Series, Kip O’Krongly, to post by the end of the week!  Kip discusses the inspiration for her surface and what book helped push her work in its current direction.  Here’s a sneak peek of Kip’s work:

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