Simon Levin: Potter of the Month

For the month of July…I am pleased to introduce Simon Levin!  I have admired Simon’s work and his writing for years and feel fortunate to have him contribute to the series.

Spotted bottleI am particularly fond of Simon’s rich, layered surfaces and swelling, volumetric forms.  His bottles are among my favorite forms being made today.  I love the way that they appear to anticipate use…how they seem almost incomplete without the proper surround or the ideal bloom.  They are so subtle and graceful…a narrow base that expands slightly as it lifts to the shoulder before tapering back in to a narrow opening at the rim.  And the drama of the wood ash rolling around the form…perfection!

Enjoy the interview!

 

How did you first get involved in ceramics?  Can you briefly describe your background and education?  I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.  I took a lot of art classes through high-school but went to college thinking of a career in criminal law.  I continued to take art in college and was discouraged from double majoring.  I was told that the required classes for a double major would keep me from taking the art classes I wanted.   It made sense, and in retrospect Grinnell College gave me a wonderful education but majoring in art there would not have prepared me for an MFA.

DSC_0558How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  Ok, I just said that my formal education didn’t prepare me for an MFA, and I stand by that.  5 years and three rounds of applications to graduate schools later I was finally accepted at one of the 4 schools I applied to.  It took me a long time to figure out how to take slides (We didn’t have images back then) and how to build a portfolio.  It took even longer to figure out how make work that made sense, had a voice and vocabulary.  Grinnell didn’t prepare me for that.

What Grinnell did was prepare me for my career in ceramics.  I learned how to learn.  I learned how to write and organize my thoughts.  I became articulate in english and that has helped tremendously in my journey to become articulate in clay.  Writing has been great marketing and promotion, it has helped get my name out there in the world.  Articles have legs.  They stay out there in the community and reach people in unexpected times and places.   It is odd to realize that even though I used to hate assigned readings I am now told by teachers that they assign my articles.

Butterfly Plate

Butterfly Plate

How do you come up with new ideas?  Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?  Coming up with new ideas seems to be part of the process.  When the studio is at its best it is like a conversation, playful and flowing.   Ideas come out of that flow, rather than being imposed from outside.   This keeps them from being contrived.  After a firing cycle it takes days to get back into the rhythm of the studio, for the issues to come alive again.   Then play starts from that easy comfortable place.

reliable pitcher2Play is usually simple stuff.  I try a different slip on a cup, or a new pattern on a paddle.  I layer information, brush textures over paddled textures.  Play is often the act of wondering what if, or I would like to see that.  That play leads me to a larger repertoire of results.  Then I can analyze the results and figure out if and how I might like to use them.

Occasionally ideas do come from the outside.  And at first they can be awkward, cliched, or contrived.  It is the continual discovery and investment in them, the involvement and development that moves these new outside ideas into rich personal concepts.

You’ve written a handful of insightful articles for our field.  One of my favorites is called “Becoming Inarticulate”, which you wrote for Studio Potter (June 2007).  In the article you talk about communicating content (not style) through handmade pottery.  I find this is a complex idea to teach beginning students who are concerned about finding their personal style.  What kind of advice could you offer someone who’s trying to decide what to say with his/her work?  Interesting to hear that this is one of your favorites.  It was the hardest for me to write, and perhaps the article I feel most unsatisfied with.  I was trying to talk about how when you learn the language of clay your vocabulary is non verbal, it is physical and spatial.  And the more I make pots and use clayish phrasings the harder it is to talk about in english.   In a way it was like grabbing smoke, a hard task, at best you can get the smell on your hands but even that is kind of ethereal.  Essentially much of my work is about the material and the process so the way to talk about it isn’t to translate directly but rather to invite a person into the process and show them where on the pots they would see evidence, results or narratives of these processes.

Red Wad Mug

Red Wad Mug

FInding one’s voice in clay is key in contemporary American ceramics.  Unlike some cultures who stress tradition, we emphasize innovation.   What I didn’t understand when I was starting in clay is that innovation will come on it’s own.  I believe style to be a byproduct of interest.   The beautiful news is that in order to decide what you want to say with your work, you have to follow your interests.  Watch how you respond.  Identify what inspires you.  What are you making that you want to come back to?  What keeps you in the studio?

There are some confounds to this.  There are lots of pots that inspire me, but I cannot make them nor should I.  My apprentice Lucy, wanted to make loose soft pots, but in the studio she was happiest working on detailed, refined, fiddly work.  The making process is different than the appreciation process.  The best we can do is be honest and present in our work and try and see what we have made without desires or preconceptions.  Then take that information into our awareness as we make the next round of work.

You also wrote a poignant and humorous article called “Critical Care: The Art of Self Critique”(Ceramics Monthly, Aug/Sept 2006).  Can you talk a little bit about the importance of critical analysis as part of your creative practice?  Oh, my.  Well I start out that article saying that critical analysis is the one tool I use in the studio every day.  It is the way I get closer to becoming articulate in clay.   Knowing what I want to say is not enough.  Critical analysis is the stepping back and seeing what I have said, and assessing if I have said it well.  It is editing out areas of miscommunication. It is highlighting and reiterating the themes that I want.  It is the only way I know to get better.   That being said Critical analysis happens after the act, never during.  The act of making needs to be pure and intuitive and in the moment.

DSC_8169You have built numerous kilns across the world.  Can you talk a little about the kiln building process (from design to completion)?  What advice would you offer to someone wanting to build his/her own kiln?  Kiln building was a necessary skill set to learn once I decided to become a potter.  It was a way to build the kilns I would need, and a way to increase the intimate connection I wanted to have with the work.  Firing the first kiln I built was wonderful, there was a moment when the kiln was hotter on one side than the other, and we were able to compensate by opening passive dampers on the hot side and sliding the active damper aperture towards the cold side of the kiln.   The solutions for firing issues had been anticipated in the kiln design.  It was a glimpse towards mastery where all steps in a process made room for that which precedes and that which had yet to come.

When I was a TA in grad school I grouped my beginning ceramics students into teams of 4.  Their mid-term exam was to get their pots from green ware to bisque without using a pre-existing kiln.   I turned them loose on the kiln yard and all the broken brick, and shelving.  Though they could have pit fired, they all built kilns.   The kilns were all wrong.  A roof of one of the the kilns was made by leaning two broken shelves together which made me hugely nervous.  Everything I knew about kiln building told me that you can’t do that.   They all worked.  All the students passed.  All the pots got to bisque and higher.  All this to say go ahead, build.  Bricks are reusable and the knowledge gained invaluable..

What is your most valuable studio tool?  Why?  Critical Analysis.  See response to critical analysis question above.

Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?  Home Studio tours.  I have never been involved in anything that compares to the Minnesota Potters tour. Minnesotapotters.com.  Sales there have been a magnitude or more higher than anywhere else I have sold.  We host our own home studio tour here as well and will be starting our fourth year.

One NCECA I went to a terrible presentation on promotion although this idea has stuck with me.  Essentially people are looking for authenticity, the intimate experience.   Home studio tours do this really well.  Guests meet the potters, see where they work, they might get to see them work.  Guests learn about the process, and they leave with an understanding that enriches the experience of utility.   The following year they might bring a friend and now they have ownership.  They are the tour guide welcoming someone new into their discovery.

Squared Bowl

Squared Bowl

The Minnesota potter’s tour works better than any other because it is established, but the customers are so well educated about functional ceramics.  Generations of education, a cultural valuing of the hand made, and a large metro population feed the tour.  The potter’s who organize it realized that more potter’s means more pie.  They invite potters from around the country and this once a year coalescing of some of the best functional clay in the United states draws in visitors from far and wide.  I don’t ever expect our own tour here in rural Wisconsin to compete but it is growing and the investment builds.

Amy Smith and you have been collaborating with each other for years.  Many exhibitions have showcased these collaborative conversations and an article called “Paired Views” was published in Ceramics Monthly (March 2013).  The collaborative pieces that I’ve seen are so incredibly poetic.  What have you gained from the experience that surprised you?  The collaborative process was really revealing.  It helped me see my own work better, and opened new ideas and possibilities

Simon Levin and Amy Smith

Simon Levin and Amy Smith

that I would have never considered or even come to on my own.  Amy and I set out to make pairings that made room for one another while maintaining individual voice and expression.  We wanted the pieces to stand alone but belong together.  It is a challenging goal.  I feel as though we were successful in that endeavor.   The University of Nebraska-Lincoln hosted a show called Emulsion that was the culmination of that goal, and Akar’s show Layered is an opportunity to own the pairings.   I have yet to come across another collaboration quite like this.

You have a remarkable apprenticeship program that you started in 2004.  Can you talk a little bit about your program at Mill Creek Pottery and what the experience can offer someone wanting to make a career in the field?  The apprenticeship program has grown.  It has been exciting and challenging for me to work with younger folks who are committed to the field.  In many ways the apprenticeship program I built is exactly what I would have wanted at that time in my life.  Opportunities, facilities, information and guidance, but with the freedom to make what I wanted.

Kiln Built at Archie Bray Foundation with past apprentices of Mill Creek Pottery, 2012.

Anagama kiln built at the Archie Bray Foundation with past Mill Creek Pottery apprentices, 2012.

In some ways I think the apprenticeship is a reality check.  I don’t really provide a clay community.  We are a small operation and some of the days are long and quiet.   Apprentices often get a little lonely.  Being in the studio day after day is not for everyone.  The romance of wood firing tarnishes a little in -2 degree weather.

The apprenticeship is also not school.  It takes some apprentices time to realize that I have high expectations of them but they are not making work to please me.   There isn’t a right answer.  There is work, and consideration, conceptual development and discovery.  I want them to tell or show me what they are excited about not try and make something that I would make, or excites me.  The benefit of it not being school though is that when I teach workshops, travel, discuss business, interact with galleries and customers the apprentices are involved and learn from those non academic real life experiences.

I didn’t see this when I started the apprenticeship program but it is wonderful being connected to some great young potters who are contributing to the field.  My apprentices in reverse order with links  have been:

Willson Gaul, Kelsie Rudolph, Lucie Brisson, Hannah Meredith, Mike Gesiakowski, Chaio-Feng Shen, Ryan Strobel, Matt Bukrey, Tom Jaszczak, Chris Greenwood, Kenyon Hansen and Domonique Venzant.

Spotted JarYou are involved in a lot of daily activities aside from studio work.  Can you talk about how you are able to balance family/studio/etc. and how these outside responsibilities help to “keep you from being single-minded in clay”?  Balance.  What is this balance of which you speak?  There was a firing years ago when I was preparing for my first sale at Karen Karne’s curated show at the Art School at Old Church.   I was pushing too hard, and had pneumonia going into the firing.  I remember thinking that woodfiring was going to kill me.  I made it through the firing and tried to rest during the cooling, then with cleaning up of pots and driving to and from New Jersey I ended up getting shingles.  Although it didn’t lay me out, it was painful and I had to endure the ridicule of friends telling me I had an old lady disease.  Life was more than a little out of balance.

I play pick up games of soccer once a week.  The teams are usually dominated by highschoolers.  Some of them are so fast and skilled.  But I play well using what my first apprentice Domonique called “Old-man muscle”.  Essentially playing smart, being in the right place at the right time, using focused force and not expending excess energy.   In the studio now I plan ahead, I delegate, I use my apprentice’s time well.  I work backwards from deadlines.  I try and be highly organized.  It is a constant discipline.  I also am more forgiving when I cannot make a deadline.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?  Inherit money, marry money, or document.   Nothing sells like a story, and the journey to become established as a full time artist is compelling in and of itself.  There seems to be this compulsion to wait till the work is impeccable, and then emerge on the scene as a fully formed voice in the clay world.  It takes time to learn how to market.  It takes time to get your name out there.  Start now.

Learn how to approach a gallery.  Learn how to market.  Learn how to use social media effectively.  Write about your work.  Learn how to take great images of your work.  Outline the skill sets you will need.  Kiln building, writing, carpentry, photography, promotion.  Take workshops, and ask these questions.  Read Jen’s blog and look at other models for how other potters have made their career’s work.   Call those people up and ask them the parts you don’t understand.  Don’t call me of course, but feel free to contact the other potters of the month.  Attend panel discussions, or organize panel discussions on the topics you want to know about.  Market to your acquaintances not just to your friends.  Start a mailing list now, today.

IMG_2601I have found writing to be one of the most powerful marketing tools.  Not only do I often get paid for it but it gets my name and ideas out there.  It is a gateway for people who don’t speak clay to learn about and connect with your work and your journey.  Writing makes you a resource to others and lifts the community up.

Jen Allen’s blog with a potter of the month is a brilliant idea, the success of her blog is tied to other’s self interest.  I will promote that I am featured, in turn I will be promoting her.  All the previous featured potters have done the same.  The circle of fans that Kristen Kieffer draws has some overlap with those who follow my work, but probably not much.  I gain from those who have started to follow Jen’s Blog before I was featured.   Jen becomes a resource of information, a hub that lifts and promotes the clay community.  In this symbiotic way of being tied together we all gain.

To find out more about Simon and his work, please visit his website:

simonlevin.com

 

 

Sarah Jaeger: Potter of the Month

As 2014 is still in its infancy, I look back at the whirlwind that was 2013.  My first kiddo turns one at the end of the week, and throughout her first year I somehow managed to interview a dozen potters that I adore and publish our dialogue on my blog.  I’m eager to continue this trend, to fill up another year with a dozen more insightful interviews…and I’ve got an exceptional line-up scheduled!

To kick off 2014, I am thrilled to feature one of my heroes…the brilliant and beautiful Sarah Jaeger!  I first met Sarah in 1999 when I took a two-week workshop with Bobby Silverman at the Archie Bray Foundation.  I was an undergraduate student at the time…and as a part of the workshop we visited local artists’ studios.  I remember the trip vividly and recall being quite starry-eyed when we toured Sarah’s charming home, studio and garden.

Sarah’s work and work ethic are inspiring.  While her forms and surfaces nod to history and tradition, they are undoubtedly fresh and timeless.  I feel lucky to have a handful of Sarah’s work, some colorfully decorated and some simply white…all of which are in regular rotation.  When using Sarah’s pots, I am reminded of an impeccable craftswoman, someone who genuinely honors the handmade.

One of my all time favorite postcards is one of Sarah’s from a few years back.  It’s a delightful display of her work in the home.  Here it is…

kitchen sink postcard

kitchen sink postcard

…enjoy the interview!

How did you first get involved in ceramics?  For reasons that remain a mystery to me, I decided to take a pottery class at a local art center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when I was a senior in college.

Would you explain your attraction to functional ceramics?  I think my strong attachment to functional pots has its roots in my childhood home, which was an 18th century farmhouse in Connecticut.  We did not have hand made pots, but we did have hand made furniture, country pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries, totally utilitarian, beloved and part of our everyday life.  With furniture as with pots, when you use something you have bodily contact with it; the tactile element is fundamental to the experience of the piece.

Sarah Jaeger glazing

Sarah Jaeger glazing

Can you briefly describe your background and education?  I had a classical liberal arts education, was an English literature major at Harvard – and then I took that pottery class.  In the second semester of senior year, totally smitten with clay and determined to get some academic credit for all the time I was spending in the pottery studio, I got approval for an independent study in Japanese tea ceremony ceramics. It was my great good fortune to work with Louise Cort (author of the book on Shigaraki, and at that time, like me, taking a beginning pottery class).  That was my introduction to ceramic history and to Leach/Hamada/Yanagi, the beginnings of the 20th century studio pottery movement in the west.  Through the readings about the connection between the tea ceremony and Zen philosophy, and the role of the tea bowl in the tea ceremony, I began to think about how much meaning a “simple pot” could contain and communicate.  Louise also took me into the storage areas of the Harvard museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where we could see (and touch!) some of those amazing historical pots, like Shino and Oribe tea bowls. What an experience for a rank beginner! Twelve years later I went back to school, to Kansas City Art Institute for my BFA, where I studied with Ken Ferguson, Victor Babu and George Timock, and where I had the fabulous Nelson-Atkins Museum right across the street.

Can you talk a bit about your journey including the struggles/sacrifices you made to get where you are today?  It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know, when I decided to be a studio potter, how long it would take me to become established – or even solvent.  It helped that I have a fairly high tolerance for risk and financial insecurity, along with pretty high levels of energy and determination, and that I didn’t mind living on very little money.

Anyone who has been to your studio has had the pleasure of touring your beautiful home, studio and garden (with its extensive tulip collection).  It really is a quiet, delightful retreat in the middle of Helena.  As soon as you step through the garden gate you seem to be transported to another world.  Being from the East Coast, can you talk about how you decided to settle in Montana and your “must haves” when you choosing a location?  The number one “must have” was that I

tulip tarda

tulip tarda

had to be able to afford it!  Helena real estate was so cheap when I bought my house in 1989, and the house was a dump, with nothing but weeds and a few tough hollyhocks in the yard.  It has been a work in progress ever since, but I knew that it was a bargain even then, and that it had the bones of what I needed for a house and studio. There was an old shack of a garage, 300 square feet, that I fixed up for my studio, and in which I worked for 16 years until I could afford to demolish it and build my new studio.  I had helped a friend build a gas kiln the year before I bought my house, and for the next 6 years I would transport glazed bisque pots 5 blocks up the hill to that kiln, until I could afford to build a kiln at my studio.

I grew up on the east coast but moved west (Denver) when I was 23 and realized I wanted to stay in the west, but my New England sensibility permeates my idea of home. I have made the very small garden area between my house and studio into an oasis in this northern desert landscape.  It’s green, densely planted, and there’s lots of shade, which allows for dappled light filtering through layers of leaves.  It’s about patterns and textures as much as color.

Jaeger glaze detail

Jaeger glaze detail

I have always admired how your surfaces echo the pace of your decoration process.  They are lively, active, rhythmic and meditative.  How did you arrive at this process and where do you gather inspiration?  My decoration process has evolved slowly.  I have always loved pattern, which is about visual rhythm.  My garden (see description above) is a source of inspiration, for the sense of light filtering through layers of color and the feeling of repetition and variation more than the likenesses of particular plants.  Much of the way I use the materials has evolved out of the process itself, the physical activity of painting on pots over many years.

Jaeger tea set

Jaeger tea set

As a former resident of the Archie Bray Foundation, I often romanticize about my time in Helena and the number of people the Bray continues to impact.  I always felt like I was walking in the footsteps of giants and I still love hearing stories that contribute to the history of the Bray.  Can you talk a little bit about your residency at the Archie Bray Foundation and how it has impacted your career?  Like you, I felt connected and in awe of the ceramic giants who preceded me at the Bray.  I also love that the Bray was a brickyard, that connection to industrial ceramics.  So much about being a potter is just plain hard work, like working in a brickyard.  There were only 5 long term residents when I came to the Bray, and the studios were small and funky, nothing like the palatial studios they have now.  The people I worked next to were what made it an amazing experience: Liz Quackenbush and Akio Takamori were residents, and Kurt Weiser was the director.  So much energy and so many ideas flying around, such a rich environment for making work and making it get better.

Living as an artist in a remote location can be isolating.  How do you keep inspired and engaged with the ceramics community at large (apart from the local Bray community)?  It is the Bray community that anchors my connection to the larger ceramics community – residents, visiting artists, slide talks, exhibitions; I don’t know that I would have chosen to live in Helena without that.  Although, to be contrarian, a person can be isolated in a city, too, and sometimes isolation is what we need to focus on our own work.  I read some of the ceramics magazines, especially Studio Potter, and increasingly depend on the internet.  But 2-D representations of 3-D objects, whether on the page or the screen, only tell you so much.  So whenever I travel I look for the clay galleries and museums, and I do go to NCECA fairly often.

Jaeger tureen

Jaeger tureen

How do you come up with new ideas?  Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?  At times I think that I’ve only had a couple of ideas in my life, and I’ve spent all my years working in clay just trying to figure out how to express those ideas.  It’s the nagging feeling of never quite succeeding that keeps me going back into the studio with questions in my head.  I don’t know what I’d do if I felt like I had completely answered the questions.

vases before glazing

vases before glazing

But there are places I look for ideas and inspiration.  Ceramic history: I have stolen so many ideas from Tang and Song Dynasty pots, and 10th century Persian pots.  Also I look at textiles, for pattern and how it can wrap around a body; and to the garden and plant life.  Sometimes when I feel stuck, or curious, I give myself an exercise, like changing one element of a form (i.e. “what if I move the volume lower?”).  Sometimes that will trigger a succession of changes that evolves into a new form.

What does a typical workday look like for you?  My ideal typical workday allows me lots of time in the studio. I work best when I have fairly large blocks of time, and since I don’t have another job, I have that luxury of time.  I start every day with some form of exercise, either at the gym or a hike with the dogs, then spend some time on the administrative stuff, email and correspondence, and then hopefully will still have a pretty full day in the studio.  I’m not a night person.  I make a lot of pots, but I don’t work really fast.  Glazing especially takes me a lot of time, but I have found that there’s no way to make the pots I want to make without devoting a lot of time to them.

SJaeger at the wheel

Sarah at the wheel

What is your most valuable studio tool?  It would have to be my wheel.  I could probably find substitutes for any of my other tools, but the essential qualities of my pots derive from their origins on the potters wheel.

You have an established gallery connected to your studio where visitors can come purchase your work anytime.  What percentage of your income comes from these sales?  How did you develop your audience?  How do you currently advertise your studio sales?  About 2/3 of my income from selling pots (separate from any income from teaching workshops) comes from sales directly out of my studio. They have grown slowly over time, and I never imagined this would be the case when I started out.  Being near the Bray helps for 2 reasons.  First, many people who come to the Bray for workshops or shows also come to my studio.  Also, I think the presence of the Bray in Helena has created an unusual appreciation and market for pots in this community.  I have been in my studio/house for 24 years and have developed a loyal local customer base. I have 3 studio sale weekends per year in Helena, one in the spring and two in December, for which I mail postcards, send email invitations, and have a notice in the art section of the Helena newspaper.

At what point in your career did you make the decision to sell your pots for a living?  I came of age, and began making pots, in the early 1970’s, and I suppose I am a product of that era.  From my beginning with clay I wanted to make functional pots.  I believed strongly in the importance of handmade functional objects in people’s lives, and I was convinced that if I made good pots I’d be able to sell them. It was a seat-of-the-pants approach.  I had no concept of a career path such as exists in our field today.  During the ‘70’s I was a self-taught potter with a BA in English, working day jobs and making pots on the side at a potters guild in Denver.  I went to Kansas City Art Institute for my BFA from 1983-85 and from there to the Archie Bray.  During all those years I had part time jobs to make ends meet.  It was not until September of 1990 that I was able to make pots full time and support myself entirely, however frugally, by selling my work.

Jaeger striped bowls

Jaeger striped bowls

Aside from studio sales, what other venues (such as craft fairs, group holiday sales, etc) have you used to successfully market your work in your community?  I hardly ever did craft fairs.  I hated them and I never made much money at them.  In Helena I have some pots in the sales shop at the Holter Museum, a more public venue than my studio.  My primary local marketing tool is probably word of mouth.  I donate a lot of pots each year to those ubiquitous silent auctions for organizations I support, from the Humane Society to environmental groups.  Those donations give my work very good visibility in my community and are in my opinion good advertising, and they are a way for me to support these causes when I can’t write the big check.

Jaeger pitcher

Jaeger pitcher

How have your marketing strategies evolved over time?  How do you foresee them evolving in the future?  The internet did not exist when I started out, and now it’s huge.  This past year I hired a good designer and completely revamped my website, my biggest marketing expense ever but well worth it.  So far I have resisted social media (I’m not on Facebook or Instagram) because I resent having to spend too much time in front of a screen and, so far, I feel like I can get away with that.  Because I already have an established presence in the field I (maybe) have that luxury.  People earlier in their careers are in a totally different situation.

Jaeger tulip vases

Jaeger tulip vases

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?  I have gone into some detail about my own history largely to communicate how long it took me to get to where I could make a living from pots.  Patience and tenacity are important.  Low overhead is really important; it means you don’t have to sell so much work to survive.  Low overhead pertains to real estate costs and also studio amenities.  It’s great to have a beautiful studio and state of the art kilns, but beautiful ceramics have been made for millennia without them.

 

For more info about Sarah and her work, please visit her website:

sarahjaeger.com 

Kris Bliss: Potter of the Month

blisssmile

Kris Bliss

This month’s potter, Kris Bliss, is someone near and dear to my heart.  Kris is a wholesale potter who lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska.  In 1998, I walked into Kris’s studio hoping to land a job as a studio assistant.  Little did I know, that visit was the beginning of a lasting friendship.  Kris was not only my mentor, teacher and dear friend, but she’s like a second mom to me.  Work never felt like work at the pottery (ok, well sometimes…like packing and shipping day).  I feel so fortunate to have had these rich experiences so early in my career and am forever indebted to Kris for giving me a chance in the first place.  I will always cherish our time together.

I worked for Kris for 4 years and two summers.  In that time, Kris taught me about managing a studio, participating in craft sales, and becoming more efficient with my studio practice.  She started me out with basic studio chores: hauling water, wedging clay, packing and shipping work, grinding/sanding pots, recycling clay, loading/unloading the bisque/glaze kilns, cleaning/mopping the studio, etc. By the end of my time with Kris, she trusted me enough to produce cart after cart of piecework and to glaze kiln load after kiln load of Bliss Pottery.

the pottery

the pottery

Kris is full of life and love.  Kris, the eldest of six siblings, comes from a large Alaskan family that ran an established sport fishing lodge at the base of Mt. Susitna on Alexander Creek. Kris left Alaska to attend medical technology school in Washington State.  She worked at the University of Washington laboratory and Children’s Orthopedic Hospital laboratory before discovering clay.  When she moved back to Alaska in the early 80’s, her career in clay really took off.  She began as a student of Al Tennant’s at what is now the University of Alaska, Anchorage and, in 1989, she built her first home studio. Over the years, she developed a tremendous following of loyal patrons and is now a hugely popular potter who ships her work to multiple destinations across the state of Alaska.

IMG_1419

this little sweetie is my latest piece of Bliss pottery…thanks Kris!

Kris has had numerous assistants over the years, many who have gone on to have successful careers in ceramics.  Knowing how many lives she’s touched, I asked one of Kris’s former assistants, Deborah Schwartzkopf if she would contribute a few words to this post.  Deb writes:

“It was in the spring of 2000 when Jen Allen helped me get my first clay related job assisting studio potter, Kris Bliss.  I was just getting really interested in clay when I started helping out between classes at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Still a beginner of many techniques, Kris helped me build foundational knowledge of throwing, trimming, loading kilns, and glazing, packing and shipping… the list goes on.

I was amazed at how many pieces she made and enamored with the variety of process the discipline held! She was so understanding and supportive as I learned in her studio– Even when I mixed her glaze with the wrong mesh of silica, melting many of her pots to the kiln shelves in the subsequent firing!!! I gained so much from spending time with Kris.

Eventually I started throwing piece-work for her; replication is an amazing discipline to learn. She also let me use all the reclaim I wanted for my own work. Between this and school, I spend every waking moment with my hands in clay building knowledge and experience. Kris is undyingly supportive, direct, and patient. She provided a nurturing place to challenge myself, grow and learn from her example. She opened the door to so many ideas and techniques and helped me build a strong groundwork for being a potter. I am so grateful for this amazing start in clay!”

Enjoy the interview!

blisslogo

How did you first get involved in ceramics?  Would you explain your attraction to functional ceramics?

I first got introduced to ceramics when a friend asked if I would like to take an after-work class with her, and I loved it. I think the fascination with functional ware started then, we were so young and just starting out, so making something we could use was wonderful. It stayed with me.  Even now, so many years later, I still ask “can I use it?”


Can you briefly describe your background and education?

I came to that first ceramics class (mentioned above) after work in the hospital laboratory at the University of Washington.  When we moved to Clarkston, I thought I was a potter. I bought a wheel and small electric kiln, set up a small area in the basement and even set up at a craft sale.

studio view

view of the trimming corner

When we moved back home to Alaska, I had no place to work, so I decided to take an evening class at what was then the community college. Well, when I went to talk to the teacher and walked into the ceramics lab I realized I was not a potter, not even close.  Luckily Al Tennant let me in one of his classes. I stayed there for many years, working thru all the classes offered, then as a lab aide then filling in for the adjunct.  During that time, I took every workshop I could and when I was the lab aide, I got to assist the presenters.  I started going to NCECA, then Anderson Ranch, then Metchosin with Robin Hopper. Throughout most of my years at the college (up until I was a lab aide), I was also working full time.

How would you describe your work?  What are some of your inspirations/influences?

I think of myself as a domestic ware potter.  However, these last few years I have slowly moved away a bit.  I will always enjoy making bowls, etc.

covered jar

covered jar

My inspirations come from historical ceramics, constant study and just looking at forms and wondering, can I make that?  I am influenced a great deal by the young people that come to work with me, they are usually just out of or still going to school.  But most of all, I am inspired by Japanese ceramics and Song dynasty ware.  Both of my first teachers had a great appreciation of the Asian aesthetic.

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

New ideas come from the strangest places, a customer, a student, the cooking store, looking at pictures, always asking the question, “can I make that?”.

DSCN0541

bisque load

I usually sketch on the wheel, starting small.  As I am working I think about how the piece is going to be used and if I can make it better.  I also think about the glazing and how the glaze will run or not run.  How the foot will be, how the piece will sit on the table, will it need a thicker lip for use?  Handles, lids, all the details.  It usually takes a few tries to get what I have in mind.  I always learn something during the process.

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?

My first teacher once asked me if I wanted a collection of my own work?  I wanted to keep making more so I sold some and took a hammer to a LOT.

When I became more accomplished, our local ceramic’s guild was invited to show/sell at the Anchorage Museum.  I had a lot of big porcelain bowls and platters for sale and, well I sold most of them. Light bulb moment…people will buy my pieces!  I loathed working in the office, so I fired myself from the office job and really applied myself to make a living as a potter.

You have an amazing production studio with top of the line equipment that many young potters aspire to.  Can you share how you got to where you are now and the sacrifices/struggles you made along the way?

DSCN2260

Papa moose cruisin’ by studio

I started with a wheel and kiln purchased with a large tax refund, and thru the years purchased new or used equipment. Gifts from my husband (slab roller one year and extruder another). For a long time, most of what I had for my future studio was in storage, but I knew this was what I wanted and needed, so I would take on a little extra job (one year sold plants on weekends) and 90% of that money would go to studio stuff. I had help from family and friends when we moved to our old house (where we lived for 15 years).   There was a little storage shed out back (one of those barn type) my uncle and our friend came in, put in electricity and sheet rock, reinforced the floor and for two years I worked from there. Soon, I got a loan from my mom and attached a 12X24 building and a kiln pad.  Before the building went in, I bought an old Olsen updraft and put it on the kiln pad. The seller let me pay payments…. so I took on another part time job to pay for it.  Thank God for retiring potters!  As my business grew, the pottery took over the yard, porch, and the dining room (for packing and shipping).

Steve dear suggested we move so he could have room for his boat, and I could garden again.  We found a house with land up the hill a bit.  We cleared some of the land and with a building loan built a huge building for a studio and garage. Al Tennant once told me if you are going to build , build the biggest you can. Well that’s what I did.  Being able to wrap the building loan with the house was a great thing, but I had a big nut to crunch. So I built my business, took on employees, apprentices, added more galleries and tourist shops, did studio shows, two pottery group sales yearly, and worked way too much. 10 years…whew!

Aside from being a full-time potter, you are an avid gardener, mother, wife, sister, chicken farmer, salesperson, boss, dog and cat owner, etc.  How do you find balance with everything you do?

It helps that I am easily distracted, so it is not really a balance, more like a flow.

DSCN2272

Toby standing guard in front of the chicken coop and greenhouses

You know it is surprising,  but I just added a bit at a time, you really don’t know it is happening. Of course the long summer days up here help.  The chickens and other poultry were added for a concern for decent food. The garden, for organic food and sanity. I can garden at 9 pm in the sun! The business stuff well, you gotta pay those bills so if it takes a few more hours a week, well you just do it.

Keep a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

What is your most valuable studio tool?  Why?

DSCN0711

kiln room

Probably kilns… you can make, but if you can’t fire?  At each stage, I have a favorite tool, a good thomas stuart wheel, bison trimmers, well-ventilated bisque, glazing syringes and brushes.

You have taken on studio assistants in the past to help with basic chores, aide in the processing of your work (clay recycling, glaze making, bisque loading, glazing, etc.) and to make piecework.  How did you arrive at the decision to hire an assistant? 

It started as a desire to not work alone, then as time went by, I discovered real value in these helpers not only to expand the business, but also to expose me to new ideas and techniques.

There’s satisfaction of thinking that I really helped them also. It feels so good to hear of one of my “kids” doing well. Just makes my heart happy.

Would you be willing to share some advice for potters who are thinking about hiring an assistant/apprentice? 

DSCN0568

break from glazing…happy helpers

Each person coming into the studio has different work ethic and expectations. Communication of what I need from them and what they hope to get from me, is paramount.  Over the years, I’ve only let a few go.

Working in the state of Alaska, you ship all your materials by barge via Seattle which is over 2000 miles away.  How does this expense/time factor into your overall business plan?

DSCN1148You have to put that expense into the price you charge per piece.  Also, one must always watch material inventory, making sure there is a supply available to cover the time it takes for shipping.

You have established a wholesale line that ships across the state of Alaska to feed the thriving tourism industry.  What percentage of your income comes from wholesale orders?  How did you decide to market your work wholesale and what steps did you take to develop your wholesale clientele?

80% of my total income comes from wholesale, and some years more.

Wholesale works really well for me, on several levels.  Most of what I make is spoken for, so there’s no will-it-sell stress.  I am a poor bookkeeper, so I don’t have to keep track of where the piece is, nor worry if the shop is trying to sell it.

DSCN0722

glaze kiln load

My town has a wholesale show, and one year a friend encouraged me to do it, showed me how to track the orders and gave me advice (like minimum orders etc). Talk about light bulb moment! I got a huge order at the show and for a few months after that, more and more small orders.  I was on my way.  I only did that show for two years.  After my stuff was out there, I received inquiries from other shops and galleries.  When I wanted to expand, I would research which was the top gallery in that town, and send them information and follow up with a phone call.  This would usually result in a small “try it order”.  If it worked for them and the shipping as well, I would then get a larger order. Year after year.

Aside from wholesale clientele, you also have a loyal local following.  What other venues (such as craft fairs, group holiday sales, etc) have you used to successfully market your work in your community?

You know, I have done all of the above, including studio shows and art walks. I also gift delivery men/women, neighbors, the gas man, etc.  Oftentimes those folks come back to the studio bringing friends and I get small steady walk in sales.  It creates good will and puts a smile on someone’s face.  So worth it.

examples of finished work

examples of finished work

Also, for 20 years I have contributed many many (sometimes 200) bowls to our Empty Bowls event. I get to help feed folks that need it,  and I hear so often that my work was seen there, and could they get more?

Also I don’t stamp, I sign Bliss Alaska on every piece. Then there’s no question who made it or where to find more. Tourists often call or write, “I got your piece in a little gallery on our trip, can you send me more?”. Same for folks in the community. They know it is a Bliss pot and a check in the phone book and they can find me.

In the state of Alaska, you are known for your signature glaze that you have termed your “Aurora Glaze” because it reminds you of the aurora bourelis.  As a marketing strategy, this is brilliant since the majority of your customers are tourists.  Can you talk a little bit about your marketing failures and successes and how they impact sales?

$T2eC16NHJHoE9n3Kd2)TBRTnQ4EFPQ~~60_57

glaze detail

For the galleries I ship to, if there is a new glaze or variation of the Aurora glaze I will send them a picture. Tastes vary, I used to have a gallery that only wanted a more pastel version, so they got the pots fired at the top of the kiln.

I never fire more than a few pieces of an unproven glaze or variation of aurora. Then if it doesn’t work, the loss isn’t too much.

As a wholesale potter, making the same forms by hand by the thousands can really take a toll on your psyche.  How do you keep things fresh (keep inspired) with your work and not get bored?

DSCN1545

trimming wheel

Simple, I play games with myself. Such as how fast can I make this form? Can I fill the ware cart before lunch? or if I make 25 two pound flare forms, I can go work the greenhouse for an hour.  Also after so many years at this sometime I feel like a robot, so to avoid that I throw in a variation just for fun and lots of times, that form finds a place on the wholesale list.

During the throwing cycle, if I am feeling bored, I will stop and study a bit, try a new form I just saw or talk to the folks there with me and ask questions. Or make that form larger or smaller.

During the glaze cycle, I will watch or listen to entertainment. Add bit more or less of this or that.

photo-15

clay storage and pug mill for processing recycle

I will vary the cycles, glaze a coupla hours then go do something else. Same with every step. There is always so much to do, if one gets bored trimming, go recycle for a bit.

Living as an artist in a remote location like Alaska can be isolating.  How do you keep inspired and engaged with the ceramics community at large?

I discovered the Clayart list serve early on and learned so much.  I went to as many NCECA Conferences as I could afford, talked to visiting artists, and took as many workshops as I could.

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

Find what works for you.  For example, there are limited craft sales up here, so I found if I wanted to do this full time and make a decent profit wholesale for me was the best way to go. Consignment is fine for some, but not for me.

Keep at it kids, and when you find your niche, explore it , work it and use it.

Keep your credit good and some savings, so when an opportunity comes up, like a retiring potter selling off their studio, you have the ability to take advantage.

What always held me back was the ability to take good pictures. Those you can use to expand your territory.

winter shot of studio

winter shot of studio

For more info about Kris and her work, visit her website: blisspottery.com

Potter of the Month: Chandra DeBuse

For the month of April…to help ring in spring…Chandra DeBuse!

Garden Treat Server with Snail, 2012

Garden Treat Server with Snail, 2012

Chandra and I met at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts a couple years ago.  Before we met, I was flipping through Ceramics Monthly magazine and stumbled on images of Chandra’s work. I was immediately struck by her playful pots and imagined how fun they would be to use. Her work is charming and cheerful, witty and whimsical.   Most importantly, the pieces I own put a smile on my face everyday.

Here’s a sneak peek of some of Chandra’s upcoming events and where you can find a piece of hers for your very own:

To celebrate spring, Chandra will post a virtual kiln opening of new work on her Etsy site (DeBuse Ceramics) May 15th.  Also in May (4-5), she will be at Baltimore Clayworks for a two-day workshop.  July 27th, Chandra will conduct a one-day workshop at Red Star Studios in Kansas City and in September (20-22), she will present her work and her processes at the Handbuilt Conference for CERF in Philadelphia.

For additional information, please visit Chandra’s website:  www.chandradebuse.com

Enjoy the interview!

How did you first get involved in ceramics?

My early experience with ceramics was most definitely NOT love at first sight.  I was drawn to the responsiveness of soft clay, but I lacked the discipline necessary to have any kind of success during my undergraduate ceramics class.  Fast forward a few years—I was working a stressful job and I needed a creative outlet, so I took a community clay class.  By that time, I had matured and gained discipline and everything clicked.  I couldn’t get enough.

What made you choose to attend a post-bacc program in ceramics? Can you talk a little bit about how that decision impacted your career path?   

DeBuse_APF

American Pottery Festival 2012

Going back to school after I had been working in clay for 8 years was a game-changer.  I had been gaining knowledge through community classes, books, magazines and workshops but I was really hungry to know more and academia seemed like a logical next step.  I took two clay classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before applying to their post-bacc program.  Just being in the university environment helped me understand the culture of academic clay, filled in some gaps in my education and helped me start to think critically about my work.  The encouragement and generosity of the faculty, graduate students, and my peers helped me to sort out my vision for my own future.  As a special student, I was at an advantage because I was paying in-state tuition so I took some extra classes: an art history survey course, kiln building, and sat in on the graduate seminar, while working on my portfolio and applications to graduate school.  Being a special student was like being inside a magical bubble where I had a lot of opportunity and not a ton of responsibility.  Seeing how another program’s graduate department operated gave me insights that helped me navigate my own graduate school experience.   Oh yeah, and I made some good friendships that continue to this day.

With a background in psychology, how did you decide to pursue a Master’s degree in Ceramics? 

I have always had fluid ideas of career and education and some days I even ponder what I’ll study next.  After working in human services and nonprofit administration, I was ready for a career change, although I was not entirely sure where my MFA would lead.   I always felt that my undergraduate degree just scratched the surface of the field of psychology and I kept searching for a deeper understanding of the human experience.  That quest led me to making pottery and continues in the work I make today.

How do you feel that your formal education (including your psychology degree) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  

The practical on-the-job experience I gained between undergrad and grad school developed my skills in mediation, listening, problem solving, communication, record keeping, grant writing/reporting, time management, personnel management and statistics. I definitely drew upon those skills during graduate school and I have used every one of those skills as a potter! I feel that the life I lived before I found clay gives me not only appreciation but also a perspective that grounds me.

My work is much stronger because I went to graduate school.  Formal education taught me how to continue asking questions and improving on my ideas. I also grew to understand how educating others through direct teaching and presentation aids my own artistic

DeBuse_Studio

Kansas City Studio, 2012

development.  The support I have received from the University of Florida ceramics community during school and since graduation has without a doubt pushed my career forward.school developed my skills in mediation, listening, problem solving, communication, record keeping, grant writing/reporting, time management, personnel management and statistics. I definitely drew upon those skills during graduate school and I have used every one of those skills as a potter! I feel that the life I lived before I found clay gives me not only appreciation but also a perspective that grounds me.

How would you describe your work?  How did you arrive at working this way?  

I make voluminous pots that incorporate narrative hand-drawn imagery and pattern, candy colors, and bouncing lines to impart a sense of play.   Because I learned about pottery-making in a relaxed community pottery studio, on my own terms, outside of an academic agenda, I approached clay in a very playful way. I trained myself to play with clay for 8 years before learning to think conceptually about pottery.  This shift in thinking was painful for me and I’m pretty sure it was painful for my instructors too.  My early forms and surfaces weren’t cohesive.  Working narratively is a straightforward way of communicating ideas.  I always loved drawing, but I didn’t seriously try drawing on pots until the summer

DeBuseChandraSquirrel

Catch Platter, 2010

before my thesis year.  It all started with squirrels, which were always right outside the studio window.  Squirrels are just like students:  they are impulsive and obsessed with a goal.   A metaphor was born.


What is the inspiration for your pieces? 
How do you come up with new ideas?  Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas? 

My thesis installation was a retelling of my own graduate school experience:  a playful story of achievement through the eyes of a squirrel.  After grad school, I continued working under the same larger themes of play and achievement, but started working through different stories with different characters and landscapes.

The process of play remains an important part of my studio practice. My formula for creative play is:  low risk + high novelty.  Ideas are born in my sketchbook.  I’ll start with a doodle, turn that doodle into a character and think about the struggle that character is involved in.   I add details to the drawing, play with composition, edit down, and relate the story to the landscape of a vessel.   I throw forms on the wheel and handbuild, using soft slabs with molds that I generate out of clay, plywood and/or craft foam.  These inexpensive materials are easy for me to customize and quickly work through ideas about shape and form.  Even as a novelty junkie, I do believe that great pots are born from discipline and repetitive practice, looking with a critical eye and making adjustments for the next round.

I’ve always been attracted to your use of the narrative.  What comes first, story or form?

DeBuse_Tumblers

Troublemaker Tumblers, 2012

 It depends on what I’m working on.  I use cups and plates to try out a lot of narratives, so the stories might change, but the forms stay the same.  My loose narratives are based on larger themes, such as achievement or play.  These larger themes tie my work together.  Casual observers may not make the connections between the pieces, but for me, they are all related.  The tiered treat server forms were conceived while I was developing my thesis.  The tiered forms tell the story of desire, as it relates to achieving a goal and reaching the reward.  When I include a character on a treat server, such as a snail or squirrel, they are involved in that struggle of getting to the highest tier.  The function of the server, to hold treats, is conceptually relevant to the story too. It is much different than if I were designing a server for fruits and vegetables. The result is a piece with layers of meaning.

I know that you’ve moved around a bit post-graduate school.  Could you describe some of the most influential or career changing experiences you’ve had?  

Being a resident artist at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (Gatlinburg, TN) was pretty special.  The national summer workshop programming provided me with opportunities to meet renowned artists (like you!), host visitors in my studio, and give weekly public powerpoint presentations about my work.  There aren’t too many places that offer that kind of exposure.  I knew that continuing the momentum built during graduate school would depend on making a lot of work and finding an audience for my work.  I was lucky to land in two year-long residencies (Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach, FL and Arrowmont) that provided financial stipends and allowed me to devote the majority of my time to my artistic practice.

Being recognized as one of six emerging artists at the 2012 NCECA conference, being named an Emerging Artist in Ceramics Monthly magazine and delivering an NCECA-sponsored lecture during SOFA Chicago made 2012 a remarkable year.  This happened as I was preparing to make a transition to being a full-time studio potter.  The exposure certainly hasn’t hurt. 2013 has some big shoes to fill though.

Kansas City is a hotbed for ceramics.  Not only is it home to the Kansas City Art Institute, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Sherry Leedy Gallery, Red Star Studios, etc., but there are many private studios maintained by internationally recognized ceramic artists (like yourself) in the area.  Now that you’ve settled and set up a studio, can you describe what attracted you to Kansas City?  

It IS a hotbed!  There are countless benefits to living in a city with such a thriving clay and arts community.  Since moving here, I taught a community class at Red Star Studios, presented to the KC Clay Guild, and I am currently an instructional assistant at the Kansas City Art Institute.  My boyfriend Tommy, the Studio Manager at Red Star Studios, has done a lot to keep me connected to the arts community here.  If not for him, I would probably hole up in my studio way too much.

DeBuse_InProcess2

Glazing, 2012

After living in some remote areas, I can really appreciate the access that Kansas City offers. I live a mile from Crane Yard Clay, which sells studio materials and supplies, there is even a packaging supply distributor where I can drive over and load the truck with bulk shipping materials, there’s a really cheap place that sells clean scrap upholstery foam.  No more harvesting foam from nasty side-of-the-road couches!  There are some really great restaurants (not just bbq!). When I moved here, I had a full calendar of show obligations, so I needed to set up a studio quickly.  I chose to rent studio space in a quieter place near the arts district.  The cost of living is moderate and I grew up just a few hours north of here, so Kansas City feels like home.

Was there a point in your career that you made a decision to sell your pots for a living? Could you describe how you came to that decision?  

That decision is evolving.  After graduate school, I wanted to spend 3-5 years primarily focusing on my artwork in an effort to build on the momentum I gained during school (I am in year 3). As it happened, I spent the first two years in artist residency programs.  While at Arrowmont, I began to find an audience for my work and started a mailing list to keep connected to the hundreds of people I met.  I have been working as an independent studio potter since last July, piecing together my income from selling pots, teaching and doing workshops.  It has been stressful at times and I have not got the pie chart of income figured out yet. There is much tweaking to be done with price points and time investments.  I am still pretty open-minded about opportunities that take me out of my studio, as long as they present chances for income, learning, and still leave room for me to make pots.

DeBuse_InProcess

Squirrel Treat Server in process, 2013

What does a typical workday look like for you?  How much do you spend on marketing vs. making?

I have yet to find “typical.”  So far, deadlines have driven my time.  Last summer and a little bit this fall, I was spending 14 hour days in the studio, preparing for shows.  Teaching, traveling, packing and shipping work, taking photographs, applying for things and writing articles have taken me out of the studio.  When I’m out of the studio, such as doing a workshop or setting up a show, I try to be mindful of marketing opportunities.  A snapshot of me teaching a workshop posted to the web on my blog or facebook page tells my story and serves as a marketing tool.  It not only connects with my audience, but defines who I am and what I have to offer.  Working with other organizations, such as AMACO and Northern Clay Center has resulted in media that has expanded my audience.

How does an artist go about acquiring business and marketing skills? What piece of advice would you give to others just starting out?  

Marketing efforts should reflect your brand identity, which should be cohesive with your artist statement.  If you want organizations to invite you to do workshops, make sure that your online content reflects that.  Share pictures of yourself giving workshops, record a little video demo and put it on Youtube.  Write a how-to article for a ceramics publication, present at NCECA.  If there is a product you love and use in your studio practice, reach out to the manufacturer and let them know.  It may lead to some kind of partnership that can lend exposure to your work.  There are many ways to tackle the marketing monster, but it’s all about finding your audience and creating opportunities.

There is a mythology surrounding a potter’s life and marketing efforts tend to lean toward, “crafting the mythology.”  I think there is a lot of truth to this, especially since it doesn’t make much business sense to promote an image of failure—even if that’s the reality.  Those who are actually making and selling their work and making a living are exceptionally disciplined and resourceful.  I have my eye on those people and I try to learn as much as I can from the ways they have structured their businesses.

What is your relationship with galleries (on and offline)?  How has that relationship changed over time? 

DeBuseChandraTS2-1

Garden Treat Server with Snail, 2012

The internet is really changing the gallery/artist/collector relationship.  Well-respected galleries are able to reach a wider audience and lend credibility to emerging artists.  I prioritize galleries who have both a physical gallery and an online presence.  It is imperative that galleries selling online represent my work through beautiful displays, photographs and provide promotional materials, including catalogs, posters, print mailings and social media.  As my work has become more visible in the past year, keeping galleries stocked with inventory has been challenging.  David Trophia of Crimson Laurel Gallery in Bakersville, NC recently offered advice to “under-promise” and “over-deliver.”  It’s good advice and my mantra for 2013.

Although I want to maintain excellent relationships with galleries, the traditional gallery model of sales is not feasible as my only source of income.  Commissions, cost of studio rental, materials, labor, shipping and taxes eats away the profits of making time intensive work like mine.  I am currently researching opportunities to increase the potential for direct sales.

I know that you have an Etsy site where you sell your wares.  Can you briefly describe your Etsy experience?

My Etsy site (DeBuse Ceramics) has been open for 8 months.  Most of my sales through Etsy have been with people who are already familiar with my work.  The biggest challenge for me has been to allocate work to my Etsy site instead of sending it to other venues.  When you look at pure profit, it may seem like a no-brainer to focus on direct sales, but maintaining gallery relationships is a tremendous benefit.  My business plan includes increasing my Etsy listings. I will be launching a virtual kiln opening on May 15th on my Etsy site, where I will be listing 30 new pieces celebrating spring.

DeBuse_InUse

Floral Cup and Plate in use, 2013

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice/style? 

Collect what interests you in a sketchbook or binder.  Make a lot of work.  Seek feedback from people you respect.  Experiment with other solutions.  Allow yourself to play.  Write about your work often (what are the pieces communicating?  How are they doing that? How could they say it better?).  For me, giving a 5-10 minute power point presentation about my work always helps me to condense my ideas and verbalize my intentions.  More often than not the process of preparing a presentation leads to new ideas and gives my studio practice a kick in the pants.

For more info about Chandra and her work, please visit her website: www.chandradebuse.com

And…here’s a shortlist of what Chandra’s up to these days:

Upcoming Workshops:

BALTIMORE CLAYWORKS WORKSHOP: MAY 4-5, 2013, BALTIMORE, MD   HTTP://WWW.BALTIMORECLAYWORKS.ORG/CLASS/MTCLASSES/SPRING2013/WORKSHOPS/WS02_DEBUSE_WORKSHOP.HTML

RED STAR STUDIOS: 1-DAY WORKSHOP, JULY 27, 2013, KANSAS CITY, MO  HTTP://REDSTARSTUDIOS.ORG/WORKSHOPARTICLE/ARTS-WORKSHOPS-KANSAS-CITY.HTML

HANDBUILT CONFERENCE FOR CERF: SEPTEMBER 20,21,22, PHILADELPHIA, PA  HTTP://SANDIANDNEIL.COM/HANDBUILT-2013

Upcoming Shows:

VIRTUAL KILN OPENING, MAY 15, 2013 –FEATURING 30 BRAND-NEW PIECES CELEBRATING SPRING  WWW.ETSY.COM/SHOP/DEBUSECERAMICS

AKAR 2013 YUNOMI INVITATIONAL (ONLINE ONLY), APRIL 19 – MAY 17, 2013  HTTP://WWW.AKARDESIGN.COM/SHOWS/UPCOMING.ASP#SHOW126

SMALL FAVORS VIII, THE CLAY STUDIO, PHILADELPHIA, PA, MAY 3 – JUNE 2, 2013  HTTP://WWW.THECLAYSTUDIO.ORG/EXHIBITION/SMALL-FAVORS-VIII

NCECA 2013 Mug Shots: The Complete Album

Here are the 153 mug shots that my husband, Shoji Satake took at the NCECA Conference.  Thanks to all those who participated!  It was such a pleasure to see everyone’s smiling faces…it almost felt like I was there!  Since I was unable to make a decision on the one pic that was the “cutest”, I went through the following selection process:

The 153 names went into a large bowl from which I blindly selected 64 names and plugged them into a NCAA inspired bracket.  I then flipped a coin to decide each match-up (heads=the top name and tails=bottom name).  It came down to two: Jay Lacouture (tails) and Meredith Host (heads).  In the end, Meredith Host came out the winner!  To see how the brackets evolved, you can visit West Virginia University Ceramic’s Facebook page.

In the next few days, I will post an album of my favorite shots, an updated pic of the winner, Meredith Host (pictured below) with her new mug, etc.  So…stay tuned…