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

 

 

 

 

 

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

Doug Peltzman: Potter of the Month

I’m thrilled to introduce Doug Peltzman as Potter of the Month for April!  I have been a fan of Doug’s work for years and continue to be intrigued by the striking architecture of his forms, his active surfaces and his unwavering attention to every detail.  His work is inspirational, inviting, thoughtful, beautiful and incredibly useful.

workshop imageI first met Doug in the fall of 2012 during the Utilitarian Clay Symposium at Arrowmont.  Although we didn’t get the opportunity to chat much during our brief time there, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Doug as a fellow member of Objective Clay.  It is an honor to be a part of the constant dialogue in our field and this interview is no exception.  I hope you enjoy Doug’s feature as much as I did.  Cheers!

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

assorted potsI first got involved in ceramics by chance and luck. When I decided to go back to school, I already had three years of undergraduate education in painting and fine arts under my belt, and had spent the two years in between these undergrad stints working as a cabinetmaker. I think that this two-year break from school manifested a desire in me to make useful things. When I decided to go back to school, I really didn’t know what I would do. By serendipity, and for reasons I can’t fully explain, I took a wheel throwing class. A few weeks later, I took a shift at a wood firing, and I was hooked. It was like a new world unlocked for me. I’m not sure if I was attracted to utility at first, or if it was more about the connection to the material and the community.

Can you briefly describe your background and education?

studio

studio

I was born and raised in Commack, NY, a suburb on Long Island. My teens to early twenties were spent on a skateboard, honing my skills and style, and feeling like I had finally found my calling. It helped give me purpose, similar to what making pots provides for me now. From high school, I went to SVA for one year, and then I transferred to Pratt. I majored in painting, and spent my sophomore and junior years there. I took two years off and worked as a cabinetmaker, before deciding to go back to school and earn my BFA in ceramics from Suny New Paltz in 2005. In 2010 I earned my MFA from Penn State.

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

kiln opening sale

kiln opening sale

I think it helped make me a really skilled maker and critical thinker. My work ethic was established long before college, watching and learning from my parents, and spending countless hours on my skateboard. I think higher education does some things really well, and others not so well. How to make a living as an artist is not easy, and there are no clear suggested tracks to success. But, the more I teach, the more I realize that academia isn’t built to provide you with all of the answers and skills to being a full time artist. You have to seek them out. That desire has to come from within. I was fortunate to work for my undergrad professor, Mary Roehm. Looking back on that time, I think I learned as much from being Mary’s assistant as I did from taking her classes. Also, and equally as important, she exposed me to her lifestyle and her collection of pots. This showed me that pottery was not

Adam Field Visit

Adam Field Visit

just something to major in, in college; it is a lifestyle, one that I felt a connection with. I think school makes you a strong problem solver and provides a network of like-minded people. In grad school, I was lucky to work with Chris Staley, Liz Quackenbush, and Del Harrow. I was able to move through ideas and get constant feedback. They all provided diverse perspectives and challenging questions. Grad school allowed me the freedom to play, to find my voice, and to develop a critical dialogue. School was invaluable for me, but so was the summer I spent as an assistant at Peter’s Valley Craft Center. I think if you want a complete and well-rounded education in clay, you must get outside of academia too. My advice would be to visit artist’s studios, take workshops, go to nceca, be a summer assistant, but mainly, to immerse yourself in the field.

Where do you gather inspiration for your work?  

Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin

Mimbres

Mimbres

Paul Klee

Paul Klee

I find inspiration for form and surface by observing patterns and compositions in nature and industry.   Recently, I have been looking at early atari video games for source material. Some of the forms I make are reminiscent of smoke stacks, old Tupperware cups from the 80’s, Wedgewood and Staffordshire ceramics that I grew up seeing/living with, ancient pottery (Mimbres and Jomon), and old metal objects that I find/collect. The paintings and writings of Agnes Martin, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky have also been a major source of inspiration and influence. I am always negotiating with function, trying to find a balance between highly crafted utilitarian pots and engaging active objects to look at.      

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

For me the process of developing a new form is painfully slow. I tend to think for a long stretch about an idea, draw quite a bit, and sort of go through a long editing process, dishesbefore I even make anything. Recently, I started making handbuilt dishes, pots for nuts and candy. I have a Staffordshire dish that was my grandmother’s; I remember she always had thin mints in it. I kept it in my studio for about a year. I thought for a long time about how I could translate my love for that dish into a form that I could make. The idea for these new oblong and square dishes grew out of this process.

You use various clay bodies for your work, some porcelain and some earthenware. How does working at these different temperature ranges help you to process ideas? Can you talk a little bit about how your palette changes when you use a light clay body versus a dark clay body?

I can trace my love for range in temperature and clay to my formative years wood firing. I was always drawn to the buried crusty iron rich pots, as well as the vitreous porcelain

porcelain plate detail

porcelain plate detail

glazed surfaces that a wood kiln can yield. So, for me, working in earthenware and porcelain feels natural, each body of work informing the other. Different clays provide a new canvas and a new problem to solve.   I like to use the analogy of watercolor for porcelain, and oil paint for earthenware. With my porcelain pots I focus more on using color to delineate shifts in pattern, composition, and line. The translucent porcelain is the backdrop for my glazes, much like the white paper is the backdrop for a watercolor

earthenware mug

earthenware mug

painting; the white clay color is key to making the glazes glow.   With my earthenware pots the focus is more on using color to fill space or play with interlocking shapes. The satin lowfire glazes I use are opaque, with breaks of red clay coming through. The rich red clay becomes a backdrop almost like an under painting would serve as a ground for an oil painting.    

 

What is your most valuable studio tool? Why?

Hands down, my metal rib, it removes my throwing lines and refines my pots in a way that my hands never could. Also, I like to take the cheap ones and cut them in to shapes that fit in small areas. A close second is my small red rib by mud tools, I’d be nothing without it.

You have taught university classes in the past and are currently teaching a few classes at Hartford Art School. How does teaching affect your studio practice?

greenware juicer with strainer

greenware juicer with strainer

That’s a good one. I have been a full time studio potter for the most part since I graduated in 2010, and I love being my own boss. But with being your own boss comes sacrifice and very long hours. So for me, teaching has been a love/hate sort of relationship. I love how teaching gets me out of the studio and out of my head, and also hate it. I love the rhythm of making everyday, getting intimate with a body of work, and having something to show for my time and labor, and teaching disrupts that rhythm. The thing I love about teaching though, is helping students find their way through clay. It has been so nice to share knowledge and technique with students and see the direct impact that it can have. Also, on the practical side, having some idea of what my income will be on a monthly basis has proved to be a stress reliever. So, while it’s been a compounded few months of making and teaching, with no down time, I have welcomed it.

As a new mom, I was surprised by how little studio time I was able to fit in after my daughter was born. As a father of two, how are you able to balance studio and family? Do you spend your time in the studio differently now than before?

Grayson & Leo in the studio

Grayson & Leo in the studio

I think most artists with kids will answer this question a little differently, although, one common thread will probably be the sacrifice and sleep deprivation that takes place. My wife (Pam) is really the key to the whole operation. Being a father can be tough at times, but being a mother, let alone a nursing mother, can be far more demanding and exhausting. My wife takes the brunt of the daily parenting duties while I work full time in the studio. My studio is in our house, which is great because I can lend a hand if need be, and the kids can see me throughout the day.  The downside is that some days can be noisy, chaotic, and fractured at times. I have never been a 9 to 5er in the studio or a night owl,

Pam helping pack and ship

Pam helping pack and ship

I’ve just always been a workhorse, and that’s what I’ve continued to do.   Luckily for me, I have a wife who is a potter, and the best thing I have going for me, she understands the demand, the sacrifice, and the ridiculously long hours it takes to be a full time artist. The main thing is to make the most of every moment, and do more work with less time. We are figuring it out on the job, and it’s been a total free for all.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

Dover Plains

Dover Plains

Wake up 6:15am, Breakfast Routine 7-8:30am, Studio 8:30-12:00pm (This consists of any number of tasks including but not limited to: making, emailing, instagraming, ordering, inventorying, packing, phone calls, shipping, glazing, constructing, organizing, testing, cleaning, documenting, uploading, resizing, editing, etc…) Lunch 12-12:45pm, Studio 12:45-5:00pm, Dinner/play/bath/bedtime 5-7:45pm, Coffee break 7:45-8pm, Studio 8-10 or 11pm, Fall asleep on the couch 10:30-11:30pm, Sleep 12am -6:15, Repeat.

At what point did you make the decision to sell your pots for a living? Could you describe how you came to that decision?  

inventory time

inventory time

When I got out of grad school like most in our field, I applied to a bunch of teaching jobs. After coming close and not landing anything, my wife and I decided our best option was to move in with my parents and establish my studio practice. During that year and a half, I had the freedom to continue to grow and develop my work. I spent that time building relationships, making lots of pots, and getting my work out in the world. I really loved the rhythm of making pots everyday.   The more I worked full time, the less I thought about applying to teaching jobs. I just couldn’t imagine spending my time any other way.

Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work? Are there other methods of marketing that you’re thinking about taking on?

Dallas Pottery Invitational

Dallas Pottery Invitational

I sell my work through galleries, my online shop, objective clay, pottery shows/sales, and my studio. I have found that when I have work on objective clay and in my online shop it sells pretty regularly. My goal in the next few years is to pair down the galleries and sell exclusively through my studio, my online shop, and objective clay. I don’t consider myself to be all that savvy when it comes to scheming about marketing strategies. Over the past few years I have loved the community and sharing network that instagram has opened up. It has proved to be a marketing strategy without intending to be.   I have used instagram to promote online sales and upcoming pottery shows. It’s been a great way to keep people in the loop and engaged in what I’m up to. Also, Objective Clay has been such a rewarding project to be a part of.   I am honored to be a part of such a dynamic group, and proud of

Objective Clay at the 2014 NCECA Conference

Objective Clay at the 2014 NCECA Conference

what we’ve accomplished in such a short time. With fourteen unique perspectives, we always have the next venture in sight. I’m looking forward to what the future holds, and excited about the possibilities.

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

Work hard. Be open. Be an active participant, and expect nothing in return.

 

fresh pots

fresh pots

For more info about Doug and his work, please visit his website: dougpeltzman.com 

Emily Schroeder Willis: Potter of the Month

As preparations for the upcoming NCECA Conference are keeping a lot of us busy this time of year, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to publish an interview with a potter whose work I’ve admired for years: Emily Schroeder Willis. In 2002, my sister and I drove from Anchorage, AK to Rochester, NY.  On the way, we stopped in Helena, MT to visit the

ESW Bowl, c.2002

ESW Bowl, c.2002

Archie Bray Foundation.  While we were at the Bray, I purchased a gem of a bowl of Emily’s that I still use all of the time.  The pinched surface of Emily’s work begs to be touched.  This bowl has a glossy, opaque neutral glaze on the bottom and an exposed porcelain texture at the rim.  The interior is drenched with a thick, blue celadon glaze with large crazing marks that remind me of deep glacial crevasses.  A single drawn line rolls over the pinched marks like a lonely road meandering over rough terrain.  This graphic element is something that Emily still explores in her work and is a lovely contrast to her pinched process marks. If you are attending this year’s NCECA Conference, come see (and touch) Emily’s work in person at the Objective Clay booth as part of NCECA’s Gallery Expo (Hall A). Enjoy the interview! How did you first get involved in ceramics?  Can you briefly describe your background and education? Technically speaking, my first clay experience was when I was little, maybe 8 years old. I don’t even know why, I certainly don’t think I had asked for it, but my parents got me a battery operated “wheel”.  It looked more like a record player than a  potters wheel.  I think it ran on 4 D sized batteries.  I actually still have the plastic tools that go with it believe it or not! It must have been a meaningful gift because I kept pursuing ceramics after that.  I am really lucky because both my Junior High School and High School both had strong ceramics programs.  We had gas kilns at both schools with wheels for everyone.  We fired to cone 10 and had a huge variety of glazes.   I really loved it, but didn’t think I would ever do it full time.

platter 2013

platter 2013

I went to the University of MN for my undergrad and started off as a landscape architecture major.   I quickly switched when I had my first ceramics class there.  Geof Wheeler was my instructor and Leanne McClurg was my TA! Later on I did a residency at the Archie Bray, a post-baccalaureate study at the Australian National University and graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder. How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics? My grad school and undergrad were two very different experiences.  The University of MN was quite traditional and more technical, while my grad school experience was more about challenging those traditions.  But, I think that is a typical difference between grad and undergrad.  I was taught by Mark Pharis and Margaret Bohls,  and Mark had been taught by Warren Mackenzie. So, for a long time I had the “Minnesota Potter” lifestyle dream in my head.  The goal was to get a farm somewhere, set up a studio in the barn, make work and live off that.  I saw several artists in Minnesota do that: Jeff Oestreich, Linda Christianson, Bob Briscoe, Warren Mackenzie, Maren Kloppmann…  Graduate school was a huge awakening!  My first year at CU Boulder none of the other graduate students made pots.  Many of them were educated in a much broader language of art, but only a few were educated in ceramics in the same technical manner as I was.  I will still IMG_1076never forget one of my fellow grads telling me “Glaze comes in a jar, clay comes in a box.”  I am very thankful for my education at the U of MN, teaching me about the techniques and basic practices of ceramics. At CU, I realized that I could make work that reached beyond people just in the ceramics world.   It has helped me push my work further than I initially felt comfortable with. In graduate school, you took time off from making pottery and explored other means of expression.  How did that work inform your current work?  At CU I learned to be much more innovative and creative in my practice.   It really helped to broaden my perspective on art and specifically in my own practice.  Like you said, I made almost no pots in grad school, and in my current studio practice it helps me to never say “no” to any ideas that I have floating out there, regardless of how crazy or harebrained they seem.  There are many times I wished I could take a respite from making pots to try out some other ideas, but just don’t have the space in my studio to work in two types of methods. Could you describe some of the most influential or career changing experiences you’ve had? The Archie Bray has definitely been a very influential place.  It was the first time I really got to make work and figure out what my voice was.  I would also say my semester at the Australian National University (which I did between undergrad and the Archie Bray) was very impactful.  Janet DeBoos teaches there and she was amazing to work with.  She Bowl_LoopW2A_2013_lowencouraged me to hone in on the important elements of my work: form and surface.  She constantly pushed me to pair everything down and simplify more.  I still think back to some of the critiques I had with her.  She is incredible. You spent a year as a visiting artist instructor at Alberta College of Art and Design?  How did teaching impact your art-making? I almost put ACAD down as a career changing experience!  Greg Payce and Katrina Chaytor who teach at ACAD are two incredible educational powerhouses!  My year at ACAD was great because I taught 2 classes each semester and then had a studio to work in full time.  It was great because they have such a good curriculum for their students and I always feel that when you push your students hard to try new things, you always end up pushing yourself really hard to try new work. You took on a job at Lillstreet Art Center for a few years.  How did your position there help prepare you for your current business ventures?  What did you learn that surprised you? IMG_1981I was the Director of Artist Programs at Lillstreet. For my position I actually ran Artist-in-residence program, helped facilitate ceramics workshops and assisted in organizing events with the artists who rented studio space at Lillstreet.  It helped me learn more about the artist community here in Chicago.  I began to develop their artists-in-residence program by connecting the artists with a variety of people (curators, artists, educators, business people) to help them get networked in the city.  It was really great.  When I left, they decided not to hire anyone and let the artist-in-residence program run itself. What I learned there was that running an art center and a gallery is a LOT of work.  It’s a lot of organizational, people and communications skills.  I also saw how much social networking and advertising was part of the day to day routine.  I don’t think I realized what a big difference that makes to a business.  I think as artists, we often focus on the work and not on the other end of the business model.  I personally struggle with that because it takes me away from the making process, but it has caused me to see how it can help in your studio practice by getting out the word! In addition to being a studio artist, you currently work a full time job.  You are also one of two directors of an artist collective named Objective Clay.  How are you able to balance studio time with work life and maintain a strong voice in the field? Oh my goodness.  I don’t feel that I balance things well, honestly.  I feel balance is a constant seesaw.  Some weeks I am cranking in the studio, other weeks I am focusing on Objective Clay projects and then other weeks I try to get out and enjoy life in the city!  I truly feel that balance is a myth. You have published numerous articles in a number of highly respected ceramics periodicals.   What kind of advice could you give to others wanting to publish their writings? Vase_Loop_G1B_2013_lowPay attention in English class! It has been surprising how much writing has become part of my practice.  I always pounded into my students’ heads that writing was an important part of being an artist. Many of them scoffed at my writing assignments and I would be hard on them about it.   To anyone looking to publish their writings, I would encourage them to simply submit them to magazines they are interested in.  You never know what they could be looking for! Your article may be a perfect fit! Could you talk a little bit about why you choose to make pinched forms.  What is it about the process/results that you find necessary for your work?   Emily_0119I started making pinched forms because I got tendonitis when I was young.  The tendonitis was due to a combination of circumstances, but nonetheless, it is the reason why I unwillingly switched from working on the wheel to handbuilding.  Believe me, I was not thrilled about it. What I have learned to love about this process is how every mark of my process is recorded on the surface.  Clay is such a remarkable material and I love how it responds so immediately to my touch.  Now I really embrace that imperfectly marked surface because we live in a society so devoid of touch, what better way to combat that absence than to make work that celebrates that! How do you come up with new ideas?  Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas? IMG_1309I do a lot of reading, looking and sketching.  I look at historical forms , read DWELL magazine and I will also go to places like Design Within Reach and look at furniture, lighting and other objects for the home and see what other contemporary designers are making. What does a typical workday look like for you? My full studio work days are rare and on those days, I typically go through my email and try and respond to questions or galleries in the morning right away.  I hate checking my email, so I like to get a lot done in one sitting.  When I get to the studio, I usually either sketch or peruse through my sketchbook at ideas I want to be working on and then get started making.  I work on anywhere from 6 -12 forms simultaneously because of how slowly I work.  By the time I get to #6, #1 is usually ready to be worked on again.  When I get stuck, I usually go for a walk in the neighborhood. I always feel like that helps to get my juices flowing and give me some ideas. What is your most valuable studio tool?  NPR (National Public Radio), without it, I would be lost. You recently moved into a new studio space adjacent to the Nevica Project in Chicago.  What were your must haves when choosing a location?   Cup_GW1B_2014_lowWell, I am actually in the process of looking for a new studio space. Nevica is doing well and they need the entire space!  So, my current list of must haves: sunlight, 1st floor (or easy access, no hauling clay up 3 flights of stairs!), sink, bathroom and clean.   Safe location is actually the #1 living here in the city because you can find a lot of cheap rent places in sketchy locations.  Since I work at night mostly, I don’t want to work in a place that I have to worry about getting mugged or having the wheels stolen off my car. Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?  Are there other methods of marketing that you’re thinking about taking on? I think I have tried all of the methods you have listed.  I feel like each year things shift.  Some years, I do really well in galleries, other years I do really well at selling out of my own studio during community events, some years I have big commission projects .   I think you try everything and see what works.  Two artists have given me a few pieces of sound advice regarding selling your work: First, one full time potter told me to expect to live in a location 10 years before I really started to turn a profit. That has taught me a lot about connecting to the people in your community and the important role “place” plays.  I have definitely noticed more sales out of my studio, when I am connected to a community. Second, another prominent potter told me if a gallery hasn’t sold work in 7 months to ask for it back.  I think I used to be a lot more lenient with galleries. It might simply be that gallery isn’t the best fit for my work, so why not send it to another place where it might sell better?  You don’t want to walk into a gallery and see work you made 5 years ago still on the shelves. Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living? Plate_BWG1A_2014_lowKeep your chin up!  Being an artist is one of the most lucrative and difficult jobs out there.  Passion can only get you so far; sometimes you need to push through really tough times both financially and creatively speaking.  I always recommend recent graduates to stick together. There is nothing better than someone who understands your pain and passion to help push you through those difficult moments in life. For more info about Emily and her work, please visit her website: emilyschroeder.com    

Deborah Schwartzkopf: Potter of the Month

I wanted to close out 2013 in style, and what better way than to feature my dear friend: the lovely and talented Deborah Schwartzkopf!

deb incentiveDeborah and I have shared many memories together.  As fellow undergraduate students at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, we simultaneously fell in love with clay and chose to follow a career path in ceramics.  Since then, we both went off to post-bacc programs, then graduate school, then we were lucky enough to overlap for a year at the Archie Bray Foundation!  I always cherish the time I get to spend with Deb and feel fortunate to have such a caring friend.  Plus…when we do catch up, I get to hear about her crazy adventures as she travels the world sharing her work with others.

Place SEtting BrownHer work is, and has always been exceptional.  Her forms showcase strength and innovation and her surfaces are both dramatic and poetic.  Her pots speak volumes…about history, design, utility, presentation, ergonomics…the list goes on.  Whether you know Deb or not, this interview will give you a glimpse of the person behind the pottery.  The dialogue is thorough and thoughtful, honest and informative…enjoy!

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

3Kriss Bliss

Kris Bliss

IMG_1478

Peter Brondz, Lisa and Deb

I have broad interests outside of ceramics- gardening, Banjo, handicrafts of all kinds, spending time outdoors cycling or hiking, foraging wild plants and mushrooms, baking bread and cooking, and now house projects galore.  My broad interests outside the arts initially made it a challenge to choose a direction in school or otherwise. In undergrad, I remember wanting a different major every week, from botany to philosophy from ceramics to literature. Nearly everything interested me.  In high school I took a ceramics class at a community college in Seattle through a running start program.  I enjoyed it among many other course subjects.  When I moved to Alaska a few years later I took it again as an undergraduate at the University of Alaska: Anchorage. At this point in my life I was looking to redefine myself.  I really started to dedicate to being a potter when I found an amazing community in my classmates, instructors, and mentors. I had a fantastic undergrad experience.  I was encouraged to visit local potters by instructors and I did.  Jen Allen (blog extraordinaire) helped me get my first job working with Anchorage, with local potter Kris Bliss.  I owe much to both of them for caring about me and for teaching me everything from loading kilns to packing and shipping.  I later worked for another local potter, Peter Brondz.  Assisting and learning from these two potters taught me to take my academic education and apply it.

Steve

Steve Godfrey

Once I figured out that I wanted to work in clay, I did it as much as possible through school, mentorships, jobs, and workshops.  My education at UAA was an amazingly strong starting place. I worked mainly with Steve Godfrey and Robert Banker.  I built up my throwing skills in Steve’s class. He was a demanding, supportive instructor.  Steve helped me build me first kiln on his own time (which involved cutting bricks in Alaska’s winter).  Our classroom was his studio, so we also got the benefit of watching him work on his own forms and deadlines. Robert Banker taught me how to hand build pots- to translate ideas from drawings and templates into clay.  He would read to us during class.  He built tables for the studio, showed us how to take images, and gently guided. These two gave me a foundation!   When visiting artists came to Alaska, I tried my best to get in the workshop…  Jeff Oestreick, Malcom Davis, Linda Christianson, Mary Barringer, Frank Boyden, Ayumi Horie, Mikey Walsh, Josh DeWeese, Doug Jeck… From all of these voices and ways of seeing and making I found a path to follow as my own.

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

SONY DSC

Robert Banker

At UAA I really learned techniques for making pottery.  My undergrad experience it tied to working for local potters.  They were simultaneous.  The techniques I learned come from both places. In other words I learned how to make.  As a special student at SDSU I learned how to work with ceramic materials and develop my surface.  In grad school, at Penn State, there the focus was on why I made pottery and communicating my ideas through my work.

I took to heart the critical feedback I received and practiced in school.  I work well in a structured environment.  The specific assignments, clear deadlines, and critiques of the school environment kept me working harder than I would have on my own, gave me diverse feedback and a growing, long term network of friendships that still impacts my life.

Deb at UAA

UAA studio

Working in school settings allowed me to experiment with out penalty.  Trying out new ideas often involves waste…  Forms that do not work out because they have missed the mark or are full of cracks.  A round of doing test tiles often amounts to just one or two that really sing.  At school, it was expected that ideas would be worked through, that failure would happen. One of the biggest blessings working in school gave me was a buffer from having to earn a living from my work.  It allowed me to play and discover.  Growth and understanding was the focus.  I spent time figuring out and speaking about why I made what I made, and then refined these ideas and forms. I made a lot of awkward work and filled trash barrels with unwanted glaze test tiles.

Liquor CupsIn every school experience my instructors were role models who I still look up to.  Each of these people deeply influenced me and came into my journey at seemingly just the right time.  They were all so generous with their energy and thoughts. Each of them was a sounding board for me.  They attentively pointed me toward a next step, suggested ideas to consider, introduced artist I ought to know about, pointed me toward examples in the field, proposed galleries I should inquire with, and after graduating have been encouraging. Maybe it seems obvious, but a big thing I learned throughout school is that specific questions, got more specific answers. And you have to look and ask for what you need.

You attended a post-bac program at San Diego State University with Richard Burkett.  How did that year help your career path?

2Test Tiles When I graduated from UAA, I felt that the area I needed most growth in was surface or glaze chemistry. I had not moved on from using shop glazes.  I chose to work with Richard Burkett who is a glaze/ ceramic materials wizard.  I tested glazes and materials all semester in his class and received great feedback from he and Joanne Hayakawa, who was also teaching at SDSU. I focused on my hand building also.  I got better at making complicated templates, and practiced the new palette I was building on these new forms.  Looking back, this was the first place I explained my work to people who knew little about my work or me. Nothing was assumed. Every choice was in question.  The practice of verbalizing my work to people who did not know me, helped prepare me for grad school. I also made more friends there and expanded my thoughts about what people made in clay and got to know another clay community.

sd cups

SDSU research

You’ve attended numerous residency programs and presented at countless conferences/workshops throughout your career.  Could you describe some of the most influential or career changing experiences you’ve had?

Pottery Northwest

Pottery Northwest

Wally Bivins asked me to teach my first workshop at Pottery Northwest in Seattle.  It was so amazing to have someone I did not really know be so supportive and give me a chance.  For one of the first times I felt like someone thought I had something to contribute.  I was so nervous and pleased. I did my best, but was just learning to how to explain and make at the same time.  Over the years teaching workshops has elucidated my decisions- what choices I make and why I make them. Teaching has helped me see my work from the outside and to bring ephemeral thoughts into words.  This has led to a fluency that helps me work through new forms or ideas more thoroughly.

seattle

Seattle

I think moving back to Seattle and purchasing a home with studio space is one of the most career changing experiences I have had.  Setting up my own studio has been so totally different than any residency.  I have become more thankful than ever for all time I have spent at each studio over the years.  With every location I learned an important key to getting this all going on my own.  Yet, when it actually came setting up my own studio, it was still totally overwhelming and a huge amount of work.  The changes are just starting in my career.  We can now offer lessons, seminars, studio space, or mentorship.  Having a space that truly works for what I need is a huge gift.  It is an overwhelming step.  One I have wanted for some time.  I am curious and excited to see what comes of it.

Can you talk a bit about your journey including the struggles/sacrifices you made to get where you are today?

One of the biggest sacrifices I made was not being near my family. This separation helped me grow in ways that I wanted.  However, I did miss important holidays. Also, when my grandmother was very ill with cancer I could not visit as much.  I did not have the same connection to her in her passing that the rest of my family did. Now that I live close I can feel how the consistency of in being home regularly for lunch outings and simple walks feels very different than yearly visits for major holidays. I keep in touch with many people who I have crossed paths with.  They are one of the greatest gifts of traveling and working in a multitude of communities. On the flip side it is difficult even now having my close friends all over rather than in my neighborhood or city or even state where we may share daily experience or confide in each other face to face. I feel that I have learned much from moving around, being able to be flexible to the situation, materials, or facilities.  This is a gift of experience.  But I think it is equally important to be able to stay and to ground myself in my local community, to give back and to keep lasting relationships.

You recently purchased a home in Seattle and have been transforming the garage into your studio.  How did you arrive at the decision to settle and build a studio?  What were your must-haves when building your studio and choosing a location? 

House

Home

The 1947 rambler I bought has a 1200 sq. ft. daylight basement which is acting as my studio and there is also a large separate workshop (800 sq ft. with 12 foot ceilings) that is acting as, my partner, George’s studio and where we will eventually also rent studio space and have space for our assistants to have their own work area. We also just built a kiln shed (roughly 400 sq.ft. footprint) for a gas kiln and three electrics…  We are excited to grow into this space.

Place SettingIt is hard to have a long list of must haves and a small budget.  Generally the more you need the more expensive it can be.  My ideal studio for myself was patterned after the set-up a mentor of mine, Peter Brondz, has.  His facility in Alaska demonstrated how a studio potter made use of space for making, storing materials/ bricks/ wood, glazing space, gallery, kilns and work-flow.  Also the relationship of the house to the studio, the importance of parking space, and space for an assistant. Working at residencies gave me great ideas in certain areas, but these were on a grander scale than myself as an individual could begin with. So these were qualities were high on the list.

MUST HAVES

Space– to develop a mentorship program | room for more than just myself and George to work | garden space | space for a show room | space for hosting workshops | at least one extra room in the house.

Location– be in an area where I could have kilns separate from the house | be as close as possible to the city center and within budget | be close to the airport | close to family | close to community centers where George teaches

Energy–  be able to hook up electric and gas kilns

Traveling to residencies is exciting, a great way to learn and have a studio with out the burden of setting it all up yourself.  I totally enjoyed bouncing around the country, seeing new places, meeting people, and making work. Moving around costs money, changing studio set-ups and adjusting takes time (which if you are earning a living off your work, time is money), materials change in different locations, water changes, clay can change…  All of this makes for adjustments.  I grew tired of these small and sometimes large changes equaling setbacks in my ability to make work and to move through ideas.  I got good at transitioning quickly, but it still took a lot of energy to figure out a new studio flow, a new city, and new home and roommates.  For sometime I wanted to return to Seattle.  So after working at Mudflat I decided to move back.  I got a residency at PNW and that was an amazing springboard into the community there.

It felt strange to move home.  Everything was familiar and different at the same time.  I did not know the clay community here before I moved.  It has been a privilege to do this now and I am excited to build our presence here in the dazzling Pacific Northwest.

Saving money for a mortgage was one of the hardest things I have done.  I saved 10% of the cost over several years.  My mentor Peter and his wife, Lisa, lent me the other 10%, so that I could put down 20% to get the monthly payment more reasonable and avoid Private Mortgage Insurance. This was a huge!  My mom lent me money to start getting the studio usable and to augment the Kickstarter which we also ran to get the kiln pad electrified, poured, connected and built.

It is still all so new!  We are still figuring out the best way to use the space and to make the space usable!  It is totally exciting and a huge step forward for my career!

You share your studio with your partner and fellow ceramic artist, George Rodriguez.  How are you able to share space, studio chores and balance work and home life?

rodriguezP

George Rodriguez

Mariachi

Mariachi

It can be a lot of time with one person. I am lucky to have George as a partner. He is kind and talented.  He is honest and willing to have adventures.  Our strengths compliment and hold each other up in spite of our weaknesses.  When we shared a space in our previous rented house, it was tiny and much harder for both of us to have the space/ resources we needed. Let’s just say there were some serious sources of contention.  With the new home we have separate large spaces with enough room to have assistants’ spaces and even rent studio space eventually.  There is so much to get done to make the space usable to its full potential.  Each of us has different priorities for getting chores or projects done.  This is difficult at times.  However I have learned a lot from having his opposite opinion presented to me at each turn.  We make better decisions with these different points of view. Most of all we need each other to make the dream happen.  We are still figuring out how to best apply our needs and ways of working to this growth in our resources.  It is a blessing and a lot more to manage.

G w: Mariachi

George with Mariachi

We both work almost all the time at either our artwork or projects at the studio/house. But we have fun and love to our new space and the potential we are reigning in.  “Make hay while the sun shines,” is a saying I grew up with.  So here we are, trying to make the best of what we have.  I feel grateful to work toward my dreams.

Last spring, you and George launched a Kickstarter campaign that successfully raised enough funds to build a kiln shed for your kilns.  Can you talk a little bit about the process of setting up a campaign and the benefits/drawbacks. Here is a link to their project

DebGeorgeSmall

Kickstarter Campaign

Kickstarter.com is a fantastic platform to raise money for creative endeavors.   On their website they say about 50% of the projects are funded.  There were many elements to draw together to present such a large project…  The overall idea is that $$$ are needed for a creative project.  Supporters pledge money and then get an incentive based on their pledge. The Kickstarter project has an allotted time is must reach its goal within.

Initially we had to have a clear idea…  This included plans for a shed, concrete, electrical and a gas line, pricing out materials and services to complete the project, permits for our area, hiring out elements of the project- All of this took a lot of time.

We did a lot of research by looking at projects and videos of successfully funded kickstarter projects.  I tried to thoroughly present the material as succinctly as possible.  We tried to make it both professional and fun.  There were many drafts for the text, which had to explain our idea, who we were, what effect the project would have, why we needed it and what our work was about.  I tried to use supporting images to further impress our ideas on our audience.  The benefit is you can present nearly any idea however you want.  The drawback is that it is hard to know when enough is enough.

Kiln shed project copyThe campaign relied on our mailing list or social connections.  Between George and I we have quite a large mailing list and a very strong local presence here in Seattle.  Our community has seen us follow through with our work and teaching over the years. I think that your supporters have to believe that you will actually finish what you commit to and that their financial support is in good hands.

George made the short movie.  In this we tried to convey our ideas and wishes. It was strongly suggested by the Kickstarter Team to have this element.

The drawbacks- it is not totally clear how to deal with the money tax wise.  That is another research project for the spring.  I would recommend making the incentives before the project is launched, or it is quite difficult to get everything done. It is hard to know what to offer for incentives.  I think research with other campaigns and responding to the pledges made during your is the best course.

It seems as though you are always on the road giving workshops and lectures across the globe.  How do you balance your time in the studio with your time traveling?

04pitcher_595Well I do work a lot.  I have become comfortable teaching workshops and instead of being nervous all the time I can think about my work and even brainstorm through demoing.  So in a way I can do a little research and development while teaching.  Also I have become quite interested in the way that people learn.  I enjoy working with individuals of all sorts to help them accomplish their own goals with their work and their creative process.  So teaching balances my studio time really well.  It is a rest and work at the same time.  I love to travel, especially when I do not have to take my whole studio with me! So there is not a lot of balance, just a lot of both.

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

New forms come about in many ways.  Within every days’ journey I sift through small visual that build into ideas over time.  Sometimes do drawings.  I sometimes see an old form differently because of the setting or the light.  The process gradually changes my work due to my nature to want to be efficient and the other part of my nature that wants to complicate everything. A big practice that always keeps me going, is just to work a lot. Moving large amounts of clay keep the ideas flowing. I get ideas from using pottery at meals.  I get ideas from cooking and watching others cook.

Juicer_595There are two strong parts of me that seem to be most active in pushing my decisions forward.  The part that wants everything to be efficient and the part the wants everything to be complicated.

The efficient part sees the quicker path, the leftover pieces as desirable, the perfect tool/ mold for a certain job, the augmentation that will make the course of action easier. The practical part simplifies multi-step processes and finds clarity.

The complicating part embellishes, has fun with shape, creates lines that inspire, wants to do crazy amounts of glaze testing, wants to bring every part of life into my work.  The complicating part turns a simple angle in to a kaleidoscope.  It plays.

02Dessert_595So these ways of seeing or thinking work together back and forth until and ideas exists and is refined.  My mom wanted a dish to serve asparagus in.  In my head that mean oval.  I needed more simple forms at that time.  So I designed an oval dish with in the processes that I enjoyed…  Hand built/ molded foot and thrown and altered wall/rim.  Over time this shape as evolved into a large more complicated shape that includes tea drop shaped form with a handle at one end and sets of the two together.  I have also used the same mold to create a segmented tray in a kaleidoscoping pattern. Eventually the simple form gets complicated and I start other simple forms that eventually evolve… I enjoy the back and forth and puzzeling of shapes.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I get up around 7-8am.  I put on hot water for coffee/tea and check on the house-plants.  I keep both a short and long term list that I consult toward the beginning of the day. They help me stay on track and somewhat realistic about what can be accomplished with the time I have.  Once or twice a week I get to do Bikram Yoga first thing in the morning.  Often I start the day off working on the unfinished projects from the day before.  Then I have coffee and read (right now it is my Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog ). Then check emails. The majority of the late morning and afternoon I work on studio projects and usually work till I am hungry. Lunch is small and quick.  When I take intermittent breaks, I weed the garden, prune trees, read, rake leaves, practice banjo, go for walks, surf the web, get some bread rising, or some other interest. Then I work further on more projects till 2pm or so.  Then have lunch.  Then work till 7 or so and have dinner. Possibly work after dinner depending on deadlines.

I work almost everyday on what I think of as everything it takes to make pottery for a living.  This includes managing gallery relationships/ workshops/ sales/ writing articles/ making work.  I also think of my work to include packing and shipping, taking photos, managing a website, social media, making promotional materials.  It is a good time!

What is your most valuable studio tool?  Why?

5ToolsAs far as a tool from the toolbox, my favorite tool it my little scoring tool.  It has the same handle as a needle tool and about ten small straight metal wires that act as tines.  I can gently and exactingly score small areas.  This makes for less clean up and less cracking (because it is thorough scoring). It also works well for fishing out small, fallen pieces of clay from the interior of a cup, teapot, or vase form as I am working. I would have a difficult time making my work without it.

I have always admired your ability to connect to your audience using social media.  What kind of advice could you give about marketing on the Internet?

Initially, I was very resistant to using social media.  A good friend, Andrea Marquis and my sister, Joanna Schwartzkopf, set up my first MySpace account against my wishes for a birthday present.  I eventually got used to MySpace and then found others I liked more.  Michael Kline helped me set up my Twitter Account just a short while ago.  I participated in Hidenseeka2Hide’N’Seeka on instagram by Adam Field!  Since then, I try to use whatever avenue I can find to put my work in front of others.  I think that these social media platforms can be a huge distraction and strangely detached from the way I think. However, they are inexpensive and have the capability to reach huge numbers of people.

When I post information I try to have good images and to be as succinct as possible.  On Google Analytics I can see the connection between posts on FB and visits to my site.  I am still learning how to best use these tools, but noticing these correspondences helps direct my decisions.

As much as I think these avenues are helpful, I still love to make postcards, cards, and posters.  I enjoy these longer lasting ways of promotion along with the more digital ones.

Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?  Are there other methods of marketing that you’re thinking about taking on? 

DVD imageI would not say that selling pottery is ever lucrative… It feels like a tremendous amount of work for the yield.

I sell most of my work through galleries.  I am grateful for the galleries that professionally promote work through great publications, a strong web presence and by highlighting their artists yearly.  Galleries have helped me get my work into many communities.  Solo shows I have had through galleries give me helpful deadlines that prompt me to develop new work. Here is a link to the list I work with…

Second in line are studio sales that have been hosted by groups-

-Art of the Pot in Austin, TX (http://artofthepot.com/)

-Art School at Old Church in Demarest, NJ (http://www.tasoc.org/)

-Dallas Pottery Invitational, TX (http://dallaspotteryinvitational.com/)

1ExhibitionsThese are especially fun.  Meeting other artists, getting to see others’ work, traveling, and also interacting with those who purchase the pottery are all highpoints of this way of selling for me.  For the first time I am hosting a studio tour/ sale this December for the first time.  This is a part of a city wide tour called Seattle Sampling.  We invited five artist friends from the area to participate.  We are excited to see how this all works out.  I am hoping to start a sale in the spring as well.

Occasionally I get commissions through emails or word of mouth.  I really enjoy working with individuals on projects.  I have so many glaze colors. This that usually allows the buyer to fine a color scheme with in my palette.  I send images of past work or meet in person, we talk about how the piece will fit into their home or how it will be used.  It is a good feeling to get to know the collector and see where my work is going.

Now that I have a studio/home set up of my own I have space to keep finished inventory.  This has led to another option I am pursuing.  Web Sales.  I recently had an ecommerce site designed and I am figuring out how to manage this as well.

logo-ocOne other avenue that is new is Objective Clay.  This is group of potters working as a collective.  We promote each other, have web sales, and we are trying to plan events and educational opportunities with in our community using the skills and information of the group. It is pretty exciting to see where this will go!

Here is our group!  Jennifer Allen, Nick Bivins, Blair Clemo, Sunshine Cobb, Bryan Hopkins, Brian Jones, Lindsay Oesterritter, Kip O’Krongly, Doug Peltzman, Monica Ripley, Deb Schwartzkopf, Shawn Spangler, Emily Schroeder Willis, gwendolyn yoppolo. Presenters at the Utilitarian Clay Symposium in 2012 at Arromont School of Arts and Crafts. (http://www.arrowmont.org/news/news/158-utilitarian-clay-vi)

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?

DebLogo_Cup-name-dotsI feel like the combination of a great undergrad program at UAA and working for potters, Kris Bliss and Peter Brondz sparked my interest. I had learned skills and practiced.  I saw Kris and Peter living out the life I wanted.  I was particularly drawn to the studio set up Peter has.  Timber framed studio surrounded by woods, lots of kilns- gas, wood, and salt kiln, chickens, great family, lovely neighbors- It all seemed to beautiful to be true. And at the same time it was right in front of me and quite attainable.  I came from a very practical family but was still encouraged to dream.  I set my sights on having a studio, home and life like Peter’s and just tried to make each step bring me closer to that somehow.

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

Work with as many instructors/ and mentors as you can.  Spend as much time in the studio as you can moving material and ideas around.  Build friendships. Decide your steps, each one is important.  Take classes and have interests outside the studio that expand your world.

I enjoy Jack Troy’s writing.  Especially this one!

From : Calling the Planet Home

by Jack Troy

Containment

I have picked up, moved, shaped,
and lightened myself of many tons of clay,
and those tons lifted, moved, and shaped me,
delivering me to this living-space
I wake and move about in,
space perhaps equal to that I have opened and enclosed in plate, cup, bowl, jug, jar.
I am thankful no one ever
led me to the pit I’d help to make in the earth,
or showed me all the clay at once.
I’m grateful no one ever said, “There.
That heap’s about a hundred fifty tons.
Go make yourself a life.
And oh, yes, here’s a drum of ink.
See what you can do with that.”
I wouldn’t have known where to begin.

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

debspottery.com

Objective Clay: Online Artist Collective

Objective Clay is an artist operated collective that I am happy to be a part of.  It was founded by fourteen artists during last fall’s Utilitarian Clay Symposium at Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts.  As potters that live and work in various parts of the country, our goal is to use the internet to create a collective space that will function as both a gallery and a window into our current thoughts and processes.  By sharing our ideas and opening our studios, we invite artists, non-artists, educators and students to actively engage in our practices.  In this virtual “workshop”, the people who love pots can view/purchase new work and form direct relationships with the artists who make them.

Here’s a glimpse of the artists that make up objective clay:

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top row: Doug Peltzman, Sunshine Cobb, Deb Schwartzkopf, Jennifer Allen, Kip O’Krongly, Bryan Hopkins, Brian R. Jones.
bottom row: Blair Clemo, Lindsay Oesterritter, Monica Ripley, Emily Schroeder-Willis, Gwendolyn Yoppolo, Nick Bivins and Shawn Spangler

This Thursday, we will kick off the shop portion of our website with 10% of the proceeds from the first week of sales going to Arrowmont’s Bill Griffith Art Educator’s Fellowship.  Please visit our site and help support both quality handmade wares and a meaningful cause!

www.objectiveclay.com