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

Meredith Host: Potter of the Month

host plate decoratingI am pleased to announce that this month’s potter is the super-fabulous Meredith Host!  Meredith and I met at The School for American Crafts (at RIT) when we were both studio residents during the 2002-2003 school year.  Hard to believe that was over ten years ago…yikes!

It’s been a treat watching Meredith’s work evolve over the years.  I have many pieces of hers from our time at RIT and I just recently purchased one of Meredith’s current works from the Schaller Gallery.  I’m in awe of the layered imagery in this new tumbler I own…the amount of depth Meredith is able to acheive with seemingly flat colors and patterns is remarkable.

For those who know Meredith, her work is indeed a reflection of her personality…full of life, colorful, playful, cheerful and refreshing.  Whenever I open the cupboard and see her pots, they put a smile on my face…and using them truly does heighten the dining experience.

For more info about Meredith and her work, visit the links listed at the end of the post.  Enjoy the interview!

How did you first get involved in ceramics?

I started taking ceramic classes when I was 11 at a local art center where my mom taught printmaking & painting.  Her friend was the ceramics teacher, so she signed me up.  Ceramics became my favorite after school activity – and I ended up going to a college prep high school that had an emphasis in art.  It had an amazing ceramics studio (although I didn’t really realize that at the time). By the end of high school I was taking 2 hours of ceramics vs. taking any free hours.  Ceramics became the thing I couldn’t live without.

Can you briefly describe your background and education?

I grew up in Detroit Rock City in a household that was very supportive of the arts.  My mom is a painter/printmaker and has helped run a co-op gallery for over 20 years.  I ended up going to Kansas City Art Institute for undergrad and finished my BFA in 2001.  Then I moved around a bit to various ceramic studio opportunities such as The School for American Crafts at RIT and Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts.  I went to The Ohio State University for grad school and finished my MFA in 2008. I’ve lived in Kansas City, MO since finishing grad school.

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

When I graduated from KCAI, I felt confident in my making skills/craftsmanship. They instilled a great work ethic, which has certainly helped me along the way.  I still feel guilty at times when I’m not in the studio! My time at OSU helped me figure out how to hone my skills and make a cohesive body of work.  Also, grad school gave me the confidence to make the move into working full time in the studio.  It was a scary step, but I can’t imagine doing anything else now.

meredith host ramekinsEvery summer through high school and college I worked as a bookkeeper for my family’s sand and gravel business in Detroit. Overall this office background has definitely helped me navigate self-employment. In theory I should be AMAZING at all the paperwork associated with having a business…but I admittedly am not the best at staying on top of it!

You’ve been awarded numerous residencies over the course of your career? Can you talk a little bit about how they impacted your career path?

Being at RIT helped me bring more of my personality into my work and develop my own artistic voice. I like referring to my time there as “fake grad school”. Also while in Rochester, I assisted Julia Galloway in her studio.  I learned a ton about the business side of the job and saw the reality of what it would take to be a studio potter. Hard work but worth it!

At Watershed I was the Salad Days artist, which meant designing and producing 500 plates for their annual fundraiser.  This project was challenging and helped me figure out efficiency in my making process.

I’ve had a few post grad school short term residencies: a factory residency at Dresdner Porzellan Manufactory in Germany, a Surface Forum at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, and an Artist Invite Artist session at Watershed.  These short term residencies have helped me get out of my normal studio routine, spice things up a bit, and take some chances with my work.

And, of course, a huge impact of residencies has been meeting and networking with so many amazing people!

Like many people, you took significant time between undergraduate and graduate school.  What made you decide to attend graduate school?

host teacups in use 72Grad school was always a personal goal; I knew I would go, but I just needed to figure out when would be the right time.  I developed a body of work during my time at RIT and Watershed, and this was the work I used to apply to grad school.  At that point, I knew I needed the work to be pushed. I felt I had stalled in my making/designing process and craved some critical feedback. In addition, the year before grad school I was working 3 jobs on top of working in my studio. Honestly, I was very much ready to hunker down and focus on JUST making and taking my work to the next level. I only applied to 2 schools because I thought they were the only programs that made sense for me. I attended Ohio State because the work coming out of the program had a sense of quirkiness to it.  It’s not necessarily a “pottery” school, but I knew the professors there would push my work/creative process in interesting ways. I think having some life experience after undergrad and waiting to attend grad school was one of the best decisions I ever made.

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?

host leaf setting 1 72I’ve worked with a few forms for a while now and each year I think they become more refined.  It’s been a slow evolution, but as my design eye changes, the forms are tweaked ever so slightly. I find a lot of my refining is done during the trimming process…that’s when I feel like I can really get that proper profile line.  I choose to make simple, clean, and smart forms…forms that feel good to hold or to use.  Ultimately I want my work to be easily used for what it is intended.

I’m not much of a sketcher when it comes to making new forms.  Maybe a quick line representing a profile, or a really basic line drawing (and probably completely wrong perspective), but that’s it as far as 2D goes. Usually most of my sketching happens on the wheel.  I can visualize best in 3D.

I’m inherently drawn to the surfaces of your work not only because of the colors and patterns you choose, but because of the amount of depth you’re able to achieve.  Can you briefly describe your surface processes and inspiration?

I decorate my work using paper stenciling and thermofax screen-printing with underglaze to add most of my layers.  Almost of all the color and pattern is put on the piece before the bisque firing, but one last final iron oxide decal layer or china paint decal layer is applied and fired after the glaze firing. Each piece is fired at least 3 times.

host dot tumblers 8x4 300My forms are simple and clean to contrast the complex surface decorations.  Although my formal language is minimal, my approach to surface decoration is “more is more.” I layer these designs and decals to make an intricate, complex surface that would not be possible with only a single layer of pattern. It is a challenge to know when a piece is finished, because my tendency is to fill all the blank space. Decorating is my driving force at the moment; it’s all I want to do!

My patterns come from my collection of what I like to call “overlooked domestic patterns” aka toilet paper and paper towel patterns.  I’ve been collecting swatches of these subtle dimple decorations for over 10 years. I’m taking these throwaway everyday items/patterns and turning them into something permanent and still meant for daily use.

Currently, you produce two separate “lines” of work.  One that is more commercially manufactured and one that is handmade.  Can you talk a little bit about the differences between these two “lines” of work and how you decided to develop both?

“foldedpigs dinnerware” is what I call my commercial/retail line, and “Meredith Host”  is my studio artwork. I started the foldedpigs business completely by accident during host studio foldedpigsgrad school at OSU.  Long story short, I made a few decaled restaurant dishes for a clay club sale to help contribute to our visiting artist fund. There was a crazy snowstorm and school was cancelled the day of our sale.  I had just started an etsy site to try to sell older studio work, so I listed the repurposed restaurant dishes in my shop.  They sold quickly and I started to receive requests for more.  The new line began supplementing my costs during grad school.  Upon graduating, the head of my committee, Rebecca Harvey, gave me the encouragement to continue this endeavor, as there was obviously a demand for my product.  I embraced foldedpigs and ventured into working full time in the studio, splitting my time between my studio artwork and commercial line.

I always knew that I wanted to work full time in my studio and having foldedpigs around has allowed me to do so for the last 5 years.  Eventually, I’d love to just be making my work, but for now foldedpigs helps supplement my income.  My main challenge is the time balance in the studio.  I’ve been able to streamline foldedpigs that I spend less time with it but am able to produce just as much (if not more) than I used to.

I do try to keep the two aspects of my studio separate: It doesn’t bother me that people know I’m the designer and producer of foldedpigs, but I’d prefer it not be referred to as my art.  Sometimes it’s hard to escape that, but I make an effort to distinguish between the two.  I have made a conscious choice to not sell my artwork and foldedpigs in the same places, as part of the separation.

You’ve been successful with both lines of work by reaching a wide audience (one that exceeds the ceramics community).  How do you go about marketing each line?  What are the differences in target audience/etc.?  Is there any crossover?

I’ll be honest…I lucked out with foldedpigs.  I started an etsy shop in the early days of etsy (2007) so I had a decent amount of exposure right away. Within 6 months, I was asked to be a featured seller.  I went into my 3 day stint of being featured with 125 sales, and at the end of the 3 days, I had 250 sales. Doubling my 6 months worth of sales in 3 days was kind of a big deal and launched foldedpigs into a full fledge business.  My exposure on Etsy also opened some doors into product placement in magazines (BUST, Adorn, Country Living, Inked, Everyday with Rachael Ray). Etsy definitely provides a large audience, and most of the shops/boutiques I wholesale with have found me through my shop. I also sell foldedpigs in the indie craft fair circuit, locally here in Kansas City, as well as throughout the country in quite a few cities (Chicago, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Columbus, Austin, Los Angeles, and San Francisco).

I’m at the point now where the promotion isn’t just falling into my lap anymore, so I’ve been trying to figure out how social media can work to generate sales with both foldedpigs and my studio work.  Websites, blogs, twitter, pinterest, facebook, instagram, mailing lists, etc.etc.  There are so many things to update!  I was reluctant to start a facebook “like” page, but I’ve found that facebook reaches people pretty quickly.  I’m guessing no one is going to look at my website daily/weekly, but they most likely look at their facebook news feed at least once a day.  Just a quick example, this past weekend I was a vendor at a one day local indie craft fair.  I forgot to tell people about it…until the morning of!  I posted an announcement on facebook before I left the house, then in the first couple hours posted a picture on instagram of my set up.  I started seeing familiar faces show up and they all said they found out about the show from my status update.  Someone else showed up because of my instagram picture…and these quick little announcements turned into sales.

host doily setting 1 72There is definitely a different audience for each line. Foldedpigs is made for an audience that wants something a little bit more edgy than store bought commercial lines.  Foldedpigs is easily digestible, and at a much lower price point, which widens its audience. It’s straight forward.  Graphically it’s neutral (black, blue & grey on white) so that it can integrate into households easily and match/supplement their pre-existing dinnerware. It’s all uniform and stacks nicely in a cupboard.

The audience for my artwork is interested in handmade dinnerware and is okay with having a piece or two that does not match the rest of their cupboard.  They are willing to invest in a higher price point handmade object and appreciate what goes into making the object.

How did you arrive at the decision to settle and start up a studio?  What were your must-haves when choosing a studio and location?

I chose to move back to Kansas City after grad school.  I was sick of moving around so much and was ready to be in one place to try my hand at working full time in the studio.  Kansas City has a really supportive art community and it’s affordable.  I knew I would be able to live here AND have a separate studio.  I’ve found through the years that I’m happier when I’m around others while working vs. being alone.

host studioRight now my studio situation is amazing; I share a warehouse space with Rain Harris and Paul Donnelly. Because we are in a large warehouse, I’m able to have 2 separate spaces for my work and for foldedpigs, which has allowed for mental breathing space.  I’ve found that I’m much more productive with the two projects separated.  We have enough space to have a plaster area for mold making, a photo set up, woodshop, packing area, and packing materials storage.

I have to say, the photo set up is a must-have…being able to document work easily and at any point in the day has been awesome. Also, our studio is right below Crane Yard Clay Supply, so it couldn’t be more convenient.  If I’m out of plaster or a specific color of underglaze, I just have to walk upstairs.  I feel incredibly spoiled.

host studio plaster areaIn our same warehouse complex, the new Red Star Studios and Gallery are moving in.  I’m really excited to be a part of the amazing clay/art community that is developing.

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

host 3 doily vases 72I suppose there’s a rough outline of what my typical day looks like…  I’m usually up around 8:30, and head to studio by 10.  I enjoy taking my time in the morning; making breakfast, taking my sweet little beast Olive for a walk, checking email, plotting out the day in studio, etc.  Usually the first order of business when I get to the studio is to pack up any orders from Etsy and get them ready to ship.  After that, it’s work time.  I’m very deadline driven, so deadlines dictate what and when I’m making. I go through waves of making, decorating, glazing, decaling…  it’s a bit rare that all of that happens simultaneously. The balance between foldedpigs and my studio art work is a challenge.  If a random foldedpigs order comes in, I’ll run over to my other section of the studio and frantically decal for a couple of hours.  I usually finish up around 5:30-6:30 and head to the gym, afterwards, I go home to make dinner.  In the evening I usually spend a couple hours on the computer dealing with paperwork, emails, updating social media stuff, etc.etc.  If I have a really pressing deadline then I’ll skip the gym and go back to the studio after dinner to work for longer.  I work half days Saturday & Sunday, but once again, if there’s a pressing deadline, the amount of hours in the studio grow exponentially.  Then, of course, there’s the occasional day that is devoted to all computer work and paperwork. Ugh…not my favorite type of day.

I’m not sure what the exact time split between making/marketing would be, maybe 80 making/20 marketing? I’m counting paperwork, emails, and office type stuff as marketing even though it might not technically be. And I might be underestimating the marketing percentage…I spend A LOT of time on the computer.

What is the one studio tool you can’t live without?   Why?

host studio test tilesBecause my work is really layered, there’s not just one thing that would make or break it.  Taking something away would change my work a bit here and there.  So I’m going to go with a cheesy answer of… my hands, creativity, and drive.

Also, if you took away my computer, thermofax machine, underglazes, wheel, and kiln, I would be really sad.

You’ve had an Etsy site for quite a few years now.  How has your experience on Etsy helped your career?

Etsy has certainly helped my foldedpigs line get off its feet and grow for the past 6 or so years.  I mentioned this before, but I have had product in magazines and started wholesaling with shops/boutiques all because of my Etsy shop.  And ultimately, Etsy helps pay my bills and allows me to be in the studio full time.

host biscuit setting 1 72My “Meredith Host” shop is rather new, so I haven’t seen much impact quite yet. I need to start being a bit more proactive and allocating more work for this shop.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring potters who are looking to set up a studio and make pots for a living?

host mugs 1 72

Be organized. Don’t forget to document. Work your ass off.  Make, make, make, make, and MAKE some more!

To discover more about Meredith and her work, check out the following:

Meredith links:

Website: www.meredithhost.com

Shop: meredithhost.etsy.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MeredithHost

Instagram: instagram.com/meredithhost#

Studio blog: meredithhost.blogspot.com

foldedpigs dinnerware links:

Shop: foldedpigs.etsy.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/foldedpigs

Twitter: twitter.com/foldedpigs

Tara Wilson: Potter of the Month

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Tara’s Studio Pottery Sale

This month features studio potter, Tara Wilson.  Tara makes beautiful, feminine, wood fired pottery.  Her work is a perfect partnership of form and surface…the drama of the melted wood ash and blushing patterns from the flame roll effortlessly over the curvy volumes of her forms.  Her pots, with their atmospheric patina, smooth surface and undulating forms, often remind me of tumbled river rocks.

Tara and I crossed paths a few times at the Archie Bray Foundation (first as summer residents in 2003 and then later as year round residents in 2006).  The first moment I set eyes on Tara’s work I was in love.  Her work is warm, inviting, graceful and generous.  Not only is her work visually comforting…but it is a true pleasure to use.

Tara-Wilson

Plate

A handful of years ago, Tara built an amazing studio on her property in Helena, Montana.  Adjacent to her studio, she constructed two wood kilns (a large train kiln and, most recently, a smaller catenary kiln).  Tara is currently at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts for a two-week residency entitled Atmospheric Perspectives.  You can find out more about Tara and her work by visiting her website: tarawilsonpottery.com.  Enjoy the interview!


How did you first get involved in ceramics?

I first got involved with ceramics in High School. I attended a small public school in Clyde, Ohio and my high school art teacher included a lot of ceramic projects in our classes. By the time I was a senior I was spending as much time as possible in the art room.

Can you briefly describe your background and education?

I received a BFA from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a MFA from the University of Florida, Gainesville. I went straight from undergrad to graduate school then did a little adjunct teaching and community class teaching; so most of the jobs I’ve held have been art related. The most interesting job I’ve had was working as a potter at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

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

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Flower Brick

My work is mostly wheel thrown and altered. I started altering my work when I was an undergrad, but although I was using similar methods the finished pieces looked totally different than the work I’m making today. In graduate school I developed this style of work and it has slowly evolved since finishing school in 2003. Most of the work has an animated quality about it and relates to the figure, either the human form or different animals.

Would you explain your attraction to functional ceramics?

I’ve always been attracted to functional work. I enjoy how accessible it is. We live with and interact with it in very intimate situations in our homes.

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

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Pitchers

I think my formal education prepared me for a career in ceramics in more ways than I realized. As an undergraduate student I received a strong technical education, I learned how to mix clay, glazes and fire kilns very early. I got involved in wood firing in my beginning throwing class and was hooked. Not only did I learn about firing wood kilns, but also many local artists would participate in the firings and that was a valuable resource as well. Knoxville’s close proximity to Arrowmont and Penland provided another educational resource. Many studio artists live in that area of east Tennessee and Western North Carolina. I remember making an annual pilgrimage to Rock Creek Pottery’s studio sale. Graduate school taught me to think critically about my work and prepared me for teaching. Linda Arbuckle is an a

mazing teacher and artist. She shares so much information with her students and alumni through her list serve which we all greatly benefit from.

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?

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One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had was the opportunity to be a long term resident at the Archie Bray Foundation. I think I learned as much or more about what it means to be a professional artist during my time there as I did in school. A time that I will never forget was the Bray’s 55th anniversary, which happened while I was a resident. For the month of June a group of international artists worked in the summer studios. Getting to know them and work along side them was an amazing opportunity. I feel extremely fortunate to have worked with Janet Mansfield during this time. We fired the train kin together at the Bray and she invited me to come to Australia and be an assistant at a Gulgong conference. While in Gulgong she introduced me to many Australian artists which led to presenting at a conference a few years later in Tasmania and I’ll be going back next April to participate in a woodfire symposium on the south east coast of Australia.

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?

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Tara and Willow

I draw a lot of inspiration from nature, the environment that I’m surrounded by and the figure. Sometimes the work itself leads to new ideas and new pieces through experimenting with different parts of each piece while in the studio. Spending time outdoors is very important to me. It not only provides a source of inspiration but is also a time to unwind from the studio and reflect on ideas. I try to spend time outdoors everyday even if it’s just a short walk. My house and studio is located near the end of a dirt road with easy access to great hiking and mountain bike trails. In the winter I make time for backcountry skiing with my dog Willow. Animals are another source of inspiration. I enjoy being around animals, I grew up showing horses, and sometimes I feel like where I live in Montana is a wildlife sanctuary. Just in my yard alone over the past few years I’ve seen deer, elk, pronghorn, fox, wolves, bear, and lots of small animals and rodents (which aren’t always cool, such as the pack rats). A few months ago I got chickens, which are a great source of entertainment.

What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice/style?

Work super hard! This is a difficult, or rather competitive field that requires many hours of practice especially in the beginning. I think it’s important to realize what you’re passionate about and figure out how that can be incorporated into your work. I often encourage young artists to look not only at contemporary work, but more importantly at historical work.

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Basket

Generally speaking, female potters who wood-fire are not the norm. Can you describe what its like working in a seemingly male-dominated tradition?  I agree that woodfiring is a male dominated field. I’ve never really had any issues with this or negative experiences. I think I’ve been very stubborn in sticking to my beliefs and opinions and have just always jumped in and been part of this scene. Now that I have my own kilns I’m the one in charge and even when it’s mostly guys helping there’s never been any issues. I think my work is fairly feminine compared to the typical woodfire aesthetic and in recent years I’ve really tried to embrace this and create work that’s embraces this feminine quality.

How do you market your work to your audience (galleries/studio sales/crak fairs/etc.)? What venues have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?

So far the most lucrative venue has been selling through galleries. I think maybe because that’s where I’m most established. I built my studio five years ago and I’ve just recently started having studio sales. They are a lot of fun and I enjoy meeting new folks in my community but these sales are not as lucrative as I would like. I think over time they will get better. Also, I’ve had an etsy site for about a year now and I think there is a lot of potential there. I’ve only posted work a few times, but I’ve sold most of what I’ve posted.

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?

IMG_0156This was probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever made. All through school I thought I would probably pursue a teaching career, so deciding to be a full time studio artist was a major decision in itself and then deciding where to do this was another huge thing. I fell in love with Montana while I was at the Bray. I like many things that Helena has to offer such as the amazing trail system with great mountain bike trails right on the edge of town and although it’s the capitol it’s still a fairly small town. The Bray has a clay business so I can easily get clay and supplies. When I built my studio I knew I wanted a space that was large enough for a few people to work in so that I could eventually have assistants and be able to offer them workspace. I knew during firings there would be more people around so I wanted a kitchen and bathroom in the studio as well. And there is a separate room with a garage door for the electric kiln and all my wood shop tools and other random stuff. Another factor in choosing this location was the fact that I wanted to have wood kilns, so I needed to live somewhere that I could make this happen.

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

IMG_1266My typical work day changes depending on where I’m at in the cycle of making work.  It takes me about six weeks to make work for my train kiln. An ideal day during the making is, get to the studio fairly early, work until 3 ish, go for a hike or bike ride, eat dinner, then work a little in the evening. But like I said that’s an ideal day. In the winter I will usually ski in the morning or first half of the day and get in the studio for the second half. Then after the making cycle it takes me a few days to glaze, a day to load the kiln and two days to fire. These are usually very long focused days in the studio, or at the kiln with not much other activities going on. Once the work is fired it takes me a few days to sand and clean up all the work. Packing work for shipping is another big time commitment in the studio. As far as the marketing goes, I know I need to put more time into this. I spend time everyday, maybe an average of two hours keeping up with e-mails and paperwork stuff. I guess that is considered marketing. I know I need to put more time into taking advantage of social media. I realize this can be a great way to market my work, but I’m not really good or consistent with it.

You have built many wood kilns over the course of your career. Can you talk a little bit about the critical things to consider when building a kiln? Which resources (books/magazines/ websites) did you find the most helpful?

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Tara’s Kiln Pad

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Cups

Well the things I considered when building my kilns were, the size, length of firing, and surface effects. After spending three years primarily firing train kilns at the Bray and then as a resident at Red Lodge Clay Center, I decided that I wanted to build a train. The interior of my kiln is 45 inches wide, and the stacking space is about 10 feet long. The kilns at the Bray and Red Lodge are very similar and I liked this firing cycle as far as how much time it took to make work to fill the kiln. It’s also big enough that I can offer space to folks in exchange for help. I like the surface effects that can be achieved in trains in a fairly short firing as well. This last winter I built a small catenary arch wood soda. I’m really enjoying this kiln and looking forward to experimenting more with glazes in it. I think I will probably fire this kiln at least once or more between every train firing. It’s much smaller so the turnaround time is much quicker, and it can be loaded in a few hours and fired off in a day. It’s also nice to be able to offer another type of kiln to those people who are working with me in the studio. Some helpful books are the The Kiln Book, and Woodfired Stoneware and Porcelain, but I think the best resource is looking at a lot of kilns and talking to other potters.

Over the years, you’ve had a handful of assistants/apprentices that come live and work with you. How did you arrive at this decision and what are the specifics of the relationship (how long is the apprenticeship/what is expected/what are the privileges/exchanges/etc.)?

When I built my studio I knew I wanted to have assistants at some point so I built it large enough to accommodate this. I think of it as a work exchange. I enjoy teaching and the sense of community that happens in group studios, so this is a way for me to teach/mentor younger artists and have other artists working in close proximity.

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Right now, assistants stay for a year with an option to stay for a second year. I have two assistants and ideally one will leave each year and a new one will start, so they can help train each other. They do all types of chores, basically everything except making my work. Typical cores are lots of wood prep, and everything involved with the firings, prep and clean up, packing and shipping, cleaning the studio. They also help with bigger projects such as building the kiln and shed, finishing the bathroom and kitchen in the studio, even building a chicken coop. I think all these things are good experiences for young artists. They get to work closely with me and learn what really goes into being a studio artist.

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

Well, it’s made me be very organized and clear about my expectations. Clear communication is also extremely important. I think having assistants is a great way to teach an offer opportunities to younger artists.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring potters who are looking to setup a studio and make pots for a living?

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Vase

I think there are so many opportunities for young artists now, such as residency programs. I would recommend doing as many of these as possible, and traveling before sefng up a studio. If you know you want to set up your own studio, start collecting stuff, equipment, wheels, brick, anything you’ll be using in the studio so you don’t get hit with having to purchase or find everything all at once. And think about how the space will function.