Canteen vases, 9 in. (23 cm) in height, slip-cast stoneware with underglazes, stains and glaze, fired to cone 5.


The Rose & The Black Bird platter, 18 in. (46 cm) in diameter,
stoneware with underglaze, stain and glaze, fired to cone 3.

My career as a potter started fifteen years ago, soon after I
graduated from the California College of the Arts (CCA), though I only
began to make a living from my ceramic work in 2005. Before that, I
always had a secondary job(s) waiting tables and teaching ceramics and
art. After twenty years of that schedule, I got tired of being spread
thin and decided to make a go of it with my work full time. Now, when I
look back at those years, I wonder how I did it all. Flying solo has
been incredibly satisfying and has also had it’s lean, mean moments,
but somehow I always manage to make it work.

Making a living
from my work was something that found me slowly. For many years I was
really hesitant to give up the security of another income. Becoming
burnt out from wearing too many hats at one time and the feeling of
never being able to focus completely were key motivators for me to
pursue my work full time and make a living from it.

Honestly, I
never set out to be a potter. When I graduated from CCA I had spent a
couple of years searching and experimenting in the studio. I wanted to
find a way to combine the things I loved, printmaking, drawing,
painting and clay; A sort of artistic frugality, as I knew it would be
difficult to pursue all of these things while I was holding down a job
on the side. Drawing on bowls, platters and plates was what turned me
into a potter. In fact, I find it odd when people refer to me as a
potter because I really don’t think of myself as one, though in the
past few years I’ve stopped trying to correct or redefine that. And to
tell the truth, now when someone calls me a potter, I kinda-no, not
kinda-I really like it!

I sell my work through a multitude of
venues. I have an online shop where I sell directly to customers. This
has broadened my spectrum of buyers to a world market. It also helps to
supplement my income, since I can sell my work for retail prices. I
love having direct contact with my customers as well. The relationship
aspect of selling my work without a middle person is really wonderful,
and I enjoy knowing where my work is going. I participate in a couple
of local craft shows each year, and I host annual studio and holiday
sales. I sell my work in galleries and participate in as many shows as
I can handle. I find showing my work really helps it to stay fresh. In
the past, a large part of my sales were from wholesaling my work,
though that model is really tough to pull off with one-of-a-kind
handmade work. I find the time it takes to make the work, handle all
the details that must go into creating a wholesale line-like keeping up
with communication and paperwork-is far too much work and really does
not pay off.

 


This article appeared in the June/July/August 2009 issue
of Ceramics Monthly. Subscribe today!


In 2006, I decided to start writing a blog, One Black Bird (www.oneblackbird.blogspot.com). At the time, there were only a few blogs covering the topic of ceramics, and I thought it would be fun to give people a glimpse into what was happening in my studio as well as provide a dynamic aspect to my website. Doing this was, by far, the most advantageous way to promote my work. Because of the blog, I was able to share what I do with a much broader audience than if I was only showing my work in galleries and at craft shows. It also expanded my community of fellow potters and ceramic enthusiasts, as well as people in the design world. Selling on Etsy and promoting my work via design blogs has resulted in a great amount of exposure that I may not have received otherwise, including giving my work international attention.

The Internet is a really wonderful tool for potters and artists to utilize to promote themselves and their work. However, this does not come without working at it. Managing an online shop, writing blog entries and keeping up with correspondence can take up a lot of time. I think, in today’s world, it is foolish for artists not to take advantage of the Internet. I know many potters who are not tech savvy and find it difficult to transition into the digital world, but an online presence would go a long way toward growing an audience for their work.

When I play, I prefer it not to be doing clay related activities. Already, so much of my time is spent focused on my work in some way or another. So, when I have free time, I like to spend it traveling, being outdoors, gardening, cooking (I love making my own jams!) and spending time with friends.

I do my best to stay out of debt, so often financial concerns dictate my decisions. My motto is, “If I can’t pay for it, I don’t do it.” Not being able to enter a show, afford a booth fee or to be able to buy a plane ticket to Tokyo for a show I am in are all difficult decisions I have had to make, but being this way has kept me debt free.

As most potters already know, working in the studio can be very hard on the body. I do a number of strengthening exercises daily to keep my back in order and to prevent injuries while working. I also try to rotate activities in the studio so that I don’t do any one thing for too long a period of time. I also love to run but a recent knee injury has interrupted my running regime, so I am planning to take up swimming. I have forgone health insurance for the first time in my life (another reason why I kept a secondary job for so long). Getting myself health insurance is the next item to tick off my to-do list.

I certainly don’t mind working hard, and really I am not the kind of person who expects to have things just given to me. I do believe that, sometimes, a little hunger can be quite motivating, but a lifetime of struggle to do something that provides beauty in this world is a downright shame. If I could have it my way, I would love if there were some way that professional potters, craftspeople and artists could do their work, house and feed themselves without having to forgo things like health insurance. Let’s just say, if someone walked up to me and said; “Hey, you can have a place to live and enough money for food and health care as long as you keep on making your pots,” I wouldn’t turn them down.

If I were to advise someone about pursuing a career in ceramics, the first bit would be to remain flexible yet focused. Though my work stays consistent, I find that I am constantly re-inventing myself in order to make a living with it. I do my best to keep an open mind about this. There really are a multitude of possibilities out there for one to have a career as a ceramist. Being too precious or limited in ones thinking can kill that dream. Oh, and bend at the knees-it is really important to bend at the knees!

The Time It Takes
making/firing: 50%
promoting/selling/office/bookkeeping: 50%
I’d
like this to be more like 85%
of my time in the studio and 15% on
the
other things, but doing it all solo
doesn’t allow for this.


Where to See More
www.dianafayt.com
www.oneblackbird.blogspot.com

 

 

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