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A Virtual Studio Tour: A Glimpse Into the Work and Lives of Two Ceramic Artists

Don’t you just love visiting other artists in their studios? I do. Whenever I am traveling, I like to try to schedule in some studio visits because I love to see and hear about how other people work, how they organize their spaces, the tools they use, the little items of inspiration that are usually hanging around. I also like to talk to artists about how they make it work (i.e. make ends meet) and what their other interests are besides ceramics. It is endlessly fascinating to me, and since I am not working full-time as a studio artist, it makes me fantasize about one day doing so. If you’re like me, you will love today’s post. It comes from new series of articles in Ceramics Monthly, which can basically be thought of as studio visits in print. And you can think of today’s excerpt as virtual studio visits to potter Jeff Campana’s and ceramic sculptor Patsy Cox’s studios. Enjoy! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


Jeff Campana

The Studio

My studio is the main perk associated with my position as visiting artist in the ceramics program at the University of Louisville. The setting is urban and industrial, with the constant rumble of planes landing and trains passing by. I have a large private space (10 X 27 feet) that opens into the main ceramics studio classroom. It is nicely equipped with an air compressor jack, hood vent, sink, and shelves. I use the same kilns that are used for student work, so I must work with the ebb and flow of the semester and student demand for kiln usage.

Teaching and making work can get scrambled together, and I often find myself in conversations and impromptu demos that can last hours. It’s nice, but it makes it hard to get things done at times. Headphones are a good idea but don’t always work. That said, I love working within a community setting. If I spent as much time as I do in a completely private location, I would become an absolute recluse. This way, I get the bulk of my human interaction mixed in with the long studio hours I put in.

Most-used piece of equipment
The tile bat system I rigged up from a couple plasti-bats glued together. There is a square hole cut to accept terra cotta patio tiles. The tiles are dirt cheap, warp-proof, textured, absorbent, and fit nice and orderly on the shelves. I spent one afternoon making it about ten years ago. It still works flawlessly. It is so entwined with my studio experience that, at this point, I’d be lost without it.

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I am now in my second year of
teaching part time while making work full time. I hope to eventually
become a full-time professor. I’m not quite there yet, but that’s what
I’m working toward.

I basically had to make the choice between
having health insurance and following my dreams. I can’t have both at
this point. My adjunct teaching positions do not come with health
insurance, but are necessary in gaining the experience needed to become
a full-time professor. They also don’t pay nearly enough for me to
afford to buy an individual health care plan. I’m between a rock and a
hard place; that’s just my reality for the next couple of years. I’m
keeping my fingers crossed, descending staircases with caution, and
driving defensively.
Most of my work is
sold directly. About 80% of my work is sold through Etsy.com, in
person, and through email commissions on my website. Various solo,
two-person, and invitational group shows make up the other 20%.

am a practitioner of social media cross-promotion, which is essentially
the act of promoting promotion tools. I use my twitter account to
promote my blog, store, and facebook fan page. I use each of these
venues to promote each other venue. Once someone has stumbled across my
work, there are hours of content to explore, and many ways to get to
know me in a casual internet sort of way.

Making strong, accurate images of my work is instrumental to this
approach. I say yes to almost every opportunity that comes my way, as
long as I’m certain it isn’t some sort of scam. That seems to be doing
the trick for now. The small online successes seem to build upon one
another to become one big success. The more websites that reference or
feature my work, the more attention it gets from other websites. I
would attribute many of the shows I have been invited to, jobs I have
gotten, and even this Ceramics Monthly studio visit at least in part to the growing online presence I have been cultivating over the last year and a half.

am occasionally haunted by my past in the form of my very first, very
embarrassing, geocities webpage popping up in the google searches. It
will only vanish if traffic to it stops. Lesson learned: everything you
put out in cyberspace will remain there indefinitely, so keep the
filter on at all times!

Most Valuable Lesson
I am
astounded at the volume of work that must be made and sold to make a
living. I truly had no idea what that looked like before I tried it. It
continues to terrify me. On the plus side, when you make that much
work, you get really good at it.

Patsy Cox

The Studio
studio is located in Los Angeles, California about a mile east of
downtown and a block south of the infamous Sunset Boulevard. One area
of the space (400 sq ft) is used for fabrication and the other (500 sq
ft) is primarily for packing, organizing and storing my work.

favorite aspect of the studio is that it is in the middle of the city
hustle. It has good lighting with a view of my succulent collection,
the inspiration for much of my work. However, the studio plays only a
small part in my creative process. Because the majority of my current
work is installation-based, it relies on the process of installing the
work in a specific space. In other words, I see my work as being
created in a studio without walls. If we define a studio as a space
where art is created and completed, without a doubt, the galleries and
public spaces where my work, such as Urban Rebutia (shown at left), is
installed must also be considered part of my studio. The true creative
process for my work takes place in the exhibition space where I
reconfigure multiple pieces to best convey my concepts while
considering my immediate surroundings. I am never absolutely sure what
the work will look like until the day I actually install it and it is
only a “work” for the time it lives in a particular space. The rest of
the time it’s hibernating in storage. When I open the dozens of totes
and see the masses of color, it’s truly an adrenaline rush as they pop
into my hands begging to be brought back to life again.

While I
benefit from the hustle and constant flow of action and people around
me, the dirt and grime of living in the city takes a toll on the work.
I dislike having to wash soot off my workspaces. Working in the middle
of such activity also lends to distractions – neighbors popping by
while out for a stroll, car alarms blaring, people rummaging through
trash bins and collecting recycling, the constant hum of helicopters,
daily gardeners blowing leaves and trash in the street, relentless dog
barking (my own included). Sometimes I wish for a small space on a
large plot of land in the countryside and wonder how such a tranquil
environment would affect my work.

Outside the Studio
take exercise very seriously. I participate in boot camp twice a week
and I train with LA Roadrunners for the marathon every year. I run at
least one half marathon or full marathon annually.

I’m lucky to
have health insurance through my position as a professor at Cal State
Northridge. I’ve also been very fortunate not to have any emergencies
(knock on wood). I have done some physical therapy in the past to
educate myself on posture to help prevent neck and back strain.

just finished a summer reading binge, which included Jumpa Lahiri’s
“Unaccustomed Earth,” Junot Diaz’s “The Brief and Wonderous Life of
Oscar Wao,” Sarah Waters’ “The Little Stranger” and Ori and Rom
Branfman’s “Sway.” I’m currently reading Seven Days in the Art World by
Sarah Thornton. To recharge I exercise and spend quality time with
friends and loved ones. Spending time with other artists always
motivates and refuels me as well.

For me,
validation has little to do with applying monetary value to the
equation of success. I find validation in the way that I have arranged
my life to enable me to make work that lives out my creative concepts
without limitation. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I’m able
to make my work and give back through teaching and mentorship
opportunities. My greatest validation is found when I see my students
become self-confident artists, meeting their goals while in turn
creating their own definitions of success.


This post was excerpted from Ceramics Monthly.

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