In this installment of Ceramics Monthly‘s Studio Visit series, from the October 2011 issue, Lisa Orr tells us all about the successful business she runs out of her Austin, Texas, studio. Like many potters today, she explores several different revenue streams so she can have a steady income while still being able to concentrate on creative endeavors. From the physical aspects of the studio and the hard work it involves to planning product lines and marketing, Orr’s experience and knowledge shows us that it is possible to plan your business for success while being personally satisfying at the same time.
—Sherman Hall, Editor, Ceramics Monthly
Just the Facts
Primary forming method
Favorite surface treatment
Primary firing temperature
Though there are advantages to not having the studio in the house (I really think it can be a great idea to be off of work when away from the studio), it is such a pleasure to just drop by the studio. Being able to quickly check on kilns, drying pots, etc., is an advantage. Perhaps my favorite aspect about my studio, aside from location and utility, is a pottery shelf all around the top of the studio containing my collection of antique and interesting pieces that inspire me.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
After getting married and having children, actual studio time is far less because family demands are great. I get about 15 hours per week actually making work, and the rest is spent on computer tasks, teaching lessons, workshop travel, film projects, or working on a public art mural.
Because my spouse works creatively in high tech and changes his employment from time to time, I teach pottery lessons at a private school for the availability of health insurance as a backup in case my husband’s job or insurance coverage for the family changes. When I was single, I bought high-deductible insurance and negotiated fees or traded art for doctor visits. As a parent responsible for the well-being of children, I feel trapped by health insurance companies into buying (or having a job that buys) their exorbitant coverage or risk being bankrupted by a health crisis.
I have chosen to diversify my income in case one source should falter. Currently, I have six income streams—pottery sales, DVD sales, teaching workshops, teaching ceramics lessons, a public art mural, and selling house numbers in several catalogs. I make less than half the pots I used to before I had children, but I am supplementing my income in other ways. I make the most of the hours I do get, but I have more ideas than I can get to.
It is great having the house numbers, which I designed and have made by assistants. Starting this was accidental, as I made some temporary numbers for our house when we moved in. After making numerous sets for friends, I began to wonder if it could be a business, and presented them at some wholesale gift shows. They are now carried in garden boutiques, gift shops, and several catalogs. Some years they outsell my pottery. This type of base income allows me to spend more time with family.
Because I am very invested in promoting studio pottery as artistically significant and meaningful, I cofounded the Art of the Pot studio tour (now in its eighth year) with five other potters. We invite nationally known potters to come show with us in our studios. We highlight the event with lectures, a cookbook, additional shows, and slow-food events. This project is very gratifying and I hope it will add to future income as awareness and appreciation in our region expands.
I feel that part of my work is to be a steadfast advocate for the art of studio pottery. Now, in the days of the blogosphere, I think many artists my age know it would be advisable to publish and promote all of our projects more often—just need to find the time. I do think the Internet has recently become the best place to be an advocate for studio pottery because everyone searches there for information about everything. My one objection is that there can be a huge perception difference between virtual pieces and those experienced in person. Of course, the big potential for gain is the exponentially larger dialog you can have online. As much as I enjoy all the virtual ceramics world has to offer, as an artist I am still most motivated by the idea of making little changes in pottery forms that can barely be seen, mostly felt when in the hand, and by bringing garden color not to a screen, but to a table.