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Clay Couple Adam Field and Heesoo Lee Discuss the Challenges and Rewards of Sharing a Studio and Profession
Posted By Jennifer Harnetty On January 2, 2012 @ 4:26 pm In Daily,Features,Open Studios | No Comments
After spending many years living the nomadic life that many potters are familiar with, Adam Field and Heesoo Lee decided to settle down in Durango, Colorado. There they set up their dream home studio.
In today’s post, Adam and Heesoo explain how having two working artists (plus two young children!) in one family and one studio. can be a logistical challenge. But the mutual support and encouragement that come with this lifestyle more than balance the scales. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
porcelain (Heesoo), porcelain for carved work and stoneware for Onggi and wood-fired work (Adam)
Primary forming method
wheel throwing and coil/paddle Onggi method
Favorite surface treatment
underglaze brushwork (Heesoo), carving (Adam)
Primary firing temperature
cone 6 oxidation (Heesoo), cone 11 soda and anagama (Adam)
handmade bamboo knife (Heesoo), adjustable height carving table (Adam)
After more than a decade on the move, Heesoo and I decided it was finally time to settle down and chose my old college town as our new home. Our studio is a 200-square-foot outbuilding at the back of our rented home in Durango, Colorado, an old mining town turned college town and outdoor playground in the southwest corner of the state. Three electric wheels and a Korean Onggi kickwheel take up much of our small space, so a well-organized studio is crucial for keeping a smooth workflow. Having worked out of eleven pottery studios in as many years, we put a lot of energy into making this one comfortable, efficient, and inspiring. Small adjustments, like facing wheels toward the wall to save space, make a difference. Lighting is also a big concern as my work involves a lot of finely detailed carving, and Heesoo’s painting is also very detail oriented. We installed ten adjustable lights that we reposition on a regular basis depending on the task at hand. Much of what I learned about workflow and equipment location came from my Korean apprenticeship, from knowledge developed over thousands of years.
In addition to our main studio, we have a small shed for storing glaze materials, bisqueware, and glazeware. A kiln shed, built off of the back of the house, keeps our electric and small gas kilns out of the elements. The electric kiln location was chosen for its proximity to the existing breaker panel, keeping the outlet close to the panel saved us a considerable amount of money. The cost of wiring was out of pocket, the property owner has little use for the outlet, and we intend to disconnect and keep any equipment should we decide to move. The best thing about our studio is its location; with our two young children, it’s nice to have the studio right here at home.
Heesoo spends the vast majority of her studio time painting. We have set up space in our home (in a small dining area off of the kitchen) for her painting space. This space is much cleaner than the clay studio, and it allows her to stop and start painting more easily (important with the young kids). It is also nice to have her painting space in the house to avoid the walk through the cold or snow, and potential encounters with wild animals (bears, mountain lions, skunks, etc.) between the house and the clay studio. This, along with the fact that we sometimes have a six-month freeze season, and during that time we have to keep all moist clay either inside the heated studio or in the house, are the main drawbacks to our studio. When Heesoo does work in the clay studio, usually for about a week every three months, it is on the wheel and other equipment that I use. Heesoo keeps her clay tools in a box that gets tucked away when she isn’t in throwing mode.
Since we use both porcelain and stoneware in the studio, we have adopted techniques to prevent cross-contamination. Most of my stoneware work is done on my Korean Onggi kickwheel, leaving the others for porcelain work. We have a canvas-covered sheet of plywood that goes on top of the wedging table for wedging stoneware. Anyone who has seen me work knows that I am an extremely clean clay worker. I keep my tools and work area clean at all times, which is something I picked up from my apprenticeship and from working in production studios. Clean tools make for faster, more efficient potting.
As we share a workspace, Heesoo and I are very accommodating and flexible when it comes to the other’s production schedule. If one of us has a show coming up, the other makes it a point to pick up on childcare and household duties. We rarely work together these days; when we first met we worked together all of the time, but with young children, we end up taking turns with studio time and childcare. It is important to us that we spend a lot of time with our children and not send them to daycare—one of the real benefits of working from home.
Though we don’t work together, we still spend a lot of time discussing each other’s work together. If either of us is trying something new, it is great to be able to get honest feedback, and a fresh perspective. I think this increases our creativity. I tend to get excited about new directions, and Heesoo is really great at pointing out the practical hurdles that I may have overlooked in my excitement. There is definitely a build up of momentum when we are both making a lot of work; we are both motivated by the work and work ethic of the other.
From the first day I met Heesoo, when she was throwing in a pottery studio eleven years ago, I was instantly intrigued by the way she was able to move porcelain. Without question it has influenced and inspired my work.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
Heesoo was classically trained in drawing and painting starting in middle school and into her college years at E Hwa University in Seoul, South Korea. While in college, she was also introduced to traditional Korean pottery-making techniques.
After earning my BA in art from Fort Lewis College in Durango, my education became much less academic. When possible, I made it a point to attend workshops with artists whose work I respected. Shortly after moving from Colorado to San Francisco in 2000, I began a two-year residency at Pope Valley Pottery in the Napa Valley, and in 2007 spent ten months as an apprentice at Obuza Onggi in Yeoju, South Korea, under the 6th generation Onggi master Kim Il Mahn.
I have always been a bit stubborn about making a living as a potter. While we prefer to make the majority of our income from the sale of pots, I am beginning to open up to the idea of a day job. As long as I am able to stay within the pottery profession, I am okay with other sources of income. I teach classes at Fort Lewis College here in Durango and at the Mancos Community Art Center, and have been traveling to teach workshops. The extra income helps, and it’s gratifying to pass on what I have learned to a potential new generation of fellow clay nerds.
Having two working potters in the family gives us the benefit of being able to help one another with last minute deadline work, firing kilns, or with business/marketing ideas and work. Intangible benefits include the empathetic understanding of one another’s motivation to keep working at making a living in this way. It has increased the size and scope of our artist network as well. While I am very much the extrovert of the couple, and am responsible for the connections with most of our clay friends and colleague network here in the United States, Heesoo has a strong interest in connecting with the Korean clay community when we go back for visits and has introduced me to so many amazing Korean clay workers, including my teachers at Obuza Onggi (my mother-in-law is a long time customer of theirs and made the introduction for me to study with them).
Heesoo and I both like to swim. It helps keep the aches and pains of studio potting at bay. I have had some issues with my lower back and started swimming laps to stay healthy. Fortunately, there is a lap pool at the local hot springs!
We are currently uninsured; in the event that we need medical attention we prefer traditional “alternative” treatments like massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care before resorting to conventional medical treatment.
Spending as much time as we do on meticulous carving and painting can be mentally draining. I listen to a lot of podcasts in the studio; This American Life, Stuff You Should Know, The Moth, and Radio Lab. They are a great way to continue learning and I only mess up a few pots from the occasional tears and frequent laughs.
We make it a point to go on mini family vacations every couple of months—usually nothing more than a few hours drive—just far enough to keep us physically and mentally out of the studio.
My family and friends in the clay community are very important to me. It’s great to have an artist as a spouse and to know like-minded friends with whom I can discuss ideas and thoughts.
Marketing and selling our work is not something that came naturally to me. Unlike Heesoo, who has always been able to sell her work with little effort, it took a lot of study and practice for me to be comfortable talking about my work with others in a retail setting. While living in Maui, we had a great opportunity for me to practice my retail sales technique while participating in the Four Seasons Wailea Artists of Maui program. After 200 retail shows in 3 years, I became much more confident in discussing and selling our work.
We currently sell our work through a number of avenues. Locally, we attend farmer’s markets in Durango and Telluride. They are a great way for us to build a local following and they allow us to get to know and educate our customers on the importance of using handmade pottery. While retail sales are a great way to meet and educate collectors, and to build a mailing list, they tend to be quite labor intensive for a potentially zero-earnings day. On the national level, we let our collectors know when new work is available via e-mail. We found that it is a good way to stay in touch with our customer base and is relatively easy marketing. For gallery representation, I prefer galleries with a physical location as well as a strong online presence. This is a great way to share my work with a wider audience.
I have recently had an increased demand for traditional Korean Onggi fermentation jars. People are realizing the health benefits of traditional fermented foods. This is a totally unexpected direction for my work and I have mixed feelings about it; on one hand I resist it in an attempt to stay true to my carved porcelain work, on the other I feel that it is an amazing opportunity to continue the ancient knowledge generously passed on to my by my teachers while at the same time making truly functional pottery (the thing that got me interested in pottery in the first place). For now, I am balancing the two, making both carved porcelain and functional Onggi.
I am a big fan of online marketing, as it is a great way to interact with potential customers as well as our fellow colleagues in the clay community. I have put a lot of energy into producing quality videos for my YouTube page, mostly because I enjoy making videos. I had no idea how far-reaching my videos would be. My YouTube videos are by far the greatest success I have found online. The largest drawback to marketing online is the amount of time and follow up that it requires.
Most Valuable Lesson
One of the most important lessons I have learned as a working artist is the importance of actually enjoying the work itself. Early in my career I was most gratified by the finished pots, making them was a bit of a chore. Over time I began seeking out techniques that I enjoyed and my source of motivation gradually shifted from the finished product to the making process.
Over the years, Heesoo has found that spending time among her subject matter, outdoors with the flowers, trees, and within landscape, is a great way for her to recharge creatively.
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