Just the Facts

Clay

I mix a porcelain clay body and add cotton linter to it,
which allows for greater green strength. (98 grams of dry cotton linter to 50
pounds of dry material.)

Primary forming method

I pinch all my work, even the plates are pinched between the
palms of my hands.

Favorite surface treatment

Fingerprints. I want the surface of the finished work to
reflect the process, so I leave the marks made from my fingers and, if I join
two clay parts together, I leave the seam lines.

Primary firing temp

Cone 10 reduction

Favorite tools

My fingers, a little scratchy tool, and a rubber tipped shaping tool for when my fingers are too big.

Most-used piece of equipment

Plastic and plaster ware boards. Because I work so thin and
there is paper in the clay, I wrap everything in plastic throughout the
building and drying process. From an ecological standpoint, plastic is awful,
but unfortunately is essential in the studio.


This article appeared in Ceramics Monthly magazine’s May 2010 issue. To get great content like this delivered right to your door, subscribe today!


the studio

My studio is 30 feet from my house in mid-coast Maine. It
has a big window that I face my work table toward. The window looks out onto a
field and I can watch my chickens scratching around for snacks while I work.
The studio was built recently, and I immediately started working in the space
before it was even finished, so I have not really finished moving in, even
though I have been working in there for a year now. The space is 24×24 feet
with 10-foot walls. It has a barn like feel to it with a loft space for storage.

The upside of the space is that it is right next to my
house, is bigger than any space I have ever used, and I have my own kilns in
it. It also has the potential to be well organized. Unfortunately, it is poorly
organized, a bit too cold in the winter, and currently is providing space for
overflow storage from our house, which is being renovated.

paying dues (and bills)

Currently, I work part time as a baker during the winter and
as a catering director during the summer at a delicious wine and cheese shop.
The hours vary depending on the time of year, but it is a reliable source of
income and the work is a perfect balance to my studio job. Like my studio work,
everything is made from scratch and by hand, but turnaround time is much
quicker, the finished product is much less expensive, and tends to appeal to a
wider audience. Sometimes I take on teaching jobs, which I love, but there are
not many opportunities near my home so teaching requires travel. In December
2009, I started my new job as a mom. It doesn’t pay well, but is pretty
intense.

I studied ceramics as an undergraduate at the Museum School
of Fine Arts in Boston, and after managing a few studios and doing a residency,
I continued my studies at Ohio University in Athens where I received a master’s
degree in 2003.

If I averaged
time spent in the studio over the course of a year, I would estimate about 20
hours of hands-on time per week. I work in cycles and for several weeks I will
be in the studio 40-–60 hours a week, followed by a month of being in the
studio 10–20 hours a week. Then of course there are all the studio related
things I do where I am not actually in the studio but are necessary for the
business—from picking up dry ingredients at the clay supply store, which is an
hour away, to taking slides, sending images, emailing, pricing, delivering and
shipping work. Is that considered studio time? It continues to amaze me how
diversified I feel I need to be as a selling artist.

body

I exercise regularly and live a healthy lifestyle—don’t
smoke, eat well, sleep lots, and spend time outside. In the studio, I have work
in multiple stages and I try to pace myself so that I am not being too
repetitive with how I am using my hands and body.

I am very lucky to have applied for and received state
health insurance. Monthly payments are based on income level of the individual
insured and the state pays the rest. The coverage is pretty good, so in an
emergency I am pretty well covered. I also work with a naturopathic doctor and
an acupuncturist, both of whose care is geared toward excellent preventative
health care.

mind

I tend to read lots of how-to books: how to keep bees, grow
fruit trees, quilt, plant perennials, cook, or deliver a baby. Recently, I have
also been enjoying fiction novels. I don’t watch television, so I think they
act as a substitute.

I also spend time outside in the garden, the woods, or by
the ocean, and if I have a chunk of time available, I travel. Being in a new
place forces me to reconsider and see things through a different lens, which
automatically engages my creative thinking.

marketing

I sell my work in retail and cooperative galleries, at craft
shows, online, and out of my studio. Sometimes I will wholesale work, but I do
not actively pursue wholesale accounts because I get too anxious about whether
or not I am meeting the buyer’s expectations. I like selling wholesale if it is
at the end of a craft show and a gallery wants to buy a bunch of what I have
left, or if the buyer comes to my studio and picks out the work. That way they
know what they are getting.

My work is subtle and so people either get it—notice all the
details, nuances, and are able to appreciate the work and love it—or it is not
their style and it doesn’t even enter their consciousness. The only generalization
I feel I can make is that my work seems to be received better by people from
metropolitan areas versus rural areas.

My marketing strategy is not unique to my work and I am not
sure if it really can be considered a strategy, but my business goal is to
diversify my customer base by selling in all of the above mentioned venues and
more. That way, if gallery sales are down one year, the business as a whole
does not suffer too much, because I still have income from craft shows or the
Internet. I also believe that by selling through a variety of venues new
opportunities may develop. For instance, a customer will come to my studio
because they became familiar with my work at a local gallery. Or a gallery will
become familiar with my work through a craft show I participated in.
Truthfully, I have not put much effort into marketing my work. I am sure I will
need to at some point and I have quite a few ideas about which markets I will
pursue. This is a question I will be able to answer better ten or fifteen years
from now.

I am conservative in committing to new markets, perhaps to a
fault. I could probably be making more money. This is the case, in part,
because I want to be able to follow through with the commitments I have already
made and keep my current buyers and galleries happy. Also, I did not choose
this profession to make lots of money and be stressed about deadlines, etc. If
I wanted to live that kind of life, I would have studied to be a doctor or
lawyer or something where the financial reward is greater. I love what I do and
I want to keep it that way, so I make what I can and then I find places for the
work to go. I do continue to take on new markets throughout the year, but I try
hard not to commit to more work than I am able to produce. There are so many
people out there who want to spend money, even in these economic times, and so
many venues through which to sell one’s work that I am not worried about
finding new markets at my current price point. If and when my prices go up,
marketing will probably be more challenging.

most valuable lesson

Keep making.


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