Helios porcelain from Highwater Clays
Primary forming method
Throwing and altering
Favorite surface treatment
Primary firing method
Cone 7 in an oxidation environment
70% retail, 30% galleries
I use a flexible metal rib for many things. I find that when I’m at the final stages of throwing, the metal rib cleans up the outside of the porcelain pot better than any plastic rib I have found. There are some metal ribs that don’t bend so I have to make sure it’s extremely flexible for my forms.
My studio is in two locations. I have my main work area on the back porch of our home right behind our kitchen. This was supposed to be a temporary location, but after the birth of our twins and the ongoing struggle of trying to make ends meet, I am still on our back porch ten years later. It is screened, so in the summer, I have just a fan and the breeze from the outdoors to cool me off. In the winter, my husband and I put two layers of heavy-duty plastic around the walls to keep the cold somewhat at bay. I turn on two space heaters for a few hours before heading out to throw. At times, I share this space with toys, two cats, and various wild animals. I have to come inside for my water, and I have to devise various ways to dispose of my waste water. My kiln and glazes are in a detached shed in our backyard. I have electricity, but no running water, so I have to use the garden hose when making glazes.
The best part of my studio location, since I have little kids, is that on days when I have to finish up orders and they are entertaining themselves inside, I’m right there to see what’s going on or help out in at a moment’s notice if needed. I have two windows that look in on our kitchen so I’m able to help out without anyone having to come get me.
What I love about my studio is also what I dislike about it. My family is right there to interrupt my work or break my train of thought at a moment’s notice. Over the years I’ve become pretty good at going from my mom jobs back to my pottery jobs extremely quickly.
paying dues (and bills)
Before going back to school to become a potter, I managed a wonderful craft gallery called Cedar Creek in Durham, North Carolina. I learned a lot about the business of being a craftsperson while selling, buying, and interacting with the various craftspeople I came in contact with on a daily basis. The best part about working at Cedar Creek was that it was owned and operated by craftspeople and there were folks on site working in the studio everyday. Lunchtime conversations about trying to market yourself and sell work amounted to a pretty good education in themselves.
I began throwing pots at a nearby craft center in the fall of 1991. In 1995, I went back to school and earned a BFA and MFA in ceramics from East Carolina University, and started teaching and selling pots right after graduate school. I have always taught part-time to supplement my family’s income and I have learned a lot about myself and my work while teaching. I currently teach beginning ceramics at Winthrop University as well as online art history courses at a local technical college.
I spend about 30 hours per week in the studio, depending on what shows I have coming up or what “Mom” duties require me at home. I have many hats to wear throughout the day, and I try my best to spend as much time as I can with my children and husband, and also do what I love.
At an early time in my career, I began standing up while throwing. I think this allows me to move around more because I put my work table right behind my wheel and change activities a lot. I exercise as much as I can by walking and going to the gym, and have always tried to eat healthy. However, I have noticed in the last two years that my work habits, which usually center around late night studio visits, are getting to be a bit much for my body. My New Year’s resolution was to get more sleep, so instead of working in my studio from 8pm to midnight every night, I try to stop working at 10pm. I have also noticed some aches and pains in my lower back and shoulders. At times when my back hurts, I’ll wear a weight belt to help me stand up straight. My hands had begun to tingle as well, but this seemed to subside once I began using a pug mill.
I am lucky to have a husband with a decent job and health insurance. When I am at workshops and this topic comes up, I am amazed at how many potters do not have health insurance.
I read a lot of pottery blogs. I find that what other people are doing in their daily life and career really motivates me to move forward. I enjoy seeing the progress of various projects they are working on, as well as knowing how they schedule their day and work time. I also enjoy reading pottery magazines such as Ceramics Monthly, Clay Times, and Studio Potter. Books about historic fabric, glass, and pottery pique my interest when I need some inspiration. I am also in a non-pottery related book club.
To recharge, I take some time off from work, spend time with my other friends who are potters, and just surf the web for some sort of inspiration. At times, I read my old blog entries to see what sparked an idea a few years back. This has really come in handy over the last two years. If I get a chance to go to a workshop or conference, this is an added bonus, and I try to soak in as much as I can.
At this moment in my career, a majority of my sales are from retail shows. My second biggest money maker is gallery sales. I have just started selling my pieces on Etsy, so I’m hoping that will take off soon.
On the bottom of each of my pieces, I sign my name and also write what is going on in my life that day, or a thought that I just had. I think doing this gives my pieces just one more element that says it’s one-of-a-kind and handmade. Most phrases deal with my children or what I’m hearing in the background as I work.
I think because I’m a full-time mother and a full-time potter, I’m already at a disadvantage. I have to limit my shows and gallery orders because I have other people depending on me. Any more, I can’t attend as many workshops or take advantage of all the wonderful places such as Anderson Ranch, Watershed, or even Penland, because I just can’t be away from my family for more than a week at a time. I try my best to be on time for gallery orders, but when a family member gets sick or has school issues, my work comes second and the little people who depend on me come first.
I keep a pretty good mailing list and always have my book at every sales event. If acquaintances ask about my work, I’ll ask them to be on my mailing list, or I tell them about my blog. The Internet has really boosted my exposure and allows me to talk more with my customers.
I am amazed at how many people follow my blog. When I first started, I only thought my family and pottery friends would find what I do each day interesting. These days, I get emails from many young moms who are potters, and people come into my booth at shows and tell me how much they enjoy reading my blog. I’m extremely dyslexic and make many spelling and grammatical errors, so I am amazed that people enjoy reading it.
Getting my Etsy site up and going has been my most frustrating or disappointing online experience. I haven’t been on Etsy very long but I think I was under the impression that as soon as my pots went up, I’d have some interest and questions from folks buying work there. So far, I haven’t even had a nibble. I have read and heard from others that it takes times to learn how to re-post and to get yourself seen on Etsy, so maybe I’ll spend more time trying to promote my work.
most valuable lesson
It’s all about looking and really seeing what you are doing. Attend as many workshops and conferences as you can. Get together with other potters and talk about your work. Just make as much as you can and keep up with the current trends. Educate yourself about historical pottery and the different periods in art. Really look at different types of work in art galleries and museums. Keep an open mind about what others are making and why they enjoy what they do with clay.