Primary forming method
Primary firing temperature
cone 10 reduction
Favorite surface treatment
NPR (National Public Radio)
My studio is currently located on the top floor of The Clay Studio (TCS), a four-story building in Old City Philadelphia, with eleven other studios. It’s small, about 190 square feet, and I like to think of it as an efficiency studio. I have two wheels (one throwing and one trimming), three tables (one stationary and two folding), as well as a bunch of shelving. I am a daytime worker, and therefore my favorite thing about my studio would have to be the light. I have a 4×4-foot skylight over my studio and a large bank of south and east facing windows just off to the side.
Although I love my studio, I have begun to outgrow it; the volume of work I am currently making is about the maximum for the space, and I want to grow. I have been a resident artist at TCS since September 2006 and will be moving studios in August 2011. I came here fresh out of grad school and it was the perfect landing pad, the group of residents and staff that have been here during my time have helped me in many ways. With peers at different stages of their careers with whom I have become good friends, the studio environment is friendly and really positive. My time at TCS has been overwhelmingly good, but there were a few things about having a studio in the middle of the city that took some getting used to, like not driving because parking is difficult and the lack of a loading dock and dumpster, but it has all aided in helping me to move more efficiently in my studio practice.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I received my BA in art from the University of Alaska Anchorage, was then a special student at Wichita State University, and finally received my MFA from Indiana University in 2006. Since then, I have been a resident at The Clay Studio. Aside from a brief segue in grad school, I have been making pots for 13 years, and have been a full-time studio artist for the past four years. On average, I work about 35 hours a week in the studio. I try to make enough work to fire our 20-cubic-foot kiln every three or four weeks. I have been fortunate enough to be able to support myself primarily on sales of my work for the past few years. However, I still travel to Alaska for a month or two each year to subsidize my income working for a specialized building foundation contractor, a job I have had since I was in undergraduate school. As with all sales, some months are really good and others times it can be challenging to meet my financial obligations. I find that not having a part-time job during the year has allowed me to focus all my energy on making work without really having to divide my time daily or weekly. My plan is to be fully supported by my studio in the next six months.
Years ago, I hurt my lower back three times over the course of four months. Once it was just by bending down to put my pants on—nothing strenuous. I spent three days lying flat on my back and not being able to move around without pain. Since then, I do all of my throwing and trimming standing up. It has taken some time for my body to build muscle and strength in my lower back, but it is much better. In general, I try to stay in good physical shape. I ride my bike to and from the studio, run a couple times a week, and try to strength train a few days a week as well. Making pots is pretty hard on the body, so I cross train in order to be able to sustain my current production level without lasting physical ramifications. As for insurance, I married my long-time girlfriend in 2010 and have health insurance through her work.
When we moved to Philly, I decided to treat my studio like a full-time job. I work Monday through Friday and only come into the studio once or twice a month on the weekends, usually to cover or uncover work. It took until I finished grad school to figure out how to apply the work ethic I already had to my studio practice. When I’m at my studio I try to simply work and not dilly dally too much; come in, work hard, and leave. This routine helps to keep me from feeling like I am at a job, and when I am not in the studio, I try not to think about work too much. I feel that having a life away from art is an important part of a sustainable studio practice. Also, the time I take off in the summer is a welcome break. All of this keeps me hungry for the studio; when I come in on Monday morning, I am refreshed and excited for the week to come.
I currently sell 90% of my work through consignment galleries. The remaining 10% is through studio sales and online requests. In March 2011, I launched my retail website with a goal of doing 50% of total sales online within six months. My consignment galleries have done really well for me, but it is difficult to sell enough work solely through galleries, so I am trying to find a balance. Online sales also offer a larger percentage of the profit to me, whereas the galleries have a greater customer base from which to draw. By selling both online and through galleries I hope to double my sales in a year or two. I know its ambitious, but I really want to make it happen.
Most Valuable Lesson
I know it sounds cliché, but being a professional artist is really difficult. When I had a double-digit bank account balance, I was scared and questioned whether or not I had made a good decision in my choice of career path. This was only last year! I get frustrated sometimes and need moral support, and I am lucky because I have it.