Amelia Stamps: Potter of the Month

August’s Potter of the Month, Amelia Stamps is a kind and dear friend.  I’ve known Amelia and her husband since 2003.  At the time, Amelia was beginning her career as a full-time potter while her husband attended graduate school.  I’ve always admired Amelia’s career path…the pursuit of self-employment immediately following undergraduate school.

AmeliaStampsTeaSet150Amelia’s pots are sweet, whimsical and a delight to use.  Her craft is impeccable.  I covet her glaze combinations (opaque matte next to transparent glossy)…both of which break beautifully over her forms.

Enjoy the interview!

How did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education?  Since an early age, clay has held a special place in my heart and served as an integral symbol of my personal narrative. In the 1970’s my parents were potters in Pinehurst, North Carolina. When I was three they split up and as circumstances had it, I only knew my father through using his pots in our house. When I entered high school I took the “pottery & sculpture” class offered and immediately felt connected to my parent’s past, especially my father’s. It was a very touching thing to be working clay as he had done.

931282_525198344211178_318426025_nGrowing up in North Carolina only reinforced the inherent value placed in ceramics and the craft world as a whole. My mother, Lynn Daniel, ran a gallery and worked as a jeweler in Asheville, NC. When I was young my mom would take me to the Southern Highland Craft Guild shows where I would buy handmade doll clothes, toys and even pottery. I remember how proud I was of those well made objects. Looking back, my North Carolina roots played a crucial role in my love for craft and enabled me to see the rich effect it can have on individuals and society.

050f43c1fbc080b5684cfcd849565088As my passion for ceramics grew in college I declared a BFA in Art Studio instead of Art Education, which I had initially leaned towards. I attended several colleges in North Carolina before finding the right fit at UNC-Asheville, a small liberal arts school in my hometown.

How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  It was a great time to experiment with different types of firing processes and develop an idea of which temperature and method in which I wanted to work. My art instructors helped reinforce and strengthen my direction in clay. I was exposed to a wealth of visiting artists and an opportunity for dialogue. Also, I was lucky to work with some very motivated peers who taught me that a strong work ethic is essential to making the work that you desire.

You took a year off in undergraduate school and worked as an apprentice for a potter. How did this experience help shape your career? What advice could you offer someone wanting to be an apprentice?  For me this experience was 1653920_10203358551548353_1469192462_nessential. It gave me motivation and skills that I wouldn’t necessarily get from a school setting. I remember on the first day I started working for David Voorhees, he had me trim a shelf of his porcelain vases. My thoughts were, “I can’t believe he trusts me, I have never really trimmed before!” Over the year that I assisted in his studio I learned how a production studio runs from the making, glazing, firing and selling of work. Much of what I absorbed is what I now practice in my own studio today.

I continued to work for artists throughout school and even afterwards gaining a different perspective from each. They all were so gracious with their time and energy. Many of them sold retail, wholesale, or a mixture of both. I have modeled my business to be one that is reliant on both retail and wholesale finding that it is a good balance.

934776_525184657545880_935606586_nHow do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?  New ideas come after working a good stretch in the studio. I love reaching that creative flow when one decision leads to the next. Pots usually start as drawings or a daydream, sometimes inspired by something I have seen or experienced. Recently, I have been struck by paper embossing. I look forward to experimenting with colored slips and see where that leads me.

What does a typical workday look like for you?  These days, with two little kiddos, my workdays are 3 days a week when they are in daycare. When preparing for a show I will find time to work in the early hours of the morning or at night after the kids are in bed. I prefer to work late at night, but I always pay for it the next day.

A typical workday begins with getting the girls to “school”. If I have time I will exercise or go on a quick walk. Making work for an upcoming show, filling existing orders or shipping usually fills my day. At lunch I will usually make time to return emails, etc. Then work until dinner/family time.

PlaceSetting300I’m intrigued by the CSA(rt) program you participated in through the Lexington Art League? Can you talk a little bit about the program and how you got involved?  The Lexington Art League is using an exciting model of fundraising by commissioning 9 local artists to create a limited edition series of 50 works for their CSA (Community Supported Arts) program. Much like your local farmer’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), each “harvest” collection changes seasonally. It is a model that encourages and supports local artists, art buying, as well as, excites the collector’s experience. The best part is the “harvest party” when collectors and artists get a chance to connect.

It was fun working on this project. I made a series of “white on white” cups and ended up collaborating with another artist on a few of her sculptures.

You’re actively involved in the craft fair circuit. What kind of advice can you give to someone wanting to sell their work at retail fairs?  Be prepared and start small. Participate in a few 943051_516987528338426_1241879720_nsmaller shows to gain experience and to tweak your booth set-up. If you choose to do outdoor shows, invest in a good tent (one with interlocking poles). If you can, visit the show beforehand to see if it is the right venue for you and your work. Talk with other artists…. they are your best resource! Have professional images taken of your work. Lastly, create a good mailing list and keep in touch about upcoming shows and events. My mom engrained this step in me after hours of handwriting postcards to her customers over the years (before email).

Which marketing venue(s) (website/social media sites /galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?  What kind of advice could you give someone wanting to market their work?  All 393748_2633370557354_1596375804_nthese seem to work together to help promote one another. I look at participating in a craft fair, home sales, having work in galleries, posting work on FB or Etsy all as great advertising. My income consists roughly of 50% retail, 40% wholesale and 10% consignment. I find that I do best when I can meet my customer face to face and tell them about my work. Connecting you to your audience in a direct way fulfills something genuine inside of us. Do what feels right and don’t give up after a lousy show.

You moved to Kentucky when your husband got hired at UK. Not being from the area, you have been able to build a local following from the ground up and have now been operating Stamps Pottery for over 10 years. What were the most important steps you took to market your work to your local audience?  I got a lot of practice setting my studio up in three different states while my husband, Hunter Stamps, was perusing his MFA and beginning teaching. I feel fortunate to have had each experience so that I was prepared when we moved to KY to start right back up. Right away I connected to our Kentucky Arts Council, joined the local potter’s club, applied to all the craft guilds in our region and located the major shows within 5 hour driving distance.

Image2In our area we have free business/marketing advice through the small business bureau. This has been helpful to learn more about our area and learn effective ways to work on the business end.

Your work is in numerous retail galleries across the country. Can you talk about how you selected the representation you did? What kind of advice could you offer someone wanting to approach galleries for representation?  I have attended multiple wholesale trade shows over the past 8 years and found that you have little control over which galleries purchase your work. I have developed good relationships with some key craft galleries that keep reordering (thankfully) and there are some that have only ordered once. The fit has to be just right. Have professional images to send galleries (if you are lucky they will use them in promotions).

Get your work out there. Apply to the shows and galleries you want to be in. Galleries tend to comb the craft fairs to find new work. Make sure you stand out in some unique fashion.

1779721_10203323933882933_451610830_nAs a mother of two young girls, how are you able to balance parenthood and studio business?  Being a good potter, mother and wife is a constant balancing act, full of challenges and joy. Our life is full right now and there is always more to be done, but I can see it settling, as the girls get older. I chose to have my studio at home, which has been a good decision, even if I get out in the studio for a few minutes to check something or turn up a kiln. My husband’s work schedule usually falls opposite of mine so that he can be super Dad when I am away at a show on weekends. It has been helpful to keep a joint calendar so that we can schedule each week. Since kids, I have had an intern in the studio helping with tasks in exchange for studio space and materials.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?  If you are interested in becoming a potter I think it is so important to work under someone in the field. This will allow you more time to learn the mechanics and daily routine of a potter firsthand. Branch out and work in many studio situations to pick up different ways of working.

I am a person motivated by deadlines so having orders and due dates gives me structure that I need to stay active in the studio. Find the structure that works for you. Give yourself time and space to develop. Place yourself around supportive peers and work hard towards your goals. Take advantage of all the free resources within 150your grasp. Connect with other artists and arts organizations. Make sure you stop and have a little fun along the way!

For more information about Amelia and her work, please visit the links below:





Simon Levin: Potter of the Month

For the month of July…I am pleased to introduce Simon Levin!  I have admired Simon’s work and his writing for years and feel fortunate to have him contribute to the series.

Spotted bottleI am particularly fond of Simon’s rich, layered surfaces and swelling, volumetric forms.  His bottles are among my favorite forms being made today.  I love the way that they appear to anticipate use…how they seem almost incomplete without the proper surround or the ideal bloom.  They are so subtle and graceful…a narrow base that expands slightly as it lifts to the shoulder before tapering back in to a narrow opening at the rim.  And the drama of the wood ash rolling around the form…perfection!

Enjoy the interview!


How did you first get involved in ceramics?  Can you briefly describe your background and education?  I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.  I took a lot of art classes through high-school but went to college thinking of a career in criminal law.  I continued to take art in college and was discouraged from double majoring.  I was told that the required classes for a double major would keep me from taking the art classes I wanted.   It made sense, and in retrospect Grinnell College gave me a wonderful education but majoring in art there would not have prepared me for an MFA.

DSC_0558How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  Ok, I just said that my formal education didn’t prepare me for an MFA, and I stand by that.  5 years and three rounds of applications to graduate schools later I was finally accepted at one of the 4 schools I applied to.  It took me a long time to figure out how to take slides (We didn’t have images back then) and how to build a portfolio.  It took even longer to figure out how make work that made sense, had a voice and vocabulary.  Grinnell didn’t prepare me for that.

What Grinnell did was prepare me for my career in ceramics.  I learned how to learn.  I learned how to write and organize my thoughts.  I became articulate in english and that has helped tremendously in my journey to become articulate in clay.  Writing has been great marketing and promotion, it has helped get my name out there in the world.  Articles have legs.  They stay out there in the community and reach people in unexpected times and places.   It is odd to realize that even though I used to hate assigned readings I am now told by teachers that they assign my articles.

Butterfly Plate

Butterfly Plate

How do you come up with new ideas?  Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?  Coming up with new ideas seems to be part of the process.  When the studio is at its best it is like a conversation, playful and flowing.   Ideas come out of that flow, rather than being imposed from outside.   This keeps them from being contrived.  After a firing cycle it takes days to get back into the rhythm of the studio, for the issues to come alive again.   Then play starts from that easy comfortable place.

reliable pitcher2Play is usually simple stuff.  I try a different slip on a cup, or a new pattern on a paddle.  I layer information, brush textures over paddled textures.  Play is often the act of wondering what if, or I would like to see that.  That play leads me to a larger repertoire of results.  Then I can analyze the results and figure out if and how I might like to use them.

Occasionally ideas do come from the outside.  And at first they can be awkward, cliched, or contrived.  It is the continual discovery and investment in them, the involvement and development that moves these new outside ideas into rich personal concepts.

You’ve written a handful of insightful articles for our field.  One of my favorites is called “Becoming Inarticulate”, which you wrote for Studio Potter (June 2007).  In the article you talk about communicating content (not style) through handmade pottery.  I find this is a complex idea to teach beginning students who are concerned about finding their personal style.  What kind of advice could you offer someone who’s trying to decide what to say with his/her work?  Interesting to hear that this is one of your favorites.  It was the hardest for me to write, and perhaps the article I feel most unsatisfied with.  I was trying to talk about how when you learn the language of clay your vocabulary is non verbal, it is physical and spatial.  And the more I make pots and use clayish phrasings the harder it is to talk about in english.   In a way it was like grabbing smoke, a hard task, at best you can get the smell on your hands but even that is kind of ethereal.  Essentially much of my work is about the material and the process so the way to talk about it isn’t to translate directly but rather to invite a person into the process and show them where on the pots they would see evidence, results or narratives of these processes.

Red Wad Mug

Red Wad Mug

FInding one’s voice in clay is key in contemporary American ceramics.  Unlike some cultures who stress tradition, we emphasize innovation.   What I didn’t understand when I was starting in clay is that innovation will come on it’s own.  I believe style to be a byproduct of interest.   The beautiful news is that in order to decide what you want to say with your work, you have to follow your interests.  Watch how you respond.  Identify what inspires you.  What are you making that you want to come back to?  What keeps you in the studio?

There are some confounds to this.  There are lots of pots that inspire me, but I cannot make them nor should I.  My apprentice Lucy, wanted to make loose soft pots, but in the studio she was happiest working on detailed, refined, fiddly work.  The making process is different than the appreciation process.  The best we can do is be honest and present in our work and try and see what we have made without desires or preconceptions.  Then take that information into our awareness as we make the next round of work.

You also wrote a poignant and humorous article called “Critical Care: The Art of Self Critique”(Ceramics Monthly, Aug/Sept 2006).  Can you talk a little bit about the importance of critical analysis as part of your creative practice?  Oh, my.  Well I start out that article saying that critical analysis is the one tool I use in the studio every day.  It is the way I get closer to becoming articulate in clay.   Knowing what I want to say is not enough.  Critical analysis is the stepping back and seeing what I have said, and assessing if I have said it well.  It is editing out areas of miscommunication. It is highlighting and reiterating the themes that I want.  It is the only way I know to get better.   That being said Critical analysis happens after the act, never during.  The act of making needs to be pure and intuitive and in the moment.

DSC_8169You have built numerous kilns across the world.  Can you talk a little about the kiln building process (from design to completion)?  What advice would you offer to someone wanting to build his/her own kiln?  Kiln building was a necessary skill set to learn once I decided to become a potter.  It was a way to build the kilns I would need, and a way to increase the intimate connection I wanted to have with the work.  Firing the first kiln I built was wonderful, there was a moment when the kiln was hotter on one side than the other, and we were able to compensate by opening passive dampers on the hot side and sliding the active damper aperture towards the cold side of the kiln.   The solutions for firing issues had been anticipated in the kiln design.  It was a glimpse towards mastery where all steps in a process made room for that which precedes and that which had yet to come.

When I was a TA in grad school I grouped my beginning ceramics students into teams of 4.  Their mid-term exam was to get their pots from green ware to bisque without using a pre-existing kiln.   I turned them loose on the kiln yard and all the broken brick, and shelving.  Though they could have pit fired, they all built kilns.   The kilns were all wrong.  A roof of one of the the kilns was made by leaning two broken shelves together which made me hugely nervous.  Everything I knew about kiln building told me that you can’t do that.   They all worked.  All the students passed.  All the pots got to bisque and higher.  All this to say go ahead, build.  Bricks are reusable and the knowledge gained invaluable..

What is your most valuable studio tool?  Why?  Critical Analysis.  See response to critical analysis question above.

Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?  Home Studio tours.  I have never been involved in anything that compares to the Minnesota Potters tour.  Sales there have been a magnitude or more higher than anywhere else I have sold.  We host our own home studio tour here as well and will be starting our fourth year.

One NCECA I went to a terrible presentation on promotion although this idea has stuck with me.  Essentially people are looking for authenticity, the intimate experience.   Home studio tours do this really well.  Guests meet the potters, see where they work, they might get to see them work.  Guests learn about the process, and they leave with an understanding that enriches the experience of utility.   The following year they might bring a friend and now they have ownership.  They are the tour guide welcoming someone new into their discovery.

Squared Bowl

Squared Bowl

The Minnesota potter’s tour works better than any other because it is established, but the customers are so well educated about functional ceramics.  Generations of education, a cultural valuing of the hand made, and a large metro population feed the tour.  The potter’s who organize it realized that more potter’s means more pie.  They invite potters from around the country and this once a year coalescing of some of the best functional clay in the United states draws in visitors from far and wide.  I don’t ever expect our own tour here in rural Wisconsin to compete but it is growing and the investment builds.

Amy Smith and you have been collaborating with each other for years.  Many exhibitions have showcased these collaborative conversations and an article called “Paired Views” was published in Ceramics Monthly (March 2013).  The collaborative pieces that I’ve seen are so incredibly poetic.  What have you gained from the experience that surprised you?  The collaborative process was really revealing.  It helped me see my own work better, and opened new ideas and possibilities

Simon Levin and Amy Smith

Simon Levin and Amy Smith

that I would have never considered or even come to on my own.  Amy and I set out to make pairings that made room for one another while maintaining individual voice and expression.  We wanted the pieces to stand alone but belong together.  It is a challenging goal.  I feel as though we were successful in that endeavor.   The University of Nebraska-Lincoln hosted a show called Emulsion that was the culmination of that goal, and Akar’s show Layered is an opportunity to own the pairings.   I have yet to come across another collaboration quite like this.

You have a remarkable apprenticeship program that you started in 2004.  Can you talk a little bit about your program at Mill Creek Pottery and what the experience can offer someone wanting to make a career in the field?  The apprenticeship program has grown.  It has been exciting and challenging for me to work with younger folks who are committed to the field.  In many ways the apprenticeship program I built is exactly what I would have wanted at that time in my life.  Opportunities, facilities, information and guidance, but with the freedom to make what I wanted.

Kiln Built at Archie Bray Foundation with past apprentices of Mill Creek Pottery, 2012.

Anagama kiln built at the Archie Bray Foundation with past Mill Creek Pottery apprentices, 2012.

In some ways I think the apprenticeship is a reality check.  I don’t really provide a clay community.  We are a small operation and some of the days are long and quiet.   Apprentices often get a little lonely.  Being in the studio day after day is not for everyone.  The romance of wood firing tarnishes a little in -2 degree weather.

The apprenticeship is also not school.  It takes some apprentices time to realize that I have high expectations of them but they are not making work to please me.   There isn’t a right answer.  There is work, and consideration, conceptual development and discovery.  I want them to tell or show me what they are excited about not try and make something that I would make, or excites me.  The benefit of it not being school though is that when I teach workshops, travel, discuss business, interact with galleries and customers the apprentices are involved and learn from those non academic real life experiences.

I didn’t see this when I started the apprenticeship program but it is wonderful being connected to some great young potters who are contributing to the field.  My apprentices in reverse order with links  have been:

Willson Gaul, Kelsie Rudolph, Lucie Brisson, Hannah Meredith, Mike Gesiakowski, Chaio-Feng Shen, Ryan Strobel, Matt Bukrey, Tom Jaszczak, Chris Greenwood, Kenyon Hansen and Domonique Venzant.

Spotted JarYou are involved in a lot of daily activities aside from studio work.  Can you talk about how you are able to balance family/studio/etc. and how these outside responsibilities help to “keep you from being single-minded in clay”?  Balance.  What is this balance of which you speak?  There was a firing years ago when I was preparing for my first sale at Karen Karne’s curated show at the Art School at Old Church.   I was pushing too hard, and had pneumonia going into the firing.  I remember thinking that woodfiring was going to kill me.  I made it through the firing and tried to rest during the cooling, then with cleaning up of pots and driving to and from New Jersey I ended up getting shingles.  Although it didn’t lay me out, it was painful and I had to endure the ridicule of friends telling me I had an old lady disease.  Life was more than a little out of balance.

I play pick up games of soccer once a week.  The teams are usually dominated by highschoolers.  Some of them are so fast and skilled.  But I play well using what my first apprentice Domonique called “Old-man muscle”.  Essentially playing smart, being in the right place at the right time, using focused force and not expending excess energy.   In the studio now I plan ahead, I delegate, I use my apprentice’s time well.  I work backwards from deadlines.  I try and be highly organized.  It is a constant discipline.  I also am more forgiving when I cannot make a deadline.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?  Inherit money, marry money, or document.   Nothing sells like a story, and the journey to become established as a full time artist is compelling in and of itself.  There seems to be this compulsion to wait till the work is impeccable, and then emerge on the scene as a fully formed voice in the clay world.  It takes time to learn how to market.  It takes time to get your name out there.  Start now.

Learn how to approach a gallery.  Learn how to market.  Learn how to use social media effectively.  Write about your work.  Learn how to take great images of your work.  Outline the skill sets you will need.  Kiln building, writing, carpentry, photography, promotion.  Take workshops, and ask these questions.  Read Jen’s blog and look at other models for how other potters have made their career’s work.   Call those people up and ask them the parts you don’t understand.  Don’t call me of course, but feel free to contact the other potters of the month.  Attend panel discussions, or organize panel discussions on the topics you want to know about.  Market to your acquaintances not just to your friends.  Start a mailing list now, today.

IMG_2601I have found writing to be one of the most powerful marketing tools.  Not only do I often get paid for it but it gets my name and ideas out there.  It is a gateway for people who don’t speak clay to learn about and connect with your work and your journey.  Writing makes you a resource to others and lifts the community up.

Jen Allen’s blog with a potter of the month is a brilliant idea, the success of her blog is tied to other’s self interest.  I will promote that I am featured, in turn I will be promoting her.  All the previous featured potters have done the same.  The circle of fans that Kristen Kieffer draws has some overlap with those who follow my work, but probably not much.  I gain from those who have started to follow Jen’s Blog before I was featured.   Jen becomes a resource of information, a hub that lifts and promotes the clay community.  In this symbiotic way of being tied together we all gain.

To find out more about Simon and his work, please visit his website:



Collaborations: Amy Smith and Simon Levin

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with Amy Smith and Simon Levin about their collaborative work.  With their exhibition at AKAR opening tomorrow (click here to link to the exhibition page), I thought it was the perfect time to showcase a sampling of their  pieces.

Simon Levin & Amy SmithThe dialogue that happens within the work is quiet, poetic, rich and subtle.  Even though each piece is stunning when separate, the work reaches its full potential when it interacts with its counterpart.  This beauty (pictured to the left) features a series of white decorative marks on the base that reflect in the glassy surface of the cup above.

I asked Amy to reflect on her experience working with Simon:

The collaborative process between Simon and me is all about response. We agreed to the challenge of making work that is inherently connected, though contrasting.  We established ground rules early:  each would respond to finished work and neither artist would attempt to suggest direction to the other. The conversation that has ensued is unique. We are making paired objects that we hope will result in a whole greater than the individual parts.

S & AOne thing I never saw coming however was the sheer delight of purposelessness . “Play” is described as having no purpose. But “play” is what I enjoy the most in this collaboration, I get to try something new with a relaxed ease and a sense of spontaneity! 

Amy and Simon have partnered on this project for a couple of years, and their efforts have been presented in numerous exhibitions across the country including Strictly Functional Pottery National (2012), Santa Fe Clay’s La Mesa (NCECA Conference 2013), and a solo exhibition titled  “Emulsion” at the Eisentrager-Howard Art Gallery in collaborative workLincoln, Nebraska.  They also published an article about their work in Ceramics Monthly titled “Paired Views”.

Look for Simon Levin’s Potter of the Month interview dropping later this month where he talks about the collaborative process.


For more info about Amy and Simon and their work, please visit their websites:

Simon Levin & Amy Smith-2pairing

Kristen Kieffer: Potter of the Month

The potter of the month for June is the lovely Kristen Kieffer!  I’ve been a fan of Kristen’s work since early in my career.  As a young, excitable, dedicated undergraduate student, I flew from Anchorage, AK to Columbus, OH to attend my first NCECA Conference.  Prior to the the “main event”, I took a greyhound bus to participate in Ohio University’s pre-conference.  I remember thick, melting snow on the ground, a picturesque campus with weathered brick roads, an amazingly inspirational opening lecture by Walter Ostrum and Kristen Kieffer’s pots.

Kristen Kieffer Colorful jar groupingHer pieces were displayed in stages in her graduate studio space and as finished work in Trisolini Gallery alongside work by Matt Long, Christyl Boger, Kent Swanson and others.  When I first saw Kristen’s work, I was immediately struck by her complex forms, intricate handles and ornamented surfaces (all of which reminded me of Victorian silver-plated tea service sets).

Now, I just love seeing the evolving depth of surface on Kristen’s pots.  She is a master at keeping her work fresh and fun…constantly seeking out new colors, patterns, textures, surfaces.  And her ability to keep up with all the social media outlets she’s involved with is admirable.

Never having met Kristen in public, I am honored to have the chance to correspond with her for this interview.  Her advice is straightforward and succinct…and the quote she included by Maya Angelou is the perfect parting sentiment…


How did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education?  Drawing was a major mode of play for me as a kid, and art was my favorite class in school. Like many, I didn’t know what career I wanted to pursue after high school, and like many other ceramic artists, once I walked into a clay studio in college, I never left. (That was the summer of 1991.) Clay just fit me, and at a difficult time.

Kristen Kieffer Screen vase pain in Honeycomb w. bluesMost importantly, my parents were supportive, encouraging me to be whatever I wanted when I grew up. My Mom was fond of saying that she thought she could only be a secretary, nurse, or teacher (she taught nursing) when she went to college, and wanted me to be open to anything. I concede my being an artist made them nervous at times (though they hid it well); they never faltered from being supportive.

I can add too that while they never pursued careers in the arts, both my parents are creative and artistic. My Grandpa was a hobby, realist oil painter too.

I wound up receiving an AA in Studio Arts majoring in Ceramics from Montgomery College, Rockville, MD (1993), a BFA in Ceramics from the NYSCC at Alfred University (1995), and an MFA in Ceramics from Ohio University (2001).

How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  Formal education taught me how to grow as an artist as well as critically assess my own work, both crucial. My associate, undergrad, and grad degrees also made each next step possible. I wouldn’t have gone to Alfred for my BFA without the encouragement of my community college profs. I wouldn’t have worked at a historical pottery, which put in proximity to John Glick, if my undergrad prof hadn’t given me the internship prospectus. And on and on.

Working with John is what prepared me for a career as a studio potter, but also led to my acceptance to a grad program that could further push me as a maker. I’m lucky to have had so many mentors and professors to guide me along.

Kieffer Frost BasketYou spent a year as an apprentice for John Glick. How did this experience help shape your career? What advice could you offer someone wanting to be an apprentice?  My year with John could best be described as a residency (he’s actually referred to it as such for the last 10 years). I assisted him only in sharing workload. When he was throwing his pots, I was throwing mine. I helped him pack his work; we mixed clay together, and loaded kilns together. It was an opportunity to work side-by-side with a studio potter, to disperse wear on his body and offer camaraderie in the studio. I helped facilitate his production, but didn’t play a direct role in it.

Working with John was both formative and transformative. When I teach workshops, I always credit him with everything that got me started on the path to being a studio potter. From literally how to pack pots and take care of my back to pricing and gallery dealings. My year with John formed how I could be a studio potter in mind and body.

Additionally, he taught me how to play. You can’t work alongside a man, potter, and glazer like John without being inspired to shake off fear and explore. His energy and positivity are infectious.

There are few opportunities to do such a thing (residency, assistantship, or apprenticeship with an artist), but it’s truly valuable to spend time with a working artist if that’s what you want to do. I admire that John opened his studio and life to so many assistants over his 50 years in clay. Not many folks have the room, interest, or fortitude to share their creative space with another.

How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?  Gosh, if I could articulate that maybe I could make it happen more often! While I do know that just wanting to have a new idea rarely makes it so for me, taking the time to draw helps. For a long time, to develop new ideas I would flip through my collection of books on antique silver and brass vessels from different cultures and periods, and draw. Now I do a similar thing with my Pinterest boards (almost all of which are influence resources). I’m rather a formal maker, so a shape, line, or form from a current piece can sometimes offer a new direction, so my own work leads to new ideas as much as outside influences.

Gal-Skull-YunomiAll that being said, sometimes I make a new form based on need. I had a neighbor years ago who grew tremendous dahlias. Every once in a while he would give me one, but I only had recycled bottles that worked to hold them, so I started making bud vases.

Do you have a favorite form to make? If so, why?  I’d say currently yunomi are my favorite because they’re jam-packed with everything I enjoy (and sell).

What does a typical workday look like for you?  I work alone, so on any given day I may be making, marketing, Kristen Kieffer Studio 72 dpiphotographing, adding to my Etsy, packing to ship, emailing, workshop prepping, etc. I think only half my time is spent making. So, a typical day is basically working on what needs to be done. I try to balance studio time with not-studio time too. I spend evenings and at least part of the weekend with my hubby, work in the yard in the spring and summer, and have an 8-year-old doxie who is my demanding studio mate.

You talk about your work as “Victorian modern style” and “ornamented strength”. Can you expand on what you mean by “ornamented strength”?  Adjectives and phrases have helped direct my making for years. Sometimes those descriptors help me in the studio, and sometimes they are used in marketing to provide buyers with labels for my work.

Teapot-grouping-2014The right word can help change the line of a pot, focus its function, and/or distinguish the surface. In my slide presentation for workshops, I show how my MFA thesis exhibition pots were “ornate,” but not particularly “elegant,” and how the decision to focus the work on the latter word changed everything.

I’ve long been curious about the sociology of pots and how we categorize them. We assign pots a gender, and that seems to lead to when and how they’re used, and perhaps by whom. For example, a pot labeled as “feminine” sounds like something for special occasions, and perhaps used by a female.

I can’t control how (or if) my work is used or perceived, but I can relay a story through phrasing that helps buyers understand from where I create.

“Victorian” and “feminine” tended to be the most used descriptors for my work, so I decided to take on those phrases. I didn’t set out to make work based in a certain style; “Victorian” and “feminine” were not goals. I have a wide range of influences that, combined with how I enjoy working, yield what I make. I can see the Victorian elements, but I’m not making historically based pots. They are an amalgamation as well as contemporary (which is what Victorian was in its day). “Victorian modern” is a design category that describes a modern take on era influence.

Kristen Kieffer Violet indigo medium sandwich plateThe “ornamented strength” phrase is also from my slide presentations. I show a picture of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman and Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth to illustrate how “feminine” (not normally associated with “durability”) can be strong as well patterned. That is where I see my work, thus my tagline, “Ornately elegant pottery for everyday.” “Everyday” implies strength.

I share a lot of your aesthetic pursuits of seeking to create beautiful and useful objects for everyday. What are some things that you consider necessary in your form/surface/function to communicate this aesthetic to the user? How do you differentiate your work from “complex pieces for special occasions”?  So, I can say whatever I want about my work, but if I want them to be perceived the way I voice, I need to back up my verbal claims in 3D. The best example I can give are my cups. 10 years ago, the handles were thin, narrow and gestured far above the lip line, and were therefore worrisome to hold. Additionally, the small piece of the two-piece handle had a curlicue, which didn’t lend to durability, and the cups themselves were modestly sized. Kristen Kieffer Stamped cups groupingNow, the cups are “mugs” with a generous shape, the handles are plump and feel inviting, and though still two pieces, are streamlined. When people pick up my cups, I hope they feel that “ornamented strength” (not delicateness), which invites use.

Complexity of form can lend more to special occasion than complexity of surface, and I don’t think of my forms as particularly complex. I tend to think complex forms require both physical and mental leaps for use (which can limit them to special vs. daily), but complex surfaces may only require mental ones (which goes back to phrasing).  If I wanted to make special occasion ware, my work would be different.

You are a marketing genius and are constantly and consistently promoting your brand. Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work? Ha! Well, consistent anyway. How I market is constantly changing as the platforms change. My Kieffer Ceramics Facebook page served me well for several years, but since FB changed to “pay to play” (pushing users like me to PAY to “boost” posts to allow our followers to see content), I’ve seen a major decline in connecting with folks who actually want to see my posts. It’s hard to explain that to see all the posts by a person or page, Facebookers need to add it (that friend or page) to their Interest Lists because some or all posts may no longer show up in their newsfeed. Thus, I finally joined Instagram because if you go on IG, you will see posts by everyone you follow. Its disadvantage to me is not having clickable urls like FB and Twitter posts, so it can be harder to get followers to click over to my online shop, for example.

Kristen Kieffer Stamped dot vase groupingThough I don’t blog as much as I used to (in part because social media has become about images vs. reading in the last couple years), I write as if I’m communicating to a collector. This brings a different voice than if I were writing to my fellow potters.

What kind of advice could you give someone wanting to market their work?  I think it’s important to be consistent with social media. Don’t start it if you’re not going to keep up with it. Decide your goal, your brand, and your voice for each platform. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, sell on Etsy, and have an enewsletter, all of which I approach a little to a lot differently because the platforms themselves and their audiences are different.

Your work is in numerous galleries across the country. Can you talk about how you selected the representation you did? What kind of advice could you offer someone wanting to approach galleries for representation?  I retail work in half a dozen, mostly craft center galleries (perhaps a quarter to a third of my sales) around the country that carry my work, and I hope earn their 50% by styling it well and discussing it with interested customers. (I think of true gallery representation as being for artists whose price points are considerably higher with an artist/gallery relationship that is more formal, exclusive, and engaged, like Duane Reed and Mindy Solomon galleries, who don’t really work with functional potters.) I think most galleries invite artists, and do so after seeing their work (now, in social media; in the past, in juried and invitational shows and the publicity that followed them). It always comes back to making solid work, photographing it well, and getting it out there in a professional manner.

You’re website is filled with thorough, informative, varied content. How did you decide how to format your website the way you did?  What tips could you offer someone who is thinking about creating a website?  What amount of time do you dedicate to upkeep (keeping it current)?  I’ve been on for my KK Yunomis AKAR 2013blog/website combo for over six years, and still like the format and ease. I’m constantly tweaking it, and actually enjoy doing so. The blog part of the site keeps it fresh (updated at least twice a month), though every page of my site is current, from work to schedule. I’ve tried to create a layout and present content in a way that I want when I visit someone else’s site. I think almost any question someone might have about me or my work is there, which I hope leads to sales (pots and DVDs), workshop enrollments, and/or answered questions by collectors and students.

Much of what I’ve done is adapted from the good and latest in site styling I see on other sites, and bypassing the bad (too many clicks to reach content, flash, clutter, etc.). There are infinitely more templates and build-your-own sites now, so it’s a matter of finding one you like and understand, paired with the time involved in maintenance and cost.

You produced your own DVD of surface decorating techniques entitled “Surface Decoration: Suede to Leatherhard”. Can you talk a little bit about the process of creating a professional instructional DVD and your choice of content for the DVD?  The DVD came about because my husband and I were both laid-off from our part-time teaching when the Worcester Center for Crafts closed for the full year of 2009, and because my Dad happened to take up video as a hobby in retirement. Though the Craft Center re-opened in 2010 (minus the furniture program in which my husband taught), the sales from the DVD my Dad and I produced has been an additional, helpful revenue stream added to the way I piece together my income.

KK Tiles Pear, Blue and FrostI actually took a poll on my blog, and ‘surface’ was the unanimous choice for the video. Deco seemed the most straightforward to tackle too. I didn’t want the video to be a version of what I teach in workshops. I wanted the video and workshop teachings to each complement the other: workshop participants purchase the DVD to refresh on techniques I taught in-person for them, and DVD-purchasers often wind up in a workshop because they enjoyed the DVD. Plus, I’ve sold the video all over the world to folks who can’t readily take a workshop with me in the States. I’m very grateful to have had such a supportive audience for the video over the years.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?

  • Style should be the result not the goal.
  • Working hard and play are not mutually exclusive in the studio.
  • Making a living as a self-employed artist requires diversification of income.
  • “Making a living is not the same as making a life.” ~ Maya Angelou

To find out more about Kristen and her work, please visit her website:



Matt Repsher: Potter of the Month

I am honored to announce that Matt Repsher is the Potter of the Month for May!  Matt’s pots incorporate strong, architectural forms with soft, velvety surfaces.  His repetitive carving and surface details capture the rhythm of his process beautifully.  Matt’s work is quiet and striking, honest and innovative.

1477787_339358806207189_1782493958_nMatt and I both attended Indiana University (although we missed each other by a summer).  However, Matt and my husband went through graduate school together so my husband and I feel fortunate to have some of Matt’s work in our home.  There was something about Matt’s voice in clay that I found inspiring from the beginning.  His work reminds me of the craft of a fine furniture maker…the joints, edges, finishes and negative spaces are as thoughtful and as beautiful as the form itself.  

Enjoy the interview!

1901374_382314428578293_857673619_nHow did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education?  I became involved through growing up around my Dad’s pots. I sort of got into it through osmosis. I applied to college thinking I would go into forestry management but switched to art before I started my first semester at Penn State. I finished there and went off to graduate school at Indiana University.

How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate- graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  At Penn State and Indiana I was surrounded by a lot of talented, thoughtful artists and educators. When immersed in such environments where people are doing such good work the bar is high and I wanted to be a participant and collaborator in that energy.

1004540_381461731996896_1018867145_nSchool also had that constant question of Why? What are your ideas? Why are you doing what you are doing? I had difficulty voicing that in school but now see its advantage in two ways. First, maintaining the practice of questioning has helped me look inward for answers instead of externally which I feel has resulted in my work being truly my own. Second, people want to know the history and providing them with a cohesive story about how I have come to make what I make has helped people relate to my work.

You took a break from focusing on pottery during graduate school. How did your exploration in graduate school help to inform the work you’re making now?  I went into graduate school with an idea of leaving wheelthrowing behind. In undergrad I Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 2.31.49 PMsteadily moved from fully wheelthrown pots to thrown-and-altered to throwing cylinders and cutting them up into slabs. That led to fully handbuilding which was completely freeing.

I did move into making sculpture in graduate school but I never felt I truly cut ties with vessels. The work I was making relied heavily on a relationship between wood and clay. I saw the wood forms I was using as the vessel and foundation of what I produced in clay. In hindsight the whole process of graduate school was an exploration in structures. What it is to build things. Patterns, Repetition.

Graduate school also helped me move through a lot of ideas in a brief span of time. Being able to find the things that were truly worth pursuing was most helpful.

You’ve lived in the Southwest for over 10 years now. In the past, many artists who have migrated to that part of the country have found that the desert landscape has had a huge impact on their work (Georgia O’Keeffe is someone who comes to the front of my mind). After growing up in central Pennsylvania, how has the move to the Southwest affected your work? What about your upbringing in the mid-Atlantic remains a constant influence?  The forest is a constant influence. It is 10277049_404047696404966_6716180135805314951_nvery grounding for me to get into the woods. The Southwest is all about color. The blue of the sky and how it interacts with everything else. Pastels seem pretty big.  I think most of all is the layering of color and the atmosphere of color in the Southwest. I would not be doing color like I have been without being here. I am always blown away on the days when I feel like I am walking through pink air. That’s what it looks like. Pink air. It is pretty terrific.

So I try to bring the atmosphere of color into the painting I do on the pots. I layer colored slips under and over a white base and use the red clay as a background that burns through the slips. I like the softness and depth all that layering produces.

Your father is a potter in central Pennsylvania.  Last summer the two of you spent time together making pots and firing the wood kiln you built on the family property.  The work you both made culminated in an exhibition at Santa Fe Clay.  Can you talk a little about the experience and how it has impacted the work you are currently making?  My dad has been getting back 539182_324928930983510_1593555934_ninto pots. He retired as a builder and has been making pots again. He is a skilled potter and loves salt firing. We spent one month together this past summer making pots and firing the salt chamber of our wood kiln. It was a big deal for both of us. I was excited to see him making pots again and we had a successful firing. It was all fun for my dad but I had a bit of stress around the outcome. Santa Fe Clay had generously committed to have a show featuring the two of us knowing we would be putting most of our eggs into one basket, or kiln load. We had not fired the salt chamber in some time and it needed to come out. Fortunately it did. Even better was, after I came back to Santa Fe, he made another round of work and fired the kiln with a neighbor. The opening for that show was the best. I really enjoyed seeing my dad receiving such a positive response to his pots. He nearly sold out opening night. 

Some of the intention for me was to get back to where my story began with clay. That starts with my dad’s influence. His pots where my starting point and I used his forms and techniques as a launch pad at the beginning of my undergrad education. I was fortunate to have his work and his stories of making pots. It gave me a solid 944741_279406272202443_1343300098_nunderstanding of the material before I had a lot of experience with it.

1001374_278034455672958_1288832320_nIn the past couple years I have had the desire to revisit his influence. He makes really nice pots and I wanted to pay homage to his work through my work. I have realized through this process that his influence has a lot to do with aesthetics and the development of a critical eye. That was probably more important than what I learned from him about clay.

In living with your work, there is no mistaking its architectural significance (arch forms, buttresses, oculi, etc). What architectural details (structural or decorative) do you find the most inspiring? Are there specific architects whose work you admire?  My dad is an architect, builder, potter, etc. I learned to appreciate architecture through his influence.

I like imagining the structure of architecture. All the stuff happening under the skin of a building. I also enjoy the flow of buildings. How people move through buildings and how line and light move through buildings. The Denver Art Museum is a trippy one to go into. The main space really messes with your depth perception. It is a lot of fun.

10014601_380341038775632_1106071663_nIt would be apparent in looking at my work that the arch is a favorite of mine. I use it for a couple of reasons. First, it is probably the clearest architectural reference. Second, lots of kiln building has made me appreciate the technical beauty of an arch. Third, the flow of drawing and carving arches into a thrown form is very satisfying.

Renzo Piano is an architect whose work I really enjoy. A lot of what I tune into, structure, repetition, materials, he shows in his buildings.

Why do you choose to make the forms you do?  I like clean forms that I expand on with carving and painting. It is sort of like constructing a building. You need a strong, level foundation as a starting point if you want to have a successful outcome. 

You recently moved to a new color palette. What prompted the change?  I got tired of making a lot of dust. Not to long ago, I did a sort of inlay on the surface of my pots and it 1780848_382314531911616_1147531672_nrequired scraping off a lot of slip and clay. It was very nice for creating that depth and layering that I like but dust gets old. Also, a couple of years ago I did a show at Santa Fe Clay using a lot of wood pieces in conjunction with the clay. My inlay palate at the time was pretty dark and the blonde of the wood was light and refreshing. I started using more white slip over the whole surface of my clay pieces after that show. That sort of progression is ideal.

What does a typical workday look like for you?  I have no idea. I am trying to get to a point where I have a typical workday.

What is your most valuable studio tool? Why?  I like a space that I can feel good in.  I 1234266_305086049634465_1584546347_nreally like my studio right now.  I share it with my wife, Marian Miller, who is a metalsmith doing jewelry.  It is in a loft space and brightly lit during the day.  Big dormer windows face north and east so the light is really pleasant.  I really feel at ease when I am there. The only thing that is difficult is a flight of steps.  I do not suggest having a clay studio on a second floor.

Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/ etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work? Are there other methods of marketing that you’re thinking about taking on?  I’m probably not the

1458523_342245325918537_1770472342_n1512593_342245339251869_1064445775_nbest person to ask this question. I have been a terrible self promoter. Only since this past Fall have I done anything online with sites like Facebook, Instagram and Etsy. They have been good for me just as ways to interact with people. Otherwise I would just go about my day to day in Santa Fe and not be social. Instagram has been my favorite of the bunch.

1458530_341906679285735_1264841745_nStudio sales are great. It helps that our studio is in a good location surrounded by businesses and live/work studios. It also helps that Santa Fe is such a big art town that attracts people interested in such things.

At what point in your career did you make the decision to sell your pots for a living? Could you describe how you came to that decision?  When I needed to make some money. I have been working, and continue to work, for other people or institutions. I have slowly let go of certain jobs and that has pushed me into selling more of my work.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?  I would Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 2.30.38 PMhave to say it is good to be honest with yourself and others and to do the things you love.




To find out more about Matt and his work, please visit these sites:

Facebook: Matt Repsher Ceramics

Instagram: @repsherceramics

Doug Peltzman: Potter of the Month

I’m thrilled to introduce Doug Peltzman as Potter of the Month for April!  I have been a fan of Doug’s work for years and continue to be intrigued by the striking architecture of his forms, his active surfaces and his unwavering attention to every detail.  His work is inspirational, inviting, thoughtful, beautiful and incredibly useful.

workshop imageI first met Doug in the fall of 2012 during the Utilitarian Clay Symposium at Arrowmont.  Although we didn’t get the opportunity to chat much during our brief time there, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Doug as a fellow member of Objective Clay.  It is an honor to be a part of the constant dialogue in our field and this interview is no exception.  I hope you enjoy Doug’s feature as much as I did.  Cheers!

How did you first get involved in ceramics? Would you explain your attraction to utilitarian ceramics?

assorted potsI first got involved in ceramics by chance and luck. When I decided to go back to school, I already had three years of undergraduate education in painting and fine arts under my belt, and had spent the two years in between these undergrad stints working as a cabinetmaker. I think that this two-year break from school manifested a desire in me to make useful things. When I decided to go back to school, I really didn’t know what I would do. By serendipity, and for reasons I can’t fully explain, I took a wheel throwing class. A few weeks later, I took a shift at a wood firing, and I was hooked. It was like a new world unlocked for me. I’m not sure if I was attracted to utility at first, or if it was more about the connection to the material and the community.

Can you briefly describe your background and education?



I was born and raised in Commack, NY, a suburb on Long Island. My teens to early twenties were spent on a skateboard, honing my skills and style, and feeling like I had finally found my calling. It helped give me purpose, similar to what making pots provides for me now. From high school, I went to SVA for one year, and then I transferred to Pratt. I majored in painting, and spent my sophomore and junior years there. I took two years off and worked as a cabinetmaker, before deciding to go back to school and earn my BFA in ceramics from Suny New Paltz in 2005. In 2010 I earned my MFA from Penn State.

How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?

kiln opening sale

kiln opening sale

I think it helped make me a really skilled maker and critical thinker. My work ethic was established long before college, watching and learning from my parents, and spending countless hours on my skateboard. I think higher education does some things really well, and others not so well. How to make a living as an artist is not easy, and there are no clear suggested tracks to success. But, the more I teach, the more I realize that academia isn’t built to provide you with all of the answers and skills to being a full time artist. You have to seek them out. That desire has to come from within. I was fortunate to work for my undergrad professor, Mary Roehm. Looking back on that time, I think I learned as much from being Mary’s assistant as I did from taking her classes. Also, and equally as important, she exposed me to her lifestyle and her collection of pots. This showed me that pottery was not

Adam Field Visit

Adam Field Visit

just something to major in, in college; it is a lifestyle, one that I felt a connection with. I think school makes you a strong problem solver and provides a network of like-minded people. In grad school, I was lucky to work with Chris Staley, Liz Quackenbush, and Del Harrow. I was able to move through ideas and get constant feedback. They all provided diverse perspectives and challenging questions. Grad school allowed me the freedom to play, to find my voice, and to develop a critical dialogue. School was invaluable for me, but so was the summer I spent as an assistant at Peter’s Valley Craft Center. I think if you want a complete and well-rounded education in clay, you must get outside of academia too. My advice would be to visit artist’s studios, take workshops, go to nceca, be a summer assistant, but mainly, to immerse yourself in the field.

Where do you gather inspiration for your work?  

Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin



Paul Klee

Paul Klee

I find inspiration for form and surface by observing patterns and compositions in nature and industry.   Recently, I have been looking at early atari video games for source material. Some of the forms I make are reminiscent of smoke stacks, old Tupperware cups from the 80’s, Wedgewood and Staffordshire ceramics that I grew up seeing/living with, ancient pottery (Mimbres and Jomon), and old metal objects that I find/collect. The paintings and writings of Agnes Martin, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky have also been a major source of inspiration and influence. I am always negotiating with function, trying to find a balance between highly crafted utilitarian pots and engaging active objects to look at.      

How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?

For me the process of developing a new form is painfully slow. I tend to think for a long stretch about an idea, draw quite a bit, and sort of go through a long editing process, dishesbefore I even make anything. Recently, I started making handbuilt dishes, pots for nuts and candy. I have a Staffordshire dish that was my grandmother’s; I remember she always had thin mints in it. I kept it in my studio for about a year. I thought for a long time about how I could translate my love for that dish into a form that I could make. The idea for these new oblong and square dishes grew out of this process.

You use various clay bodies for your work, some porcelain and some earthenware. How does working at these different temperature ranges help you to process ideas? Can you talk a little bit about how your palette changes when you use a light clay body versus a dark clay body?

I can trace my love for range in temperature and clay to my formative years wood firing. I was always drawn to the buried crusty iron rich pots, as well as the vitreous porcelain

porcelain plate detail

porcelain plate detail

glazed surfaces that a wood kiln can yield. So, for me, working in earthenware and porcelain feels natural, each body of work informing the other. Different clays provide a new canvas and a new problem to solve.   I like to use the analogy of watercolor for porcelain, and oil paint for earthenware. With my porcelain pots I focus more on using color to delineate shifts in pattern, composition, and line. The translucent porcelain is the backdrop for my glazes, much like the white paper is the backdrop for a watercolor

earthenware mug

earthenware mug

painting; the white clay color is key to making the glazes glow.   With my earthenware pots the focus is more on using color to fill space or play with interlocking shapes. The satin lowfire glazes I use are opaque, with breaks of red clay coming through. The rich red clay becomes a backdrop almost like an under painting would serve as a ground for an oil painting.    


What is your most valuable studio tool? Why?

Hands down, my metal rib, it removes my throwing lines and refines my pots in a way that my hands never could. Also, I like to take the cheap ones and cut them in to shapes that fit in small areas. A close second is my small red rib by mud tools, I’d be nothing without it.

You have taught university classes in the past and are currently teaching a few classes at Hartford Art School. How does teaching affect your studio practice?

greenware juicer with strainer

greenware juicer with strainer

That’s a good one. I have been a full time studio potter for the most part since I graduated in 2010, and I love being my own boss. But with being your own boss comes sacrifice and very long hours. So for me, teaching has been a love/hate sort of relationship. I love how teaching gets me out of the studio and out of my head, and also hate it. I love the rhythm of making everyday, getting intimate with a body of work, and having something to show for my time and labor, and teaching disrupts that rhythm. The thing I love about teaching though, is helping students find their way through clay. It has been so nice to share knowledge and technique with students and see the direct impact that it can have. Also, on the practical side, having some idea of what my income will be on a monthly basis has proved to be a stress reliever. So, while it’s been a compounded few months of making and teaching, with no down time, I have welcomed it.

As a new mom, I was surprised by how little studio time I was able to fit in after my daughter was born. As a father of two, how are you able to balance studio and family? Do you spend your time in the studio differently now than before?

Grayson & Leo in the studio

Grayson & Leo in the studio

I think most artists with kids will answer this question a little differently, although, one common thread will probably be the sacrifice and sleep deprivation that takes place. My wife (Pam) is really the key to the whole operation. Being a father can be tough at times, but being a mother, let alone a nursing mother, can be far more demanding and exhausting. My wife takes the brunt of the daily parenting duties while I work full time in the studio. My studio is in our house, which is great because I can lend a hand if need be, and the kids can see me throughout the day.  The downside is that some days can be noisy, chaotic, and fractured at times. I have never been a 9 to 5er in the studio or a night owl,

Pam helping pack and ship

Pam helping pack and ship

I’ve just always been a workhorse, and that’s what I’ve continued to do.   Luckily for me, I have a wife who is a potter, and the best thing I have going for me, she understands the demand, the sacrifice, and the ridiculously long hours it takes to be a full time artist. The main thing is to make the most of every moment, and do more work with less time. We are figuring it out on the job, and it’s been a total free for all.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

Dover Plains

Dover Plains

Wake up 6:15am, Breakfast Routine 7-8:30am, Studio 8:30-12:00pm (This consists of any number of tasks including but not limited to: making, emailing, instagraming, ordering, inventorying, packing, phone calls, shipping, glazing, constructing, organizing, testing, cleaning, documenting, uploading, resizing, editing, etc…) Lunch 12-12:45pm, Studio 12:45-5:00pm, Dinner/play/bath/bedtime 5-7:45pm, Coffee break 7:45-8pm, Studio 8-10 or 11pm, Fall asleep on the couch 10:30-11:30pm, Sleep 12am -6:15, Repeat.

At what point did you make the decision to sell your pots for a living? Could you describe how you came to that decision?  

inventory time

inventory time

When I got out of grad school like most in our field, I applied to a bunch of teaching jobs. After coming close and not landing anything, my wife and I decided our best option was to move in with my parents and establish my studio practice. During that year and a half, I had the freedom to continue to grow and develop my work. I spent that time building relationships, making lots of pots, and getting my work out in the world. I really loved the rhythm of making pots everyday.   The more I worked full time, the less I thought about applying to teaching jobs. I just couldn’t imagine spending my time any other way.

Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work? Are there other methods of marketing that you’re thinking about taking on?

Dallas Pottery Invitational

Dallas Pottery Invitational

I sell my work through galleries, my online shop, objective clay, pottery shows/sales, and my studio. I have found that when I have work on objective clay and in my online shop it sells pretty regularly. My goal in the next few years is to pair down the galleries and sell exclusively through my studio, my online shop, and objective clay. I don’t consider myself to be all that savvy when it comes to scheming about marketing strategies. Over the past few years I have loved the community and sharing network that instagram has opened up. It has proved to be a marketing strategy without intending to be.   I have used instagram to promote online sales and upcoming pottery shows. It’s been a great way to keep people in the loop and engaged in what I’m up to. Also, Objective Clay has been such a rewarding project to be a part of.   I am honored to be a part of such a dynamic group, and proud of

Objective Clay at the 2014 NCECA Conference

Objective Clay at the 2014 NCECA Conference

what we’ve accomplished in such a short time. With fourteen unique perspectives, we always have the next venture in sight. I’m looking forward to what the future holds, and excited about the possibilities.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?

Work hard. Be open. Be an active participant, and expect nothing in return.


fresh pots

fresh pots

For more info about Doug and his work, please visit his website: 

Emily Schroeder Willis: Potter of the Month

As preparations for the upcoming NCECA Conference are keeping a lot of us busy this time of year, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to publish an interview with a potter whose work I’ve admired for years: Emily Schroeder Willis. In 2002, my sister and I drove from Anchorage, AK to Rochester, NY.  On the way, we stopped in Helena, MT to visit the

ESW Bowl, c.2002

ESW Bowl, c.2002

Archie Bray Foundation.  While we were at the Bray, I purchased a gem of a bowl of Emily’s that I still use all of the time.  The pinched surface of Emily’s work begs to be touched.  This bowl has a glossy, opaque neutral glaze on the bottom and an exposed porcelain texture at the rim.  The interior is drenched with a thick, blue celadon glaze with large crazing marks that remind me of deep glacial crevasses.  A single drawn line rolls over the pinched marks like a lonely road meandering over rough terrain.  This graphic element is something that Emily still explores in her work and is a lovely contrast to her pinched process marks. If you are attending this year’s NCECA Conference, come see (and touch) Emily’s work in person at the Objective Clay booth as part of NCECA’s Gallery Expo (Hall A). Enjoy the interview! How did you first get involved in ceramics?  Can you briefly describe your background and education? Technically speaking, my first clay experience was when I was little, maybe 8 years old. I don’t even know why, I certainly don’t think I had asked for it, but my parents got me a battery operated “wheel”.  It looked more like a record player than a  potters wheel.  I think it ran on 4 D sized batteries.  I actually still have the plastic tools that go with it believe it or not! It must have been a meaningful gift because I kept pursuing ceramics after that.  I am really lucky because both my Junior High School and High School both had strong ceramics programs.  We had gas kilns at both schools with wheels for everyone.  We fired to cone 10 and had a huge variety of glazes.   I really loved it, but didn’t think I would ever do it full time.

platter 2013

platter 2013

I went to the University of MN for my undergrad and started off as a landscape architecture major.   I quickly switched when I had my first ceramics class there.  Geof Wheeler was my instructor and Leanne McClurg was my TA! Later on I did a residency at the Archie Bray, a post-baccalaureate study at the Australian National University and graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder. How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics? My grad school and undergrad were two very different experiences.  The University of MN was quite traditional and more technical, while my grad school experience was more about challenging those traditions.  But, I think that is a typical difference between grad and undergrad.  I was taught by Mark Pharis and Margaret Bohls,  and Mark had been taught by Warren Mackenzie. So, for a long time I had the “Minnesota Potter” lifestyle dream in my head.  The goal was to get a farm somewhere, set up a studio in the barn, make work and live off that.  I saw several artists in Minnesota do that: Jeff Oestreich, Linda Christianson, Bob Briscoe, Warren Mackenzie, Maren Kloppmann…  Graduate school was a huge awakening!  My first year at CU Boulder none of the other graduate students made pots.  Many of them were educated in a much broader language of art, but only a few were educated in ceramics in the same technical manner as I was.  I will still IMG_1076never forget one of my fellow grads telling me “Glaze comes in a jar, clay comes in a box.”  I am very thankful for my education at the U of MN, teaching me about the techniques and basic practices of ceramics. At CU, I realized that I could make work that reached beyond people just in the ceramics world.   It has helped me push my work further than I initially felt comfortable with. In graduate school, you took time off from making pottery and explored other means of expression.  How did that work inform your current work?  At CU I learned to be much more innovative and creative in my practice.   It really helped to broaden my perspective on art and specifically in my own practice.  Like you said, I made almost no pots in grad school, and in my current studio practice it helps me to never say “no” to any ideas that I have floating out there, regardless of how crazy or harebrained they seem.  There are many times I wished I could take a respite from making pots to try out some other ideas, but just don’t have the space in my studio to work in two types of methods. Could you describe some of the most influential or career changing experiences you’ve had? The Archie Bray has definitely been a very influential place.  It was the first time I really got to make work and figure out what my voice was.  I would also say my semester at the Australian National University (which I did between undergrad and the Archie Bray) was very impactful.  Janet DeBoos teaches there and she was amazing to work with.  She Bowl_LoopW2A_2013_lowencouraged me to hone in on the important elements of my work: form and surface.  She constantly pushed me to pair everything down and simplify more.  I still think back to some of the critiques I had with her.  She is incredible. You spent a year as a visiting artist instructor at Alberta College of Art and Design?  How did teaching impact your art-making? I almost put ACAD down as a career changing experience!  Greg Payce and Katrina Chaytor who teach at ACAD are two incredible educational powerhouses!  My year at ACAD was great because I taught 2 classes each semester and then had a studio to work in full time.  It was great because they have such a good curriculum for their students and I always feel that when you push your students hard to try new things, you always end up pushing yourself really hard to try new work. You took on a job at Lillstreet Art Center for a few years.  How did your position there help prepare you for your current business ventures?  What did you learn that surprised you? IMG_1981I was the Director of Artist Programs at Lillstreet. For my position I actually ran Artist-in-residence program, helped facilitate ceramics workshops and assisted in organizing events with the artists who rented studio space at Lillstreet.  It helped me learn more about the artist community here in Chicago.  I began to develop their artists-in-residence program by connecting the artists with a variety of people (curators, artists, educators, business people) to help them get networked in the city.  It was really great.  When I left, they decided not to hire anyone and let the artist-in-residence program run itself. What I learned there was that running an art center and a gallery is a LOT of work.  It’s a lot of organizational, people and communications skills.  I also saw how much social networking and advertising was part of the day to day routine.  I don’t think I realized what a big difference that makes to a business.  I think as artists, we often focus on the work and not on the other end of the business model.  I personally struggle with that because it takes me away from the making process, but it has caused me to see how it can help in your studio practice by getting out the word! In addition to being a studio artist, you currently work a full time job.  You are also one of two directors of an artist collective named Objective Clay.  How are you able to balance studio time with work life and maintain a strong voice in the field? Oh my goodness.  I don’t feel that I balance things well, honestly.  I feel balance is a constant seesaw.  Some weeks I am cranking in the studio, other weeks I am focusing on Objective Clay projects and then other weeks I try to get out and enjoy life in the city!  I truly feel that balance is a myth. You have published numerous articles in a number of highly respected ceramics periodicals.   What kind of advice could you give to others wanting to publish their writings? Vase_Loop_G1B_2013_lowPay attention in English class! It has been surprising how much writing has become part of my practice.  I always pounded into my students’ heads that writing was an important part of being an artist. Many of them scoffed at my writing assignments and I would be hard on them about it.   To anyone looking to publish their writings, I would encourage them to simply submit them to magazines they are interested in.  You never know what they could be looking for! Your article may be a perfect fit! Could you talk a little bit about why you choose to make pinched forms.  What is it about the process/results that you find necessary for your work?   Emily_0119I started making pinched forms because I got tendonitis when I was young.  The tendonitis was due to a combination of circumstances, but nonetheless, it is the reason why I unwillingly switched from working on the wheel to handbuilding.  Believe me, I was not thrilled about it. What I have learned to love about this process is how every mark of my process is recorded on the surface.  Clay is such a remarkable material and I love how it responds so immediately to my touch.  Now I really embrace that imperfectly marked surface because we live in a society so devoid of touch, what better way to combat that absence than to make work that celebrates that! How do you come up with new ideas?  Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas? IMG_1309I do a lot of reading, looking and sketching.  I look at historical forms , read DWELL magazine and I will also go to places like Design Within Reach and look at furniture, lighting and other objects for the home and see what other contemporary designers are making. What does a typical workday look like for you? My full studio work days are rare and on those days, I typically go through my email and try and respond to questions or galleries in the morning right away.  I hate checking my email, so I like to get a lot done in one sitting.  When I get to the studio, I usually either sketch or peruse through my sketchbook at ideas I want to be working on and then get started making.  I work on anywhere from 6 -12 forms simultaneously because of how slowly I work.  By the time I get to #6, #1 is usually ready to be worked on again.  When I get stuck, I usually go for a walk in the neighborhood. I always feel like that helps to get my juices flowing and give me some ideas. What is your most valuable studio tool?  NPR (National Public Radio), without it, I would be lost. You recently moved into a new studio space adjacent to the Nevica Project in Chicago.  What were your must haves when choosing a location?   Cup_GW1B_2014_lowWell, I am actually in the process of looking for a new studio space. Nevica is doing well and they need the entire space!  So, my current list of must haves: sunlight, 1st floor (or easy access, no hauling clay up 3 flights of stairs!), sink, bathroom and clean.   Safe location is actually the #1 living here in the city because you can find a lot of cheap rent places in sketchy locations.  Since I work at night mostly, I don’t want to work in a place that I have to worry about getting mugged or having the wheels stolen off my car. Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?  Are there other methods of marketing that you’re thinking about taking on? I think I have tried all of the methods you have listed.  I feel like each year things shift.  Some years, I do really well in galleries, other years I do really well at selling out of my own studio during community events, some years I have big commission projects .   I think you try everything and see what works.  Two artists have given me a few pieces of sound advice regarding selling your work: First, one full time potter told me to expect to live in a location 10 years before I really started to turn a profit. That has taught me a lot about connecting to the people in your community and the important role “place” plays.  I have definitely noticed more sales out of my studio, when I am connected to a community. Second, another prominent potter told me if a gallery hasn’t sold work in 7 months to ask for it back.  I think I used to be a lot more lenient with galleries. It might simply be that gallery isn’t the best fit for my work, so why not send it to another place where it might sell better?  You don’t want to walk into a gallery and see work you made 5 years ago still on the shelves. Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living? Plate_BWG1A_2014_lowKeep your chin up!  Being an artist is one of the most lucrative and difficult jobs out there.  Passion can only get you so far; sometimes you need to push through really tough times both financially and creatively speaking.  I always recommend recent graduates to stick together. There is nothing better than someone who understands your pain and passion to help push you through those difficult moments in life. For more info about Emily and her work, please visit her website:    

Sunshine Cobb: Potter of the Month

I am honored to announce that the Potter of the Month for February is the exceptionally radiant and remarkably gifted Sunshine Cobb!
dsc01745I first met Sunshine in the fall of 2012 during the Utilitarian Clay Symposium at Arrowmont.  Although we were both conference presenters, we were given time to visit the other artists that were presenting on the opposite shift (morning vs. afternoon).  Being especially intrigued by Sunshine’s work, I spent a fair amount of time watching her demos.  I was in awe of the speed in which she worked and the finesse she had with the material.  And, the stories…oh, the stories…the one about the parakeet had me doubled over in laughter!

Following our brief introduction at Arrowmont, I became an even bigger fan of Sunshine and her work.  Her pots are inviting and approachable on so many levels.  The depth and patina of her work is nostalgic and charming and ruminates ideas of history, necessity and daily use.  I love the part of the interview where Sunshine gives a bit of insight into her ideal glaze surface: what she strives for both visually and tactically.


How did you first get involved in ceramics?  Can you briefly describe your background and education?

IMG_6355I started in clay roughly 15 years ago.  I was finishing up my junior college courses and working as a nanny in Davis, California.  I was totally broke but found there was a small art center on the UC DAVIS campus. They offered throwing classes.  At the time I couldn’t afford to pay for the class but they offered a barter program, I could volunteer for several hours a week and take a class for no charge.  And the obsession began!  From that first throwing class I was hooked and eventually I graduated with a BA in Studio Art from CSU Sacramento and then a MFA from Utah State University.

How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  I have thought a lot about this question in dsc02762the past couple years as I have been struggling through making a career in ceramics.  I struggle with the debt I incurred but when I look back that is the only draw back.  What my education gave me is the belief in my skills and confidence in my ideas.  It made me a better artist- which was the goal!    If i had to do it over I would have taken a few more business courses and maybe a marketing class or two.  But that is something I can take now online, when I have the need.  I wasn’t ready at the time I was taking classes to be open to those ideas, I was very much caught up in the ideals of working in clay and thinking about supporting myself really didn’t make it into the picture.

Could you describe some of the most influential or career changing experiences you’ve had?

SONY DSCI would say that the most influential thing in my career have been my professors both undergrad and graduate.   Besides the obvious things like encouragement to continue or their belief in my abilities, it has been the behind the scenes action on their part that has gotten me many opportunities and propelled me forward.  They often know about an opportunity or invitation before I do!

Beyond that it has been some of the publication luck I have had like the cover of Ceramics Monthly, and being named one of their Emerging Artists.  Also being included in the Utilitarian Clay Conference had a huge impact on me being invited to workshops around the country.

Can you talk a bit about your journey including the struggles/sacrifices you made to get where you are today?

This is often an ongoing list.  I am not sure I think about sacrifices the same way as I used to.  I used to worry about not having a home and being in debt and not having a plan that goes farther than two years out.  But as I get older and the more I see how other folks live  it becomes more clear everyone struggles and sacrifices.  The belief that you can “have it all” is no longer something I strive for.  I figured out I have enough and more and less than others in different areas of my life.  The choice I make to work in clay comes at some cost to things like financial and personal stability, but there is a reward:  I choose how I spend my days, I love what I do, I am my own boss.  I have found these things are not common and I cherish how getting to spend my time working in clay enriches my life and experience as a human.

You have one of the most handsome websites I’ve seen in a long time (  Can you talk about your decision making process in constructing a website?  Would you be willing to share any tips for someone wanting to set up their own website? 

IMG_6050Content! Content! Content!  In order to build a nice website you need visual choices, so take pictures of you and your work and not just in formal settings. Part of having a nice website is having different ideas about how you want to present yourself.  The platform has changed, no longer do we have to have formal artist sites, design has become an important part of how you present yourself. Have fun and have a voice in this arena, be a trend setter!   I have had a website for about 6 years, it has been a learning curve.  They have gotten better with each incarnation, practice is the key! You are not going to have a bad ass website out of the gate, but you will have one that is accessible. Then you will know what you need images of, what kind of content you want to have, the next one will be better!   Having a website is ultimately doable, it is one of my pet peeves when I find out an artist doesn’t have a website.  How are people supposed to find you? How are you controlling how you are presented to the world?  Now a days it is at your disposal to create your own website, there are many template sites, some better that others, it is within your capacity!  I hesitate to say it is easy because I spend plenty of time cussing my computer out when I am working on my website, but it can be learned and muddled through with a great end result!  I often here the “it is too expensive” excuse, if you sell work from your site, it will pay for itself with a little marketing!

You were a recent guest on Brian R. Jones’s Jonescast.  During the discussion, there was a point where Brian asked you “where you came from?”…that it seemed you appeared out of nowhere and were getting all kinds of great publicity.  While I was listening to your conversation, I began nodding, realizing that I too was unfamiliar with your work until I attended the Bray’s 60th celebration in 2011 (where you were a summer resident at the time).  Since then, it seemed that your work/name was everywhere.  Can you talk a little more about how you were able to get your work “out there” following graduate school? 

dsc02752I have heard this a few times and always think it is funny because I was trudging along trying to figure it out.  During school I was really working hard on finding  out how to accomplish the idea of developing a body of work. Having a concept and following it through.  I didn’t apply to shows, I just didn’t think my work was ready or strong enough yet.  So when I got out of school and got my first residency it was an opportunity for me to develop another body of work.   I had a short term residency in Sonoma and then was accepted to the Summer program at the Bray.  Sometime in there I figured out a new series of work, and took good pictures of it and applied to some key opportunities, like the Ceramics monthly Emerging Artist line up. I also put together info for approaching galleries to carry my work (most have a format in which they want you to submit your work).  I really didn’t have the money to apply to juried shows, so I went with the galleries I liked and thought had good online representation and submitted work.  I just want to say I didn’t hear back from those folks in the way that I thought I would but what I found was that I started being on their radar.  From then I started getting invited to be in group shows they put on or holiday exhibitions.

When I saw your work for the first time in person, I was stunned.  The warmth and a patina of your pots are undeniably inviting.  I am intrigued by the matte surface on the exterior contrasted by the glossy interior.  Knowing that you spend countless hours sandblasting the exterior surface, can you touch on the significance of the sandblasted surface?  I’m sure people have asked “why not just use a matte glaze”?  I’m guessing that the depth of surface that is revealed from the reductive process of sandblasting is much different than an applied glaze?

dsc00850How I wish a matte glaze would do the trick!!  I have tried everything someone can think of: slip, terra sig, matte glaze .  None of it works with the image I have in my head.  There is something in the revelation of the texture of the surface and the actual feel of the surface that works in combination that does it for me.  So it impacts the type of clay that I need to use,  how I make the work and how I fire the work, how I finish the work once it has been sandblasted.  I feel I have been impeached by my early wood fire days.  All of that work had to be sanded to be used, but something in that surface always interested me.  The relationship of the visual and the tactile experience: it was often visually rough and tactilely soft.  What I strive for in this body of work is I want to be as soft as it looks.  We are accustom to the hard glaze surface and the actual softness surprises people and I hope connects with them in a way that inspires a nostalgic comfort.  I always use the favorite T shirt idea, I want my work to have the worn in feel to it, loved and used to the point it has your own personal history imbedded in its surface.

When I think of your work, I envision it on the glossy pages of Architectural Digest magazine, softening the scene of a harsh, ultra-modern living room.  I also see it being used in a vintage cottage kitchen sandwiched between a copper kettle and a well-worn farmhouse sink.  The breadth of your audience speaks volumes about the appeal of your work.  Can you talk a little bit who you envision your audience to be and how you reach out to them? 

dsc05413This for me is an ongoing problem I am trying to figure out.  I really want my work to connect to new audiences. I want more people to experience well crafted hand made ceramic objects.  Right now I am  taking some online classes in marketing to help me figure out how to do that.  What is most difficult about this part of my job is how much time it takes up.  Also it is often a significant financial investment to boot!

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I typically spend the morning working on the computer 1-2 hours answering emails of working on projects that require computer time(like this).  I set a new years resolution a few years back to  spend at least two hours a day on the computer working my my career. Be that answering emails, figuring out website stuff, working on blast newsletter , it has been invaluable and something I have continued to do.  After that is finished ( nowadays I find the time on the commuter eats up my time often closer to 4 hrs), I usually head to the studio and try to get some work done.  That can be any amount of time 6-10 hours.

What is your most valuable studio tool? 

I have a small number to tools I cant live with out.

1. banding wheel

2. cheapy cheese cutter

3. disposable surgical scalpel

4. notched wooden measuring tool

5. various metal ribs

Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?  Are there other methods of marketing that you’re thinking about taking on?

IMG_8966I have been doing  gallery, online, craft sales, and workshops as my main sources of income.  Currently my goal is to sell more work myself.  I am doing a couple craft fairs this year and working on an independent project to sell 500 mugs myself this year, it is a marketing exercises from one of my online classes.

At what point in your career did you make the decision to sell your pots for a living? Could you describe how you came to that decision?

This past year has been an exercise in trying how to make that a reality.  My goal when I came to the Bray was to try and figure out how to make a business out of myself.  As I am finishing my last year I am trying to figure out how to translate that into the actual world.  As the education field has become incredibly precarious and not a reliable field to enter and I have been fulfilling my interest in teaching by workshopping I have made the decision to try to create a business model that will sustain my life and ceramic practice.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?

cobb trasketDiversify!  Try to pick up as many skills as possible that you think might add to your ability to market yourself.  Being talented, hard working and making good work is the baseline these days.  Figure out what sets you apart and what is important to you about how your work is in the world.  Good Luck!

For more info about Sunshine and her work, visit her website:

Sarah Jaeger: Potter of the Month

As 2014 is still in its infancy, I look back at the whirlwind that was 2013.  My first kiddo turns one at the end of the week, and throughout her first year I somehow managed to interview a dozen potters that I adore and publish our dialogue on my blog.  I’m eager to continue this trend, to fill up another year with a dozen more insightful interviews…and I’ve got an exceptional line-up scheduled!

To kick off 2014, I am thrilled to feature one of my heroes…the brilliant and beautiful Sarah Jaeger!  I first met Sarah in 1999 when I took a two-week workshop with Bobby Silverman at the Archie Bray Foundation.  I was an undergraduate student at the time…and as a part of the workshop we visited local artists’ studios.  I remember the trip vividly and recall being quite starry-eyed when we toured Sarah’s charming home, studio and garden.

Sarah’s work and work ethic are inspiring.  While her forms and surfaces nod to history and tradition, they are undoubtedly fresh and timeless.  I feel lucky to have a handful of Sarah’s work, some colorfully decorated and some simply white…all of which are in regular rotation.  When using Sarah’s pots, I am reminded of an impeccable craftswoman, someone who genuinely honors the handmade.

One of my all time favorite postcards is one of Sarah’s from a few years back.  It’s a delightful display of her work in the home.  Here it is…

kitchen sink postcard

kitchen sink postcard

…enjoy the interview!

How did you first get involved in ceramics?  For reasons that remain a mystery to me, I decided to take a pottery class at a local art center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when I was a senior in college.

Would you explain your attraction to functional ceramics?  I think my strong attachment to functional pots has its roots in my childhood home, which was an 18th century farmhouse in Connecticut.  We did not have hand made pots, but we did have hand made furniture, country pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries, totally utilitarian, beloved and part of our everyday life.  With furniture as with pots, when you use something you have bodily contact with it; the tactile element is fundamental to the experience of the piece.

Sarah Jaeger glazing

Sarah Jaeger glazing

Can you briefly describe your background and education?  I had a classical liberal arts education, was an English literature major at Harvard – and then I took that pottery class.  In the second semester of senior year, totally smitten with clay and determined to get some academic credit for all the time I was spending in the pottery studio, I got approval for an independent study in Japanese tea ceremony ceramics. It was my great good fortune to work with Louise Cort (author of the book on Shigaraki, and at that time, like me, taking a beginning pottery class).  That was my introduction to ceramic history and to Leach/Hamada/Yanagi, the beginnings of the 20th century studio pottery movement in the west.  Through the readings about the connection between the tea ceremony and Zen philosophy, and the role of the tea bowl in the tea ceremony, I began to think about how much meaning a “simple pot” could contain and communicate.  Louise also took me into the storage areas of the Harvard museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where we could see (and touch!) some of those amazing historical pots, like Shino and Oribe tea bowls. What an experience for a rank beginner! Twelve years later I went back to school, to Kansas City Art Institute for my BFA, where I studied with Ken Ferguson, Victor Babu and George Timock, and where I had the fabulous Nelson-Atkins Museum right across the street.

Can you talk a bit about your journey including the struggles/sacrifices you made to get where you are today?  It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know, when I decided to be a studio potter, how long it would take me to become established – or even solvent.  It helped that I have a fairly high tolerance for risk and financial insecurity, along with pretty high levels of energy and determination, and that I didn’t mind living on very little money.

Anyone who has been to your studio has had the pleasure of touring your beautiful home, studio and garden (with its extensive tulip collection).  It really is a quiet, delightful retreat in the middle of Helena.  As soon as you step through the garden gate you seem to be transported to another world.  Being from the East Coast, can you talk about how you decided to settle in Montana and your “must haves” when you choosing a location?  The number one “must have” was that I

tulip tarda

tulip tarda

had to be able to afford it!  Helena real estate was so cheap when I bought my house in 1989, and the house was a dump, with nothing but weeds and a few tough hollyhocks in the yard.  It has been a work in progress ever since, but I knew that it was a bargain even then, and that it had the bones of what I needed for a house and studio. There was an old shack of a garage, 300 square feet, that I fixed up for my studio, and in which I worked for 16 years until I could afford to demolish it and build my new studio.  I had helped a friend build a gas kiln the year before I bought my house, and for the next 6 years I would transport glazed bisque pots 5 blocks up the hill to that kiln, until I could afford to build a kiln at my studio.

I grew up on the east coast but moved west (Denver) when I was 23 and realized I wanted to stay in the west, but my New England sensibility permeates my idea of home. I have made the very small garden area between my house and studio into an oasis in this northern desert landscape.  It’s green, densely planted, and there’s lots of shade, which allows for dappled light filtering through layers of leaves.  It’s about patterns and textures as much as color.

Jaeger glaze detail

Jaeger glaze detail

I have always admired how your surfaces echo the pace of your decoration process.  They are lively, active, rhythmic and meditative.  How did you arrive at this process and where do you gather inspiration?  My decoration process has evolved slowly.  I have always loved pattern, which is about visual rhythm.  My garden (see description above) is a source of inspiration, for the sense of light filtering through layers of color and the feeling of repetition and variation more than the likenesses of particular plants.  Much of the way I use the materials has evolved out of the process itself, the physical activity of painting on pots over many years.

Jaeger tea set

Jaeger tea set

As a former resident of the Archie Bray Foundation, I often romanticize about my time in Helena and the number of people the Bray continues to impact.  I always felt like I was walking in the footsteps of giants and I still love hearing stories that contribute to the history of the Bray.  Can you talk a little bit about your residency at the Archie Bray Foundation and how it has impacted your career?  Like you, I felt connected and in awe of the ceramic giants who preceded me at the Bray.  I also love that the Bray was a brickyard, that connection to industrial ceramics.  So much about being a potter is just plain hard work, like working in a brickyard.  There were only 5 long term residents when I came to the Bray, and the studios were small and funky, nothing like the palatial studios they have now.  The people I worked next to were what made it an amazing experience: Liz Quackenbush and Akio Takamori were residents, and Kurt Weiser was the director.  So much energy and so many ideas flying around, such a rich environment for making work and making it get better.

Living as an artist in a remote location can be isolating.  How do you keep inspired and engaged with the ceramics community at large (apart from the local Bray community)?  It is the Bray community that anchors my connection to the larger ceramics community – residents, visiting artists, slide talks, exhibitions; I don’t know that I would have chosen to live in Helena without that.  Although, to be contrarian, a person can be isolated in a city, too, and sometimes isolation is what we need to focus on our own work.  I read some of the ceramics magazines, especially Studio Potter, and increasingly depend on the internet.  But 2-D representations of 3-D objects, whether on the page or the screen, only tell you so much.  So whenever I travel I look for the clay galleries and museums, and I do go to NCECA fairly often.

Jaeger tureen

Jaeger tureen

How do you come up with new ideas?  Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?  At times I think that I’ve only had a couple of ideas in my life, and I’ve spent all my years working in clay just trying to figure out how to express those ideas.  It’s the nagging feeling of never quite succeeding that keeps me going back into the studio with questions in my head.  I don’t know what I’d do if I felt like I had completely answered the questions.

vases before glazing

vases before glazing

But there are places I look for ideas and inspiration.  Ceramic history: I have stolen so many ideas from Tang and Song Dynasty pots, and 10th century Persian pots.  Also I look at textiles, for pattern and how it can wrap around a body; and to the garden and plant life.  Sometimes when I feel stuck, or curious, I give myself an exercise, like changing one element of a form (i.e. “what if I move the volume lower?”).  Sometimes that will trigger a succession of changes that evolves into a new form.

What does a typical workday look like for you?  My ideal typical workday allows me lots of time in the studio. I work best when I have fairly large blocks of time, and since I don’t have another job, I have that luxury of time.  I start every day with some form of exercise, either at the gym or a hike with the dogs, then spend some time on the administrative stuff, email and correspondence, and then hopefully will still have a pretty full day in the studio.  I’m not a night person.  I make a lot of pots, but I don’t work really fast.  Glazing especially takes me a lot of time, but I have found that there’s no way to make the pots I want to make without devoting a lot of time to them.

SJaeger at the wheel

Sarah at the wheel

What is your most valuable studio tool?  It would have to be my wheel.  I could probably find substitutes for any of my other tools, but the essential qualities of my pots derive from their origins on the potters wheel.

You have an established gallery connected to your studio where visitors can come purchase your work anytime.  What percentage of your income comes from these sales?  How did you develop your audience?  How do you currently advertise your studio sales?  About 2/3 of my income from selling pots (separate from any income from teaching workshops) comes from sales directly out of my studio. They have grown slowly over time, and I never imagined this would be the case when I started out.  Being near the Bray helps for 2 reasons.  First, many people who come to the Bray for workshops or shows also come to my studio.  Also, I think the presence of the Bray in Helena has created an unusual appreciation and market for pots in this community.  I have been in my studio/house for 24 years and have developed a loyal local customer base. I have 3 studio sale weekends per year in Helena, one in the spring and two in December, for which I mail postcards, send email invitations, and have a notice in the art section of the Helena newspaper.

At what point in your career did you make the decision to sell your pots for a living?  I came of age, and began making pots, in the early 1970’s, and I suppose I am a product of that era.  From my beginning with clay I wanted to make functional pots.  I believed strongly in the importance of handmade functional objects in people’s lives, and I was convinced that if I made good pots I’d be able to sell them. It was a seat-of-the-pants approach.  I had no concept of a career path such as exists in our field today.  During the ‘70’s I was a self-taught potter with a BA in English, working day jobs and making pots on the side at a potters guild in Denver.  I went to Kansas City Art Institute for my BFA from 1983-85 and from there to the Archie Bray.  During all those years I had part time jobs to make ends meet.  It was not until September of 1990 that I was able to make pots full time and support myself entirely, however frugally, by selling my work.

Jaeger striped bowls

Jaeger striped bowls

Aside from studio sales, what other venues (such as craft fairs, group holiday sales, etc) have you used to successfully market your work in your community?  I hardly ever did craft fairs.  I hated them and I never made much money at them.  In Helena I have some pots in the sales shop at the Holter Museum, a more public venue than my studio.  My primary local marketing tool is probably word of mouth.  I donate a lot of pots each year to those ubiquitous silent auctions for organizations I support, from the Humane Society to environmental groups.  Those donations give my work very good visibility in my community and are in my opinion good advertising, and they are a way for me to support these causes when I can’t write the big check.

Jaeger pitcher

Jaeger pitcher

How have your marketing strategies evolved over time?  How do you foresee them evolving in the future?  The internet did not exist when I started out, and now it’s huge.  This past year I hired a good designer and completely revamped my website, my biggest marketing expense ever but well worth it.  So far I have resisted social media (I’m not on Facebook or Instagram) because I resent having to spend too much time in front of a screen and, so far, I feel like I can get away with that.  Because I already have an established presence in the field I (maybe) have that luxury.  People earlier in their careers are in a totally different situation.

Jaeger tulip vases

Jaeger tulip vases

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?  I have gone into some detail about my own history largely to communicate how long it took me to get to where I could make a living from pots.  Patience and tenacity are important.  Low overhead is really important; it means you don’t have to sell so much work to survive.  Low overhead pertains to real estate costs and also studio amenities.  It’s great to have a beautiful studio and state of the art kilns, but beautiful ceramics have been made for millennia without them.


For more info about Sarah and her work, please visit her website: 

Deborah Schwartzkopf: Potter of the Month

I wanted to close out 2013 in style, and what better way than to feature my dear friend: the lovely and talented Deborah Schwartzkopf!

deb incentiveDeborah and I have shared many memories together.  As fellow undergraduate students at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, we simultaneously fell in love with clay and chose to follow a career path in ceramics.  Since then, we both went off to post-bacc programs, then graduate school, then we were lucky enough to overlap for a year at the Archie Bray Foundation!  I always cherish the time I get to spend with Deb and feel fortunate to have such a caring friend.  Plus…when we do catch up, I get to hear about her crazy adventures as she travels the world sharing her work with others.

Place SEtting BrownHer work is, and has always been exceptional.  Her forms showcase strength and innovation and her surfaces are both dramatic and poetic.  Her pots speak volumes…about history, design, utility, presentation, ergonomics…the list goes on.  Whether you know Deb or not, this interview will give you a glimpse of the person behind the pottery.  The dialogue is thorough and thoughtful, honest and informative…enjoy!

How did you first get involved in ceramics?  Can you briefly describe your background and education?  

3Kriss Bliss

Kris Bliss


Peter Brondz, Lisa and Deb

I have broad interests outside of ceramics- gardening, Banjo, handicrafts of all kinds, spending time outdoors cycling or hiking, foraging wild plants and mushrooms, baking bread and cooking, and now house projects galore.  My broad interests outside the arts initially made it a challenge to choose a direction in school or otherwise. In undergrad, I remember wanting a different major every week, from botany to philosophy from ceramics to literature. Nearly everything interested me.  In high school I took a ceramics class at a community college in Seattle through a running start program.  I enjoyed it among many other course subjects.  When I moved to Alaska a few years later I took it again as an undergraduate at the University of Alaska: Anchorage. At this point in my life I was looking to redefine myself.  I really started to dedicate to being a potter when I found an amazing community in my classmates, instructors, and mentors. I had a fantastic undergrad experience.  I was encouraged to visit local potters by instructors and I did.  Jen Allen (blog extraordinaire) helped me get my first job working with Anchorage, with local potter Kris Bliss.  I owe much to both of them for caring about me and for teaching me everything from loading kilns to packing and shipping.  I later worked for another local potter, Peter Brondz.  Assisting and learning from these two potters taught me to take my academic education and apply it.


Steve Godfrey

Once I figured out that I wanted to work in clay, I did it as much as possible through school, mentorships, jobs, and workshops.  My education at UAA was an amazingly strong starting place. I worked mainly with Steve Godfrey and Robert Banker.  I built up my throwing skills in Steve’s class. He was a demanding, supportive instructor.  Steve helped me build me first kiln on his own time (which involved cutting bricks in Alaska’s winter).  Our classroom was his studio, so we also got the benefit of watching him work on his own forms and deadlines. Robert Banker taught me how to hand build pots- to translate ideas from drawings and templates into clay.  He would read to us during class.  He built tables for the studio, showed us how to take images, and gently guided. These two gave me a foundation!   When visiting artists came to Alaska, I tried my best to get in the workshop…  Jeff Oestreick, Malcom Davis, Linda Christianson, Mary Barringer, Frank Boyden, Ayumi Horie, Mikey Walsh, Josh DeWeese, Doug Jeck… From all of these voices and ways of seeing and making I found a path to follow as my own.

How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics? 


Robert Banker

At UAA I really learned techniques for making pottery.  My undergrad experience it tied to working for local potters.  They were simultaneous.  The techniques I learned come from both places. In other words I learned how to make.  As a special student at SDSU I learned how to work with ceramic materials and develop my surface.  In grad school, at Penn State, there the focus was on why I made pottery and communicating my ideas through my work.

I took to heart the critical feedback I received and practiced in school.  I work well in a structured environment.  The specific assignments, clear deadlines, and critiques of the school environment kept me working harder than I would have on my own, gave me diverse feedback and a growing, long term network of friendships that still impacts my life.

Deb at UAA

UAA studio

Working in school settings allowed me to experiment with out penalty.  Trying out new ideas often involves waste…  Forms that do not work out because they have missed the mark or are full of cracks.  A round of doing test tiles often amounts to just one or two that really sing.  At school, it was expected that ideas would be worked through, that failure would happen. One of the biggest blessings working in school gave me was a buffer from having to earn a living from my work.  It allowed me to play and discover.  Growth and understanding was the focus.  I spent time figuring out and speaking about why I made what I made, and then refined these ideas and forms. I made a lot of awkward work and filled trash barrels with unwanted glaze test tiles.

Liquor CupsIn every school experience my instructors were role models who I still look up to.  Each of these people deeply influenced me and came into my journey at seemingly just the right time.  They were all so generous with their energy and thoughts. Each of them was a sounding board for me.  They attentively pointed me toward a next step, suggested ideas to consider, introduced artist I ought to know about, pointed me toward examples in the field, proposed galleries I should inquire with, and after graduating have been encouraging. Maybe it seems obvious, but a big thing I learned throughout school is that specific questions, got more specific answers. And you have to look and ask for what you need.

You attended a post-bac program at San Diego State University with Richard Burkett.  How did that year help your career path?

2Test Tiles When I graduated from UAA, I felt that the area I needed most growth in was surface or glaze chemistry. I had not moved on from using shop glazes.  I chose to work with Richard Burkett who is a glaze/ ceramic materials wizard.  I tested glazes and materials all semester in his class and received great feedback from he and Joanne Hayakawa, who was also teaching at SDSU. I focused on my hand building also.  I got better at making complicated templates, and practiced the new palette I was building on these new forms.  Looking back, this was the first place I explained my work to people who knew little about my work or me. Nothing was assumed. Every choice was in question.  The practice of verbalizing my work to people who did not know me, helped prepare me for grad school. I also made more friends there and expanded my thoughts about what people made in clay and got to know another clay community.

sd cups

SDSU research

You’ve attended numerous residency programs and presented at countless conferences/workshops throughout your career.  Could you describe some of the most influential or career changing experiences you’ve had?

Pottery Northwest

Pottery Northwest

Wally Bivins asked me to teach my first workshop at Pottery Northwest in Seattle.  It was so amazing to have someone I did not really know be so supportive and give me a chance.  For one of the first times I felt like someone thought I had something to contribute.  I was so nervous and pleased. I did my best, but was just learning to how to explain and make at the same time.  Over the years teaching workshops has elucidated my decisions- what choices I make and why I make them. Teaching has helped me see my work from the outside and to bring ephemeral thoughts into words.  This has led to a fluency that helps me work through new forms or ideas more thoroughly.



I think moving back to Seattle and purchasing a home with studio space is one of the most career changing experiences I have had.  Setting up my own studio has been so totally different than any residency.  I have become more thankful than ever for all time I have spent at each studio over the years.  With every location I learned an important key to getting this all going on my own.  Yet, when it actually came setting up my own studio, it was still totally overwhelming and a huge amount of work.  The changes are just starting in my career.  We can now offer lessons, seminars, studio space, or mentorship.  Having a space that truly works for what I need is a huge gift.  It is an overwhelming step.  One I have wanted for some time.  I am curious and excited to see what comes of it.

Can you talk a bit about your journey including the struggles/sacrifices you made to get where you are today?

One of the biggest sacrifices I made was not being near my family. This separation helped me grow in ways that I wanted.  However, I did miss important holidays. Also, when my grandmother was very ill with cancer I could not visit as much.  I did not have the same connection to her in her passing that the rest of my family did. Now that I live close I can feel how the consistency of in being home regularly for lunch outings and simple walks feels very different than yearly visits for major holidays. I keep in touch with many people who I have crossed paths with.  They are one of the greatest gifts of traveling and working in a multitude of communities. On the flip side it is difficult even now having my close friends all over rather than in my neighborhood or city or even state where we may share daily experience or confide in each other face to face. I feel that I have learned much from moving around, being able to be flexible to the situation, materials, or facilities.  This is a gift of experience.  But I think it is equally important to be able to stay and to ground myself in my local community, to give back and to keep lasting relationships.

You recently purchased a home in Seattle and have been transforming the garage into your studio.  How did you arrive at the decision to settle and build a studio?  What were your must-haves when building your studio and choosing a location? 



The 1947 rambler I bought has a 1200 sq. ft. daylight basement which is acting as my studio and there is also a large separate workshop (800 sq ft. with 12 foot ceilings) that is acting as, my partner, George’s studio and where we will eventually also rent studio space and have space for our assistants to have their own work area. We also just built a kiln shed (roughly 400 sq.ft. footprint) for a gas kiln and three electrics…  We are excited to grow into this space.

Place SettingIt is hard to have a long list of must haves and a small budget.  Generally the more you need the more expensive it can be.  My ideal studio for myself was patterned after the set-up a mentor of mine, Peter Brondz, has.  His facility in Alaska demonstrated how a studio potter made use of space for making, storing materials/ bricks/ wood, glazing space, gallery, kilns and work-flow.  Also the relationship of the house to the studio, the importance of parking space, and space for an assistant. Working at residencies gave me great ideas in certain areas, but these were on a grander scale than myself as an individual could begin with. So these were qualities were high on the list.


Space– to develop a mentorship program | room for more than just myself and George to work | garden space | space for a show room | space for hosting workshops | at least one extra room in the house.

Location– be in an area where I could have kilns separate from the house | be as close as possible to the city center and within budget | be close to the airport | close to family | close to community centers where George teaches

Energy–  be able to hook up electric and gas kilns

Traveling to residencies is exciting, a great way to learn and have a studio with out the burden of setting it all up yourself.  I totally enjoyed bouncing around the country, seeing new places, meeting people, and making work. Moving around costs money, changing studio set-ups and adjusting takes time (which if you are earning a living off your work, time is money), materials change in different locations, water changes, clay can change…  All of this makes for adjustments.  I grew tired of these small and sometimes large changes equaling setbacks in my ability to make work and to move through ideas.  I got good at transitioning quickly, but it still took a lot of energy to figure out a new studio flow, a new city, and new home and roommates.  For sometime I wanted to return to Seattle.  So after working at Mudflat I decided to move back.  I got a residency at PNW and that was an amazing springboard into the community there.

It felt strange to move home.  Everything was familiar and different at the same time.  I did not know the clay community here before I moved.  It has been a privilege to do this now and I am excited to build our presence here in the dazzling Pacific Northwest.

Saving money for a mortgage was one of the hardest things I have done.  I saved 10% of the cost over several years.  My mentor Peter and his wife, Lisa, lent me the other 10%, so that I could put down 20% to get the monthly payment more reasonable and avoid Private Mortgage Insurance. This was a huge!  My mom lent me money to start getting the studio usable and to augment the Kickstarter which we also ran to get the kiln pad electrified, poured, connected and built.

It is still all so new!  We are still figuring out the best way to use the space and to make the space usable!  It is totally exciting and a huge step forward for my career!

You share your studio with your partner and fellow ceramic artist, George Rodriguez.  How are you able to share space, studio chores and balance work and home life?


George Rodriguez



It can be a lot of time with one person. I am lucky to have George as a partner. He is kind and talented.  He is honest and willing to have adventures.  Our strengths compliment and hold each other up in spite of our weaknesses.  When we shared a space in our previous rented house, it was tiny and much harder for both of us to have the space/ resources we needed. Let’s just say there were some serious sources of contention.  With the new home we have separate large spaces with enough room to have assistants’ spaces and even rent studio space eventually.  There is so much to get done to make the space usable to its full potential.  Each of us has different priorities for getting chores or projects done.  This is difficult at times.  However I have learned a lot from having his opposite opinion presented to me at each turn.  We make better decisions with these different points of view. Most of all we need each other to make the dream happen.  We are still figuring out how to best apply our needs and ways of working to this growth in our resources.  It is a blessing and a lot more to manage.

G w: Mariachi

George with Mariachi

We both work almost all the time at either our artwork or projects at the studio/house. But we have fun and love to our new space and the potential we are reigning in.  “Make hay while the sun shines,” is a saying I grew up with.  So here we are, trying to make the best of what we have.  I feel grateful to work toward my dreams.

Last spring, you and George launched a Kickstarter campaign that successfully raised enough funds to build a kiln shed for your kilns.  Can you talk a little bit about the process of setting up a campaign and the benefits/drawbacks. Here is a link to their project


Kickstarter Campaign is a fantastic platform to raise money for creative endeavors.   On their website they say about 50% of the projects are funded.  There were many elements to draw together to present such a large project…  The overall idea is that $$$ are needed for a creative project.  Supporters pledge money and then get an incentive based on their pledge. The Kickstarter project has an allotted time is must reach its goal within.

Initially we had to have a clear idea…  This included plans for a shed, concrete, electrical and a gas line, pricing out materials and services to complete the project, permits for our area, hiring out elements of the project- All of this took a lot of time.

We did a lot of research by looking at projects and videos of successfully funded kickstarter projects.  I tried to thoroughly present the material as succinctly as possible.  We tried to make it both professional and fun.  There were many drafts for the text, which had to explain our idea, who we were, what effect the project would have, why we needed it and what our work was about.  I tried to use supporting images to further impress our ideas on our audience.  The benefit is you can present nearly any idea however you want.  The drawback is that it is hard to know when enough is enough.

Kiln shed project copyThe campaign relied on our mailing list or social connections.  Between George and I we have quite a large mailing list and a very strong local presence here in Seattle.  Our community has seen us follow through with our work and teaching over the years. I think that your supporters have to believe that you will actually finish what you commit to and that their financial support is in good hands.

George made the short movie.  In this we tried to convey our ideas and wishes. It was strongly suggested by the Kickstarter Team to have this element.

The drawbacks- it is not totally clear how to deal with the money tax wise.  That is another research project for the spring.  I would recommend making the incentives before the project is launched, or it is quite difficult to get everything done. It is hard to know what to offer for incentives.  I think research with other campaigns and responding to the pledges made during your is the best course.

It seems as though you are always on the road giving workshops and lectures across the globe.  How do you balance your time in the studio with your time traveling?

04pitcher_595Well I do work a lot.  I have become comfortable teaching workshops and instead of being nervous all the time I can think about my work and even brainstorm through demoing.  So in a way I can do a little research and development while teaching.  Also I have become quite interested in the way that people learn.  I enjoy working with individuals of all sorts to help them accomplish their own goals with their work and their creative process.  So teaching balances my studio time really well.  It is a rest and work at the same time.  I love to travel, especially when I do not have to take my whole studio with me! So there is not a lot of balance, just a lot of both.

How do you come up with new ideas?  Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?

New forms come about in many ways.  Within every days’ journey I sift through small visual that build into ideas over time.  Sometimes do drawings.  I sometimes see an old form differently because of the setting or the light.  The process gradually changes my work due to my nature to want to be efficient and the other part of my nature that wants to complicate everything. A big practice that always keeps me going, is just to work a lot. Moving large amounts of clay keep the ideas flowing. I get ideas from using pottery at meals.  I get ideas from cooking and watching others cook.

Juicer_595There are two strong parts of me that seem to be most active in pushing my decisions forward.  The part that wants everything to be efficient and the part the wants everything to be complicated.

The efficient part sees the quicker path, the leftover pieces as desirable, the perfect tool/ mold for a certain job, the augmentation that will make the course of action easier. The practical part simplifies multi-step processes and finds clarity.

The complicating part embellishes, has fun with shape, creates lines that inspire, wants to do crazy amounts of glaze testing, wants to bring every part of life into my work.  The complicating part turns a simple angle in to a kaleidoscope.  It plays.

02Dessert_595So these ways of seeing or thinking work together back and forth until and ideas exists and is refined.  My mom wanted a dish to serve asparagus in.  In my head that mean oval.  I needed more simple forms at that time.  So I designed an oval dish with in the processes that I enjoyed…  Hand built/ molded foot and thrown and altered wall/rim.  Over time this shape as evolved into a large more complicated shape that includes tea drop shaped form with a handle at one end and sets of the two together.  I have also used the same mold to create a segmented tray in a kaleidoscoping pattern. Eventually the simple form gets complicated and I start other simple forms that eventually evolve… I enjoy the back and forth and puzzeling of shapes.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I get up around 7-8am.  I put on hot water for coffee/tea and check on the house-plants.  I keep both a short and long term list that I consult toward the beginning of the day. They help me stay on track and somewhat realistic about what can be accomplished with the time I have.  Once or twice a week I get to do Bikram Yoga first thing in the morning.  Often I start the day off working on the unfinished projects from the day before.  Then I have coffee and read (right now it is my Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog ). Then check emails. The majority of the late morning and afternoon I work on studio projects and usually work till I am hungry. Lunch is small and quick.  When I take intermittent breaks, I weed the garden, prune trees, read, rake leaves, practice banjo, go for walks, surf the web, get some bread rising, or some other interest. Then I work further on more projects till 2pm or so.  Then have lunch.  Then work till 7 or so and have dinner. Possibly work after dinner depending on deadlines.

I work almost everyday on what I think of as everything it takes to make pottery for a living.  This includes managing gallery relationships/ workshops/ sales/ writing articles/ making work.  I also think of my work to include packing and shipping, taking photos, managing a website, social media, making promotional materials.  It is a good time!

What is your most valuable studio tool?  Why?

5ToolsAs far as a tool from the toolbox, my favorite tool it my little scoring tool.  It has the same handle as a needle tool and about ten small straight metal wires that act as tines.  I can gently and exactingly score small areas.  This makes for less clean up and less cracking (because it is thorough scoring). It also works well for fishing out small, fallen pieces of clay from the interior of a cup, teapot, or vase form as I am working. I would have a difficult time making my work without it.

I have always admired your ability to connect to your audience using social media.  What kind of advice could you give about marketing on the Internet?

Initially, I was very resistant to using social media.  A good friend, Andrea Marquis and my sister, Joanna Schwartzkopf, set up my first MySpace account against my wishes for a birthday present.  I eventually got used to MySpace and then found others I liked more.  Michael Kline helped me set up my Twitter Account just a short while ago.  I participated in Hidenseeka2Hide’N’Seeka on instagram by Adam Field!  Since then, I try to use whatever avenue I can find to put my work in front of others.  I think that these social media platforms can be a huge distraction and strangely detached from the way I think. However, they are inexpensive and have the capability to reach huge numbers of people.

When I post information I try to have good images and to be as succinct as possible.  On Google Analytics I can see the connection between posts on FB and visits to my site.  I am still learning how to best use these tools, but noticing these correspondences helps direct my decisions.

As much as I think these avenues are helpful, I still love to make postcards, cards, and posters.  I enjoy these longer lasting ways of promotion along with the more digital ones.

Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?  Are there other methods of marketing that you’re thinking about taking on? 

DVD imageI would not say that selling pottery is ever lucrative… It feels like a tremendous amount of work for the yield.

I sell most of my work through galleries.  I am grateful for the galleries that professionally promote work through great publications, a strong web presence and by highlighting their artists yearly.  Galleries have helped me get my work into many communities.  Solo shows I have had through galleries give me helpful deadlines that prompt me to develop new work. Here is a link to the list I work with…

Second in line are studio sales that have been hosted by groups-

-Art of the Pot in Austin, TX (

-Art School at Old Church in Demarest, NJ (

-Dallas Pottery Invitational, TX (

1ExhibitionsThese are especially fun.  Meeting other artists, getting to see others’ work, traveling, and also interacting with those who purchase the pottery are all highpoints of this way of selling for me.  For the first time I am hosting a studio tour/ sale this December for the first time.  This is a part of a city wide tour called Seattle Sampling.  We invited five artist friends from the area to participate.  We are excited to see how this all works out.  I am hoping to start a sale in the spring as well.

Occasionally I get commissions through emails or word of mouth.  I really enjoy working with individuals on projects.  I have so many glaze colors. This that usually allows the buyer to fine a color scheme with in my palette.  I send images of past work or meet in person, we talk about how the piece will fit into their home or how it will be used.  It is a good feeling to get to know the collector and see where my work is going.

Now that I have a studio/home set up of my own I have space to keep finished inventory.  This has led to another option I am pursuing.  Web Sales.  I recently had an ecommerce site designed and I am figuring out how to manage this as well.

logo-ocOne other avenue that is new is Objective Clay.  This is group of potters working as a collective.  We promote each other, have web sales, and we are trying to plan events and educational opportunities with in our community using the skills and information of the group. It is pretty exciting to see where this will go!

Here is our group!  Jennifer Allen, Nick Bivins, Blair Clemo, Sunshine Cobb, Bryan Hopkins, Brian Jones, Lindsay Oesterritter, Kip O’Krongly, Doug Peltzman, Monica Ripley, Deb Schwartzkopf, Shawn Spangler, Emily Schroeder Willis, gwendolyn yoppolo. Presenters at the Utilitarian Clay Symposium in 2012 at Arromont School of Arts and Crafts. (

At what point in your career did you make the decision to sell your pots for a living? Could you describe how you came to that decision?

DebLogo_Cup-name-dotsI feel like the combination of a great undergrad program at UAA and working for potters, Kris Bliss and Peter Brondz sparked my interest. I had learned skills and practiced.  I saw Kris and Peter living out the life I wanted.  I was particularly drawn to the studio set up Peter has.  Timber framed studio surrounded by woods, lots of kilns- gas, wood, and salt kiln, chickens, great family, lovely neighbors- It all seemed to beautiful to be true. And at the same time it was right in front of me and quite attainable.  I came from a very practical family but was still encouraged to dream.  I set my sights on having a studio, home and life like Peter’s and just tried to make each step bring me closer to that somehow.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?

Work with as many instructors/ and mentors as you can.  Spend as much time in the studio as you can moving material and ideas around.  Build friendships. Decide your steps, each one is important.  Take classes and have interests outside the studio that expand your world.

I enjoy Jack Troy’s writing.  Especially this one!

From : Calling the Planet Home

by Jack Troy


I have picked up, moved, shaped,
and lightened myself of many tons of clay,
and those tons lifted, moved, and shaped me,
delivering me to this living-space
I wake and move about in,
space perhaps equal to that I have opened and enclosed in plate, cup, bowl, jug, jar.
I am thankful no one ever
led me to the pit I’d help to make in the earth,
or showed me all the clay at once.
I’m grateful no one ever said, “There.
That heap’s about a hundred fifty tons.
Go make yourself a life.
And oh, yes, here’s a drum of ink.
See what you can do with that.”
I wouldn’t have known where to begin.

For more information about Deborah and her work, please visit her website: