Joseph Pintz: Potter of the Month

The 2015 Potter of the Month series kicks off with a potter whose pots pepper my kitchen cupboards: Joseph Pintz.  Joe and I met at the O_tr_7iaQw4UaZneZSz5tbzIAjiwjy3a2q-yR9bX2B4Archie Bray Foundation in 2006 and became fast friends.  I’ve always admired Joe’s work and his work ethic.  His pots are timeless.  He pairs no-nonsense forms with rich patinas that speak of history and use.  What results are handsome, thoughtful, generous pieces that beg to be used.


nesting bowls, earthenware, 5.25 x 12 x 12,” 2013

In the interview, Joe discusses how his background in anthropology helped shape his perspective of what it means to be a potter, how he balances a full-time teaching job with an active studio practice and where he looks for inspiration for new forms.  Enjoy!

How did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education?  I took my first ceramics class at a local community art center while I was studying anthropology at Northwestern University. At first, ceramics was just a hobby but my interest continued to grow over the years. I decided to go back to school to learn more and was a post-bacc at Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville. At the same time, I was lucky enough to work with Dan Anderson as his studio assistant. I went on to earn my MFA at the University of Nebraska, while working with Gail Kendall, Pete Pinnell and Eddie Dominguez.


breadpan, earthenware, 18 x 2.5 x 12,” 2010

How does your background in anthropology influence the type of work you make (forms/surfaces/etc)?  I think my background in anthropology not only influences my work but how I look at the world around me.  Through my study of anthropology, I learned how material culture functions within a society.  I find it fascinating that much of what is known about early cultures comes purely from the archaeological record.  Even a humble shard of ceramics can reveal a wealth of information about traditions, values, and beliefs.


dinnertable, earthenware & wood, 35 x 78 x 32,” 2014

For thousands of years, the role of art was to communicate or comment on culture.  Art was not separate from daily life; it was a central part of it. The work of anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake focuses on this link between art and culture. She redefined art within a cultural context as ‘making special’; art takes everyday experience and elevates it out of the mundane.  As a potter, I strive to achieve this age-old goal in my own work.


pair of chevron boxes, earthenware, 6.75 x 11.25 x 7.25,” 2013

How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate/graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  Since I did not study art in undergrad, I had a lot of catching up to do while I was a post-bacc as well as in grad school. I worked hard and tried to learn as much from my mentors and from my fellow grads as I could. I was lucky enough to be able to teach several ceramics classes in grad school and that helped me figure out that I wanted to go on to teach at the college level.


hayrake, flat hoe, serrated hoe, rake & gardening tool rack, earthenware & wood, 11 x 60 x 64,” 2013

While your tableware is in kitchens across the country, you also make sculptural objects. Can you talk about the two seemingly disparate bodies of work and what makes them cohesive?  I see my functional and sculptural work as different sides of the same coin. Both types of work address the idea of utility but in different ways. While we as potters are used to thinking of pots as functional, we can often overlook many of the other objects that serve as tools within the domestic realm. My series of life-sized ceramic sculptures based on kitchen utensils and gardening implements explore how these tools fulfill our physical and emotional needs.


Pulper, earthenware, 7 x 18 x4”

How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?  I often find inspiration at the antique store or in obsolete objects that are made out of all different kinds of materials, from metal to wood to stone. Functional objects have a strong association with the hand and their worn surfaces tell a story of use and labor.

When working up to a new vessel form, I often start out by making a solid version and then hollow it out. I find that working reductively frees me up, allowing me to find the form more intuitively. If I find that I need to make a series of the same pots, I often make a bisque mold to help speed up the rest of the pieces.

You have spent countless hours researching layered combinations of terra sig colors, glaze colors and other patinas. Can you talk a little about your palette and why you gravitate to the colors/surfaces you do?  In grad school, I was fortunate to take a iH79piXbI5AEgj9-A6yx6aXosKteRu9-4rv21UoIa98glaze chemistry class with Pete Pinnell. I did a lot of testing of sigs and glazes and tried to come up with a surface that would have the same richness and depth as layers of old weathered paint.

eH2RC8oT8i6OZBfeHEVMX3kumDgs-lTz7fXM0mLWWbkFor my functional pots, I primarily use a white crackle slip and a pastel glaze that I developed in that class. I often use colored sigs with patinas and oxide washes on the more sculptural pieces (or the exteriors of functional pieces such as boxes).


double dish, small dishes, bowl & cup, earthenware, double dish: 1.25 x 7.5 x 6.75,” 2013

Do you have a favorite form to make? If so, why?  I seem to make quite a lot of bowls and shallow dishes. As someone who loves to cook, I suppose that I like the options that these pots present for serving different types of food.

Do you have a favorite studio tool that you just can’t live without?  A4HsjRMt23HHTvF8H85AIkz3ODVCoWVrALL2L8SGEKAI am sort of a hoarder when it comes to tools (as the two huge drawers full of them in my studio would attest to). But, I regularly use only a handful of basic commercially made tools when I am hand-building my work.



The one tool that I make myself is a wooden mallet that I use to pound out my slabs. I cover the surface of the mallet with canvas so it is less likely to stick to the wet clay.

Aside from an active career as a potter, you also teach full time and have since 2007. I have rarely seen someone balance both as well as you. What’s your secret(s)?  I wish I knew what the secret was to finding that balance! After my time at the Bray, I was lucky to get my first teaching position alongside John Balistreri at Bowling Green State University. After four productive years there, I secured a tenure track job at the University of Missouri.  Academia is challenging because it puts a high value on what you do in the classroom as well as your creative research.

Although I typically teach only two days per week, there’s always something more that needs doing on my school to-do list, from repairing studio equipment, to ordering supplies or serving on departmental committees. Also, the fact that I have my working studio at school right off the classroom makes it challenging at times to switch gears between my roles as teacher and artist. But, I enjoy working along side my students and I think it helps them to see firsthand how much effort it takes to be a working artist.


mason jars, earthenware & wood, 55 x 62 x 5.5,” 2014

So, I have learned to be flexible and try to creatively fit in my making around the demands of the classroom. My workflow can fluctuate widely from week to week during the academic school year, but summer vacation offers the space and uninterrupted time to work on either larger sculptural pieces or to make a large batch of pots. I have learned that it is important for my own mental health that I make it a point to get some making time in on a regular basis.

You’ve spent time at residency programs across the country, most recently in Roswell, New Mexico. Can you talk about what your time as an artist-in- residence has meant for you and your work?  In 2006-2007, I was a year-long resident at the Bray right after finishing up graduate school. That year was very formative time for me; the residency gave me the time and support to focus on producing a solid body of work. I also was able to put in a lot of time trying to get my work out into the world to make connections with galleries.

MpwxqAshEMiXLJYoack8gbrmwG-wSZFeAWLjxgAviJILast year, I was lucky enough to able to do a year-long residency at the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program. After six years of teaching full-time, the gift of the uninterrupted time to be able to devote myself completely to my work was a true blessing. I am very grateful for this opportunity and to the University of Missouri for supporting my research leave.


Kristen Martincic, double ladder pool, three-plate etching w/ aquatint on mitsumata, 14.75×18.5″, 2012

Your partner is also an exceptionally talented artist (probably best known as a printmaker?). You two have collaborated on work in the past. I am curious how you two feed off each other’s creative processes?  I was lucky enough to meet my wife Kristen Martincic while in grad school. I am grateful to have a partner who understands and supports the challenges of being an artist. We both put in long hours in the studio and often help each other troubleshoot problems. Kristen has a solid background in ceramics and we have collaborated on several ceramic pieces in the past. We are planning on a body of work that combines her interest in swimming pools with my focus on vessels for an upcoming two-person show at Turman Larison Contemporary in early 2016.  Here’s a link to find out more about Kristen and her work :


pair of pitchers, earthenware, 9.75 x 8.25 x 4.5″ (each), 2013

You recently redesigned your website. Can you talk about what prompted the change and why you selected the hosting site you did? Can you offer any advice to someone wanting to build/design their own website?  About a year ago, I moved my site to a customizable website template through Their designs are simple, clean and easy to navigate. I had recently started having my work photographed on a white backdrop and that prompted me to redesign the layout of my website.

When it comes to building your own site, I would say it is important to look at a lot of artist sites to get an idea of what you like and what you don’t like. There is no right or wrong but it is important that you have a clear idea about how you want to present yourself and do so in the most professional way possible. Be sure to get some constructive feedback from people you trust before your site goes live.

Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/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?  Since quite a bit of my time is taken up by teaching, I am SqYW5G2gfZQD6gxy9UmOCyY5-viCihqpq00v_Ca90Z4happy to let the galleries I work with take care of the marketing. I have my work in about a dozen retail galleries around the country. Sales can vary a lot from place to place but there are several galleries that have really supported me and my work over the years: Schaller Gallery (St. Joseph, MI), Turman Larison Contemporary (Helena, MT), The Museum of Contemporary Craft (Portland, OR), and Penland Gallery (Penland, NC)

Learning how to market your work takes time and often involves learning some tough lessons through trial and error. First, you have to decide what road (or roads) you want to go down. While some artists choose to focus their efforts on establishing a local clientele, others choose to do the craft fair circuit, while others choose to have galleries deal with the sales (and many artists do a combination all of the above). Each route has its advantages and disadvantages, but I believe it is important to get your work out there and striving to take advantages of all the opportunities at hand.

If you go the gallery route, I would say that getting your actual work in front of a gallery owner really helps. So, when I was starting out, I applied to lots of juried shows. Several of the galleries I am working with now started off with my having one piece accepted into a juried show at their space.


teapot, earthenware, 6 x 12 x 5.5″ (each), 2013

The other way I have gotten into galleries is by researching which ones I think my work would fit into best and whether they carried other artists who’s work I admired. Although the “cold call” technique doesn’t always pan out, it can’t hurt to try if you present yourself in a professional manner.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?  Working as a potter can take its toll on your body, so it is important to take care of yourself (a lesson that has become more and more apparent to me as I get older). For me, this means taking the time to eat well, getting enough rest, and finding time to fit in exercise.


wheelbarrow, earthenware & mixed media, 57 x 23 x 24,” 2013

I think that anyone making a living in the arts has a tough row to hoe ahead of them. But with hard work, dedication and some tenacity, you can find (or create) a way to make it. As John Cage said:

“The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all the work all the time who eventually catch on to things.”

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



Adam Field: Potter of the Month

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Ohbuza Onggi 2008

This November I corresponded with the exceptionally talented and social media savvy Adam Field!  I met Adam in 2009 through a mutual friend and have been following his career ever since.  His porcelain forms are austere and honest and the rhythm of his decoration is meditative and precise.  In addition to his carved porcelain work, Adam is accomplished at producing traditional Onggi storage jars.  He published a video a few years back highlighting the Onggi process.  Click here to link to the video.

The combination of traditional Onggi fermentation jars and intricately carved porcelain works formed Adam’s career as a distinguished ceramic artist.  In the interview, Adam discusses how he balances these two “lines of work” and how he’s been able to establish himself as a full-time potter.



Covered Jars 2014 (photo by Alan Wiener)

How did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education?  My path to pottery was by way of photography. I was fortunate to have had some exceptional art teachers who gave me an early introduction to photography.  But, the mass migration from darkroom to hard drive in the late 1990s left something to be desired for an idealist like myself. My disillusion with digital technology coincided with my introduction to pottery.  Much like working in the darkroom, I found studio pottery to be a gratifying and challenging balance between structured technique, intuitive decision-making, and spontaneity. My education, after undergraduate school, has been largely self-directed and diverse.

6 year old Adam

6 year old Adam

Three experiences stand out as being most significant: learning to throw production ware as a studio assistant, working at a ceramic supply store in the Bay Area, and apprenticing at an Onggi studio in Korea. Throwing production early on was important because it challenged me to make the same form repeatedly, allowing me to hone in on the subtleties of crafting a form while developing skills in efficiently moving clay. While working at a ceramic supply store in San Franscisco shortly after graduating, I was often responsible for answering question from customers about everything from low fire china paint to cone 13 wood firings which led me to develop a habit of educating myself on a wide range of topics. During my time there, I was also encouraged by the owner to take workshops, which exposed me to a wide range of makers whose construction methods I had never seen before. Looking back, this was an essential period in my development.

My Korean Onggi mother

My Korean Onggi mother

My apprenticeship in Korea was certainly one of the more valuable experiences both professionally and personally. Being removed from my comfort zone (and nothing does this quite so well as being thrust into a foreign setting) forced me to discover who I was. The practical value of my apprenticeship was, in some ways, very similar to the value of throwing production forms in college. I didn’t have to think as much about designing a perfect form; I was instead focused on a single task. The thread that runs throughout much of my background is that all of these experiences

Ohbuza Onggi 2008

Ohbuza Onggi 2008

took place outside of academia and with some degree of practical application. My education has mostly occurred in a real world setting.

You spent a year in Korea learning how to construct traditional Onggi pottery. Can you talk about how this experience informed your work, work ethic and career path?  

Ohbuza Onggi

Ohbuza Onggi

In 2008, I moved to Korea for a rare opportunity to apprentice at Ohbuza Onggi under Onggi master potter Kim Ill Maan for one year. Documenting and sharing ancient Onggi techniques offered me a unique glimpse into a disappearing ceramic tradition that has continued to play an important role in Korean culture. Engaging with those traditions, techniques, and people who are dear to me was very gratifying.  I came to Korea with some solid skills in

Ohbuza Onggi

Ohbuza Onggi

the way of wheel-throwing and developing form as well as surface decoration. Through the apprenticeship process, most of those habits were transformed as my focus was placed solely on the repetition of the traditional Onggi form. Having to recreate these vessels allowed me to see form in a more specific way, giving me a precise vocabulary not just for the language of Onggi pots but also for the language of pots as a whole. I came back from Korea equipped with new approaches to describing and creating form.

Rolling coils at Ohbuza Onggi, 2008

Rolling coils at Ohbuza Onggi, 2008

An attention to detail extended even to the way the Onggi studio was set up. There was an economy of motion to how my teachers worked—all the tools were in the right place, and each movement would lead to the next action. As a result, I’m very careful to keep my studio clean and organized so that I don’t get in my own way with clutter.  When I first arrived in Korea, the expectation at Ohbuza was for seven 12 hour days. Had I not requested less, this would have been the work schedule for the entire time I was there. Work ethic is essential to the Onggi studio culture.


Onggi Jars 2013

One of the obvious results from my time in Korea is that I now produce a line of functional fermenting Onggi jars that is distinct from my carved porcelain vessels. But this unique experience also prompted me to document and share a glimpse into a Korean Onggi studio with  with other potters around the world.  While in Korea, I starting producing videos on traditional Onggi techniques and posting them on YouTube. The response to these videos was significant with total views approaching 250,000. The project has been seen around the world, and reached far beyond my intended audience of clay people.  This inspired me to continue creating videos as a resource to my colleagues and to a broader audience than just those working in clay. When I returned from Korea, I found that people were more familiar with me and my work because of the videos. This eventually led to greater opportunities within the clay community.


Hide-N-Seekah 2013

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Line pattern development


In the studio

You are the founder of the social media driven scavenger hunt known as Hide-N-Seekah. Can you talk about how you came up with this project and how it’s evolved since its inception?  My return from Korea in 2009 marked an important milestone on my path to technological enlightenment—I bought my first cell phone…a smart one!  The decade of industry research and development since my departure from the darkroom had seen major developments in digital imaging.  Quality phone cameras had become ubiquitous and were now providing a quick intuitive photo option; it was like having my own pocket darkroom.  New photo editing and image sharing apps like Instagram made it possible for me to connect with other image-makers and clay workers while fostering the photographic dialogue I had learned to love as a child.  Instagram became my sketchbook with a window to the world, an easy way to gather and share my visual inspirations as they struck me.  Unlike a sketchbook, the social aspect of Instagram informed and inspired my studio practice by providing welcome feedback on my posts and a continuous stream of fresh imagery from others.  While Instagram had proven to be an ideal platform for creatively sharing and gathering images and ideas, it was lacking a large clay community.  Through following professional skater Tony Hawk, I learned that Hawk connected with his followers through something called “finders keepers,” a game in which he would hide a full, autographed skateboard he had been using for the past few months and leave visual clues on his Instagram feed about its whereabouts. The first person that found the skateboard could keep it. In an effort to encourage more participation from clay artists, I created and

Exploring through collaboration with Peter Pincus

Exploring through collaboration with Peter Pincus

debuted a similar interactive Instagram scavenger hunt called Hide-N-Seekah around the 2013 NCECA conference in Houston, TX.  The project was a success and participating artists gained an average of 500 followers to their Instagram feeds.  The population of clay people on Instagram had grown considerably, invigorating the virtual exchange of information. I am optimistic and confident that communication within the clay community will continue to benefit from new social media platforms and future advancements in digital technology. If anything, Hide-N-Seekah has gotten harder to produce, because the hiders have more eyes of on them than ever. Logistically, it’s had to evolve in ways that would allow me to keep one step ahead of the seekers.


Large Jar 2014

Like many potters these days, you’ve led quite the nomadic lifestyle, setting up a home studio in various locations from Hawaii to Colorado to most currently, Montana. Can you talk about your decisions to keep mobile and how it has influenced or affected your work?  My decisions to move have been based on opportunities that I give real consideration to, allowing myself to think openly about the future. When possibilities are presented, I try to take advantage of them in spite of the difficulties that they sometimes bring. I have tried to live my life without fear, trusting that not only will things work out, but that risks I take will somehow contribute to my success. To me, success is defined as a growth in my work and deepening relationships to communities and people I care about.  By being forced out of my comfort zone, I develop new ways of creating meaningful connections.

It seems as though you are always on the road giving workshops and lectures across the country. As a father of two, how do you balance studio/family/travel?  

Workshopping at Walnut Creek Civic Arts, Walnut Creek, CA

Workshopping at Walnut Creek Civic Arts, Walnut Creek, CA

It’s a difficult balance, though working from home studios for most of our children’s lives has given us more time to be engaged and present than what a regular 9 to 5 job would allow. While traveling for workshops can be difficult not just on me but on Heesoo and the kids, the reality is that income from workshops has been a reliable source of financial support for our family.  Also, the experiences and interactions with the greater clay community during these trips allow me to return to my studio energized and inspired.

Your wife, Heesoo Lee, is also an extremely accomplished ceramic artist. Do you two ever feed off eachother’s creative process or collaborate on pieces?  

Trax Gallery Exhibition with Heesoo

Trax Gallery Exhibition with Heesoo

I would say that Heesoo and I act more as critical sounding boards for one another; we very rarely collaborate on pieces. When we met, both of us were well on our individual paths in regards to our studio practices. But to be able to have another person in the studio to bounce ideas off of has been extremely helpful over the years.

How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas  Ideas in my work originate from many sources. The first source of inspiration for me is often the most recent series I’ve made. I like that each cycle of work can build on previous ideas, pushing them in new ways. I’ve also become very

Sources of inspiration

Sources of inspiration

disciplined about photographing things in the world that strike me as interesting so that I can later return to the images in order to decipher my interest in them: is it their composition, line relationships, pattern? What about this excites me? Within the last five years, I’ve been


Stacking pots, exploring new forms

developing new forms by stacking fired pots in different configurations. This allows me to efficiently explore formal relationships of the vessel.  Finally, I’m particularly interested in the idea of joining in on a conversation that historical vessel-makers have engaged in throughout history. Examining a skillfully made object from the past is not just about connecting to another human, but connecting to the unique act of creation itself. This excitement fuels my impulse to make.

Can you talk about your decision to simultaneous make both intricately hand-carved porcelain pieces and traditional stoneware Onggi fermentation jars?  

Carving detail

Carving detail

For me the functionality of a pot has always been important  though I was initially hesitant to make functional Onggi jars in the States. Over time, however, found that I felt a responsibility to carry on the tradition that my teachers so generously shared with me. Because of recent recognition of the health benefits from fermented food, there has also been a huge growth in demand for these vessels in America over the last several years. By working seasonally to accommodate this demand, I can diversify my income.

Onggi making at the Archie Bray Foundation 2013

Onggi making at the Archie Bray Foundation 2013

Because of the polar opposite nature of each of the processes, they both serve different purposes. The porcelain allows me to focus on detailed and time-consuming tasks while the Onggi offers a completely different rhythm of production. (It takes me 6 weeks to fill a kiln with carved porcelain, whereas it takes me less than 1 week to fill a kiln with Onggi jars). The opportunity to shift focus provides both physical and mental relief.

What does a typical workday look like for you?  I tend to work best late into the night, so I often get started mid morning and will be in the studio until 1 or 2 AM. This allows me to complete professional tasks like emailing and phone calls during regular business hours.

Onggi decoration practice

Onggi decoration practice

What is your most valuable studio tool?  The honest (and possibly unpopular answer) is my camera. It allows me to capture, record, process and revisit visual ideas that I hope to continually incorporate into my work.

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? Being a family of 4 with two working-potter incomes, what choices/sacrifices have you made in order to construct sustainable careers that support your entire family?  

Four Seasons Maui Artist Program 2007

Four Seasons Maui Artist Program 2007

I started selling my pots for a living in Hawaii. I arrived there with a job moving furniture for interior designers and was simultaneously selling my work at the local farmer’s market on the weekend. Both of these experiences helped me to realize that there was a demand for the work I was making, not just at the market but for the interior designers with which I worked. I gradually transitioned into selling my work full time by taking on fewer hours moving furniture and spending more of my time making pots until I reached a point where being a full time studio artist was sustainable.

Juno and Hana #potterykidlife

Juno and Hana #potterykidlife

I made a choice early on that I would hold myself to strict standards of professionalism in my work in order to give my career as a Potter the respect that it deserves. I believe that this has had an impact not just on the way I conduct business, but on the work itself. More specifically, I’ve made a decision to diversify streams of income in my practice.  This includes not only having two lines of ceramic work—carved porcelain and Onggi—but also in developing a strong social media presence, working

on the set at Ceramic Arts Daily

On the set at Ceramic Arts Daily

with Ceramic Arts Daily to produce an instructional DVD, and maintaining a regular workshop schedule. Sales of Heesoo’s work have always been a helpful source of income for our family. Living with the uncertainty of reliable income can be difficult, but the primary sacrifice is probably time, which means making the time we do spend together as a family as meaningful as possible.


Covered Jar 2013

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?  The first set of criteria was a strong online presence as well as an active brick and mortar gallery space. I also looked to galleries that were representing some of my favorite ceramic artists.  While many of my peers have told me that they never solicited a gallery for representation, actively pursuing relationships with galleries has been essential to developing exhibition opportunities for me.  Not having had the same network of connections as someone coming out of graduate school gave me more motivation to approach galleries in the first place. I also regularly applied to juried shows that often led to future invitations to exhibit. If I was giving someone advice on how to approach galleries for representation, I would recommend conducting oneself professionally in all aspects from emails to image quality to prompt follow-ups. This also means presenting one’s work with consistency and quality on all fronts.


Shipping off Onggi

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?  Throughout my entire career, the artist program at the Four Season’s Resort has been by far the most profitable venue.  However, a desire to be closer to family and an interest in pushing my work in new directions brought us back to the mainland where I was no longer surrounded by such a high concentration of customers.  I found that social media provided new ways of connecting me with my customer base. I have chosen not to target one specific online venue, but rather try to have a strong presence on multiple social media platforms and in online galleries. Right now, the majority of my income comes through email orders (mostly Onggi), direct sales at workshops, and gallery sales. Each venue introduces my work to a different cross-section of people.


Another happy Onggi customer!

As a current resident at the Archie Bray Foundation, you are lucky to be immersed into a large community that supports ceramics. What are the most important steps you take to market your work to your local audience when there isn’t this type of instant community of support?  In Mauii, Durango, and Telluride, I made it a point to sell at local farmer’s markets, not because it was necessarily the most lucrative venue, but because I believe in the ideal of connecting directly with the local community. Involvement with farmer’s markets put my work in a specific context. Selling alongside farmers and other artisans and craftspeople in the area became a way to educate and connect personally with customers. This included not just discussing the functional or technical aspects of my work, but communicating the philosophical role of handmade pots directly to the customer.  The contacts that I made from the summer farmer’s market helped to build a local following that eventually translated into studio sales throughout the rest of year.


Stopper bottles 2014

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?  Make the work that you love making. It can be a trap to be successful with work you’re not excited about. Challenge yourself to continue growing that work in new directions.

Once you are making pots you‘re excited about, it’s important to support your efforts with professional behavior. So much time is invested in the aesthetic considerations that go into making good pots. I believe it is important to give all other aspects of one’s career the same degree of consideration. My advice can only be based off of my experiences, but I believe that much of the success of my career has come through building upon opportunities that exist outside of traditional boundaries. I want to be clear that there is nothing easy about making a living as a potter. It is a difficult and nonstop task. But, when approached as an artistic venture in itself, it can be extraordinarily fulfilling.

To find out more about Adam and his work, please follow these links:


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: 

Tara Wilson: Potter of the Month


Tara’s Studio Pottery Sale

This month features studio potter, Tara Wilson.  Tara makes beautiful, feminine, wood fired pottery.  Her work is a perfect partnership of form and surface…the drama of the melted wood ash and blushing patterns from the flame roll effortlessly over the curvy volumes of her forms.  Her pots, with their atmospheric patina, smooth surface and undulating forms, often remind me of tumbled river rocks.

Tara and I crossed paths a few times at the Archie Bray Foundation (first as summer residents in 2003 and then later as year round residents in 2006).  The first moment I set eyes on Tara’s work I was in love.  Her work is warm, inviting, graceful and generous.  Not only is her work visually comforting…but it is a true pleasure to use.



A handful of years ago, Tara built an amazing studio on her property in Helena, Montana.  Adjacent to her studio, she constructed two wood kilns (a large train kiln and, most recently, a smaller catenary kiln).  Tara is currently at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts for a two-week residency entitled Atmospheric Perspectives.  You can find out more about Tara and her work by visiting her website:  Enjoy the interview!

How did you first get involved in ceramics?

I first got involved with ceramics in High School. I attended a small public school in Clyde, Ohio and my high school art teacher included a lot of ceramic projects in our classes. By the time I was a senior I was spending as much time as possible in the art room.

Can you briefly describe your background and education?

I received a BFA from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a MFA from the University of Florida, Gainesville. I went straight from undergrad to graduate school then did a little adjunct teaching and community class teaching; so most of the jobs I’ve held have been art related. The most interesting job I’ve had was working as a potter at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

How would you describe your work? How did you arrive at working this way?

tw flower brick

Flower Brick

My work is mostly wheel thrown and altered. I started altering my work when I was an undergrad, but although I was using similar methods the finished pieces looked totally different than the work I’m making today. In graduate school I developed this style of work and it has slowly evolved since finishing school in 2003. Most of the work has an animated quality about it and relates to the figure, either the human form or different animals.

Would you explain your attraction to functional ceramics?

I’ve always been attracted to functional work. I enjoy how accessible it is. We live with and interact with it in very intimate situations in our homes.

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

tw pitchers


I think my formal education prepared me for a career in ceramics in more ways than I realized. As an undergraduate student I received a strong technical education, I learned how to mix clay, glazes and fire kilns very early. I got involved in wood firing in my beginning throwing class and was hooked. Not only did I learn about firing wood kilns, but also many local artists would participate in the firings and that was a valuable resource as well. Knoxville’s close proximity to Arrowmont and Penland provided another educational resource. Many studio artists live in that area of east Tennessee and Western North Carolina. I remember making an annual pilgrimage to Rock Creek Pottery’s studio sale. Graduate school taught me to think critically about my work and prepared me for teaching. Linda Arbuckle is an a

mazing teacher and artist. She shares so much information with her students and alumni through her list serve which we all greatly benefit from.

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?


One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had was the opportunity to be a long term resident at the Archie Bray Foundation. I think I learned as much or more about what it means to be a professional artist during my time there as I did in school. A time that I will never forget was the Bray’s 55th anniversary, which happened while I was a resident. For the month of June a group of international artists worked in the summer studios. Getting to know them and work along side them was an amazing opportunity. I feel extremely fortunate to have worked with Janet Mansfield during this time. We fired the train kin together at the Bray and she invited me to come to Australia and be an assistant at a Gulgong conference. While in Gulgong she introduced me to many Australian artists which led to presenting at a conference a few years later in Tasmania and I’ll be going back next April to participate in a woodfire symposium on the south east coast of Australia.

What is the inspiration for your pieces? How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?


Tara and Willow

I draw a lot of inspiration from nature, the environment that I’m surrounded by and the figure. Sometimes the work itself leads to new ideas and new pieces through experimenting with different parts of each piece while in the studio. Spending time outdoors is very important to me. It not only provides a source of inspiration but is also a time to unwind from the studio and reflect on ideas. I try to spend time outdoors everyday even if it’s just a short walk. My house and studio is located near the end of a dirt road with easy access to great hiking and mountain bike trails. In the winter I make time for backcountry skiing with my dog Willow. Animals are another source of inspiration. I enjoy being around animals, I grew up showing horses, and sometimes I feel like where I live in Montana is a wildlife sanctuary. Just in my yard alone over the past few years I’ve seen deer, elk, pronghorn, fox, wolves, bear, and lots of small animals and rodents (which aren’t always cool, such as the pack rats). A few months ago I got chickens, which are a great source of entertainment.

What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice/style?

Work super hard! This is a difficult, or rather competitive field that requires many hours of practice especially in the beginning. I think it’s important to realize what you’re passionate about and figure out how that can be incorporated into your work. I often encourage young artists to look not only at contemporary work, but more importantly at historical work.

_AOZ0008 copy


Generally speaking, female potters who wood-fire are not the norm. Can you describe what its like working in a seemingly male-dominated tradition?  I agree that woodfiring is a male dominated field. I’ve never really had any issues with this or negative experiences. I think I’ve been very stubborn in sticking to my beliefs and opinions and have just always jumped in and been part of this scene. Now that I have my own kilns I’m the one in charge and even when it’s mostly guys helping there’s never been any issues. I think my work is fairly feminine compared to the typical woodfire aesthetic and in recent years I’ve really tried to embrace this and create work that’s embraces this feminine quality.

How do you market your work to your audience (galleries/studio sales/crak fairs/etc.)? What venues have you found to be the most lucrative for your work?

So far the most lucrative venue has been selling through galleries. I think maybe because that’s where I’m most established. I built my studio five years ago and I’ve just recently started having studio sales. They are a lot of fun and I enjoy meeting new folks in my community but these sales are not as lucrative as I would like. I think over time they will get better. Also, I’ve had an etsy site for about a year now and I think there is a lot of potential there. I’ve only posted work a few times, but I’ve sold most of what I’ve posted.

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?

IMG_0156This was probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever made. All through school I thought I would probably pursue a teaching career, so deciding to be a full time studio artist was a major decision in itself and then deciding where to do this was another huge thing. I fell in love with Montana while I was at the Bray. I like many things that Helena has to offer such as the amazing trail system with great mountain bike trails right on the edge of town and although it’s the capitol it’s still a fairly small town. The Bray has a clay business so I can easily get clay and supplies. When I built my studio I knew I wanted a space that was large enough for a few people to work in so that I could eventually have assistants and be able to offer them workspace. I knew during firings there would be more people around so I wanted a kitchen and bathroom in the studio as well. And there is a separate room with a garage door for the electric kiln and all my wood shop tools and other random stuff. Another factor in choosing this location was the fact that I wanted to have wood kilns, so I needed to live somewhere that I could make this happen.

What does a typical workday look like for you? How much do you spend on marketing vs. making?

IMG_1266My typical work day changes depending on where I’m at in the cycle of making work.  It takes me about six weeks to make work for my train kiln. An ideal day during the making is, get to the studio fairly early, work until 3 ish, go for a hike or bike ride, eat dinner, then work a little in the evening. But like I said that’s an ideal day. In the winter I will usually ski in the morning or first half of the day and get in the studio for the second half. Then after the making cycle it takes me a few days to glaze, a day to load the kiln and two days to fire. These are usually very long focused days in the studio, or at the kiln with not much other activities going on. Once the work is fired it takes me a few days to sand and clean up all the work. Packing work for shipping is another big time commitment in the studio. As far as the marketing goes, I know I need to put more time into this. I spend time everyday, maybe an average of two hours keeping up with e-mails and paperwork stuff. I guess that is considered marketing. I know I need to put more time into taking advantage of social media. I realize this can be a great way to market my work, but I’m not really good or consistent with it.

You have built many wood kilns over the course of your career. Can you talk a little bit about the critical things to consider when building a kiln? Which resources (books/magazines/ websites) did you find the most helpful?


Tara’s Kiln Pad



Well the things I considered when building my kilns were, the size, length of firing, and surface effects. After spending three years primarily firing train kilns at the Bray and then as a resident at Red Lodge Clay Center, I decided that I wanted to build a train. The interior of my kiln is 45 inches wide, and the stacking space is about 10 feet long. The kilns at the Bray and Red Lodge are very similar and I liked this firing cycle as far as how much time it took to make work to fill the kiln. It’s also big enough that I can offer space to folks in exchange for help. I like the surface effects that can be achieved in trains in a fairly short firing as well. This last winter I built a small catenary arch wood soda. I’m really enjoying this kiln and looking forward to experimenting more with glazes in it. I think I will probably fire this kiln at least once or more between every train firing. It’s much smaller so the turnaround time is much quicker, and it can be loaded in a few hours and fired off in a day. It’s also nice to be able to offer another type of kiln to those people who are working with me in the studio. Some helpful books are the The Kiln Book, and Woodfired Stoneware and Porcelain, but I think the best resource is looking at a lot of kilns and talking to other potters.

Over the years, you’ve had a handful of assistants/apprentices that come live and work with you. How did you arrive at this decision and what are the specifics of the relationship (how long is the apprenticeship/what is expected/what are the privileges/exchanges/etc.)?

When I built my studio I knew I wanted to have assistants at some point so I built it large enough to accommodate this. I think of it as a work exchange. I enjoy teaching and the sense of community that happens in group studios, so this is a way for me to teach/mentor younger artists and have other artists working in close proximity.


Right now, assistants stay for a year with an option to stay for a second year. I have two assistants and ideally one will leave each year and a new one will start, so they can help train each other. They do all types of chores, basically everything except making my work. Typical cores are lots of wood prep, and everything involved with the firings, prep and clean up, packing and shipping, cleaning the studio. They also help with bigger projects such as building the kiln and shed, finishing the bathroom and kitchen in the studio, even building a chicken coop. I think all these things are good experiences for young artists. They get to work closely with me and learn what really goes into being a studio artist.

Would you be willing to share some advice for potters who are thinking about hiring an assistant/apprentice?

Well, it’s made me be very organized and clear about my expectations. Clear communication is also extremely important. I think having assistants is a great way to teach an offer opportunities to younger artists.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring potters who are looking to setup a studio and make pots for a living?

tw vase


I think there are so many opportunities for young artists now, such as residency programs. I would recommend doing as many of these as possible, and traveling before sefng up a studio. If you know you want to set up your own studio, start collecting stuff, equipment, wheels, brick, anything you’ll be using in the studio so you don’t get hit with having to purchase or find everything all at once. And think about how the space will function.

Lorna Meaden: Potter of the Month

For the month of March…the one and only Lorna Meaden!  Lorna and I crossed paths numerous times before finally getting to work together at the Archie Bray Foundation in the summer of 2006.  Ever since I first saw Lorna’s work, I’ve been a fan…and in meeting her, I


became an even bigger one.  Anyone who knows Lorna, knows that her laugh is infectious and her company genuine.  Lorna’s pieces fit seamlessly into the home…their undeniable usefulness, exquisite craft and raw beauty make her work a perfect pairing for domestic life.

With the launching of this interview coinciding with a recent kiln firing, Lorna is excited to showcase her latest group of pots in the content of this post.  Unloaded from her wood/ soda kiln less than a week ago, these new pieces reflect every bit of Lorna’s warm and charming personality.

Next month, Lorna will be a guest workshop presenter alongside Doug Casebeer and David Pinto during Anderson Ranch’s Jamaica Field Expedition.  For more info about the Caribbean “Woodfiring: The Art of Fire” workshop with David, Doug and Lorna, click here.   May 24-26th, Lorna has scheduled a workshop at Taos Clay in Taos, New Mexico.   In June, she is part of a three person exhibition at Santa Fe Clay with Ben Krupka and Adam Field.  For additional info about Lorna and her work, please visit her fresh new website:


Coffee Pot, Wood/Soda Fired Porcelain, 2013

Without further ado…enjoy the interview and the pots (fresh outta the kiln)!

How did you first get involved in ceramics?

My interest for making pots began when I took a ceramics class in high school. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. Bill Farrell, then faculty at the Art Institute of Chicago, came to our class to do a demonstration. Watching him throw on the wheel captivated me. My interest in making pots only grew from that point forward.

Can you briefly describe your background and education?

I received a BA from Fort Lewis College in 1994, and an MFA from Ohio University in 2005. I did residencies at the Archie Bray Foundation and Anderson Ranch Arts Center following graduate school. I have been a studio potter for the past six years at my home in Durango, Colorado.


Bowl, Wood/Soda Fired Porcelain, 2013

How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  Is there anything you wish you had known before leaving school?

Well, my education prepared me in so many ways, including some that I’m probably not even aware of. I have to say that I think the most important, and most beneficial thing school offered me, was how to continually challenge myself.

How would you describe your work?  How did you arrive at working this way?


Ewer, Wood/Soda Fired Porcelain, 2013

My work is utilitarian pottery. It is thrown and decorated porcelain, fired in a wood/soda kiln. Making this type of work has been a slow evolution of discovering what my interests are. I don’t feel like I ever really arrived at a certain type of work or way of working, but more that it has changed slowly over time as I have become interested in different things, and changed as a person. I continue to learn how to challenge myself.

Would you explain your attraction to functional ceramics?

I’ve always made functional pots from the day I started working with clay. When I think about what I want to make, I only see pots. Let’s just say I’ve never closed my eyes and imagined a sculpture…that’s a job for sculptors. I like the challenge of balancing the way something looks with the way it works. People have a simple understanding of pots, giving them a comfortable, basic place in people’s lives.

What is the inspiration for your pieces?  How do you come up with new ideas?  Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?

Currently, most of my ideas come from making work. Making pots for a living requires working all the time. I don’t have as much time to do research as I used to. New ideas can sometimes come from seeing an object somewhere and wanting to make a clay version of it, like a watering can, for example.  I also find myself revisiting the same idea for years. Currently, I’ve come back to a wine ewer I made six years ago. I started making decanters


Wine Decanter, Wood/Soda Fired Porcelain, 2013

for an upcoming show, and realized it was a shape I had made for my thesis show. I like it when I feel like I’m picking up where I left off a long time ago, but coming at it from a different direction. I look at what I’m making as a continuum of ideas, rather than me coming up with something new.

What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice/style?

Don’t look at ceramics magazines too much. It can have a way of either polluting your ideas, or making you feel self-conscious. There are plenty of places to look for source information outside of ceramics. The other piece of advice is, of course, to work really hard. I think if you make enough work, and you’re paying attention to what you’re doing; your own voice/style will emerge. It’s a tricky thing, figuring out who you are, but everyone is an individual, and people’s idiosyncrasies have a beautiful way of emerging.

You took considerable time between undergraduate and graduate school.  What made you decide to go back to school after years of being a studio potter in Colorado?  How did that time away from school inform your graduate education?


Firing the Wood/Soda

Education was always encouraged in my family, so going to graduate school was a natural choice, on some levels, for me. I had been a potter for 15 years when I applied to grad school. I think I knew enough at that point, to know how much more there was to know. I wanted to make better work. I already had a good idea of what it was like to be a studio artist when I went back to school. I wasn’t as concerned with how I would make a living when I finished, as I was with making better work. I think that helped me focus during school.

It seems as though there were a couple of points in your career when you made a decision to sell your pots for a living (post-undergraduate school and post-graduate school)?  Could you describe how you came to those decisions?  Can you talk a little bit about how your audience/motivation might have changed/evolved?


Place Setting, Wood/Soda Fired Porcelain, 2013


Vase, Wood/Soda Fired Porcelain, 2013

Basically, all I’ve ever really wanted to do is make pots. So in order to support my habit, and still spend all my time in the studio, I have to sell my work. At certain point, if you make enough work, you have to get rid of it. My audience has changed a lot in the last ten years. I went from doing local art fairs and the farmer’s market to nationally recognized galleries. The galleries that represent my work do a great job connecting with an audience that appreciates fine craft and handmade objects. One thing that has changed is that I have to make a lot more money than I used to. Recently, I’ve been trying to reach a balance between selling my work locally, and sending to galleries. At different points I have thought I might want a teaching job. So far, I have wanted more time in the studio than a teaching job affords. I like to teach, but I really like to make work. It’s all a big balancing act that I haven’t figured out yet.

What does a typical workday look like for you?  How much do you spend on marketing vs. making?

On a typical day, I will go out to the studio around


Teapot, Wood/Soda Fired Porcelain, 2013

8:00am and work until 6:00pm, or as late as 10:00pm, with a couple of breaks. I like to take a break and go to the gym during the day. I try to leave my compound at least once a day, so that I see some other humans. Working alone can be isolating, so getting out has become important. My schedule varies a lot depending on approaching deadlines. The way I work tends to be feast or famine. This has been one of the biggest challenges of being a studio potter. The ability to work “normal” hours has become elusive. One of my goals is to maintain a work schedule that is slow and steady, rather than binge and purge.

How does an artist go about acquiring business and marketing skills?  What piece of advice would you give to others just starting out?


Tumbler, Wood/Soda Fired Porcelain, 2013

The way that I have developed business skills is through practice. I’ve always felt that being resourceful and doing things for myself is important. Because an artist’s income is relatively small, it is practical to become a jack of all trades. For example, I recently took a website design class, and built my new site, It took a while for me to have the time to focus on building the site, but it seemed more sensible than paying someone else to do it, and then being dependent on them to update it. It would probably be wise to take some business and marketing courses.

What is your relationship with galleries (on and offline)? How has that relationship changed over time?  What are some of the other ways you market your work (studio sales/craft fairs/etc.)?


Pitcher, Wood/Soda Fired Porcelain, 2013

I have developed some good relationships with galleries around the country. The places that represent my work tend to be clay focused. This is valuable in terms of the established audience that each gallery maintains. Crimson Laurel Gallery in Bakersville, North Carolina is a great example.  Although, they are in a somewhat remote location, they draw a wide range of customers, and do a great job of educating their customer base. I have made a recent effort to sell more work out of my studio. I had my second annual holiday sale in December. It was a great success. I think that having a balance between national and local participation in the field is important. I always remember something Doug Casebeer once said to me…”Cultivate your own back yard.”

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?

IMG_1403_2I will always have a fondness for Archie Bray Foundation. I did two summer residencies there, 2005 and 2006. Sometimes it’s hard to explain how great the Bray is. The combination of the history of place, the location in Helena, and the wonderful people I was able to share my experience with, make it sentimental for me. Among the highlights were that Josh DeWeese as the director, Rudy Autio working  in the studio one summer, the International Symposium, and our softball team that lost almost every game in the local league, but had the most fun at the bar afterwards. Not only did my work grow when I was a resident at the Bray, but I also grew as a person.


Flask, Wood/Soda Fired Porcelain, 2013

Anderson Ranch Arts Center continues to be an important part of my life as an artist. I took my first two-week workshop there in the summer of 2001. I participated in two field expeditions, one to Nepal and one to Jamaica. I returned as a resident artist in the winter of 2006. I have taught summer workshops there three times, and I will be a visiting artist for the upcoming field expedition in Jamaica in April. The Ranch has been an integral part of my development along  the way. I particularly value my travel experiences with Doug. He has made it possible for artists around the world to make connections and find inspiration.

In terms of experiences that have influential on my career, in 2007, I was a demonstrator at NCECA in Pittsburg, and at the Utilitarian Clay V: Celebrate the Object at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN. Both were incredible experiences. My work was not well known at that point. Participating at two national conferences in one year, was not only super fun and exciting, but also pushed my career forward.

How did you decide to settle and build a studio?  What were your must-haves when building your studio and choosing a location? 


The Compound


Firing the Wood/Soda


In the Studio

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to have my own studio, kiln, and house. I have that now and I call it my compound. I never imagined I would be able to afford to own a house, especially in Colorado. My place sort of fell in my lap.  I was back in Durango visiting after I finished my residency at Anderson Ranch. A friend of mine was having health problems and needed to sell his place. He was an artist and wanted his place to go to another artist. He knew I would build a studio and a kiln and stay there. There are two houses on the property, making it possible to earn rental income. I did the math and figured out how to make it work. My brother and his friend built my studio building three years ago and I built my kiln two years ago. It has been five years since I bought the compound. It is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place since I left my Dad’s house. It’s not without challenges, but it has been good for me in many ways. I feel so fortunate.

Finally, What advice would you give to aspiring potters who are looking to set up a studio and make pots for a living?

Work hard, be resourceful, and don’t go into debt. You have to really want it to make it happen. It’s all worth it!

Again, for additional info about Lorna and her work, please visit her lovely new website:

And…here’s a list of Lorna’s upcoming events:

6th Annual Triennial Canadian Clay Conference: Elementum: Form, Function, Feast. March 23rd, 2013, Shadbolt Center for the Arts, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.

Jamaica Field Expedition with Anderson Ranch: Wood Firing: the art of fire. April 19th-27th, 2013. Good Hope Ranch, Jamaica.
Taos Clay: Taos, New Mexico, May 24th-26th,
The Art Center: Western Colorado Center for the Arts: Grand Junction, Colorado, July 20-21, 2013.

Birdie Boone: Potter of the Month

Just in time for Valentine’s Day…an interview with the lovely and fabulous Birdie Boone!  I first met Birdie in 2007 at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, MT, where her and I were fellow resident artists.  I’ve always admired Birdie’s work for its subtlety, depth and design.  She is a master of glaze calculation…constantly experimenting with color palette and surface quality.  Birdie’s work fits seamlessly into the rhythms of everyday life…the thoughtfulness of her processes evident in each finished piece.


Looking to find more of Birdie’s work or perhaps wanting to add a piece of hers to your kitchen?  Here’s where:

Birdie has a solo exhibition at the Schaller Gallery (Feb 1 to Feb 19).  Dozens of beauties ready and available for a new home.

Birdie’s work will be on display at Studio KotoKoto’s ( Valentine’s Day event starting Tuesday, Feb 5th at 9am PST.   Kotokoto is also featuring a giveaway contest for a pair of Birdie’s cups: 5-7-5: A Valentine’s Day Haiku Contest.  Here’s the link:
 Entries must be made by Feb. 12th.

I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did!

How did you first get involved in ceramics?

Napali Coast Blue and Chartreuse Cuppas, various sizes, cone 5 oxidation, 2012

Napali Coast Blue and Chartreuse Cuppas, various sizes, cone 5 oxidation, 2012

My earliest experience with ceramics involved an appreciation of pots hand made by my best friend’s mom; I noticed them in a way that stood out from everything else around me. While I was still very young, I took clay classes in San Francisco, but I was in college by the time I realized how much it meant to me. Freshman year, I took the prerequisites I needed to get into a ceramics course and by my sophomore year, I had chosen to major in art.

Can you briefly describe your background and education?

I was raised in both San Francisco, California and in Abingdon, in southwestern Virginia.  I attended the College of William and Mary in Virginia and graduated in 1993 with a BA in Art/Art History. From 1999 to 2002, I taught ceramics and sculpture as adjunct faculty at Emory and Henry College, a small Virginia college. Then, in the fall of 2002 I entered the graduate program in ceramics at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. I received an MFA in Artisanry/Ceramics in 2005. Following that, I worked at the Worcester Center for Crafts in Worcester, MA for two years, then headed out to Montana for a long term residency at the Archie Bray Foundation. In 2010, I returned to teach at Emory and Henry College in Virginia for a year. In 2011, I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I currently live and make pots.

How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  Is there anything you wish you had known before leaving school?

To be honest, when I left college, I didn’t expect to have a career in ceramics specifically. I went to a liberal arts school and word on the street was, “do art now because you may never have another opportunity!” I did love it though, so I worked hard to find ways to keep making. Early on, I thought I’d just hop on into grad school; I was not admitted and, true to character, swore grad programs to the depths of hell. Several years later, I realized I still wanted to have a career in ceramics, so I started looking at doing graduate work…again. My program (Umass Dartmouth) was really well-rounded, I have to say. I came away with a strong background in all aspects of ceramics, a very strong sense of personal accomplishment and also a sense of momentousness about the role of artists in our society. Although at the time I expected to find myself teaching rather than being a studio potter, I do wish I had heard more ‘real stories’ about working artists, especially in terms of whether the numbers can add up when pots are the only means of income (I later learned that this is rarely the case).

How would you describe your work?  How did you arrive at working this way?

Divided Dish, 9” x 5” x 2”, cone 5 oxidation, 2012

Divided Dish, 9” x 5” x 2”, cone 5 oxidation, 2012

My forms are soft, minimal, hand built pots made from slabs of clay. I always let seams and points of attachment remain visible as much as possible. Each pot has a layer of bisque/crackle slip under it’s glaze to help create visual depth. The glaze may be transparent or semi-transparent and often has a small amount of colorant, lending the glaze a pale/pastel softness of color. My pots tend to be intimate in size, encouraging a familiar engagement of the senses. The evolution of my work is a case of form following concept: ‘domestic intimacy’ is a term I coined to identify the importance of nourishment, both physical and emotional; the presence in our lives of soft, inviting objects that command a sensual recognition is what compels my formal/aesthetic decisions.

Would you explain your attraction to functional ceramics?

Ceramic objects that can be useful in our everyday lives have a way of affecting our natures. If my agenda as an artist is to call attention to important things, then what better way to deliver on this than by means of practical necessity? Our brains don’t have to work to figure out ‘what it means’. Meaning is absorbed through a pot’s characteristics as it is being used; even when it is not being used, it can affect its environment in a nurturing way.

What is the inspiration for your pieces?  How do you come up with new ideas?  Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?

My work debuted with inspiration from my family and the experiences I had as a child, specifically regarding eating habits. As my work evolves, I continue to look to eating habits, but they are the experiences and insights of an adult in the present (and sometimes the future). In this, there are always new ideas. In addition, I look to the past, to domestic objects made from clay, metal, wood and fiber, both industrial and handcrafted. If I see something I like, I figure out what fundamental qualities draw my attention and then adapt them to my own certain representation. Over the years, I have developed a couple of structural formats: ‘Curvy’ and ‘Belly Bottomed’. In general, when I want to incorporate a new form, I will try to work it into one of these styles. If it’s successful, great, if it’s not, then the public never sees it! I have a paper pattern for each form I make and often a new form can be created by modifying one of my existing patterns. I cut a paper pattern that I think will get me close to the form I’m after, then cut out the clay pieces and alter them as needed as I assemble. Then I go back to the paper pattern and snip and shape. I do this until I get what I want. Recently, I have expanded the variety of forms I make by taking one form and then reproducing it in assorted sizes and shapes. For example, if I make a round bowl, I will make it in 3 to 6 different sizes and then I will make it ovoid and rectangular, also in assorted sizes. This really speaks to my inclination to work in multiples without making the same thing over and over again.

Having shared a studio wall with you at the Archie Bray Foundation, I know that you are fascinated with glaze chemistry.  I always admired the countless test tiles I’d see piling up in your studio space.  Can you talk a little about the importance of glaze/surface when it comes to your work?

The surface of a pot is just as important as the pot itself. Either can undermine the other if

Glaze test pottles, 2012

Glaze test pottles, 2012

consideration isn’t given to both. My love for glazes comes from the idea that a glaze surface has a few variables that can be manipulated toward a concept: light transmission, color, and tactile quality can all be chosen with intent. I appreciate the infinite possibilities that present themselves through glaze development.


Like Jeff Campana (last month’s featured potter), I know you moved around a lot post graduate-school.  How have these experiences after school prepared you for where you are now?  Could you describe some of the most influential or career changing experiences you’ve had since you’ve left school?

I think that working hard, holding a job alongside a studio commitment has reinforced my passion for making. Through all the frustrations of too little time, little or no money, and creative hinderance, I have learned what is really important to me. I don’t discount any experience, whether positive or negative, but I think the most powerful experience I had was my residency at the Archie Bray Foundation. It was a time when I not only fortified my commitment to making, but also a time for intuitive introspection (unlike graduate school, where introspection was paramount, but also forced). It was important to attain an awareness of my character because my work comes from such a personal place. The Bray afforded me the time and space to achieve that and I departed with a strong sense of direction.

Was there a point in your career that you made a decision to sell your pots for a living? Could you describe how you came to that decision?

That decision came just last summer, so it’s still green…it was a decision of circumstances because I was unemployed and not able to find work in the field. I wish I could say I was a goal, but the truth is that I’ve always been apprehensive about making a living from my pots. Nevertheless, I suddenly had the time and space to make work, so I did. I am still in the process of organizing a business model and think it’ll take the year, at least, to do it right. I hold great esteem for working potters like Ayumi Horie, Diana Fayt and Kristen Kieffer, but I have no misconceptions that I’m years away from that level of success.

How have your experiences so far been different or similar to your expectations when you set out?

from Domestic Landscape Series: Lemon French Toast with Blueberries (plates and espresso cups), various sizes, cone 5 oxidation, 2012

from Domestic Landscape Series: Lemon French Toast with Blueberries (plates and espresso cups), various sizes, cone 5 oxidation, 2012

I don’t know that I had expectations so much as aspirations: I always wanted to follow in my college professor’s footsteps, to pay forward the satisfaction from creativity that she had enabled in me. Events, however, have conspired to take me in a different direction. Of course, I expected to be famous by now, but I guess since people are living longer these days, stardom may be a little further down the road… ;P

What does a typical workday look like for you?  How much do you spend on marketing vs. making?

Okay, cat outta the bag kind of thing: I don’t have a typical workday, unless it can be that I piddle around doing nothing much until a deadline looms. Seriously, someone should give me a bagful of time management skills! When I am on a roll in the studio, though, it’s hard to stop and when I do something like work on my website, it’s also hard to stop. As I mentioned, the business of making pots for a living is still green. In theory, though, I currently set aside one day a week to do paperwork, etc…

How does an artist go about acquiring business and marketing skills? What piece of advice would you give to others just starting out?

cup detail, Heart in Hand(le), cups for Studio Kotokoto’s Hearty Cuppa Event, cone 5 oxidation, 2013

cup detail, Heart in Hand(le), cups for Studio Kotokoto’s Hearty Cuppa Event, cone 5 oxidation, 2013

Trick question (since I’m just starting out)! Trial and error is often the most informative way to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. I have also found it helpful to talk to artists who are successfully selling their work, look at how they market and note what might be a good fit for me. This does not mean that I let them do all the hard work and then just appropriate from their models. I am grateful for their support in terms of finding a path to success since there aren’t too many courses out there on how to market pottery in today’s economy. To those just starting out, I would definitely mention that you shouldn’t expect immediate success. Like any business, you have to increase exposure and, to some extent, establish a customer base and that simply takes time. Also, unless you are debt free and securely sheltered, don’t expect to do this without some additional source of income.

What is your relationship with galleries (on and offline)? How has that relationship changed over time?

There are a handful of galleries that carry my work. I maintain a relationship with these galleries based on the premise that they work hard to promote my work and attract a clientele that can appreciate my subtle aesthetics. I have to say that it has been frustrating when I don’t even sell enough to cover the costs of packing materials and shipping. I continue to send work, though, because galleries have the resources to provide a level of exposure that I can’t reach on my own. There is definitely something to be said about putting your work in the hands of someone (gallerist) who believes in what you do.

One thing I find intriguing about your work is the way that you conceive and install your pots in a gallery setting (particularly with your solo exhibitions).  As a fellow potter, my motivation to make work is based on the work eventually participating in a domestic environment.  I particularly love the fact that pots in the home are never stagnant, but rather are constantly resonating with potential energy.  The gallery space almost acts as an intermediary venue (between studio and home) that allows the viewer to focus on the “still” object free of domestic “noise” (which I find rather refreshing).  Can you describe how do you approach the gallery space as a venue for display?

Installation view, Dis(h)function (ABF Fellowship Exhibition), cone 6 oxidation, 2009

Installation view, Dis(h)function (ABF Fellowship Exhibition), cone 6 oxidation, 2009

I also regard domestic environments as natural habitats for useful objects. My motivation to ‘install’ pots comes from an impulse to give viewers in a gallery setting a sense of the emotional substance that may present itself (in past, present and future possibilities) once the pots are in a real domestic environment by assembling them allegorically within a fabricated domestic representation or arrangement.

Finally, what advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice/style?

It is my belief that solid work comes from within. You have to search internally for whatever meaning (voice) you want to ascribe to your work. You may be influenced by your environment, as we all are, but don’t let someone else’s agenda get in the way. Keep it about you. As a maker of pots, understand that bowls, cups, plates, etc…were invented long ago; you are not the engineer of these objects, but a steward of their legacy. A good pot is an honest pot, one that is true to it’s purpose (which may be both utilitarian and aesthetic), no more, no less.

To find out more about Birdie and her work, please visit her website: birdie boone ceramics.  If you’d like to view available work, visit the Schaller Gallery and Studio KotoKoto.