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:

sarahjaeger.com 

Advertisements

Meredith Host: Potter of the Month

host plate decoratingI am pleased to announce that this month’s potter is the super-fabulous Meredith Host!  Meredith and I met at The School for American Crafts (at RIT) when we were both studio residents during the 2002-2003 school year.  Hard to believe that was over ten years ago…yikes!

It’s been a treat watching Meredith’s work evolve over the years.  I have many pieces of hers from our time at RIT and I just recently purchased one of Meredith’s current works from the Schaller Gallery.  I’m in awe of the layered imagery in this new tumbler I own…the amount of depth Meredith is able to acheive with seemingly flat colors and patterns is remarkable.

For those who know Meredith, her work is indeed a reflection of her personality…full of life, colorful, playful, cheerful and refreshing.  Whenever I open the cupboard and see her pots, they put a smile on my face…and using them truly does heighten the dining experience.

For more info about Meredith and her work, visit the links listed at the end of the post.  Enjoy the interview!

How did you first get involved in ceramics?

I started taking ceramic classes when I was 11 at a local art center where my mom taught printmaking & painting.  Her friend was the ceramics teacher, so she signed me up.  Ceramics became my favorite after school activity – and I ended up going to a college prep high school that had an emphasis in art.  It had an amazing ceramics studio (although I didn’t really realize that at the time). By the end of high school I was taking 2 hours of ceramics vs. taking any free hours.  Ceramics became the thing I couldn’t live without.

Can you briefly describe your background and education?

I grew up in Detroit Rock City in a household that was very supportive of the arts.  My mom is a painter/printmaker and has helped run a co-op gallery for over 20 years.  I ended up going to Kansas City Art Institute for undergrad and finished my BFA in 2001.  Then I moved around a bit to various ceramic studio opportunities such as The School for American Crafts at RIT and Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts.  I went to The Ohio State University for grad school and finished my MFA in 2008. I’ve lived in Kansas City, MO since finishing grad school.

How do you feel that your formal education prepared you for your career in ceramics?

When I graduated from KCAI, I felt confident in my making skills/craftsmanship. They instilled a great work ethic, which has certainly helped me along the way.  I still feel guilty at times when I’m not in the studio! My time at OSU helped me figure out how to hone my skills and make a cohesive body of work.  Also, grad school gave me the confidence to make the move into working full time in the studio.  It was a scary step, but I can’t imagine doing anything else now.

meredith host ramekinsEvery summer through high school and college I worked as a bookkeeper for my family’s sand and gravel business in Detroit. Overall this office background has definitely helped me navigate self-employment. In theory I should be AMAZING at all the paperwork associated with having a business…but I admittedly am not the best at staying on top of it!

You’ve been awarded numerous residencies over the course of your career? Can you talk a little bit about how they impacted your career path?

Being at RIT helped me bring more of my personality into my work and develop my own artistic voice. I like referring to my time there as “fake grad school”. Also while in Rochester, I assisted Julia Galloway in her studio.  I learned a ton about the business side of the job and saw the reality of what it would take to be a studio potter. Hard work but worth it!

At Watershed I was the Salad Days artist, which meant designing and producing 500 plates for their annual fundraiser.  This project was challenging and helped me figure out efficiency in my making process.

I’ve had a few post grad school short term residencies: a factory residency at Dresdner Porzellan Manufactory in Germany, a Surface Forum at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, and an Artist Invite Artist session at Watershed.  These short term residencies have helped me get out of my normal studio routine, spice things up a bit, and take some chances with my work.

And, of course, a huge impact of residencies has been meeting and networking with so many amazing people!

Like many people, you took significant time between undergraduate and graduate school.  What made you decide to attend graduate school?

host teacups in use 72Grad school was always a personal goal; I knew I would go, but I just needed to figure out when would be the right time.  I developed a body of work during my time at RIT and Watershed, and this was the work I used to apply to grad school.  At that point, I knew I needed the work to be pushed. I felt I had stalled in my making/designing process and craved some critical feedback. In addition, the year before grad school I was working 3 jobs on top of working in my studio. Honestly, I was very much ready to hunker down and focus on JUST making and taking my work to the next level. I only applied to 2 schools because I thought they were the only programs that made sense for me. I attended Ohio State because the work coming out of the program had a sense of quirkiness to it.  It’s not necessarily a “pottery” school, but I knew the professors there would push my work/creative process in interesting ways. I think having some life experience after undergrad and waiting to attend grad school was one of the best decisions I ever made.

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?

host leaf setting 1 72I’ve worked with a few forms for a while now and each year I think they become more refined.  It’s been a slow evolution, but as my design eye changes, the forms are tweaked ever so slightly. I find a lot of my refining is done during the trimming process…that’s when I feel like I can really get that proper profile line.  I choose to make simple, clean, and smart forms…forms that feel good to hold or to use.  Ultimately I want my work to be easily used for what it is intended.

I’m not much of a sketcher when it comes to making new forms.  Maybe a quick line representing a profile, or a really basic line drawing (and probably completely wrong perspective), but that’s it as far as 2D goes. Usually most of my sketching happens on the wheel.  I can visualize best in 3D.

I’m inherently drawn to the surfaces of your work not only because of the colors and patterns you choose, but because of the amount of depth you’re able to achieve.  Can you briefly describe your surface processes and inspiration?

I decorate my work using paper stenciling and thermofax screen-printing with underglaze to add most of my layers.  Almost of all the color and pattern is put on the piece before the bisque firing, but one last final iron oxide decal layer or china paint decal layer is applied and fired after the glaze firing. Each piece is fired at least 3 times.

host dot tumblers 8x4 300My forms are simple and clean to contrast the complex surface decorations.  Although my formal language is minimal, my approach to surface decoration is “more is more.” I layer these designs and decals to make an intricate, complex surface that would not be possible with only a single layer of pattern. It is a challenge to know when a piece is finished, because my tendency is to fill all the blank space. Decorating is my driving force at the moment; it’s all I want to do!

My patterns come from my collection of what I like to call “overlooked domestic patterns” aka toilet paper and paper towel patterns.  I’ve been collecting swatches of these subtle dimple decorations for over 10 years. I’m taking these throwaway everyday items/patterns and turning them into something permanent and still meant for daily use.

Currently, you produce two separate “lines” of work.  One that is more commercially manufactured and one that is handmade.  Can you talk a little bit about the differences between these two “lines” of work and how you decided to develop both?

“foldedpigs dinnerware” is what I call my commercial/retail line, and “Meredith Host”  is my studio artwork. I started the foldedpigs business completely by accident during host studio foldedpigsgrad school at OSU.  Long story short, I made a few decaled restaurant dishes for a clay club sale to help contribute to our visiting artist fund. There was a crazy snowstorm and school was cancelled the day of our sale.  I had just started an etsy site to try to sell older studio work, so I listed the repurposed restaurant dishes in my shop.  They sold quickly and I started to receive requests for more.  The new line began supplementing my costs during grad school.  Upon graduating, the head of my committee, Rebecca Harvey, gave me the encouragement to continue this endeavor, as there was obviously a demand for my product.  I embraced foldedpigs and ventured into working full time in the studio, splitting my time between my studio artwork and commercial line.

I always knew that I wanted to work full time in my studio and having foldedpigs around has allowed me to do so for the last 5 years.  Eventually, I’d love to just be making my work, but for now foldedpigs helps supplement my income.  My main challenge is the time balance in the studio.  I’ve been able to streamline foldedpigs that I spend less time with it but am able to produce just as much (if not more) than I used to.

I do try to keep the two aspects of my studio separate: It doesn’t bother me that people know I’m the designer and producer of foldedpigs, but I’d prefer it not be referred to as my art.  Sometimes it’s hard to escape that, but I make an effort to distinguish between the two.  I have made a conscious choice to not sell my artwork and foldedpigs in the same places, as part of the separation.

You’ve been successful with both lines of work by reaching a wide audience (one that exceeds the ceramics community).  How do you go about marketing each line?  What are the differences in target audience/etc.?  Is there any crossover?

I’ll be honest…I lucked out with foldedpigs.  I started an etsy shop in the early days of etsy (2007) so I had a decent amount of exposure right away. Within 6 months, I was asked to be a featured seller.  I went into my 3 day stint of being featured with 125 sales, and at the end of the 3 days, I had 250 sales. Doubling my 6 months worth of sales in 3 days was kind of a big deal and launched foldedpigs into a full fledge business.  My exposure on Etsy also opened some doors into product placement in magazines (BUST, Adorn, Country Living, Inked, Everyday with Rachael Ray). Etsy definitely provides a large audience, and most of the shops/boutiques I wholesale with have found me through my shop. I also sell foldedpigs in the indie craft fair circuit, locally here in Kansas City, as well as throughout the country in quite a few cities (Chicago, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Columbus, Austin, Los Angeles, and San Francisco).

I’m at the point now where the promotion isn’t just falling into my lap anymore, so I’ve been trying to figure out how social media can work to generate sales with both foldedpigs and my studio work.  Websites, blogs, twitter, pinterest, facebook, instagram, mailing lists, etc.etc.  There are so many things to update!  I was reluctant to start a facebook “like” page, but I’ve found that facebook reaches people pretty quickly.  I’m guessing no one is going to look at my website daily/weekly, but they most likely look at their facebook news feed at least once a day.  Just a quick example, this past weekend I was a vendor at a one day local indie craft fair.  I forgot to tell people about it…until the morning of!  I posted an announcement on facebook before I left the house, then in the first couple hours posted a picture on instagram of my set up.  I started seeing familiar faces show up and they all said they found out about the show from my status update.  Someone else showed up because of my instagram picture…and these quick little announcements turned into sales.

host doily setting 1 72There is definitely a different audience for each line. Foldedpigs is made for an audience that wants something a little bit more edgy than store bought commercial lines.  Foldedpigs is easily digestible, and at a much lower price point, which widens its audience. It’s straight forward.  Graphically it’s neutral (black, blue & grey on white) so that it can integrate into households easily and match/supplement their pre-existing dinnerware. It’s all uniform and stacks nicely in a cupboard.

The audience for my artwork is interested in handmade dinnerware and is okay with having a piece or two that does not match the rest of their cupboard.  They are willing to invest in a higher price point handmade object and appreciate what goes into making the object.

How did you arrive at the decision to settle and start up a studio?  What were your must-haves when choosing a studio and location?

I chose to move back to Kansas City after grad school.  I was sick of moving around so much and was ready to be in one place to try my hand at working full time in the studio.  Kansas City has a really supportive art community and it’s affordable.  I knew I would be able to live here AND have a separate studio.  I’ve found through the years that I’m happier when I’m around others while working vs. being alone.

host studioRight now my studio situation is amazing; I share a warehouse space with Rain Harris and Paul Donnelly. Because we are in a large warehouse, I’m able to have 2 separate spaces for my work and for foldedpigs, which has allowed for mental breathing space.  I’ve found that I’m much more productive with the two projects separated.  We have enough space to have a plaster area for mold making, a photo set up, woodshop, packing area, and packing materials storage.

I have to say, the photo set up is a must-have…being able to document work easily and at any point in the day has been awesome. Also, our studio is right below Crane Yard Clay Supply, so it couldn’t be more convenient.  If I’m out of plaster or a specific color of underglaze, I just have to walk upstairs.  I feel incredibly spoiled.

host studio plaster areaIn our same warehouse complex, the new Red Star Studios and Gallery are moving in.  I’m really excited to be a part of the amazing clay/art community that is developing.

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

host 3 doily vases 72I suppose there’s a rough outline of what my typical day looks like…  I’m usually up around 8:30, and head to studio by 10.  I enjoy taking my time in the morning; making breakfast, taking my sweet little beast Olive for a walk, checking email, plotting out the day in studio, etc.  Usually the first order of business when I get to the studio is to pack up any orders from Etsy and get them ready to ship.  After that, it’s work time.  I’m very deadline driven, so deadlines dictate what and when I’m making. I go through waves of making, decorating, glazing, decaling…  it’s a bit rare that all of that happens simultaneously. The balance between foldedpigs and my studio art work is a challenge.  If a random foldedpigs order comes in, I’ll run over to my other section of the studio and frantically decal for a couple of hours.  I usually finish up around 5:30-6:30 and head to the gym, afterwards, I go home to make dinner.  In the evening I usually spend a couple hours on the computer dealing with paperwork, emails, updating social media stuff, etc.etc.  If I have a really pressing deadline then I’ll skip the gym and go back to the studio after dinner to work for longer.  I work half days Saturday & Sunday, but once again, if there’s a pressing deadline, the amount of hours in the studio grow exponentially.  Then, of course, there’s the occasional day that is devoted to all computer work and paperwork. Ugh…not my favorite type of day.

I’m not sure what the exact time split between making/marketing would be, maybe 80 making/20 marketing? I’m counting paperwork, emails, and office type stuff as marketing even though it might not technically be. And I might be underestimating the marketing percentage…I spend A LOT of time on the computer.

What is the one studio tool you can’t live without?   Why?

host studio test tilesBecause my work is really layered, there’s not just one thing that would make or break it.  Taking something away would change my work a bit here and there.  So I’m going to go with a cheesy answer of… my hands, creativity, and drive.

Also, if you took away my computer, thermofax machine, underglazes, wheel, and kiln, I would be really sad.

You’ve had an Etsy site for quite a few years now.  How has your experience on Etsy helped your career?

Etsy has certainly helped my foldedpigs line get off its feet and grow for the past 6 or so years.  I mentioned this before, but I have had product in magazines and started wholesaling with shops/boutiques all because of my Etsy shop.  And ultimately, Etsy helps pay my bills and allows me to be in the studio full time.

host biscuit setting 1 72My “Meredith Host” shop is rather new, so I haven’t seen much impact quite yet. I need to start being a bit more proactive and allocating more work for this shop.

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

host mugs 1 72

Be organized. Don’t forget to document. Work your ass off.  Make, make, make, make, and MAKE some more!

To discover more about Meredith and her work, check out the following:

Meredith links:

Website: www.meredithhost.com

Shop: meredithhost.etsy.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MeredithHost

Instagram: instagram.com/meredithhost#

Studio blog: meredithhost.blogspot.com

foldedpigs dinnerware links:

Shop: foldedpigs.etsy.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/foldedpigs

Twitter: twitter.com/foldedpigs

Potter of the Month: Chandra DeBuse

For the month of April…to help ring in spring…Chandra DeBuse!

Garden Treat Server with Snail, 2012

Garden Treat Server with Snail, 2012

Chandra and I met at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts a couple years ago.  Before we met, I was flipping through Ceramics Monthly magazine and stumbled on images of Chandra’s work. I was immediately struck by her playful pots and imagined how fun they would be to use. Her work is charming and cheerful, witty and whimsical.   Most importantly, the pieces I own put a smile on my face everyday.

Here’s a sneak peek of some of Chandra’s upcoming events and where you can find a piece of hers for your very own:

To celebrate spring, Chandra will post a virtual kiln opening of new work on her Etsy site (DeBuse Ceramics) May 15th.  Also in May (4-5), she will be at Baltimore Clayworks for a two-day workshop.  July 27th, Chandra will conduct a one-day workshop at Red Star Studios in Kansas City and in September (20-22), she will present her work and her processes at the Handbuilt Conference for CERF in Philadelphia.

For additional information, please visit Chandra’s website:  www.chandradebuse.com

Enjoy the interview!

How did you first get involved in ceramics?

My early experience with ceramics was most definitely NOT love at first sight.  I was drawn to the responsiveness of soft clay, but I lacked the discipline necessary to have any kind of success during my undergraduate ceramics class.  Fast forward a few years—I was working a stressful job and I needed a creative outlet, so I took a community clay class.  By that time, I had matured and gained discipline and everything clicked.  I couldn’t get enough.

What made you choose to attend a post-bacc program in ceramics? Can you talk a little bit about how that decision impacted your career path?   

DeBuse_APF

American Pottery Festival 2012

Going back to school after I had been working in clay for 8 years was a game-changer.  I had been gaining knowledge through community classes, books, magazines and workshops but I was really hungry to know more and academia seemed like a logical next step.  I took two clay classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before applying to their post-bacc program.  Just being in the university environment helped me understand the culture of academic clay, filled in some gaps in my education and helped me start to think critically about my work.  The encouragement and generosity of the faculty, graduate students, and my peers helped me to sort out my vision for my own future.  As a special student, I was at an advantage because I was paying in-state tuition so I took some extra classes: an art history survey course, kiln building, and sat in on the graduate seminar, while working on my portfolio and applications to graduate school.  Being a special student was like being inside a magical bubble where I had a lot of opportunity and not a ton of responsibility.  Seeing how another program’s graduate department operated gave me insights that helped me navigate my own graduate school experience.   Oh yeah, and I made some good friendships that continue to this day.

With a background in psychology, how did you decide to pursue a Master’s degree in Ceramics? 

I have always had fluid ideas of career and education and some days I even ponder what I’ll study next.  After working in human services and nonprofit administration, I was ready for a career change, although I was not entirely sure where my MFA would lead.   I always felt that my undergraduate degree just scratched the surface of the field of psychology and I kept searching for a deeper understanding of the human experience.  That quest led me to making pottery and continues in the work I make today.

How do you feel that your formal education (including your psychology degree) prepared you for your career in ceramics?  

The practical on-the-job experience I gained between undergrad and grad school developed my skills in mediation, listening, problem solving, communication, record keeping, grant writing/reporting, time management, personnel management and statistics. I definitely drew upon those skills during graduate school and I have used every one of those skills as a potter! I feel that the life I lived before I found clay gives me not only appreciation but also a perspective that grounds me.

My work is much stronger because I went to graduate school.  Formal education taught me how to continue asking questions and improving on my ideas. I also grew to understand how educating others through direct teaching and presentation aids my own artistic

DeBuse_Studio

Kansas City Studio, 2012

development.  The support I have received from the University of Florida ceramics community during school and since graduation has without a doubt pushed my career forward.school developed my skills in mediation, listening, problem solving, communication, record keeping, grant writing/reporting, time management, personnel management and statistics. I definitely drew upon those skills during graduate school and I have used every one of those skills as a potter! I feel that the life I lived before I found clay gives me not only appreciation but also a perspective that grounds me.

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

I make voluminous pots that incorporate narrative hand-drawn imagery and pattern, candy colors, and bouncing lines to impart a sense of play.   Because I learned about pottery-making in a relaxed community pottery studio, on my own terms, outside of an academic agenda, I approached clay in a very playful way. I trained myself to play with clay for 8 years before learning to think conceptually about pottery.  This shift in thinking was painful for me and I’m pretty sure it was painful for my instructors too.  My early forms and surfaces weren’t cohesive.  Working narratively is a straightforward way of communicating ideas.  I always loved drawing, but I didn’t seriously try drawing on pots until the summer

DeBuseChandraSquirrel

Catch Platter, 2010

before my thesis year.  It all started with squirrels, which were always right outside the studio window.  Squirrels are just like students:  they are impulsive and obsessed with a goal.   A metaphor was born.


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 thesis installation was a retelling of my own graduate school experience:  a playful story of achievement through the eyes of a squirrel.  After grad school, I continued working under the same larger themes of play and achievement, but started working through different stories with different characters and landscapes.

The process of play remains an important part of my studio practice. My formula for creative play is:  low risk + high novelty.  Ideas are born in my sketchbook.  I’ll start with a doodle, turn that doodle into a character and think about the struggle that character is involved in.   I add details to the drawing, play with composition, edit down, and relate the story to the landscape of a vessel.   I throw forms on the wheel and handbuild, using soft slabs with molds that I generate out of clay, plywood and/or craft foam.  These inexpensive materials are easy for me to customize and quickly work through ideas about shape and form.  Even as a novelty junkie, I do believe that great pots are born from discipline and repetitive practice, looking with a critical eye and making adjustments for the next round.

I’ve always been attracted to your use of the narrative.  What comes first, story or form?

DeBuse_Tumblers

Troublemaker Tumblers, 2012

 It depends on what I’m working on.  I use cups and plates to try out a lot of narratives, so the stories might change, but the forms stay the same.  My loose narratives are based on larger themes, such as achievement or play.  These larger themes tie my work together.  Casual observers may not make the connections between the pieces, but for me, they are all related.  The tiered treat server forms were conceived while I was developing my thesis.  The tiered forms tell the story of desire, as it relates to achieving a goal and reaching the reward.  When I include a character on a treat server, such as a snail or squirrel, they are involved in that struggle of getting to the highest tier.  The function of the server, to hold treats, is conceptually relevant to the story too. It is much different than if I were designing a server for fruits and vegetables. The result is a piece with layers of meaning.

I know that you’ve moved around a bit post-graduate school.  Could you describe some of the most influential or career changing experiences you’ve had?  

Being a resident artist at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (Gatlinburg, TN) was pretty special.  The national summer workshop programming provided me with opportunities to meet renowned artists (like you!), host visitors in my studio, and give weekly public powerpoint presentations about my work.  There aren’t too many places that offer that kind of exposure.  I knew that continuing the momentum built during graduate school would depend on making a lot of work and finding an audience for my work.  I was lucky to land in two year-long residencies (Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach, FL and Arrowmont) that provided financial stipends and allowed me to devote the majority of my time to my artistic practice.

Being recognized as one of six emerging artists at the 2012 NCECA conference, being named an Emerging Artist in Ceramics Monthly magazine and delivering an NCECA-sponsored lecture during SOFA Chicago made 2012 a remarkable year.  This happened as I was preparing to make a transition to being a full-time studio potter.  The exposure certainly hasn’t hurt. 2013 has some big shoes to fill though.

Kansas City is a hotbed for ceramics.  Not only is it home to the Kansas City Art Institute, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Sherry Leedy Gallery, Red Star Studios, etc., but there are many private studios maintained by internationally recognized ceramic artists (like yourself) in the area.  Now that you’ve settled and set up a studio, can you describe what attracted you to Kansas City?  

It IS a hotbed!  There are countless benefits to living in a city with such a thriving clay and arts community.  Since moving here, I taught a community class at Red Star Studios, presented to the KC Clay Guild, and I am currently an instructional assistant at the Kansas City Art Institute.  My boyfriend Tommy, the Studio Manager at Red Star Studios, has done a lot to keep me connected to the arts community here.  If not for him, I would probably hole up in my studio way too much.

DeBuse_InProcess2

Glazing, 2012

After living in some remote areas, I can really appreciate the access that Kansas City offers. I live a mile from Crane Yard Clay, which sells studio materials and supplies, there is even a packaging supply distributor where I can drive over and load the truck with bulk shipping materials, there’s a really cheap place that sells clean scrap upholstery foam.  No more harvesting foam from nasty side-of-the-road couches!  There are some really great restaurants (not just bbq!). When I moved here, I had a full calendar of show obligations, so I needed to set up a studio quickly.  I chose to rent studio space in a quieter place near the arts district.  The cost of living is moderate and I grew up just a few hours north of here, so Kansas City feels like home.

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 is evolving.  After graduate school, I wanted to spend 3-5 years primarily focusing on my artwork in an effort to build on the momentum I gained during school (I am in year 3). As it happened, I spent the first two years in artist residency programs.  While at Arrowmont, I began to find an audience for my work and started a mailing list to keep connected to the hundreds of people I met.  I have been working as an independent studio potter since last July, piecing together my income from selling pots, teaching and doing workshops.  It has been stressful at times and I have not got the pie chart of income figured out yet. There is much tweaking to be done with price points and time investments.  I am still pretty open-minded about opportunities that take me out of my studio, as long as they present chances for income, learning, and still leave room for me to make pots.

DeBuse_InProcess

Squirrel Treat Server in process, 2013

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

I have yet to find “typical.”  So far, deadlines have driven my time.  Last summer and a little bit this fall, I was spending 14 hour days in the studio, preparing for shows.  Teaching, traveling, packing and shipping work, taking photographs, applying for things and writing articles have taken me out of the studio.  When I’m out of the studio, such as doing a workshop or setting up a show, I try to be mindful of marketing opportunities.  A snapshot of me teaching a workshop posted to the web on my blog or facebook page tells my story and serves as a marketing tool.  It not only connects with my audience, but defines who I am and what I have to offer.  Working with other organizations, such as AMACO and Northern Clay Center has resulted in media that has expanded my audience.

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

Marketing efforts should reflect your brand identity, which should be cohesive with your artist statement.  If you want organizations to invite you to do workshops, make sure that your online content reflects that.  Share pictures of yourself giving workshops, record a little video demo and put it on Youtube.  Write a how-to article for a ceramics publication, present at NCECA.  If there is a product you love and use in your studio practice, reach out to the manufacturer and let them know.  It may lead to some kind of partnership that can lend exposure to your work.  There are many ways to tackle the marketing monster, but it’s all about finding your audience and creating opportunities.

There is a mythology surrounding a potter’s life and marketing efforts tend to lean toward, “crafting the mythology.”  I think there is a lot of truth to this, especially since it doesn’t make much business sense to promote an image of failure—even if that’s the reality.  Those who are actually making and selling their work and making a living are exceptionally disciplined and resourceful.  I have my eye on those people and I try to learn as much as I can from the ways they have structured their businesses.

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

DeBuseChandraTS2-1

Garden Treat Server with Snail, 2012

The internet is really changing the gallery/artist/collector relationship.  Well-respected galleries are able to reach a wider audience and lend credibility to emerging artists.  I prioritize galleries who have both a physical gallery and an online presence.  It is imperative that galleries selling online represent my work through beautiful displays, photographs and provide promotional materials, including catalogs, posters, print mailings and social media.  As my work has become more visible in the past year, keeping galleries stocked with inventory has been challenging.  David Trophia of Crimson Laurel Gallery in Bakersville, NC recently offered advice to “under-promise” and “over-deliver.”  It’s good advice and my mantra for 2013.

Although I want to maintain excellent relationships with galleries, the traditional gallery model of sales is not feasible as my only source of income.  Commissions, cost of studio rental, materials, labor, shipping and taxes eats away the profits of making time intensive work like mine.  I am currently researching opportunities to increase the potential for direct sales.

I know that you have an Etsy site where you sell your wares.  Can you briefly describe your Etsy experience?

My Etsy site (DeBuse Ceramics) has been open for 8 months.  Most of my sales through Etsy have been with people who are already familiar with my work.  The biggest challenge for me has been to allocate work to my Etsy site instead of sending it to other venues.  When you look at pure profit, it may seem like a no-brainer to focus on direct sales, but maintaining gallery relationships is a tremendous benefit.  My business plan includes increasing my Etsy listings. I will be launching a virtual kiln opening on May 15th on my Etsy site, where I will be listing 30 new pieces celebrating spring.

DeBuse_InUse

Floral Cup and Plate in use, 2013

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

Collect what interests you in a sketchbook or binder.  Make a lot of work.  Seek feedback from people you respect.  Experiment with other solutions.  Allow yourself to play.  Write about your work often (what are the pieces communicating?  How are they doing that? How could they say it better?).  For me, giving a 5-10 minute power point presentation about my work always helps me to condense my ideas and verbalize my intentions.  More often than not the process of preparing a presentation leads to new ideas and gives my studio practice a kick in the pants.

For more info about Chandra and her work, please visit her website: www.chandradebuse.com

And…here’s a shortlist of what Chandra’s up to these days:

Upcoming Workshops:

BALTIMORE CLAYWORKS WORKSHOP: MAY 4-5, 2013, BALTIMORE, MD   HTTP://WWW.BALTIMORECLAYWORKS.ORG/CLASS/MTCLASSES/SPRING2013/WORKSHOPS/WS02_DEBUSE_WORKSHOP.HTML

RED STAR STUDIOS: 1-DAY WORKSHOP, JULY 27, 2013, KANSAS CITY, MO  HTTP://REDSTARSTUDIOS.ORG/WORKSHOPARTICLE/ARTS-WORKSHOPS-KANSAS-CITY.HTML

HANDBUILT CONFERENCE FOR CERF: SEPTEMBER 20,21,22, PHILADELPHIA, PA  HTTP://SANDIANDNEIL.COM/HANDBUILT-2013

Upcoming Shows:

VIRTUAL KILN OPENING, MAY 15, 2013 –FEATURING 30 BRAND-NEW PIECES CELEBRATING SPRING  WWW.ETSY.COM/SHOP/DEBUSECERAMICS

AKAR 2013 YUNOMI INVITATIONAL (ONLINE ONLY), APRIL 19 – MAY 17, 2013  HTTP://WWW.AKARDESIGN.COM/SHOWS/UPCOMING.ASP#SHOW126

SMALL FAVORS VIII, THE CLAY STUDIO, PHILADELPHIA, PA, MAY 3 – JUNE 2, 2013  HTTP://WWW.THECLAYSTUDIO.ORG/EXHIBITION/SMALL-FAVORS-VIII