Sue Tirrell: Potter of the Month

With the annual NCECA Conference rounding the corner, and the first days of spring upon us, I figured it was the perfect time to feature Sue Tirrell’s spirited work!  I have been a fan of Sue’s work since I can remember…being particularly attracted to the narrative aspect in combination with her unassuming forms and vibrant palette.  I’m also intrigued by how her pots inform her sculptural work and vice versa.

White Horse Dinner Plate

White Horse Dinner Plate

In the interview, Sue gives succinct advice about how to market your work as well as explaining the realities of building and maintaining a studio art practice.  Sue also expands on how both Art School and life experience have helped her to shape a successful career.  Find out why Sue connects her creative process to that of a sourdough starter, why the word “whimsy” just isn’t descriptive enough and why horses are an integral part of her narrative.

Enjoy!

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

4th of July Parade, Red Lodge, MT (1985)

4th of July Parade, Red Lodge, MT (1985)

I took my first ceramics class during my freshman year at Cottey College, a 2-year liberal arts college in Nevada, Missouri. My strengths and interests were in drawing and painting, so I thought I would end up in illustration or graphic design. I signed up for ceramics because I had never worked in a 3-D medium and it sounded like fun. My first teacher was Cameron Crawford, who currently teaches at California State University, Chico. He was really tough and I found clay to be extremely frustrating. I’m pretty stubborn though, so I kept after it.

Studio-2I ended up taking ceramics the full two years I was at Cottey before completing my BFA at Alfred University in Alfred, NY. I chose Alfred because they had 6 dynamic faculty members in ceramics and an extensive facility; also, I liked that it was in a rural setting. Having a network of peers and faculty that were both rigorous and supportive was a tremendous experience. Everybody worked incredibly hard, but we had a blast doing it. I came home to Montana during my summer breaks to work for a couple that made production pottery and jewelry.

It is hard to describe how beneficial it was to have this experience sandwiched between semesters at Art School. I learned to be a better thrower, what an efficient studio and home business look like and, most importantly, I saw how being an independent artist is really a lifestyle. I really think I got the best kind of education during these years—creative investigation and development punctuated with practical experiences in a production environment.

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

I was fortunate to have been surrounded by teachers and peers that were encouraging and supportive, but at the same time had extremely high standards and expectations of me.. It was really exciting to work with colleagues that were always pushing their work to the next level and trying

Red Unicorns Platter

Red Unicorns Platter

new things. I think this is a really helpful way to begin a career—observing that even if you are working alone, there are others in the clay community working just as hard–or harder–than you, to be better every day. Art School also taught me about asking questions and considering what motivates me as a maker and why. Working for the studio potter in Montana taught me about making things that people want to use and, therefore, purchase; about taking care of my equipment and taking care of my back; and about managing my time (something I continue to struggle with! ).

I was first introduced to your sculptural work and then years later fell in love with your pots.  Did one (sculpture/pottery) come before the other or have you always worked on them simultaneously? How do they inform each other?

Circus Rider With Dog and Hoop

Circus Rider With Dog and Hoop

I’m really not sure which came first! I fell in love with functional pots for the simple way they connect the maker to the user. I’ve always made pots, but I never felt like I had a unique hand with functional forms. My strengths were in the surface, not the forms, so making pots wasn’t something I did regularly. As a result, my undergraduate work dealt mainly with abstract, landscape-inspired sculpture. At the same time, my drawings on paper became more dense and sculptural. I began making figure and animal sculpture when I graduated and came home to Montana in 1998. I loved the landscape-based work I made in school, but once I returned to the landscape that I had been away from for so long, I felt I didn’t need to make it anymore.

My horse Charles

My horse Charles

That year, I found myself in Miles City, the largest town in Eastern Montana, running educational outreach programs in rural schools and communities for the Custer County Art & Heritage Center. I loved driving the lonely highways and dirt roads, stopping to admire herds of cattle, horses and sheep. I boarded my horse at a farm nearby that was also home to goats, dogs, chickens, geese, burros and a giant pig. There were even a couple of bison at one point! This was the closest I had ever been to being a farm-girl, and I wanted to tell stories about the animals in my sculpture. When I moved to my current home and studio in 2005, I became a full-time studio artist and began making pots again to supplement my income.

Trick-Roper Platter

Trick-Roper Platter

Currently, pots are my main focus, but making sculpture allows me a mental break and the chance to take a drawing from a pot and turn it into a more complex, three- dimensional narrative. Each body of work informs the other—I started drawing people on my pots because there were things I didn’t think I could achieve with sculpture, like trick-riders and horses flying through the air or a skier encountering a polar bear. Now I am taking some of those drawings and translating them back to sculpture.

sue side by side

I love how you describe your work on your website as “Folkloric pottery and sculpture with a modern sensibility”. Can you expand what you mean by this?

Grey Rabbits and Poppies Dessert Plates

Grey Rabbits and Poppies Dessert Plates

Well,the short version is I was tired of the word “whimsical” being used to describe my work so often!  Whimsy implies that everything is all sunshine and flowers—and some of my work IS just that, which is perfectly fine. However, a lot of it tells a more complicated tale. I want my work to evoke memories and spark conversation in the audience. The best feed-back I get from people are the reasons why they relate to a piece. I have heard stories about beheading chickens, midnight lambing duty, encounters with bears, favorite dogs, and swimming in the ocean with horses. I love how people identify with certain animals, and that a mug or platter or sculpture can enhance that relationship through a shared

Winter Rider Detail

Winter Rider Detail

narrative. I often use bits and pieces of folktales or fables as a starting point for a piece, making the reference vague enough that the viewer can imagine their own version of events. To further this ambiguity, I use a combination of traditional-looking details and modern touches so the piece can’t be placed in any specific place or time. Often the imagery itself can look “vintage,” but the vibrant colors and animated carving on the crisp porcelain canvas give it a more contemporary feel.

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

Vintage Photograph

Vintage Photograph

I draw a lot on the rich history and physical beauty of Montana and the West and my experiences in it. I used to visit a lot of antique stores when I lived in Eastern Montana, making a bee-line for the boxes of old photos. I looked for images of people with animals, specifically women and horses. These photos have served as a starting point for many of my sculptures. I also loved looking at old horse tack and vintage textiles—quilts, embroidered pillowcases, crocheted doilies and tablecloths. All these objects beg to tell their stories, and they find their way into my work through color combinations, textures, and direct drawing references.

White Rabbit Teapot and CupWhen I am finishing a body of work, I always take something from that group and add it to the next—like a sourdough starter. Similarly, I might think of something new along the way and save it for the next piece. I like the unity this creates in my work over time. The changes may appear slight, but to me they are significant.

Do you have a favorite “creature” to draw? If so, why?

My first pony Cocoa

My first pony Cocoa

Horses! I have been obsessed with horses as long as I can remember, and I have been drawing them since I could hold a pencil. Drawing was how I got to know them before I had the pleasure of meeting one in person. I got my first pony when I was 8 and I have been riding ever since. I also love drawing rabbits. I had several pet rabbits when I was growing up, and I showed them, along with my horses, at the 4-H fair each summer. Having the privilege of this intimacy with animals gives me endless inspiration. I love to see them come to life each time I finish a drawing.

You are lucky to live in Montana where despite its remote location and sparse population, there is a rich ceramic history and incredible community support for clay. Recently, a group called Montana Clay was developed to help promote ceramic artists/craftsmen/schools/art centers/galleries/etc in the state. Can you talk about how Montana Clay formed and what your involvement is in the group?

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.27.48 AMYes, we are very lucky! Generally speaking, Montana has a notably vibrant arts scene, and the ceramics community is especially large and tight-knit. Montana Clay is two things: A website clearing-house of information related to ceramics in the state of Montana and a loosely organized group of artists, teachers, and advocates. The site includes links to schools, universities and residency programs, art centers, museums, galleries, and artists who are currently living and working in the state. The group itself welcomes anyone in Montana who is involved in the ceramic arts to gather once a year to share ideas, plan exhibits, celebrate each other’s achievements, and have a kick-ass potluck! Montana Clay provides a very inclusive, supportive means for artists across the state to stay connected in what can otherwise be a very insular vocation.

How did you decide to settle and build a studio in your current location and how has your studio practice evolved?

I moved to my current location in Southwestern Montana when I married my husband in 2005. He had a teaching job here and I was ready to move back to the mountains after spending 7 years on the beautiful plains of Eastern Roadtrip knittingMontana. I set up a studio in the unfinished basement of our house and divided my time between art-making and a number of part- time jobs. During the first few years it was hard finding my groove—up until that point I had always worked in a communal studio setting so the solitude bothered me at first. I also had a hard time giving myself permission to call what I did in the studio my full-time job. Gradually, my artwork kept me busy enough that I could quit the other jobs. In 2009, we put an addition on our house that included a large basement space which became my current studio. Today, my biggest challenge is finding a balance between my studio practice and other areas of my life. I find it very easy to work long days and not take breaks between deadlines. I know my body and mind suffer when I get into that routine, so I am trying to be vigilant on that front!

Being in such a remote area, how do you best reach your audience? What kind of advice could you give someone wanting to market their work?

I have found that my audience is best reached through a combination of gallery representation and my own efforts to present my work through home sales and craft fairs. Having a diversity of marketing strategies enables my work to be seen in many places at once. I rely heavily on galleries that have a strong client base and web presence to sell work on my behalf. Everything involved in marketing and selling online—photography, uploading each item, communicating with buyers and shipping—takes an enormous amount of time that could be spent working in the studio. I love all the galleries I work with, and they do a MUCH better job with outreach than I ever could.

Painting Dapples on Horse Plate

Painting Dapples on Horse Plate

When personally marketing work, I would suggest use of user-friendly internet mediums, studio sales, local arts and crafts fairs, and workshops. Facebook and Instagram are easy DIY marketing tools. You don’t have write exhaustive, image heavy blog posts, but giving your followers a peek at what you are up to on a regular basis keeps your work in people’s minds. The same goes for attending openings, workshops, and lectures in person. If you stay visible in your creative community, your work will receive attention, too. I also promote my work closer to home by having an annual studio sale and attending a regional craft fair every year. To prepare for the studio sale, I send out a postcard to

Building up Surface

Building up Surface

everyone I know and give them a discount if they bring a friend, or if they wear a fancy outfit (my sale is always on Kentucky Derby Day!). I clean the house and studio, make some pies, and put a sign on the road to encourage passers- by. I also make sure I leave out a notebook for newcomers to leave their contact information for future sales. This is a great way to engage your community in the work you do. The people who attend my Spring Sale are mostly friends and neighbors, but the event has become an annual tradition and I really appreciate the support of my little neighborhood. The first few years you may not sell much, but it goes a long way toward building a loyal, year-round client base. Plus, you get a clean studio and leftover pie at the end! I have also been doing one craft fair per summer for the last 4 years as a way to test the waters in a new market. I choose an event in a town where I have no gallery representation, is within driving distance, and provides a fun atmosphere when I’m not working.

Carving a chickenI have learned a great deal over the years about what works well at a fair and what doesn’t. Fairs are physically and emotionally exhausting, especially for ceramic artists. Schlepping your work to and from a fair is BACKBREAKING work. You can have a rogue wind that wrecks your tent and breaks your pots, or a weather event that keeps your patrons away. Spending 8 hours a day on your feet talking about your work gets tiresome even for the extroverts among us. Overall, most of my sales come through galleries and that is ideal for me. I like the personal interactions with customers at a fair or my studio sale but that is not a sustainable business model for me year-round.

What other hobbies/interests do you have to balance your studio life? Do any of your hobbies inform your work?

My husband and I love to cook and garden, which is a great way to spend time together. I keep a few chickens in our back yard (for egg production, pest control, and drawing purposes!) and I like trail running with our dogs. My most consuming personal interests are horses and knitting.

My new horse Mabel

Like I said before, I have been a horse-crazy girl all my life and I know I am an artist because of horses. Early on, I made up for any horse deficits in my life by drawing them. Herds of horses filling notebooks, unicorns in the margins of my math homework, blueprints for my dream farm on brown paper bags. As I have grown up with horses, my knowledge of them has expanded and my ideas about them are more complex. Building a relationship of mutual trust with a half-ton prey animal is no small thing. I am currently working with a young horse, so this concept is on my mind every day. She is learning to follow my direction and I am learning to give her confidence in my leadership. It is a new way of thinking about human/animal relationships that fascinates me and will continue to for years to come.. She is learning to follow my direction and I am learning to give her confidence in my leadership. It is a new way of thinking about human/animal relationships that fascinates me and will continue to for years to come.

I learned to knit as a child and picked it back up when I graduated from college. It is a warm, dry, tactile, and portable craft that I can do when I travel or to unwind at night. The repetitive structure of the patterns appeals to me and feels similar to the carving I do on my pots.

Icelandic Sweater in Progress

Icelandic Sweater in Progress

Like ceramics, there is no end to what you can learn in knitting. Sweaters are my favorite thing to make—they are like making teapots. Each piece of the garment has to be well crafted and and integrated with the other parts in order for the finished piece to function properly.

An unexpected bonus of these two pastimes is meeting people, learning lessons, and stumbling upon ideas that I would never encounter in my studio life.

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

Chinook Rider

Chinook Rider

Learn all you can about what it takes to work in this field. Find a job or volunteer in a local gallery, museum, or art center. I spent seven years working in a small community art center where I not only taught ceramics, but learned about framing, hanging, lighting and shipping artwork; writing and tracking grants; fundraising, and outreach. I even learned about building pedestals and industrial carpet cleaning! I left that job with skills that I use every day in my own studio practice, and developed contacts with museums and galleries that gave a huge boost to my career as an independent artist. I also recommend reaching out to artists whose work or career path you admire. Most people are happy to share their story with you, and many would welcome you working alongside them in exchange for their knowledge and expertise. You never know if you don’t ask. The time I spent working in a local potter’s studio was a very different experience than my college education but was equally important.

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

suetirrellceramics.com

And…Sue currently has a solo exhibition of new work on display at Red Lodge Clay Center.  Click here to view the show.

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Kristen Kieffer: Potter of the Month

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kiefferceramics.com