Kristen Kieffer: Potter of the Month

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Matt Repsher: Potter of the Month

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

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

Enjoy the interview!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Facebook: Matt Repsher Ceramics

Instagram: @repsherceramics

Justin Lambert: Potter of the Month

jen allen - 06 This month features the wonderfully kind and amazingly talented, Justin Lambert!  Since completing school in 2003, Justin’s been making wood-fired and wood-soda fired pots out of his home studio (and anagama kiln) in southeastern Florida.  I was first introduced to Justin’s work through my husband, Shoji, as the two of them were fellow Indiana University graduate students.

Justin’s pots are handsome, rich and warm.  The forms swell with volume and the surfaces beg to be touched.  The usefulness of his work is undeniable and his craft is impeccable.  Justin’s pots are in regular rotation in my household as his work is a charming addition to any dining table.

In this interview, Justin speaks candidly and succinctly about life, teaching and the joys of the creative process.

jen allen - 03How did you first get involved in ceramics?

I was surfing one day in the fall of 1997 with a friend, and he asked if I wanted to take ceramics with him.  I was attending Florida Atlantic University as a computer information systems major, and he needed an elective to graduate.  I said, “sure, why not”, I could use some elective credits as well.  I enjoyed the class, and my first ceramics teacher (John McCoy) got me hooked.

Can you briefly describe your background and education?

dsc_7356I received my BFA from Florida Atlantic University in 1999, then spent a year at San Diego State University as a special student.  In 2003 I completed my MFA at Indiana University, and returned to Florida.

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

In grad school I learned time management, work ethic, and critical analysis.  It seemed there was never enough time in the day, and that is still the case today.  I work at a comfortable pace, trying not to “crank” out work.  That’s not to say I don’t make lots of pots, but I try not to set a numerical daily goal or watch the clock.  I want to enjoy my time in the studio, and make every piece as best I can.  Self critique is the most powerful tool from my formal education.

How would you describe your work?  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?

jen allen - 02I make clean, utilitarian, wood fired pottery, it’s that simple.  Chinese ceramics, specifically porcelain from Song Dynasty, always holds my attention and inspires forms.  Slip work and surface treatment are inspired by moving water.  Long period swell lines wrapping into a cove or along a point are referenced in slip decoration.  Flowing and pooling ash glaze remind me of waves washing ashore, and tidal flows.  Shallow, snow melt, rock streams glisten like the “sparkly” ash glazed surface.  My time spent out of the studio is sacred, and gives me peace and clarity.  Each firing influences the work in a progressive manner, changing things ever so slightly in both the work, and firing schedule. I look at my work as a slow and steady progression of my aesthetic.  I hope this helps me make “honest” pottery.

dsc_7343What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice/style?

jen allen - 08Intent, Content, Audience  I think about these 3 words constantly, and ask if my work clearly communicates my ideas to the viewer.  I ask if my work is contributing to the conversation of wood fired, utilitarian pottery.  Finally, make lots of work, make lots of work, make lots of work, etc.  Whatever you do, do it the very best you can.  Nothing worth anything is easy, without struggle there is no accomplishment.

You’ve taught part time at universities, community colleges and art centers.  How are you able to juggle teaching and studio work?  What advice could you give to someone wanting to try to balance both?

My advice in trying to balance both, is don’t sacrifice your priorities.  In my experience, my studio work suffered, when I was teaching 25 hours per week (plus commuting time to 3 different schools).  Right out of grad school I accepted several part time teaching jen allen - 11opportunities, which left me with 10-20 hrs a week in the studio at most.  My work was not progressing, and at one point I felt the work I made in grad school was better than what I was making 5 years out of grad school.  It was an unbalanced situation, I really wanted more time in the studio.  2 years ago I cut back on teaching, and gave myself 40+ hours a week in the studio.  I really love teaching, and recently I’ve been enjoying giving workshops.  If you want to land a nice teaching job, I think you will have more options if you have a solid portfolio.  Several of my friends landed awesome teaching jobs right out of grad school, but I don’t think that is the norm these days.  In the end, you have to decide what balance works best for you.

How has teaching impacted/enhanced your career as a studio potter?

dsc_7464Gosh, how has it not!  Teaching has enabled me to communicate better with my peers, and firing crew.  My studio practice is very solitary during the making, but very communal during the firing.  With so many variables in wood firing, it’s very important to limit and control those variables to achieve the results I am looking for.  Developing systems to clearly communicate stoking patterns, atmosphere indicators, etc. to my firing crew, isn’t much different than teaching ceramics students at the state college.  In fact, most of the people who fire with me were students of mine as some point.

Wood firing is a community-building endeavor.  Many potters who wood fire travel the continent and the world to help fire other people’s kilns.  What are your thoughts about working in a tradition that takes many hands to accomplish certain tasks?  What kind of advice would you offer to someone wanting to work in this tradition?

dsc_7389Build it, and they will come.  Everyone who fires with wood falls into one of two categories (either the person who builds it, or the person that comes to help).  I built a small kiln initially, and over the years a wood fire community has developed around my studio necessitating a larger kiln.  10 years ago, I couldn’t find but one or two people to fire with me.  Now I don’t have space for all the folks interested in firing with me.  I am grateful for all the help firing, splitting wood, cleaning the kiln, etc.  In the beginning, I feel it is best to fire with as many different artists, in as many different kilns as possible.  Everyone does it differently, and there aren’t any rules.  I am always amazed at how each woodfire artist approaches the woodfire aesthetic.  Try to gain a thorough understanding of how to fire a wood kiln, so you can adjust the variables to give you the appropriate results for your work.

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

I had a pretty decent run on Etsy a few years back, but my lack of desire to spend time on the computer left my shop in the dust.  I have a few studio sales each year, and host jen allen - 12private studio visits by appt.  Of course, selling direct is the very best way to get the most money for your work.  Lately, I’ve been working more with some well known ceramics galleries.  I really like this type of venue for many reasons.  I ship 20-30 pots at a time to each gallery, so it’s a nice way to share a firings worth of pots with my audience.  The best part is the viewer is able to handle the work, and it certainly gets my pots into the hands of people far away from my studio.  The galleries work hard to share my work with their clients, and I can refresh their inventory every firing.  We fire every 6 weeks, so it’s a great way to get new work to my audience.  Facebook and Instagram are good vehicles to keep folks informed on where they can handle my pots.  I keep my website updated fairly well with current shows, firings, studio practices, etc.  My plan is to spend more time selling online direct from my website within the next year, but feel it’s important to establish good relationships with galleries right now.

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?

jen allen - 07Grad school was the first time I was away from the ocean since I was 12, so I was pretty anxious to return to the salt.  Jupiter, FL has a town feel, dog friendly beach, great boat ramps and fishing, is close to family, has warm weather, and I grew up surfing the area.  My house is 10 miles from the beach, but zoning allows me to have my anagama in my backyard and home studio.  There really was not any wood firing in this area, or much in Florida 10 years ago, so I knew I had to build my own kiln.  It’s been wonderful having my studio, and anagama just steps away.  I can peek out my bedroom door and check on the kiln while someone else is firing, how cool is that!

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

jen allen - 16I wake up with the sun, have coffee and breakfast, play with the dogs, and into the studio by 8.  I tend to be most productive in the morning, so I try to ignore any emails, calls, etc.  I take lunch around 12, play with the dogs again, then back in the studio.  I tend to take care of email, calls, packing work, etc. in the afternoon, or early evening.  My wife is in her third year of pharmacy school, so I like to have dinner ready when she gets home.  I probably spend about 20% of my time taking care of marketing, and 80% working in the studio (which includes packing work, cleaning work, prepping for a firing, etc.). 

At your pottery, you constructed a smokeless anagama kiln.  Can you talk a little bit about a “smokeless” wood kiln, where the idea originated, how it was constructed, etc.  Can you also 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?

jen allen - 15Up until 2 years ago, I was firing with mostly pine.  Pine gives off a lot of smoke when it burns, so I started to think about ways to reduce the smoke coming from the chimney.  In conversations with Bede Clarke, I tried what he did in his anagama at school with mixed results.  I needed a larger chamber to burn the excess fuel, bricking in an empty space was not enough to combust the excess fuel.  I added a chamber on the back of the anagama, half is used for soda, half is a series of “flue walls”.  I have fired about 40 times since living here, but figured if I could eliminate any smoke my neighbors would continue to be happy.  (To view stoking videos of Justin’s anagama, click here)

As for kiln design, it’s really up to the individual.  Size being the most crucial decision, followed by a design that will give the results desired.  The web is an amazing research jen allen - 10tool.  I designed my kiln based on all the different kilns I have fired, too many books to list, and countless designs researched on the web.  In the end, I would make a few changes if I built my kiln again.  Kiln design preference is a constantly evolving variable, as the work changes so will the kiln.  I am on my 5th kiln design at my studio in 10 years.  Prior to building any kiln, try to fire as many different kilns, with as many different people as possible, that’s the best research you can do.

You recently started an apprenticeship program.  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.)?

The apprentice program started by coincidence.  Matthew Falvey was a student at FAU who had been firing with me for his last year of his BFA.  When he finished, we decided to work more closely for the next year.  I enjoy the conversations that take place between serious artists, and this was the perfect opportunity.  Of course I could use help with all tasks associated with wood firing, and I am eager to teach wood firing techniques.  It’s really a win, win situation for everyone.

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

jen allen - 04Make sure you clearly convey your expectations to your potential assistant, and they do the same for you.  Figure out what you have to offer to your assistant, and what your assistant can offer you. 

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, stay out of debt, don’t take student loans if possible (there are plenty of great programs offering substantial financial assistance), find a clay community where you feel comfortable, even better if you can “sell” a good number of pots local and direct, make lots of pots.

jen allen - 01
For more info about Justin, please visit his website:
To see Justin’s work and for available inventory, click on the gallery links below:
Crimson Laurel Gallery
Taos Clay Downtown Gallery
Upcoming Shows and Events:
“Woodfire Invitational”  St Pete Clay
“Narrative of Fire Invitational”  Artworks, New Bedford, MA
“30×5 Invitational”  AKAR Gallery
“Winterfest Invitational”  Baltimore Clayworks
“Cyber Monday Online Solo Show”  Crimson Laurel Gallery
March 2014   “NCECA EXPO”  I will be showing new work with “Spinning Earth Gallery”
May 2014 “Ashfest”  2 week anagama firing workshop at Dan Finch’s in Bailey, NC  more info at
October 2014  “Artist of the Month”  Red Lodge Clay Center
October-December   Jingdezhen, China with WVU

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.

Kris Bliss: Potter of the Month


Kris Bliss

This month’s potter, Kris Bliss, is someone near and dear to my heart.  Kris is a wholesale potter who lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska.  In 1998, I walked into Kris’s studio hoping to land a job as a studio assistant.  Little did I know, that visit was the beginning of a lasting friendship.  Kris was not only my mentor, teacher and dear friend, but she’s like a second mom to me.  Work never felt like work at the pottery (ok, well sometimes…like packing and shipping day).  I feel so fortunate to have had these rich experiences so early in my career and am forever indebted to Kris for giving me a chance in the first place.  I will always cherish our time together.

I worked for Kris for 4 years and two summers.  In that time, Kris taught me about managing a studio, participating in craft sales, and becoming more efficient with my studio practice.  She started me out with basic studio chores: hauling water, wedging clay, packing and shipping work, grinding/sanding pots, recycling clay, loading/unloading the bisque/glaze kilns, cleaning/mopping the studio, etc. By the end of my time with Kris, she trusted me enough to produce cart after cart of piecework and to glaze kiln load after kiln load of Bliss Pottery.

the pottery

the pottery

Kris is full of life and love.  Kris, the eldest of six siblings, comes from a large Alaskan family that ran an established sport fishing lodge at the base of Mt. Susitna on Alexander Creek. Kris left Alaska to attend medical technology school in Washington State.  She worked at the University of Washington laboratory and Children’s Orthopedic Hospital laboratory before discovering clay.  When she moved back to Alaska in the early 80’s, her career in clay really took off.  She began as a student of Al Tennant’s at what is now the University of Alaska, Anchorage and, in 1989, she built her first home studio. Over the years, she developed a tremendous following of loyal patrons and is now a hugely popular potter who ships her work to multiple destinations across the state of Alaska.


this little sweetie is my latest piece of Bliss pottery…thanks Kris!

Kris has had numerous assistants over the years, many who have gone on to have successful careers in ceramics.  Knowing how many lives she’s touched, I asked one of Kris’s former assistants, Deborah Schwartzkopf if she would contribute a few words to this post.  Deb writes:

“It was in the spring of 2000 when Jen Allen helped me get my first clay related job assisting studio potter, Kris Bliss.  I was just getting really interested in clay when I started helping out between classes at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Still a beginner of many techniques, Kris helped me build foundational knowledge of throwing, trimming, loading kilns, and glazing, packing and shipping… the list goes on.

I was amazed at how many pieces she made and enamored with the variety of process the discipline held! She was so understanding and supportive as I learned in her studio– Even when I mixed her glaze with the wrong mesh of silica, melting many of her pots to the kiln shelves in the subsequent firing!!! I gained so much from spending time with Kris.

Eventually I started throwing piece-work for her; replication is an amazing discipline to learn. She also let me use all the reclaim I wanted for my own work. Between this and school, I spend every waking moment with my hands in clay building knowledge and experience. Kris is undyingly supportive, direct, and patient. She provided a nurturing place to challenge myself, grow and learn from her example. She opened the door to so many ideas and techniques and helped me build a strong groundwork for being a potter. I am so grateful for this amazing start in clay!”

Enjoy the interview!


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

I first got introduced to ceramics when a friend asked if I would like to take an after-work class with her, and I loved it. I think the fascination with functional ware started then, we were so young and just starting out, so making something we could use was wonderful. It stayed with me.  Even now, so many years later, I still ask “can I use it?”

Can you briefly describe your background and education?

I came to that first ceramics class (mentioned above) after work in the hospital laboratory at the University of Washington.  When we moved to Clarkston, I thought I was a potter. I bought a wheel and small electric kiln, set up a small area in the basement and even set up at a craft sale.

studio view

view of the trimming corner

When we moved back home to Alaska, I had no place to work, so I decided to take an evening class at what was then the community college. Well, when I went to talk to the teacher and walked into the ceramics lab I realized I was not a potter, not even close.  Luckily Al Tennant let me in one of his classes. I stayed there for many years, working thru all the classes offered, then as a lab aide then filling in for the adjunct.  During that time, I took every workshop I could and when I was the lab aide, I got to assist the presenters.  I started going to NCECA, then Anderson Ranch, then Metchosin with Robin Hopper. Throughout most of my years at the college (up until I was a lab aide), I was also working full time.

How would you describe your work?  What are some of your inspirations/influences?

I think of myself as a domestic ware potter.  However, these last few years I have slowly moved away a bit.  I will always enjoy making bowls, etc.

covered jar

covered jar

My inspirations come from historical ceramics, constant study and just looking at forms and wondering, can I make that?  I am influenced a great deal by the young people that come to work with me, they are usually just out of or still going to school.  But most of all, I am inspired by Japanese ceramics and Song dynasty ware.  Both of my first teachers had a great appreciation of the Asian aesthetic.

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

New ideas come from the strangest places, a customer, a student, the cooking store, looking at pictures, always asking the question, “can I make that?”.


bisque load

I usually sketch on the wheel, starting small.  As I am working I think about how the piece is going to be used and if I can make it better.  I also think about the glazing and how the glaze will run or not run.  How the foot will be, how the piece will sit on the table, will it need a thicker lip for use?  Handles, lids, all the details.  It usually takes a few tries to get what I have in mind.  I always learn something during the process.

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?

My first teacher once asked me if I wanted a collection of my own work?  I wanted to keep making more so I sold some and took a hammer to a LOT.

When I became more accomplished, our local ceramic’s guild was invited to show/sell at the Anchorage Museum.  I had a lot of big porcelain bowls and platters for sale and, well I sold most of them. Light bulb moment…people will buy my pieces!  I loathed working in the office, so I fired myself from the office job and really applied myself to make a living as a potter.

You have an amazing production studio with top of the line equipment that many young potters aspire to.  Can you share how you got to where you are now and the sacrifices/struggles you made along the way?


Papa moose cruisin’ by studio

I started with a wheel and kiln purchased with a large tax refund, and thru the years purchased new or used equipment. Gifts from my husband (slab roller one year and extruder another). For a long time, most of what I had for my future studio was in storage, but I knew this was what I wanted and needed, so I would take on a little extra job (one year sold plants on weekends) and 90% of that money would go to studio stuff. I had help from family and friends when we moved to our old house (where we lived for 15 years).   There was a little storage shed out back (one of those barn type) my uncle and our friend came in, put in electricity and sheet rock, reinforced the floor and for two years I worked from there. Soon, I got a loan from my mom and attached a 12X24 building and a kiln pad.  Before the building went in, I bought an old Olsen updraft and put it on the kiln pad. The seller let me pay payments…. so I took on another part time job to pay for it.  Thank God for retiring potters!  As my business grew, the pottery took over the yard, porch, and the dining room (for packing and shipping).

Steve dear suggested we move so he could have room for his boat, and I could garden again.  We found a house with land up the hill a bit.  We cleared some of the land and with a building loan built a huge building for a studio and garage. Al Tennant once told me if you are going to build , build the biggest you can. Well that’s what I did.  Being able to wrap the building loan with the house was a great thing, but I had a big nut to crunch. So I built my business, took on employees, apprentices, added more galleries and tourist shops, did studio shows, two pottery group sales yearly, and worked way too much. 10 years…whew!

Aside from being a full-time potter, you are an avid gardener, mother, wife, sister, chicken farmer, salesperson, boss, dog and cat owner, etc.  How do you find balance with everything you do?

It helps that I am easily distracted, so it is not really a balance, more like a flow.


Toby standing guard in front of the chicken coop and greenhouses

You know it is surprising,  but I just added a bit at a time, you really don’t know it is happening. Of course the long summer days up here help.  The chickens and other poultry were added for a concern for decent food. The garden, for organic food and sanity. I can garden at 9 pm in the sun! The business stuff well, you gotta pay those bills so if it takes a few more hours a week, well you just do it.

Keep a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

What is your most valuable studio tool?  Why?


kiln room

Probably kilns… you can make, but if you can’t fire?  At each stage, I have a favorite tool, a good thomas stuart wheel, bison trimmers, well-ventilated bisque, glazing syringes and brushes.

You have taken on studio assistants in the past to help with basic chores, aide in the processing of your work (clay recycling, glaze making, bisque loading, glazing, etc.) and to make piecework.  How did you arrive at the decision to hire an assistant? 

It started as a desire to not work alone, then as time went by, I discovered real value in these helpers not only to expand the business, but also to expose me to new ideas and techniques.

There’s satisfaction of thinking that I really helped them also. It feels so good to hear of one of my “kids” doing well. Just makes my heart happy.

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


break from glazing…happy helpers

Each person coming into the studio has different work ethic and expectations. Communication of what I need from them and what they hope to get from me, is paramount.  Over the years, I’ve only let a few go.

Working in the state of Alaska, you ship all your materials by barge via Seattle which is over 2000 miles away.  How does this expense/time factor into your overall business plan?

DSCN1148You have to put that expense into the price you charge per piece.  Also, one must always watch material inventory, making sure there is a supply available to cover the time it takes for shipping.

You have established a wholesale line that ships across the state of Alaska to feed the thriving tourism industry.  What percentage of your income comes from wholesale orders?  How did you decide to market your work wholesale and what steps did you take to develop your wholesale clientele?

80% of my total income comes from wholesale, and some years more.

Wholesale works really well for me, on several levels.  Most of what I make is spoken for, so there’s no will-it-sell stress.  I am a poor bookkeeper, so I don’t have to keep track of where the piece is, nor worry if the shop is trying to sell it.


glaze kiln load

My town has a wholesale show, and one year a friend encouraged me to do it, showed me how to track the orders and gave me advice (like minimum orders etc). Talk about light bulb moment! I got a huge order at the show and for a few months after that, more and more small orders.  I was on my way.  I only did that show for two years.  After my stuff was out there, I received inquiries from other shops and galleries.  When I wanted to expand, I would research which was the top gallery in that town, and send them information and follow up with a phone call.  This would usually result in a small “try it order”.  If it worked for them and the shipping as well, I would then get a larger order. Year after year.

Aside from wholesale clientele, you also have a loyal local following.  What other venues (such as craft fairs, group holiday sales, etc) have you used to successfully market your work in your community?

You know, I have done all of the above, including studio shows and art walks. I also gift delivery men/women, neighbors, the gas man, etc.  Oftentimes those folks come back to the studio bringing friends and I get small steady walk in sales.  It creates good will and puts a smile on someone’s face.  So worth it.

examples of finished work

examples of finished work

Also, for 20 years I have contributed many many (sometimes 200) bowls to our Empty Bowls event. I get to help feed folks that need it,  and I hear so often that my work was seen there, and could they get more?

Also I don’t stamp, I sign Bliss Alaska on every piece. Then there’s no question who made it or where to find more. Tourists often call or write, “I got your piece in a little gallery on our trip, can you send me more?”. Same for folks in the community. They know it is a Bliss pot and a check in the phone book and they can find me.

In the state of Alaska, you are known for your signature glaze that you have termed your “Aurora Glaze” because it reminds you of the aurora bourelis.  As a marketing strategy, this is brilliant since the majority of your customers are tourists.  Can you talk a little bit about your marketing failures and successes and how they impact sales?


glaze detail

For the galleries I ship to, if there is a new glaze or variation of the Aurora glaze I will send them a picture. Tastes vary, I used to have a gallery that only wanted a more pastel version, so they got the pots fired at the top of the kiln.

I never fire more than a few pieces of an unproven glaze or variation of aurora. Then if it doesn’t work, the loss isn’t too much.

As a wholesale potter, making the same forms by hand by the thousands can really take a toll on your psyche.  How do you keep things fresh (keep inspired) with your work and not get bored?


trimming wheel

Simple, I play games with myself. Such as how fast can I make this form? Can I fill the ware cart before lunch? or if I make 25 two pound flare forms, I can go work the greenhouse for an hour.  Also after so many years at this sometime I feel like a robot, so to avoid that I throw in a variation just for fun and lots of times, that form finds a place on the wholesale list.

During the throwing cycle, if I am feeling bored, I will stop and study a bit, try a new form I just saw or talk to the folks there with me and ask questions. Or make that form larger or smaller.

During the glaze cycle, I will watch or listen to entertainment. Add bit more or less of this or that.


clay storage and pug mill for processing recycle

I will vary the cycles, glaze a coupla hours then go do something else. Same with every step. There is always so much to do, if one gets bored trimming, go recycle for a bit.

Living as an artist in a remote location like Alaska can be isolating.  How do you keep inspired and engaged with the ceramics community at large?

I discovered the Clayart list serve early on and learned so much.  I went to as many NCECA Conferences as I could afford, talked to visiting artists, and took as many workshops as I could.

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

Find what works for you.  For example, there are limited craft sales up here, so I found if I wanted to do this full time and make a decent profit wholesale for me was the best way to go. Consignment is fine for some, but not for me.

Keep at it kids, and when you find your niche, explore it , work it and use it.

Keep your credit good and some savings, so when an opportunity comes up, like a retiring potter selling off their studio, you have the ability to take advantage.

What always held me back was the ability to take good pictures. Those you can use to expand your territory.

winter shot of studio

winter shot of studio

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

Peter Brondz: Potter of the Month

Just off the Seward Highway south of Anchorage, tucked in the woods next to an active salmon stream, you’ll find a hidden gem of a place: Peter Brondz’s pottery.  Peter Brondz is an exceptional potter whose mentorship/friendship helped guide my current career path.  I first met Peter when I was a studying ceramics at the University of Alaska,

Peter and his salt kiln

Peter and his salt kiln

Anchorage.  At the time, Peter had the only wood and salt kiln in the area and he often invited the students from UAA to fire them.  One summer, Peter invited Deb Schwartzkopf and me to make pots with him for a few weeks.  It was such a rich time that I will forever be grateful for.  Deb went on to spend a full summer working with Peter.  Knowing the positive impact Peter had on her life, I asked her to write a short blurb about her time with Peter:

“I worked for Peter off and on doing studio chores in 2001 and then was his summer student in 2002 (just after I finished my BA at the University ofAlaska: Anchorage). I learned from Peter’s meticulous systems how to be efficient and how to think ahead– from mopping the floor to re-oiling the gallery shelving to baking bread to butchering chickens. Being a summer student was an immersion program for a budding potter. I was enveloped in the rhythm and expectations ofbeing part of the studio as well as the gorgeous forest and sheer mountains surrounding the property. I learned about a way of life I wanted for myself. The studio processes merged into and affected every facet of life. I found a sense of clarity working in Peter’s space that I have endeavored to bring into my studio practice and other areas of my life. This ongoing relationship has helped me weather the ups and downs of a career as a potter, while moving around the country, setting up a studio, and recently buying a house. This relationship has bolstered my sense of determination and created an important support system.”

I have always admired Peter’s work, studio and lifestyle.  He has the idealic studio in the woods in one of the most picturesque spots in the world…Alaska’s Turnagain Arm.  While I was at UAA, I distinctly remember when Peter came to the ceramics room to demonstrate his processes.  I recall being mesmerized at the thoughtfulness, efficiency, craft and care in which he made his work.  But…what really sunk in were the stories he told about starting out as a young potter in Alaska, the sacrifices he made and how hard he worked to get where he was.  Peter was, and still is, an inspiration.


Here is a lovely salt-fired pitcher that Peter gave me and my husband as a wedding gift.  It’s been the perfect vessel for tulips these past few weeks of spring.

Thanks for such a candid interview, Peter!

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

I grew up in a home with a lot of good art, including a few handmade pots, so I was always aware of the value of the handmade object. My mom, in particular, had a good eye, and would bring home pots she found from who knows where. My dad taught Botany at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater.  I was familiar with the campus because it was a great place to ride my bike (and it was only a mile or so from our house). The ceramics studio was in the basement of Old Main, a space no one else wanted. Clayton Bailey ran the program, and later Steven Kemeneffy, Verne Funk, Don Bendel was there for a short bit. There was a big salt kiln outside the back of the studio.  I was first attracted by the flames, I think. I started hanging around the pot shop, watching things get made, soaking in the vibe. There was always something cool going on there, 24/7. One student was casting full size molds off his naked girlfriend… pretty exciting for a 14-year old boy.  Anyway, with fire and sex, what more can you ask for? Eventually, one of the students noticed I was there a lot and told me I might as well make some pots. He showed me how to use an old, stand-up, 2-speed wheel {high is for centering, low is for everything else}, gave me some clay, and I was hooked. All around me were college students making cool stuff and no one cared I was in junior high (it was the 60’s). When the janitor ceremoniously locked the front door at midnight, everyone just went in and out of the window.


Photo courtesy of David Freeman

Eventually, I told my folks where I was spending so much time. They were thrilled and found a student, Allen I think was his name, who gave me an official lesson for an hour on Sat. mornings for 5 bucks. He taught me the rudiments of throwing, it wasn’t easy for me, centering took a long, long time to figure out. Everyone around me was making pots and cool sculpture, I just began throwing and never stopped. My folks were very supportive and made sure we used my first efforts in our kitchen, terrible as they were. We had a yellow stain or oxide made from Uranium that looked great in the salt.  One day, a student brought in a Geiger counter and got a lot of fast clicks off that oxide (even after it was fired) so we stopped using it.  When a couple of my friends also got interested in making pots, we set up a little studio in an old shed in our back yard.  My folks bought a wheel so we would go to the shed and throw, then we’d fire at the University.

Can you briefly describe your background and education?


Peter’s Studio Gallery

My high school didn’t have any kind of clay program, the only Art classes were drawing, which I never took. Too bad, I still can’t draw very well. By the time I went to the University in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1974-75, I knew the basics of throwing and glazing/firing.  Verne Stanford was the teacher that year, while the regular teacher, Stan Zelinsky, was on sabbatical. Verne had been a production potter in Colorado and had shared a studio (or a kiln at least) with Paul Soldner.  Verne trained at the University of Oregon with Bob James, and spent a bit of time working at St. Ives with Bernard Leach.  He could really throw some nice pots! I practically lived in the pot shop that year.  It was on the 2nd floor of the Art building with a panoramic view of the Alaska Range…what a great place to work. Verne was a good teacher and covered lots of information I had never gotten back in Whitewater.  He was the closest I ever had to a mentor.  When that year was up, he was gone and so was I, chasing the dream of having my own studio and making pots for a living.

How would you describe your work?  What are some of your inspirations/influences?


Photo courtesy of David Freeman

I am very tuned into making well-designed pots for everyday use in the kitchen and home. I want pots to be easy and fun to use and make the whole eating experience more beautiful. Some of my early influences were eating off of Heath Ware in my folk’s house. Fancy meals only, but they were nice dishes. I also liked some of the old crocks we had in the basement as a kid. Later, I became aware of Japanese pots and Bernard Leach’s work, then early American jugs and old German salt-fired wares.

You live the ideal life of the “potter in the woods” that many aspire to.  Can you talk a bit about your journey including the struggles/sacrifices you made to get where you are today?


The Pottery

It was a long, serpentine journey to get to where I am today: a well built, spacious studio on 2 acres in the spruce forest, only 25 miles from Anchorage. I knew I had to have my own place to make a living potting, but before I could afford to buy land, I thought I could make money commercial fishing. I tried that for almost 2 years, out of Kodiak. That was really hard, I got sick on every single boat I fished on, especially in the beginning when I wasn’t used to the way the boat moved. I was usually the cook, an extra challenge in bad weather. I saved some money, not much. One very important thing did happen while I was fishing. The boat I was cooking on went to Seattle for extensive repairs. I asked for time off, got 6 weeks, rented space at Pottery Northwest, and was making pots the next day.  It was heaven.  The immediate contrast of being on the boat one day, making pots the next, confirmed for me what I really wanted to do with my life.


View of the spruce forest from Peter’s wheel

Eventually I quit the boats and ended up in Bird Creek, Alaska, where I rented a cabin to live in. One of my neighbors, Cay Robinson, had bought a high fire kiln and secured an old chicken/goat shed to use as a studio. It was 12 by 20 feet, just a shell of a place. I made a deal with Cay, to share the kiln I would fix up the building and she could use the whole set-up in the summer when she wasn’t working. Another neighbor, Brad McLemore, who made really nice pots in his spare bedroom, also shared Cay’s kiln.  That lasted for 4 years. I was very focused, never took any time off, never left the state, just made a ton of pots, did as many craft fairs as I could, sold at several galleries in Anchorage, and lived a very frugal life, saving every nickel I could. It was hard on my personal life, my girlfriend at the time made clothes, we would share a booth at the craft fair and she helped me set up and tear down, etc. I was very driven to have my own place, not to pay rent, and after being in such a cramped space, have a bit of elbow room to work in.  Eventually, the property I had originally rented my first cabin on, came up for sale. I had saved $35,000 in those 4 years, more than half of what John was asking for the lot. I look back now and realize how hard it was on Renee, we broke up after 6 years, but I knew what I wanted. In 1982, I started building my current studio, a timber frame, two story place and moved into it in 1985. I also built a little temporary studio in my own yardjust so I wouldn’t have to drive the 3 miles to the chicken coop and pay rent.

When I think of you and your pots, I think about all the delicious food I enjoyed at your home.  On top of being an incredible potter, you are also an amazing cook.  I always loved sitting down at your beautifully crafted dining table and admiring the array of dishes used to serve food/drink.  Can you talk a little bit about how food and meal time inspires your work?

Cooking and eating have always been a big part of my day. It was really fun to start making bread as a teenager, then to be able to make some nice bread bowls in college. I have always enjoyed using handmade dishes and watching my friends enjoy the meal at a table set with just clay, glass, wood, fabric. No plastic on the table (it has it’s place, but not on my kitchen table). There is a high, narrow bowl I throw that is perfect for whipping cream.  It stays in the bowl instead of flying all over the kitchen.  Intelligent design is always on my mind.


Condiment Set
Photo courtesy of David Freeman

I make condiment sets: a tray holding olive oil, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, sea salt containers. The tray sits on the counter next to my stove, so I have those things to cook with, then I carry it to the table for salad dressing and seasoning. So easy, and nice to look at.  I think of colors of pots as background for certain food.  Both salmon and salad look great on a black,Tenmoku background. I make serving trays that are easy to pick up and hold the entire salmon (cut up into portions). I like to think of new serving pots for specific

Salmon Platter

Salmon Platter

foods, but I don’t get too carried away. I have a fairly small kitchen with limited space, so pots have to be multi-use. I love looking across the dinner table set with handmade dishes, some mine, many by friends. It’s an immense feeling of well being, even before we start eating!

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?

While I was commercial fishing I made the decision to make my living potting. I was tired of working for other people, on their wacky schedules (it was probably good training for being a production potter). I also knew I needed a creative endeavor to be happy. Cooking on the boat was not enough, and being another strong back on deck got really boring.

When we first met, you had the only wood kiln and salt kiln in the Anchorage area (that I was aware of).  How were you able to educate your audience (who were loyal to your cone 10 reduction glazes) about the beauty of wood and salt-fired work? 


Tumble-stacked pots in wood kiln

I sell most of my wares from my gallery, a small room on the side of my studio. When I started wood and salt firing, in the early 1990’s. It was a big change from my colorful cone 10 reduction work. I talked to my customers whenever I could, explained how the flame painted patterns on the pots and how it was a big chance the way things came out. Once folks knew a bit about the process, they were more receptive to the subtle beauty of the mostly brown pots. I was also helped by my timing, as there was a national movement towards wood firing at the time. Interested customers could walk around the wood and salt kilns and, when the kilns were firing, there’s lots of opportunity for education.

Living as an artist in a remote location can be isolating.  How do you keep inspired and engaged with the ceramics community at large?


Peter and Iris post-unbricking the salt kiln door

It can be a challenge staying inspired and engaged with the larger ceramics community. I have a few close fiends who I talk to and email with often. I try to take every workshop the local University offers, and they have had some great potters. I will often have a summer student, this is a great chance to engage in critical conversation with a younger person on the clay path. I will sometimes invite other potters to come and work with me, that is a rich time. Sometimes I attend NCECA. It’s a zoo, a 9 ring circus, but there’s usually something there that speaks to me. I subscribe to both Ceramics Monthly and Studio Potter.

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

New ideas are hard to come by. My work changes in slow and subtle ways. I notice the changes, a few of my really tuned-in friends notice the changes. Brand new ideas might come from taking a workshop and seeing a form I want to try. Eventually, after throwing or building pots close to the other person’s pot, it changes enough to be my form. Sometimes I will have a need for a new pot in the kitchen or a friend will request something I have never made before that piques my interest, so I will try it out.  If it works well, that new pot shape will be added to my gallery selection.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

A typical workday: alarm goes off at 6:30. Make breakfast for my wife and daughter, make lunch for my daughter and get everyone out the door for work and school. Walk the dog, feed the dog, feed the rabbit, walk the 100 yards to the studio. If I’m in wet-work mode, I will throw, trim, whatever needs to happen, till lunch, continue till it’s time to make dinner for the family, walk the dog, etc. I used to work after dinner, now not so much. Family time is important. IMG_0279My working hours are anywhere from 6 to 9 per day. If the deadline for a show is coming up fast, I work longer hours. After Christmas is over, I always take a break from the studio and hang out with my family, try to ski, sometimes we all go somewhere warm.

What is your most valuable studio tool?

I don’t know, probably my wheel. I used to make lots of pots before I had a clay mixer and pugmill and slab roller.  With no wheel I would be dead in the water, that’s why I have 3. Back up in case one goes down during a busy time.

You have taken on apprentices and assistants in the past.  Would you be willing to share some advice for potters who are thinking about hiring an assistant/apprentice?

My advice about taking on an apprentice or student… this could go on for a long time, there is a lot to figure out. It helps to know the person before hand. Be sure you know what you want them to do and make sure they know what to expect from their time with you. Keep the lines of communication open, or it can get weird fast. It’s a good idea to have a short probationary period before you commit all the way, and to have a set time period that both of you agree on.

Basically, most people do better if they know exactly what is expected of them. Be firm, be nice, be fair, but remember who’s the boss. This subject is one you could write a book about.

You have an established gallery connected to your studio where visitors can come purchase pots anytime.  What percentage of your income comes from these sales?  How did you develop your audience?  How do you currently advertise your studio sales?


Studio Gallery

My gallery sales from my on-site gallery provides 90% of my sales.  I do a little bit of wholesale to a really good kitchen store in Anchorage, and sell a few things at a couple of small galleries in Anchorage. I have always believed in direct marketing my wares.  Talking to the folks who are using my pots was the best part of doing craft fairs. Now I get to do the same in the comfort of my own studio, it’s deluxe. I have had an annual Christmas show in my studio for forever, even when my studio was the chicken coop.  The Christmas show and craft fair sales helped me generate a mailing list. That is my loyal customer base. I send a postcard once a year announcing the studio show, they bring their friends, etc. I have about 2,000 on my mailing list. We are trying to compile an email Peter-3list now to help cut down on the costs of mailing, but I am not quite ready to give up the postcard yet. I make a little 5 by 7 inch card that has a map to my studio, some photos, my phone and address. I hand out the map card to folks who might be interested in finding me since there is no sign advertising my pottery on the main highway. It’s a tricky thing, because my gallery is open, whether I’m there or not.  Customers have to take the price sticker off, wrap up the pot, turn off the gallery lights. I like being able to trust people. Obviously, my location is key to having this work out well. I know I have lost a few pots over the years, but I still think it’s worth it in the end. I recently installed a locked, metal box for the money, in the old days it would just pile up in the change purse hanging on the wall. This just keeps the honest folks honest and keeps the gallery open 24/7.

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 used to do a group show with 3 other potters in Anchorage. That worked really well, but we lost our venue last year. It’s tricky finding just the right place, so we are giving it a break for now.  When I was just starting out, I did every single craft fair I could until I realized not all fairs are created equal, then I did about 5 or 6 good ones a year and sold from several good galleries in the state. As my studio gallery came into being and my direct sales grew, I was able to drop the fairs. The last one to go was a pre-Christmas fair that was well attended and lucrative, but not much fun to be at. My studio show is much more enjoyable. The risk is if we have bad weather that weekend. One year there was an avalanche that closed the Seward Highway.   Three people came, instead of the normal 60 or 80. Most folks didn’t know all the avalanche chutes are past Bird Creek (not between Bird Creek and Anchorage). Oh well, we started putting a line on the studio show card about where the avalanche chutes were. You always learn something.

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


Telemark Skiing Turnagain Pass, aka Peter’s backyard

My advice to any aspiring potter is: be prepared to work your ass off. Be organized, be smart, be dedicated, be generous with your customers, be good to your family and friends. Know what you want, don’t be distracted. Make a lot of what you are interested and passionate about, it will serve you better than making a lot of boring pots you think will sell well.  Keep on learning, look around at the wider world, there’s lots there for inspiration.

To find out more about Peter and his work, there is a lovely article entitled Bird Creek Potter celebrates 33 years that photographer, Loren Holmes published for the Alaska Dispatch.  And, if you ever find yourself in the Anchorage area, a trip to Peter Brondz’s pottery in Bird Creek is a must.  To get directions to his place, just pop Peter an email or give him a ring (see contact info below).  Also, if you are currently in Anchorage, Peter has a show opening this Friday, May 3rd at G.Street Fox downtown.


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.

Potter of the Month: Jeff Campana

Happy 2013!

This year opens with an exciting new project I’ve planned for my website:  Each month, I will be posting a new interview with a studio potter.

First up is Jeff Campana.  DSCN0303Jeff and I were fellow graduate students at Indiana University.  He is an amazingly talented potter living and working in Helena, MT.  To the left is a photo of Jeff re-constructing one of his pieces.

Before I begin the interview, I wanted to share a “small world” story about Jeff’s work: A few years ago, I toured the Homer Laughlin China Company (famously known as the Fiesta-ware Factory) in the northern panhandle of West Virginia with students from West Virginia University.  When we entered the design studio, I noticed that there was only one poster hanging on the wall in the main design room: a poster of Jeff Campana’s works.  I recently returned to HLCC with a group of students from BGSU, and Jeff’s poster was still the only one there.  When I asked the art director why he only had Jeff’s poster on the wall, he said that not only did he admire Jeff’s work, but the poster was the most well designed poster he’d seen of an artist’s collective works.  So, if you find yourself in Newell, WV, stop by the Homer Laughlin China Company and ask to visit the design studio.

For more information about Jeff and his work, please visit his fresh new website:  If you’d like to view available work, stop by his etsy shop: CampanaCeramics.

Hope you enjoy the interview!


How did you first get involved in ceramics?

I took a class my Sophomore year of High School.  I pretty much knew right away that ceramics would always be a major interest of mine for the rest of my life.  It just felt immediately like I was supposed to be a potter.

Can you briefly describe your background and education?

I chose my undergrad school based on the ceramics program.  At the time, the University of Wisconsin Whitewater was by far my favorite ceramics program, so I went there.  I took my time, spending 6 years there.  I was a good student, but didn’t feel ready to move on to the next phase, so I just stayed and dedicated a lot of time to ceramics.  After a year of trying to work independently, I got into grad school at Indiana University. 

As a fellow classmate in graduate school, I wonder how you feel that your formal education prepared you for your career in ceramics?  Is there anything you wish you had known before leaving school?

04Very little about the art education system, with only a couple of exceptions that I know of, is based on preparing students to be professional artists.  I was never taught anything about what is really involved in making a living from the making of art.  All academia concerns itself with as an institution is artist statements, defending one’s work, theses, resume lines, etc.   Things that could get you a job teaching ceramics.

Too bad none of that stuff really matters when you are out there making work and selling it to people.  People who buy art largely don’t care about artist statements and all that stuff.  They are more concerned with whether they feel the need to own a piece, and to a lesser degree, some collectors care about whether the artist seems like someone that will continue to grow and remain a known artist.  The way you do this is not by writing fancy statements, but by continuously making work and selling it to people.

When I left grad school, I thought, as many do, that I would teach for a living.  I wish I knew what an underpaid, under-appreciated, overworked, nomadic shitstorm that would be before I decided to go that route.  It’s so much better for me to just make work all day.  Thankfully I figured it out before it was too late.  The actual people I worked with and for were all wonderful, but institutionally, early stages of a teaching careers are a very bad deal for the instructors.  You need 3-5 years of adjunct/junior faculty experience before anyone will seriously consider you for a tenure track position in today’s market.  If you are not familiar with what adjuncting really is, take a look at

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

06My work is functional pottery that has been deconstructed and reconstructed in such a way that the seams of rejoining create beautiful decoration to the interior and exterior.  When the glaze runs and pools, it emphasizes the tectonic structure and gives the seams incredible depth.  It appears merely decorative, but at the same time there’s hidden connotations.  The way it was made is an intriguing enigma to most.  Also, there’s the fact that it was made more beautiful by being destroyed and rebuilt.  Although they are cheerfully colored and shiny and bright, they sprouted up from a very dark place.  They are as much about destruction as they are about nourishment and beauty. When I work, I feel like I’m part chemist, part craftsman, part designer, part engineer, and part inventor.  I really like a good challenge, so I enjoy making things that are seemingly impossible.  There is no end to the problem solving.

Would you explain your attraction for functional ceramics?

Like all potters I enjoy that people out there use my work daily.  At this point there must be 2000+ pieces out there in about 10 different countries.  I like thinking about how these objects I made are impacting the lives of all sorts of people.  Occasionally, I get emails from people who dropped a mug and urgently need a replacement.  This is verification that what I do matters to other people.  The main reason I make pots, though, is that I simply like solving the problems that utility provides me.

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?

05Inspiration usually comes from process for me.  I like refinement and see that as a legitimate creative endeavor.  So a lot of my growth is just trying to make better versions of what I have already made.  I look at my work and figure out ways to make it better.  Every once in a while, I decide to make something truly new.  New forms take years to develop, as there are so many things to figure out.  I sketch a bit, and then I throw “sketch pots” that I don’t intend to keep.  They are rough, and rarely make it past greenware.  I make physical sketches because I need to work out the how of the cutting.  I need to know the lines in 3 dimensions.  I have such a busy production schedule these days that I only get to squeeze these in occasionally.  Once a form has been worked out, sometimes I need to make generations of them before they get good enough to release to the public.  That’s where dinner plates are right now.  Everything’s figured out, now I need practice.

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 was well on my way to a career teaching at University.  I adjuncted at the University of Louisville, Indiana University Southeast, both in the Louisville area, for a couple years, then moved to Helena for a summer residency at the Bray.  I then got a full time technician gig at Bennington College in Vermont.  After exactly one school year, I moved back to Helena to be a long term resident at the Bray.  These experiences did teach me a lot.  Learning to speak about what you do in completely basic layman’s terms actually clarifies what you do to yourself.  I had the opportunity to meet a lot of wonderful colleagues, coworkers, and students.  People who are lifelong friends now.  It was very, very hard though, and most of that time was spent desperately poor and quite lonely.  Nomadism can be fun, but for an introvert like me, it meant I was alone most of the time. Basically, what I got out of the whole experience is the sense that if I got through all that, I can endure anything.  Toughness.

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?

02I had finally gotten a tenure-track Assistant Professor job offer, something I had been working toward for years.  At the same time, I had been invited to be a long term resident at the Bray, something I had always dreamed of doing.  I knew if I took the job, I might never get a chance to go to the Bray.  That decision changed the direction of my career.  I used my first year here to figure out whether I could make a living purely from my pots or not, and it turned out that I can.  My plans now are to establish my own studio, in Helena, and try to make a go of it.  It’s not that teaching is unpleasant, it’s that making a living by making art is just so awesome.

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

Happily, I can say that things are working out better than I had imagined.  I remember in grad school, everything seemed so hopeless.  I got a couple lucky breaks right out of the gate and then was able to capitalize on them, and make things happen.  I never anticipated enjoying the business/marketing side of being an artist, but ended up loving it.

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

I wake up whenever I’m done sleeping (which is awesome), and immediately start on the stuff I call homework.  My two bedroom apartment is basically a shipping center, warehouse, photo studio, and office – with a bed in the corner.  So while coffee is brewing, I’m already going on this sort of stuff – packing Etsy sales, packing shows, photographing work, emailing people, facebook promotion, ordering supplies, if it’s nice out, go for a hike, etc.  I usually cut myself off at noon, which is about 4 hours or so after I wake up, and go in to the studio.  I like to work 8 hours in the studio at most.  When in there, I am able to spend my time on whatever part of the process, but I try to stay very efficient and in my own world, with my giant cordless headphones and some Rdio.  After that, maybe go out for a drink with friends, maybe come home and kick back.   I work for 5-6 weeks in a row, no days off, and then when a cycle finishes, I try to get out of town for a week or so, but at least take 5 days off if I have no travel plans.  It’s important to take breaks and avoid burning out. I am always trying to figure out how to get the same amount done in less time.  I would love to trim it down to 50 hours a week.

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

03Well, since nobody is going to teach them that in school, working artists are left to acquire business savvy the same way they learn anything else.  Trial and error, persistence, critical thinking, careful deliberation, spontaneous curiosity fulfillment, falling on their ass and getting right back up, exploiting anything that works, abandoning anything that doesn’t. Fearlessness.

For marketing, my best piece of advice is to approach it with creativity, treat it the same way you treat making work.  I think of marketing, everything from how I shoot the work to webpage updates to writing copy on Etsy as part of the process.  A piece is finished for me when someone else owns it.  Until then, it is in progress. Come up with things that work for you, not necessarily by the book.  We live in exciting times, where you can invent your own brand identity and market it easily, and without even the help of galleries, amass a global following.  Because I am willing to ship internationally and have a strong internet presence, I sell work all over the world.

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

Galleries end up being very important, but some are effective and some aren’t.  Some gallery affiliations just don’t work out, and when that happens, I’m not afraid to pull out of it and put my work somewhere else.  I have some wonderful galleries that I know are out there working on my behalf, and I have come to know the managers or owners.  They give the very best business advice if you pick their brain.  I always respect my gallery relationships by not undercutting them.  If I sell a piece directly to someone and get 100% of that money, it still costs the same to the customer as it would if they bought it at the gallery where I get 50%.  If someone commissions something as a result of a gallery experience, you have to let the gallery know and give them a cut.  I have had 5 galleries go out of business so far, so it’s not like they are getting rich off the exploitation of artists as many seem to think.  They have to pay people to work there, pay the gas bill, pay a mortgage and whatnot, all for the purpose of allowing people to experience new art in person before they buy.  That is a valuable service they provide to both the artist and the customer.  They earn that cut.

You have had an Etsy site for quite a few years now.  How has your experience on Etsy helped your career?  What percentage of your income comes from Etsy sales vs. retail galleries?

07I love Etsy.  It has a great community, and sales are pretty good on there for me.  Maybe ¼ of my income comes from Etsy sales.  My favorite thing about it is the access to the customers.  I might have regular customers at galleries, but never know it.  With galleries it is boxes of pots that get shipped out, and paychecks that arrive in the mail.  With Etsy, customers are in contact with me.  I know where the pots go, and I get feedback.  The whole transaction has much more meaning to me, and hopefully to the customer as well.

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

One great quote our old professor Tim Mather always said on this subject was “The best way to ensure you never find your aesthetic is to go looking for it”.  I think it’s just a matter of forgetting what anyone else thinks for a while.  Indulge your own quirky stupid curiosities, and keep an open mind about what you see in the results.  Once you have something that thrills you, just make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make make.  It’s really that easy.  If you get bored, try something new.  It takes a lot of making to truly figure something out. Make so many things that your studio feels like it’s bursting at the seams.  As the craftsmanship improves over time, so will the clarity of meaning and intention.  Choices are made all the time.  The choices you make mean something, even if you don’t know what at the time.  Schools teach this backwards, I think.  Most importantly, have fun with it.

Again, for more information about Jeff and his work, please visit his fresh new website:  If you’d like to view available work, stop by his etsy shop: CampanaCeramics.