Simon Levin: Potter of the Month

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

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

Enjoy the interview!

 

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

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

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

Butterfly Plate

Butterfly Plate

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

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

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

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

Red Wad Mug

Red Wad Mug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squared Bowl

Squared Bowl

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

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

Simon Levin and Amy Smith

Simon Levin and Amy Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

simonlevin.com

 

 

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Potter of the Month: Chandra DeBuse

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

Garden Treat Server with Snail, 2012

Garden Treat Server with Snail, 2012

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the interview!

How did you first get involved in ceramics?

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

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

DeBuse_APF

American Pottery Festival 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeBuse_Studio

Kansas City Studio, 2012

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

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

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

DeBuseChandraSquirrel

Catch Platter, 2010

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


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

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

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

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

DeBuse_Tumblers

Troublemaker Tumblers, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeBuse_InProcess2

Glazing, 2012

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

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

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

DeBuse_InProcess

Squirrel Treat Server in process, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeBuseChandraTS2-1

Garden Treat Server with Snail, 2012

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

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

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

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

DeBuse_InUse

Floral Cup and Plate in use, 2013

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Workshops:

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

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

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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