Kristin Schnelten on fri 22 mar 02
I am one of those folks who has been "lurking" for months -- years?, seeking
answers to questions and general information, reading through the organized
posts on potters.org.
I've been afraid to post, mostly because I am such a newbie and do not feel
worthy enough to talk to real potters, but also because I have read a lot of
the attitudes towards community-center taught folks. And I'm afraid I'm one
To make a long story short: I have dreamed of being a potter, along with the
“potter's lifestyle” (hand-made, in most/all ways) for as long as I can
remember. When I first sat at a wheel five years ago, I knew this was for
me. I wanted to be a potter when I grew up (and still do).
In the past five years, I have gradually increased my time at various
community studios, while reducing the number of hours at my office job --
I'm down to 30 now, with about 15-20 in the studio. My plan has been to
continue growing in my work at the studio until I feel comfortable enough to
sell my work at office craft fairs, etc., and then again change the ratios
to "work" less and "pot" more.
I am getting incredibly impatient with this scenario, as I feel that I need
much more than 15 hrs in the studio per week to achieve my goal -- becoming
a production potter.
Family is behind me; they love the work that I present to them as gifts.
They have suggested that I take out a business loan - to furnish a studio,
to pay the bills until my little business can turn a profit. Of course this
sounds wonderful -- working in my studio full-time, attending workshops,
beginning to attend shows, etc. But it seems a little dreamy to me. Could I
really make enough after a few years to be able to repay such a loan? Do
banks even give loans out to folks who are not good enough at their craft to
sell at the present time?
I would really love to hear how you folks got your start. I will listen to
any advice, even if it is "head back to school, get your MFA, apprentice
under someone for 10 years" . . . as it seems that most folks do. It is not
the way that I would like to tackle my goal, but life is a series of
Thanks so much for your advice in advance - Kristin
Chat with friends online, try MSN Messenger: http://messenger.msn.com
Cindi Anderson on fri 22 mar 02
The best advice I hear from potters is to keep expenses low. If your
expenses are too high you can't make it. So have you downsized your life as
much as possible? Is it possible to save money for the new few months to
sustain you, instead of taking out a loan. Or is it possible to start
buying the equipment you need while you are still working?
I've never heard any bad reactions on this list to community-center taught
people. Many of us started there. Maybe if you've heard things, it's about
the people that show up just to play and have no interest in learning about
materials or improving their skills. Still not anything wrong with that,
it's just different from most people on ClayArt.
It sounds like you know what you love, and you have to do it. I find the
hardest thing in life is to balance what you want to do now, with what is
best for the future. You don't want to always be looking in the future so
your life goes by. But in your case maybe a few extra months of work to
save up money would really benefit you in the long run. I don't think
anyone would say that the life of a potter is easy and lucrative. So
starting with loans might not be the best thing, if you have another choice.
Your current strategy of weaning off one thing while you do more of the
other sounds very good. So are you selling the stuff you make in your 15
hours a week?
Mondloch on fri 22 mar 02
> I would really love to hear how you folks got your start
I quit my factory job (YUK-hated it) after 8 years, the last two with
evening pottery classes. I set up at home with lots of incentive to try to
make it as a potter but self-doubt was high as I think it is for most of us
when we start. This was pre-Clayart so knowledge came from books and
workshops. Mark's job (mailman) provided security while we raised our son.
With our son grown, Mark decided that he wanted to blacksmith fulltime too
so over 2 years, he cut his mailman hours back as much as possible while
working part-time for another smith and setting up his shop at home.
> I am getting incredibly impatient with this scenario, as I feel that I
> much more than 15 hrs in the studio per week to achieve my goal --
> a production potter.
What if you took those 15- 20 hours and $'s that you're spending on
community classes and use that to start setting up your home shop? If you've
spent 5 years there, you've probably gotten most of what you can out of
those classes. It can seem to take forever to get yourself set-up, but once
you are, you will be able to work much more efficiently at your own studio,
have a better feel for when you've got things working together(forming,
glazing, firing) , and be able to hit the ground running when you do quit
your other job.
Good luck and keep us posted,
Mark & Sylvia Mondloch
Silver Creek Pottery & Forge
W6725 Hwy 144
Random Lake ,Wi 53075
Anita M. Swan on sat 23 mar 02
Ask those supportive family members if they would like to 'invest' in your pottery
business! You can always pay the interest in pots! Nita
Kristin Schnelten wrote:
> I am one of those folks who has been "lurking" for months -- years?, seeking
> answers to questions and general information, reading through the organized
> posts on potters.org.
> I've been afraid to post, mostly because I am such a newbie and do not feel
> worthy enough to talk to real potters, but also because I have read a lot of
> the attitudes towards community-center taught folks. And I'm afraid I'm one
> of them!
> To make a long story short: I have dreamed of being a potter, along with the
> “potter's lifestyle” (hand-made, in most/all ways) for as long as I can
> remember. When I first sat at a wheel five years ago, I knew this was for
> me. I wanted to be a potter when I grew up (and still do).
> In the past five years, I have gradually increased my time at various
> community studios, while reducing the number of hours at my office job --
> I'm down to 30 now, with about 15-20 in the studio. My plan has been to
> continue growing in my work at the studio until I feel comfortable enough to
> sell my work at office craft fairs, etc., and then again change the ratios
> to "work" less and "pot" more.
> I am getting incredibly impatient with this scenario, as I feel that I need
> much more than 15 hrs in the studio per week to achieve my goal -- becoming
> a production potter.
> Family is behind me; they love the work that I present to them as gifts.
> They have suggested that I take out a business loan - to furnish a studio,
> to pay the bills until my little business can turn a profit. Of course this
> sounds wonderful -- working in my studio full-time, attending workshops,
> beginning to attend shows, etc. But it seems a little dreamy to me. Could I
> really make enough after a few years to be able to repay such a loan? Do
> banks even give loans out to folks who are not good enough at their craft to
> sell at the present time?
> I would really love to hear how you folks got your start. I will listen to
> any advice, even if it is "head back to school, get your MFA, apprentice
> under someone for 10 years" . . . as it seems that most folks do. It is not
> the way that I would like to tackle my goal, but life is a series of
> Thanks so much for your advice in advance - Kristin
> Chat with friends online, try MSN Messenger: http://messenger.msn.com
> Send postings to firstname.lastname@example.org
> You may look at the archives for the list or change your subscription
> settings from http://www.ceramics.org/clayart/
> Moderator of the list is Mel Jacobson who may be reached at email@example.com.
Brenda Z on sat 23 mar 02
I found that joining a potters' guild was a great way to transition from
community-center classes into my home-based studio.
In the community center I missed out on learning a lot of things that I needed
to know about how to run a studio. Since all of the members need to be able to
run the studio, at the guild I was taught how to fire kilns and mix glazes for
the first time. There are many experienced members who are willing to act as
mentors. (I still save my most embarrassing questions for clayart.)
The guild gives me access to equipment that I don't have room to fit in my
basement studio (such as a slab roller, spray booth, extruder and raku kiln).
There is unlimited studio time. We also have two juried sales a year. I can
place as many or as few pieces in the sale as I want, so I am not under any
pressure at sale time.
The only down side is that I spend a lot of time (that I might otherwise use for
potting) doing guild work.
If you live in an area that has a potters' guild with a studio, you might want
to look in this option.
Imzadi . on sat 30 mar 02
Depending on where you are located or what kind of pottery you do, you may
get started at a reasonable price. You don't say what you think you
absolutely need in terms of a pottery studio.
Fourteen years ago, after receiving a BFA and studying ceramic design at a
prestigious design school, my parents helped me finance my own small pottery
studio with a front retail gallery in the heart of Manhattan. I was selling
well and just starting to teach classes. Eventually I closed the studio
because of various nightmarerish landlord problems, the financial burdens
(even though my parents were okay about paying the loan back slowly,) and
being burned out from producing work too soon which HAD to be SELLABLE over
utilizing that time to fully explore and develope my own artistic personal
style first, one which trully expressed me, one where I was continually
growing and excited about.
After that, I took a hiatus from pottery fulfilling another artistic path.
The haitus turned into eleven years. While celebrating a major triumph on
that other path, I decided to take a nine week pottery class again, finally
fulfilling an inner ache for so many years to just do it "a little" again.
Starting up again, I realized I had forgotten just how much I love pottery,
how much clay I have in my heart and blood. I wanted almost immediately to
immerse myself into it again. I immediately wanted to get my throwing
abilities back up to par. The gain in life experience and other artistic
experiences altered my personal style greatly from before. I left that nine
week course and that first studio which turned out to be highly unethical
(written about in a previous thread :-0 ) to study, review basic techniques
and throw at the local university which had more studio time.
Like you, I wanted unlimited throwing time though, so I invested in a very
old, used Shimpo wheel for $200. It sits in a small area of my tiny living
room. I found a couple of studios which will take in my work at home as
"outside firings" for a fee so I didn't need to have a kiln at home too. I
still continue to work at the University, more for feedback, socializing and
have become one of the instructors for beginning throwing.
For shelving, I bought one old bookcase for $5 at a garage sale and picked up
two others left on curbs, being thrown away.
The university has a fantastic glaze chemistry room to experiment with. (I
added some new glazes to the University.) But I expect to buy a used Ohaus
scale eventually at ebay for $40 (or as someone mentioned here, get one at a
police auction) and will spend $25 for an OSHA approved respirator. I
currently glaze next to my kitchen sink. I use garage sale mismatched
tupperware and dollar store finds instead of fancy large pails to store my
glazes and chemicals.
Being able to throw at home daily dramatically improved my basic skills. Even
though I am not a newbie to clay, it had been a slow but even re-learning
process to get basic skills back up that took me years to originally learn.
But I expected that. Having been away for so long and all the pots I missed
out on expressing, I know now I AM in it for the long haul, so it doesn't
matter anymore trying to take shortcuts to selling which will only end up
compromising ultimately the integrity of my personal style and expression.
Only now, with basic skills under my belt, am I finally able to confidently
try out new techniques and directions my insides have been screaming to
This past Xmas, I did sell at a few fairs. A lot of it was my old, basic
selling line - with fresh variations. It was my first time in front of the
buying public again with my pots. I did quite well and learned from the
feedback. Many potters here at Clayart call this their bread & butter line,
while trying hard not to lose too much time compromising their more artistic
Only last week, I "lucked" into a used kiln. By "luck" I am talking about a
few months of looking, searching and gathering the funds. I solved the
problem of not being able to fire at my house because I am renting, by
finding a friend who owns a house and is letting me rent a patch of her
backyard to fire my kiln. My kiln will cost me $400 with furniture.
Professional electrician or propane hookup will be approximately: $250+
So as for my current "studio" I went from having that beautiful professional
studio in Manhattan that had thousands of dollars worth of custom made
shelving, four wheels, large electric kiln, retail display units, track
lighting, matching, matching, matching everthing, etc. to:
My home "studio" setup, bought slowly over time, totaling: $920
Before next Xmas, I may add another couple of $5 garage sale shelving units.
I don't really think of it as having a studio as everything is all over my
house (and soon the kiln at someone else's.) I'm just a ceramic artist. I
make pots. I have my own wheel at home so I can throw at 2AM if I want. (Much
to my partner's annoyance sometimes.) And I bought a kiln so that I can
control and schedule my own firings.
Beyond that I realized all the rest is window dressing. I gave up the
dream/reality of the polished, totally matching, NEW studio with NEW
fixtures, to the priority of polishing my pots, my skills and artistic
expressiveness. I wouldn't trade how I am doing it now. Yes, it would be nice
to have new things, but the professional studio was a constant financial
monthly burden to pay back my family. Their (and my) high expectations of me
once I sunk in all those expenses, and had the place to "show for it", was
an emotional burden to then try to succeed too soon and live up to it.
As you see, you don't need to spend a lot to get a studio set up. And you
don't have to buy it all at once. If you simply want to throw more than 15-20
hours per week to get your skills up, just get a used wheel. You might
substitute USED slab roller and extruder for the wheel if you are a
handbuilder. Or make or buy your own used handmade molds. Look in the local
Pennysaver and newspaper classified ads, police auctions, and advertise your
equipment Wants at the Lagunaclay.com: trading post page, and MileHi ceramics
also has a web classified page. There are probably others. Also post at the
local ceramic supplier's bulletin board as well as at all your community
ceramic programs and REGIONAL universities. Many ceramic programs or grads
may end up selling used equipment. Depending on your location, you may have
to travel for stuff or pay for shipping, but it will be often less than half
price than new. Just ask lots of questions before buying.
If you can't find places who will do outside firings, simply scrap all your
work at home into the recycle pile until you are good enough. Then when at
the Community center, use that time to make pieces you are willing to keep
and fire. Use the home wheel for "practice" pieces and techniques.
You mention that your FAMILY loves your pieces. Of course they will. What
about strangers? Do you really know objectively the current quality and level
of your work? Are you at a level to really sell at now? If so, what would
your current market be? Don't try to target high-end fairs or gallery level
if you arent there yet.
Likewise, don't try to sell too soon just to start justifying the expenses
you're about to spend. You'll get into a vicious trap of spending throwing
time making stuff that is endlessly sold a low-end venues (not that there is
anything wrong with it if you are into it) and may short change that precious
time that could be used to explore and find your own artistic style and voice
because you have a fair upcoming that you have to produce for. Not having a
spanking, new studio that you have a large loan out for will take so much of
the pressure off and the expectations of now having to produce (yours and
your family's) that having a "studio" has.
Hope this helps!