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young potter needs advice/making pots for a living

updated thu 25 dec 03


Jan L. Peterson on tue 23 dec 03

Nice a meeting you. You sound happy in your job. Career, vocation. There's
the word. Vocation. I paint. have added a bit to pots now and then, but mostly
smaller things in the Ceramic department. This will be one of my best years. I
intend to paint for about ten months. I want to take my work, and some of the
others to a Fair we have in November. Painting is not something you go fast
at, either, although someone offered to tell me how. I told them, it's the speed
painting I am repairing on a lot of things. Bad painting on some others. I've
got a few that are going to take time. Lots of time. Jan, the Alleycat, in
Northern Idaho.

RANDYJAZZ@AOL.COM on tue 23 dec 03

This is the first time I've posted a comment, I usually read the posts and
glean much from everyone. The potter who wants to make a living in clay might
start out as I did, teaching a few kids, then parents. My studio started out
in a small shed, one wheel, a bucket of water, an old kitchen table. I went to
the Thrift stores and flea markets to find old, usable stools, shelving and
whatever else I needed. Dollar stores were great for sponges and art brushes.
I started by running a little ad in the local paper, posting a note about
lessons on the community bulletin boards at the fresh foods markets,
library-wherever artsy people tend to be. I teach what I prefer to call therapeutic
pottery classes in my converted laundry room. People want to play, they need to
learn how to slow down and take time for themselves. Some try once and they
move on, others are with me for years. We play music, have tea, share humor- what
a job. The other part of it is the maintenance of the shop, office, records,
firing, ordering and keeping inventory, picking up 600 lbs of clay. You are
the shop keeper- and if it's in your home, it can be dusty. I work in my play
clothes, I don't commute, I have home cooking every day. I wake up a bit
sore, but I walk it off - I take care of my body.

I now have three wheels, so classes are always small and students get my
attention. I use a hands on technique to show them how to center- that seems to
help them learn much more quickly. We use videos to reinforce what we do in
class. I do a field trip a couple times a year to craft shows and museums. Here
in Penna. We have old redware and many fine local potters who sell in the
village shops. It's good for students to see what others are working on. For me,
selling is not dependable, teaching has been. You learn as you do. It took
me about 5 years to really get a good schedule going and become known in the
area. I teach teen to adult, as I have found that young ones move much too
quickly for me, and I tire out. They are fun to teach when you do have the
energy, but I limited my time with 7- 10 year olds to 1 hour. When they start to
play with the water more than the clay, it's done. You don't want to become an
expensive day care center. Also consider doing live demos at Adult care
centers. Table work such as coiling and cookie cutter stuff is nice for those
with weaker hands, but they love the feel of clay, and you can easily transport
the little pieces home for firing. The pots I sell are the best of my work,
the seconds I donate to a local shop for a prison ministry. I meet new friends
all the time and I'm careful about my spending, so I make an ok living. I
think of Beatrice Wood, who potted until she was over 100 years, I believe. So
there's no retirement plan here. I can't imagine giving up clay work. So...
if you are thinking of the pots on your wall as you sit in the office as I was
- perhaps you might start small and see if you're a good teacher. I was asked
to teach a couple of sweet kids- I knew after that first lesson I was able to
do it, and we all had a great time. I learn from them as well - I guess with
any job, you learn to listen to people and let them move at their own pace,
gently nudging them when they need to move beyond that 4" pot.

Deb Sarles
Deb's Pottery
Collegeville, Pa