Hiroe Hanazono’s mug, slip-cast, colored porcelain with yellow mishima inlay, on loan from Assistant Editor Forrest Gard’s collection. Drinking copious quantities of tea from this cup kept me focused while we put the finishing touches on this issue. Learn how she creates these oh-so-fine mishima stripes in our Subscriber Extras section online after you finish reading her article.
For this year’s installment of our Working Potters focus, the editorial staff decided to contact potters with very different backgrounds who are living in both urban and rural settings in locations around the globe. Our aim was to broaden the conversation about what it means to be a working potter.
All of the artists featured this year—Hiroe Hanazono, Kat and Roger, Mariko Paterson, Derek Jungarrayi Thompson, and Martin Swart—share a sense of pride in hard work, along with creative perseverance in the face of personal, cultural, and financial obstacles.
I find their different perspectives illuminating, and thank all of them for the candor with which they shared their experiences. When I first graduated with an art degree, I wondered how (or if) it could ever be possible to make a living as an artist. My perspective on this was shaped by the fact that I am from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and had lived in both Boulder, Colorado, and San Diego, California (which are somewhat expensive, pretty expensive, and even more expensive, respectively). These facts presented certain existential and financial challenges. The answer I came up with was that it would be extremely difficult to be a full-time artist based on my own debt-to-income ratio and tolerance for risk, so I opted for a different path.
Hanazono addressed these same concerns as a potter who live in an urban area—which for her, is coincidentally also my home town of Philadelphia—in a different way. She has decided to combine her income from making tableware with income from teaching, and to allow that income ratio to slowly shift as she becomes more established in her career.
Kat and Roger taught part time, worked at Heath Ceramics, and made their own artwork at nights and on weekends prior to making the leap into life as working potters living in Los Angeles, California. The city has a high cost-of-living, but the culture there inspires the pots they make, so the trade off is worth it for them.
In both cases, putting down roots, getting involved in the local arts scene, and making pots while relying on another income source were key aspects of the artists’ early careers.
Paterson is getting her bearings as an artist in her new location (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada) after working in various studios in the US, Canada, and further abroad. She has found that keeping her needs minimal, along with a determined, unwavering dedication to ceramics, despite her family’s expectations, has allowed her to pursue making pots for a living.
While managing expenses is difficult in urban areas, rural potters struggle with access to an audience and a group of supportive peers.
Swart, who lives in the countryside in Bredasdorp, Western Cape, South Africa, found the isolation of living on a farm in a rural area to be challenging in terms of creativity and finding a community. Thompson, of Pukatja Community, South Australia, talks about how he and the other artists at Ernabella Arts have benefited from (and contribute to) a collaborative and supportive artistic community. The artists learn from one another as well as from visiting artists. Thompson has also completed several residencies to learn new skills. The art center and select galleries market the artists’ work to a wider audience in more populated areas of Australia as well as internationally.
In addition to explaining how they’ve built their careers, several of the working potters share the techniques they use on their pots, like the mishima inlay on the mug I’m holding in the image below. See the Subscriber Extras section on our website for more.
Our focus on working potters (and potters who work hard) continues with Bulldog Pottery’s Studio Visit, and this month’s Spotlight artist, Davie Reneau, who describes the sense of satisfaction she feels when she’s tired and dirty at the end of a day of firing a wood kiln.
Read on, and then do some hard work in the studio that you can be proud of, too.