We spend all of our work life in the studio, except for when we have opportunities to teach workshops. Matt teaches in an adjunct capacity four to six hours a week. We each spend forty hours a week in the studio (some weeks are more than fifty and some around thirty). We both work seven days a week, so some days are ten hours in the studio and others only four. The variation exists because we selfishly work when we want to. This system has worked for us because we love to go to the studio. Our life only takes balance if work is in progress.
We break the day up into three chunks. Two to three hours in the morning, three to four hours in the afternoon, and one to four hours at night. We work this way because of our attention spans. In a three-hour session of quality work time, we can achieve the same amount as if we worked unfocused for eight hours straight. Also, we can only mentally withstand concentrated activities like throwing or glazing in three-hour chunks. We find we need to walk away or change tasks throughout the day.
The hardest decision we have been battling with is whether Matt was going to teach full-time or not. Matt spent six years applying and interviewing for full-time positions, but was never offered one. This past year was the first year he did not apply for teaching positions. Job hunting is a difficult situation to be in. First, an enormous amount of energy goes into applications, waiting, phone interviews, campus interviews, anticipating and finally dealing with rejection. Second, you still have to focus on improving your portfolio and positioning yourself for the next round of applications. Third, you cannot make decisions in your life—like building a studio, a house or even a kiln—that would conflict with your ability to move for a temporary teaching position. We have recently decided to stop standing at that fork in the road between teaching and being a full-time artist. We have chosen to pursue studio work.
The ideas we pursue in our work are the most important aspect to our business. The development of our portfolio comes before the development of our marketing. Our business practice affects the production of our work when it comes to inventory. We cannot make a living if we just make one of something. Being potters, we have to make multiples. We work in small batches and nothing is mass-produced. Our ideas evolve too fast for mass production.
We buy individual health insurance for Shoko and hope to buy insurance for Matt within a year or two.
We would suggest to anyone interested in pursuing studio ceramics as a profession to enter an artist residency. We have found our residencies to be a protected entrance into the world of selling work. We suggest taking advantage of everything a residency offers. This can include subsidized living and studio rental, discounted materials and equipment, and an audience of buyers. In our case, visitors to the Archie Bray Foundation bought Matt’s work and visitors to Penland School of Crafts are buying our work now.
We are trying many different modes of selling our work. We don’t have many answers yet. It has been difficult, and we think staying optimistic is an accomplishment in itself.
Wholesale: We think the most important aspect to wholesaling is making all the rules yourself so the galleries cannot put restrictions or limitations on you and your work. We choose a limited number of objects for our wholesale line. If a cup is ordered, we will make a cup, but not a cup just like the example. We state that we will have similar glazes, color palette and sizes. We do not allow the buyer to determine the shape and exact decoration. We encourage buyers to believe in buying us as artists and not just a product. If the buyer trusts our decisions, our relationship will last because we will be happier filling the orders. Before we take orders, we know exactly how much time we want to dedicate to filling them and how much money we want to make. We take orders until we reach this limit and then we stop.
High-end craft shows: We target these venues because they attract an audience with a high percentage of educated craft buyers. These shows are expensive to do, so we limit the number we participate in to three or four a year. It has been our experience that each show also produces future orders and invitations to future gallery shows.
Local craft shows: We target these shows to build awareness of our studio in hopes that people will visit and buy directly from us. These shows are often close enough to drive to the morning the show starts, they are inexpensive, and they are only one or two days long.
Local studio tour: This is the best show for ratio between expenses and income. When this audience buys right out of our studio, we keep 100% of the sale. Plus people leave with a better understanding of who we are as artist after seeing our studio. Our hopes are that they will feel welcome to come back and buy more pots.
Consignment galleries: We are very discriminating when it comes to agreeing to consign work. We are with galleries that have a good reputation for selling high-quality crafts, that give us a presence on their website, that sell work and pay us every month, and galleries with whom we have had a long relationship.
Gallery shows and juried shows: We participate in these shows because they spotlight our work. We think of them as advertising.
We believe in being honest about paying taxes. Matt does our taxes. We will hire an accountant when we buy a house and studio. What’s retirement?