In this issue, we look at a number of ways artists have pursued leaner, greener studio practices along with investing in a community and building an audience.
Pursuing and, perhaps more importantly, sustaining ceramics as a career or primary vocation requires purposeful planning, saving money wherever possible, and gaining efficiencies in time and energy in the studio and beyond.
Reducing waste can lead to reduced costs for materials and energy consumption, and it can also help lower your carbon footprint. Ceramics is an energy intensive art form, from the extraction of materials through to firing a finished piece, so conserving wherever we can is key.
I have taken a number of steps to make my own basement studio both more enjoyable to work in, and more efficient, with the goal of consuming less materials and energy. They’ll seem like small steps, but combining a series of small changes can make a big difference. I’ve painted the whole basement white, which means I use less artificial light. Here in Ohio, the winters can make the basement pretty cold, so in addition to layering clothing, I’ve added spray-foam insulation around all of the vents to the outside. I’ve gotten better about recycling clay from handbuilding and slip-casting projects, and have separate bins for scrap clay of each type, so that I can store them until spring or summer, when it’s easier to break up, reconstitute, and reclaim the scraps outside on plaster bats. This has saved money in terms of materials, as well as lowering the amount of waste I produce from my studio practice. I use fluorescent lighting and hope to convert over to LEDs in the near future.
After working on this issue, I realize there are processes I need to improve on (namely recycling water more efficiently, recycling old plaster molds, and disposing of glaze tests). The same is probably true for most of us.
Maggie Furtak’s Clay Culture article (page 24) and Dave Finkelnburg’s Techno File on kiln venting (page 58) have great tips on water use and electric kiln efficiency. For those of us who have the opportunity to fire wood kilns, Jesse Jones has tips for adding waste vegetable oil (WVO) as a fuel source to supplement the wood (page 22), and Matt Schiemann offers options for sourcing free wood that was destined for the landfill or mulching (page 60). If your house/studio is situated right (as is the case for this month’s Studio Visit artists, Claudia Tarantino and Bill Abright), adding solar panels to power your studio can be another way to reduce your carbon footprint and save money in the long run.
Taking a holistic view, a sustainable studio practice also extends to engaging with community—sharing the importance of handmade objects with both like-minded people and those who haven’t had the opportunity to live with handmade objects and learn how they can add meaning to daily routines and interactions.
Ryan J. Greenheck, studio potter and coordinator for The Philadelphia Potters (TPP) shares his experience joining the ceramic artists in the region, what it took to get established, and the group’s experience organizing an urban pottery tour. TPP members are focused on cultivating interest in handmade pottery, engaging their neighborhoods, and welcoming more artists to the area.
Conserving energy and resources, in addition to saving money and time, and can also help to position the objects we make as contributing to ethical consumerism. What we make can’t compete, price wise, with manufactured items. However; they can compete if we educate our audiences, and shift the focus to buying less, buying local, buying purposefully, and seeking higher quality, meaningful, and reusable goods. In this way, our efforts to conserve and invest in our communities becomes a complete cycle.