This issue approaches the business side of ceramics from a number of angles. After all, artists’ experiences, skill sets, locations, and goals vary as widely as the objects they make. There are established routes to earning a living as an artist, like teaching, working for an arts organization, serving as an apprentice, or operating a full-time studio business. At the same time, many in the ceramics field chart their own career paths, and even within the more established routes, artists develop individualized solutions to real-life challenges.
We invited several artists to write about the less-traditional jobs they’ve chosen. The resulting articles are a fascinating window into their experiences as well as springboards for other artists looking to shape the career that best suits them.
Brian Somerville realized that the skills he had collected through years of education, making large-scale sculpture, and taking on side gigs to supplement his income offered him a unique opportunity. He started his own fabrication company, and works with a clients to create monuments, imaginative playgrounds, immersive environments, and more.
Several artists share their experience working in the Heath Clay Studio, which is essentially the Heath Ceramics research and development lab, where experimental designs are developed through the vision and guidance of Director Tung Chiang. They have the opportunity to put their creative skills to use, and also learn about production-facility methods, tools, and tips while making limited-edition designs.
Lauren Kearns relates the story of a gallerist whose unconventional decision to convert the first floor of her home into a gallery 25 years ago has allowed her to pursue her commitment to supporting Native American artists by connecting them with collectors.
Eva Champagne describes her recent move halfway around the world to take a position as Gaya Ceramic Arts Center’s managing art director. Although she was familiar with the organization, having completed a residency and taught workshops there, it was a major shift, not only in geography (moving from Montana to Bali, Indonesia), but also in focus. She now oversees programming, leads day-to-day operations, and contributes to the center’s creative growth while also continuing her own artistic practice.
When looking at the more traditional ways to earn a living with clay, we asked artists to discuss some of the problems they face as independent studio artists. In many cases, they also share the solutions they’ve devised to overcome these obstacles.
Knowing what payment is appropriate for teaching workshops in the US is a difficult topic, because rates are not standardized. Kristen Kieffer takes on the task of demystifying the range of payment that currently exists and outlining the reasoning for having a standard. She explains what artists should be prepared to provide a venue in exchange for a fair honorarium, and details the unseen preparation that venues should take into account when budgeting their rate to pay workshop artists.
Neil Estrick shares how the necessity of using his everyday family vehicle to transport his art-fair booth led to the pared-down setup and time-saving, Tetris-like packing procedures he now uses for every craft fair and art show he travels to.
Lucy Fagella’s Studio Visit includes her experience expanding and marketing separate product lines to meet the needs of different audiences: one for tableware and one for both fired and biodegradable burial urns.
Bob McWilliams tells the story of the Hawaii Potters’ Guild’s beginning and evolution, as well as the ingenuity, open communication, and hard work that have been critical to maintaining a ceramics guild in an expensive city like Honolulu.
By sharing artists’ personal stories of lesser-known approaches to making a living and their tips for negotiating the complexities of a full-time job or side gig in the arts, we hope to help others think creatively and expand their options.