In this issue, which focuses on the business side of being a ceramic artist, individuals discuss the long-term plans and various adaptations that have enabled them to earn a living working in clay. Hard work, flexibility, diversified income streams, low overhead, networking, and community building have been key for all of the artists featured. This past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the number and type of events that artists can participate in. The artists in this issue share their responses to this reality as well.
During a normal year, earning a primary or secondary income from ceramics requires continuous monitoring and shifting of sales tactics and venues. The unique challenges of 2020 led artist and gallery owner Jonathan Kaplan to compile a list of considerations and business strategies to help artists now as well as after social-distancing restrictions are lifted.
Andrea Denniston and Seth Guzovsky talk about their experiences as working artists living in Floyd, Virginia, in this issue’s Studio Visit. Previously, in-person events, workshops, and studio tours were mainstays in their annual schedule. In response to social-distancing requirements, they moved most of their sales online, which allowed them to maintain a similar income level in 2020, despite the loss of revenue streams.
My colleague, Acquisitions and Content Editor Katie Sleyman, spoke to artists, instructors, gallery owners, and our own design team to create a great resource on photo documentation. These days, many people discover new handmade ceramic objects through images first, so presenting work consistently and professionally is an important aspect of all artists’ careers.
Paul Fryman shares the design for the corrugated cardboard boxes he uses to ship teabowls to customers who order from his Pottery Park Etsy shop. Working with a company that designs custom items from cardboard, they determined the best shape for the requirements, and added branding via laser cutting. Using the boxes has streamlined the packing process, and customer feedback shows that the boxes add to the excitement of opening up a package containing a handmade pot.
Jessica Colebrooke connected with clay as a young adult, and through studies at home in the Bahamas as well as in the US, developed a plan to launch a ceramics business. She details how she has developed a line of tile murals, wall pieces, vessels, gift ware, and sculpture to steadily grow her business while also expanding access for fellow Bahamians to experience working with clay and value ceramic art.
Stefani Threet discusses her inspiration for starting a new shop that features the work of artists of color, women, and local artists in Philadelphia. Community is central to the shop’s mission. While helping to promote artists, Threet also aims to share the possibilities of pursuing a career in ceramics with the surrounding neighborhood.
If you’re looking to develop new forms and surfaces, either for exploration or to offer more variety to customers, check out this issue’s studio-focused articles. Olivia Tani describes how small alterations in building double-walled slab vessels can lead to vastly different results. In her Quick Tip article and on the Recipes page, Rhonda Willers provides information on determining specific gravity and batching terra sigillata. The Recipes section also includes a variegated green glaze used by cover artist Paul Briggs on some of his pinch-formed pieces.
Earning a living or even a second income from handmade ceramics has always been challenging. In addition to being motivated and creative in the studio, I encourage you to spend some time reading how other artists are making it work, then evaluate how to adapt their strategies to meet your own needs.
Right before this issue went to press, we were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Phil Rogers. In addition to his long career as an artist, writer, and mentor, Phil was also a longtime member of the Ceramics Monthly advisory board. He made many contributions to the field, and we are thankful for the insights and advice he shared with the magazine staff over the years. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to his family, friends, colleagues, and students.