While we are all passionate about working with clay, some artists discover that they also have a desire to be self employed and earn a living primarily through making pots (and doing all of the non-studio work that goes along with selling them). The artists included in this issue, which features our annual Working Potter focus, talk about their careers as a whole and the ways that they have responded to the difficulties brought on by the pandemic. By combining diversified income streams, flexibility, resilience, and a ton of hard work, they’ve persevered through early struggles and extremely difficult economic challenges alike. From starting out in shared spaces to establishing a support network of mentors and peers, their experiences are both instructive and inspirational.
Terry Plasket has worked for 41 years as a full-time potter and resident artist at Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center in Millville, New Jersey. The opportunity to work at the art center and learn from established artists helped him get started. Along the way, forming community bonds, giving guidance to others, maintaining a strong work ethic, shifting his sales avenues, and keeping overhead low have helped to sustain his career.
Drew Darley and Erika Novak started their business, Round Trip Clayworks, after college. Their former professor mentored them while they worked as studio technicians at their alma mater, helping them learn to run a studio. They now have a space at the Farmington Valley Arts Center in Avon, Connecticut. While they used to travel to fine-art, craft fairs, and festivals regularly to sell their work, this past year they pivoted to marketing and selling almost exclusively online.
Pru Morrison is based in Brisbane, Australia. She’s recently set up a studio in her garage, but prior to this, she worked for 12 years in a shared space sponsored by the Brisbane City Council. After selling her work for years through group exhibitions, non-profit outlets, award exhibitions, and open-studio sales, she found that while her client base grew, this approach was too draining. She has now switched to promoting and selling through studio sales, one or two markets per year, small exhibitions, and an online store built with another artist.
Natasha Alphonse is a potter and instructor in Seattle, Washington. After learning from university studies, residencies, classes, a mentor, and peers in her community while working a day job, she made the leap to become a full-time artist. She shares how her biggest hurdle has been figuring out a pricing structure. She has found that online sales are the biggest share of her income, but she also maintains a diverse set of revenue streams, including gallery sales, wholesale orders, commissions, and studio sales.
David Kenton Kring works out of his garage studio in Lexington, Kentucky, creating functional work as well as sculpture. Early in his career, he worked for Kentucky Mudworks, forming connections and learning the business side of ceramics before going out on his own. Like others, he shifted his marketing and sales approach to online avenues, and has found a supportive audience there that has allowed him time to experiment with new ideas.
Shannon Garson is a potter, writer, workshop instructor, and host of creativity-focused group travel and retreats. She lives and works in Maleny, a small town in Queensland, Australia. After leaving for university studies and to travel the world, she chose to set up shop back in her hometown. The small town offers her the solitude needed to focus on her work, while travel helps to fuel her creativity.
Many of us dream about being full-time artists, but it’s not for everyone. Even if you don’t plan to rely solely on income from selling what you make in the studio, the insights shared by the working potters in this issue will help you with ideas and strategies from acquiring skills and learning the ropes through to finding your market and maintaining work/life balance.