Ceramistas Seattle is the name we have given the umbrella under which our collaborative efforts toward projects, events, and exhibitions happen. We each have our own separate careers, ideas, web pages, and ways of working, but in the end these all come together to propel our home life, careers, and interests forward. We have a patchwork-quilt life. Each opportunity adds to the whole.
We are so excited about the potential of our new studio spaces! We have room to make lots of work—even big work, host workshops, and develop our studio assistant offerings. Ceramistas Seattle is located just outside the Seattle city limits. We moved in and started working here in May of 2013. Our new home/property has two studio spaces in separate buildings and a kiln yard. Our two assistants and Deb work in the daylight basement of our 1947 rambler house. It is 1200 square-feet, has 8-foot ceilings, cement floors, partially finished walls and ceiling, and three giant windows looking out onto the lush, backyard veggie garden. In this area there is a packing/shipping room, photo-shoot area, tool wall, and an area for finished work set up on clean shelving. There are additional cabinets for storage of event materials, an information board for opportunities for assistants and a group event/work schedule calendar, and flex space for short-term assistants to work, presentations to be given or overflow for projects. The adjacent shop building is 600 square feet and has 13-foot ceilings, cement floors, and is still largely unfinished (although we are slowly insulating it and finishing the walls in between events). George works in this building. He framed and hung double doors when we were building the kiln yard so that the car-kiln floor can roll into the building and he can build directly on its surface. Off of this shop structure, and between the two studio spaces is the 500-square-foot, covered kiln yard with three electric kilns and a gas-fired car kiln. We built the shed ourselves and funded it with a Kickstarter Campaign, “IGNITE: An Essential Kiln Yard.”
These two spaces are in flux in terms utilizing them to their full potential. Since we are new to the facilities we are still streamlining our work flow. Our future plans are extensive. We would like to build small living quarters for our assistants to ease the expense of living in Seattle. We would like to build a loft in the shop building for storage of work and materials. We would like to put in running water and bathrooms in both work spaces. The list goes on and on. It is an incredible process and it is difficult to balance with the demands of deadlines. With decided effort, we protect our studio work time and energy for making.
George and I have found it helpful to have separate studio spaces. Before, we were working in a tiny space together. Now we both have the elbow room we need to spread out. We may choose whatever music fits our energy level, and set up a work-flow that supports our making process, personality, and head space. We still share kilns, lots of tools, and even collaborate on making once in a while.
Our studio assistants help with everything from putting up drywall to rolling slabs, from pressing out sprigs for George to spreading mulch on the gardens, from mopping the studio to entering emails on our mailing list, from painting studio walls to helping set up at sales events. They occasionally write for the blog, work on the website, take images of our work, or assist at workshops. It is a lot of hard work. They help us in so many ways. In exchange for their work they receive an 8×10 foot workspace, experiential-based learning opportunities, access to materials and kilns, and meetings with us to discuss their work from a technique, idea, or professional development perspective. It is a work/trade relationship.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
We both feel incredibly grateful for the amazing mentors and teachers who have supported us! Our community of friends from residencies, schools, and now teaching enriches our lives beyond measure.
Deb: I earned a BA from the University of Alaska—Anchorage in 2002, completed a post-baccalaureate program at San Diego State University, and completed my MFA at Penn State University in 2005. In addition to my formal education, I worked for Kriss Bliss and Peter Brondz, two studio potters in Alaska. This was a life-changing experience and truly helped me find my path. I have also completed numerous artist residencies, including at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts, Mudflat Studio, The Clay Studio, Sanbao, Zentrum für Keramik, and Pottery Northwest.
The last day job I had was working for a potter while I was studying for my BA. Now I feel like I spend every waking moment working on some aspect of my studio practice. To me this includes updating the website, shipping purchases, working with our assistants, or throwing parts to build with. About two thirds of my income is from making pots. The remainder is from instructing in some capacity—alternating between adjunct appointments, workshops across the country, and occasional classes at community centers in the Seattle area. I have small checks coming in regularly. I make a lot of cups and bowls.
George: I received a BFA from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2006 and my MFA from University of Washington in 2009. After graduating, I was an artist-in-residence at Pottery Northwest.
I teach at quite a few community centers and at North Seattle Community College. I have an annual solo show at Foster White Gallery with large-scale sculptural pieces. I get financial stability from teaching and augment this with sales from the gallery.
Research and Inspiration
Deb: I love books and now that there is not an immediate move on the horizon, I enjoy adding to the collection. I take time to read when I am traveling and right before sleep. Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is my current evening book. I also enjoy studying topics relating to the process of learning, creativity, and the mind. Recent titles include The Power of Habit and The Talent Code. I could just as easily read from my library on foraging for mushrooms or canning and preserving the garden.
George: I have recently been looking at a book on Jose Posada’s prints. I research by browsing the library and Google for topics relating to my current show themes. An image or relating idea will offer potential and fuel further, more in-depth questioning and research.
We rarely take whole days off. We do spend time cooking, hosting dinner parties, or watching movies in the evenings. Going to the First Thursday Art-walk in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, riding bikes, or going to our local watering holes with friends fills our free time.
Deb: I recharge by spending time with friends and tending the garden. I also enjoy watching my chickens scratch around. I have found a great local veggie trading group through which I am meeting other gardeners to swap produce and eggs. I also have become president of the Washington Clay Arts Association. It is exciting to work with the other volunteers on the board to build opportunities for artists in our state.
George: When taking a break I love to play basketball with friends or watch football. I can really get into turning the compost and regularly listening to national or international news on NPR.
Deb: I find that spending lots of time in the studio keeps me from being stuck. So I line myself up with constant smaller deadlines to keep my momentum built up. The process of making fuels my energy and ideas. There are always extra pieces around that I play with to brainstorm new shapes. When pieces crack, I use them to test glaze combinations I want to work out. If I want to work on a specific form, I build a solo show around it so I really dive in and spend time figuring it out.
George: The way that I work has a lot of starting and stopping. It is challenging to get a big idea in motion when it is new and not fully flushed out. Sometimes the initial researching spurs me to action in the studio. Often it is the looming deadline for an exhibition that gets me into the decision-making mode. I need the outside pressure from promotion or installation deadlines to really get in a groove. But once I get moving, all-night studio sessions are common and then the ideas surface freely.
On the Ceramistas Seattle website we have process images, collaborative ventures, studio assistant application information, and workshops opportunities. We have a page of local links, information about other artists offering assistantships and we make links for our current and past assistants. We also have individual pages about our work and interests.
Kickstarter: Between the two of us, we have a huge mailing list and networking capacity. The Kickstarter campaign that helped build our kiln yard turned out to be an amazing marketing tool. It let our community know what we were dreaming up and gave them a direct avenue to support us. It was huge for us and provided much needed progress toward acquiring the tools we needed.
Getting Our Work Out There
We both send work to a few auctions every year. Often we choose to support organizations that supported us with residencies or live auctions that help promote our work.
Deb: I make smaller work that is less of a commitment financially. Therefore, a more diverse group of people acquire these pieces. I have a broad network of galleries across the country that consistently buy wholesale or take work on a commission basis (usually a 50/50 split with the artist covering the shipping costs to the gallery, and the gallery covering the return shipping). These are listed on both of the websites I update. I participate in studio tours locally and nationally. We host a studio tour in conjunction with Seattle Sampling, Seattle’s largest holiday arts and crafts tour, (www.seattlesampling.com). I am hoping that this will grow eventually to the point where I can invite out-of-state artists to participate. I have started showing at a few Northwest craft fairs to build my local presence.
I exhibit in numerous invitational/group shows. I sell work and am represented through Objective Clay (http://objectiveclay.com), which is a collective of potters whose mission is crafting a hybrid space for sharing ideas and new work. Objective Clay also provides a platform that allows its members to write informative articles for their blog and creates educational/social events together. I am very excited to be a member of this group.
I try to diversify where my work goes to continually develop the community that interacts with it. I find there is an advantage to spreading my work out across many locations and venue types. Having a broad range of price points, selection of forms, and surface palettes keeps me inventive in the studio and attracts a widespread following. Variation has helped me develop consistency that I can live on. For me there is not a singular avenue that moves the most work; diversity and quantity are both key.
George: Foster White Gallery (www.fosterwhite.com), in Seattle, represents my work exclusively in the area. The gallery promotes my work professionally within their spacious gallery and encourages my ideas. This gives me the freedom to explore and produce with out limitations. They give career advice when I have questions and maintain a professional online presence. It is amazing to have this aspect of my career in competent hands. It takes space and a huge commitment to buy and house large-scale sculpture. Foster White creates sales opportunities that I would not find operating on my own.
I also show in small group exhibitions, enter juried shows, and participate in displays hosted by the facilities where I teach. I hope to develop relationships with galleries outside Washington state in the coming years. In working large scale, I have found more challenges in showing beyond distances easily driven. Many exhibition opportunities have restrictions on sizes or weights and there is more expense to package and ship large-scale work across the country.
Presence in our Community
Beyond working in clay, enjoyment of our community through teaching, volunteering, attending lectures and exhibitions, hosting events at our studio (summer BBQ, holiday tour, workshops, dinner parties, end-of-session parties for classes) is what we hold most dear and most in common. We both strive to support it and help it thrive. We get energy and support from our community as well. Past mentors lend a listening ear and helpful solutions. Our friends have helped us move all kinds of heavy tools and artwork. Our students send images of their successes. Friends and relatives show up at opening receptions to see our progress and help the long hours of craft fairs pass with conversation. So many times we have reached out for help and found assistance and support. We are so grateful for all the caring people in our lives.
Facebook: Ceramistas Seattle; Deborah Schwartzkopf; George Rodriguez
Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Flickr: debspottery
Access Ceramics: http://accessceramics.org/results/artist/395/