Studio Visit: Iggy Sumnik, Detroit, Michigan

Just the Facts

Clay
stoneware

Primary forming method
handbuilding

Primary firing temperature
cone 5–6 electric

Favorite surface treatment
painted underglaze

Favorite tools
serrated rib

Studio Playlist
Migos, reggae, Phish, Grateful Dead, XM radio, Pandora. My CDs from the past got scratched and ruined in the studio.

Wishlist
a sliding door, a sink, and a spray booth would all be fabulous

Studio

My studio is a former boathouse on an inner-city island on the east side of Detroit, Michigan. Located on a canal that empties into the Detroit River, the location is a remarkable convergence of natural and urban worlds. The studio is about 19×13 feet, a small but very motivating space.

Since the studio is not a large space, efficiency and mobility are non-negotiable. There is limited storage, so everything in the studio is essential to my practice. Having an organized and clean space helps me focus on the project of the day and makes it easier to quickly find things I need. There is a good amount of surface area to work on, and the ability to hang sculptural pieces on the studio walls as they come out of the kiln is a great feature.

What I enjoy most about my studio is that it is in a geographically anomalous canal ecosystem, and it sits on the same property as my living space. The canals are wonderful for the creative soul, and the ease of access makes it so convenient to check in on projects. It is a little slice of paradise on the canals of Detroit. The studio sits on a Fox Creek canal, which is a place of curiosity and wonder to outsiders who pass by on watercraft—like kayaks, boats, paddle boards, border patrol, and more. In warm weather, the distractions are plenty. Because of that, it is not always as private as I would like. Also, its small size is both a blessing and a curse, as it is easy to manage, but it gets crowded very quickly.

I learned studio management from my work with respected artists and art institutions like Jun Kaneko, Omaha Clay Works, and Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery. I learned to thrive in a space that is organized and efficient. This is my fourth Art By Iggy Studio iteration, and I have spent countless hours arranging and rearranging each space. I also realized that despite whatever works for me right now, I always need to have the ability to adapt the space to accommodate the particular project I am working on. My studio layout starts with a wall-mounted extruder, a pottery wheel, an anvil and fabrication tables, metal fabrication area, tools, two electric kilns, a glaze area, and a photo area. I do not spend a lot of time fabricating metal, but it is important to have the resources in the studio so I can fit the two practices together seamlessly. 

If I could alter my studio in any way, it would be to add a sliding glass door to an outside workspace on the canal. This would let me quietly enjoy canal activities and better connect to the natural world, while maintaining my productivity. I have invested a lot of time in insulating the space and finding out the best way to keep the studio warm in the Detroit winters. I use the kiln to supplement heat in the structure. In the interest of conservation and being mindful of energy consumption, I have LED work lights and always recycle. I reuse water because there is no sink. Being in an urban environment where decay and blight are familiar sights, I am motivated to use the resources I have and keep them in good working condition. I relentlessly fix and re-use things rather than throw them away and buy new ones.

Paying Dues (and Bills)

I have a BFA from Wayne State University with a double concentration in ceramics and sculpture and have focused on the sculptural aspects of ceramics for most of my career. I have worked in classrooms and affiliated myself through work and learning at studios that include Pewabic Pottery, Detroit, Michigan; Jun Kaneko Studio, Omaha, Nebraska; Why Arts, Omaha, Nebraska; Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, Nebraska; Sugar Hill Clay, Detroit, Michigan; and College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan. My student populations have included at-risk youth, young people in detention centers, summer campers, people with disabilities in community locations, college students, seniors, and school programs including teen parents. I have learned to appreciate the ability to affect people through the creative and art-making processes in many ways that are fun, challenging, and even profound. Art and art making are so much more than the finished piece.

Until early 2020, I would spend as much of every day as I could in the studio, and easily 50 hours each week. My time in the studio right now is limited because I am working with some health circumstances that have drastically affected my ability to work as much as I like. Currently I am working about 30 hours a week, with the help of an assistant.

Most of my income over the last five years has been through my studio practice, but I teach ceramics and art making to a variety of groups to help make ends meet financially. In the past, I would do anything to make money to survive, but as my focus and skills developed, more art-related income-making opportunities became available to me.

Marketing

I sell about 80% of my work to art collectors and interior designers who find my work through Modern Arts Midtown, a brick-and-mortar gallery in Omaha, Nebraska. Commissions for individuals as well as businesses looking to feature artwork on their walls accounts for about 10% of my sales. Another 10% of my work is sold online through artbyiggy.com. The online store offers smaller works, mostly functional pieces and at a lower price point.

Participation in the art community has opened doors for me in the art world. I donate artwork to local charity fundraisers, attend art openings (pre-COVID-19 pandemic), and participate in social events offered by the educational institutions where I teach. Solo and group art shows are also a good marketing opportunity for me. 

The advantages of the online marketplace include reaching a variety of clientele and new people as well as having immediate access to payment. The advantages of gallery sales are that someone advocates for the work during the sales process, and the staff works to recruit clients. The downside to gallery sales is the commission.

I try to keep my social media updated using Facebook and Instagram, and also distribute a monthly newsletter through Constant Contact. Cultivating relationships wherever possible, I always do my best work so people will recommend working with me to others. My newsletter draws a good amount of attention as it feeds content to my clients, potential collectors, and other interested parties. My website’s nice presentation motivates the curious to take a closer look.

I present photos of finished pieces on Instagram and Facebook and link those to a platform where viewers can immediately make a purchase. For sales of my work at bigger and more well-known institutions, I feature higher-value pieces. For smaller venues and events, I offer lower-priced pieces. All pieces at varying price points are shown on my website.

Mind

To find inspiration, I turn to Ceramics Monthly, Google, Amazon, nature documentaries, NFL football, and NBA basketball.

To recharge creatively, I enjoy taking walks with my dog to the river, getting a good night’s sleep, going on a road trip with companions, and eating a nice meal. My daily walks take me to the edge of the Detroit River where I frequently see Great Lakes freighters; American eagles, kingfishers, woodpeckers, and other fantastic birds; fishing and pleasure boats of all sizes; and Canada’s Peche Island. Observing my surroundings on these walks gives me the opportunity to renew and refresh.

When I am out of the studio, I think about improvements that could be made to my artwork and studio, the workflow, and process. I take a step away from it to gain perspective by working out, going to the gym, or going for a walk. There are bigger problems than mine, and I realize that.

Most Important Lesson

Over the years, the most important lesson I have learned is to show up to work. You must be there to do your best. Success requires constantly investing time into your craft. You are already an artist. You must believe in yourself before anyone else does. Do that and success will follow.

https://artbyiggy.com

Facebook: @ArtbyIggy-127601720656524

Instagram: @artbyiggy

All photos: Molly Leebove.

Comments

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Enter Your Log In Credentials
This setting should only be used on your home or work computer.

Larger version of the image
Send this to a friend