Just the Facts
Primary forming method
Primary firing temperature
high fire, cone 9–10 electric
Favorite surface treatment
transparent glaze or left raw
numerous, broad taste in music
a day bed
My studio is a combined studio and retail shop. Everything I produce is sold here. It is 1100 square feet and is in a prime location on a bright corner behind a red door on a street full of independent shops, studios, and eateries. It is a little outside the city center, which gives it the right combination of quiet and busy. Quiet times are when I produce and busy times are perfect for shop sales and the opportunity to personally meet the people who buy my work and get their immediate reactions. I moved to this location earlier this year from another studio half its size down the street, and I still have a few things to sort out, like relocating the restroom from one of the back production rooms and into a small room under the stairs.
Although I mainly work in the front room, where the shop is situated, some processes are hidden in the back, such as those I have meticulously developed over the years that I’m not ready to share yet. I work in the shop not for show, but for practical reasons; it allows me to be productive while talking with customers. Keeping the shop presentable—tidy and clean with fresh flowers and stocked shelves—assisting customers, wrapping gifts, handling correspondence, and arranging shipping does take time from the actual making of ceramics, but even after 14 years of working this way full time, I still find all these aspects enjoyable.
I spend at least 40 hours a week in my studio and I have prioritized making it a space in which I feel comfortable, both in terms of work-process layout and aesthetics. Some of the furniture, such as my work desk, which doubles as the counter, and the display pedestals have been custom built by my brother who is a carpenter, but I also have several pieces of second-hand furniture and lamps (some even found in dumpsters). All were carefully chosen to fit together, creating the ambiance/atmosphere I want for my space. Even though I sometimes work several weeks in a row without a day off, I’m always very happy when I put my key in the keyhole, and a special joy fills me as I enter the front room of my space and see the wooden shelves, the light from the many windows, and people walking by outside.
I trained in the studio of Christian Bruun and Karin Michelsen, also in Copenhagen. They worked on the same principle of having people walk into their studio from the street, so it was natural for me to continue working this way. I took it one step further and chose a busier location and have always maintained a full schedule of open shop hours.
Working in a Studio Shop
I have two assistants who take turns minding the shop on weekends (unless they cannot and then I always go in. The studio shop has never been closed on a Saturday). They also empty the kiln, wet sand all the pieces with a diamond sanding pad, and apply pricing stickers. They are usually only in the studio when I’m not. Aside from giving me time off during the weekends, this helps give me more time for the actual production and allows for the shop to be open 6 days a week (usually 7 days during peak times of July and Christmas).
The shop hours help define my work hours and get me to work every day. It is a great motivation, but also a huge commitment. There isn’t always someone to cover for me when I’m sick and there’s no staying under the covers on a blue, rainy day. Also, I never know what kind of day it will be; I may have planned a particular job, but suddenly it appears everybody has decided to visit that exact day. People might pop in just to seek cover from the rain, or to talk on their cell phones. In short, in this type of studio and shop setup, an artist is very exposed. It is hard to leave the shop for longer periods as I don’t want customers to find a note on the door. This can lead to a feeling of being trapped in the studio.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I started playing with clay when I was four years old, and it was love at first lump. The art classes I took at school were often spent at the kick wheel. Later, I took several ceramics classes in evening school, went to ceramics summer art school, and took a year of pottery at a technical college. After college, Christian Bruun took me on as his apprentice.
Without an arts or ceramics degree, I felt that I lacked some sort of certificate documenting or formalizing my ceramic education, and I therefore applied to various competitions in the first couple of years as a working ceramic artist—The World Ceramics Biennale Korea (CEBIKO), also known as Gyeonggi International Ceramics Biennale (GICB) and Mino (Japan), along with the Danish Applied Arts Award. It was encouraging to be accepted into competitions and exhibitions at these institutions, and I would recommend this to others in the same position.
I have an honors degree in business studies, majoring in marketing, and find that taking care of the business aspects of my work is second nature. My customer base, which is large and loyal, was built up over many years. It’s a conscious decision to be dependable in terms of always having a selection of works in various price ranges and being located where your customers can find you and at times when it suits them. Half of my customers are tourists from all over the world, some of whom are also regular customers either returning to Copenhagen again and again or visiting once, then ordering via email, sometimes years later. All goods are wrapped with a small brochure containing all the basic information, like contact information, shop hours, a description of the work, and photographs.
Selling all art from my own shop means that I don’t work with other galleries or art dealers who typically take a 50% commission. Even with the overhead costs of my studio shop, I believe selling directly without a middleman still cuts expenses. This means that I can keep prices slightly lower than would be possible otherwise, making them more accessible. On the other hand, it also means that the pots are not being exhibited around other cities or countries where they would be exposed to people who would never come by my studio. As I only make small-batch work, I do not find it desirable to run a webshop; it would be too much work to keep it updated and I don’t want to spend any more time than I already do on a computer or pay anyone to do it.
Social media, and especially Instagram, has proven very effective in terms of becoming exposed to new customers. A lot of visitors at the studio have come in because they stumbled upon my work online. Some order online without having seen the work in real life. I don’t post to social media on a particular schedule, and usually want to tell a story rather than sell a piece. I am never concerned with the individual sale, but rather believe that the experience of the transaction and how well you succeed in fulfilling your customer’s needs is much more important. It is always possible to return a piece if it didn’t meet expectations.
I have been extremely and positively surprised at how many people want to share my story, including design journalists and bloggers, travel guides, and magazines, etc. They have done an amazing job exposing my art to new audiences, nationally and internationally.
As a result of the skillset I’ve developed, I have been very involved in the development of the community on the street where my studio is located and I do the daily social media for the shops.
When I was younger, I used to binge read biographies and novels; these days, I rarely take time to sit for hours with a book. I try to stay up-to-date on news and politics. In my spare time, I go for walks with our dog (studio dog @cuba2200 on Instagram), take one or two weekly yoga classes, see exhibitions, and go to the cinema. I love cooking meals with vegetables, although I’m not 100% vegetarian myself. Weekends may be spent on the north coast, where we have a small thatched cottage, or sailing in our classic sailboat. My bed is also a favorite spot and an excellent place to watch Netflix and HBO. I occasionally knit while watching TV, but I find that my hands generally want time off when not in the studio.
Most Valuable Lesson
Focus and get stuff done. I believe that talent may account for as little as 10% of an artists’ success. Creative people often have hundreds of excellent ideas in their head at a time; the ability to select one, realize it, and stick with it long enough to perfect it is the challenge.
Photos: Kristian Johannes Holm, Camilla Winther, Philip Jessen, and Christian Geisnaes.