Just the Facts
Primary forming method
wheel thrown with handbuilt components
Primary firing temperature
cone 10 soda firing
Favorite surface treatment
cutting facets with a wire and dipping work in glaze or slip to create unglazed lines in the clay
Mudtools Mudcutter with straight wire
Golf, M*A*S*H, or The Big Bang Theory playing on TV
permanent photo booth
My studio is located in the woods in a rural area outside of Athens, Georgia. The footprint of the studio is 50×25 feet (1250 square feet), which includes a 123-square-foot permanent gallery space, an office area with an additional display area (also 123 square feet), a work area for making and glazing (900 square feet), and an enclosed storage area for dry materials, show booth setup, and a bisque kiln (160 square feet). The ceiling is 10 feet in height throughout the studio and there are windows on 80% of the walls. I have a 15×10-foot bank of built-in shelving on one wall in the work area that has pots made by visiting artists, who I invite for 2-day workshops annually. This shelving unit also provides additional storage for materials. Also in the work area there is a treadle wheel, a Brent electric wheel, and two 8×4-foot tables that are used for making and staging work. These tables each have a shelf for storage space below them. I have concrete counters along all of the work area walls that are 40 inches in height, which allows ample storage underneath for glazes, clay, and the dry materials that I use on a regular basis for mixing glazes. My soda kiln, which has a 24×24-inch kiln-shelf footprint, is located 15 feet from the back door of the studio. Twice a year I convert my studio for my weekend open studio sale and the tables and countertops are used as display areas along with the gallery space and office space.
The design of the studio reflects my fondness for playing in the woods as a kid. All of the windows keep me really close to feeling like I am outside and allow an abundance of natural light to come into the studio. I feel a real continuity between my work space and the environment right outside its walls. It’s just a quick walk on down to the creek shoals to sit on the rocks and think about my plan for my studio time that day and to mentally work through what studio and office work needs to be done in the next few weeks to months to prepare for upcoming sales, gallery/wholesale orders, and invitational exhibitions.
Before I built my studio I had visited Silvie Granatelli’s studio in Virginia. Silvie had some built-in shelves in the entryway for displaying pots. Her setup made me realize how important it is to have a permanent display area that people visiting the studio see as soon as they enter the space.
One of the downsides to my studio is that, since it is an open format without distinct rooms, I don’t have a designated area where I can set up a permanent photo booth. This makes shooting images of my work more laborious, which, in turn, prevents good documentation of my work, and may make marketing less effective.
Up to this point, I have fired my small soda kiln 76 times. This kiln may last another 25 firings and while this starter kiln has served me well, I am ready for a larger kiln so I can increase the scale of my work and increase the number of pots I make per cycle. I made my first kiln small to decrease time between firings, allowing me to see results more often. Now, I am ready for a bigger soda kiln and at some point I would like to add a small wood kiln.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
When I was growing up, there were no handmade pots in my home and none of my friends’ parents were makers or artists. Until 20 years ago, I was not even aware that people made and sold pottery as a career. My start in clay came from a casual exchange with a friend. She suggested that I go to Liz Lurie’s studio sale as she thought I would like her pottery. Two years into buying pots from Liz, she said to me “You know Nancy, you could make pots.” And I said “Okay, I will.” That was the beginning of an unexpected journey. Liz suggested potters whose work she thought I would like and sales that I should attend. The quest to see pots took me from New Mexico to New Jersey with stops in Minnesota and Wisconsin. From there I went to Japan, Italy, and Ireland all as part of my education in making pots and determining what a good pot is. I started by taking classes at a local ceramic studio and then attended workshops by makers whose work resonated with me. Shoji Hamada once said that it takes a lifetime and a half to become a good potter; I started my journey with only half a lifetime left.
I work somewhere between 40–60 hours a week in the studio. I do not have a job outside of my studio work. During my previous career, I was able to buy some land, build a house and a studio, and start making pots as my second career.
I currently sell my work out of my studio—which includes my two annual weekend studio sales and Instagram sales—in addition to selling through galleries, art fairs, workshops, and through a local pop-up shop I do over the summer. The breakdown of revenue is as follows: studio sales 30%, gallery sales 8%, art fairs 49%, workshops 7% and local pop-up shop sales 6%.
Selling at art fairs in other areas of the country helps promote my work beyond my local region and aids in my exposure to galleries and stores that buy wholesale work. That exposure, in turn, gets me into those venues as well. Instagram has helped me connect with customers who live beyond the areas I would travel to for art fairs and brings my work to people that I would not meet in any other way. I currently do not have a website, which I see as a tremendous disadvantage given the opportunities to have online sales. My next step to grow my market is to develop an online presence and have two online sales every year. Also, this summer, I will start selling my work at a well established farmer’s market in Athens, Georgia. I live about 20 minutes outside of Athens, but don’t get a lot of people coming out to my studio to see my work except on the two weekends a year when I have an open studio sale and when I host my annual two-day demo. My aim is to increase my exposure to the local community and make them aware of my work and my studio location. Because I live in a rural location that is further out than urban dwellers want to wander, I don’t get many people dropping by my studio on a regular basis to see and buy work. I think the farmer’s market will increase the traffic to my studio.
Outside of the galleries and stores I sell work through, the only online presence I have is my Instagram account. I have connected with buyers through Instagram and that revenue source is growing slowly. I try to post 3–5 times a week, which has grown the number of people that follow me on a weekly basis. I post work in progress and finished work, and use it as a platform to introduce my followers to work made by other people.
During the last 20 years of making pots, I have reached out to potters I admire and who inspire me. For daily inspiration, I follow potters/ceramic artists, photographers, and food stylists on Instagram.
To build on my education and creativity, I go to ceramic demonstrations periodically; I am particularly fond of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts’ Utilitarian Clay Conference. Every so often I attend the NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts) conference to see the gallery shows and demonstrating-artist sessions.
Since my studio is located within a stone’s throw of my house, I go to the studio every day to work unless I am traveling to a show, having my studio tour, or hosting my annual two-day demo where I bring in a nationally known potter/ceramic artist. The latter two events provide me with the opportunity to do a lot of menu planning and cooking. I have been fortunate to have hosted a lot of my friends for the demo weekend. These makers include Mary Barringer, Robert Brady, Linda Christianson, Ben Cirgin, Naomi Dalglish, John Dix, Michael Hunt, Jan McKeachie Johnston, Warren MacKenzie, Ellen Shankin, Sandy Simon, Joe Singewald, Mckenzie Smith, Tom Spleth, and Jerilyn Virden.
Sponsoring a two-day demo allows me to see how other makers work, which introduces me to a variety of techniques that help me move my work to the next level. It also allows me to help promote other makers and their work and bring them together with students who are getting a ceramic education outside the traditional learning arena of going to school to get a BFA or MFA. I enjoy facilitating this transfer of knowledge in an intimate weekend gathering.
Most Important Lesson
Seeing great, innovative work by other makers can be inspiring and daunting at the same time. On one hand, I am inspired by their creativity and ability to manipulate clay, but on the other hand I feel like I will never get there. I think the most important lesson I have learned as a working artist is that accomplishments in taking my work to the next level require patience. Building a better aesthetic requires a lot of small steps over a long period of time. With persistence and patience I will get there. You really have to believe in yourself to go the distance.
Signature Shop and Gallery www.thesignatureshop.com
Monique Rancourt Artisan Gallery www.moniquerancourt.com
Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery www.piedmontcraftsmen.org