Just the Facts
Primary forming method
handbuilding, wheel throwing, casting, sewing, upholstering, gluing, woodworking
Primary firing temperature
cone 04–1 oxidation
Favorite surface treatment
podcast junkie: NPR Up First, NPR Politics, 2 Dope Queens, The Rachel Maddow Show, On the Media, Snap Judgement, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, The Moth, Ted Radio Hour, Slate Political Gabfest, Dumb People Town, Fresh Air, This American Life, and the local NPR WXPN radio
a Juki industrial sewing machine and a better ventilation/dust collection system
My studio, located in the heart of Fishtown in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a mixed-use property that has both commercial and residential space. I keep a studio on the first floor and basement, and live on the second and third floors above. This close proximity of home to the studio has made all the difference in being able to have greater productivity while allowing me the ability to play, discover, and explore in those shorter time periods that commuting to the studio often made impossible. That 30-minute period while dinner is in the oven can be a productive time to sketch out ideas, add some coils, roll out some slabs, or clean in preparation for when I have several hours to focus on a project or task.
After moving studios three times in five years, it has been a dream come true knowing that by purchasing a property like this one, I have secured a workspace that I have control over, where I can build long-term plans and strategies to expand my practice. This forward thinking was something nearly impossible to do when continually packing and unpacking work and equipment.
My practice has developed to incorporate a variety of materials and processes, creating the need for flexibility in the studio. Having a ceramics studio, fibers area, wood shop, kilns, plaster area, and glaze mixing/testing space means that there is a lot of changeover and transformation of the space to fit the practice at hand. Having the studio downstairs from the living space allows me to take that transition time seriously. When I was commuting to a studio, I didn’t always allow myself the meditative process of preparing the area for what I planned to do next. With all of my work and teaching obligations, it was difficult for me to make time for the process of cleaning and preparation when my studio time could be so sporadic. I wish it didn’t take the responsibility of owning property to force me to mop the floors every week or organize and put tools away. The stress of home ownership made me care about the space in a way that I never did when I rented—not that I was a slob, but sometimes I was. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to have this studio/living situation, and understand that it’s not always possible for everyone. But I do wish I had made the connection to that meditative headspace of cleaning and organizing as an essential aspect of making sooner.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
Being a part-time teacher means that my schedule and income are relatively unpredictable. I teach handbuilding, wheel throwing, foundations, graduate-level studio art, and industrial design mold making at two universities, and an advanced handbuilding class at The Clay Studio. During any given semester I teach anywhere from 5–6 courses between these 3 institutions. My schedule changes every three months, so having a regimented studio plan is nearly impossible. However, it generally allows for certain days to have big time slots available to spend in the studio.
Teaching is my primary income; the studio work that I make does sometimes supplement that. However, its income contribution is not one I can count on for meeting expenses. Having now been in this studio for just about two years, I am exploring the possibilities of foot traffic, in-studio classes, sales, and adding more commercial lines of work.
I also rent portions of the space to Stephen Aleckna and Han Wang, both of whom are successful and dynamic artists. They have dedicated workspaces and access to equipment, kilns, and shared working areas. It has been an organic process building the infrastructure and space to accommodate two other artists. It meant that I had to make some studio upgrades: installing a slop sink, having kilns that will assuredly get to cone 6, and ventilation for using china paint, lusters, and decals. Their inclusion in the studio is a vital financial and creative force. Having two independent artists work out of the space keeps the energy high and fosters a sense of community while also allowing me to keep my studio time focused on my practice.
Being a news podcast junkie in the studio, and with the current reality-TV disaster that is our national politics, I have leaned heavily into sci-fi and fantasy fiction for much needed escape. Currently, I am reading Dune by Frank Herbert. Reading has always been the best way for me to recharge; there is nothing better than getting lost in an excellent story. As JRR Tolkien said, the only people who gripe over escape are jailers. A good book is my best day off, the cure for a mental block, and how I recharge my battery. As a maker, I consider myself a type of world builder, crafting meaning, emotion, context, and history. What better way to spark my creative agency than to thoroughly lose myself in imagining a world an author sets down in prose?
The marketing side of my practice is what usually keeps pushing itself further down the list of priorities. My last semester teaching had me in class 29 hours a week, not including preparation or grading. Consequently, I can only engage in so many things in a week, month, and year. Maybe I am just bad at multitasking, but I find that I either have time to make work or time to promote the work. My schedule is like a Rubix Cube. I only have so many squares; I can’t add new ones, I can only move around the squares I have.
I know how to engage in the rigor of making, thinking, and teaching; I have been well educated in those areas. However, my comfort level with business practices or lack thereof makes it a hard-fought slog to move that bar forward. I think academia is currently doing a poor job building curriculum around professional practices for makers. I was taught a professional practice curriculum created for a different era of academia and job markets, and a dialog is much needed to prepare all of us better for creating viable pathways to sustained making. But that is a much larger discussion for better-trained members of our community. I want nothing more than to better leverage my skills and time toward marketing, branding, finances, networking, and creating a purposeful business plan in pursuit of building a more extensive practice. To any students reading this, take a business and marketing class, learn to write a business plan, develop financial literacy, and for God’s sake, learn Excel.
Studio Images: Evan Kalman. Finished Images: Louise ORourke.