Just the Facts
stoneware and porcelain
Primary forming method
wheel thrown, press molded, and handbuilt
Primary firing temperature
cone 10 reduction
Favorite surface treatment
a small metal rib made by Mudtools, a porcupine quill, and a Bison trimming tool
local radio and NPR broadcasts, Grateful Dead, and Dwight Yoakum
I currently make my work in Rabbit Creek Studio in Anchorage, Alaska. The studio is owned by my friend, Kim Nelson, and is built onto the back of her home. I pay a modest monthly rental fee for a work space that is shared with Kim and our friend Kristy Havasi. It is a beautiful setting to work in, and the studio itself is well set up. Our work schedules are different and we don’t tend to overlap in the studio very often. I am usually there during the weekdays and I try to take the weekends off when I can. My studio mates both work day jobs, and they often spend a few evenings a week in the studio or make pots over the weekend. We all have 24-hour access to the studio, but I try to maintain reasonable daytime working hours.
The studio is roughly 1000 square feet. We each have our own wheels and small work tables arranged in front of large south-facing windows that look out onto the wooded property located behind Kim’s home. I throw the majority of my work standing up, so I place my wheel on cinder blocks and paving bricks. There is a wedging table for porcelain, and a sink with a trap directly behind the wheels that separates the throwing space from the glaze area. Kim and Kristy both exclusively work in porcelain, while I work primarily in stoneware and occasionally in porcelain. The floors in the throwing and glazing area have drains that make cleaning and mopping easy. The studio has an in-floor heating system, which keeps the room at a nice even temperature. This allows the pots to dry more evenly. There are double doors in the glaze area that open up to overlook a fire pit, surrounding woods, and a lovely view of the Alaska Range. Throughout the day I may see snowshoe hares, moose, and eagles around the property.
I have a personal shelf in the entryway of the studio where I store my wet and in-progress work. I use a work table for stoneware in the adjoining room that has a common space, an electric kiln, a large wash-sink, and some materials storage. The work table I use is small and I generally just do my clay wedging or plaster casting in that area. There is a small room toward the north side of the studio that is equipped with a ventilation system and is used for more materials storage and as a glaze mixing room.
The space in the studio is limited, so I have to get creative with my work area. I do most of the handbuilding work at my wheel. I place a Melamine board over my wheel to convert it into a small work table, which I use when attaching pulled, handbuilt, or press-molded pieces onto my pots. I also stack 5-gallon buckets to create additional temporary table surfaces.
We have an 18-cubic-foot downdraft Geil kiln in a kiln shed that is raised up on pilings and located on the south side of house. The entrance to the studio is aligned with the kiln shed so it’s a pretty straight shot when hauling pots out during kiln loading. The kiln is what I would consider a smaller gas kiln and the turnover is quick for glazed work—I can make enough work to fill the kiln in about three weeks. While I generally fire my work on my own, the three of us team up and fire together for holiday events and upcoming studio sales.
I was introduced to the potter’s wheel by my high-school art teacher. The ceramics lab had a kick wheel with an electric motor that I learned to throw on. I went on to earn a BFA with a concentration in ceramics from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2012. After graduating, I spent a year as a post-baccalaureate student at the University of Montana in Missoula. I then moved to Alfred, New York, where I received an MFA from Alfred University in the spring of 2015.
My income is about 50% from my pottery and about 50% from teaching. I currently teach a beginning wheel-throwing course at the University of Alaska Anchorage and I substitute teach at a local technical school. My daily studio time is dependent on deadlines and fluctuates throughout the year. During the spring and early summer months, I devote around 8–10 hours a day to studio work. Midway through June, I pause studio work and spend a couple weeks subsistence fishing for sockeye salmon with my family on the Kenai Peninsula. Once our fish are processed, I return to working in the studio and prepare for upcoming sales and craft shows, and begin making work for holiday sales that start after Thanksgiving and into December. Following the holiday push, I take a short break or use that time to fill commission orders before classes begin again in mid-January.
Time away from the studio is important to me and allows me to recharge mentally. Beside set-netting for salmon in June, I try to take small breaks throughout the year. When I have a busy working schedule, I like to take my dogs for walks or short hikes during the day, and in the winter months I may go cross-country skiing if the snow is good. Anchorage is a wonderful city in that we have access to so much wilderness. The Chugach National Park borders the city, with 120+ miles of multi-use trails and 105+ miles of maintained ski trails, and the Kenai Peninsula is a short drive south.
I like to read a wide range of things from biographies to fiction. I am currently reading One Man’s Wilderness by Sam Keith, a book written from the journals of Richard Proenneke. When I am not reading a book, I like to pick through The New Yorker or read the local news.
I focus on marketing my pottery locally here in Southcentral Alaska. I sell the majority of my work myself through home sales, craft shows, or pop-up sales. I have really enjoyed hosting a home sale a couple times a year, and those sales have been successful. I try to space those sales out, but I also tend to have different clientele depending on who is hosting and where it’s located. Seasonally there are a few craft fairs I choose to work each year, usually one in the summer and one or two around the holidays. The summer craft event success can weigh heavily on the weather or other events happening in the area. Alaskans love their outdoor recreations and a sunny day over the weekend is usually bad for sales. Small businesses such as local breweries, coffee houses, and bakeries have been great collaborators for pop-up sale events as well. I also sell a smaller proportion of my work through commissions, wholesale, and art galleries.
I use social media outlets, mostly Instagram and Facebook, to market my pots. I tend to utilize Instagram as a way to share my pottery with my peers and those interested in my work. I keep it the most up to date with what I am working on in the studio, documenting and sharing in-progress work, things I am looking at that influence my work, or just parts of my daily life. I post on Facebook far less frequently, although it has been great for advertising upcoming events, and I do most of my promotion through that site. I rarely sell pots through online sales or social media, but I hope to expand upon that and have an online shop up and running in the next couple months.
The goal, as I assume it is with most self-employed craftspersons, is to eventually have a studio at my home. I have been slowly purchasing and saving equipment with that goal in mind. While the studio I currently work in is lovely, it’s a 20 minute drive from my home, and we all know you can get more accomplished the closer you are to your workspace.
Advice I would give to a studio artist looking be self-employed in some capacity is to tap into your local market. Get to know your neighbors, fellow local artists, and small-business owners. Try selling your work at a wide range of venues from weekend markets to art galleries. From there, you can determine where to focus your sales and marketing. The support from friends and the Anchorage community is the reason why I have been able to continue doing what I love.