Studio Visit: Tom Budzak, Tempe, Arizona



When my wife and I were looking to buy a house in 2010, my main goal was to find a space that I could convert into a studio. We found a place with a two-car garage that’s about 18×18 feet and I turned it into my home studio. It’s located near the Kiwanis Park area of Tempe where we like to take our dog, Boba Fett, on walks. I’m only about a mile away from freeway access, which is key as everything in the Phoenix valley is so spread out and I work at so many different colleges.

Having a studio connected to my house couldn’t be better. When I get the urge to work, I can go work. No driving or packing up tools or pieces, or anything of the sort. Best of all, if I don’t feel like cleaning up­—no big deal, I don’t have to. It’s the perfect situation as I have an ever-changing work schedule.

In my studio, I have a 48-inch Bailey slab roller with a custom-built pirate steering wheel, my potter’s wheel, and a Skutt KM-1018 kiln for bisque firing. I built custom shelves and a worktable to accommodate my height (I’m 6 feet 5 inches tall). There’s storage under the worktable as well as the slab roller. Every inch of my small studio is utilized. I added a separate air conditioner, since it gets hot here in the summer, like 116°F (47°C) hot. I also have a nice, comfortable couch where I do the majority of my decorating and a TV to keep me distracted. I like to either have movies playing when I’m working, as white noise, or I listen to various podcasts.


While I bisque fire all of my work at my studio, I don’t have a gas kiln at my home studio, so I do the final glaze firing in a Bailey down-draft kiln at the Edna Vihel Center for the Arts where I work as a ceramics technician. This means packing up and transporting glazed work from my studio to the kiln, which can be tricky.

Paying Dues (and Bills)

I received my MFA from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, and my BFA from Arizona State University, in Tempe. I started working with clay in junior high school and have been at it ever since. I always felt like it was something I could do well and found it to be the perfect medium for me. My high school had an excellent ceramics facility and that’s where I really got a sense of what was out there in the ceramics world. I can remember a turning point in high school when I first saw the work of George E. Ohr; that’s when I decided making pots was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.


I am always in the studio, whether it is my home studio or at one of my various jobs. Overall, in a typical week, I’m spending 40 to 60 hours in a studio. Like a lot of artists, it’s something I feel like I have to do, that I am compelled to do. If I wasn’t working in clay I don’t know what else I’d be doing.

Outside of my personal studio work, I teach as an adjunct professor and work as a ceramic studio technician. I teach ceramics I and II at Central Arizona College (CAC), in Apache Junction, Arizona. At Mesa Art Center (MAC), in Mesa, Arizona, I teach an intro to throwing class. I also teach ceramics I–IV at South Mountain Community College (SMCC), in Phoenix, Arizona, in addition to the technician position I hold at the Edna Vihel Center for the Arts in Tempe.


Recently I’ve been doing yoga twice a week to try and keep my body, specifically my back, in good shape. I started having back problems in my early 20s, most likely caused by heavy lifting and just being tall in general. I’ve had multiple injections and physical therapy sessions to address it. I am now very mindful in the studio when I’m lifting anything or when I’m throwing on the potter’s wheel. I use an ergonomic chair when I am throwing and that helps big time with my back issues. I often switch jobs in the studio to avoid injury from repetitive tasks.

As an adjunct professor and a part-time ceramic technician I do not have health care through my employers. Luckily for me, my wife has great insurance for us through her full-time job. Mind I read Juxtapoz and Wired magazines monthly, as well as science-fiction books, mainly Star Wars. (Han Shot First!) I also like reading biographies from time to time. In the past year I read Andre Agassi’s Open: An Autobiography as well as Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove. I find that taking time to travel really helps me recharge, just getting away from the routine and seeing things in a new perspective is important to my creativity. I try to get out of the county every other year (if I can afford it). I also really enjoy going to the NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) conferences each spring. It’s a bonus when the conference is in a city I’ve never been to, so I can simultaneously explore a new place and meet new people with similar ceramic interests.



I sell my work through different types of venues. I do consignment with Practical Art in Phoenix, the Phoenix Art Museum Gift Shop, and the Vision Gallery in Chandler. I also work with a wholesale company to sell my functional work. Having these outlets really helps me when I’m selling straight to the customer either at my studio or at a smaller craft fair. Often, I get the question “Where have I seen your work?” which starts a conversation and often leads to a sale.

I sell in person at DIY craft fairs like the Renegade Craft Fair in Los Angeles, California. I also sold work this past year at the Phoenix Comic Con (a comic-book and action/science-fiction genre convention), which was a total blast.

My online sales are through my account on Etsy, which is linked to my website. Every year the online sales have gotten better and better, this being my third year of online sales. I’m excited to expand my online presence and really enjoy using Instagram to promote my work and my processes in the studio.


Most Valuable Lesson

The most important lesson I’ve learned as a working artist is to never give up. You are going to get rejected sometimes as an artist. Just make the work you want to make and don’t worry about what others think. Being able to defend your work is nice, but it’s more important to try and make exciting work that you like. Others will take notice.

Instagram: @budzak

Etsy: tombudzak


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