Pottery took me by surprise. I had finished up my bachelor’s degree and was taking some time off to plan my next step when I took a community pottery class for fun and everything changed. I had always been interested in art; I drew and painted a bit and had even taken a couple of elective studio classes in university, but I had never been exposed to working with clay and once I was, it consumed me. I was so drawn to this pliant, generous, but finicky material. Clay demanded all of my attention and constantly provided me with new problems to solve. I had studied philosophy in university and feel like it primed me for my current career. Clay simultaneously allows expansive, big-picture ideas and detailed precision. It requires critical thinking, design, ingenuity, and perseverance. In short, it checked all the boxes for me to feel fulfilled, allowing me to physically work through ideas and aesthetics with my hands. This type of work feels familiar and fitting—my dad is a mechanic and college instructor, and my mom is an artist and signwriter. I grew up witnessing their work ethic and their delight in creation and innovation.
Finding a Passion
I enrolled in a visual-arts program and concentrated on ceramics and printmaking. I was initially drawn to making pottery, but as a student I drifted more toward sculpture. It wasn’t until after graduating that I turned to making pots more seriously. There was a period of time right after school when I didn’t have access to a studio and couldn’t work, but found myself dreaming about making pots. Once I had a studio space again, I was obsessed with pottery. I dedicated a year to concentrate fully on making pots in the studio, nothing else. I figured after a year I’d assess my progress and level of interest. That year was a huge time of growth for me. I was working full time in retail to pay my bills and still found myself working on pots all hours of the night. At the end of the year, I had no intention of stopping.
Making a living as a potter became my goal, obliquely, because I just wanted to spend as much time as possible making pots. I didn’t have much of a preconceived notion of what a career as a potter would entail. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to work in Brian McArthur and Dawn Detarando’s studio, Voyager Art and Tile, in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. This was a wonderful experience learning about the business of a ceramics studio. Although they didn’t make pottery, they made a line of decorative tiles for wholesale as well as numerous public-art sculptures. I glazed tiles, packed boxes for shipping, and did various other tasks while immersing myself in the mechanics of running a profitable business. I also started teaching community-art classes and was able to leave the retail job.
My path to becoming a working potter has been incremental and filled with tough decisions along the way. At one point I was teaching eleven classes a week and still working part time at Voyager Art and Tile. Every so often I would have to assess my situation and make changes to ensure I had enough studio time. And every time I gave up guaranteed income by dropping a class I was teaching or saying no to an opportunity was scary. I have an incredibly supportive partner, but we rely on both of our incomes, so my choices really had to be sustainable. I still teach a few classes a week, but now it’s because I love it, not because it’s necessary for income. Studio pottery is solitary, and I enjoy getting out and sharing my passion for ceramics and drawing. It also keeps me fresh; I like to stay in an inquisitive, curious space with my work and teaching really facilitates that. The wonder of students new to clay is infectious.
Time in the Studio and Sales
I currently work from my home. My partner and I purchased a home ten years ago in Red Deer, and converted a portion of the basement into a studio space. My kilns are in our detached garage, as are all of my glaze ingredients. In the summer, I try to do as much work as possible outside or in the garage. Eventually I’d like to fully convert the garage into a studio, but for now I’m slowly annexing the rest of the house: shelves of pots in the laundry room, shipping supplies in the spare bedroom, office in the living room.
I work long hours in the studio, and have learned that I need to take breaks to stay healthy. I want to be the type of person who enjoys yoga, but it’s pretty clear that despite convincing myself to try it every so often, I do not enjoy yoga. As an alternative, I go for walks. I live near several nice walking trails, so I usually break up my studio time with a lunchtime stroll. I have also recently started taking piano lessons and I think it’s been really beneficial to exercise a different part of my brain as well as different muscles in my hands.
Finding the Balance in Sales Venues
I’m still working on a good formula for sales. I don’t sell directly from my studio, but I do participate in a couple of local craft shows. These events give me the opportunity to engage with people directly about my pottery. The bulk of my work sells through galleries or retail shops. I am more introverted than not, so it makes sense to partner with galleries that are passionate about pottery and really communicate effectively about my work. I also like the extra studio time afforded by not selling in person, although the time packing and shipping work adds up and I may consider hiring some part-time help with shipping in the future. One sales area I plan to explore is hosting an occasional online event like a virtual studio sale. Social media is imperative for anyone who really wants their work to be seen by a wide audience. I joined Instagram to connect with other potters and share my work, but it has also turned out to be extremely valuable in facilitating connections with great galleries.
Advice and Growth
My best advice for anyone who wants to make their living as a potter is to take it incrementally if they can. I was fortunate to have the type of gig work I could slowly pare down as my sales grew, so that I never felt too pressured to make pottery specifically that would sell. I think if I had quit everything at once and plunged in, I’d have made very different pots, driven by the need to sell (and too reactionary to sales) rather than the pursuit of my own lines of inquiry and allowing myself to explore and play in the studio. Also, everything you do or have done is part of your work. I sometimes get caught up feeling behind because I came to ceramics later than I would have liked, but I have to remind myself that my previous education and experiences directly inform my work and I’m just where I should be.
Years as a professional potter
Number of pots made in a year
Bachelor of Arts, University of Lethbridge in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Visual Arts Diploma, Red Deer College in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
The time it takes
Making Work (Including Firing): 70%
Promotion/Selling (Including Packing and Shipping): 20%
Round-tipped stylus for drawing into the clay
Slip trailing, inlay, brushwork
Where it Goes
Retail Stores: 32%
Craft/Art Fairs: 12%
Studio/Home Sales: 7%
Where to See More
Blue Rock Gallery https://bluerockgallery.ca/collections/dawn-candy
Alberta Craft Council www.albertacraft.ab.ca/the-gallery-shop
Charlie Cummings Gallery https://charliecummingsgallery.com
Companion Gallery https://companiongallery.com
In Tandem Gallery www.intandemgallery.com