Working Potter: Sarah Pike

1 Group shot of textured slab-built pots, various sizes, red stoneware.

The pursuit of pottery as a profession was a dream I had for a long time. I grew up in a community of makers and knew as a kid that I wanted to be a craftperson/artist. I had a romantic idea of what the life of a potter would be. Ten years ago I committed to that dream and took the plunge. We were running my husband’s family ranch, I was homeschooling two young kids, growing food, and volunteering in my community, all of which were fulfilling things, but the potter inside was lost and dying a little. I felt like I had to try, just for my mental state.

Chasing the Dream

When I was that kid dreaming of being a professional potter, I imagined myself in my studio, making pots. Even a decade ago, I believed that the actual making of the work would be what I would spend the bulk of my time doing; it was just a matter of getting to that point. But, as you can see from the breakdown of how I spend time in the studio, I only spend about half of my time making pots. I didn’t realize just how much time I would spend at a computer or on my phone. Sometimes it is frustrating, but I do believe the potter’s life has changed since I started on this path and some of those changes are for the better. Social media has made it  much easier to access a larger community. Even though the small town where I live is relatively isolated and I work in a home studio, I still feel connected. Social media has also opened doors for access to a larger market.

There have been a few tough decisions along the way. The decision to quit graduate school because I found myself accidentally pregnant and living in a foreign country—that was a really tough one. Leaving our family ranch and moving to a small ski town to focus more on pottery was also difficult. More recently, deciding to take out a loan and build a studio when I already had a studio in my basement was a hard decision. I had to ask myself if this was really what I intended on doing, both long term and full time. It was a beautiful thing, really. It was the moment I really committed to the life of a potter.

2 Sarah Pike in her studio.

3 Sarah Pike building a teapot body. 1, 2 Photos: Eva Grace Photography.

Before graduate school, I was predominantly a wheel thrower. I had dabbled in slab-building techniques, but when I found myself nauseous with pregnancy, working with a spinning tool (i.e., the wheel) no longer worked for me. The spinning made me feel like I was going to be sick all the time. I started exploring how to make my wheel-thrown forms out of slabs. Slab forming also opened up ways of texturing that I still find really compelling. Over the years, I continued to use the wheel for certain parts of my work, but I use it less and less. It has probably been over a year since I last sat at a wheel. I now consider myself a slab builder who is obsessed with texture.

Community and Resources

I feel grateful for the galleries who show and have shown my work. I’m pretty sure I could rely solely on selling online and out of my studio at this point in my career, but I still choose to work with galleries. A business expert recently told me that this is a poor decision, but I want to see my work in the gallery setting. I want people to discover the work in real life, not just virtually. I love the process of working toward an exhibition. The theme, the body of work, the concepts—these things propel my work forward, while having the physical venue also allows me to show the work in a beautiful space and share the story with others.

4 Blossom Rectangle Teapot and Winter Tree Sipper, to 8 in. (20 cm) in width, red stoneware. Photo: Eva Grace Photography.

I didn’t officially have mentors when starting on this path, but I had them nonetheless. I am very grateful to the potters and teachers who helped me along the way. The ones who gave me advice, opened doors for me, and gave me feedback on my work. I wouldn’t be here without them. Even now, I learn so much through connecting and conversing with other potters. Our ceramics community is a really special thing.

Choosing Happiness

We chose Fernie, British Columbia, Canada, to set up our home and my studio for a few reasons. My husband’s father had recently passed away from cancer. He was young and the cancer took him quickly. Losing him and witnessing him lose his life caused us to reassess our lives, with a focus on happiness being a central aspect. We loved visiting Fernie. We loved the outdoor lifestyle, the sense of community, the sincere smiles on strangers’ faces. People seemed genuinely happy in Fernie. We chose to seek happiness. I believed focusing on my pottery would also bring happiness. The idea of skiing, hiking, fishing, and biking being accessible from right outside our front door made me happy just thinking about it.

In terms of the local economy, Fernie is a ski-resort town, so we hoped that even though it is small, the fact that it is a tourist town would offer a large enough market to sell my work. My husband is a fly-fishing guide, and the rivers here are world renowned. That made the transition easier, too. We set up our home on the edge of town, next to the highway, with the intention of having a little shop open to passersby. Turns out, I’m an introvert and I can’t handle folks in my space while I work. I am very happy to have folks come through by appointment though.

5 New Leaf Teapot, 10½ in. (27 cm) in height, red stoneware, steel wire, hardwood.

6 Leafy Creamer, 5 in. (13 cm) in width, red stoneware.

I feel like I am still figuring out life as a full-time potter as I go, but there are a few pieces of advice that I keep coming back to.

1. Work hard and be ready to work even harder.

2. Seek and build community.

3. Be adaptable. Life throws challenges at you constantly and if you hold on to certain ideas or expectations, you won’t be able to roll with the punches.

4. Ask a ton of questions of your materials and techniques and of other folks in your community. I’ve noticed people generally like to be asked questions. It shows that you are engaged, that you value their perspective. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

5. Balance isn’t really achievable, because there simply isn’t enough time for everything, but don’t burn yourself out! Find things that fulfill you and make some time for them in your schedule. This will bring energy and creativity back into the studio.

7 Gnarly Tree Mug, 5 in. (13 cm) in width, red stoneware.

Career snapshot

Years as a professional potter
8, but involved in clay for a lot longer

Number of pots made in a year
3000

Education
Undergraduate degree from Alberta University of the Arts (formerly known as ACAD), in Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Further education at University of Colorado, Boulder in Boulder, Colorado, and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in Minneapolis, Minnesota

The time it takes
Making Work (Including Firing): 50%
Promotions/Selling: 15%
Office/Bookkeeping: 25%
Workshops (Including Travel): 10%

Favorite Tool
A quality rolling pin and a good, solid work table

Favorite Process
Squishing handmade texture tools into soft slabs of clay

Where it Goes
Galleries: 2030%
Craft/Art Fairs: 10%
Studio/Home Sales/Direct Sales: 4050%
Online: 20%

Learn and see More
www.sarahpikepottery.com
Instagram: @sarahpikepottery
Facebook: @sarahpikepottery

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