Working Potters: Hiroe Hanazono

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1 Brunch set (detail), to 13 in. (34 cm) in length, slip-cast porcelain, fired in oxidation to cone 6.

Journey to Pottery

I grew up without much guidance in Japan, as the youngest child of working parents and I had a hard time communicating my interests. I was always interested in making art and my parents simply filtered life differently.

My journey to ceramics started in San Francisco, California, in 1993. Growing up in Japan, I believed that pottery was a legacy art within families and villages, passed down generationally, not easily accessible by outsiders. I found a non-credit ceramics class at the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and was hooked immediately. I’d never had this feeling toward anything else I’d done before. However, as most potters learn, inspiration doesn’t make a sustaining career.

Career Snapshot

Years as a professional potter: 8 (part time)

Education: BA: California State University (Hayward) MFA: Ohio University (Athens)

Past Residencies: Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts (Montana); Worcester Center for Crafts (Massachusetts); Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center (Denmark); The Clay Studio (Pennsylvania)

Number of pots made in a year: 500–800

The time it takes: Making work (including firing): 80% Promotions/Selling: 15% Office/Bookkeeping: 5%

Where it goes: Galleries: 60% Craft/Art Fairs: 20% Studio/Home Sales: 20%

Where to see more: The Clay Studio Santa Fe Clay gallery-artists Worcester Center for Crafts shot 1

2 Hiroe Hanazono working in her studio.

I do thank my parents, especially my father, for their passion for food. I was able to experience numerous cuisines from varying regions. Food presentation was a huge part of these meals, and we had and used a myriad of dishes and instruments to compose a meal. I inherited my obsession for food and my sense of dishes being part of the meal from them. Thus it was natural for me to create pottery for food when I started ceramics. I’m still driven to create functional pottery to make a pedestal for food.

Pottery Nomad

As a foreign student, my path was shaped by the requirements of student visas. To remain in the US you have to keep studying and working toward advancing degrees. This led me to a number of programs and allowed me to refine my pottery techniques as well as understand the underlying mechanics of clay, glazes, kilns, and firing techniques. More importantly it helped me develop my own voice and aesthetic.

These programs gave me the chance to study with other potters at CCSF and Cal State (California), Worcester Center for Crafts (Massachusetts), the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts (Montana), Ohio University where I received my MFA, the Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center (Denmark), and The Clay Studio (Pennsylvania). I was fortunate to receive a fellowship from The Clay Studio where I became a resident artist and stayed for five years. That gave me studio space and enough time to make connections to people in the community and find teaching jobs in the area.

Juggling Time

I’ve been a part-time teacher and part-time potter. For now, most of my income still comes from various teaching jobs, although I’m planning for that to change soon as I transition into a new home studio. Philadelphia is (for now) an affordable city with many schools, but it is still a city and thus more expensive than rural locations. Many of my colleagues support themselves outside pottery, whether through real estate, teaching, or other side jobs. This is a part of being an urban-based artist.

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3 Reversible tray sets, to 14 in. (37 cm) in length, slip-cast porcelain, fired to cone 6 in oxidation.

I enjoy teaching and hope that as more people appreciate handmade objects it will lead a broader audience to support artists like myself. I have been teaching 4–6 classes a semester at a variety of levels from community and clay centers to college-level. Teaching allows me to engage with other professional artists and a diverse range of students. One of my teaching jobs takes me to Greenwich House Pottery in New York City weekly. These trips allow me to visit museums and galleries and further the exposure to new ideas my nomadic path has made possible. All of this gives me new design ideas and the energy to work in my studio again.

That said, it is hard. My style of slip casting strives for a production-like look, which can deceive the viewer that the pieces are easy to produce. The truth is, planning and designing work takes a really long time. I spend more time per piece than I did when wheel throwing. Time spent teaching, including commuting, is time I can’t spend either in production or working on new designs. Renting a studio, as I currently do, means additional travel time, and sometimes sharing kiln space. This is a typical challenge for all potters: finding ways to support yourself (whether via pots or other paying jobs) while continuing to find time to develop new designs and your art, and eke out time for a life outside of the pottery studio as well.

Building a Business

The work I’ve put in, networking with other artists, developing a distinctive style, and innovating new techniques in slip casting is paying off, but it is a process. Although I do not make pottery full time at this point in my career, my pieces continue to gather notice within the field. I tend to make work for invitational shows, and some of these exhibitions are annual, so I try to develop a different body of work every year. I have done few craft shows, but all are invitational since I don’t feel comfortable taking a risk participating in craft shows that have high upfront booth fees—at least not yet. To better leverage the growing awareness of my work, I know I need to improve my business skills as much as my ceramic skills. This includes promoting my brand, creating a better portfolio and website, leveraging social media, and building the confidence to reach out to wholesale and retail distribution channels and galleries. This is my challenge for the next phase of my professional growth.

Refining my production process has been a never ending challenge. I didn’t study art formally in school as my focus area until I started on my MFA and I didn’t learn much about mold making and slip-casting processes while I was in school. I learned most of what I know now through artists I met at residencies and through trial and error, lots and lots of error. I have high standards, and therefore still produce a high rate of seconds that I only sell through my studio sales.

I am in the process of building a home studio. Once it is finished, I also need to refine my production process. I need to both optimize steps to reduce the time making each piece, and improve the process to reduce the failure rate per production cycle. I see this continuing focus on efficiency as a core priority in shifting the balance of revenues from teaching to pottery.

While I shift toward earning the majority of my revenue from pottery, I intend to continue to teach a small number of classes and seek out artist residencies. This is both because I enjoy teaching others, but also because teaching and exposure to other artists and cultures informs the progress of my own style. This is important both for my continued growth as an artist, and for my quality of life.

4 Brunch set (detail), to 13 in. (34 cm) in length, slip-cast porcelain, fired in oxidation to cone 6. 5 Hiroe Hanazono’s studio with pottery in the foreground and plaster molds in the background.

Balancing Act

Balancing growth and learning in and outside of the studio with paying the bills is another facet of being a potter. The percentage of time spent earning an income, whether via pottery or other jobs, compared to the time spent advancing my art and technique, or the time spent on my personal life changes with time and context.

In addition to building a new studio and refining my techniques for efficiency, I have to move out of my comfort zone and leverage social media and approach galleries and distribution channels rather than wait for them to contact me. This is the business and marketing of being a potter. At the same time, I’m setting priorities to be happy and have a personal life outside the professional. I anticipate this balancing of priorities will continue to change throughout my career.

Personally, I’m rarely satisfied with my creations. There is always something that I’m not happy with and that motivates me to keep going, to revise, and to make better work. I believe once I’m satisfied with everything I make, I will not grow. That can be applied to my profession as easily as my pots.

Thus my advice to others is to keep pushing forward, but realize there is no “there;” wherever you are on your journey as a potter, it is a milestone, not a destination. So far, following this advice has kept me fresh and moving forward, adjusting and improving my mix of revenue sources, creative growth, and personal life.

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6 Condiment set, 12 in. (30 cm) in length, slip-cast porcelain, fired to cone 6 in oxidation.

Subscriber Extra

One of my favorite tools is Kemper’s WS- Wire Stylus tool. (1) I often decorate my pots with mishima/ inlay. This is done after I slip cast my pieces, on lather hard greenware.  (2a, 2 b)

Before incising, I draw my line design with pencil directly on greenware, then wax the pot using Aftosa wax resist. It is thick, but water-soluble and easy to thin before use. The wax’s green tint makes it easy to see where it has been applied.

The Kemper tool has a very delicate stainless steel loop blade on the tip so carves deep yet fine lines.  When carving, the clay peels from the pot cleanly, unlike scratching the surface with the needle tool. It creates a clean “V” opening for the slip to go in. When applying slip after incision, the slip beads on the remaining waxed areas.  (3)

When the applied slip is dry enough I use a metal rib to scrape the excess, then finish off cleaning with a damp sponge. (4)

The downside of this tool is the extremely thin wire wears out fairly quickly, so I always keep few of them in my studio.  There is nothing like this tool that I’ve found.  Since I go through these tools so quickly, I’ve even tried to make my own using different hardware, but haven’t made one as comfortable as the WS stylus tool.


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