Working Potters: Martin Swart

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1 Jug, 6 in. (15 cm) in height, wheel-thrown porcelain, glaze, fired to 2282°F (1250°C).

I have been interested in the mysteries of art and creating something out of basic raw materials since I was a child. My mother made pottery as a hobby when I was between 3 and 4 years old, so I had some connection with it then. After school, I decided to study art and design from 2002–05 at a college in Paarl, which is outside of Cape Town, South Africa. My initial idea was to study painting along with graphic design. I ended up doing pottery instead of painting and once I started working on the wheel I knew I wanted to make a career out of it.

Career Snapshot


Years as a professional potter: 10

Education: Studied graphic design, ceramic design, drawing, and history at Boland College, Paarl, South Africa.

Number of pots made in a year: 1500

The Time it takes: making: 80% promotions: 10% bookkeeping: 10%

Work sold: Retail: 20% Galleries: 20% Craft fairs: 10% Studio: 20% Commissions: 30%

learn more: www.martinswart.co.za Facebook: Martin Swart


 

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2 Martin Swart working in the studio drying one of his large pots using a blowtorch.

In 2006, after four years of school, I rented space and worked at a small pottery studio in Paarl. At the end of that year I moved back to our family farm in the countryside and opened up my own studio.

It’s been difficult to find my own voice in pottery. The most difficult time was the first two years or so after college. I had all this information and knowledge on how to make pottery but then the challenge was to put that into a body of work that was usable and saleable to a wider audience. At the beginning of 2007, I found myself isolated on the farm in my studio in a really creatively barren atmosphere with few people understanding my reasons for choosing this profession.

Nonetheless, I continued with a set vision in my mind of the work I wanted to make, as well as pursuing this career path, and it’s now been 10 great years. I’ve developed ranges that sell well and I’ve been doing large orders for both private clients and renowned hotels and restaurants. I’ve made a point to keep contact with other successful potters and artists to stimulate my creativity.

I appreciate the way of life as a rural potter living on a farm. It’s a slow-paced life and I’m able to make enough time for relaxing and pursuing hobbies. My perceptions of the potters’ life haven’t changed too much from what I thought it would be when I first started. Although, wisdom comes with time, and I’ve learned not to listen to negative comments about my career choice or even worse, to those who promise to make you a rock star by the end of the month.

I decided to work on the wheel as I’m fascinated with the process. I wedge my clay and throw and trim each piece myself. The work is bisque fired, then glazed and fired to cone 9. I buy prepared clay and raw materials to mix up my own recipes for glazes suited to functional ware.

 

3 Jug, 6 in. (15 cm) in height, wheel-thrown earthenware, glaze, fired to 2282°F (1250°C). 4 Oval dishes, to 10 in. (25 cm) in diameter, wheel-thrown and slab-built stoneware, glaze, fired to 2282°F (1250°C).

 

Variety is Key

I work in porcelain, stoneware, and earthenware. My time is evenly split between all three clays as I produce and get orders for various types of work. Some people want a smoother finish where porcelain or stoneware would be used and sometimes more robust earthenware work also sells very well. I can’t say that one body of work sells better than the other, although soft green and blue colors always works well.

The majority of the orders I get are for plates. The food industry is ever growing and people want interesting plates to serve their food on. At this point dinnerware, especially plates, are the specialized pieces that I make. Bowls and all kinds of jugs are selling at a good rate as well.

5 Plate, 12 in. (32 cm) in diameter, wheel-thrown porcelain, glaze, fired to 2282°F (1250°C). 6 Plate, 12 in. (32 cm) in diameter, wheel-thrown porcelain, glaze, fired to 2372°F (1300°C). 7 Vessels, wheel-thrown stoneware, glaze.

My main income through pottery is commission work. I also sell through markets, galleries, and retail stores, and take part in exhibitions, including two recent solo exhibitions at the Rust-en-Vrede Art Gallery in Durbanville, Cape Town.

I participate in a two markets per year and have found that Facebook seems to be a good method of promoting both my work and upcoming events.

I used to teach classes, but at this moment I’m not pursuing that. I’m also involved in the farming business and find that produces a very good balance to my studio life.

Advice to Future Potters

If you’re interested in a career as a potter, make sure you can gain as much knowledge about this medium as possible. Spend time with other potters and artists and learn from them. Market yourself with grace and always keep good relationships. Most of all stay true to yourself and know that it’s very, very hard work with lots of tears and disappointments, but worth it all.

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