Working Potter: Kristin Pavelka, Eden Prairie, Minnesota

 

1 Kristin Pavelka in her temporary studio space, 2015.

 

I became a potter because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Making pots demands a creative problem solving that connects with me. The thrill of feeling the clay move as a pot is being created, the excitement of realizing new ideas, and using the finished pots fuel my passion to keep potting.

The potter’s life seemed so simple when I first started, and it was something that I thought I’d be able to achieve alone. Now there are so many facets of the business that need to be addressed that it is overwhelming to try tackling it solo. Beyond being able to craft a solid pot and keep up with daily studio tasks, a potter must consider marketing and all of the additional tasks that marketing entails. There’s an increased importance of active self-promotion through social media. It’s become expected to be on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, let alone keeping the personal website updated and online store stocked. When I started, an online presence meant that you had a website.

Life in Transition

In 2009, I decided to leave my teaching job to start a family and pursue creating and selling pots full time. I left a steady paycheck and a fully equipped, rent-free studio. My home studio wasn’t fully functional at that point, and trying to finish it while pregnant and then with an infant followed by a second infant, all while making pots, proved challenging. The majority of my time was spent caring for my two boys as their father worked two jobs and went to school. Luckily my family lives nearby and I was able to get enough childcare so that I could keep up with commitments.

Last September, we moved across town to live in my grandmother’s old house on Pavelka Drive. I left behind my “forever studio” and complex of buildings that housed my kilns, showroom, and dry materials storage, and for the first time in my career, I am without a studio. The process of moving has been slow as I’ve been dealing with my grandmother’s estate and clearing 90 years of accumulation both in the house and the barn. The new house will have a great studio space, but I have a lot of work ahead of me to make it functional. In the meantime, I use my weekly teaching gig at the local art center to play around with ideas.

2 Mugs, to 4 in. (10 cm) in height, earthenware, polychrome glazes, fired to cone 04 in an electric kiln, 2014.

3 Scalloped plates, to 8 in. (20 cm) in diameter, earthenware, polychrome glazes, fired to cone 04 in an electric kiln, 2014.

Pots For Sale

I’m still trying to figure out the best mode of selling my work. I’ve tried home studio sales, art fairs, galleries, and an online shop. Home sales and local art fairs are great to help establish a local following. Preparing for a sale is hard work regardless, but when you set up the sale at home, the packing and schlepping are removed from the equation. Plus, customers want to see where the pots are made and are curious about the artist’s lifestyle so these factors draw people in. Interacting with people helps develop a connection with the pots, which leads to increased sales. Teaching opportunities have had the biggest impact on my sales, with students being my biggest supporters. I continue to send pots to a few galleries for exposure. Pre-parenthood, I sold my pots in my Etsy shop. A lot of time is required for photographing pots and writing up accurate descriptions, plus shipping was always a big guessing game, but the majority of the sale was mine to keep. Etsy has since become more efficient for setting up listings, but without outside promotion of the shop, it’s hard to get the traffic. Other than posting a quick blurb about upcoming events, I haven’t made full use of social media to help sell my work. Once I re-established my studio, I’ll be exploring the local handmade specialty shops that have popped up recently as a retail option.

Future Plans

The forever studio that I left behind on the other side of town when we moved to my grandmother’s house was far from perfect, but I had learned to navigate the space and I understood its quirks. Knowing from past experience how much time and money building a studio takes, starting again from scratch feels like a step backward. In the long run, I know that having gone through the process once will help me to make the new studio superior to the old. The new studio space has the potential for plumbing and is heated, both which were absent from the old studio, and in that way, it’s more efficient and I can better utilize my time to make more pots. Initially my studio will be in the basement of our house, but eventually I may opt to move it into the adjacent pole barn where my kilns will be housed. I have ambitions of creating a large studio space in this building where I could teach classes, host sizeable pottery sales with area potters, and perhaps plan community potluck meals and provide handmade tableware for guests. Ultimately my new studio space affords me more unique opportunities to engage with my community, and now being located off of Pavelka Drive has its marketing and visibility advantages, too.

4 Square plates, to 8 in. (20 cm) in length, earthenware, polychrome glazes, fired to cone 04 in an electric kiln, 2014.

5 Vase, 12 in. (30 cm) in height, earthenware, polychrome glazes, fired to cone 04 in an electric kiln, 2013.

Informed Advice

For those interested in pursuing ceramics professionally, make what you love. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, and no matter what, keep working.

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