Just the Facts
Clay porcelain/white stoneware blend, Laguna B-Mix is a favorite
Primary forming method wheel-thrown, altered
Primary firing temperature cone-6 electric
Favorite surface treatment carving ornate patterns
Favorite tools Dolan M-20 triangular loop tool
Studio Playlist Podcasts: This American Life, Radio Lab, The Moth, Dolly Parton’s America Music: Andrew Bird, Tribe Called Quest, Of Montreal, classic jazz
Studio Wishlist more natural light
My studio practice is based out of Nashville, Tennessee, in a historic neighborhood just west of downtown called Sylvan Park. The building is a 375-square-foot detached garage behind my 1920s-era home. Having a garage studio has many perks. I love the concrete floors and having a convenient way to load and unload my work into a vehicle for shows. I can pop into the house for meal breaks and have my cat assistant, André, visit me. On nice days, I open the garage door and stretch a screen across to enjoy the airflow. I really love being located in a residential neighborhood. After 7+ years of working out of the same space, many people have figured out they can come by and shop directly out of my studio. I love hearing a quiet knock on the garage door and opening it to see a neighbor looking to purchase a birthday present.
My biggest challenges in the studio mostly involve the logistics of having access to water and heating the space. The building is insulated but is somewhat drafty. I have a wall air-conditioning unit and an indoor propane heater to help regulate the temperature, but when I am not working, I don’t heat or cool the space in order to save energy. This is fine in the summer, but in the winter I have to store wet pots in big freeze-proof cabinets made out of R-10 pink insulation foam boards and automatic electric heat cord (designed to keep pipes from freezing). Since the garage doesn’t have plumbing, I devised a way to run a garden hose from the house to a faucet in a homemade sink. This drains into a bucket sitting below that I can dump into the side yard (being cautious to discard clay water only). To have warm water in the winter, I use a device designed to heat buckets of water for horses in barns.
Running a green studio is very important to me. I have purchased enough solar panels from our local community solar farm, Music City Solar, and other green-power credits to offset all of my electricity use. I also run a zero-waste production by recycling all of my scrap clay and glaze. Most of the green and lighter brown glaze you see in my work is made of 80% or more reclaimed material.
Since I make and sell around 1000 pots a year and also teach private lessons out of my studio, I have to make sure every inch of space is used as efficiently as possible. Almost one entire wall of my studio is lined two deep with big shelves on casters. Things I don’t need as frequently are stored on the back rows, while the front shelves contain finished pieces and works in progress. Most of my tables are also on wheels so I can rearrange the studio if I need to photograph my work or create room for a bigger project. I have a North Star tabletop slab roller that I can pull out temporarily then tuck neatly away again in storage. My biggest worktable (pictured in front of the garage door) has huge leaves that collapse to create a bigger loading zone when the garage door is open. You’ll also notice that I am not a minimalist when it comes to decor. I had a teacher once use me as an example of horror vacui (defined as a fear or dislike of leaving any space undecorated). More is more in my world when it comes to filling my space with pattern, color, and inspiration.
While there are many changes and upgrades I would love to add to my studio space, I am making the best of it for now since I plan to move within the next year or two to a commercial building my husband and I bought 4 years ago. This new building will allow me to have a small retail space, along with enough room to expand my studio practice and even offer workshops. Since real estate in Nashville is quite pricey, I have been renting the building out to other small creative businesses to pay down the mortgage, but I look forward to moving in sometime soon.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
My experience with clay started at Ohio University, primarily under the instruction of Brad Schwieger, Alex Hibbitt, Joe Bova, Boomer Moore, and Tim Berg. I was also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study for a term at Burg Giebichenstein School of Art and Design in Halle, Germany, as part of a scholarly exchange. After my BFA, I moved back to Nashville and paid the bills by teaching ceramics at community education programs and teaching full time at a private high school for a few years. This provided the time and stability I needed to develop a body of work I was passionate about, while also allowing me to continue my education by doing short-term residencies at places like Red Lodge Clay Center, the University of Alaska Southeast, Hot Springs National Park, and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (specifically their Pentaculum program). I’m also fortunate to be within a 6-hour drive from Penland School of Craft, the Appalachian Center for Craft, and Arrowmont, so I generally take at least one workshop per year to continue my education.
Four years ago, I became fully self-employed and shifted my focus to making and selling my work. My income since has averaged 75% from selling my work and 25% from teaching privately, at workshop centers, and occasionally as an adjunct professor. This arrangement has worked well for me, as I am able to focus on my own body of work while still enjoying the wonderful community that comes from teaching. I have also really appreciated the chance to travel and teach workshops in other parts of the country.
Although I do work with a few galleries, every year I find myself reducing that number since I really prefer to do direct sales. I actually like the marketing and other business work that most people leave to their galleries, so I would much rather keep a bigger cut of my sales and represent myself. No one can tell my story or talk about my work as well as I can, and I find that it is much easier to build a base of repeat customers/collectors when they have the opportunity to buy directly from me. I sell primarily through high-end juried art festivals (like those organized by the American Craft Council). While it requires a lot of effort and hustle to haul work, build a display, and be your own salesperson for the weekend, I find so many wonderful customers at these events that love building a personal relationship with artists. I can’t tell you how often someone I meet at a show very far away will email me six months later because they just happen to be in Nashville and want to come visit my studio and buy more work!
I largely rely on social media to stay in touch with my existing customers and to keep them informed of new work I have in progress. People seem to like my willingness to share my process, tips, and behind-the-scenes peeks into life as a full-time potter. As an educator, I think this is a great way to help raise awareness of the intentionality that goes into handmade objects, too. I also have an online shop I try to keep stocked year-round to make it easy for people to continue purchasing work.
I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to share my work and studio practice through many other outlets. I recently had a crew from Nashville Public Television visit my studio to document my art practice for one of their shows. I was a guest on Ben Carter’s Tales of a Red Clay Rambler podcast (episode 294), and I have had the opportunity to present at several regional conferences. While my main motivation for seeking experiences like these is to share knowledge and raise awareness of contemporary ceramics, they also enable new collectors to discover my work. I have invested a lot of time in arts advocacy in Nashville over the years and I frequently find that what you give is what you get, as these investments of time almost always open doors to valuable opportunities.
Most of my inspiration comes from the relationship between plants and people throughout history. I’m especially interested in the evolution of decorative floral motifs. What started off as a very realistic depiction of a plant can change drastically over time to become something completely different. In an era where we don’t spend as much time outdoors, I think the analysis of this visual evolution becomes increasingly relevant as our plant-inspired decor becomes like a surrogate nature experience. My art library is 70% books on historic textiles. I also love reading authors like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver who write about the relationships between people and nature.
Most Important Lesson
One of my biggest challenges is balancing the competing roles of being an artist and a businessperson. Currently, it is important that my studio practice is financially viable, but I don’t want to compromise my artistic integrity to make this happen. I am constantly trying to balance making responsible business decisions (like keeping up with my inventory, orders, and paperwork) with keeping creative experimentation and research as active parts of my studio practice. This is part of why I love having a body of work that is simultaneously cohesive yet eclectic. I can introduce new patterns and colors whenever I feel like changing things up. Also, I never have to make 50 of the exact same thing, which would make me feel more like a factory than an artist.