Just the Facts
Primary Forming Method
Primary Firing Temperature
Electric Fired to cone 6, 03, and 014
Favorite Surface Treatment
Creating multiple layers using all kinds of surface treatments
Bison carving tool
My studio is inside my home. Our house is unique in that there are four levels. The first level is the entrance and foyer. Four steps from the foyer take you up to land on the same level as the main part of the house where the living room, kitchen, and dining rooms are. Attached to the foyer is a section of the house that was originally used as a family room with an adjoining sunroom. This is the section of the house that has been converted into my studio. I love this set up because it allows for the convenience of having the studio be part of the house, while those four small steps are just enough to provide both a mental and physical separation of studio verses family time. To further help separate the studio from the rest of the house and to help reduce the amount of dust leaving the studio, we also installed a door to the entrance of my studio. Because the space was really two rooms, I’ve split my studio into two sections. The part that was the family room is where all the shelves are. I use the shelves as a drying rack and to store works in progress. There are also three work tables for handbuilding, clay reclaim, and storage. My glazes are in five-gallon buckets. They sit on top of a pallet fitted with wheels. When not in use, they roll under the work tables. Because of all the windows, the sunroom is where I mostly work. My wheel, a wedging table, and a long worktable all fit in this space along with some shelves that hold my tools and underglazes.
The sunroom portion of the studio is my favorite part of the space. It has huge windows overlooking our backyard. Seeing my garden in the warmer months and watching the daily dramas of squirrels and rabbits is as entertaining as watching TV. There is also a back door that leads directly to the backyard. This door allows me to have a portable sink system. I can wheel the sink outside, dump out the dirty water, and clean and refill the sink without having to track clay or water through the rest of the house. Quick access to the backyard also means that often times, I can run outside to shoo away a hungry rabbit snacking on my garden or to pick some cherry tomatoes as a snack. Having the studio as part of our house makes managing studio time much easier. There have been many nights where I remembered those pots I left out to dry. I could just jump out of bed and quickly cover them up. I also like being able to pop in the studio when I have an odd hour or two free. Sometimes, I bring my son into the studio. We listen to music, chat, and work on our individual projects. This special time is something I really treasure. Five-year olds are fickle beings so as soon as my son is done, he wants out of the studio instantly. It really helps that he can run off to another part of the house while I clean up and finish what I’m doing. As odd as this may sound, I also love my studio door because it creates a physical separation between home and studio life. While there are many benefits to having a home studio, it can be difficult to set studio life aside. Being able to shut the door for privacy while working or as signal that a work session has ended is very helpful. Finally, a really nice perk is that my studio has a bathroom. The bathroom allows me to stay in the studio while working. Not only does this help with concentration and work flow, but it also helps to contain the clay dust within the studio.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I have a BA in ceramics from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and a MFA from Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. Currently, teaching is my main source of income. I teach ceramics at Illinois Wesleyan University and at the McLean County Art Center, our local community art center. I also teach art appreciation at Illinois Central College, which is a community college about an hour away.
The time I spend in the studio fluctuates. During the school year, I only have about 6–10 hours a week to work in the studio. Because I don’t teach as much in the summer, I have much more time. This summer, I was able to have 30 hours a week in the studio! It was such a luxury. Finding time to work is one of my biggest struggles. Being a studio potter means more than just making vessels. It also means tackling big tasks like photographing work, applying to shows, packing up and shipping out pots, and keeping up with correspondence and social media. There are also lots of smaller everyday jobs. Luckily my terrific studio assistant, Katie O’Shea, helps with many of those tasks.
Honestly, taking care of my body dropped to the bottom of the priory list for many years. But as I got older, I started to notice more aches and pains. Also, keeping a busy and demanding schedule meant that I was tired all the time, and I was not as productive during my precious studio time. Recently, I decided I could no longer ignore my body so I started attending exercise classes at a local gym. I now attend those classes six days a week and find that I have more energy and feel better in general.
Currently, I am reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines by Thomas C. Foster. Storytelling is an integral part of my work. I’m always looking for ways to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding on how to tell a story. I believe this helps improve my visual storytelling abilities.
Aside from that, it really depends on availability and my mood. I was surprised to realize a long time ago that a bad book can negatively affect studio productivity. Now, I’ve learned to stop listening to a book I don’t like instead of avoiding the studio. Ah, life lessons.
I love reading and looking at children’s books with my son and find that these influence my work. The stories I tell on my work share many similarities with children’s books.
Complex ideas need to be expressed simply and succinctly. The pictures from the books are often used to add layers of richness to the story. My son is another source of great inspiration. He loves creative and imaginary play. Aspects of his play and the ups and downs of motherhood often sneak into my work. Finally, I love to knit, especially sweaters, although I would not consider myself a serious knitter. Creating with my hands through knitting is a fun way to relax and to enjoy making something that does not involve clay.
About 75% of my work is sold through galleries and exhibitions. The rest is sold through my website.
My relationship with galleries is an important marketing tool. I also use Facebook and Instagram as my main source of social-media marketing. Galleries are able to show my work to a broader audience than I would otherwise be able to reach. Also, my work is very tactile. The stories I tell unfold on the outside, inside, and underside of each piece. It is a difficult thing to show through pictures alone. Having work that is physically present in a gallery really helps me jump that virtual hurdle. For me, handmade pots are about human touch and connection. While the Internet is a terrific tool to reach out and connect to a wider audience, it does not provide the opportunity for that human touch.
About every other year, I put together a packet that consists of a cover letter, my artist statement, my resume, and images of my work. These packets are sent to galleries that I’m interested in developing a relationship with. Currently, I’m actively seeking to teach more workshops and am using the same strategy to reach out to workshop venues. I love to teach and connect with people face to face. The personal interactions I’ve had with workshop participants are something I really value. Something special happens during a workshop. Because my work involves storytelling, I tell lots of stories about my life during a workshop. As a result, I find that many participants also share their personal stories. I soak up these stories and the laughter and closeness that comes with the sharing.
The part I struggle with the most when it comes to online marketing is the simple act of keeping up with it. I try to make my social media posts be true and relevant to who I am and the work I’m making. However, taking the time to think up thoughtful posts, taking the pictures, uploading them, then finding time to respond to feedback can be difficult. When I’m in the midst of a busy teaching semester, I find that I have a much harder time keeping up with social media; it is a vast and swift moving river, and if I don’t have enough time to devote to it, I can easily get left behind.
Most Important Lesson
Pursuing a career and a life in ceramics is a tough road to take. For me, the sacrifices and the struggles are worth the love I have for making pots. I haven’t found anything else that fulfills me in the same way. That being said, my relationship with clay has not been a smooth one. It can be so easy to get discouraged when rejections outweigh the acceptances, or when juggling time and finances is a never ending act. While social media is a wonderful tool to connect and to celebrate personal successes, it can also feel like you are the only one not moving forward. My medicine for these tough times is to put everything aside and go work in the studio. Getting my hands in clay and having my pulse quicken as I chase that elusive “something” in my work reminds me of why I went down this path to begin with.
I think that it is crucial to not make compromises with the artwork you make. The path of a working artist is a hard one. It doesn’t need the extra burden of not enjoying the process and product of your work. Besides, making work you love is the whole point, is it not?
Facebook: Grace Sheese Ceramics