Just the Facts
Clay We both make our own clay. JM: proto-porcelain HK: Richard Hensley’s Grolleg porcelain
Primary forming method JM/HK: wheel throwing
Favorite surface treatment JM: wax resist HK: glaze layering
Primary firing method JM/HK: cone-10 gas reduction
Favorite tool JM: fettling knife HK: wooden-handled cleanup tool with a fine needle on one side and a scoop blade on the other (like the Kemper AB Lace Tool)
Studio playlist audiobooks, NPR, Pandora, podcasts
Wishlist a dedicated gallery space
Our full studio space, including the kiln shed, is 954 square feet. The location of our studio is rural, to say the least. We are based in Copper Hill, Virginia, which is a tiny, unincorporated town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Floyd County. This means beautiful views and quiet neighbors.
We try to be as economical as possible regarding workflow layout in the studio. Currently the process begins at the center of the studio axis where dry materials are stored and the clay mixing takes place. From there, the clay is moved to be pugged and stored for wet work in the common studio space. We move works in progress onto and off of ware carts so that the pots can be easily shuffled around for bisque and glaze firings in the gas kiln. Because we use different clay bodies, we have separate work areas within a shared space. We each have our own wheel, table, and carts, as well as our own pugmills, etc. Shared space includes the sink, kilns, and a large central table. Having a door on each end of the common studio space is very important for flow, moving of wares, and just generally to keep us from constantly tripping over each other.
When it comes to energy usage, we only heat 340 square feet (what equates to 35%) of the total studio space. A large bit of savings comes from our fiber-lined car kiln, which is extremely inexpensive to fire compared to traditional brick-stack kilns and is on par with firing an electric kiln.
The studio is always expanding; we are currently working on an addition to the kiln shed to enlarge the space for a new (to us) clay mixer and a smaller gas kiln. This will free up the stanchions room for a complete renovation. Our wishlist for a studio expansion includes a separate gallery space, as we currently convert our working studio into a show space biannually.
One of our favorite things about the studio is its history. The building was designed and built in the 1960s as a milk parlour that Josh’s grandparents operated. We mix our clay in what was the milking parlour/stanchions room. Our main studio is a combination of the tank room and the mechanical room. The kiln shed was an addition to the original structure. One of our least favorite aspects is that renovating an old, abandoned milk parlour means lots of cleanup and fixing of buildings and utilities, as well as ongoing general maintenance and removal of farm detritus.
Josh Manning: I have a BFA in studio arts from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia (2004), and thereafter was a resident artist at the Cub Creek Foundation, located in Appomattox, Virginia, from 2004–2005. Later, I earned an MFA from West Virginia University in 2009. I am a full-time professor at a liberal arts college, so studio time is dictated by the academic calendar. I spend approximately 48 hours per week in the studio during the busy season.
Hona Leigh Knudsen: I received a BFA with a focus in ceramics from West Virginia University in 2008, then did an apprenticeship with Richard Hensley and Donna Polseno from 2009–2012. I work two days a week outside of the studio doing jewelry reproduction and design for a local jewelry company. I work between 24 and 64 hours per week in the studio, depending on the time of year and my show schedule. I like to work basically a 9am to 6pm schedule with an hour for lunch. I often find myself back in the studio after dinner.
JM: Travel helps immensely with breaking up any creative slumps that have developed. In addition, I find www.Glazy.org to be an ever-evolving source of interactive information. I also keep a sketchbook that is more for concepts and ideas than sketches, which serves as a well to draw upon when I’m bored of making the more standard studio ware.
HK: The following help me to recharge creatively: sunshine, food, travel, and exercise, as well as looking at pottery online. I like to look at lots of images of pottery on Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration and ideas. On my phone, I document everything from images of finished pots to pictures of kiln loads, works in progress, and images with notes drawn on them for future exploration. I would love to say that I am out hiking if I’m not in the studio, but generally I can be found running errands. Another part of my process is that when in doubt, I make mugs. Mugs are possibly my favorite item to make and there never seems to be enough of them. This process also buys me time to process other ideas.
JM: For my work, the percentage of sales breaks down to 75% retail and 25% wholesale.
HK: When it comes to who buys my work and where, I would say it is 65% retail sales, 25% wholesale, and 10% consignment sales.
I mostly use Instagram and Facebook to market my pots, though I am still learning the ins and outs of how that works. I spend more time posting on the 16 Hands Studio Tour Instagram and Facebook pages than my own account, promoting our biannual tour. My posts are generally a combination of finished work, in-progress shots, and shots of the kiln.
The 16 Hands Studio Tour has really helped us broaden our audience reach. To advertise our biannual studio tour, we design and print brochures in a quality and quantity that would be unattainable without the group pooling of resources and time. We distribute these materials at retail shows and local businesses in our town and the region. We also buy advertising on local NPR stations, send out newsletters via email, and market and advertise on social media.
There are advantages and disadvantages for us when it comes to different ways to sell our work. We have run into disadvantages when selling at craft fairs, which include having to haul and schlep heavy stuff back and forth, and losing studio and personal time while being on the road. This type of selling means having to be away from the comforts of home and dealing with the uncertainty of the show’s success. A benefit of being part of a studio tour means that you don’t always have to leave home to sell your work. The advantage to selling in galleries is that they do the marketing and selling, and you have more time in the studio. There are also disadvantages to selling in galleries, including accounting for commission-, wholesale-, or consignment-based pricing and missing out on a direct connection with people who look at, ask questions about, and purchase the work
Putting Down Roots
JM: A sense of place is very important to me, as is the environment’s influence upon me. My work is highly fluid in that regard; seasonal changes can push my glaze palette sensibility in one direction or the other with ease. Creating a space that one can grow into and with is the narrative I hope to live out. This is certainly only one side of the equation though, and the idyllic side at that. Setting up and running a studio is not for everyone. When something breaks or needs attention, we are the ones attending to it, not the landlord or the studio technician. This can be burdensome and maddening at times but at the end of the day, is generally very fulfilling. You can create change in the studio or plant a tree outside the studio window and, in turn, it can spur a new direction in the work.
Most Important Lesson
JM: The material and the occupation never stop giving lessons and the potential to learn never ends, we just stop taking notes. I really hope I find myself taking notes 30 years from now.
HK: One important lesson I have learned from working as a studio potter is to manage my time better. Finding balance in this can be one of the hardest things for me personally. Working from home and for myself means being the boss as well as the employee. I have had to learn to treat this job as if it were any other job in many ways. This can also mean knowing when it is time to stop working, which can be very hard in a profession that seems to gobble up as much time as you can throw at it.