The editorial staff recently met with a group of artists over Zoom to discuss the ways that Ceramics Monthly currently addresses the needs of readers and to gather suggestions for better serving the artists in our community. Studio artist Tasha Friesen and artist and educator Sara Truman observed that one of the most difficult things for artists to figure out is a career path that will work for them because making a living as an artist is almost always dependent on an individual’s interests, skills, and life circumstances. There’s no set blueprint.
This is not to say that artists looking for examples to guide or assist them as they set up or make changes to their business plans should throw up their hands in despair. While everyone follows a singular path, there are commonalities at various stages of a career and among disparate approaches. Plus, the individual solutions, lessons learned, and resources identified can be applied à la carte as they fit into an artist’s given situation.
Based on my observations of the field and the stories relayed in the magazine over the years, there are some reoccurring attributes among the strategies that have helped artists succeed. These include keeping a low overhead, working part time or otherwise diversifying revenue streams to have guaranteed income, creating support and professional networks, settling in a supportive community (when possible), and pooling resources with others throughout a career. Tactics for implementing resource sharing consist of buying materials in bulk with a group to save money, sourcing packing material or wood for firings from local businesses, building a collective online presence, having studio sales together, sharing a studio or kiln, and opening/operating a gallery or community teaching studio together, etc. Resource sharing also extends to ideas and experience. It can take the form of mentorship, whether participating in official apprenticeships and internships or taking on (or providing) part-time help around peak production times. Organizing discussion groups and gatherings to talk about discoveries, questions, challenges, and interests are also important ways to pass along knowledge.
When artists discuss their action plans for their businesses, finding a platform or venue for selling their work that is both successful and suits their personality and desired time allocation for marketing and selling is also key. When deciding among the many options—like selling online and using social media for promotion and marketing, participating in art fairs and farmers markets, having a mobile pop-up booth or trailer, seeking representation with galleries, organizing studio tours and sales, selling wholesale, or working with interior designers and housewares companies—an artist’s choices are based on their personal needs.
This issue focuses on the business aspects of a ceramic artist’s career, from the perspectives of individuals in the field. The commonalities mentioned above figure prominently, even though the featured artists’ work ranges from sculpture to production pottery, and their chosen business models range from that of independent artists to those managing a large-scale production facility with over 100 staff. From the making to the marketing, each story explores an approach that plays to the artists’ strengths and suits their backgrounds. The image on this page, from East Fork Pottery, shows one creative example of marketing that invites audience participation. (A picnic in the warm sun also sounds nice right about now, in the middle of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.)
If the winter months are a time for you to recharge and renew your studio practice, including envisioning your ideal business and building or expanding your career, read through the articles here, and then explore the Ceramics Monthly online archive, especially the February issue of each year from 2017 to 2022, where you’ll find a wide range of individuals’ stories about their experience developing and advancing the business side of life as a ceramic artist.
And, if you have ideas for resources or topics you’d like to share or see covered in upcoming issues, send me an email. I look forward to your feedback!