In Ceramics Monthly’s annual focus on working potters, several artists share the decision making, acquired skills, and planning—both long and short term—that enable them to earn a majority of their income from their studio practices. 

Building a career as an artist is essentially an individualized pursuit, and it is one that happens at different stages of life for different people. Three of the artists featured in this issue (Rich Brown, Didem Firat, and Mitch Pilkington) started working as full-time artists after other careers and/or raising families. Four of the artists (Lakyn Bowman, Yesha Panchal, Justin Rothshank, and Deb Schwartzkopf)decided early on that they wanted to become working potters, and found jobs and opportunities to help prepare them for this time- and skills-intensive career path. 

1 Yesha Panchal and Justin Rothshank’s collaborative mug. 2 Didem Firat’s mugs. Photo: Hüma Önal.

While creating in the studio can be a solitary experience, many of the artists featured in this issue have worked collaboratively in one form or another. Justin Rothshank, Yesha Panchal, and Dick Lehman frequently team up with others to create artwork. Deb Schwartzkopf and the crew at Rat City Studios, Lakyn Bowman, and Rich Brown collaborate on community- and business-focused projects. These experiences not only enrich the artists’ individual creative practices but also build stronger ties and supportive networks among artists as well as engage with people in the surrounding area. 

Observations from two of the potters resonated with me. In her article on Didem Firat, Yasha Butler describes Firat’s belief that leaving room for the simple and imperfect in our lives can lead to freedom and new appreciation. Firat’s perspective reminds me to keep my perfectionist tendencies in check because creativity can be stymied by focusing on flawlessness as the ideal. This is not to say that workmanship and skill are not important, quite the contrary. It means that in a world full of manufactured things, what we do in the studio, making objects by hand, allows for the experience of the grace and character of simple, unrefined, and perhaps idiosyncratic objects to be perpetuated. It allows the human touch and the individual thought to be recognized and valued.

3 Rich Brown’s cups.

In her working potter article, Yesha Panchal described how time spent assisting professors and artists as well as working at production studios and art centers showed her the realities of a career in clay. She says, “This experience helped me understand that artists work very hard in the background, while everything looks magical in galleries, craft shows, and social-media settings.” Other artists in the issue also share this observation, and it is an important one. The finished pots we experience in a gallery, on Instagram, or even when using handmade pots in everyday life embody a great deal of time and effort, both in terms of labor and learning. Earning a living by making pots is rewarding, to be sure, but it is also challenging and requires consistent attention, skill building, and refinement, both in the studio and for the business side of the job. 

We hope these artists’ stories as well as the pots they make will inspire you, and possibly help those who are interested in pursuing the path of a working artist figure out if it is truly right for them. We also wish to help artists network and strengthen the broader understanding of handmade objects by providing a platform for dialog about the workmanship and value of utilitarian pots.   

- Jessica Knapp, Editor
Topics: Ceramic Artists