Sharing what a person can do when developing—then unleashing—their full potential with a new medium is refreshing and inspiring. It is uncommon to choose a life as an artist, and learning something new or switching career paths as an adult can be a vulnerable experience, full of uncertainty. In this issue, we feature several artists who did just that. 

These artists discovered they wanted to make clay central to their career after starting out in another field, and one they were good at to boot. Each realized that being good at something wasn’t enough to satisfy them. These are stories of pursuing self-actualization; the artists recognized how much meaning and satisfaction working with clay provided, and this energized them to seek possibilities for a career that fit more closely with their unique interests and skills.

1 Detail of Brian Peters’ 10X, an architectural screen made of 100 ceramic blocks that were 3D-printed and arranged to display a pattern focused on change in aperture.

The career-switch artists share the not-always-easy decisions that led them to find and then pursue what they truly enjoyed. They discuss the planning, skill building, and choices—both deliberate and fortuitous—that helped them to focus their lives on working with clay. The myriad skills that each learned in a former career now inform the creative, marketing, and business aspects of life as a ceramic artist. 

Studying certain disciplines helps you to think in specific ways, and the first careers of the artists in this issue have had an impact on the way they approach clay. For example, two of the artists, Brian Peters and Mesut Öztürk, who studied and practiced architecture, carefully consider adaptations and relationships with interior and exterior spaces. They bring this perspective to clay to produce very different bodies of sculptural, spatially sensitive, and articulate work. 

2 Lex Feldheim’s cup, 5 in. (12 cm) in height, stoneware, color waterslide decals, fired to cone 6 and then cone 013 in an electric kiln.

Lex Feldheim, whose first career was as a middle school teacher, now runs a community ceramics studio located in Kingston, New York, in addition to making functional vessels with intriguing surfaces. She continues to help others, focusing on community learning, while working in a material she returned to again and again in both formal and informal studies when pinpointing what she really enjoyed doing. 

Stephanie Roos similarly felt drawn to clay from early on, but decided on a more practical career, encouraged by her parents. However, teaching art and working part time in graphic design left her feeling unfulfilled, so she chose to build her skills so she could focus on making figurative ceramic sculpture full time. 

3 Chris Riccardo’s Rodin (in progress).

Chris Riccardo studied to be an artist, and worked with clay, but at first only as a means to an end, using it to make models to cast sculptures in bronze. Through roles in arts administration, which led him to get to know resident artists in ceramics studios, he realized that clay offered him more opportunities for expression and immediacy, albeit with more risk of losing a piece to a kiln mishap. Through various career switches, he has found his voice as a ceramic artist, and applied skills learned through his different roles.  

Are you thinking about how to make clay a more central part of everyday life, including your career? Mine these stories for ideas and insights that can be adapted to your own career switch. And, above all, enjoy your time spent in the studio. 

-Jessica Knapp, Editor
Topics: Ceramic Artists