Just the Facts
Primary forming method
wheel throwing, but we just started dabbling in slip casting and jiggering
Primary firing temperature
Favorite surface treatment
raw, matte surface
the needle tool—it’s so simple, yet so effective
We constantly have music playing in the studio, but sometimes we all listen to our own podcasts and programs in our headphones on a chill day.
a Blaauw kiln (coming soon)
Our 2400-square-foot studio is located on the third floor of a warehouse in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s divided into one large work room in the middle and smaller individual rooms located throughout the space including an office, gallery, kitchenette, packing station, plaster room, and glaze/kiln room. Our plaster room is reserved for slip casting and mold making. In our previous 500-square-foot space in Columbus, Ohio, we weren’t able to create different workflows. Everything was lumped together in one room, so we really value the separation of space and ability to spread out and focus on individual tasks in our new location, which we moved to in July of 2021.
The rapid growth of my business, the effects of COVID-19, and wanting to be closer to family spurred the move to Milwaukee, which is my hometown. When Lolly Lolly Ceramics started showing true signs of growth, I knew it was a good time to evaluate where I wanted to grow the business. I have absolutely no family in Ohio, and all of my friends who I consider family were starting to disperse to the East and West Coasts. Moving back to Milwaukee felt smart because I could be closer to family again, and I could leverage my business in the city by contributing to the economy and helping to build the arts community. It really worked out well. I’m so happy to be back.
We have one large 6×6-foot table in the middle of the work room that serves as our primary working table. Around that is a wedging table along the wall, extruder on the wall, and throwing wheels lined up along the window. The layout creates a circular flow, allowing for us to walk and push carts around the space. A slab roller and more wheels will be added soon.
Right now our team is pretty versatile, and all members have a hand in every step of the process. Currently, the only specialized task is wheel throwing, which I take care of. It’s not that other team members can’t do it, but we’ve gotten so comfortable with me being able to push out a lot of pieces at a time, and it has always felt like their skills have been better suited to wedging, trimming, attaching handles, glazing, managing inventory, packing orders, or 3D printing. This is one reason why we are shifting to more slip-casting and jiggering methods. Throwing has taken a toll on me, and I feel like my time is better suited in other areas now.
Demand for our work is high, and I’m looking forward to having more efficient methods in place so we can offer popular designs and also have time to introduce new pieces like bowls and plates. Our production cycles overlap, and they all depend on how much throwing gets done. We typically work in batches of 50 mugs at a time, moving quickly from throwing and trimming to adding handles, and then allowing time for drying and firing. This year is the first time we started implementing stricter production schedules to help keep us in line as we transition to new fabrication methods and create sales goals.
A favorite aspect of our studio would be the large windows. They bring in a lot of natural light. Even on the coldest winter day, we get a lot of sun streaming in, and it always helps brighten the feeling in the studio. It’s especially beneficial for the 50+ potted plants. While we have some favorite aspects of the studio, I don’t love the building’s lack of accessibility. The staircase is the primary means of visitor access to our third-floor studio because there is no public elevator, and guests aren’t allowed to use the freight elevator on their own. We aren’t necessarily open to the public and haven’t run into many issues, but we hope it doesn’t become a problem down the line.
We’re always taking note of how other studios flow and how we can improve ours. I visited the East Fork studio in Asheville, North Carolina, last year. Connie and Alex Matisse invited me down to learn from their team in the mold shop. They saw that I was scaling up and wanted to offer their insights and expertise. It was such a great opportunity to see how a larger company operates. I’ll never forget that experience; it gave me peace of mind that I am on the right track.
We are renovating our office in the second quarter of this year and building out the kitchenette. Every other space is completed. We are continuously filling the studio with more equipment and more team members. Currently, we are not intentionally conserving energy, heat, or water, but this is a goal for the future. We turn the heat down at night and try to reuse water by rinsing tools in large buckets, but improving our sustainability practices as we grow is a high priority.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I took a few ceramics classes at a local community center and one class in college, but a lot of my learning happened as I was building my personal basement studio. I referenced YouTube a lot, which is one reason I’d love to start my own channel. I would try something on my own, then research online for guidance until I found my own groove. The studio has a library of ceramics books that I consult frequently. It’s fun to mix new practices with old ones.
We have a general 9–5 schedule for all team members. I tend to work all hours of the day. I try to stay regimented, but I’m being pulled in a lot of directions as we grow. Reva, our studio manager, is really good at keeping a schedule in place for us to follow, and although we can’t always stick to it exactly, it helps our workflow. I quit my job as a graphic designer in September 2020. Granted, I have lots of other streams of revenue, but they all tie back to Lolly Lolly Ceramics now.
Customers purchase our work predominantly through our website. We sell wholesale here and there, but we took a break from it in 2021 to focus on scaling up. We will pick up wholesaling again this year, and we also have aspirations to open a retail shop in the coming years. Brick-and-mortar sales feels like an entirely different beast though, so I’m slowly learning how to approach that.
I’m really active on Instagram and that has become a very big marketing tool for us. We naturally love creating videos that show our process and display us having fun with our work. It’s an opportunity to be genuine with our audience. The biggest advantage is not having to pay to market our work. I can be authentic and true to myself, and I think our audience sees that and loves that component of our business. The disadvantage is maybe having to set aside time to put energy into using that platform. I don’t always have time to produce content, so I’m working on growing my team in that area.
One of the major ways we grow our market is by working with other brands. This allows us to introduce our product to a new audience and allows us to get creative in new ways. I love ceramics, but I also love fashion, books, and music. It’s really such an awesome opportunity when we can play around with multiple art forms.
Our greatest successes online have been the Friday Reels, where I dance on the wheel while throwing ceramic mugs. We’ve also worked with really cool brands, such as Vans, which has allowed us to tap into a large international market. There was a period of time in 2020 that we received an outpouring of support after my 100 Day Mug Project wrapped up. This included shout-outs on Instagram, press opportunities, partnerships with brands, etc. It was a tough time because a lot of people were being impacted by the death of George Floyd. There was such a shift in people’s perspectives and awareness, which resulted in a major support for Black businesses. Lolly Lolly Ceramics definitely got lumped into that. Our Instagram following grew really fast. It honestly felt very performative at the time. Though it was challenging to understand that moment in time, I have since been able to appreciate that support and see that it is still happening. It’s not because we are Black-owned, but because we offer a unique and special product. That boost of support definitely didn’t hurt though, and it opened up some awesome opportunities for us. This year, I’d love to get involved in additional art/ceramics-focused organizations. There are so many people and communities out there that I’d love to know and be a part of, so we’re working on growing that network.
I used to read fiction for fun, but now tend to read more business-related books. For inspiration, I’ve been turning to www.are.na. Are.na is similar to Pinterest, but way more curated. I come across niche projects, people, and objects that I don’t typically see anywhere else.
I constantly have fun side projects, which help me to recharge. Right now, I’m building my own disco ball from scratch. It’s 30 inches in diameter, so it is huge. It helps me stay creative, but it’s a different way of using my hands. I’ve been doing a lot of puzzles lately too. Repetitive crafts help me take my brain away from my business practice and the day-to-day, and are meditative. They help me to re-center.
When taking a break from the studio, I enjoy spending time with friends. I try to maintain a social life because it’s important for me. I also love bike riding, reading, baking, and caring for my plants.
I’m always flooded with ideas, so I am glad to say that I rarely hit a mental roadblock. I just have a hard time finding the time to implement the ideas I have. But if I ever run into anything challenging, which is bound to happen, I talk it through with friends. They are very level-headed and honest with me. And, I take time to look through old notebooks to resurface old ideas that I may have forgotten about.
Some of the most important lessons I have learned would have to be patience, time management, and empathy . . . to name a few. There are always so many moving parts, so many people that I’m working with. I try to practice these things, always.