Just the Facts
stoneware, predominately black
Primary forming method
Primary firing temperature
Favorite surface treatment
I use a dark clay body to produce an organic effect under a simple, whole-surface glaze. Lately I’ve been pouring and brushing glaze in layers on large bowls. I’m also into textured, unglazed surfaces.
Dolan 120 trimming tool, brass ribs from Samuel Sparrow, and the twisty ties from clay bags
audiobooks and podcasts
walk-in damp cabinet
LULA is a combination of the first two letters of Lucille and Laverne, who were wee fluffy chicks the spring of 2018, when my husband and I began building my backyard studio. Our chicken-chasing children came up with the name.
The structure is 13×15 feet, plus a 6-foot covered deck that the flock seeks as refuge in a downpour (use not intended). Before construction, I planned everything down to sponge storage, hacking the project using the IKEA kitchen-design simulator. I used virtual furniture of similar dimensions to stand in for the major equipment; wheel in the northeast corner, kiln in the southwest, and the photography setup on top of the kiln when it’s not in use. The west wall is all IKEA cupboards and cabinets. The entire south wall is movable pine-board shelving. I work in the perimeter around a large central work table. The space is plumbed for water but not drainage, for what is a potter without buckets? I save my slop and trimmings to recombine them in my pugmill. I lug the gray water over to the chicken coop to water the compost pile.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
When I get into learning something, I get in up to my eyebrows. I am now aware that this intense absorption is a defining characteristic of an ADHD brain, which I was born with, but wasn’t revealed to me as such until two months ago. Being diagnosed at age 42 and suddenly having so very many of my seemingly random, quirky traits very specifically and scientifically explained by my neurodivergent brain is shocking, but ultimately wonderfully revealing. I am grateful to have this diagnosis as I seek out community with those who share a similar experience, and I am particularly grateful to be able to use it as an explanation here for how I have been able to take up pottery in a short time without a formal education.
I want to be careful not to give credit to the all-consuming political horrors leading up to and after the 2016 US presidential election, though certainly I am not alone in my total re-evaluation of, well, every aspect of life amidst both the public and private upheaval. I was writing humor, personal essays, mostly self-deprecating observational stuff until October of that year, when my humor ran out.
In between bouts of being pummeled by the news of daily atrocities, I sought refuge in videos of animals being cute and . . . people making pottery. I cannot name the moment, but I got to thinking that if watching pottery videos was nice, making pottery would be exponentially so. The more I considered it, the more I realized that pottery checked all my boxes—too many to list here, but primarily that it would allow me creative freedom and infinite possibilities within the medium. I found it incredibly exciting to realize I would be tired from pottery long before I would be tired of it.
I am methodical in my undertakings, if somewhat mis-ordered. The first thing I did was design my future backyard studio, as described above. The next thing I did was set up a pottery wheel in the laundry room and sign up for studio time at the local community-art center to see if I could learn pottery. Then, I watched a lot of YouTube videos about pottery—namely Simon Leach, Hsin-Chuen Lin, Bill van Gilder, and Mea Rhee—and threw hundreds upon hundreds of cylinders. This was the fall of 2017. With due credit to an ADHD phenomenon called hyperfocus, I opened my business in the fall of 2018.
I hold a lot of privilege for pottery to be my full-time work and not the primary source of my family’s income. As a way to recognize this, it was important for me to find a way to contribute something to the common good. I set up LULA Pottery to include a permanent-giving feature such that for every sale of $35 or more, $5 goes to the Natural Resources Defense Council. In similar fashion, I’ve also been able to raise money by raffling off pots for such organizations as the International Rescue Committee, The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and Planned Parenthood.
I try to post a calendar year of event dates in advance onto my website, including four online sales, two open studios, and a market or two. This promise to the good people of the Internet helps me maintain structure and accountability.
The cyclical nature of pottery production works well to keep things interesting for me, and my small studio space is well suited to it, as are the different categories of tasks. The transitions between weeks of throwing and trimming, to firing and glazing, and then to shipping require an entire shift of both mind and space.
I set profit goals based on the season and what’s going on in my family. That aim helps determine how much I will make for each sale. My studio time depends on the schedule at home. Primarily I spend school hours working, up until dinner when my children aren’t in need of a driver, weekends if I’m feeling it, and definitely some after-dark hours the closer I get to an event. I attend to administrative tasks the moment before I can’t put them off any longer, and my marketing efforts don’t ever stop, even while I sleep.
Extreme introversion steered me to establishing LULA Pottery with a more online than in-person presence. Much more, I set my focus on Instagram at the outset and have put nearly as much effort into it as I have learning pottery. Instagram demands constant presence from makers, but in turn, it has the potential to develop wonderful opportunities and relationships. I incorporate my affinity for plant remnants into photos of my pots, post a good bit of narrated chicken and bee footage to surprising fanfare, and delight in crafting off-the-cuff comments for a laugh. I could not have purposely devised such an odd niche. I use humor to create conversations about the awkward realities of existence and make an effort to keep the bright light of day shining on life’s hefty topics, whether mental health, the essential work of anti-racism, the climate crisis, or the fragility of democracy. This is how I keep Instagram a place I want to be. My pottery account has become an incredibly beneficial space for marketing my work, for learning from and being inspired by other creators, and for practicing my stand-up. A place to seek the comfort of being reminded we are not alone in hard feelings and experiences, and a place to not be quiet about injustice. A “for real” online community.
This is not paid advertising for Instagram. I also have complaints. Those who utilize it as their main (ahem, sole) marketing device are bound by its dictates. While I do eventually get into the groove of each new feature and find a way to have fun with it, there is no doubt my actual work would benefit from the additional attention were I not entangled in the time-suck that is the never-ending production of content, not only photos, but also videos (now in four different formats). It was hard enough to learn how to take a decent photo of a pot in the first place, now I’m expected to make it sing and dance.
Function guides form when I am honing a new design, and developing pots to my exact personal specifications is hugely motivating. The handle of my mug is wide enough to rest my thumb and fit into the natural shape of my grip when I reach for it. Three fingers ease through the handle as I wrap my palm around the tapered body. The wide base rests effortlessly in my hand, and keeps the mug steady on the coffee table or on the couch cushion where I shouldn’t be setting down my tea, but do because I can. While I appreciate form alone, I see it as inseparable from function in the sense that if a functional form isn’t also attractive, it doesn’t work. I revere clean lines and simplicity, and consider my pots somewhat modern looking, but also expect them to blend into their surroundings and hint at timelessness.
Working as a potter is a perfect fit for my particular brain, one that needs to be constantly stimulated in order to keep me working at something. LULA Pottery allows/demands me to move within a multitude of disciplines at once, feeding into one material end, all while satisfying major mental-health requirements. Through this work, my need to create, along with my craving for routine, knack for problem solving, penchant for tinkering, impulsive and spontaneous tendencies, and limitless curiosity all get the attention they deserve. Wrap it all up in my cozy backyard studio away from the public and surrounded by my garden, chickens, and bees, and I only leave home when I have to run out for more clay and snacks.