The audio file for this article was produced by the Ceramic Arts Network staff and not read by the author.

 

Stoneware and porcelain bottles, 2020.

I was introduced to ceramics by an artist I dated briefly in 2009. At the time, I was running a small business, and painting in the evening and on weekends; the business was supporting my art habit. As my skills as a painter developed and I began to see real progress, it soon became the only thing I wanted to do. I wanted to spend more time going deeper, but had to stop myself so I would be well rested for the coming workday. In ceramics, I saw a way of putting an end to this bifurcated existence, to make art the means to making a living. I wasn’t wedded to a particular medium. What was essential, however, was to work with my hands and to give a physical reality (unmediated) to my ideas. My first love is architecture, and like architecture, ceramics is an art that is part of our everyday. They are objects we have a very physical relationship with. We use ceramic vessels for our morning tea and throughout our lives daily.

Following Through on a Promise

I started taking classes at Greenwich House Pottery in New York, New York, and then later studied at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, Rhode Island. After I graduated, I came back to New York. I got a job working for an architect and started working in a shared ceramics studio space in Brooklyn. I spent 3½ hours a day commuting between home, work, studio, then home again. This wasn’t sustainable. My focus then shifted to photography and video, and I also received my first public art commission; these were things I could work on at home, or on the train (much of this work is thinking and sorting through ideas). They could be done in any number of places. Again, my life was divided between work and art. Again, there was this feeling that I wanted to devote all my time to art. But, just as important was the desire to be my own boss again, and to have control over my life and my time.

1 Vessels, to 10 in. (25 cm) in width, stoneware, 2022. 2 Three vessels, to 10 in. (25 cm) in width, stoneware, various glazes, 2022.

Back in 2010 when I made the decision to give up my business and go to graduate school, I was very clear about the goal: to support my art habit by making art. By 2015, it was time for me to start following through on the promise I made to myself back in 2009.

The first step was to find a ceramics studio midway between home and work and start working in ceramics again. I went back to Greenwich House, but I knew this was only a temporary solution because I needed some private workspace, as well as greater access in terms of hours. I had the incredible luck of finding an ad for studio space at Tribeca Potters. I was a fan of Judy Jackson and Eric Bonnin, two of the business partners in the studio. I took the space, and a couple of months later, I quit my job and my life as a studio potter began.

3 Tracie Hervy with a few of her pieces.

A Day in the Life

  • In the morning, I take care of administrative work at home: billing, correspondence, planning, taxes, ordering supplies, etc.

  • I get to the studio by 10am. I’ve been trying to leave by 7:15pm in the evening so I can get home in time to have dinner with my partner, but 8–8:30pm is more typical. I usually take an hour for lunch. I’m in the studio 6–7 days a week, but weekends are often half days.

  • During a typical workday I’m:

  1. Making pots on the wheel

  2. Trimming

  3. Glazing

  4. Making glaze

  5. Packing work at the completion of a large order (an all-day task)

  6. Cleaning (usually 15 minutes before settling in for the day and 20–30 minutes at the end of the day)

4 Vessels, to 9½ in. (24 cm) in height, stoneware, blue glaze, 2021.

Learning and Developing

I’ve never had a formal apprenticeship. What I know about making pots I learned mostly at Greenwich House, from YouTube videos, and by making thousands of pots. (Although I was in the ceramics department at RISD, I spent most of my time making large-scale sculpture and installations.)

How do I make a living making pots? This I learned from the people at Tribeca Potters. I acquired skills in putting a collection together, ways of working more efficiently, dealing with clients, and the day to day of running a studio. But most importantly, the thing that was really impressed upon me was their discipline: they spent 6–7 days a week, 8–12 hours a day doing very focused work.

I also used Tribeca Potters as a model when I was thinking about who my primary buyer would be. I decided to focus on the wholesale market. Once I developed a collection, I applied to “NY Now,” a trade show in NYC. I received orders from over a dozen shops. My next step was to make a list of shops around the country that I thought might have an interest in the work (shops I shared an aesthetic with). I sent out a 4–5 line email that included a short list of places that carried my work, and a stock list. I received several orders and long-term clients based on this campaign. My second show was “Field and Supply,” which is a popular show with designers and provided me with an opportunity to sell work directly to the public.

5 View of Hervy’s studio. 6 Vessels on the left being loaded into the kiln for their first firing; on the right there are freshly thrown cylinders.

Career Snapshot

Years as a professional Artist
5

Number of pots made in a year
3000

Education
Rhode Island School of Design (MFA in ceramics)
Oberlin College (BA in studio art)
Greenwich House Pottery (my introduction to ceramics)

The time it takes (percentages)
Making work (including firing): 87%
Promotions/Selling: 3%
Office/Bookkeeping: 10%

Favorite Tool
A metal rib

Process
Throwing on the wheel

Where it Goes
Retail Stores: 93%
Craft/Art Fairs: 4%
Online: 3%

Learn More
Website: www.tracie-hervy-ceramics.com
Instagram: @tracie_hervy

 

7 Hervy in her studio.

Growing the Business

During my first year as a studio potter, I also worked part-time as an art teacher in the public schools. It took about 11/2 years for me to live solely from the sale of my ceramic work. In 2020, the size of the orders I received increased considerably. This was a real high in the beginning, but the act of making several hundred of the same form can get a bit tedious; after years of producing the same pieces over and over again, with little time to develop new work, some of the joy was starting to fade (though I was becoming better at my craft). During the same time, I was also starting to outgrow my space within the studio. I didn’t have enough shelf space for work to dry. Business for everyone had ticked up and there was competition for kiln space and table space in the glaze area. I knew it would be difficult to deliver my work on time given the constraints, so I decided to find my own space.

I moved into a building less than a block away from Tribeca Potters. I missed the companionship (although we not infrequently drove each other batty), but it was a necessity for the growth of the business. I’m able to work much more efficiently with the added space. This is good because one of the things I didn’t calculate was the time spent on studio-related tasks, such as ordering supplies, making glaze, and keeping inventory of materials, etc. Previously, these tasks were shared. Now, it’s just me.

8 Hervy’s studio in Long Island City, New York. 9 The wheel and primary work corner of the studio.

Finding a Balance

Since 2016, I have been singularly focused on one thing: getting the business on solid footing. But this has come at a price. Exercise, eating well, and sleep were starting to seem optional; after a couple of years of this, I started feeling the effects of my neglect. I took very little time off and when I did, it was to do the laundry, clean house, or do the shopping. Recreation was nearly nonexistent, and any time away from the studio was accompanied by guilt. In the studio, I felt like I was becoming a machine. Because I was so focused on this one thing, I was starting to become quite dull.

I’ve known for a while that I’ve needed to make some changes, and this year I finally have the space (and the security) to make them. I’ve been prioritizing sleep, and exercise has made its way back into my routine. I have been eating better, and I’m reading again. When I’m in the studio, I feel much more focused. I have been giving myself more time to play; for the first time in years, I’m giving real time to experimenting with form and new glazes. 

10 Vessels, to 9 in. (23 cm) in height, porcelain, various glazes, 2022. 11 Vessels drying and waiting for the bisque firing. 12 Hervy’s work unloaded from the kiln and ready for packing and shipping.

Over the last two years, I’ve been cutting back on the number of wholesale accounts I take on. (There is a security in knowing that you have months of work secured, but it can also feel oppressive.) Instead of making pieces to order, I will spend more time making the work, then finding a place for it. I’m not sure how this will be implemented (but I have some ideas of where to start.) Increasing my awareness among designers and selling more work directly is also on my list. I have another project in mind that involves video, ceramics, and a community of people. . . an idea that I’ve had for years, and I think I’ll be ready to start in a real way within the next two months. I’m trying to, once again, become a whole person.