My initial reason for pursuing pottery all started when I saw a video on YouTube of a potter making commission mugs for a local coffee shop. I was so amazed at the transformation of a ball of clay into the functional mug that I had to try this art form. At the age of 32, hence the name Pottery32, I decided to take my first pottery class. I started this wonderful journey into clay at MudFire, a local studio in Decatur, Georgia, and I have been hooked ever since. 

Rich Brown glazing a stein.  Photo: photophobic images.

An Evolving Journey

My pottery journey has always been about the people that I connect with through clay. Clay is the conduit for building relationships; it has brought me on an amazing journey, and I have met so many wonderful people along this ride. I learn something new every time I touch clay, and realize how much there is still to learn. When I started pottery, it was the first time I felt like I had found something that I could do for the rest of my life. 

My works consist of functional ware that is intended to be used and provide great user experiences. Three years into my pottery journey, I decided to start selling my work and looking at pottery as a possible career path. Many years passed and I was still teaching and selling my wares part time when I was approached by the Grammy Award–winning singer Zac Brown, who I knew from a mutual friend. Zac was the driving force for me to be able to financially make the leap of faith to become a full-time potter. He invested in me for the first two years of my journey to make the transition an easy one. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was one of the members of ZB Collective, a group of artists that Zac curated. There were many artists in this group, and I was humbled and honored to be a part of this collective. 

1 Preparing mugs to be glazed. Photo: photophobic images. 2 Tiffany-blue banded mugs, 3½ in. (9 cm) in height, stoneware, glaze.

Before pottery, I was an educator, and taught middle school visual arts in Clayton County, Georgia, at MD Roberts. I enjoyed every moment teaching and building relationships with the students and the community. Having a degree in education and teaching for 18 years really helped me with the process of learning how to be proficient on the wheel, meaning I was able to break down wheel throwing and teach myself. Starting my career as a teacher has influenced my career in clay by giving me the discipline and work ethic to succeed in this field. 

As a teacher, especially a middle school teacher, you must be creative to keep the students actively engaged. I have been able to keep this creativity going in clay, trying new techniques and methods every chance I get. My journey with clay is ever evolving as my journey was with my students.

3 Variegated-blue banded mugs, 3½ in. (9 cm) in height, stoneware, glaze.

My studio life has been one of many ups and downs after the COVID-19 pandemic began. I have been very much a nomadic potter and have had several locations. My home base is in Hogansville, Georgia, a charming town south of the Atlanta airport. I am currently working on a permanent studio that should be ready by the fall of 2022. My studio is strictly a place for working, and I haven’t sold pieces directly from my studio. I look for that space to be a refuge from all the negative energy in this world. Clay is my safe space.

As a full-time potter, the most difficult decision that I had to make was not having a steady income. As a working potter, what you put in is what you get out. I’ve gone months working seven days a week to stay afloat. The decision to leave a steady income was difficult but well worth it. I now have the freedom to spend quality time with my son and daughter because I can adjust my schedule to fit their busy schedules. Those little things are monumental in importance, and I am grateful for them.

Marketing and Community 

When I first started my pottery journey, I was able to gain momentum through commissions and word of mouth locally. I made custom dinnerware  and awards for local events. I also spent many weekends at the local farmers market, building relationships with business owners and the people of the community. This introduction gave me a strong foundation. Over the last three years, I leaned heavily into social media, especially Instagram. Along with Facebook, Instagram has been instrumental in getting traffic to my website. I have been able to collect an email list and create campaigns that have been a great way to inform customers of events and sales. I also have an Instagram Live broadcast every Thursday evening that I co-host with Diana Adams from SampleHAUS. We talk about pottery and invite other potters on to talk everything clay related. Staying focused and consistent on social media has been an extremely valuable tool to drive sales in the clay business.

4 Airbrushed Speedball underglaze on various mugs. Photo: photophobic images.

When starting my pottery journey, I had what was probably the best introduction to this field at MudFire, and the owners at that time, Luba Sharapan and Erik Haagensen, were so instrumental in my development. They took me under their wing, gave me words of encouragement, and believed in me. They paid for me to attend my first workshop and were a driving force for me to become a full-time potter. The MudFire studio was set up like a gym, where you went in, sat down to work at a wheel, and if you needed assistance, there was always someone there to help. It was a wonderful community of artists, and everyone was willing to help. There were many artists there, from handbuilders and wheel throwers making pots, to sculptors using a variety of techniques, and they all shared their knowledge of clay. 

5 Brown applying clear wax to the bottom of mugs. Photo: photophobic images.

Consistency is Key

The advice I would give to anyone interested in pursuing studio ceramics as a profession is to love and be passionate about what you do. I would also recommend Wabi Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers by Leonard Koren; it’s a great read about the aesthetics and beauty of imperfection, the temporal, and serendipity. 

6 Variegated-blue mugs, 4 in. (10 cm) in length, stoneware, glaze, fired to cone 6.

I would definitely suggest starting part time, to see if you have a market of potential customers. I would recommend staying consistent on social media and building an audience. You should also learn as much as you can about business and marketing if you plan on making this a career. To do so, I advise reading as many book as you can on the subjects, and also talk to other full-time potters and artists.

7 Brown throwing a gaiwan off the hump, then using calipers to measure for the gaiwan’s lid. Photo: photophobic images. 8 Brown throwing a gaiwan off the hump, then using calipers to measure for the gaiwan’s lid. Photo: photophobic images.

Whenever you can, take workshops and classes from your favorite artists and use social media to follow those who share tips and techniques. I started my journey watching YouTube, and there are many informative videos on that platform to get help from. 

9 General-purpose bowls, 6 in. (15 cm) in diameter, Tiffany-blue glaze on speckled stoneware.

10 Bowls, 6 in. (15 cm) in diameter, classic white glaze on speckled stoneware.

Lastly, and most importantly, is the relationship you have with the clay. Learn as much as you can about clay and be the best artist you can be. Stay positive; realize that there will be obstacles but believe in yourself because you can do this. You’re built for this.

11 Using two ribs to create the profile for a bowl. Photo: photophobic images. 12 Using a handmade PVC ball opener to open clay. This creates a consistent base and reduces S cracks. Photo: photophobic images. 13 Variegated-blue berry bowl, 7 in. (18 cm) in diameter.

Career snapshot

Years as a professional potter

Number of pots made in a year

Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Saint Peter’s University Jersey City, New Jersey 
Master of Arts in Administration and Supervision, Saint Peter’s University

The time it takes (percentages)
Making work, including firings: 60%
Promotions: 30%
Bookkeeping: 10%

Favorite Tool
Handmade PVC clay-opening tool

Wheel throwing

Where it Goes
Online: 90%
Commissions: 10%

Where to See More 
Clay Art Center, Port Chester, New York,

Mark of the Potter, Clarkesville, Georgia,

Learn More
Instagram: @pottery32 and @neighborhoodpottdealer
Facebook: @pottery32