Published Jul 17, 2017
Ceramic Arts Daily: How do you make a living as a ceramic artist? What is the best advice you have for someone just starting their ceramic business?
Kathi LeSueur: I've made my living as a potter for 40 years. It is far harder now than in the past because the associated expenses of art fairs are much higher and sales have declined dramatically. I participated in the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair in 1995. My sales totaled three times as much as a friend, who exhibited at this same show last summer. This is not an isolated story. Art fair sales have declined everywhere.
I wholesaled for 20 years. In the past, stores would place their orders at the beginning of the year and also put in reserves. Now, many stores want items to be ready to ship whenever they run out. Christmas is especially bad when they sell all of their inventory four weeks before the holiday and want a new batch of work.
For any potter wanting to make a living, make sure you know your costs. Selling $2000 at a show doesn't mean you made $2000. Subtract all of your expenses for the show. That gives your profit before deducting the cost of goods sold (clay, glazes, firings, etc). Now, what have you made? Divide that number by the days it took to do the show, pack up day, set up day, sales day, recovery day. If you still are making at least $10 an hours you have a good start.
Spread your risk. Sell at shows, shops, farmer's markets, and online. Be everywhere. A little here and there adds up. If you decide to wholesale your work, be sure the shop can sell it at the price they need to make a profit. Wholesale is usually 50% of the retail price. For wholesale, I always set my prices to make sure I make a profit in that venue. Deduct the retail expenses you'll know really fast which shows and shops are worth pursuing.