Published Jun 6, 2022
For Yesha Panchal, the pandemic meant losing access to the studio where she fired her work, as well as the local audience she had worked so hard to cultivate. So she quickly shifted to trying to sell every piece of inventory she had in stock online, and then reinvest the proceeds in home studio equipment. In today's post, an excerpt from the June/July/August 2022 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Yesha shares how she weathered the storm and came out stronger on the other end. -Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor
Slowly, I converted my garage into a studio by setting up two folding tables with the minimum necessary materials to get started on projects. I focused on handbuilding and slip casting, which did not require much equipment investment upfront. I was fortunate enough to have access to the Hudgens Center for Art and Learning’s studio and kiln to fire my work. I spent months experimenting with different styles of pottery forms and decoration, and started selling my work at lots of different local craft shows. I realized that I sold more pieces at certain shows, and I did horribly at others. After analyzing this market behavior further, I quickly learned that the style and voice I had developed in my pottery spoke to specific collectors in certain geographic areas around the region. I incorporated my findings from this process into my strategy, and I was able to grow into the local art community.
My one year of research in understanding local markets and selling to them came to an end as we all were approaching 2020, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a difficult time for everyone worldwide because no one knew what the future would hold. Since local shows, exhibitions, and all other indoor events were canceled, the strategy that I had worked so hard to develop was made obsolete literally overnight. I also lost access to the art-center studio where I fired my work.
Strategy and Growth
I realized I needed to pivot my selling strategy quickly and create and sell work in unconventional ways, which meant going 100% virtual for sales. I started by listing all available inventory on my Etsy shop. Then, whatever I earned from the first few online sales, I decided to invest that money into building a fully-equipped studio by buying a kiln, then a wheel, and then a slab roller. Though this investment in equipment was costly for a small business like mine, I had hoped that this decision would become fruitful based on the upward trajectory of my online sales at that point in time.
This new reality of no social gatherings and work-from-home life set me into a great studio practice. I usually start out my day at 9:30am with a warm cup of tea in the studio and plan the rest of my work day. Most of my morning goes into trimming, casting, throwing, or covering and uncovering pots to manage drying. My husband and I take walks on nearby trails or parks to get some fresh air and a workout during our lunch breaks. The rest of the daytime (and sometimes night) is spent on decorating pots, teaching classes, and taking videos and pictures for social-media content.
Believe it or not, making pottery is not the only thing I do as an artist. I spend the same amount of time outside of the studio responding to inquiries via email, bookkeeping, packing, shipping, marketing, taking and editing photos/videos, uploading work online, and posting on social media to drive collectors to my online stores. I spend a tremendous amount of time learning how to grow and scale my online presence by listening to podcasts, taking virtual classes, and speaking with family members who have backgrounds in business to get their perspectives on my ideas. I face this constant mental battle of an artist mindset versus a business mindset, as each encompasses its own traits and defines success differently. However, I know art and business both have to be present simultaneously to successfully pursue this path.
With my online presence, I am not restricted to my local community in Atlanta and the surrounding areas, but instead I can share my work with everyone around the world. Through social media, I was able to find a new group of people who loved and appreciated my work. Sharing my behind-the-scenes process, cultivated knowledge, and artwork with others helped me grow as an artist and expand my footprint in the ceramics community. My passion for nature and the experience I feel when being around it is what I illustrate in my work. I want to convey the same experience and joy that I feel while being around plants to others via functional objects, which can add delight to everyday rituals.