The insights that self-employed studio potters share about the decisions that made their careers possible are always informative. That is why Ceramics Monthly focuses on working studio potters in the June/July/August issue every year. That is also why I excerpted snippets from the issue on Ceramic Arts Daily!
In today’s post, an excerpt from this year’s edition of the working potters issue of Ceramics Monthly, Hitomi and Takuro Shibata and Josh Manning share their stories about how their careers developed. Enjoy! –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
Great Tips for Establishing a Studio Pottery Business
by Hitomi and Takuro Shibata and Josh Manning
Initial Reasoning by Josh Manning
Pottery found me in high school as a rather indifferent kid. I was disinterested in anything related to school. When I encountered something that did not rely on the mundane basics of education, I thought, “this could be something for me.” In addition, there were legit folks in the community making a living working with clay who called themselves, of all things, potters. This was a big deal, and still is, because I knew that making pots was a real possibility. Of course, I did not account for any of the difficulties, challenges, and simple realities of being a potter; I just wanted to be one. Honestly, I was just so jazzed to find something that worked for me. My teachers recognized this and allowed me access to the art room whenever possible.
From that point on, my path, however meandering, was set to become a potter. I visited local studios, did some work exchange for studio access and got accepted into Virginia Tech pursuing a BFA in studio art. Again, I was fortunate to have professors that embraced my goal to become a potter. They opened their studio life up to me, which I greatly appreciated back then and even more so now that I understand the value of studio time.
A Bit of Advice to Offer
If I could offer a bit of advice to anyone interested in this profession it would be: keep a low overhead and be a sponge. Absorb as much as possible—any and every bit of ceramics education will come in handy, especially the technical information. There is so much to learn about ceramic history and material, as well as the chemistry of clay, glaze, and heat. It can be very tempting to ignore the fundamentals and muddle through the process with some success until ultimately, it just beats you down due to technical faults, material changes, or kiln circumstances. Any one of those factors gone unchecked can eventually unravel a potter; troubleshooting is critical.
This fourth edition of Electric Kiln Ceramics, has been completely rewritten, reorganized, and expanded by Frederick Bartolovic. Loaded with new color images that highlight some of the most beautiful results possible with electric firing, the new edition features step-by-step instruction on forming and finishing pieces for electric firing, schedules for firing both manual and computerized kilns, and even glazing techniques and recipes to try out in your electric kiln.
The Most Difficult Decision by Hitomi and Takuro Shibata
In 2001, Hitomi was offered a Rotary International Scholarship to study at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. We made the big decision to close our studio in Shigaraki for two years and moved to Massachusetts in October 2001. Following my study at UMass-Dartmouth, Takuro and I were invited by Randy Edmonson, Professor Emeritus of Art at Longwood University to give a workshop and lecture at the university, in Farmville, Virginia, in 2002. It led us to become two of the four resident artists during the inaugural year of the residency program at the Cub Creek Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Appomattox, Virginia. After the residency, we traveled through Europe briefly on our return to Shigaraki. We loved our travels and were really attracted to Seagrove, North Carolina, where we had visited our friends, Nancy Gottovi and David Stuempfle. Sometime after our return to Shigaraki, Nancy, who is Executive Director of Central Park NC/ STARworks, offered Takuro an opportunity to help establish STARworks Ceramics. We made a life-changing decision to permanently close our studio in Shigaraki, sell all of our equipment and, with three suitcases and one cat, move to Seagrove, North Carolina, in 2005. Takuro began work at STARworks Ceramics and I took a two-year resident-artist position at the North Carolina Pottery Center.
We purchased property between Ben Owen’s Pottery and Jugtown Pottery and established Studio Touya in historic Seagrove in 2007. We renovated an outbuilding into a rustic studio and a small house into a sales shop. We recently built a new home for our family of four. Our pots are fired in a Shigaraki-style anagama with an additional chamber. I recently built a small wood kiln designed by Estonian kiln builder Andres Allik, who helped with the construction.
It takes time, money, and lots of energy to set up your own pottery studio and business. You need skill, tenacity, intellectual curiosity, and an old-fashioned work ethic. You need to read, you need to travel. You may need to go to school, work as an apprentice, complete a residency, or take on a part-time job. Success doesn’t happen overnight. It is challenging, but there are many opportunities in many places for a young potter. Our field is full of welcoming, generous people.