Probably every aspiring ceramic artist has pondered at great lengths how to make pottery their full time gig. Making a living as a potter is not an easy road these days, and if you want to succeed in the pottery business (and make money), you really need to make a good careful plan.
In today’s post, we have gathered some great advice from four successful potters that might just help you when making your plan. In this excerpt from this year’s working potters issue of Ceramics Monthly, Amelia Stamps, Anderson Bailey, Steven Rolf, and Jeremy Ayers share their tips for making a living as a potter and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
PS: Check out the June/July/August 2015 issue of Ceramics Monthly to hear more from these working potters, and from Kristin Pavelka and Malcolm Greenwood. Plus, get glaze recipes from Jeremy Ayers, Amelia Stamps, and Kristin Pavelka! Also, see this post in the archives about how to start a pottery business!
Advice on Making a Living as a Potter
The biggest piece of advice I have for those interested in making a living as a potter, would be to take business classes. I was wholly unprepared to run a small business after college, and have spent so much time learning how to do so through trial and error. A focus on business classes in college would have helped me tremendously and saved me time and frustration.
Finally I would offer the very simple advice to ask for what you want because you’ll often get it. I have built a lot of my pottery business because I solicited it myself. I sell pottery to many galleries, bars, and restaurants, real estate agents, boutique hotels, and coffee companies all because I cold called (or emailed) them. I would say almost half of my sales are from businesses that I approached.
If I could offer advice to anyone interested in making a living as a potter, I would say two things: First, work for other people. If possible, quit your other jobs and just work for artists. This will give you invaluable access to tools, space, mentorship, and will keep your hands learning. I would not be doing what I am doing today if not for the people I worked for and learned from along the way. Getting out of school and setting up your own shop by yourself seems likes a terrible idea. Work for and with other people, even if you don’t like them.
Second, just keep doing it. It is going to be as rewarding as it is brutal. Just keep doing it. You will pick away bit by bit until one day you will realize, “wait, how did I get here?”
I think it is important for those interested in making a living as a potter to remember that there is no one way to build a life of making and selling work. When I first started, I felt like I was pushing pots out the door, and now I find it difficult to keep up with the demand. These are some of the things I have learned: Keeping overhead low means that sales have greater financial impact. I make what I love to make and not what I think will sell; because my pots are an extension of me, my hope is that my customers will feel that in the work. Keeping the reasons why I am making pots in the first place fresh in my mind protects me from a life that can become complicated and distracting. These principles help me to say no to things (even good things), because they would distract me from what I set out to do (I have to edit life just as much as I have to edit my pots).
Working with really good mentors is extremely valuable. I have been fortunate to work with some giants both in academia and in an apprenticeship capacity. The knowledge I have received from working closely with them is invaluable. Another thing that I find helpful is to have very positive people around me. I am blessed to have a wife who has enjoyed cobbling a life together with me. We give and take to support each other’s interests and careers. Our children often humble me with how on board they are with the life we have chosen. I also feel embraced by our community, which is very supportive of the arts in general.
I think it is so important to work under someone in the field. This will allow you more time to learn the mechanics and daily routine of a potter firsthand. Branch out and work in many studio situations to pick up different ways of working. Find the structure that works for you. Give yourself time and space to develop whether that is in an academic setting, residency, or private studio. Place yourself around supportive peers and work hard toward your goals. Connect with other artists and arts organizations and remember that they are there to help you. Take advantage of all the free resources within your grasp. Make sure you stop and have a little fun along the way!
PS: Check out the June/July/August 2015 issue of Ceramics Monthly to hear more from these working potters, and from Kristin Pavelka and Malcolm Greenwood. Also get glaze recipes from Jeremy Ayers, Amelia Stamps, and Kristin Pavelka!
Do you have additional advice on making a living as a potter? We’d love to hear from you! Share it in the comments below!