A Pottery Paycheck: Expert Insights into Making a Living as a Potter

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For many of us in the Ceramic Arts Daily community, making pottery is something we wished we were doing more often. We work hard to squeeze studio time in each week while juggling fulltime jobs, family, housework, sleep. We probably all fantasize at one time or another about opening a pottery and making a living doing something we truly love.

So I thought I would repost this excerpt from an issue of Ceramics Monthly a few years back. In this post, ceramic artist Diana Fayt shares her trials, tribulations and triumphs working for a living in this field. So if you are thinking of taking the plunge to fulltime pottery, read on for some expert advice. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

 


 

Making a Living as a Potter

by Diana Fayt

 

My career as a potter started fifteen years ago, soon after I graduated from the California College of Arts (CCA), though I only began to make a living from my ceramic work in 2005. Previous to 2005, I always had a secondary job(s) waiting tables, as well as teaching ceramics and art. After twenty years of that schedule, I got tired of being spread thin and decided to make a go of it with my work full time. Now, when I look back at those years, I wonder how I did it all. Flying solo has been incredibly satisfying and has also had its lean, mean moments, but somehow I always manage to make it work.

Making a living from my work was something that found me slowly. For many years I was really hesitant to give up the security of another income. Becoming burnt out from wearing too many hats at one time and the feeling of never being able to focus completely, was a key motivator for me to pursue my work full time and make a living from it.

 


 

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1workingpotters_large-300x197I sell my work through a multitude of venues. I have an online shop where I sell directly to customers. This has broadened my spectrum of buyers to a world market. It also helps to supplement my income, since I can sell my work for retail prices. I love having direct contact with my customers as well. The relationship aspect of selling my work, without a middle person, is really wonderful and I enjoy knowing where my work is going. I participate in a couple of local craft shows each year, and I host annual studio and holiday sales. I sell my work in galleries and participate in as many shows as I can handle. I find showing my work really helps it to stay fresh. In the past, a large part of my sales were from wholesaling my work, though that model is really tough to pull off with one-of-a-kind handmade work. I find the time it takes to make the work, handle all the details that must go into creating a wholesale line-like keeping up with communication and paperwork-is far too much work and really does not pay off.

 

In 2005, I decided to start writing a blog, (http://dianafayt.blogspot.com/). At the time, there were only a few blogs covering the topic of ceramics, and I thought it would be fun to give people a glimpse into what was happening in my studio as well as provide a dynamic aspect to my website. Doing this was, by far, the most advantageous way to promote my work. Because of the blog, I was able to share what I do with a much broader audience than if I was only showing my work in galleries and at craft shows. It also expanded my community of fellow potters and ceramic enthusiasts, as well as people in the design world. Selling on Etsy and promoting my work via design blogs has resulted in a great amount of exposure that I may not have received otherwise, including giving my work international attention.

 

2potterypaycheck_01-300x252The internet is a really wonderful tool for potters and artists to utilize to promote themselves and their work. However, this does not come without working at it. Managing an online shop, writing blog entries, keeping up with correspondence [and staying up to date on social media] can take up a lot of time. I think, in today’s world, it is foolish for artists not to take advantage of the internet. I know many potters who are not tech savvy and find it difficult to transition into the digital world, but an online presence would go a long way toward growing an audience for their work.

 

If I were to advise someone about pursuing a career in ceramics, the first bit would be to remain flexible yet focused. Though my work stays consistent, I find that I am constantly re-inventing myself in order to make a living with it. I do my best to keep an open mind about this. There really are a multitude of possibilities out there for one to have a career as a ceramist. Being too precious or limited in ones thinking can kill that dream.

 

To see what Diana Fayt is up to these days, visit her website at www.dianafayt.com or check out her blog at www.dianafayt.blogspot.com/.

 


 

For more great functional insights from contemporary potters, be sure to download your free copy of Contemporary Pottery: Functional and Conceptual Considerations for Handmade Pottery.

 


 

Comments
  • Yes, I also worked full time. “I put my daughter through college,” I am known to say. But what I sometimes don’t add is that while I was working full time in the studio, my husband supported me both financially and emotionally! I have no regrets!

  • From my own limited experience of having tried being a full-time artist at one time, I would add that a useful thing to consider is how you feel about having to produce *and sell* work on a regular basis to keep the necessary basic cash flow going…. unless you’re well-established or hit just the right market, that’s likely to mean having to compromise to some degree in what you do. In my case I found that when painting became ‘a job’, my creativity was not helped and the financial pressure undermined the sense of freedom and satisfaction for me, so I decided to have a main job (which I enjoy) to support my art (and gradually more potery now).
    It’s a bold move at present but if you’re well-prepared for the tough times when it all seems fruitless, then you’re likely to succeed…. good luck to those having a go and my respectful acknowledgement to those already doing it. 🙂

  • Hola vivo en México y me pregunto si tus vídeos vienen traducidos al español, me gustaría mucho contar con este material de apoyo tienes hermosas piezas, saludos desde México.

  • Wow, my dream was to do what youve done, Its fantastic! I have an unfinished dream and house/barn in France, can anyone advise???

  • I have worked as a full time studio potter off and on for the last forty plus years the last was for ten years.
    I made a survival income with a range of copper red work that I wholesaled to galleries and gift shops, these could be ordered from a product list of about thirty items. My biggest problem was that every so often I would have a brilliant idea that would give a better return for my efforts but these often turned out not to be so brilliant and the time and effort spent on these kept us on as I said a survival income. I have just retired from a teaching position and will continue to produce my copper reds but will be more realistic about the red Jaguar. I also have no regrets and I am still married.

  • How many potters do make a living without the help of a spouse or by teaching?

  • I agree with Diana – you must embrace the internet for it’s ability to inform your customers and market your work. Social media like Facebook is a free and very effective way of promoting your work. As in anything, you need to have a balanced approach. If you are not careful, you can be drawn into spending too much time talking about your work instead of making it. I suppose they call that “discipline”. Her point about having a flexible mind is critical. No one’s life is the same and each approach will face different challenges.

    I spent 4 years as a full-time potter after having been laid off in 2008 from a job in graphic design. None of this would have been possible without my wife’s support and her full-time job to keep things going. I was in my mid 40s when this happened and starting an art career at this stage can be a bit tricky from a financial standpoint. We have 3 children 12, 14, and 16. All of them are on track to go to college. I began to see as my oldest reached 16 that my projected income (increasing nicely each year) would not be enough to help with the costs of college for 3 children. The math showed that it was not going to work. The other truth of this career is that shows eat up a large number of weekends during the most beautiful times of year and you miss out on time with your wife and children.

    More important than any of this, before you even get started, is an honest assessment of yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. I made appreciable progress as a potter but my strengths don’t support my being an individual business man. I do much better in a collaborative environment where I am part of a team. I am back in the field of graphic design and very pleased to be there. For me, it is a much easier way to make a living and participate in my family’s life and I definitely enjoy the work.

    Do I miss being a potter? I do miss the interaction with the great people that I met at shows and the creative process of being able to dedicate so much time to perfecting shape, color, and function. But I can always go back to it when my life is more simple.

  • Just do it, if you can. I waited until retirement and now my hands can’t do the work very easily. Do it while your body still works!

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