A Virtual Studio Tour: A Glimpse Into the Work and Lives of Two Ceramic Artists

Don’t you just love visiting other artists in their studios? I do. Whenever I am traveling, I like to try to schedule in some studio visits because I love to see and hear about how other people work, how they organize their spaces, the tools they use, the little items of inspiration that are usually hanging around. I also like to talk to artists about how they make it work (i.e. make ends meet) and what their other interests are besides ceramics. It is endlessly fascinating to me, and since I am not working full-time as a studio artist, it makes me fantasize about one day doing so. If you’re like me, you will love today’s post. It comes from new series of articles in Ceramics Monthly, which can basically be thought of as studio visits in print. And you can think of today’s excerpt as virtual studio visits to potter Jeff Campana’s and ceramic sculptor Patsy Cox’s studios. Enjoy! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

Jeff Campana

The Studio

My studio is the main perk associated with my position as visiting artist in the ceramics program at the University of Louisville. The setting is urban and industrial, with the constant rumble of planes landing and trains passing by. I have a large private space (10 X 27 feet) that opens into the main ceramics studio classroom. It is nicely equipped with an air compressor jack, hood vent, sink, and shelves. I use the same kilns that are used for student work, so I must work with the ebb and flow of the semester and student demand for kiln usage.

Teaching and making work can get scrambled together, and I often find myself in conversations and impromptu demos that can last hours. It’s nice, but it makes it hard to get things done at times. Headphones are a good idea but don’t always work. That said, I love working within a community setting. If I spent as much time as I do in a completely private location, I would become an absolute recluse. This way, I get the bulk of my human interaction mixed in with the long studio hours I put in.

Most-used piece of equipment
The tile bat system I rigged up from a couple plasti-bats glued together. There is a square hole cut to accept terra cotta patio tiles. The tiles are dirt cheap, warp-proof, textured, absorbent, and fit nice and orderly on the shelves. I spent one afternoon making it about ten years ago. It still works flawlessly. It is so entwined with my studio experience that, at this point, I’d be lost without it.


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I am now in my second year of
teaching part time while making work full time. I hope to eventually
become a full-time professor. I’m not quite there yet, but that’s what
I’m working toward.I basically had to make the choice between
having health insurance and following my dreams. I can’t have both at
this point. My adjunct teaching positions do not come with health
insurance, but are necessary in gaining the experience needed to become
a full-time professor. They also don’t pay nearly enough for me to
afford to buy an individual health care plan. I’m between a rock and a
hard place; that’s just my reality for the next couple of years. I’m
keeping my fingers crossed, descending staircases with caution, and
driving defensively.Marketing
Most of my work is
sold directly. About 80% of my work is sold through Etsy.com, in
person, and through email commissions on my website. Various solo,
two-person, and invitational group shows make up the other 20%.

I
am a practitioner of social media cross-promotion, which is essentially
the act of promoting promotion tools. I use my twitter account to
promote my blog, store, and facebook fan page. I use each of these
venues to promote each other venue. Once someone has stumbled across my
work, there are hours of content to explore, and many ways to get to
know me in a casual internet sort of way.

Making strong, accurate images of my work is instrumental to this
approach. I say yes to almost every opportunity that comes my way, as
long as I’m certain it isn’t some sort of scam. That seems to be doing
the trick for now. The small online successes seem to build upon one
another to become one big success. The more websites that reference or
feature my work, the more attention it gets from other websites. I
would attribute many of the shows I have been invited to, jobs I have
gotten, and even this Ceramics Monthly studio visit at least in part to the growing online presence I have been cultivating over the last year and a half.

I
am occasionally haunted by my past in the form of my very first, very
embarrassing, geocities webpage popping up in the google searches. It
will only vanish if traffic to it stops. Lesson learned: everything you
put out in cyberspace will remain there indefinitely, so keep the
filter on at all times!

Most Valuable Lesson
I am
astounded at the volume of work that must be made and sold to make a
living. I truly had no idea what that looked like before I tried it. It
continues to terrify me. On the plus side, when you make that much
work, you get really good at it.

 


Patsy Cox

The Studio
My
studio is located in Los Angeles, California about a mile east of
downtown and a block south of the infamous Sunset Boulevard. One area
of the space (400 sq ft) is used for fabrication and the other (500 sq
ft) is primarily for packing, organizing and storing my work.

My
favorite aspect of the studio is that it is in the middle of the city
hustle. It has good lighting with a view of my succulent collection,
the inspiration for much of my work. However, the studio plays only a
small part in my creative process. Because the majority of my current
work is installation-based, it relies on the process of installing the
work in a specific space. In other words, I see my work as being
created in a studio without walls. If we define a studio as a space
where art is created and completed, without a doubt, the galleries and
public spaces where my work, such as Urban Rebutia (shown at left), is
installed must also be considered part of my studio. The true creative
process for my work takes place in the exhibition space where I
reconfigure multiple pieces to best convey my concepts while
considering my immediate surroundings. I am never absolutely sure what
the work will look like until the day I actually install it and it is
only a “work” for the time it lives in a particular space. The rest of
the time it’s hibernating in storage. When I open the dozens of totes
and see the masses of color, it’s truly an adrenaline rush as they pop
into my hands begging to be brought back to life again.

While I
benefit from the hustle and constant flow of action and people around
me, the dirt and grime of living in the city takes a toll on the work.
I dislike having to wash soot off my workspaces. Working in the middle
of such activity also lends to distractions – neighbors popping by
while out for a stroll, car alarms blaring, people rummaging through
trash bins and collecting recycling, the constant hum of helicopters,
daily gardeners blowing leaves and trash in the street, relentless dog
barking (my own included). Sometimes I wish for a small space on a
large plot of land in the countryside and wonder how such a tranquil
environment would affect my work.

Outside the Studio
I
take exercise very seriously. I participate in boot camp twice a week
and I train with LA Roadrunners for the marathon every year. I run at
least one half marathon or full marathon annually.

I’m lucky to
have health insurance through my position as a professor at Cal State
Northridge. I’ve also been very fortunate not to have any emergencies
(knock on wood). I have done some physical therapy in the past to
educate myself on posture to help prevent neck and back strain.

I
just finished a summer reading binge, which included Jumpa Lahiri’s
“Unaccustomed Earth,” Junot Diaz’s “The Brief and Wonderous Life of
Oscar Wao,” Sarah Waters’ “The Little Stranger” and Ori and Rom
Branfman’s “Sway.” I’m currently reading Seven Days in the Art World by
Sarah Thornton. To recharge I exercise and spend quality time with
friends and loved ones. Spending time with other artists always
motivates and refuels me as well.

Validation
For me,
validation has little to do with applying monetary value to the
equation of success. I find validation in the way that I have arranged
my life to enable me to make work that lives out my creative concepts
without limitation. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I’m able
to make my work and give back through teaching and mentorship
opportunities. My greatest validation is found when I see my students
become self-confident artists, meeting their goals while in turn
creating their own definitions of success.


This post was excerpted from Ceramics Monthly.

Don’t miss the other articles in the Studio Visit series!

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Comments
  • I was just enjoying a cup of tea from a mug of Patsy’s (from a mug trade back in college) when the Ceramics Arts Daily email showed up in my email inbox with her picture right there. Wonderful to see a picture of her studio space and to see her current work – it’s like walking back into her studio and chatting a bit!

    Great insight into both artists studios! Thanks…

    ~Marsha
    (Marsha Neal Studio)

  • WOO HEW, YEA, YOU DID GOOD THIS TIME. I WAS WONDERING WHEN YOU
    WOULD GET BACK TO THE BACK BONE OF POTTERY-THE PEOPLE. I WOULD LIKE
    TO SEE MORE FUNCTIONAL AND DECORATIVE [NOT WEIRD] REAL STUFF NORMAL
    PEOPLE USE EVERY DAY. I KNOW THAT SOUNDS AWFUL, I DO NOT SAY IT IN A MEAN
    WAY,I CAN APPRECIATE ALL THE TECHNIQUES AND WORK OF ALL POTTERY.
    I THINK YOUR READERS ARE READY FOR SOME OF THE OLD WAYS THAT YOU
    HAVE DONE IN THE PAST. CONE 6 OX. GLAZES,NEW IDEAS TO DO THE OLD
    EVERY DAY FUNCTIONAL THINGS, AND THIS NEW STUDIO THING IS GREAT.
    THANK YOU
    BRENDA BAKER
    potterybybrendab.com

  • The comment that follows is a response to an earlier comment that was removed from the site because it did not offer constructive criticism and was disrespectful in nature. We welcome criticism on the site if it is written in a respectful manner. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

    Thomas,

    My main RESPONSIBILITY is to make my work at my position at U of L. We are trying to teach students how to actually survive as a professional artist, and this must be seen to be understood. We lead by example. I feel that the value of education associated with this example is worth a lot more than the expense of a room and some glaze materials. I’d say the taxpayers are getting an excellent deal all around. I’m not sure such a bitter response on your part is necessary or warranted.

  • I thank you for leading us into the lives and thoughts of other ceramic artists. To see places, meet peers with minimal monetary and time investment make these articles winners!

    Lori Koop
    http://www.LoRiKooP.com

  • I am always improving my studio organization…it never seems to be optimal. I love getting more ideas from artist studios…. thanks for this look see.

  • Hi and thanks for the tour.I would love to see a photo or a description of Jeff’s tile/bat system. it sounds very interesting. Cheers Kim

  • Kim-

    Check out this post from the archives. It is a similar system to Jeff’s.

    /ceramic-studio-equipment/pottery-wheels/tip-of-the-week-quick-change-artist/

    -Jennifer Harnetty, editor

  • I can’t make the video work. Can anyone help? Thanks, Robyn

  • Hello Jeff and Patsy – thank you for the glimpse into your studio and working life. Here is Australia we are lucky to have health insurance -so you just gotta get onto Barack and get that organised!! IN the meantime keep on being careful and making such fabbo work. Well done.
    Lynda.

  • Inspiring and what perfect timing! After decades of playing in the mud and giving away pieces to friends/family and charity auctions, I am going to make it a part-time business. I decided on a sole proprietorship, applied for my fictitious name today from the State and am doing a tiny craft show at the local Y to get some research into what sells. Wish me luck!

    Vicky (Orlando, FL)
    Mudworks Pottery and Photoworks

  • right on, Jeff. Really appreciated your comments…from headphones and health insurance. I feel like a sociophobe wearing headphones around the studio sometimes, but often it’s the only way I can concentrate. (ie. when there’s a lot of inane conversation going down) ….And health insurance! Oh man. We gotta get with the system here in the U.S. Wouldn’t be a relief if we had health insurance???!!!
    AWESOME work (of course). Keep up the good work.

    ~Greg ( MantaWave.Etsy.com)

  • I love seeing this. I’d love to hear and share ideas on how to stay so organized. I am trying to get some of the potters in my area (there are so few) to get together for a “mug swap”. Thank you again for such a wonderful publication and for sharing with someone down south.

  • Health insurance (or lack thereof) is a hot topic and recurring problem for anyone who’s self employed. Please ask your local agent about a Health Savings Account (HSA.) It’s a tax-advantaged medical savings account available to taxpayers who are enrolled in a High Deductible Health Plan. The high deductible plan gives you a low monthly premium. The funds contributed to the HSA are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. Funds roll over and accumulate year after year if not spent. HSAs are owned by the individual and may be used to pay for qualified medical expenses at any time without federal tax liability. Expenses include things like eye and dental exams and prescriptions. Plus you get to pay the adjusted rate on doctor visits, etc. like the insurance companies pay. And preventative screenings (like mammograms) are 100% paid.

    It’s been a great option for my husband and I! Wish it had been available years ago!

  • I can’t get the videos to work either. Would really like to take a look. Our house, like many in Queensland Australia, is set high off the ground on stumps and it provides a space underneath where I have my modest studio.

  • I am a potter in India and it is wonderful to have such wonderful articles and insights to learn from. Thank you, Jennifer for all your hard work.
    Rekha Bajpe Aggarwal,
    Gurgaon, India

  • I also wanted to mention the discussions on health insurance. I am sorry to see this is such a preoccupation in the USA. Really sorry. I am a dual national and moved to Portugal 6 years ago. Even illegal immigrants have SOME rights to free or nearly free health care here. All a person needs to do is show up at the health centers, show some ID and proof of residency, an electric bill or cell phone bill and bam, it’s done. I have a 26 year old in the US who cannot get insurance because of a minor health issue that may or may not affect her in the future. The remainder of the world thinks the health care situation in the US is shameful.A wealthy country with care for only those who can afford it.Sorry to see that artists make career choices with health care in mind. That is not the way it should be. I hope this changes so that any artist can practice art and not hedging bets on health until coverage becomes available.

  • A fascinating insight.
    Have to admit, as a Canadian living in Norway (two relatively socialist countries with a very healthy welfare and health net) I’m flabergasted by the fact that health insurance plays such an important part in the accounting of your daily lives.
    Tough enough to be an artist/crafter and live with salaries that reflect our profession.
    You guys are an inspiration to anyone who has ever considered following their calling.
    Susy
    Vevang, Norway

  • Oops! I guess the title of this post was a little confusing. There is no video posted with this feature – just old fashioned images and text. Sorry about the confusion! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

  • My husband just finished my 1st little studio at the back of our extended garage. It is walled off, has three windows, two doors and part of the wall is on casters so it can swing open during the summer months. The space is only 8 X 21 ft. but there is plenty of room for my slab roller, wheel, extruder, kiln and a gas heat stove. My only challenge is to figure out every possible way to create work space for hand building. I look forward to any and all information that may be forthcoming. PS. I also am partial to the traditional pottery as I find alot of my collegues are. Lets continue to promote functional ware – the main reason pottery began, to help early people survive. Lin in Colorado

  • Fantastic artical, I really appreaciate getting an inside veiw of other ceramic artists currently working hard to establish themselves in traditional and emerging markets. I hope this will be a theme that contines to be developed.

    Cheers!

  • Sorry about the video. That would have been fun and really interesting. Maybe something to think about for future videos – which we all love!
    As a Canadian who spends a little time in the US and listens to Americans bemoaning the horrendous cost of health care and/or lack of it,I am astounded at the opposition your new president is getting to his plan to overhaul and allow healthcare to all. Maybe give him a listen and a chance to make some changes.

  • Thanks so much for this timely story. Can appreciate the real life issues of balancing being a potter and health insurance. I was unemployed for 7 months this past year and began seeing pottery as a potential career (happy to see other Etsy sellers). If I didn’t get the job I have now, I would have tried to do it full time. So now I don’t want it to happen again and would like to join or open my own studio – in Washington, DC. Seeking lots of advice on how I can do that, since I belong to a community studio where I can only get about 7 hours studio per week. I want more time, options, and more control. Advice welcome!!
    Sara
    goldhawkpotteryetc.etsy.com

  • WE WANT MORE of this kind of reporting…. MUCH MORE. Thoroughly enjoyable and exciting to see what others are doing. THREE CHEERS

  • About health insurance- while I was working as an artist in residence prior to finding an arts educator job- I purchased health insurance through my affiliation with the professional association, the NAEA. When I joined the National Art Education Association, I was offered an affordable policy that I used for a year before I became a full-time teacher. Think about it!
    jcousins

  • Just wanted to let you know that Potters Council introduced a New Health insurance group plan that many potters and ceramic artist have found beneficial. If you’re interested in learning more about the insurance or to even get a personal quote go to http://www.potterscouncilhealthplans.com or you can call 866-425-3335. If you have any other questions about Potters Council contact me at cdorr@ceramics.org.

  • What about the financial side? The sunny picture of Campana and Cox in their terrific work places, support and great opportunities doesn’t tell of the reality of most artists– a 2003 Canadian federal government report on fine craft placed the full time artist at below poverty level (in Canada under $20,000), on average sales of $60,000. http://www.canadiancraftsfederation.ca and in the USA (2000 CODA survey) for clay artists average $60,704 sales and $29,008 income. I doubt that things have improved since then.

    Unless there is other income, and/or people can live in some very inexpensive locales, just how do you survive as a full time artist? Cheers, smithpr1@telus.net

  • Thanks for the link Jennifer, I am off to check it out now.

  • I just started pottery class last June. And since then I love it because I can express myself on this. Im a graduate of business course and now that im older im having fun of creating and (hoping) becoming an entrepreneur at the same time. I was flashed by the title you sent on my email: “the DREAM JOB: a look into the studios of two SUCCESSFUL CERAMIC ARTIST…. Yes I am so excited to see artists’ studios and yes I am so excited to know how successful they are since it is describe as a DREAM JOB and SUCCESSFUL. Does this mean they are extremely artistic with a lot of galleries and shows, or maybe winning competitions, or they’re doing great financially selling lots and lots of ceramic art pieces, or both? This part of the website is one of the interesting topic. Hope to see lots of pictures. More power!!!

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