One day I will have a studio with high ceilings and walls of windows next to a fjord in Norway. At least that’s what I will keep telling myself. Elisa Helland-Hansen doesn’t have to keep telling herself that; she’s living this exact dream!
In today’s post, an excerpt from the April 2016 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Elisa welcomes us into her incredible studio and tells us how she got there after 30 years in the field. I apologize if it makes you jealous, but it’s good to have something to aspire to, right? Plus, Elisa also shares some marketing tips to help you move toward your goals! –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
P.S. To learn more about Elisa Helland-Hansen’s career path, including how she first got involved with ceramics in the 1970s, and about her life in Norway outside of the studio, check out the full article in the April 2016 issue of Ceramics Monthly.
In 2012 I had the opportunity to build a new ceramics studio near the small town of Rosendal in western Norway. The occasion leading up to this was having found a new life-partner through Internet dating a few years earlier.
Having worked as a potter for 30 years in the attic of a shared barn space near Bergen, I was aware of my needs and what kind of improvements I wanted to make for an ideal working situation in the future.
Architect Helge Schjelderup designed my new studio. I cherish the quality of the building every day and consider it a homage to the architect who sadly passed away before it was completed.
The studio is a separate building situated at a right angle to the house and creates an undisturbed inner garden space with a panoramic view of the Hardanger Fjord. The studio measures 18×50 ft. (5½×15 m.) with glass panels on one side facing the garden. The building is transparent, with a light axis going through the whole length. The studio has three sections—the first is a show and storage room, which is connected to a smaller room with a top-loading kiln. The following section is the working space. The end room is a combined office, library, and guest room. The 17½-cubic-foot gas kiln and storage for clay and materials are situated in an adjacent garage.
My favorite aspect of my studio is the high lofted working space with a skylight and—depending on the weather and time of year—an astonishingly beautiful view. The inner walls are painted plywood, which makes it easy to hang things. The rack for drying and storing work was the only furniture I moved from the old studio due to its practical construction and volume efficiency. The round metal bars can be moved around and the incorporated plywood damp box allows for slow drying. Aside from the wheel, one sturdy table on wheels is my only working space. When I need to photograph my work, I simply move the table against a wall, cover it with a photo back drop, and use natural light from a window. My habit is to completely clear this table after each working day. Having previously worked in the same studio for decades where dust and mess entered every corner and slowly nearly choked me, I was quite deliberate about establishing better habits in the new studio. After three years of working here it is still clean and orderly. Having a separate show room for the first time in my life has increased my direct sales to customers. I don’t keep regular open hours—people ask for private appointments to visit the studio.
I sell my work mainly through four channels: directly from my showroom, from exhibitions, from craft fairs, and through consignment with four gallery shops in Norway.
My customers are people who enjoy using handmade pots. Since I started making pots 35 years ago, I have arranged a yearly sale at my studio one weekend in December. This event has grown to be an attraction in the local community and represents approximately one third of my annual income. Keeping a mailing list from previous customers has helped me reach out to individuals to notify them about upcoming events and exhibitions.
Promoting my work through Instagram has also increased the interest for my work on an international level. I consider my website as a site to document activity, but find Instagram and Facebook more efficient in promoting events. Up until now, I have not sold a lot of my work internationally due to the shipping costs and customs regulations. For the upcoming group exhibition in May 2016, “The Woody Girls,” at TRAX Gallery in Berkeley, California, with Linda Christianson, Jan McKeachie Johnston, and Lindsay Oesterritter, I am excited for the opportunity to produce the work in the US at Linda Christianson’s studio. In addition to this show, I am also thrilled that I will be participating in the 24th annual pottery tour and sale organized by the Minnesota Potters of the Upper St. Croix River from May 6–8.