Tony Natsoulas, Sacramento, California

Natsoulas shown here working (and resting) in his Sacramento studio.

Natsoulas shown here at work (and at rest) in his Sacramento studio. Photo: Kurt Fishback.

Since I was a child, I have been making, breathing, and living art. My parents took me to museums in the ’60s and ’70s in New York City while visiting relatives. I was in high school and was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I did not want to do a receptive job; I wanted to do something creative, so I chose art. I figured I was good at art after winning prizes in high school art contests. While still in high school, I took some classes at the University of California, Davis, where Robert Arneson was teaching. People bought my work, and I got a positive reaction to my art even at a young age, so I wanted to make a go of living off of my artwork, and working doing something I loved and enjoyed.

I have been able to make my living making my art. The folks who buy my work are fine art collectors, museums, craft collectors, restaurant owners, gallery owners, teachers, curators, friends, neighbors, and cities that commission me to do pieces for them. I also do workshops and PowerPoint lectures for schools and websites.

As far as promotion goes, I have put together a large website, and do public presentations for commissions. I have landed several museum shows by sending the directors and curators a portfolio and résumé. I have been fortunate; people aware of my art, our art collection, who have seen a show, seen me lecture, or do workshops, have asked to feature my work in articles, books, magazines, television, and such. Kind of like a snowball effect, I put myself out there and it grows from there. I also send announcements via email and Facebook when ever I finish a new sculpture or am having a show.

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The advantages of how I market are that I get to control my own career, prices, money, how my art is represented and presented—and whom I want to see it. The money I earn is not split with anyone but my wife and cat. The artist is his or her own best advocate. When you control what is sent out on your behalf, you know it is all to your high standards and that the material written is correct. I can feel good about how I am being represented, because I take the responsibility in representing myself for the most part.

Current economic conditions really haven’t made me change or adjust anything. I am able to do more of my own work, now that the public commissions have slowed down. And my perception of the sculptor’s life hasn’t changed much over time. I have one rule: If you keep your overhead down, you have the freedom to do anything you want and enjoy. It has certainly worked for me.

Lee Counts His Snails Under the Bodhi Tree, 48 in. (122 cm) in height, 2009. Photo: Izzy Schwartz.

Lee Counts His Snails Under the Bodhi Tree, 48 in. (122 cm) in height, 2009. Photo: Izzy Schwartz.

I look at as much art (all mediums) as I can. I go to museums, galleries, studio visits, lectures, art and craft shows, talk to fellow artists, subscribe to many magazines, travel, go to movies, and am always aware of what is out there and what is going on in the world.

Ceramics should not be in a category by itself; it should be just another medium in the fine arts world. I don’t get it when I hear that critics don’t understand or know about ceramics so they can’t write about it. It is just another sculpture. Why do we have any shows, magazines, collectors, galleries or museums dedicated to one media? I don’t get it.

When I graduated from undergraduate school and was going to off to Maryland Institute College of Art, Arneson said to go to New York City and get a gallery and a studio. I wanted to keep making large-scale ceramic sculpture and could not see how I could do it there due to the high cost of living and the lack of big, affordable studio space. I have several friends who went to New York and had to wait tables and try to get artwork done in their time off. I feel like I may have missed out on getting a good fine arts gallery to represent my work on the East Coast at that time, but I think by staying here on the West Coast, I got a lot more work done. Looking at it now, I think I made the right decision for myself.

I am on health insurance through my wife’s work. Before that, we paid for our health care every month and the premiums were very expensive. I have never mixed glazes or clay due to the danger it poses to have dry chemicals and dust floating around the studio. My philosophy is that the commercial glaze and clay companies mix this stuff better and more efficiently than I do, with more consistency. I do try to stay fit and have in the last year given up using all leaded glazes on my work after finding more lead in my blood than the average person. Since then, it is lower than the average person. I try to wash out my studio once a week, and keep the large garage doors open so that I am not breathing that much dust from the clay and glazes I use.

If you’re interested in pursuing sculptural ceramics as a profession, take control. Be responsible for yourself, your art, and your own career. Be involved with every aspect of the business and keep your overhead as low as possible. Also, make what is in your heart and what you love or have some passionate feeling about. Get to know your medium, what it can do and what it can’t do. Learn your technique; you have to learn to spell and put words together before you can write a great poem. Look, look, look at everything and as much art as you can. Also, try to stay as humble as you can.

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