Working Potter Mark Knott Shares his Secrets to Success in Pottery

I never get tired of talking to other potters about not only their processes in the studio, but also how they manage their businesses outside of the studio. I find there is always something to learn.

In today’s post, an excerpt from the Ceramics Monthly’s Working Potter series, successful potter Mark Knott shares his approach to the handmade pottery business. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

 


 

I found myself frustrated in a job I really did not like and I woke up one morning and realized I had not been in my studio for months. At that time, I was painting and had not made any studio pottery in some eighteen years. I thought if I was ever going to be successful as a studio artist I was going to have to pursue it full time. This brought me back to my roots as a maker, as a studio potter. This leap was challenging and a bit daunting, but within two years I was making my living as a full-time studio potter. Now, looking back at the past ten years, I know it was the right choice for me. I feel happy as an object maker and am humbled that my work adds joy to people’s lives.

My life has become an exercise in discipline, commitment, and time management. I have accepted what I’m good at and realized that I can’t do everything, at least not well. So, allowing others to build things or photograph my work keeps me focused on my work. I have also worked hard to have a simplified rhythm to making my studio life, and to my pleasant surprise it has carried over to all aspects of life. For that I am grateful.

 


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I’ve had great training and studied at great schools, but still you will never know if you can succeed until you commit yourself and your resources to your own studio. That’s a hard decision, but one I’m glad I made!

The balance of selling at fairs, galleries, from my studio, and online seems to be working well. The art fairs are physically demanding, but the return is 100%. The galleries I work with most (Signature Gallery and The Crimson Laurel Gallery) both get my work in front of an audience I otherwise would not have access to. Online sales seem to be on the increase, and I will focus more energy there in the next year. These venues also keep me in charge of what I make. The one promise I made to myself when I went back to full-time studio work was that I was not going to compromise the integrity of my work. The relationships with galleries and buyers is one that I’m in control of. I say this because, for me, being able to continually evolve my work is important. I want to understand what I’ve made in a series, and take that information into the next series or cycle. This constant critical evaluation allows me to grow creatively as a studio artist.

I do use social media on a regular basis. It has exposed my work to literally thousands of new viewers. It’s really a fantastic tool, and will only continue to grow.

For me, the solution for maintaining my health is to get to the gym at least five times a week. This is sometimes a challenge when traveling, but keeping my body in shape has really helped. The regular exercise helps me in particularly stressful times as well. And just as important, it gets me out of my studio, giving me time to think and clear my mind.

I have health insurance now through my wife’s employer, but in prior years I carried my own insurance as a catastrophic policy. I have so far been blessed with a strong body and no medical issues, but as we all know, that can change in an instant. Artist do need to be responsible and have some kind of coverage.

I would strongly recommend that those early in their careers try to find some sort of apprenticeship or residency in a working studio. This will provide the understanding of what it takes to make your living as a studio potter. Then you need to treat your studio not only as a creative environment, but as a business. It is a job! As I stated above it’s a job I love. I get to design and produce beautiful objects, how lucky am I! I am also responsible for all the success and failures as well.  As a studio potter you will experience both!

The Time It Takes

Years as a professional potter: 10

Number of pots made in a year: 1500–1700

Making work (including firing): 65%

Promotions/Selling: 30%

Office/Bookkeeping: 5%

Where It Goes

Retail Stores: 2%

Galleries: 15%

Craft/Art Fairs: 70%

Studio/Home Sales: 10%

Online: 3%

For more information or to see more image of Mark Knott’s work, please visit www.markknott.com

Comments
  • Attractive work, Mark. I do have to take issue with this statement, though.

    “The art fairs are physically demanding, but the return is 100%.”

    We participate in 9 or 10 juried shows a year, and the cost of doing the shows is very close
    to what it costs to sell through a gallery. Gas we use to travel to shows is a major
    expense and there’s always a significant booth fee at good shows. Some of our art fairs charge upwards of a thousand dollars for the weekend – or they charge a hefty percentage of sales. Of course, many of these shows bring in the buying public.- and are worth the high fee. But we don’t think we get anything close to 100% from selling at shows. What we do get is the pleasure of meeting our buyers and the benefit of their comments.

  • Agree with Jan Wax. Travel expences can be huge.
    Up side is we DO get to meet our customers and have interaction with them. Having them appreciate our work is very fullfilling. My best memory is when two kids were getting a Mothers day gift. They must have been 12 (brother) and 8 (sister) years old they came in our booth looked then left. They looked at everything else at the show and came back and bought a dish for their mother. It still makes me smile and warms my heart.

  • Thank you, Jan. He must not be counting his expenses. I’ve even done some where I was giving away the pots–never did make expenses!! And the pleasure of meeting the buyers is more than worth the time and effort. I always get an idea which makes it fun to go home and back to making!

  • When I started out in my clay career, my first efforts were to enter museum competitions, nationwide. Then the Ann Arbor Art Fair came into being so entered that with great success. Other fair event followed. Then we decided to open ouw own studio in northern Michigan. There on an average, 50% went to all expenses adn 50% for profit and daily living. Didn’t get rich but had a full and satisfying life in those 20 years of being open to the public. I encourage all who are able to do so is open their own studio. Art Fairs are physically wearing and as one ages, strength and stability start to take a toll on ones body. I have survived more than 65 years of potting, selling and teaching.

  • Congratulations, Mark. Warms my heart and makes me thankful that an artist of your calibre has managed to juggle your time schedule as well as you have done and has realized that a fit body is one of the best insurance to keep on potting. Good luck with all your endeavors.

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