Sunday, September 12, 2010

Just trying to make a living making pots.

Potters always wring their hands trying to figure out what they should make.  I have asked myself this for about 35 or more years.  Should I make show pots or should I be the village potter?  I kick the dirt around and the I always come to the same conclusion.  You don't have to choose. Make both.

  Recently one of my students who is a great marketer suggested to Ian my son and struggling artist, that he have two lines.  He spends hours carving and laboring over every pot he makes.  He keeps complete notes on his glazing and that is something we all strive to do and most of us don't because we think we will remember. I have a lot of empty notebooks because I just want to do it, glaze and fire.  I think I will take that advice as well, two lines of work.

I have gratefully gotten into a really good show titled Vision Makers.  I feel lucky because the juror only chose 23 out of 185.  I had the pots made way in advance taking time to make "show" pots not my village potter pots. I did not make the pots for that show.  I just wanted to make some really nice pots.
  I would love to only make show pots because I have spent a lifetime making thousands of little pots.  My philosophy was to make pots my friends could afford for everyday use and thought that would help fill the world with handmade usable everyday objects.  That is a big task. Next, you find yourself worn out with no extra money and everyone expects you to make cheaper things.  Guess it kind of bit me in the butt.  Nearly all my students pots became more expensive than mine.

So then what happens? Well.  Unfortunately it is true that most people measure the importance of art by how much it costs. Before long, the ego gets involved and confusion sets in.  Most potters bail out at that point because they cannot afford to make pottery and they don't feel so good about it anymore. Of the 12 people I went to grad school with I believe on 2 or 3 of us actually tried to make a living making pots.  Others turned to real estate, education administration etc.  Not me, I just kept making until my body yelled "slow down lady!

Looking back, I think maybe I made a few too many village pots.  I live in an area where there could be a better understanding and support for the arts. When I first opened my shop, people came in surprised it was all one-of-a-kind work.  They asked me where I kept my molds. We have come a long way but there is always room for a lot more improvement.

One awakening for me has been the Vision Makers show. Several people came up to me with great compliments on my work saying things like, "Gee Linda, I have never seen such beautiful colors in your work."  Or "Now those are really great." I felt very appreciative of all the compliments.  But it was a reminder to me to keep making the good stuff.  It is kind of like when a woman gets a compliment when someone says,  "Gee, you look great when you wear makeup."

The juror was a great communicator and went from piece to piece with a critique. It had been many years since I had a critique of my pottery. It was enough to make me sit down my wine glass and food plate to hear what she would tell me.  And, it was rewarding. She got it.  She knew they were landscapes, she loved the colors, she knew they are built from spontaneously ripping the clay.  She also knew the time involved is in the glazing.  She had no negative words, only compliments and understanding.

I have often told students, it is not always the time involved when you make something.  More hours does not equal a better pot. I am not saying don't put in those long hours to learn the process. I am saying you cannot always make it better by working it to death.  And then we have the different approaches to creativity as well. Some people need lots of structure and to work tightly and some go with the flow.  There is no correct way.

I had to question the "time put in" idea as I delivered my work to the gallery having jumped through the jurying hoop.  I looked around a little as I placed my work on the table.  OMG there were woodworking pieces that took so many more hours than mine.  There was a piece with more that life sized cast body cast that looked like it belonged on front of a ship.  There was reflective glass in large pyramid shapes with stones inside.  There were baskets and intricate fabric and hours and hours of well executed art work.  I looked at my work, produced from what I see in my environment, from my heart and I felt like maybe I should go home and see if I could find something bigger and better.  Another artist bringing her piece in as well gave me the knowing eye because she felt that way about her work as well.

We should never take to seriously being included or excluded from a juried show.  That is so easy to say when you get in and so painful to the artistic ego when you don't.  Maybe that is one of the reasons I have not entered many shows in the last 20 years. Now it it a little more difficult technically with sizing photos and the professional approach you have to take.

I have an old friend from graduate school who worked on her degree in weaving. When we first got out of school we were ready to set the world on fire.  In a nutshell, later we both kind of shrugged our shoulders realizing even if be became incredibly famous in our areas probably no one in our general community would really care or understand.  Both of us just wanted to do our work and lead creative lives and we gave up on being superstars.  Just make it and they will come was our approach.
   I look back at the 60's -70's pottery books and the pots are photographed in warm lovely environments.  Not any more.  Now they must be properly lit with no distractions and look kind of like they are floating in space.  I get it but part of me wants to rebel and photograph  my pots in natural complimentary environments. "Mother Earth" would not make it into any competitions with that attitude.

My next eternal obstacle is still pricing.  It has to do with feeling humble, not wanting to play the game and not being very realistic.  I have told my students it a left over 60's way of thinking and I have a hard time letting go of that.  It has not paid off.  Several people once again scolded me for pricing too low again.  "Three times more than that!  That would be about right." some told me and I know they were right.  But they did sell and that reinforces those old bad low pricing habits.    I have about 10 new pots heading to an opening of a new gallery next week.  What to do.  Same old problem.

Vision Makers.  What a nice compliment.


  1. It was lovely to see your work there and to read your musings and rambles about the WHOLE process here: producing, being judged, marketing, selling. And keeping LOVE of craft alive. Balancing all that is working. By now, though, you as an artist shouldn't be paid only for "the" pot in front of you but the expertise you've developed across time. That energy deserves reimbursement and acknowledgement. Mary Whitney

  2. Thanks Mary. I absolutely hate pricing even after all these years. Simple small pots are easier. I think it has to do with the Warren MacKinzie attitude. I must just remember, times 3 is about right. Yikes.

  3. I love how candid you are about your work and your experiences, creative and business related. I know what you mean: I've been oil painting for almost two years, but my studies are in art and I've geen creating art of all kinds all my life, if experience is what counts. My parents and friends complain because I sell my paintings for so little money, but then none of them offered to give me more for them. My enameled jewelry also sells so cheap for the amount of work and materials that I spend on it that it is hardly worth selling it. I just want to get that little break that some artists just happen to find. Meanwhile, I am working on honing my craft and selling it for enough to cover my costs. I hope you'll come by and visit my site...

  4. Be right there Caroline. I would love to see your work. I am glad you care about what I am writing about. Will we find a solution?