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Emily Reason is a potter, artist, and Instructor in Professional Crafts and Ceramics at Haywood Community College in North Carolina. She holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and BFA from West Virginia University. Emily’s ceramics career has encompassed artist residencies, writing, teaching, and exhibitions.
That is a good question. I think it has to do with how you present yourself and your work to the public. And probably to some degree that you are earning some level of income from it, whether it is just part-time or full time. Participating in the professional marketplace in some capacity, I suppose.
You seemed hesitant of mentioning money making as defining a professional. Why is there is a hesitancy about that?
Because I think that quality of the work should come first. I am sure there are lots of people who make professional quality work who never sell it. I guess by definition professional must mean something that you earn some money at, that would be kind of secondary as the work needs to be of the best quality first and foremost.
How important are mentors to show the path for someone?
Well, I think as a teacher our job is to help students discover their own creativity and their own abilities but it is the student’s job to rise to the occasion. I try to present students with as much information and opportunity as I can. So it is part my responsibility and part theirs.
What is your favorite marketing platform for showing off work?
I am no expert in social media. When we talk about social media in our Crafts Marketing class we are encouraging students to think about it as a part of their portfolio as a part of a brand that they are establishing. It is important to keep in mind that it is a trend and it will change. The platform is something that will always be changing.
How important is flexibility in being a marketer or promoter for yourself?
It is absolutely critical. And I don’t mean to belittle the power of Instagram because it is tremendously powerful. So that flexibility is important. Don;t put all your eggs in the basket of Instagram because some day it is going to change. Figure out a smart way to use it as the powerful tool that it is and be aware you can use those strategies in other platforms.
My last question for you is: What is your favorite tool to work with?
Probably the two tools that are the last tools to touch every piece which is either a chamois to smooth the rim when I am all done and I have a red plastic rib that is so well burnished it has almost lost it’s color. It is almost clear. I also use it to burnish the foot and the walls.
Originally from Cedar City, Utah, Brandon Peña is a functional potter currently teaching high school ceramics classes at Box Elder High School in Brigham City, Utah. Brandon received a BFA degree from Utah State University in 2016. Brandon discovered his passion for clay after taking his first ceramics class in high school; he now finds joy being able to share that passion with his own students. Aside from Making pottery, Brandon is an avid skateboarder who puts just as much time and effort into increasing his abilities on the board as he does with making his pots.
The biggest thing is just the ability to see potential in everything. I have felt like that as it relates to clay and you just look at these blobs of earth that you can mold and do stuff with and you can make anything out of it really. I see it every day in everything I do really. It kind of ties into my love of skateboarding too. I don’t know who else drives around town or walks down the street and looks at stairs and is fascinated by stairs and handrails and just random things on the street. It is about being creative on a skateboard and thinking what could I do on that. Or in the studio with clay, what could I do with this. How can I make this into something beautiful?
How much does drawing from your background affect what you are making?
I think it affects what I making more than I allow it to in a way. I think everything from my background plays into my making, whether I want it to or not. There are always these outside influences that push you one way or another and kind of shape the way you see the world and I think it shapes what I put into my own work.
How does the current social world we live in now impact the way you make or what you make?
Yes, I would say so and not always for the better. Sometimes it is for the worse. Especially with things like Instagram or things like that it is a very good platform for showing your work and discovering your work that you like, but at the same time sometimes I wonder why am I actually doing this. Am I doing this because it is something I am interested in or because I want someone to see it and then be interested in it. So I think it is a push pull or both positives and negatives.
What role does an artist have in the world today?
I think artists have an important role. We are getting to a point where everything is so one directional in a way with certain pushes. You really can’t have everything we have without the artist that has the creative mind that thinks through the problems. I think creative thinking in general is important. once everybody, no matter what field they go into, sees themselves as an artist and kind of establishes themselves as an artist in their own right, that’s when problems start being solved.
How important is it to have other creative people in your life?
It is extremely important. To have a community of people that have a similar experience, especially those that are makers too, being able to look at other people’s work and them being able to look at yours and being able to have a conversation and a little bit of a critique about it, you definitely get to see things in your own work that you overlook and you can get feedback from people. At the same time you can see work you really, really like and you can pick their brain and ask why they are dong certain things and discover new things from them.
Do you have any triggers that help you get into creative mode?
Honestly sometimes it is just having a good day. I think that is the biggest trigger that makes me creative. Personally I connect my love of ceramics and skateboarding together and sometimes when I feel more creative skateboarding and I do something new skateboarding it kind of helps me be more positive about being creative doing ceramics. It makes me want to do it more. Because I have those two things that kind of tug at each other.
Say you had twenty-four hours left to live. What would you do?
I think I would just spend it with my wife and just be with her.
Phil Lyons is an artist, musician, and teacher in Madison, Wisconsin. Phil has been teaching ceramics & sculpture for the last 17 years at his alma mater, Madison West High where he replaced the legendary Don Hunt. Phil says, “I run one of the biggest and best high school ceramics studios anywhere!” Phil has an amazing wife (Judy) and three grown, creative sons.
How important is listening to being a good teacher?
I think that when you give students a voice and give them some control in terms of what they are making and expressing themselves, that’s what it is all about. For me I am trying to give them the techniques and the strategy to being their ideas to fruition. Inevitably that involves listening. These kids have so much to share in terms of what is going on in their lives, they have a lot of rich experiences that they want to try to bring out in their works of art. So that involves listening.
How long do you teach them, This is the way to do it?
That is interesting. After I graduated from high school I went to Madison and then I went to Alfred and I learned by watching my mentors that everybody has their own way of doing it, so I understand. I don’t require them to do it a specific way. I mean their are certain parameters with forms, like we do a mug test and the mug has to be 5 inches tall and cleanly tooled with a nice foot. I mean there are certain parameters that we go for but their are some kids, I teach them three different ways to center they clay. For some people this pulling technique might work better, for some people the heel of your left hand and put your elbow in your rib, lean in and that works better for other people. You have to be flexible.
You mentioned show up, try, and clean up. How important is consistency in teaching?
I think it is important for kids, once they have had me for a few weeks they know my system and they can flourish in that system because they know the expectations, they know the rhythm of the class. But as I get kids for a second and third year they know my system and my process and that just gives them a freedom and a comfort level in the room and it allows them to flourish I think.
Is there any room for friendly competition in a classroom setting?
There is absolutely room for friendly competition. We have our pottery Olympics during our fine arts week in May every year. Kids definitly sort of challenge each other in terms of trying to out do each other with the speed,with the height, and the weight of their pots. That is healthy I think.
How important is the power of praise in a student’s life?
Oh man, with teaching praise can really inspire a kid to stick with something and work hard. It has to be genuine. You have to give them a little taste of honest constructive criticism too. But it is always balanced with praise. When we do critiques and we ask kids to say something that they like about a piece and then maybe how they would do it differently or something that the person could have improved upon. So honest, genuine praise is definitely a great thing and a powerful tool for any teacher, but you have to have the constructive criticism to go along with it.
How do you after thirty years stay excited to teach students year after year?
I am fifty-nine years old and I am actually retiring in June, Paul, from teaching in the public school but I do not feel fifty-nine at all. I am still in pretty good shape health wise and I hang out with teenagers all day, every day, and I think it has really kept me young. Clay is a very engaging material and I have had nothing but fun working with clay my whole life, so the idea that I get to go work with kids who are excited about coming to my class, I have had the best job in the world for the past 17 years for sure. It has been a good ride for me.
Alana Wilson is a ceramicist based in Sydney, Australia. She has been practicing ceramics for 7 years, since graduating from the National Art School with a BFA (Hons) in 2012. She exhibits regularly both nationally and internationally, most recently in Japan. While most works are essentially contemplative, the ode to traditional forms seeks to honor the nobility of the vessel and it’s foremost function alongside an inherent respect of ceramics as a medium. Subtle surface destructions and experimental glazing and firing techniques are a major focus in the studio. Firing to 1260ºC allows the metamorphosis of surface degradation to be captured, appearing to exist in a state of motion and decay, even once cooled. These quiet meditations into the beauty of the decayed utilitarian attempt to captivate and impel the viewer beyond the physicality and functionality of the works.
What platform or service do you use for your website hosting?
I use Wix.
Why did you choose Wix?
Back when I created my website it was probably the first one that popped up on Google and I tried it and it sounded quite simple to use. I have looked at switching to Squarespace but just the idea of having to upload all the images again is not that enticing. Wix seems to do the job for what I like 90 percent of the time I guess.
Do you do the management of your website or did you hire someone else to put it together?
No, I did it myself. If you have a site like Wix or something similar it is all visual, you don’t really have to get too much into the nitty gritty of it I guess.
How hard or how long was the process of building a website from scratch?
It is pretty straightfoward with a web builder like Wix. You can see it all visually in front of you, you don’t have to understand too much about coding or anything like that to build it. I learned a little bit about SEO tags to help people find us when they use Google.
Tell me about SEO. Can you explain what it is and then how you implement it into your website?
Probably mostly for images I will add little SEO tags, key words that people can type in. For example key words might be Alainawilson ceramisist and I want my work to show up. It is like a hashtag in a sense, on social media in that it pulls certain image up.
You mentioned hidden tags or back tags. What do you mean by that?
It’s hidden in that it is not visible on your website. It is not a visual element. It is in the settings. You are entering different words and things but it is not actually visible on your website but it connects to other search engines and things like that.
Are you able to track how people find your website?
Some of them through Google analytics. They have quite a good system that tracks all the ways people get to your website and when they click and where they are from and what age they are and things like that.
Does Google analytics show if your SEOs are being effective?
Yes, it does and it will give you tips. And the web builder that I use will give you tips on what pages or images need more or less SEO settings to help improve visibility for your website.
What is your favorite thing to do when you are not doing ceramics?
When I am not doing ceramics? Probably swimming or at the beach in some way. Or just out and about amongst nature more than crowds and the city hustle and bustle.
NCECA 2019 was an amazing conference for clay people from around the world. I met people from Scotland, Russia, New Zealand, Norway, Canada, and of course, the United States. And everyone has one thing in common… Clay! This is the largest conference of its kind in the world. In this episode I interview random attendies of NCECA.
Reiko Mihagi is a native of Japan who got her ceramic education in Tokyo and experience as a studio potter in Mashiko, a renowned pottery town. After moving to the US Reiko experienced new materials and techniques and developed her signature sgraffito stoneware. Reiko work is infused with an appreciation of subtle beauty and the animistic view of the world from her native land. Reiko lives in Western North Carolina and, along with her pottery studio, runs a small market garden with her husband.
You said it is important to do the same thing every day. How often are you in making mode?
I do it in a batch. I make the body and then I draw, I do sgraffito. I am someone who takes a long time to get into the mode. But once I get in the mode I do not need to eat or sleep very much, but it just takes too long to get into that mode.
What is a typical workweek look like for you?
I have to go to the studio gallery 2 to 3 times a week. When I do not have to go to the studio gallery I make a clay body and throw. My morning starts late. I am a night owl. I am not very active in the mornings. So I get up and have a coffee time and get on the computer and study and getting inspiration from this and that. That is a time to get on social media and things. The rest of the day I go to my clay studio and make things. When I have a gallery shift I go to my gallery and I bring my plates, mostly plates and cups and I do sgraffito there. So I get some work done while I am showing the demo to the customers. Customers really like seeing the process. It is good for the sales and it is good for the customers to see the artist working. It is kind of a win-win situation.
How much time do you divide between your home studio and your community studio?
It is a little more at my house than at my community studio, close to half and half or 60 to 40.
How much time do you spend on social media for marketing?
More than I would like. In an ideal world I would like to put a 30 minute cap but I tend to spend more. Which is something I want to fix.
You mentioned the ten thousand hour rule. Do you believe wholeheartedly in that or do you believe there are some shortcuts one can take?
Well, there are pros and cons about taking shortcuts. I think if you do it thoroughly of course you master the skill and what is the purpose of mastering the skill, if you get muscle memory doing something then you have room in your brain to spend on other things. Like expression and things like that. playing the piano for example, while you are struggling with how to move your fingers you could never go to expression or things like that. So in terms of art I don’t have to worry too much about how should I move my carving tool. It is pretty fluent for me right now. So I can really focus on visual image and things like that. So if you do short-cuts, I don’t know. It depends on the person I think. Some people like to spend a lot of time on really basic training and some people are able to figure it out a lot quicker than other people. So it comes down to the individual, but I would not overlook a body of basic skill.
Which is your preferred way of selling, online or in person?
You know, in person is the easiest by far because I do not have to do shipping. I have the studio gallery so it is very easy for me to do. So if I can get the same amount of sales I would rather do it in person. I enjoy communicating with the customer and they get to hear what I say about the art, so they can enjoy my work more. Surely they enjoy talking to the artist. So I prefer that way above the online store. But the online store does other things, I can certainly sell my work to people who live a long distance away. So it helps to have both.
Since graduating from Auburn University with a BFA in 2007, Chad Nelson has been making and selling pottery. The main goal of Chad’s work is to help people smile a little bit more every day through the use of his functional stoneware.
Your work is so playful and fun. Do you ever feel like you are not being taken seriously because they are not serious pots?
Actually I kind of got over that when I left college. I was in galleries and I felt like I was producing pretty good work, in my opinion, it was the best work that I had done. And it wasn’t getting taken seriously at all. I was over it, you know, like people try to put labels on every thing. Are you a potter or are you artist? Or are you a handi-crafter? I am kind of over all the labeling stuff. I just do what I do and if people like it they buy it if they don’t they don’t have to buy it.
How do you choose the shows that you want to be a part of?
Actually these days I have kind of throttled back on the shows. Now I choose which shows I don’t want to go back to. It has just gotten to the point where it is well over a part time thing. I am working week-ends most of the time, just to get stuff done. In the beginning we tried a lot of art-type shows and we don’t do as well at art-type shows. That is not really what I am offering. I am not offering large sculptural pieces. I mean I have made some larger vessels but honestly they really don’t sell as well as a functional mug. So we do better at home shows and that kind of thing.
Have you figured out where your best place to sell is?
That has shifted last year with social media. I honestly haven’t had the chance to look at the numbers. We will look at it with the taxes this year. We do best in the home goods, like hand-made home goods stores. Those tend to do best. Stores that offer things for the home but also art. Those kind of places are our best sellers for sure.
Have you figured out how many mugs you have to sell a month in order to survive?
Not really per month, I don’t really think of it that way. We have always made our money at the end of the year. So certain times of the year it will be a little drier. I figured out how many cups I need to make to last through the year. I know how many I need to make per week to get through the year. And that number is about 120 every week.
If you make all your money at the end of the year, how important is budgeting for the rest of the year?
We don’t live a glamorous lifestyle. We have always had enough though. Somehow someway, we have always managed to make it. We are pretty careful, I have driven the same truck since I was 18, for example. I do less than 3000 miles a year, but it is things like that. I could probably afford to get a different truck, but we don’t do stuff like that because I make pottery for a living.
If you could do anything else, would you do it?
Not at this point. I am still really enjoying it. ANd the thing about this is, it is kind of re-inventing itself every now and then. For example, we did the classes to begin with, we have moved over to more sales, we have done heavier show years, we have done heavier shop years, we have had slower years where I don’t travel as much. Last year we started social media which was very new and adventurous and fun. You can always take it in a little bit different direction and change things up.
Trevor Foster has been working full time with ceramics for the past 10 years. Trevor has a BFA in Ceramics from the University of Washington were he studied under Akio Takamori and Doug Jeck. He operated a delft ceramics factory in Seattle for 2 years as an apprentice to Charles Kraftt. Trevor currently operates a ceramics studio in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Trevor’s ceramics have been exhibited in 6 different countries over the past 2 years.
Why would you run a Kickstarter to fund the lifestyle or the trips that you have been doing? Why Kickstarter?
Kickstarter has some good sides and some bad sides. I will start with the bad thing about Kickstarter is it kind of has this beg kind of feel to it that I don’t like at all, where you are asking for support. So I try to approach it from a different perspective and just try to make a product that it is at a price point that people can afford. Because it is kind of like you are wholesaling to individuals the way you take the orders before you fulfill them, it makes it so that I can offer a piece at the best price possible. That is what I kind of aim to do with my Kickstarters.
Tell me what that looks like then, wholesaling.
So rather than, if somebody wants to order one cup, that is kind of difficult, you have to get the packaging for it, wrap it up, bring it to the post office, so if you could get 150 people to do that then you can get all the boxes organized and get all the firings lined up and make a few trips to the post office instead of all these individual ones. It just kind of makes it so the whole process flows smoother. And I can pass the savings on to the people that support the Kickstarter.
Why Kickstarter as opposed to Indigogo?
I think I did it several years ago and Kickstarter was a little more popular. But I think Kickstarter has a really good format. It is a short video and specific rewards, and I kind of like the idea if you are all in or all out.
How do you go about setting about your rewards? Do you have different levels for people?
Yeah, again, the part about Kickstarter that I like the best is that I can make something that people can afford, the lowest possible price point that I could ever do. I set that up as the basic first reward and then the subsequent rewards I can still keep pretty affordable. I try to have a low level, mid level, upper level.
How about setting goals for yourself for Kickstarter? Is it better to have a lower goal so you can reach it or is it better to have a higher goal?
I kind of believe in the lower goal. Or what you think would make it worthwhile. So far I have done two and I have doubled the goal both times.
Is there a premium time for how long you would like your Kickstarter to last?
From what I have read 30 days is the golden ticket.
Do you ever have any shipping losses as you are sending them around the world?
Yes, as I am sure you and your audience know about this. These materials are not the most resilient and I do lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 percent of all orders that I have shipped out.
What happens when you lose something? What is your standard response?
I just eat it and send another one.
Does that mean you make more than enough for back up?
Yes. You always have to pad it a little bit with an extra five or ten percent.
My last question for you: Do you have a good joke?
I heard a good pottery joke the other day. So I will try that one.
So there is a lottery and it’s three million dollars and it turns out three people get the same number. So they have to split it three ways, each one getting a million dollars. A doctor was one of the winners, and he decides, I’m going to buy an island and cash out and retire and drink Mai Tais in the sun. The second winner is a social worker and he decides he is going to retire, cash out his 401K and just play golf for the rest of his life. The third winner is a potter and he decides he is just going to keep doing craft fairs until the money runs out.
Rachel Love graduated from Western Washington University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mixed Media. Though Rachel’s core focus while enrolled was printmaking, fibers, and photography, she prepared herself for a multitude of creative avenues by taking many other courses in almost every other branch of artistic expression the institution offered. As time has gone on and experiences and families have grown, Rachel currently devotes a majority of her time to her family and young daughters but has still been able to enrich and expand her business which can be found online under the name of High Yield Studio. Rachel is preparing for an exciting 2019, where she will continue to utilize her mixed media skills and expand on her true love and biggest interest which is creating ceramic pieces.
The idea of a co-op is fascinating to me. Did you reach out to them or did they reach out to you?
They reached out to me.
How long did it take for you to see a “return on investment”?
I don’t know if there has been a return on investment. I know that there’s followers but I don’t believe there has been.
How often do you get people DMing you to buy things?
Probably the same amount that I would get on Etsy, which is not a whole lot. I think I get a whole lot more of my sales when I am in person at art fairs. I almost sell out.
Why do you think followers hasn’t translated into sales?
You know I am still trying to figure out that formula. I think I have come to the point where in the beginning I thought it was about numbers and now I truly know that it is not. It is about those real followers. Which I don’t know if they are following because a friend is following or things like that, I don’t know how Instagram works for the other people. I can’t speak for them, I know how I use it, but I just don’t think that it does equal the sales in that respect.
How many craft shows have do you do in a year?
I have not done them since my daughter was young and she’s seven now so I haven’t done them in quite some time. But I did five in a summer. I had never done the Christmas holiday or anything like that. Right now I am thinking about how I want my booth to be. I have been sketching how I want it to look. I really want a feel, a look. And something easy that I can pack in the car and do on my own and unpack and rock it and have it look nice.
How much time do you devote between family time and making time?
Right now I am 90 percent family and 10 percent pottery.
What is your favorite family outing?
Well, every year my husband takes a little time off and we like to drive to the coast to go to the beach. That’s fun. We just went to Yellow Stone where I worked, so they got to see where mom lived and worked. That was really fun. We basically just play around our house. We are simple, we like to get our coats on and take a walk up the street and just look at the neighborhood or things like that. A favorite outing is anytime we can spend together.
Lydia Johnson is a ceramic artist and designer who works full time in her studio in Manchester, Connecticut. Lydia’s work has been exhibited across the country at galleries such as The Clay Studio, Northern Clay Center, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Lillstreet Gallery, and Artstream Nomadic Gallery. Lydia was the recipient of the 2017 Individual Artist Fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission. This spring, Lydia will be a demonstrating artist at the Florida Heat symposium and showing work in Tokyo, Japan, and at the Architectural Design Digest show in New York City.
So important. I don’t know, I guess that it is and it isn’t. I could roll slabs and I go the Shimpo slab roller which is has been great. I was able to buy it with a grant before I was hand rolling and the reason why it is important is only because of how thin I roll my slabs, it kind of helped me streamline my process a little bit because the more you hand roll the more even and quick you can get. But there is something about the slab roller that allows me to make a giant slab very, very thin. Even rolling on a slab roller there is a lot of nuance to it which can be frustrating. But hand rolling something like that is a lot more tricky. It takes a lot more time.
You said Instagram was a very public place. Do you feel like people are copying your work or have you seen that happen?
Yeah, I don’t know. I can’t think of anything I have seen where I think, That person is copying my work. I have taught a couple of workshops and so people are using the process in their own work, but that is how that goes. No big drama or anything yet on my end with that.
Now that you are teaching workshops do you have things that you hold back?
I probably say yes, but the truth is the actual process, I mean I guess the way I want to share what I do is much more than just the technique. Because the technique is actually incredibly straightforward. It is stenciling. I am stenciling in layers and stenciling in nothing new. I guess I am using it in a unique way. What I actually like to share more about is pattern development and thinking through ideas and talking about colored clay and things like that. It is more about empowering people with knowledge so they can apply to whatever way fits what they do now. Because honestly the way I work is not very fun , there is a lot of things I love about it, but it is not like, Let’s sit down at the wheel and throw and make some stuff. The way I describe it is 70 percent designing, cutting materials, and cutting stencils. So the actual process is straight forward, it is more about how do you take imagery and pattern and apply it to your own work.
How much loss do you experience when you are sending your cups through the kiln?
I experience more than I would like. I would say for every 40 I get out of the kiln I lose 6, something like that. Certain pieces will crack more that others just by the way I make them. What I have trouble with is just not having made enough of other things, like plates and bowls. I make some but I get more loss with them because I haven’t spent enough time learning about them. On Instagram, it is funny you can post pictures and no one knows that they are cracked. I pulled an entire load out at Christmas time of plates and platters and every single one of them was cracked. They were cracked horribly but you couldn’t see it from the pictures.
How much time from start to finish do you put into making a cup?
That is such a hard question because so much goes into getting to the end, but I would say at least an hour per piece. possibly an hour and a half. I am starting to get that question more and I don’t have an answer, but I would say about that much.
How do you go about mixing your clay?
I have a twenty gallon trash can on wheels and I mix my own clay body with raw materials. I actually have a really good system now. It took me about two years to get a system down that did not drive me nuts. So what I do now is I mix a big tub of liquid what based clay, and I have a chart that I reference all my colors. So let’s say I have 5 pounds of this liquid white and I want yellow, I look at the chart and it tells me how much stain to add to get yellow. It is probably way too boring to explain on the podcast, but it would be good in person. But I have a system now where it is as simple as that.
You mentioned your process is tedious and somewhat boring. So why do you do it?
So here’s the thing. I don’t know if I would call it boring. I would call it far from boring. It is intense in a silly way for me. I guess the way I work activates , I’ve got a strong right brain and also have a strong left brain, I’m balanced and just the ability to be playful and creative in the design phase and then execute the logical plan to make the stuff, I somehow find a lot of energy from that. In order to produce what I do I have to be very sharp in my studio. I need to get in there and figure it out and I think that is just my nature. Of course the bottom line, aesthetically and conceptually, this is the work I want to make and the work I envisioned.