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Does Anyone Out There Truly Support Themselves With Their Ceramics/pottery?


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#1 terraforma

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 04:03 PM

At the moment I'm feeling greatly disheartened about my chances of building up to a full time living as a potter, and this question has been on my mind for awhile: how many people out there are able to support themselves solely on their earnings from their work? Being single myself, I will say for the purpose of this discussion that I speak of people who don't have a spouse or other partner who helps with living expenses. Big city or small country village? Working out of your garage or in a freestanding studio with your own retail shop? Teaching and conducting workshops to make ends meet? Galleries? Craft fairs? Etsy? Door-to-door sales?? Big family or just you and your goldfish? I want to hear lots of stories.

I'm keeping the question simple and open-ended to encourage discussion. So, are you paying your bills with your pottery?
Mickey Fielding
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#2 Seasoned Warrior

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 05:58 PM

At the moment I'm feeling greatly disheartened about my chances of building up to a full time living as a potter, and this question has been on my mind for awhile: how many people out there are able to support themselves solely on their earnings from their work? Being single myself, I will say for the purpose of this discussion that I speak of people who don't have a spouse or other partner who helps with living expenses. Big city or small country village? Working out of your garage or in a freestanding studio with your own retail shop? Teaching and conducting workshops to make ends meet? Big family or just you and your goldfish? I want to hear lots of stories.

I'm keeping the question simple and open-ended to encourage discussion. So, are you paying your bills with your pottery?


There are those here who I am sure make a living at pottery but I believe you need to define it a little better. There are those who make pottery and then supplement it with other sources of revenue such as those who make videos or write. Just pottery, I am sure that there are few who do but I suspect that all rhetoric aside if you look at it carefully they have other areas that help pay the bills. I believe that you need to develop multiple streams of income to have a comfortable lifestyle in the arts. I don't believe that I could live in the style I like from just making and selling pottery and I haven't met many who can.

regards,
Charles

#3 terraforma

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 09:12 PM

That's why the question is open-ended, Charles. I'm sure that many, if not most, clay people are supplementing their income from their art and craft with activities as you mentioned, or by teaching and leading workshops. That's what I want to know - how do you do what you love and support yourself at the same time.
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#4 GEP

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 11:15 PM

I am now supporting myself by making and selling pottery. But trust me, it was a very long road to developing my business to this point. And now, it is most definitely not a life of leisure! Hours of physical work per day, and I often find myself working 7 days a week. Lots of aches and sore muscles. My income is modest but my financial life is comfortable. My budget even includes health insurance and retirement savings. And I'm doing this by myself, no financial support from anyone else.

I live in the metro DC area, but I live very frugally. That's definitely part of the equation for making this work. (my frugal living bible is a book titled "The Ultimate Cheapskates Roadmap to True Riches" by Jeff Yeager)

I used to work full-time as a graphic designer for income. As the pottery business grew, for a few years it was like having two full-time jobs. If I had to do it again from scratch, I would do it the same way, because having the income from my other job freed my pottery work to develop without any financial pressure. I did this up until last year, when my pottery income began meeting my cost of living needs.

Now I teach some pottery classes too, but not really for the income (it doesn't pay very well). The reason I do it is to get out of my studio and spend time with other potters. Studio pottery is very solitary. I've met some very unsocialized potters, I don't want to become one of them! And the classes are about exploration and fun, the joyous aspects of working with clay. I get so much energy from this, far more valuable than the salary.

And I still do some some design work occasionally. I managed to keep two clients I really like, who only need me a few times per year. But I don't need this income either, I just want to keep one little toe in the design world, keeping up with the technology. Pottery is so physically demanding, I can totally imagine that one serious injury could permanently harm my business. Therefore, I want to have my design skills to fall back on, just in case.

So I say YES it's possible, but it requires a lot of perseverance and sacrifice and hard work. Not for the faint of heart!

Mea
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#5 GEP

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 09:29 AM

Just to add what I wrote last night ...

I have met quite a few full-time working potters over the years. They're out there! Mostly I've met them at trade shows like the Buyers Market of American Craft, and at more upscale art festivals.

In the recent few years, due to the bad economy, the numbers have dwindled by a lot. This year there were only 75 ceramics exhibitors at the Buyers Market. In better economic times, there were twice as many. Based on my observations, and the sales surveys that are published later, I think about 2/3 of the exhibitors are running full-time, real income earning pottery businesses. The other 1/3 is still working on it, with financial support from a spouse or another job.

OK so that's only a few dozen viable pottery businesses, but there are other good trade shows, and there are those who can sell that much volume without trade shows. My guess is that there are a few hundred successful pottery businesses out there.

Compared to the tens of thousands of avid potters who dream of making this their life, those are really long odds. But I think this is totally normal. Think about the millions who dream of opening a restaurant, compared to the small percentage who actually attempt it, and consider that 80% of them will fail. These are the normal odds for entrepreneurial ventures.

Mea
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#6 Chris Campbell

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 10:34 AM

Yes, there are potters making a living ... I know several ... but as Mea says, it is not for the faint of heart.
You have to be very stubborn, single minded and focused BUT also adaptable and willing to change to adjust to the marketplace.
It is very hard work with very long hours.

It involves wearing many hats ... maker, firer, marketer, promoter, bookkeeper, cleaner, sales person, tech support, shipping, customer service, and a personal life too!

Your life will be like a three legged stool and each leg will support you at various times.
Making and selling from your studio is one leg.
Teaching is another that can also supply some benefits.
Workshops are a third. Or craft shows. Or wholesale. Or another job. Or your partners support.
Let's face it ... both partners working is standard in every other field .. why not art?

There was a full time, successful potter I knew whose answer to "Can I earn a living from pottery?" was always NO.
He claimed you could only help a person reach the yes answer if their question was "How can I make a living with pottery?".
He said you could only succeed if there was nothing else you wanted to do.
Most of the time I agree with him.

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#7 terraforma

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 08:48 PM

Thanks, GEP and Chris - exactly the kinds of answers I was hoping for, and I'm sure that many others can add to this. Looking forward to hearing more stories!
Mickey Fielding
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#8 Ghilayne

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 08:40 PM

Mea,

Fabulous article in this issue of Ceramics Monthly. It was the first thing I read, and still thinking about, honestly. Thank you for sharing; it's hugely helpful as my husband and I pursue our goals with our budding studio.





#9 GEP

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Posted 30 May 2011 - 08:37 AM

Mea,

Fabulous article in this issue of Ceramics Monthly. It was the first thing I read, and still thinking about, honestly. Thank you for sharing; it's hugely helpful as my husband and I pursue our goals with our budding studio.







Thanks Ghilayne! I'm happy to share those findings, and I am really glad that you find it helpful.

Mea
Mea Rhee
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http://www.goodelephant.com

#10 Jennifer Harnetty

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Posted 01 June 2011 - 02:02 PM


Mea,

Fabulous article in this issue of Ceramics Monthly. It was the first thing I read, and still thinking about, honestly. Thank you for sharing; it's hugely helpful as my husband and I pursue our goals with our budding studio.







Thanks Ghilayne! I'm happy to share those findings, and I am really glad that you find it helpful.

Mea


Mea's article was posted on Ceramic Arts Daily today. Check it out here:
http://ceramicartsda...rnings-project/

Jennifer Poellot Harnetty
Managing Editor
Ceramic Arts Daily
www.ceramicartsdaily.org


#11 Christine

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Posted 11 June 2011 - 06:44 AM

At the moment I'm feeling greatly disheartened about my chances of building up to a full time living as a potter, and this question has been on my mind for awhile: how many people out there are able to support themselves solely on their earnings from their work? Being single myself, I will say for the purpose of this discussion that I speak of people who don't have a spouse or other partner who helps with living expenses. Big city or small country village? Working out of your garage or in a freestanding studio with your own retail shop? Teaching and conducting workshops to make ends meet? Galleries? Craft fairs? Etsy? Door-to-door sales?? Big family or just you and your goldfish? I want to hear lots of stories.

I'm keeping the question simple and open-ended to encourage discussion. So, are you paying your bills with your pottery?


I've just posted about my studios under another topic, but am happy to write again here .... I have a small purpose-built studio space close to my home on the outskirts of a large city and also share a rented space with my daughter in a 200-year-old ex cotton mill in a small industrial town close to where she lives.

The mill houses many artists and artists' co-operatives and is a brilliantly creative environment for us. My daughter is a muralist and portrait-painter and I am the potter. Both work mainly to commission and for fairs, neither of us make our entire living purely from painting/potting but supplement our income by occasional teaching and the holding of regular workshops - I regard this as being part and parcel of an artist's life. Being able to pass on our craft and also share with and learn from our pupils is an immense privilege and helps us see through new eyes, and I feel this in turns prevents our work from becoming stale and formulaic.

..... thank you for this interesting topic - I look forward to reading other contributions
Christine

#12 JBaymore

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 06:51 AM

Let's face it ... both partners working is standard in every other field .. why not art?


This thought is so important to grasp these days. Personally I can't think of any of my friends in which only one person is supporting the whole family....... and these are people from all walks of life. (No one says, "Oh you are not a REAL doctor, because your husband/wife is also working.")

As Chris mentions....... most likely you will be juggling multiple aspects of the possibilities of the art of ceramics to make things work; making and selling ceramic works, teaching, giving workshops, writing/publishing, and so on. It all adds together and each aspect supports the others.

One thing that is hard to mention, because it is not easily staying "politically correct", is that you'd better be darn good at what you do. As the economic times get tougher, the laws of the "survival of the fittest" tend to kick in full force.

And as has been mentioned here too....... you'd better be prepared to work REALLY hard for your bread and butter.

best,

..................john

PS: If this was easy, everyone would be doing it. Posted Image
John Baymore
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#13 Seasoned Warrior

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Posted 19 June 2011 - 10:29 PM

PS: If this was easy, everyone would be doing it. Posted Image

You mean they're not??? :)

#14 JLowes

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Posted 20 June 2011 - 03:30 PM

Here's my plan. I am more toward the end of a career in construction and engineering, than the middle, and I am able to support my family with a good lifestyle and pursue building skill as a potter/sculptor while still earning from my primary vocation. My wife's mantra on pottery equipment, and other luxuries and necessities, is get it while you're still working.

Soon, I will have built the nestegg necessary to continue that lifestyle without it being fulltime. By that time I expect that I will have added more skills, practice and sales experience (through occasional shows) to make pottery/sculpture my sole active earning activity, while the passive income provides the backstop that a working spouse would provide if I were a fulltime potter now. If it were suddenly necessary for me to earn a living making pottery, there is no way it would work. I think with my plan, I should be able to at least keep making pottery without it detracting from the living" income. Who knows, maybe it will provide a more comfortable lifestyle if the economy ever picks back up.

I believe if I were so impassioned that nothing else would do but to make pots, then I would find a way. My training in engineering has given me the analysis skills to realize that changing professions now would not be a wise decision, but with proper planning, it is possible to make it work. It just takes patience.

John

#15 spring

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Posted 24 July 2011 - 07:10 PM

This is a great topic terraforma. So many pros with lots of experience and so many noobs lookin' for help/support. In my gut I know I have what it takes to succeed, the problem is my husband thinks ceramics is a hobby not a profession and fears I will toil away for years with little money to show for it. We have had two buisness' in the past, so I know that a ceramic buisness like any other, takes time to grow. I have no problem with working hard, really hard, and paying my dues, the only problem is I've never been given the time for the seeds/dirt to make the garden. I was wondering if there are any out there who have succeeded when those closest weren't exactly onboard.

P.S. Fortunately God made me incredibly stubborn. I will not quit! I know what I was meant to do on this earth and I have no intentions of wasting that.

#16 Pres

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Posted 24 July 2011 - 07:31 PM

This is a great topic terraforma. So many pros with lots of experience and so many noobs lookin' for help/support. In my gut I know I have what it takes to succeed, the problem is my husband thinks ceramics is a hobby not a profession and fears I will toil away for years with little money to show for it. We have had two buisness' in the past, so I know that a ceramic buisness like any other, takes time to grow. I have no problem with working hard, really hard, and paying my dues, the only problem is I've never been given the time for the seeds/dirt to make the garden. I was wondering if there are any out there who have succeeded when those closest weren't exactly onboard.

P.S. Fortunately God made me incredibly stubborn. I will not quit! I know what I was meant to do on this earth and I have no intentions of wasting that.


Won't ever be an Otto Heino that made 1.5 million a year at throwing excellent pottery with rare glaze colors. Now that I am retired, I make pots for myself, it self sustains, more than enough sell, the others are for me, friends and family. It will never earn me great riches, but makes my life rich.

Simply retired teacher, not dead, living the dream. on and on and. . . . on. . . .                                                                                 http://picworkspottery.blogspot.com/


#17 spring

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Posted 24 July 2011 - 11:01 PM


This is a great topic terraforma. So many pros with lots of experience and so many noobs lookin' for help/support. In my gut I know I have what it takes to succeed, the problem is my husband thinks ceramics is a hobby not a profession and fears I will toil away for years with little money to show for it. We have had two buisness' in the past, so I know that a ceramic buisness like any other, takes time to grow. I have no problem with working hard, really hard, and paying my dues, the only problem is I've never been given the time for the seeds/dirt to make the garden. I was wondering if there are any out there who have succeeded when those closest weren't exactly onboard.

P.S. Fortunately God made me incredibly stubborn. I will not quit! I know what I was meant to do on this earth and I have no intentions of wasting that.


Won't ever be an Otto Heino that made 1.5 million a year at throwing excellent pottery with rare glaze colors. Now that I am retired, I make pots for myself, it self sustains, more than enough sell, the others are for me, friends and family. It will never earn me great riches, but makes my life rich.



thanks for the rely Pres. Otto Heino was a bad ass!

To anyone else, I was kinda hoping to hear from someone whose in a similar situaltion.

#18 Paul Koch

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Posted 26 July 2011 - 03:47 PM

Ok I am not single my wife had a job for a long time as I developed my skills as a potter. That said I now say Some of these posts while well meaning would put off talented people getting started in the field. You all sound like my father (he wanted me to sell insurance because it was secure employment) Life is an adventure and should be lived with passion. If your passion is to make great pots make them and the universe will provide for you. My Wife was given the boot from her job because of the economy we now work side by side in the pottery business. We are happier our standard of living has not declined and we haven't turned into blithering nabobs of negitive thinking bitter at the world. I say to all you budding potters "get out there and work at it if you make good pots you will make a good living if your work sucks so will your income". I am older but still have the passion for what I do. Each time we fire I get excited. Granted I have only been at this fultime for 10 years the only regret I have is I didn't start sooner in life. It is far far better spending your life doing something you love than looking over your shoulder wishing you were doing something you loved. Pottery is no diffrent than anything else in life there is no security only the secure feeling we give ourselves when we work. Riches can be found in many places I am a rich person because my life is filled with great people and a love for getting up each day to do what I do. Love to all Namaste' Paul:D

#19 nelaceramics

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 09:36 AM



This is a great topic terraforma. So many pros with lots of experience and so many noobs lookin' for help/support. In my gut I know I have what it takes to succeed, the problem is my husband thinks ceramics is a hobby not a profession and fears I will toil away for years with little money to show for it. We have had two buisness' in the past, so I know that a ceramic buisness like any other, takes time to grow. I have no problem with working hard, really hard, and paying my dues, the only problem is I've never been given the time for the seeds/dirt to make the garden. I was wondering if there are any out there who have succeeded when those closest weren't exactly onboard.

P.S. Fortunately God made me incredibly stubborn. I will not quit! I know what I was meant to do on this earth and I have no intentions of wasting that.


Won't ever be an Otto Heino that made 1.5 million a year at throwing excellent pottery with rare glaze colors. Now that I am retired, I make pots for myself, it self sustains, more than enough sell, the others are for me, friends and family. It will never earn me great riches, but makes my life rich.



thanks for the rely Pres. Otto Heino was a bad ass!

To anyone else, I was kinda hoping to hear from someone whose in a similar situaltion.


Hey Spring I hear you! you're telling my story. I will add to it that two years ago i had to de-rail from what I call now "my profession" in order to make my ends meet. I took a job as field interviewer for some kind of study about drugs, mental health, etc... only to realize I would have been better off doing my pottery all along without listening to the wise partner who highly "recommended" me to take a REAL job and do my pottery whenever I had some time left for me. Money-wise it didn't add up and was left penniless after quitting. Keep your stubbornness and resiliency and you will be far more happier.. Not to say I am rich now but happier... you bet!

#20 Pres

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 11:50 AM

Ok I am not single my wife had a job for a long time as I developed my skills as a potter. That said I now say Some of these posts while well meaning would put off talented people getting started in the field. You all sound like my father (he wanted me to sell insurance because it was secure employment) Life is an adventure and should be lived with passion. If your passion is to make great pots make them and the universe will provide for you. My Wife was given the boot from her job because of the economy we now work side by side in the pottery business. We are happier our standard of living has not declined and we haven't turned into blithering nabobs of negitive thinking bitter at the world. I say to all you budding potters "get out there and work at it if you make good pots you will make a good living if your work sucks so will your income". I am older but still have the passion for what I do. Each time we fire I get excited. Granted I have only been at this fultime for 10 years the only regret I have is I didn't start sooner in life. It is far far better spending your life doing something you love than looking over your shoulder wishing you were doing something you loved. Pottery is no diffrent than anything else in life there is no security only the secure feeling we give ourselves when we work. Riches can be found in many places I am a rich person because my life is filled with great people and a love for getting up each day to do what I do. Love to all Namaste' Paul:D


Hmmm I guess I compromised for years teaching in HS. It had its ups, and its downs. During the mid life crisis I strongly considered getting out and getting an MFA in Ceramics to continue on. I didn't, and enjoyed the ensuing years obliviously, doing shows in the summers, and working day and night all year round. I had numbers of students become teachers, some into animation, some to schools for ceramics. They stay in touch. In the end, retired, on a teachers pension, and making pots as I have in the past for myself, not worrying if they sell, and not really treating it as a hobby, just loving every minute of it. I sell, but don't depend on it. It is what it is, and I have been extremely happy and probably out of touch, and maybe happier because of it. You write as if you have an axe to grind, let it go.

Simply retired teacher, not dead, living the dream. on and on and. . . . on. . . .                                                                                 http://picworkspottery.blogspot.com/





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