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So You Want To Be An Artist

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Frederik-W    23

I love these, quotes from the article:

 

" ... trading our artistic satisfaction for making money..."

"Choosing to be an artist is not choosing a career, its choosing a lifestyle"

 

Yes, I must be a great artist then. I'm so poor that I don't even have meat to make soup any more, I'm just adding water to the pot to stretch the soup till I sell something again.

 

But I'm in great company, Van Gogh only ever sold one painting,

and Andy Warhol made millions. That says everything about art. I know whose side I'm on.

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Chris Campbell    1,083

"The danger we need to avoid is only looking at the icons, the ‘success stories’ as our models. The lessons we can learn from them are rarely applicable to any but their own situations. Sometimes its only accidents of being in the right place at the right time, or who you know, that makes things work. But the temptation to look only at these examples is misleading. Their recipe for ‘success’ will not be your recipe. We can often learn more from those who failed, what things to avoid, where they got in danger. I think we probably need to pay more attention to that than we do…."

 

I really liked this statement. Often overlooked in the "success" stories are the potters and artists who are out there quietly and steadily earning a living and supporting their families in very non-glamorous ways. They might not be on the cover of a magazine or in the mix at gallery openings and such ... but they work hard at their craft every day .... they get the bills paid and take vacations. They do whatever it takes to keep the lights on. Many of them do have supplementary jobs, working spouses ... but so do most people, no matter what profession they are in. These potters teach, they write, they sell.

I know many of them and truly admire their work ethic. They don't stop with "Can I make a living at pottery?" .... they skip right over to "How can I make a living in pottery?" since they don't want to be doing anything else.

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Wyndham    98

This is a very insightful article. I have been a full time potter for 17 yrs and part time for the previous 10 years. The reality is that clay and materials cost  money. The world will only support those things that it wants , needs or is addicted to.

 

We are in the wants pie, also there  with Iphones, vacations,entertainment, etc. The generation that bought handmade stuff is aging out. There are many days in my gallery that the folks that come in are "Just looking" because they are downsizing and "Don't need anymore "things"", but my cost of doing biz still goes on.

It's not a case of making for artistic vs practical, it's between paying the bills and closing the doors.,

The next category are the folks that have never learned about handmade clay vessel or what a glaze is or that a coffee mug can be used to drink coffee from.

Our educational system is so deficient is teaching art that I'm amazed anyone still buys anything.

I'm not talking only about my area, I've done A&C shows for over 30yrs and have seen the decline in customer awareness of hand made crafts.

Next, it's not about us, we (our art) is not the focus of people's interest. People are mainly interested in themselves. If our art makes them look or feel good about themselves or what others think about them, then our art fits into their lives.

 

Thomas Kinkade made painting to sell to the ignorant art market. He took advantage of that and drank himself to death, as did Jackson Pollack.

 

If you are looking for Truth, don't look for it in art. Art is simply an extension of our desire to leave a mark or shout against the darkness, where our fears reside.

 

Pathway to being a successful artist, become a used car salesman

 

If you create art for money, you haven't created art. The value of art is not measured in money. The people that sell the art  after the artist passes, don't care about anything other than the money.

 

If I were to  be able to sign a "George Ohr" piece with my name and put it next to another "signed George Ohr"

one piece would be disregarded and the other praised. The perception of reality is more important than reality.

 

I am currently loading my kiln, which will I fire this week. I would advise all that read this that they quickly put in an order for the pieces in this firing as they will soon be of such great value.

Why you ask? Because all this art is killing me.

 

Yes, I must be a great artist then. I'm so poor that I don't even have meat to make soup any more, I'm just adding water to the pot to stretch the soup till I sell something again.

 

I'll send you some more water for the both of us. :D

 

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wyndham

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Chris Campbell    1,083

While I agree with a lot of your comment Wyndham, I still am stuck on the fact that Williams Sonoma, most Department stores and high end china shops are all making money on good pottery. If you take the time to visit and take a peek at the prices you will see that people are paying healthy prices for pottery.

 

Nobody there tries to sell it on the merits of how hard some factory potter worked to produce it or how many years it took them to learn how to make the work because the blunt truth is, no one cares. They want what they want or what someone else wants.

 

Sell the sizzle, not the burger.

 

Many potters seem to be marketing their work to other potters by describing the process instead of expressing what the pot will do for the buyer. It's a me, me, me generation so lets all learn to grab that and use it.

 

People want a story, they want a piece of you. They want a personal connection. They want to feel like this pot was made just for them.

It is very hard to do this on a daily basis or for three solid days at a festival, but it does pay off.

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JBaymore    1,432

Chris just put the most important posting in this thread right there.

 

Is "handmade" better becasue it is handmade? Not necessarily. There is some real garbage that is "handmade".

 

 

Nobody there tries to sell it on the merits of how hard some factory potter worked to produce it or how many years it took them to learn how to make the work because the blunt truth is, no one cares.

In fact if you look at the video I posted in anotehr thread... somethimes (often times) THERE IS NO WORKER! It is about 99.99999999% done by machines.

 

 

"Sell the sizzle, not the burger."

BINGO!

 

best,

 

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

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Frederik-W    23

Wyndham, these are very wise comments. I will drink to that.

(I can't afford meat for my soup, but I still have a bottle of cheap wine :-)

 


...... If you are looking for Truth, don't look for it in art. Art is simply an extension of our desire to leave a mark or shout against the darkness, where our fears reside....

 

 

.... If you create art for money, you haven't created art. The value of art is not measured in money....

 

 

Chris, this is also a great piece of wisdom from you:

"People want a story, they want a piece of you. They want a personal connection".

 

However sometimes I think there are exceptions. Would a buyer loose interest if they meet me?

Hitler made some very nice paintings, but who wants a piece of him ?

Or maybe people want a piece of his art precisely because of who he was. Maybe that was the only worthwhile piece of him and therefore special.

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JBaymore    1,432

 

Would a buyer loose interest if they meet me?

 

 

This is certainly very possible. (And that is NOT intended as a "diss". :))  If someone you intend to buy something from is a ######## (or at least you percieve them to be a ########)........ I would imagine that you might take your business elsewhere.  If you did not know them or know about them.... you might find their work interesting and a potential purchase.  But if you saw infomation that made you dislike them as a person... or met them and found them arrogant/ obnoxious/ or whatevfer, I would bet that might affect your purchasing decisions.

 

best,

 

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

 

(PS:  The software automatically changed J E R K to the pound signs you see.)

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Chris Campbell    1,083

Chris, this is also a great piece of wisdom from you:

"People want a story, they want a piece of you. They want a personal connection".

 

However sometimes I think there are exceptions. Would a buyer loose interest if they meet me?

 

 

Interesting question. I have collected a certain potter's work for years because I really like it and had a certain impression of the kind of person who would have made it. Then I met the potter. Totally different personality than their work ... to an amazing degree. You would never guess that this person produced the work.

I did not particularly like this potter, but I still bought another piece of their work since I still like it.

 

However, if I really don't like the artist, I don't want their work in my home.

 

Middle ground ... The work carries the day and decides the purchase choice.

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Wyndham    98

I have noticed that people lose interest if they don't hear what they want from the artist/potter.

This is also an unspoken communication in body language as well as how a booth is set up

So the  artist/potter/craftsman has a social dance to do to woe the buyer . Since there are many types of buyers, there are also many different dances.

Watch some of the home makeover channels or Duck Dynasty or food network to see where I'm coming from.

Now when someone ask me what's the difference between my $17 mug and a Walmart $1 mug, I tell them beside I made it and it's more attractive, nothing. It's function is the same. I don't play games, I don't tell someone there is a zen connection with me and the clay or that supporting me helps the environment or other dances that play out.

Good or bad, my work stands on it's own

I simply tell then that I enjoy making pottery and if they like what I make, then we are both happy.

Just who I am & what I believe

Wyndham

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GEP    863

Being an artist, and making money with your artwork, are two completely separate and different activities. One does not correlate to the other. I wish people would stop trying to tie them together in terms of value and meaning of one's art. 

 

Someone who can make money is not "more" of an artist or "less" of an artist. They are better businesspeople, that's all. 

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Pres    896

Observations to the side of the discussion. GEP really makes a point.

 

When I did shows years ago, it was all about meeting the public, learning about a "public face" and expressing my feelings about my work, and the approach I was taking. This "face" was not a facade, but rather a gathering of what I am that was more fluent and organized when discussing things close to my heart in public-also related well to teaching, and helped in that direction-I HAD always been shy.   All of it is another type of learning curve, and takes several shows to get where you want to be as a salesman. Does it make you a better artist, not really. Does it make you more aware of the preconceptions the public has about art, craft, hard work, or even artistic merit? Certainly.  Most of the time it was all about the latest designer color scheme in relation to your pottery, whether it would look good in a particular space in their home or on the table with their dinner ware. Rarely did they pay attention to whether it poured well, if it was functional as a casserole, honey jar, teapot or other functional item. In the end, their was very little discussion of . . . art or aesthetics. It it was pretty, and the right size OK. Now mugs were a different story, handle fit was paramount, but no one really looked at lip fit, or opening size....??

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Ok so this article and the discussion here seems to talk about those who want to make millions and become famous for their artwork.  Here are my follow up questions.  How much money CAN a potter expect to make simply selling their items so they can decide what other job/pay is needed to supplement their love of the craft?  How many people here make a living solely on their art? If not how much time do you/can you devote to it?  

 

I am struggling right now with my next career decision.  My youngest son will be in full time school next year. I am a mother of 4, my life is chaos and I get about 1 day on the weekend (usually sunday) when I lock myself in my basement and get my hands dirty.  I have to get a job next year. (although it doesn't have to be high paying, just enough pay to allow my husband to cut down to 40 hrs per week so he can focus on his writing)  His income is stable enough that If I added a low paying 30 hr per week job it would be fine.  I fantasize about the idea of being a studio potter.  But would that not be enough? I don't want big money, I just need SOME money.  I fear that if I got a demanding job I would have no time left for the craft.  The only people I know with stable jobs in the pottery industry are teachers. My only problem is I don't like little kids, (only mine) and I don't want to deal with the politics that go along with being a teacher.   Are there other jobs in the industry that don't require going to school to be a teacher? I also wonder if it is a wise decision to go to school for a job in the art industry (which is known to not pay well) and incur student debt at the age of 33 with a large family. Wouldn't I be half retired by the time I have it payed off? I don't think dealing with the public will be difficult, I was in sales for 10 years and did excellent in that field.  

Advice please? 

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Chris Campbell    1,083

You are asking good questions and you already know the answers are not easy.

 

When I did production wholesale pottery I worked every hour I could and made a good living ... but I put in 8 - 12 hours almost every day. Can you reasonably do that with 4 children and a husband who will need peace and quiet to write??

 

Going back to school for the MFA is risky too ... a lot of debt with not many teaching jobs around. A luxury item in time and dollars.

 

Are you any good? I am not being mean or judgmental, but you have to have appealing work that sells in order to make an income from pottery.

You have to make it, market it, sell it, ship it and process payments.

You'll need a website and probably a physical presence at some shows.

 

Can you do it? You are the only one who really knows what you are willing to do and sacrifice in order to make a good second income with your pottery.

One quick test is to check and see whether your question really is ....

 

"Can I make a living with pottery?"

or

"How can I make a living with pottery?"

 

Believe it or not, the phrasing really matters.

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Chris- Your answers are completely on point.  They both give me hope and a lot to think about.  After reading that depressing article (haha, not that i ever wanted to be the next Bernard leach but as a person with a dream to create art and make enough money to pay my property taxes and buy food).  

 

I understand your question about "am I any good" and don't think it's mean at all. It's something I was deeply contemplating when I wrote the above post.  I am as good as a person is after only potting for 1 and a half years. I look at work of potters with 10, 20, 30 years of experience and immediately want to take a chain saw to my art room.  I feel like my work is idiotic compared to a lot of potters that I admire. But the only way I will be a good potter is if I practice like hell, put in the time, and fully dedicate myself to improving (which I would not be able to do if I worked another job)  So that is why my decision has me torn. My husband would not be cutting hours right away.  My family and friends are always complimenting my work, asking if I sell it, etc etc. People who are not aware of what good pottery is love it. As a person who knows what good pottery is, Like a handful of things per batch, until I see my next batch, then I hate the previous batch. HAHAHA 

 

I took 1 pottery class which only met 5 evenings before i decided that this was too addicting and I needed to get a wheel and a kiln.  I know I need to learn more, go to workshops, and practice. 

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JBaymore    1,432

I'm going to play the bad guy here.  I call this the "reality burger... hold the ketchup".  One of my jobs professionaly is to turn out profesional ceramic artists. 

 

I have this kind of conversation with my college students all the time.  To "make it" in this field, you have to be driven, passionate, and willing to work LONG hours and at HARD physical stuff for a good while before it will really start to pay off.  And the reailty is the competition for it to EVER really pay off is tough. 

 

Our Academic Dean used to have a little thing he would say to the incoming freshman class at the main orientation sessions (for all students) that I kind of liked a lot.  Shortened a bit.... it was if you were an A student we'd likely see your name and work in the listings of major gallery shows and competitions, in magazines and such.  If you were a B student, you'd probably be doing things in the local community art centers and other such second tier events.  If you were a C student....... you'd be driving a truck.  Point made.  Take your studies seriously... and excel.  If you don't, you are wasting your money on your education.  You need to be near the top of the game... or the game would leave you behind.  Harsh yes..... but very close to the reality 99.99% of the time.

 

Chris's "are you GOOD" question can NOT be over stressed.  Good on her for daring to ask it.  The clay world is filled with starry-eyed people wanting to do this.  You are not alone.  Clay is magical.  Clay IS addicting. And like any addiction.... it CAN lead you astray from reality if you let it.

 

Keep the reality of the level of competition for the market and for teaching jobs (and other such) in clear focus.  Handmade ceramics is competing for discretionary income.  It is not a necessity.  Add in all the other things that are looking to tie up those same Dollars.  This is NOT an easy road to go down.  Even when you are REALLY good at making things. 

 

Even if you are quite young (like 21-22), and do not have constraints like a growing family and lots of responsibilities. 

 

Competition in the field is absolutely enormous.  There are TONS of great potters out there who are struggling to make it all work.  Just look at places like Etsy or EBay for one very small example of the volume of possible choices for a consumer looking for pottery.  Or for a real reality check.... got to NCECA and look at the 5000 or so people who are there wo all work in clay.  And the work in the shows and in the galleries and on the screens in the various presentations. 

 

One also has to go back again to to the "good" business of Chris's comments.. ..... Etsy, EBay, craft fairs, (and other places) are filled with a lot of BAD pots (shades of Jim -0ffcenter- speaking here) and LOW prices.  Since the US public (I am assuming you are in the States) has little formal aesthetic education these days in schools.... nor much opportunity to experinece most any physical making activities in schools..... the "yardstick" that they are using for judging good work from less good work is not all that astute.  So the "good pieces" are not necessarily being distinguished from the less good pieces very well by the market..... and there is a tendencey to compete on price, not on quality.  When it goes to price competition....... offshore manufacturing or commercial production always wins.

 

You are a VERY new ceramist. 

 

There are a LOT of colleges in the US with students studying at the BA / BFA level for degrees in ceramics.  They put in 4 (sometimes 5) years of FT study, including required backgrounds in drawing, 2-d and 3-d design, color theory, art history (often including ceramic art history), professional artist courses (how to work as an artist) and a lot of ceramics courses usually including some technical courses like kiln design/operation and clay and glaze chemistry.  They are taught to write about their art.  They are taught digital imaging.  Every year they graduate a senior class.

 

You are to be competing with those folks.  Add in the folks that have done that and also spent 2 or 3 years in an MFA program.  Then there are also the people that have been full time (or even part time) apprentices to producing studio ceramists. 

 

Are there some people making good annual incomes from working with clay?  For sure.  I know many.  Some do it through solely making pots.  Some do it from making pots and also PT teaching and writing articles/books, and doing workshops (like myself).  SOme do it thru full time teaching and part time making.  Some do it thru full time teaching alone. 

 

But you have to understand how long it took ALL of them to GET to that point.  Like any business... if you go into business for yourself... you have to expect that for the first few years is is NOT a profitable endeavor....it loses money.  The main reason for businesses of ALL types to fail... is that they are under-funded at the startup.  THAT is part of a basic business plan...... having the resources in place to start up the business. 

 

I know people who make six figures (net) from solely making and selling pots.  It took them 40 years to reach that point.  I also know some REALLY talented and hardworking folks with BFA and MFA degrees, who make stunning pottery, combined with the work ethics of Hercules that are struggling to net $20,000 annually.  They work 80 hour weeks.

 

While your dream might be to do the clay thing.... and I understand that dream well.......... I'd say that your first responsibliity is to your family. So weigh everything against THAT very carefully. 

 

Write up a buisiness plan.  If you don't know HOW to do that..... your next educational step in being a professional potter is to take a business course so you CAN write up such a plan.  No plan.... and you don't know wwhere you are going or how you'll get there.  And you won't know if you are moving ahead or backward.  Doing that plan forxcesyou to look at the hard questions that you are JUST starting to look at.

 

Then if you still think it'll work.... you'll have to dive in to this 110%.  90% won't do it.  Even 100% likely will not.  Your family will have to be a fully informed partners in this.  It is not fair to them if they do not understand what this endeavor will mean to them and their lives.  Otherwise... keep it a hobby and sell the occasional work for "gravy money".  Get a job that pays a guaranteed income for the "I need money".

 

I'm all for creating new ceramists.... but not leading them on with "pie in the sky".  Not what you'd probably like to hear,........ but I think it is important to be said.

 

best,

 

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

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Thank you John for your amazing post.  This is exactly what i am looking to read. Everyone seems too vague about "you won't be rich".  I am not looking to get rich. I am just looking to contribute to the family, and luckily for me, my husband makes good enough money where my contribution does not have to be large.  (yet.. though I am sure in the long term he will start to look at me like I am an ###### if I don't come in 50/50 eventually) My family won't starve if I fail miserably, I like posts that explain the details and the things that one should expect along the road.  I need to know what kinds of things will go wrong if I attempt this.   I was a sales trainer/motivator. I worked with them on things like time management & self motivation, my income was based on my sales commission and I got a tiny commission for when my sales team was selling.  So coming up with the plan is the easy part to me. I have worked in the self driven industry where everything was completely reliant on me.  Knowing that I need to improve, knowing that I am falling in love with this craft in my mid 30's and will have a difficult time competing with people who went to school for it and/or have been potting for decades more than me is extremely intimidating. It would be foolish to think that my pots COULD compete yet. And then the motivational sales trainer in me says "everyone has been a beginner at some point".  I think it's foolish to see a cocky beginner "well I can do that" selling crap pots.  I don't want to be that kind of beginner. I want to be smart about it, I don't have time to F*$@^& around with immature foolishness. My children range from having my oldest in high school, and my youngest in K4.  So I do know that they will not be young forever, reality tempts me to wait to throw myself into something until they are out of the house. I consider focusing on this when I am retired.  And I consider how much potential talent would be lost if I only start focusing when I am retired.

 

 

To make 30k annually (which I think is an average low income) , selling beginner quality pots where the average price was $20 each pp, I would have to sell 1,500 pots. 29 pots per week.  That is without factoring in my costs/expenses.  It's a reality check for sure.  That kind of pressure could F up a lot of pots! Haha

 

I would like to offer you a sales idea for a craft event in response to your mention of the low grade pots.  Have a display showing 3 mugs.  Mug A is the wal mart mass produced $5 cup.  Mug B is the less experienced potter's priced at $9-13.  Mug C is yours, with your price. People understand things better when they see it, hold it, compare it, etc. It will be obvious that the beginner pot has more soul and personality than the wal mart pot. But the craftsmanship in your mug will speak for itself.  (i would be happy to contribute one for category B LOL) 

 

I am sorry for my spelling/grammar ... I cannot find the spell check button! 

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Stephen    139

For a perspective from a successful 15 year potter in the Bar Area you might take a look at Whitney Smith's blog post on the business side of things. She grouped a number of them together in the link below.

 

http://whitneys-pottery.blogspot.com/search/label/business

 

On thing that hit me on one of her post that seems to ring true:

 

"There is no magic formula to when your work is "good enough" for the marketplace, and it is true that most artists will continue to improve throughout much of their career. I still consider myself a student of pottery, I'm learning and -- I hope-- still improving my work. But I do think one needs to be out of that rapid growth and improvement stage, where from month to month your work looks markedly better, before you start selling."

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GEP    863

rebby, I agree with all the solid advice you've gotten above. I will add that, in my life as a self-employed person, I've known quite a few married people (men and women) who thought it was ok to make little or no income doing what they love, because the spouse made a good income. Marital problems galore, including divorces. Just my observation.

 

You are very young. When your kids are grown and out of the house, you will still be in your 40s. Plenty of years left to focus on yourself.

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oldlady    1,323

i agree with all of the above.  that said, it is very hard to resist the pull of clay.  my kids were in grade school and i was working at the phone company when i got my first wheel.  my checks for child support were laughable and i had no help with the kids or anything else.  the workday never ended but having a spot of my own with a little wheel and a bag of clay was a godsend.  it took years to get what i have today and while it may not be much, it is all paid off and mine alone.  a few craft fairs and shows each year and a chance to make something is good enough for me.  

 

stay with it as an outlet for your need to create but consider going slower.  you will give up a great deal of normal life if you pursue it full time. 

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I read these responses to my husband. The positive thing is that he sees exactly where I am coming from because he works a full time job, but his passion is with fiction writing in the early mornings before work and on the weekends. He has had success with it and has won literary contests.  

 

When I compile all of the responses I get this: I have no trouble with the business aspect, the people, the sales, the planning, the flexibility and ability to market myself in a saturated market. I have strong people skills, I love public speaking and can sell milk to a cow.  

 

What I don't have is years of experience or a college degree in pottery.  My work needs improving If I am going to compete. My business/people skills put me at an advantage but my lack of experience a disadvantage. We decided that I should work a low stress job, but keep my hours low so I am able to have energy to focus on pottery on a daily basis.  By the time the kids are older, hopefully my skill will enough that I could push myself more and shift my focus.  It takes some pressure away to think that I am just focussing on improving my skill and that there are no strings attached.  (except for my heart strings) 

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JBaymore    1,432

What I don't have is ................. or a college degree in pottery.  

 

This will come acroass strange coming from me.... but it is not the DEGREE that is important (unless you want to teach at the public school or college level)........ it is the deeper EDUCATION in art and ceramics that is important.

 

best,

 

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

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oldlady    1,323

sounds as though you have a good start this way, best of both worlds.  enjoy what you do every day.

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Stephen    139

There are no instant experts in pottery, no instant masters or grandmasters. There appears not to be on record any case (including Bernard Leach) where a person reached grandmaster level with less than about a decade's intense preoccupation with clay. We would estimate, very roughly, that a master has spent perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at clay forms…

 

 

... Herbert Simon and William Chase (I changed 'chess' to 'clay' but hey same difference right :) )

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Pres    896

I taught HS art for years. Sometimes dreaming about the MFA and making it big in the art world, but always came back to the reality of family, my kids, loving wife etc. When I went through a mid life thing at 34, I decided to get off my butt and do more with the ceramics, and other facets of my life.  Went back to school for the MS in Ed, started up a studio doing shows, shook up my department and the classes I taught by adding Computer animation and rewriting other classes. Over the years I berated myself for not having the confidence to go it on the pottery alone- kind of taking the easy road in the same type of environment I had grown up  in  . . . school. When I retired, I even joked that I had finally graduated. Do people not go for the ring, because they are unsure of themselves and afraid of the fall? Is it all a matter of how much confidence you have in yourself that makes you take the leap or stand on the side.

 

After all of those years, I came to realize, that teaching was where I was meant to be. I loved the work, the kids, the amount of freedom I had in my classroom, and the respect I had from students and peers. Looking back, very little I would change. Now that I have graduated though I hope to learn even more about the love I have had for years. . .ceramics. I never really wanted to be an artist, just good at something.

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