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How To Actually Support Yourself

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#21 oldlady


    single firing an electric kiln to cone 6

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Posted 05 December 2013 - 09:02 AM

thank you dirtroads.  have always thought my stuff is giftware, i may as well admit it and try your ideas.

"putting you down does not raise me up."

#22 nancylee


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Posted 07 December 2013 - 08:13 AM


I think someone said above that it is hard to make a living as a production potter. I am not sure about this, as there is a very successful potter near me, in Vermont. He has three people throwing and a couple of people glazing. He also has sales staff. He sells out of his own showroom, but also sends pots all over the country, including some high end shops in NYC. I spoke to him about his business, and he seems to be making a living, was actually looking for another production potter. His prices are good, though. A big bowl, about 14 inches across, sells at his shop for about $90, mugs are $20, very good quality, gorgeous colors. Easy decoration, though. I think he just spins the wheel, and uses ketchup bottles to put colors onto the base color.


He has the dream job, in my view!!


Northern Woods Pottery

#23 JBaymore



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Posted 07 December 2013 - 11:24 AM

An important point to remember when assessing how folks are doing in this (or any field) is, "At what part of their career are they currently in?"  I can say that for myself, the outside picture now and the picture back in the 70's are two different animals.


Yes, someone might be being very economically successful at the point in time you are looking at.


But the real story you need to get is in is how they GOT there.  We are then back to my "last man/woman standing" idea I think I posted earlier in this or another business rlated thread here.  Quite often there was a long period of very lean years and very hard work and emotional upheaval sitting behind the current success you see. 


I'm not saying that is a "bad" thing, but the important point often is that the particular person had the wherewithall to sustain the effort through the tough times, and come out on the other side intact.  That means having the ability to weather the economic realities of first losing money, then barely breaking even on expenses, then making a tiny weenie salary/paycheck but no actual profits on the investment, to eventually drawing a real paycheck, and then also adding in a decent ROI (profit for taking the risks) to the paycheck.  It also means having the ability to emotionally deal with this kind of somewhat normal business start-up sequence.


I know some very successful potters.  In order to reach where they are, some of them had what you might calll "exceptional circumstances" that allowed them to get to where they now are.  Lacking that particular circumstance....... it is very possible that they would be an accountant, truck driver, company sales rep, or chef.  If you didn't KNOW about the path that lead them to where they are....... you might have a mistaken impression of how easy or hard it is to become that successful in the field.  I am not saying this is BAD stuff....... just that it is reality stuff.


So what can those "exceptional circumstances" be? 


In some cases it is that the potter is a "trust fund baby".  There is family money behind tthe scenes that unless you know them very well... you will never know about.  Many people who have money do not lead ostentatious lives with that money.... but it does not mean it is not there as a safety net and also as a business incubator.  The ability to capitalize and economically sustain a business through the startup period is VERY often the real key to the survival of that business.


In some cases, the potter has a benefactor/patron.  Yes, this still happens in the world today.  I know at least one potter this applies to.  Someone who HAS significant disposible money decides that he/she really likes the work of XXXXXX and wants to help them to succeed.  They then go out of their way to find that person opportuinities that they would not have had if the benefactor was not out in the world making things happen.  That benefactor becomes an avid collector of the person's work, and pays high prices for it.  They get  their (usually also weathly) friends to do likewise.  They contact the artist with the gallery owners that they know well (becasue they are already buyers of art).  And so on.


In some cases there is a spouse/significant other that has a very good job and a high income and can provide that REAL necessity... health insurance.  In a sense, this is a bit like having a patron..... but maybe lacking in the "connections" department.  But maybe not.  If that job is in a segment that brings them into contact with a  wealthy segment of the population, that too opens doors for the potter part of the duo.


In some case it comes in the form of a having had a well known and respected teacher, having been a re ally great student, and having a great relationship with that teacher.  If the teacher is "connected" in the art world, then they have the ability to greatly help establish the coming career of that student.  They can network the student into opportuinities that they would not have had otherwise.  Networking in ALL businesses is probably the key ingredient in success.  (Join Potters Council and go to NCECA folks!)


In some cases it is the fact that the potter has found an exceptional employer in something like a teaching field.  The educational institution feels that it is very important to that institution for the artist to have a high profile career outside the institution itself.  So there is a lot of political and financial support for the artist from the institution, and the working load on them at the institution is managed to keep it from interfering with the outside activities too much.  The institution feels that this is a "win-win" situation. (These are few and far between... see "blind luck" below.)


In some cases it includes an element of "blind luck" as to timing.  Hitting a large grant at just the right time in the business cycle to sustain things when all else is bleak and desperate.  Like maybe a $15,000 Windgate Fellowship grant landing in a graduating student's lap.  It is not that they have not EARNED that grant... because that kind of thing is a very competitive thing, .........but it is that there are few awarded.  To get one and get it at the exact right time that you can take maximum advantage of it .......... priceless.  For every one person this kind of event has sustained...... there are ten others that are no longer doing clay full time because it did NOT happen.


So as you build your ideas of doing this clay thing as a real business,.............. dig well deeper than the surface.  Due dilligence in coming up with the business plan.


I'm thinking here of the old radio series by Paul Harvey.  (Only the oldsters here will get this.)  "Now, for the rest of the story."





John Baymore
Adjunct Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

Former Guest Professor, Wuxi Institute of Arts and Science, Yixing, China

Former President and Past President; Potters Council



#24 stephsteph


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Posted 27 December 2013 - 11:23 PM

i'm doing it. no special circumstances. no outside job, no spouse or partner income. there are better  years and tougher years. you save llike heck during high earning years to help tide you through the tough years. my business has never really come back to the level it was before the real estate crash, as my customers were and are primarily people who are remodeling,(tile, fireplaces, fountain, mural, architectural components.)

so i'm in the process of re-evaluating what i do, where my markets are, whether i should change my focus. trying to listen to and serve  my creative instincts  as well as my business calculations.

i nurtured a business part time for 5 years then took  the leap to full time 16-17 years ago. the job i left was stressful, sedentary and didn't pay all that well, though it was considered a good job in that town. i tried like heck to land a job in academia but it did not pan out. you could say that being a full time ceramic artist is also stressful, sedentary and doesn't pay that well , LOL!  but for me, at least it has the potential, (and it is not as sedentary. ) maybe that is the difference between an entrepeneur and some one who is not..the thought that there is potential, there is opportunity. entrepeneurs and those who are living off of their work are optimists, i believe. you can punch a time clock and be a pessimist but  you have to be keep the engine turning over, and over and over  if you are self employed, so you do sort of have to enjoy that aspect of it...being a self starter..

It is also a bit odd being a full timer in a profession that can seem filled with  part timers , people  doing it as a retirement pursuit and a hobby , and  those who do not need to pay the bills with their clay money.  Depending on where you live, it can be lonesome and tough to connect with other full timers. you will find that most full timers are gracious and generous . You will need a depth of passion that will have  you wanting to run some glaze tests or try a new form or improve something you have already done thousands of time no matter how long you have done it...it really has to be the fire in your belly. 

you have gotten some very good advice fromm other posters.

Everyone is different when it comes to how much risk they can handle and how  they approach major  changes or projects in their lives. some are cautious and plan meticulously for years, either weaning themselves into it little by little or planning for 'the day'. others leap or immerse themselves, and use that immersion as the thing that will tell them if this is for them or not.

one suggestion i have is to work, if possible in a true production  studio. if nothing else, this will give you a sense of the pace  and timing needed to live off the earnings from your work.

recognize your strengths, weaknesses and the passion and committment you have. you really must love clay if you are going to go solo, you will also be wearing about 50 other hats and will need to determine just how many you yourself will wear and which ones you will delegate or hire out. . entrepeneurial zest and communication skills are also a must, in fact , some of the most successful operations , (i.e. more than one person,) are headed up by potters who discovered they had other skills and loves, such as designing equipment or workplaces, doing the designing or marketing, etc, they found they were stronger business people and decided  to hire  production potters, glazer, kiln loader, office personnel,shipping crew, etc.

i will tell you there is no one roadmap, and though you will be with a fine group of folks you will be living by your wits and what you can produce.

whatever you decide, here's to you for valuing our medium enough to consider it!

Stephani Stephenson

Revival Arts Studio



#25 Mark C.

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Posted 27 December 2013 - 11:46 PM

This is extremely right on the mark.

stephsteph said-

(It is also a bit odd being a full timer in a profession that can seem filled with  part timers , people  doing it as a retirement pursuit and a hobby , and  those who do not need to pay the bills with their clay money.  Depending on where you live, it can be lonesome and tough to connect with other full timers. you will find that most full timers are gracious and generous . You will need a depth of passion that will have  you wanting to run some glaze tests or try a new form or improve something you have already done thousands of time no matter how long you have done it...it really has to be the fire in your belly. )

I really can connect with this statement-but alas I'm a full timer with a hot belly.


Mark Cortright

#26 Chantay


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Posted 08 January 2014 - 11:10 AM

Railroads, what is a mississippi?


Some great advice here. One thing to add, long term goals/plans. You then need to give your plan test time. I have 1 year, 3, 5, and 10 year goals. How much am I willing to sacrifice? Selling my 3300 square ft house and moving to another state. For now I work on my skills. I'm optimistic on an improving economy in 4 to 5 years.

- chantay

#27 DirtRoads


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Posted 09 January 2014 - 06:32 PM

"What is a Mississippi"


A Mississippi shaped ornament.    To hang on Christmas trees or whatever.  Seems like many of them are for "whatever".  We have 2 sizes:  4.5 inches $5 and 3 inch $3.   My niece that works for me came up with the $3 size because she got a small cookie cutter in a pageant as one of the many Mississippi shaped objects in her gift bag.  I wasn't too excited about the $3 size (really don't even care for the $5 size either).  BUT we've sold around 3k of the $3 one since October.   We just have them in baskets.   Just this week one customer bought 11 of the $3 and another customer ordered 50 of them.   We've only sold about 1k of the $5 last year.


It's more than just a touristy thing, it appeals to state pride.  All things "Mississippi" are selling briskly, which has increased partly due to that newscaster referring to Mississippi as "the land between Louisiana and Alabama."  (amazing what things generate marketing opportunities)


Nothing particularly artistic about them,  they just generate extra sales, which helps me cover my payroll.  And we're not the only ones that make these.  But then we have no retail outlets and sell at wholesale to public.  Which explains why we probably sell a lot more of these.


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