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Niv

Gaining Experience

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Hello!

I'm looking for ways to increase production abilities, experience, and knowledge in the production pottery world. I started producing out of my basement a year ago, jumped many hurdles, and came out with finished products. The operation is very small and quite inefficient.. 

My goal for the next half a year or so, is to find an established studio needing a hand as a worker or apprentice. My struggle has been finding such places, understanding if they're the right place for me, and reaching out. I'm flexible with travel. 

Any help or ideas is really appreciated.

 

Edited by Niv

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If production pottery is what you enjoy, seek out a local production Potter and see if they need help.  Go visit or call.  In the Seattle area we have one commercial pottery, and though I'd like to upend my current career and go work there, I am unable to take the pay cut.  Would be very valuable for the experience though.

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6 hours ago, Niv said:

The operation is very small and quite inefficient.

How about you say a little more about the nature of the problem. Is it  a lack of strong KSAs with the making of the ware that is an obstacle to your progress or is it more issues with studio logistics or business practices? 

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Apprenticeships can be difficult to come by. I’m not totally clear on all the US rules, but I think there are issues because of how you have to deal with unpaid interns now. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong on that.) There is generally not a lot of compensation. I did get taken in briefly by a production potter couple about 15 years ago. I straight up just phoned them and asked.  I did some very part time menial labour that was sort of hard to screw up (sanding pot bottoms, weighing clay out of the pug mill, unloading kilns) and I did throwing demos for them on their studio sale days, to increase awareness and educate folks about the process. In exchange, I got as much information as I was able to sponge up, and whatever pieces I made glazed and fired. No question was too dumb for me to ask, and they were all answered with the patience of a saint. (Thank you Bob and Connie!) No money was ever involved. 

The only way I know of finding one is through your own community and personal connections. I think your best bet is to just brazenly but politely reach out to someone who’s making the level of work you think you’d like to be making. Leave aesthetics out of it, and just look at volume.  You want to learn processes and workflows. Do offer to compensate them for their time in just talking to you, as not everyone will have the time to just have their brain picked for the price of a Starbucks. It doesn’t have to be money, but offer something that person might like. Think free labour, errand running or something else like those demos. Typically January is a slow month for many of us, so now might be a good time for outreach. 

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You say you got your basement studio setup last year, tell us about it. You mention production. Are you selling stuff to people, making stuff for yourself or building inventory to do a show later when you feel you are ready?

Do you make slab built pottery, wheel thrown pottery or both?

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Alright alright, I’ll get more in depth. 

Importantly, thank you for your replies. Very charming to see strangers willingness to help. 

 

A little bit about me, the ‘operation’, and what I seek.

 

I took a handbuilding class for fun, a couple of years ago, saw people on the wheel and had to give it a try.I later enrolled in an eight week course and caught on decently well. Importantly for me, I found a discipline I wanted to carry on with practicing. 

 

I needed more flexibility and time to work.. My lovely teacher gifted me her old kiln, my savings bought a wheel and I’ve been getting crafty with other and equipment needed. Fortunately, I’m able to use the basement in my building as a studio. Unfinished from 1874.. Dark and moist. With boots I can't stand straight.. With sandals, I fit perfectly. I installed good lighting and made it as cozy as could be. 


 

Current equipment / situation, in studio:

 

  • Drywall boards with primer as working surfaces. In some places they pill off, especially if worked with really wet clay. I mostly use it for heavy kitting.

  • Wood board covered in canvas - working surface for wet clay. 

  • I use a bucket system due to bad sink.. But thankfully there is a sink.

  • Kiln - electric, manual, shut off kilnsitter. 22 inches deep and using 15 ½ inch kiln shelves. Using 04 sitter cones for shut off to get the best I can to 06 throughout the whole kiln. And 7 sitter cones to shut off during glaze. Has given me the best results. 

  • Kiln is located 40 min drive away at my parents house. Moving the bone-dry pots sucks, but has to be done. Glazing done at parents house. 

 

I wish too..

 

  • Learn how to mix and test glazes. 

  • Learn to make and use plaster moulds.

  • Refine my throwing techniques.

  • Understand the flow in an established studio. 

  • Smart business.

 

My creative goals and biggest wonders lie in making masks. All sorts of masks.. And Incorporating other materials like wood and feathers.. Rope. That's where I go to daydream..

 

I love the technical aspect of throwing. I’m also drawn to making functional pieces for day to day use.

 

Ultimately, I would like to combine the two.. I’m sure in some ways it will make sense and I’m in no rush. My first target of skill would be the ability to produce respectable tableware. From my understanding, it could be a strong base for the business, while the masks might be a little more of a niche.

 

 I look forward to playing around.. Finding my way.. And changing it all around and trying again. That is probably in a half a years time, when I leave Toronto and move to make my home elsewhere in the world. In this 4-6 month, I am able to travel and plan to do so. I am very interested in gaining experience in ceramics while on the road, even if it means staying in one place for a longer span of time. 2-3month.  

 

When I am settled in my new home, I plan to build a studio. I’m sure something modest but functional. I can't see myself relying on any income that comes from ceramics at that point. I will have another source of income to sustain myself which will also require my time. But I ultimately want ceramics to be my main driving point. 

 

I want to establish a strong skill set that will help me in my own practice. I have a windowed time frame of freedom to commit to whatever I want and I think it's a great opportunity to spend it with a mentor in an established studio. I believe if such a mentor is looking for a set of hands, I will be quite capable and very hardworking in return. I have done scuba diving apprentices in the past in return for professional certifications. From which I can provide references.

I have another option of starting a ceramics degree at one of the local universities in the country I move to. I’m not so inclined to go back to school.. I think understanding the practical aspect is mostly important for me at this point. But I am open to ideas.. Do you think a university degree is suited to what I want to achieve? Would it be better suitting then working in the right studio?

 

Any advice on paths I can take? Am I making sense with my ideas and expectations?  

 

Thank you if you got this far :)

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4 hours ago, Niv said:

All sorts of masks.

Gotta see these!! Post a few pics, please.  Regarding university-level ceramics, I am biased in strong favor of doing it, if the art school is of high quality. Some of what I see & hear coming out of local community studios is--frankly--atrocious in terms of bad/inadequate info.  Like anything, do your own homework--in depth--to find the right placements - don't go by what looks good on paper! Many colleges offer business courses for artists-a great benefit if you can find that. Sounds like you are a good distance from worrying about "production" per se, depending on your idea of  quantity & speed. There is much info to be had here from ceramicists  who do quality production and run their own businesses. You might want to search through the Business, Marketing, and Accounting Forum, or post a topic of your own there.  

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12 hours ago, Niv said:

I have another option of starting a ceramics degree at one of the local universities in the country I move to. I’m not so inclined to go back to school.. I think understanding the practical aspect is mostly important for me at this point. But I am open to ideas.. Do you think a university degree is suited to what I want to achieve? Would it be better suitting then working in the right studio?

Just me talking but yeah definitely do the degree and get a masters as well if possible. Do you need to do that to be successful, I don't think so but it will change your journey and prob for the better. School is the time that you can soak up not just pottery but art history in general. You will get exposed to other mediums and points of view and be forced out of your comfort zone to do things you won't do on your own. You will also likely make a few life long friends and meet tons of interesting people. Not huge fan of the being a grunt at someones studio but if you are you can do that while going to school. Just some thoughts, everyone has to make their own way. Studio work is pretty solitary so school is a time to really engage.

On the studio, sounds cool, we stopped using canvas over board because it seemed unhealthy. Every time we plopped something down dust would cloud out. I pulled it off and replaced with the cheap plastic house building wrap called (Tyvek I think in the US) and that works much better and can be easily wiped down.  Also make sure you have a clay trap on that sink or it will get clogged up with clay.

I'm sure you will get some great input here, sounds like you have a good start. If I read it right you have a low fire kiln and you might want to try and upgrade to a high fire cone 8 kiln so you can work in cone 6. I would guess mask would need the extra strength but maybe not.

Good luck on your journey, enjoy.

 

Edited by Stephen

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I don’t think formal education is the right choice for @Niv. S/he sounds like a mature person who already has a good handle on the ceramics process, and clear ideas about what s/he wants to make, self-driven to explore, and knows that there is a long term developmental process involved. What s/he needs is practical operational guidance and business guidance, which is is really not taught much in academia. I would recommend looking for a busy studio like the one @Callie Beller Diesel described, where the potters would allow them to be in their space, observing everything that goes on, asking questions, in exchange for grunt work. 

@Niv, not every working potter wants to have an apprentice underfoot, but you come across in your writing as a person who would be worth teaching. So don’t be shy about reaching out. 

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I taught University ceramics for 29 years. I agree with Mea (GEP)  that it may not be the right choice. If you can find educational training without incurring lifetime debt, great. I would recommend you  follow youtubes by the likes of John Britt. Great teacher.  Take a workshop from someone offering techniques you want to learn.  Ceramics is a life long endeavor for many. It can keep you searching and researching for your entire life. Very gratifying.  Best wishes to you.

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Best part of two semesters of wheel (Wheel I, Wheel II) at local Junior College, was socializing and looking over all the work - on every shelf, in every cubby! .. getting to know classmates, and watching them work; access to the lab, and spending many hours there; doing things (assignments) I wouldn't otherwise do (thanks teacher!); getting started on glaze formulas...  I miss the people and their work, however, not missing the dusty mess, bad clay, gloppy glaze area, travel time, exposure to perfume/cologne/hair spray, etc. and carrying stuff back and forth. I'd be interested in a degree in the subject if I wanted to teach (again/more - have logged decades a'ready, an' now retired).

Glazes 

  There are many good books and other resources; may I recommend Tony Hansen's digitalfire website? Here's an article on glaze gel 

https://digitalfire.com/4sight/glossary/glossary_thixotropy.html

(He has a you tube video on the same subject)

If one resource only, I'd like to know if there's anything out there more complete than what Mr. Hansen has put together. You might start with one clear glaze that works well, or "fits" your favourite clay.  Beware, it might take a while get there, haha.

Hesselberth and Roy's book, Mastering Cone  6 Glazes is available as pdf file (also in black and white), if one book only, it's a good choice. Also want to mention Peterson's The Craft and Art of Clay - her discussion of limits is great, imo.

Throwing

  After thoroughly preparing your clay, then practice, practice, practice, and then being willing to throw many (if not most) back into the reclaim bucket, what is there? If you can find a mentor, good-oh! Else, the reading on the subject, hmm... gets one started. Well, there are endless videos! Here are a few of my favourites:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybb-HhSrtxA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19YjNGEtUYo&list=PLFZ2eFNvGhX0ez61qrysObIJjNDZlOeEj

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwLUuEnwVBA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bs2tUxKQIic

...and the Ingleton guy, Hsinchuen Lin, Emily Reason ...so many!

 

Molds, flow, business

  I've no interest in slipcasting ...yet :|

  Flow is improving in my studio - mostly just by working through kiln loads, and being willing to adjust (shelving, ware boards, clear counter space, clean up routine, rolling cart...) for efficiency and fun.

  I'm not expecting more than hobby level "production" that covers expenses, allows for donations to local charities/foundations/clinics/non-profits, etc., and keeps me busy. Birthday and gift giving is easy, haha!

P.S.

This forum is a good resource as well!

Edited by Hulk
oh yeah, here

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Being in posession of a ceramics degree myself: If you want to be a production potter, don't go to art school to learn how to run that, or any other kind of business. Art school is for Art. It's been 20 years since I graduated Alberta University of the Arts (formerly ACAD), but while I was there, I was actively discouraged from giving any consideration as to how I'd feed myself after I graduated. It was considered a distraction from making. I don't know that the situation has changed any since. Programs in Canada are getting farther and farther away from models that embrace clay as craft, and are trying to move the field into more fine art acceptance. The slight exceptions to this are Red Deer College, Kootenay School of the Arts, and I think Sheridan, although I'd double check that last one. Note that these only offer diplomas, not degrees. These are the schools in Canada that have the best technical training at the moment. If you want to just make pots for a living, you don't need a degree. If you want to teach at the college level or on the workshop circuit, you do.

If you want to make GOOD pots for a living, you should definitely get some kind of design education, formal or informal. Again, if you're not needing to teach, this can be self guided. Start by looking at all kinds of other people's pots to see what you like and what you don't. Take lots of workshops, and find some kind of community. Learning in a group will provide a great deal of information in a shorter amount of time, because you share each other's successes and failures. The GTA should have a ton available. Make lots of stuff. Screw it up. Make more. Glaze courses are a good idea: dinnerware has rigorous requirements, and I think if you can work out durable, food appropriate glazes, you can break them for whatever sculptural effects you'd like to achieve.  Matt Katz has an excellent online course that I wish had been around when I was in college, and I'm looking at taking it even now. It's very reasonably priced for a course that's more in depth than any I took in school. It is very technical, but he's very good at explainations.

https://www.ceramicmaterialsworkshop.com/online-classes.html

Studio flow largely comes from being innundated with a lot of work, and having to figure out the most efficient way of getting through it without loosing your mind. Unnecessary steps get dropped in a hurry, and organization and planning kick in when you have your first 3 week deadline to produce 50 finished mugs. You do get used to doing this and more over time, but the first time is panic inducing! I used to have to transport everything I made to be fired, and it's a fantastic pain. For you, I think figuring out a way to either move your studio to your kiln or your kiln to your studio will shave a lot of time off your process. Designing what you make and having numbers of what you want to make before you even sit down speed up the workflow immensely. Treat creativity and production as the two different processes they are. Saying to yourself "ok, I need to make a bunch of mugs today" means different things on the day you're designing vs the day you're filling a shop order or getting ready for a show.

  If you know where in Canada you might land after travelling, let me know, and I can try and point you at some good community stuff. Also, check out www.makeanddo.ca. It's a Canadian directory of artists and clay organizations. It's not complete, but it could get you started.

While you're doing all of this, you need to figure out how you want to structure your business. Figure out exactly what you want to make and exactly who you want to sell it to. I think you have a good start on this, but specificity is your friend here. There will also need to be some experimentation in figuring this out.  Find some entreprenerial information! Read books, take some classes through college. While the internet can be a good resource for this as well,  beware of the $50 "I sold 6 figures of my artwork last year and you can too!" kind of courses. I like Marie Forleo, and Mei Pak at Creative Hive for online marketing. You will benefit from a business community as well. Make friends with folks who don't make art. Join the local business associations when you're ready to get going. Good things come of this.

That's some random thoughts from me, and if you need anything clarified, do ask. 

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I've been slowly gathering information from successful functional potters I admire and weeding my way into their world's slowly.  There is a lot of great advice to be had for free, but successful functional potters are extremely busy.  Almost all of the people I've contacted work 14 hour days and hop onto email for a little bit in the morning and night, and I make it very clear that I appreciate anything they have to offer.  For me, design comes naturally.  Skill, not so much.  Business stuff is what I struggle with most, and is the most important part for me to understand right now.  It's hard because all I want to do is make pots, I need to schedule in time for doing business stuff and since I'm working full time it's really hard for me to focus on that stuff.  

Right now I work 10 hours at my regular job, and then I am working on my pottery business stuff from when my kids go to bed (9pm) til I go to bed (2am).  On the weekends I bisque and glaze a kiln load, and while that's going, I film and edit pottery videos for my YouTube channel.  That's pretty much my routine.  

I'm following this thread closely, because I'm in a similar situation.  One thing I will say, is that you will need to be able to make the same thing over and over without getting bored.  I have a commission right now that is thrown in 3 pieces, assembled and a handle on it, and I'm expected to make 20 of these per month.  I have been doing them 10 at a time over the course of a couple nights (day 1 throw pieces, day 2 pull handles, day 3 assemble).  It's tough to get started but once I'm in the zone everything just happens, so that's nice.  I don't expect it to last for years, but if it does, I am prepared for that.  And I own the design so even if the commission falls through, I am confident I can sell these quite easily in other places.

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Good evening! 

 

Thank you LEEU, Stephen, GEP, Marcia, Hulk, Callie, and Liambesaw!

 

A little about what you guys wrote:

 

Going to school -  

 

The idea interests me from much of what you’ve mentioned, breaking out of comfort zone.. Trying other mediums and points of view.. Life long friends.. Soaking up tons of info.. And hopefully a cool prof or two. BUT. In my own reality and having spent 5 years doing a business degree specializing in accounting, the idea of school and committing to a long degree scares me a little. It would also need to be on a part time basis. Interesting to know that it is degrees are very ART based and to do in depth homework before picking a school.

 

Youtube / online courses / books - 

 

I look forward to further explore books, try online workshops (especially for glaze mixing), and learning new techniques of youtube. This approach has been with me since the home studio took hold. @Marica , I’m following John on instagram and look forward to checking out his courses. @ Callie I look forward to reading more about Rose and Matt Katz! @Marica , or anyone, how do you stay updated on upcoming courses or master classes?

 

@Callie - super informative post. Thank you! To add to my situation, I will not be living in Canada anymore. Seems unfortunate with the door of information you’ve just offered, thanks again. Joining or forming a community is something I’m very excited about! And I will need to think more about specificity is my friend…
 

 

All things said, I will try to rethink my question:

I believe that my next step should be taking an intensive course (specifically in throwing) or still find an internship or apprenticeship (if not so hard to come by). To have someone over my shoulders to correct my mistakes, show me the solution with their hands.. If I can gain the skills of throwing specific designs, I think it could help me take off my training wheels once I set up the new studio.

 

Glazing, mixing, and testing could come with time, patience, and online courses and books. Studio flow - time, experience, and tight deadlines. Molds - online courses or maybe another in person course in the future. 


Do you think this could be achieved by finding some intensive courses or master classes? Does anybody know of a good course or masterclass going on anywhere around the world?

I will be heading to southeast Asia for a few months in February unless I find something ceramic related somewhere else in the world.. It would be super if anyone had information about studios there that can fit any of my needs.

Thanks again to everyone!

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Hey 5 years of school is enough. I was coming from the "everyone one that can go, should go the college route when they are young". It's a once in a life time thing and once you start tossing in the expenses of the wants and needs as you get older that opportunity usually passes you by.

Don't like accounting huh?  Oh well, It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. I don't know what the percentages are but I think prob half or more of folks who work in clay are self taught. As mentioned YouTube is fantastic. Check out Simon Leech along with all of the other recommendations, he has a lot of videos up and they are ongoing. Great potter and comes from a very talented pottery family going back a 100 years.

Good luck with finding an apprenticeship and/or classes. One of the guys here might run across something and dial you in. Sounds like you are traveling an if you plug into the local pottery scene each time you land I bet something falls into place. I think so much of pottery is process and repetition so hopefully you can stay at it. It can be a bit like getting in shape. Miss a day here and a day there and suddenly you realize its been a few months since you worked out :-)  

enjoy your travels.

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On 1/5/2020 at 11:59 PM, LeeU said:

Is it  a lack of strong KSAs with the making of the ware that is an obstacle to your progress or is it more issues with studio logistics or business practices? 

Lee, what is KSA please? 

 

7 hours ago, Callie Beller Diesel said:

The GTA should have a ton available

And Callie, what is GTA please?

New acronyms to me. 

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3 hours ago, Bam2015 said:

what is KSA

Opps--bad habit--using acronyms without first using the full words, followed by the initials in parentheses, and then using the acronyms going forward. Anyway--it's knowledge, skills, and abilities.  Ex.  Employers are looking for what KSAs you can bring to the position. 

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staying updated on master Classes

I posted John Britt's course on Events here. You could follow several FB pages like "ceramics courses workshops worldwide" or follow those people who offer what you are looking for. Read magazines. Ceramic Monthly's April issue list summer workshops. 

Marcia

 

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