Jump to content

Is it possible to make a living?


Recommended Posts

26 minutes ago, Pres said:

It is possible, check out the postings of @Mark C.. A lifetime commitment for certain, but he takes time to travel, scuba, and fish. A well balanced life of working hard with a focus on ceramics.

 

best,

Pres 

trouble is the cost of entry has gone through the roof

it'd be easy to go on a rant here but even just the advantage of cheap energy cannot be understated here

everything is more expensive and less available

truth be known I'm a bit turned off when I constantly hear about the dozens and hundreds and thousand of w/e is not even possible for many of us

the last few years has only made the situation worse

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think "making a living"  is perhaps not the best way to look at it. Making it "your life" might be more congruent with what it ultimately takes to bring home the bacon in such a tough field and especially in such tough times.  Another important aspect is whether or not one is going for production that sells fairly readily, or is the focus more on higher priced, less quantity, fine art pieces? The markets & marketing are so different. There  are so many ways to generate income from ceramics, but in any circumstance a solid business plan, and an overdose of perseverence, are essential. 

On 11/21/2022 at 2:46 PM, marco said:

is it possible to make a living?

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Many people have wrestled with this question. Like most other questions dealing with with clay, it defies a simple yes or no, if you want the true answer. It’s rolled around in my head many years. Some thoughts and observations:

There are those who make their living from ceramics. It is possible, not common. There are people who make money from ceramics, more common. There are also those who don’t make money, despite the fact they make many ceramic objects, the most common of all I think.

It’s worthwhile to pencil out the math. The greatest expense is your time, far more than the cost of clay, fuel, glaze ingredients, or other furnishings. Compared to other businesses with a more guaranteed success rate, the cost of entry is not actually that high. It is initially much higher than making pottery at an institution with all the infrastructure in place though. It fools people who don’t account for the help they didn’t realize they were getting. 

The answer is yes. You can make a living doing clay. A few people do. Rock stars. It is more complicated than making and firing pots. You may make more money teaching people about ceramics. Some finance their studios that way. They teach, write, publish and promote, they’re hustling all the time (in a good way). Others have assistants who make the pots, while they decorate, glaze, and sign them as their own. Many people who (appear to?) make a living at clay work have alternative financing. It could be a retirement, a wealthy spouse, a trust fund, or another job. None of these things are apparent to a casual observer. They’re some ways people make it work. Do an honest accounting of your resources and what it will take to start making work and selling it. 

Things to consider, along with everyone else’s contributions and a grain of salt, from a guy who decided keeping his day job was the best way to make better pots. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, I make my living from it, so, yeah. It’s possible! Easy? That’s a different question entirely.

The methods to entry do vary depending on how and when you start. Tools and approaches that were available 20 years ago maybe aren’t now, but there are tools available now that weren’t here 20 years ago.

The thing that helped me the most was making a business plan. It doesn’t have to be the same kind of plan that you’d take to a bank in order to obtain a loan, but you should lay out for yourself some goals and projections based on research. Figure out where you want your income streams to to come from. Some folks love teaching, some don’t. Some folks love doing in person shows a lot, and some prefer online sales and marketing. And keep track of whether or not a given venture is profitable. Just because you took home $1000 from a show (random number) doesn’t mean you made bank. How much did it cost you to get there? And are you getting paid for your time? All of your time?

I don’t think it’s a great idea to just quit your day job and jump in at this point. Spend some time building your skills and building an audience. Start an email list! Even a small one of 100 people can net you a few sales every time, and that adds up. I know so many artists who were only doing in-person shows that had their businesses saved over the covid shutdowns because they had an email list.

Build up your studio and supplies with sales from your pots over time. I didn’t start off my business by owning all my equipment from the outset. I did buy a wheel and some shelves, and just fired at a community centre for years. It took a long time, and was interrupted by life a LOT, but I outfitted my studio slowly and with cash. Keep your overhead low.

Take the time to visit shows the year before you apply to them, to see whether or not they might be ones that fit your work. Make “show friends” with the other artists you work with, so that you can talk shop with them and trade intel. Those show friends will also be a source of support and encouragement, and community like that is necessary.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hard work usually pays off  they say. Most folks are not focused enough to go thru the lean years and keep at it.It takes a long time to gain traction in this field and it takes a long long time to become a professional at all things needed to make it work.If you think its work you are in the wrong field -it has to be your passion I feel.

Edited by Mark C.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello Marco,

Welcome to the forum. While I can't answer as one who makes a living from pottery, I can share my observations. It appears to me that many of the more successful potters  not only make pots to sell, but they also teach classes in a studio and/or workshops at craft schools, and are very active on social media. 

Betty

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not all the potters I know who are making a living are active on social media, but the social media folks are definitely the visible ones. Those not doing social media do have some method of marketing themselves and building an audience. Digital platforms have low barriers to entry, but they do involve a time commitment to get right. When I was first beginning to sell at markets, someone told me I should consider booth fees at smaller shows to be a marketing expense. Her logic was that even if you had a no-sale day, as long as you collected some email addresses, it wasn’t a loss. I think there’s caveats to that, but there’s a little truth to it.

Having multiple income streams can definitely even out your cash flow, and can really help you weather changes in market circumstances. The obvious one recently was the huge jump everyone had to do towards online sales at the start of the pandemic. Those that already had some digital assets like websites, email lists and even small social media presences were in a bit better position to pivot fast than anyone who had to start by building a website.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

22 hours ago, Bam2015 said:

appears to me that many of the more successful potters

I think the key word there is appears. And on what your personal definition of success is. There’s lots of ways to succeed, but you have to decide for yourself what you think is a win. You’re not succeeding at life if you’re applying someone else’s metrics to yourself. Especially if your temperament doesn’t suit that image of success.

 The life of a pottery celebrity may or may not appeal to everyone. For those who love it, they get gratification out of being well known as a knowledgeable person in the field. I imagine there’s a lot of satisfaction to be found in supporting other artists in their journeys. Some people have no interest in teaching, and know that classes and workshops aren’t their thing. 

Some folks thrive on social media. They can curate what people see, so they seem confident and upbeat and like things are going well. If you hate doing in person markets because you’re overwhelmed by crowds, having that buffer between you and the general public can be just the ticket.  But social media can be very bad for your mental health, so some who are in vulnerable places may find regular content creation to be unrealistic for them. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've haven't checked this board much over the past few years.   But this question is ALWAYS here.    Some people can but MOST can't seem to.   I've watched them come and go (and go and go) over the years.  I got my first kiln October 1, 2010.    I had my initial investment covered and prepared for 3 years of financial losses.    But this business started positive cash flow in about 16 months (1st 4th quarter in my free standing location).   I am free standing retail and use very little social media.   I do one flea market/craft show 2 times a year but I have decreased my effort there.  Been asked lots of times to teach classes and have never even considered it.   I'm had  up to 8 employees.      Now, I have 2 part time. 

This business is like any other business.   Actually, I think it's easier than something like a retail gift shop or floral shop (I've had both).   "What do we need in order to do it?" you ask.    Number 1 thing you need is financial backing or put more simply MONEY.

I did not start on shoe string.   BUT, you can see my expansion on my website and I can tell you that I paid for all the expansion out of cash flow.   I have 4 kilns now.   (only really need 2 or 3 now).  I bought the first one with investment money and I think I bought the 2nd one too out of personal money (can't remember).   Everything since that first year is from cash flow.  

What makes me the most money?  Selling more or doing more of the work myself?   I see more net profit from my own efforts.   I have cut back revenues some and don't plan to add any more employees.   The 2 I have left will add up to about 1 full time next year.   Until September I had 3.     I reached a point where I was putting out 7/8 kilns a week   ($1k to 1.2K a load).   I'm not in that ball park now and sales have tapered off.   But my net is higher and cash flow is higher.   I've seen my bank account go up in traditional months where it dips.

Three times I've almost had this business sold but it fell through.   I'll probably work here till I can't walk (maybe 10 more years?)  making a really nice supplemental income with total employee hours adding to less than 20 a week.   I actually enjoy the making more than overseeing.   I should add that I do a really good jewelry business (all import findings and some straight imports) and a pretty good fragrance business.   I won't be giving up jewelry.   The materials for candles, lotions, soaps have sky rocketed.   This year, I had enough back stock I only bought about $400.   From a category that will sell about $50k so it will be a very very good cash flow year from that.   I'm not sure I'll reinvest because I think there is a limit as to how much customers will pay for that category.  

Handmade pottery sales are holding quite well as is my fashion jewelry this year.

I am not displeased with the financial output of this business over the last 12 years.    One thing it does yield an extremely high ROI .. return on your investment for capital equipment, materials,  even including the real estate purchase I made for my location (including all start up costs).     I wouldn't say it  yields an extremely high ROI on your time.    I actually can make more $$$ doing retail consulting (which I limit so as not to neglect the business).    Also, the leverage factor, what you net from the efforts of employees, is not the most attractive ratio compared to the other straight retail businesses I have owned.    I've always done pretty well in retail but I do see retail tapering off in the upcoming years.   Thankfully, I won't depend on retail a sure outlet.  

Good luck and read the photo story on my website that somewhat chronicles my journey.   I think it can still be done ... but as I said .. MOST people that start it won't succeed.   But Cheers to those that do.     SOMEONE will make it.   Will that someone be you?   (might add that I did start this business with quite a bit of business, finance and academic experience)

Sharon Grimes

http:..dirtroadspottery.com

Edited by DirtRoads
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What have I seen that makes people fail in all businesses, not just pottery?

1.  Not enough financial backing

2.  A product offering that does not offer a definitive advantage or defining attribute that differentiates the product from competing product.  In pottery, you have got to have visual appeal.   I'm not trained enough to know or apply a  high level of skill but I KNOW it when I see it.  Sales appeal.    If you have such a level of skill, there is a definite audience you HAVE to reach.   And that's a whole other set of issues.

3.  Not getting the distribution worked out.   I consider online/social media to be a part of of the distribution.   It goes beyond being simply promotion. 

Price is usually not an issue as long as you have a cost based model for a starting point.      You have to start at cost and go up from there ..... getting to the high end of perceived value is not ususally a cause for failure although I did consult with one client that have outright laughable  price points.    Price exceeded perceived value by a land slide.

As for promotion, it's all mostly social media, mailing list.   Very few specialty businesses use traditional forms of advertising now.

 

 

Edited by DirtRoads
Link to comment
Share on other sites

In my experience, teaching is not a good way to supplement your income as a potter. Teachers get paid very little! Even if you are a star who can teach weekend workshops that command a high fee, the ceiling on income is very low compared to how much you can earn for making/selling pots at a good quality art fair or craft show. Teaching is also very time-consuming, if you care about a doing a good job that is. I did one workshop near the end of the pandemic, only because there were no shows to do at the time. I enjoyed it, just to be around people again. But the amount of work and the pay involved is not something I would choose over doing shows. 

The pay for teaching weekly classes to recreational potters is even worse! When I reached a point in my pottery business where I could no longer teach weekly classes AND keep up with demand for my pots, it was a no brainer to drop the classes. I can see how it might be worth it if you OWN the classroom studio and also teach the classes, but not if you are just an employee.

These days I produce video lessons and sell them online. Once a video is finished, the income is almost totally passive. It’s the only way it makes sense for me to do it within my schedule. 

I don’t have experience teaching college level ceramics. I can see that the income/benefits/stability would actually provide a meaningful living. But I suspect that this is more about being an academic than a potter. Not better or worse per se, just not the same. I taught college level graphics courses a long time ago, and I found the academic environment to be very unpleasant. And the amount I was being paid to teach those classes was much less than I was making for my design work. 

Edited by GEP
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was a HS teacher, and later in that career I taught college courses to supplement a HS teachers salary. I made more in two weeks of Summer college classes than I did for an entire Summer of shows. I still made pots, but stopped doing shows as my helper (wife) got tired of doing them with all of the hassle from March when the weather broke to end of October. In the long run it was tough on the family. One would think a teacher would have so much time off in the Summer that it would be easy to make pots and sell them. . . not so!

 

best,

Pres

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 11/27/2022 at 12:51 PM, Callie Beller Diesel said:

I think the key word there is appears. And on what your personal definition of success is. There’s lots of ways to succeed, but you have to decide for yourself what you think is a win. You’re not succeeding at life if you’re applying someone else’s metrics to yourself. Especially if your temperament doesn’t suit that image of success.

 The life of a pottery celebrity may or may not appeal to everyone. For those who love it, they get gratification out of being well known as a knowledgeable person in the field. I imagine there’s a lot of satisfaction to be found in supporting other artists in their journeys. Some people have no interest in teaching, and know that classes and workshops aren’t their thing. 

Some folks thrive on social media. They can curate what people see, so they seem confident and upbeat and like things are going well. If you hate doing in person markets because you’re overwhelmed by crowds, having that buffer between you and the general public can be just the ticket.  But social media can be very bad for your mental health, so some who are in vulnerable places may find regular content creation to be unrealistic for them. 

I wholeheartedly agree with what you are saying.  I was merely generalizing on my observations ,which I felt like I had made clear, but I guess not, and trying to answer Marco's inquiry. 

There are no two exact roads for any two people. 

Betty

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Doing workshops and teaching classes are two different animals. Workshops are a good way to make some extra money, but you don't get the chance to do them until you're fairly famous because it's your name that's the draw. There may be others out there who make work that is just as nice but no one is going to pay money to go to a workshop if they haven't heard of them. It's also not something that you can do every week all year long. There's just not that kind of opportunity, and it'll eat into your studio time. One of the nice things about the internet age is that you can do online workshops, however you still need the name recognition to get people to sign up. The vast majority of potters do not do workshops on a regular basis, but they're great when you do get to do them. You can make a few hundred bucks for a day's work, plus sell some pots and meet a bunch of other potters. They're a great ego boost, too!

Teaching pottery classes does not pay much. Many people who teach are paid in studio use, kiln use, clay, etc. If they are paid actual money it's not usually very much because they're paid for contact hours, and classes are usually only 2-3 hours once a week. Even as a studio owner you have to offer a lot of classes for it to be profitable. My classes cover my monthly expenses plus a little more. It would not be profitable on its own to a degree that was worthwhile unless I offered 3 times as many classes as I do (I currently have 4). That many classes would require hiring a couple of helpers, and working all day on Saturday, which is why it's never been the sole focus of my business.

College level teaching is a sweet gig if it's an environment you enjoy. Time off, benefits, etc. Personally, I would love a college job, but when I got out of grad school I was burned out on the academic world and didn't pursue it. After a time is was simply too late to start that career. Most college jobs will require you to move, because there are only a handful available each year and chances are they're not in your town.

My business survives because I have 3 income streams- teaching, selling my work, and kiln sales/repair. It was the best way for me to get the business going and now I'm settled into it. With some changes I could make a go at any one of them on its own, but I really don't want to. It fits the way I like to work, and works really well with my home life. The downside is that kiln repair and studio time can fluctuate a lot. Repair work has been crazy lately, so studio time has been virtually non-existent for the past few months. Financially it all works out just fine- money is money- but I do wish I had more time to make pots.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lots of great business people here to help you along the way. My advice after a dozen years, mostly part time (my wife has been doing it full time for 15) is to make a LOT of  pottery and sign up for any local shows you can find and just let it happen. It will all come together if you keep at it and you are enjoying yourself and it wont if you don't. If your stuff is any good it will sell and if its not then you have to be able to get it to that level. Once you work that out then you can dial in your version of making a living at it. Most, not all, but most people I think make modest amounts of money. But ya know there is a lifestyle side of it that has value as well.  You can do online sales through places like Esty and get wholesale customers  (mostly tourist shops) and do small markets or weekend shows.  The expense of out of town shows can really make it risky to do those shows so I would not do those until you have dialed it all in.  

We do a local market almost weekly these days and for 4 hours of selling and 2 hours setup and tear down on Saturday they top out usually around $6-750ish and occasionally we tag closer to a thousand. That's not a lot of  dough for 2 people once you factor in the work and cost of what we sold but its a light day about 10 minutes from our house so it's fine and I love dealing with customers. You meet a lot of really nice people.  Mark C did a show a few months back and had over 700 customers over a 3 day period but he said it was one of the best shows he ever did and he's been doing this as a production potter for over 40 years and other people on this board talk of really big pay days at some of their shows so its possible to make a very good living, just not probable. Remember to have fun.   

Edited by Stephen
Link to comment
Share on other sites

To add to this, you could make decent money if you brand, market and niche down on certain ceramic pieces. Otherwise you might be better off training people under you to bulk produce pieces but of course, they're not going to do it like you do or perfect so that's soemthing you'll have to come to terms with 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.