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Small batch decorative pots vs. Big batch functional pots

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First of all, thank you so much for your thoughtful and supportive comments to my last posting. I wish I could respond to your comments! 

Now with another beginner's question (posted it on Reddit Pottery group as well - so apologies if you are reading it twice!) 

As a beginner, I have been exploring IG for a couple of months - I know there are a lot of amazing ceramists offline but right now it's the easiest way for me to "observe" professionals.

For me it seems like those who are well established in the market either make small batch artistic, decorative pots (mostly vases) or big batch mugs and functional items (some with flashy colors and drawings, others with rather "standard" design). Of course there might be ceramists who are doing both, but those with their own strong brand seem to have taken one solid approach. 

How do people decide which direction to take? Is it much more difficult to be "successful" with decorative items since you really have to be known in the market to be able to sell your pots with higher price level vs. functional items? 

Of course right now I'm just learning all the skills, finding my way through the ceramics but I think I'm leaning towards handbuilding decorative pots just because it's more fun for me. 

But is there anything I need to know before taking one direction and starting to brand myself? 

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I would strongly suggest building a more solid set of skills before going into business. Or at least be more than a few months in. However good at pottery you are right now, if you’re under 2 years, you still are growing your skills at an exponential rate. The work you make next month is going to be markedly better than it was last month, and can cause growing pains. 

I know a lot of folks who jump in to selling far too early, and if they’re good marketers, they find themselves stuck in a creative box. If you decide in 6 months that you hate doing production level mugs, you essentially have to start all over building your audience towards whatever it is that you do like making. And that can be hard financially and emotionally. Or they unknowingly make mistakes that aren’t apparent until a few months down the road, and they now have some uncomfortable customer service situations to resolve. 

Finding an audience and growing your artistic voice both take time. And keep in mind that people can make themselves look successful on social media, but the reality may be less glamorous. 

As you build your skills, you’ll learn more about what you do and don’t like doing as a potter. That will help narrow down some of your choices. I think the best thing you can do for you and your eventual client base is to find out what your strengths and loves are in clay first, and then present that to them in the best way you can. Your eventual audience will be the people that like what you make and share at least some of your taste. There can be some give and take between you and your audience, but you have to be the one directing that interaction, and setting the parameters you are willing to work within.

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A serious pursuit in ceramics, whether you do it as a business or not, is not something where you choose what type of potter you will be. 

“You don’t choose it. It chooses you.” 

Some people like the idea of being a potter, then find that the reality is not what they were expecting. Be careful about getting your impressions from Instagram or Reddit. 

In my experience of being part of the professional craft world (and not just seeing it on social media) is that the high volume functional pottery folks are the ones making a livable income. The low volume decorative folks are making a side income. That doesn’t mean that NONE of the decorative folks are making good money, some of them are. They have something in common, which is decades of experience and a long term steady growth of reputation and marketing. It takes a long time. 

The high volume functional folks who are making a good living have also been at it for decades. It takes that long to develop that kind of skill and speed. 

I have seen countless beginners try to start out making “expensive” pots thinking they can take a short path to being successful and making an income. It doesn’t work. Period. Anyone who says otherwise is pretending to be someone they’re not. Or trying to sell you something. (Pay me $$$$ for my secrets to craft business success! Or something like that. Again, be wary of social media messages.)

Me personally, I am a high volume functional potter. I didn’t take this route because it was more profitable. It suits my personality and my artistic values.

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Ceramics is not an easy route to riches, it is a long and tedious journey with lots of bumps in the road. Just when you think you have conquered throwing you'll get a load of pots with "S"cracks in every one. Then you will have another load where you fell asleep and the kiln overfired melting glaze glueing everything to the kiln shelves. You may save 3 or 4 out of it, but even those are not sellable! Oh and don't forget your kitchen cabinet that fills up with rejects. . . pots you couldn't sell but still can't throw away. I have thrown more in the recycle bin or the trash than I would admit to.  Yeah, big money, not happening without lots no, LOTS of work. So why do we do it, and how do we survive with it, mostly because we can't do without it, its a Passion!




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I am a low income decorative potter fortunately  my husbands supports my clay work.    I have worked in some area of art my whole life and I always come back to clay.  I did some teaching,  didn't care for it,  made custom functional dinnerware for a while I didn't like the the customers.   I am 71 so many of the artistic jobs I did in the past are being done by robots now.  If you are considering being a full time potter you need to find a part time job.   A job that requires some artistic skill would be very helpful in  keeping your brain stimulated in art and design.   Some business classes will also help you have a successful pottery studio.  You need to develop your own style and design before you start working on branding.   Denice

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On 7/8/2024 at 11:13 AM, yoony22 said:

exploring IG

What is IG??? Best to spell out acronymns the 1st time one is used-not everyone is up on all the cyber-speak LOL (I do know what that means.) 

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Wow this has been a thing will me recently 

Its funny as I have has a bunch of folks contact me recently  (all  very beginners) about making a carreer from ceramics .One called and wanted to spend time with me from Seattle. I turned that down and suggested to visit a Seattle potter and really just hammer down on throwing skills 1st.The second actually came to my studio for about 1/2 hour during a kilns glaze unloading.

I always say the same thing as Mea said above-stressing its hard work  and there are much easier ways to make money. The skill sets do not come easy.The it takes decades usually seems to float on by.

On also followed up with an eamil on some pitfalls many professional go thu-I'll share that now below .

I like Mea know that most are just plane not cut out for it-that just the way it is and I have seen it from 50 years of experience-I wish this was not the case but I know it is.

(I forgot to mention all the stuff that happens to professional potters sooner or later
I have had all this happen to me as most professionals have as well- to some degree you need to be tuff/thick skinned after these events as you just keep moving forward and make it all again on the wheel
Thats why I stress making stuff needs to be the part you master first( Production throwing) think 20-30 of each form and get efficient at that part 1st

The Bisque fire kiln is overfired so much so that no glaze will stick to wares and you have to throw the whole load away-been thru this more than once. Its easier (time wise) to start over than try to glaze overtired bisque
Forgot to close damper on bisque lots and lots of wares crack and you have to throw it all away
You overfire the kiln and its all glaze runners and some can be ground  on bottoms but many need to hit the trash can
The kiln is almost done (near very end of fire) and a massive earthquake hits and the whole load falls over and is lost with kiln damage and shelves all glazed up-the whole load is ruined -more trash can pots
Whole load falls over-lots a bisque load and some glaze pots as well
Electrical box melts during electric fire and you have to get a new breaker box -big time setback time wise
The clay is bad and has bloated and you loose the whole load and a month worth of work-yep trash can again
You mix up glaze and make a mistake and its ruined all the wares you glazed with it during glaze fire-This have happened many times for various reasons (chemicals are different or came mislabeled)
Shelve cracks and takes out a lot of pots-trash can timer again

There is more but you will discover there is 1,000 ways to go sideways
Its all part of the process
Another reason many do not get to the making a living from this.
You need to go into it with eyes open and know the pitfalls  as no matter what you will make some)



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There are so many components of working with clay that you have no control over.   One problem right now that affects C6 electric fire potters is the cost of lithium,  last time I checked it was 100 dollars a pound.   Some chemicals have disappeared because the pit that is came from it all dug out and they can't find another pit of it.   A new pit is often a problem,  I made a large Talavera tile mural with a low fire red clay.   The clay  had talc in it from a new pit,   when I glazed them  they had nickle size bubbles in the glaze.   This wasn't my first mural with this glaze or type of clay, I didn't have any problems with it..  Other potters were also having trouble and found out about the new pit.  The bad talc clay also shatters easily in freezing weather,  so far I have replaced 200 tiles there are 1200 tiles in the mural.   Talc is dug in massive amounts for manufactures like American Standard for toilets and sinks.   Potters buy a insignificant amount compared to the big companies,  we are not high on the list to inform us of a new pit.   I mixed up my own red clay to avoid any talc for the replacement tiles.  Denice

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