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cmdutcher

How Many Sell Ceramics For A Living?

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I'm in my senior year of college having concentrated in ceramics and I'm just curious, how many people on here sell work for a living as their primary source of income? Feel free to share your stories of how you got started, got your own studio, if you share a studio, etc.!

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Here are some similar threads from the FAQs:

http://community.ceramicartsdaily.org/topic/5764-business-forum-f-a-q-listing/?p=53648

 

 

I make and sell pots as my only income, and make a comfortable living. I started a part-time pottery business in 2002, while still working another full-time job. In 2010 my pottery sales allowed me to quit my other job.

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I'm one whose full time job is clay-making and selling.

I have two glaze fires going right now in my gas kilns so I'l keep it short.

My family was just about all teachers -most did art. From elementary to high school to Univerity of California art professors. I'm the only non-teacher in the bunch.

I was introduced to clay in 11 grade-I bought a wheel in my senior year-went to collage for 5 years in art-learned all I could sponge up about clay kilns glaze making. Never had a plan or thought about the next week much.Clay just go into my blood somehow-before I knew it it was all I was doing and before I could even consider it I was a full time potter. The startup was brutal looking back-I just rolled with it and by my middle 30's found my stride. Now 40 plus years later I'm still at it.I never had a plan-If I knew now how much work its been I may have thought twice.

Most do not have the drive to do this full time -For many years I did not think of it as work-I still am amazed I get paid to be in the studio but by now I know its big work and does take a toll on your body.

I will say I'm a high energy person or so I'm told-never learned to sit still and relax much.

I bought my place when I was only 19 in collage so I could build a few kilns and not be kicked out by landlords (which happened the year earlier)

My big break was a mother who had the foresight to loan me $ 5,500 for the down payment. It defined the rest of my life thinking back.

I have had a few setbacks like loosing three wrist bones fron a surgeon almost 3 years ago (a PRC)-that was a 5-6 month recovery for a potter but I;m back throwing very well now.

Adversity for me has been part of the journey.

Mark

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Here are some similar threads from the FAQs:

http://community.ceramicartsdaily.org/topic/5764-business-forum-f-a-q-listing/?p=53648

 

 

I make and sell pots as my only income, and make a comfortable living. I started a part-time pottery business in 2002, while still working another full-time job. In 2010 my pottery sales allowed me to quit my other job.

 

Interesting to know you kept working for 8 years before you could live off your sales. Makes me feel better about my 2 years of failing to sell :D

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Here are some similar threads from the FAQs:

http://community.ceramicartsdaily.org/topic/5764-business-forum-f-a-q-listing/?p=53648

 

 

I make and sell pots as my only income, and make a comfortable living. I started a part-time pottery business in 2002, while still working another full-time job. In 2010 my pottery sales allowed me to quit my other job.

 

Interesting to know you kept working for 8 years before you could live off your sales. Makes me feel better about my 2 years of failing to sell :D

 

 

After two years, I still had no idea it would one day be my only job!

 

Edit, to add some context:  When I launched the business in 2002, I had been a recreational potter for 8 years. So I wasn't a beginner potter. I was an intermediate potter, at the beginning stages of style development.

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One area that has not been covered  much is the replenishment rate of funtional potters

Meaning are we old timers being replaced?

Out here in the west (in my small county of 110,000) the answer is no

As I travel around at shows the answer is also no.

I wonder about the story in the east?

Here the average age at a big art show for us potters in 50-65 with a few exceptions.

I know of of gallery owners who struggle for funtional work as there usual potters retire or stop wholesaling.

The only full time potter I know who is in his 30's does not yet support himself as his wife has a power job and he said he could not go it alone.He did not want to wholesale and wants to sell items for top dollar-His market has yet to develope well for him. This takes time and lots of work.

I do not have an answer of why I only know some of the reasons

Production work is not embraced it seems

What I can say is many straight from collage want to sell a few pieces for lots of money (this is a great idea but not based in reality)

This is based from my past experience hiring top ceramic students from my local collage which I may add I gave up years ago .

The other is the learning curve takes so long and the equipment is costly-this I guess is another reason we are not seeing new folks taking our spots at shows?

My last idea is people in general do not want to work hard these days-and this is from experiencing the new generation glued to small screens

On the flip side there has been an explosion in the hobby side of ceramics-I learned this from Mel Jacobson at a potters council workshop I attended years ago in Mendocino when he told me thats who goes to the workshops-He said we see very few profesionals like you at these-and he was right.

In a perfect world I would love to see young funtional potters making their way into the art fair scene but out here in the west its just the opposite.

My fellow old geezers clay potters talk about this issue at every show these days.

Mark

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Guest JBaymore

Mark,

 

Pretty much same story here in the East, as I see it. 

 

LOTS of people are now working with clay...... tons of part-time/avocational/recreational folks.  But few jumping off the deep end of the pier.

 

There is plenty of good work being made....... but a lot of it is not from what we might traditionally consider 'full timers'.

 

Societal changes in what is valued have a huge impact, as does the changes in the broader economic picture.

 

I also think there always has been a goodly number of "full timers" in ceramics that have always blended together that full time status via a combination of selling their work, teaching part time, giving workshops, writing articles and books, and maybe selling some tools or equipment.  Still "all about clay"........ just not all about making clay objects 24/7. 

 

Even many of the folks we might think of as 'pure studio artists' usually do a lot of teaching / workshops and book/dvd hawking these days.  It is getting harder to make the days stretch to the end of the paycheck anymore.

 

best,

 

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

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We are truly fortunate to have on this board active, self supporting potters who take the time to give back to the pottery community by contributing their advice and insights. However, the majority of self supporting potters I know do not post anywhere on the Internet for a ton of reasons ... Most having to do with the need to manage any free time they get. Pesky things like food, rest, life and family!

 

I post this for two reasons ... One is so that you know you are getting a somewhat skewed view of a potters life if you are asking on the Internet ...

And two, to encourage you to consider going to NCECA this year ... since it is nearby ... so you can meet and talk to various potters at all stages of their careers. This is a yearly conference that even the hardest working potters try to find time for. You can meet people at every stage of a pottery life. Most respected Graduate Ceramics programs are represented so you can talk with your peers from all over. If the price tag is too high, consider volunteering to help ... and save money.

 

This is a perfect time for you to be asking these questions and NCECA is a great place to get answers.

 

Ps ... I posted this before I saw the posts above so will add that college debt is a big factor as well as ceramics programs not encouraging functional pottery.

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Guest JBaymore

We are truly fortunate to have on this board active, self supporting potters who take the time to give back to the pottery community by contributing their advice and insights. However, the majority of self supporting potters I know do not post anywhere on the Internet for a ton of reasons ... Most having to do with the need to manage any free time they get. Pesky things like food, rest, life and family!

 

I post this for two reasons ... One is so that you know you are getting a somewhat skewed view of a potters life if you are asking on the Internet ...

And two, to encourage you to consider going to NCECA this year ... since it is nearby ... so you can meet and talk to various potters at all stages of their careers. This is a yearly conference that even the hardest working potters try to find time for. You can meet people at every stage of a pottery life. Most respected Graduate Ceramics programs are represented so you can talk with your peers from all over. If the price tag is too high, consider volunteering to help ... and save money.

 

This is a perfect time for you to be asking these questions and NCECA is a great place to get answers.

 

Great advice from Chris (no surprise there).

 

It CAN be done........ it is just a scad of hard work.  And it will not happen instantly.  But in some ways it is no different from running ANY type of small business....mostly the same issues.  You have to get up and do the work every day.  If you are making and selling widgets or making and selling pottery........ if you don't have a really tough Boss (you) the business is not going to make it.

 

best,

 

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

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Maybe because I am a little bit younger (44), I know, and know of, lots of working potters of my age or younger. Some of whom are full-timers. Are they all going to make it long term? Probably not, but there are still plenty who are willing to try it. I'd argue that the odds of making it long-term are the same for any entrepreneurial venture. Not for the faint of heart.

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After I graduated in 2001 with my BFA, I joined a cooperative studio that was just starting up, spent the summer selling pots at folk fests...and fell flat on my face. I managed to cover my materials, and was out of money with student loans due, so I had to leave the studio, and I went and got a "real" job. I only made sporadically for the following 12 years. Mine is an excellent example of what NOT to do.

The places I went wrong:

-I avoided community, and isolated myself from other makers and clay people because I was ashamed of not being successful enough, fast enough.

-I disregarded the advice of a successful production potter to learn everything I could about running a business.

-I did not learn about marketing

-I did not research venues adequately

-I was quite snobby about where I wanted to have my work, despite my work being a bad fit for those venues.

-I refused to learn anything about running a business, because I thought it didn't apply to artists, and that it was "different " for us.

-did I mention I didn't educate myself on how to run a business, or write a plan of any kind?

 

I cannot stress this point enough: I was an epic dumba$$. Please don't do what I did.

 

I have been spending the last year and a half learning everything I could about running a creative business, researching, and writing out plans, in addition to slowly building a body of work. It's going to take me another few years to get this venture to the point where I'm making money I can support myself and my family with. I'm excited about it at this point, but I had a much longer journey to this point than it should have been.

There are a lot of excellent resources out there, and the Internet is an amazing tool that simply wasn't there when I was in your position. Use it in your business, but definitely seek out people who are doing things successfully out there in the real world. Make friends with everyone you can.

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(However, the majority of self supporting potters I know do not post anywhere on the Internet for a ton of reasons ... Most having to do with the need to manage any free time they get. Pesky things like food,rest, life and family!

This is so true-of the potters I know who are at it full time most do not have web sites and none post on the net.

I started to feel about a decade ago about giving back in terms of mentoring and helping avoid the pit falls I have gone thru.

I'm also fortunute to be able to make time for this as its in my one of my fields of interest.

The think I find the hardest is my advice is strictly from a studio potter who is working on a full time schedule so its hard for me to scale down some advice to part timers. Its something I'm starting to do a bit better but still hard to shift focus.

I also have a vested interest as far as hoping others will become full time and continue the making and selling of funtional wares as we shift more to a throw away society.

 

Now Chris brought up a huge point here which in itself is its own topic

(big factor as well as ceramics programs not encouraging functional pottery. )

I could really dig into this as I have watched this shift.

Mark

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Guest JBaymore

 

Now Chris brought up a huge point here which in itself is its own topic

(big factor as well as ceramics programs not encouraging functional pottery. )

I could really dig into this as I have watched this shift.

 

 

Yes, there is a strong shift in this direction at the collegiate level.  I'm happy to say that our school (NHIA) has not followed suit with this trend .... and the making of vessels stands right alongside making sculpture in our department.  NHIA also follows a skills based educational concept in all of the departments.

 

There are still some other programs in which the functional pot is valued ....... but they seem to be getting fewer all the time.

 

best,

 

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

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Unfortunately, some students are being sold on the idea of spending a lot of tuition money on the goal of making capital C Ceramics and it is going to be capital A Art and they are going to sell for BIG $$$$$$. Good luck with that.

It's time for the pendulum to swing back to training functional potters ... not just in pottery but business & marketing as well.

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My students really like the fact, that they can make functional ware(s), in my class.  So the desire is still there.  With that said, I haven't had any students go on to become potters, at least none I'm aware of.

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Don't worry I'm definitely functional although many have tried to tell me sculptural is better! There's enough non-functional art in the world; I like to make something that people are going to use.

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It CAN be done........ it is just a scad of hard work.  And it will not happen instantly.  But in some ways it is no different from running ANY type of small business....mostly the same issues.  You have to get up and do the work every day.  If you are making and selling widgets or making and selling pottery........ if you don't have a really tough Boss (you) the business is not going to make it.

 

But in some ways it is no different from running ANY type of small business....mostly the same issues.

 

I've owned several small businesses and ^ this is what I see.  I'm full time, 4 years in the business.  2 employees.   I also have a jewelry business.  One of the employees splits pottery selling time with jewelry making.  Last year was my most profitable year attributed to some price increases and focus on key sellers.  This business is smaller than the other businesses I have owned but I relish keeping more of my sales dollars.  Small seems to be better.  First 3 years was a lot of work yielding positive cash flow and a living but not enough profit for the work I was putting in.   Have to admit I was somewhat disenchanted.  Last year I was pleased.  This year is looking better.  My personal clay production is way up, due to changes in layout and hiring an employee to make jewelry while waiting on customers.   At this point I really like the pottery business.

 

Pro's/Con's compared to other small businesses

PROS:

- ROI (return on your capital investment) is HIGH.  The highest I've ever seen.   It takes a relatively small investment to start a business that can potentially yield a full time living.

-COGS (cost of goods) is lower than most traditional retail businesses.    You have a lot lower inventory carrying cost/investment.

-Product differentiation  is easier because you have 100% control.  If something doesn't sell, you change it. 

-Quick response to market trends.  Example last year I whipped out paw prints to capitalize on a college winning team. 

-Limited competitive substitutes.  From what I've seen you don't get a lot of copy cats, for whatever reasons.  

-Promotion with social media gets your name out there a lot faster now days.   A simple business card that directs people to your website can return a lot of sales for a very limited investment. 

 

CONS:

- No leverage with your production time.    You really can't make up down time.  This is my biggest "complaint" with the business.

- Distribution can be tricky to figure out.

- Cash flow until you "make it".  But this is no different than other small businesses.

- Technical ability

- Finding what sells?  This has been really easy for me but might not be as easy as I think ... for some people.

 

Not implying this is a blue print for the profession ... just what I've seen.  Not a get rich quick business but it's a viable living.

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DirtRoads ... I enjoyed reading your post ... You love what you do but you are not "in love" with it ... You can still step back and make good business decisions. You are watching the numbers so can adapt to changes quickly.

.... I would have hit the like button, but the software would not let me!

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We are a time and a half team and I think the thing I would stress is take your time and don't get in a hurry.    

 

It takes research and time to budget for, buy and learn to use your studio equipment and then its a forever process working out your product mix. I would recommend not just letting your studio come together with random buys based on what's available or what's cheap. Each piece requires some detailed thought if you are going to use it for production and in some cases the choices you make will define what you can or can't do, meaning either a costly upgrade or not being able to do something you want/need to do.

 

I would also be hesitant to buy old worn out equipment. Much of the equipment does last for a very long time but some needs regular maintenance and part changes and the savings you think you are getting may not be what you thought once you do some of this needed maintenance. A new set of elements for a kiln or a motor for a wheel are a couple of examples.

 

If you have an electrician put in a special plug for an older electric kiln you may want to decide what your upgraded kiln will most likely be so you can try and have the same plug installed. A Skutt 1027 is one of the most popular studio electric kilns, draws 48 amps and uses a 6-50 plug, This is a very popular spec but older kilns may vary. Factoring this later requirement into your used purchase you will make life easier when you upgrade. 

 

Buying one type of extruder only to find your work needs something different or a large slab roller when it turns out a small countertop or even rolling pin would not only be a better fit to the work but also fit your studio space better are just a couple more examples.

 

Good luck and remember to have fun!

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Thinking back to when I taught marketing, I can't think of any student that immediately left with their degree and opened a business.   Some students did, however, return to a family business.  Even with a business or marketing degree, you aren't really equipped to open a business.   Even with a MBA, you don't necessarily have the knowledge to open and run a business.   So maybe art/ceramic degrees are not that different from any other degree.

 

The biggest issue is finding the capital to open your own business.   I can definitely see this as an issue in pottery.  Biggest advantage you have is that you work towards this, by refining your marketing mix by doing it part time.   Just last week a person that has worked in the art profession told me that most all of the art students end up teaching or in a totally unrelated field.  I've met about 10 - 12 people in the last few years that have a MFA and none of them were working artists.  They are all art teachers or working in something else.

 

I'll attribute my success to my business back ground.   Not artistic ability.   My ideas don't seem to reach most artists.   I've done  a slight bit of retail consulting for 5 different retail businesses over the past 2 years.    And all of these businesses are successfully moving forward, implementing some of my suggestions.    I don't have any artists as clients but I have sat down and discussed ideas with several young artists.   Two of them with their family present, that were willing to support.    I haven't even considered taking them on as paying clients because they really don't want it bad enough to put out the hours or the capital investment.  This one had the family support that would invest but would not even consider doing functional and I told them that I didn't have the knowledge base as to how to sell these "sculptures". Last I heard they are still hanging around their parents home (which fortunately is quite large :) and they are the only child in the household so I know they are quite welcome to remain there).  The mother updated me at Christmas and so far they have not sold a single sculpture.

 

It's disappointing to hear that many university programs are discouraging functional .... Cheers to the educators that do!

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>I haven't even considered taking them on as paying clients because they really don't want it bad enough to put out the hours or the capital investment. <

 

You are wise not to waste your breath. Sad when you think of the ones who really want it but do not have nearby deep pockets to get them over the hump.

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I have been a full time artist for many years, photography, painting, etc recently started doing pottery. In the past I made enough to live on from art, if I had to, but my husband earned good money so I didn't need to. Used the money for equipment, traveling, and such instead. Now my husband is ill and can no longer work his disease is progressive it's never going to get better and will eventually end in his death. Sad but a true reality for me. This is the writing on MY wall.

 

I have instituted a 10 year plan, I just hope I have the time to get there. I have a chart taped to the wall in my studio with each year marked and a goal for that year, next to that is a blank line where I will add the actual number as I get there. I only got started about halfway through the year last year and made a little over $5k (peanuts I know but it was a test to see if what I do now will sell) I plan to double that this year, then do so many dollars more each year after that but do not expect doubling each year (I am realistic). In 10 years I need to be making between $25-35k a year to support myself. I know this is possible since I have done it before but it's not just fun and games anymore it will mean survival or not.

 

I work 6-8 hours a day every day IN the studio and usually put in a 2-4 more hours on the computer doing listings, etsy, website, ebay, etc. Or researching shows, local galleries etc. I'm not afraid of hard work I'm afraid of failure. Yesterday I tested out to see how many Spoonrests I can get from a 25lb bag of clay and how long it to me to make them. I got $518 worth of product from a $14 bag of clay. It took me 3 hours to do it. I pay myself $10 an hour so with the clay I subtract $44 from the $518. Subract off glazes and kiln firings etc and I'll get my profit from it. I am constantly looking at something thinking okay this is nice and people are buying it by the droves how can I do it faster, better, to improve my sales and the profit margin. I save 25% of every sale, I put another 25% into an account for equipment, that's half of everything I sell. I can do that for now since still have the money we saved from when he was working to live on. I realize my plan is small, not going to be a millionaire I don't care about that I just want to earn enough to feed, clothe and house myself.

 

For now, since he can't go to shows with me and I can't leave him alone at night or for a weekend I am only doing local shows that I can get home to each night. I did 4 festivals last year, plan to do 8-10 this year, and 12 the year after. I am also looking at finding more shops and galleries to carry my work, if I can get enough of these selling without me being there that's is a big plus. I always carry a small packet with me everywhere I go it contains 4 images of my work, a short introductory letter about myself, my work and a business card. When I find someplace I think would be a good selling venue for me I stop and speak with the owner, manager, sales clerk and leave this packet for them to peruse or pass on to the person that decides what to sell. I also keep a small box of finished pieces in the back seat just in case they ask to see real product, it's better to be prepared then have to schedule a time to go back the window of opportunity might be closed by then. I have my first inquiry concerning a wholesale order and I am trying to get it closed but I have never done wholesale before like this... They want x number of the same pieces x number of different images on the pieces. I am more familiar with the galleries and shops that want one of a kinds. So I am working on this type of a sale right now trying to figure out how it all works. If I can get it right and a solid deal it means one more avenue of income and that the next time someone asks for an order like this I'll know what the heck I am doing.

 

I will also be teaching 4 classes this year at the local art center, a new thing for me, but if it works another avenue of income.

 

I have a website, 2 etsy shops, do ebay sales, private commissions, take on graphic art projects like logos and flyers and such, etc. I will do whatever I have to in order to succeed... I WILL NOT FAIL

 

Do I know what I am doing? Heck no but is that going to keep me from giving it 150% effort? Not on your life. I would rather work 18 hours a day for myself than work a job for someone else where I really am only in it for the paycheck. If I end up doing that then I will consider that I have failed and have I mentioned I don't deal well with failure?

 

Terry

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