Every time I have a college intern working with me in my studio for the semester, I ask them to come up with 3-5 things that they would like to learn or talk about during the semester. These are usually questions pertaining to business and marketing or even gallery application processes or packing and shipping information. I keep the questions within reach and try to make sure that every student is getting what they need or want to know in exchange for helping me in my studio. Then there are the little questions that come up in conversation throughout the day. Questions such as “How do you figure out how to make what sells without it totally crushing your soul?” Just light little questions.
It really is a good question and probably one that I need to reflect on occasionally just to check in with myself, and my soul. The easy answer would be to just say that I enjoy every aspect of all of the work that I make but that’s not really the truth. So here is the truth. Four years ago a friend told me that I should make some spoon rests because she wanted one. I told her that I would NEVER be making spoon rests. Guess what? Yep. I do have a few spoon rests floating around the showroom. They aren’t something that is on the website and I haven’t even had them professionally photographed but they are available for purchase. I even own one and I have to say that I do love it.
So, what happened in the last four years? Well, I started paying rent on a studio space instead of working from home. When I made the decision to pay rent I made the decision to completely change the way that I work and the products that I make and also who is in control of selling them. I stopped making one of a kind pieces and now focus primarily on production style work that is more easily re-produced in small batches. I also hired a professional photographer to take the photos that would showcase the work online. I had never taken good photographs of my work and decided to budget for this task to be delegated and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When I was making one of a kind work, every single piece had to be photographed but production style work really only has to be photographed one time so this keeps my costs down. When I stopped making one of a kind work I knew that this meant pulling out of national galleries and making my work available to a larger audience. Not just collectors or other ceramic artists but regular people who are interested in giving a handmade gift or using a handmade object in their homes. Again, this shifted my focus to smaller, more gift-able items with color palettes that could work well in many different homes.
I also changed my price points. This is not to say that I lowered the price of my work. I changed the work and the prices reflect those changes. I offer a wide variety of price points that depend on the labor intensity of the piece. Since I no longer sell in galleries, I am in charge of selling my work. This might mean a bit more marketing and promoting on my part but I sell directly through my website and I like the control that I have in doing that. I also make a few products that I sell wholesale to a limited number of shops. I no longer enter exhibitions, as this wasn’t something that I really enjoyed and am certainly not making work that is appropriate for those opportunities anymore.
Lastly, I have a large enough studio space that allows me to have a showroom for my own ceramic work as well as the work of several other artisans. I offer a local shopping experience for people in my area to find handmade products. It is a chance for me to meet people and feel connected to my community. I can talk about the process that goes into my pottery and show people that there are still some of us out there who do this work.
Of course there are times when I can take a break from production and make something fun or silly or more conceptual that feeds my soul. But I can honestly say that there isn’t anything that I make that crushes my soul. Trust me, I have had a lot of jobs in my life that were soul crushing. Receptionist in a construction trailer in the parking lot of a coal plant: Definitely soul crushing. Owning my own business is really, really hard. But it’s mine. I learn something new every day. There are ALWAYS problems to solve and obstacles to overcome. There are days when people are rude or thoughtless. There are days with no sales. But it is never soul crushing. If I make a spoon rest, I make sure it’s the best darn spoon rest that I can. It’s original and fun and funky and definitely usable and it looks really good on my counter when I’m cooking my dinner at the end of the day.