Hi everyone, I retired Colorado Art Studio as of Jan 1st of this year – legally and emotionally. Fret not, you can find me at ceramicscapes – my new business and virtual studio where I will continue to blog.
I didn’t have the heart to pull the plug on this website and renewed hosting for Colorado Art Studio for one more year last month. I just won’t be adding any new content to this site and will eventually migrate some of the information to ceramicscapes. I might even import most of my blog posts since I still have a lot of content that people find interesting based on my daily site statistics. At some point this year, I will redirect traffic from this domain over to my new website.
As some of you may know, I returned to school in 2009 and graduated with a masters in landscape architecture in 2012. I thought I wanted to give up clay and become a landscape architect. I have been working as a landscape designer since 2011, first as an intern and later as a part time consultant for Didier Design Studio. I have assisted on many interesting projects including a housing project design, an international university campus plan, a Denver park playground competition, a commercial landscape project, a high end residential garden plan, and many more. It has been a fantastic learning experience and opportunity – also one that made me realize that I missed clay and that I want to create a new kind of ceramic business using both my clay knowledge and architectural design education.
Midway through grad school I started joking that my anticipated MLA degree was going to be the best MFA that I ever earned! Yet all kidding aside, a design education is worthwhile even in an alternate yet semi-related field. In someways, studying a different discipline forced me to rethink clay in a more robust fashion from where I started. By definition, landscape architecture is a multi-disciplinary field that encompasses the analysis, planning, design, management, and stewardship of the natural and built environments. It includes everything from big picture urban and open space planning ideas down to more dimunitive private residential garden design.
Last summer, I started taking baby steps towards making my idea [ceramics + landscape = ceramicscapes] a reality by doing a lot of research and then eventually taking a start up business class through the Denver Small Business Development Center called NxLevel for Creatives last fall. During both my undergraduate and graduate studies in art and landscape architecture respectively, not once was any type of business class or entrepreneurship studies offered. Odd since both disciplines have high levels of self employment. Starting Colorado Art Studio in 2007 entailed trial by fire and throwing lots of soggy spaghetti at walls to see what would stick – it’s an odd and ineffectual approach to running a business. AND, artists/potters are small businesses like it or not. If you’re not earning an income from your efforts, it’s a hobby. (I’m not poo-pooing hobbies but the way…I have many.)
Back to the NxLevel class. It was a 4 month intensive attended by approximately 30 creative people with diverse business concepts from clothing designers, social activists, photographers, a scooter aficionado, and a theater school to name a few – and one that has been an invaluable experience to me. Not only did I write a comprehensive business plan, I also honed my idea, my goals and have a really clear vision for what the next three years looks like in terms of business concept, finances, growth, products and social responsibility towards my community.
Starting a small business is exhausting, extremely difficult and rewarding all at the same time. Did you know that only 50% of small businesses that start every year ever see a five year anniversary? Grim statistics. Yet those that plan and are prepared, tend to succeed at higher rates. I can’t help but think that if I had planned a bit better in 2007, I would not have taken a leave to go back to school just as I was gaining momentum in my clay career. On the other hand, the concept for ceramicscapes would not be…and I tend to think that all of our choices in life are learning experiences. It’s what we choose to do with these experiences that defines their worth.
About mid way through the start up class, I took off my rose colored glasses and realized that breaking into the field of architectural ceramics is going to take a while – I need to find clients, build a portfolio, take some risks, seek out public art projects and more. It’s a big task and one that’s not going to happen over night. So, I’m still making pots and ceramic jewelry – not in resignation, but as a part of the business of clay so I incorporated these products into my business planning. I’ve also joined forces with a collaborator to help me in this venture. While I admire the lone artist potter, that’s not who I am. In school we often worked in groups, in part to simulate working in a professional office, but also to be able to bounce ideas off of one another and to negotiate in order to make our projects stronger. There is strength in numbers and I hope to realize this in a clay studio environment.
Many potters may look down on me for talking numbers, business and products – that’s okay. I am not an artist potter. I consider myself a designer and small batch ceramic producer. I plan to craft molds from original designs in order to speed up production – I am not talking about mass production, but something more on the line of a print maker who numbers their edition of prints from an original plate. The image above is slip cast work – I make the molds, the slip, clean up the pots, fire and glaze each one. My hand still touches each piece several times during the making process. I still throw and hand build…just not all the time.
I didn’t intend to write such a long post, and at the same time feel like I need to provide an explanation as to why I’ve switched focus from pottery to landscape architecture and back to clay. It’s taken me almost 1.5 years since I graduated in 2012 to articulate this myself because it’s confusing to me as well. I suppose life is not linear. We make choices, try things out, take forks in the road and that’s okay because there is no predefined path. I feel fortunate that I’m able to pursue these choices because not everyone has that luxury.
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll bookmark ceramicscapes and follow my ventures over there.
I know, I know, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. So much has happened since May 9th…way too much for a single post.
I did indeed move into my new studio in the Aurora Arts District in July and it’s been great. I’m not completely unpacked, but I have slowly started making work again. I didn’t realize how disruptive it is to move studios. Currently, I’m still working part time as a landscape designer for Didier Design Studio in Ft. Collins and in my spare time started taking a business startup class in September through the Denver Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center called NxLevel for Creatives. The latter has consumed all my spare time and has left very little for creating. Luckily “graduation” is on Dec. 5th – at which time I’ll have the working bones of a business plan. I’ll save the details for another post.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Potters Guild Fall Show was last weekend and we were so happy with how many people came out to purchase handmade pottery! I sold all of my plant pods and a ton of porcelain jewelry. In fact, I only have about 30 items left and have reduced prices on everything in my Etsy shop and am offering free shipping through the end of November.
If anything strikes your fancy, simply enter FREESHIP at checkout and I’ll ship your entire purchase anywhere in the world for FREE. I’m making room for new work that I plan to start on in December.
Now that I’m working in my studio again, it has become painfully aware to me that I lack sufficient space to make some of the work that I’d really like to do and envision. It came to my attention about a month ago that a studio space is opening up this summer in the same building that a friend of mine works at and the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that need to grab it when it is free.
It’s 400 square feet (20′ x 20′ with high ceilings) + a loft office area and storage room. The photograph doesn’t really do the space justice since the current tenant is in the process of moving and the place is a mess. The building is owned by a potter and houses other clay people and some painters. I could move my kiln to the studio (to the kiln room) and all my equipment and still have room to spare. There is also a gas kiln and other equipment such as a slab roller and extruder that I would have access to use. My husband is really encouraging me to nab the space when it becomes available – he’d really like to reclaim the garage.
The downside is it’s in Aurora, CO (albeit in the “art district”) and the address is exactly 10 miles from my home. But, the price can’t be beat! Only $300/mo – includes utilities and wifi. It’s climatized – cool in the summer and warm in the winter. What more could a girl ask for? On the one hand, it is a hike – almost 1 hour by bike or 30 min. by car in city traffic. On the other, I could be really focused and I think more productive (along with getting a bit of exercise if I bike there in nice weather). I’m all about multi-tasking after all.
I met with the owner a couple of weekends ago and fingers crossed, I will be able to move in July 1. I’ll let you know….
I spent the morning at the Colorado Potters Guild wadding pots and then loading the vapor kiln. But, first I should back up. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m primarily a ^6 oxidation girl – so the vapor kiln feels very new and mysterious. I love the way the work looks after firing and want to be a part of it. I felt like a sponge, taking it all in – and will definitely have to take notes in the next couple of days as we candle the kiln over night and then fire on Thursday starting at 6 am. (yay me on the latter bit – yawn)
Apparently (and it was rather apparent), the guild’s vapor kiln is on its last legs. It needs to be rebuilt and a committee will be meeting this evening to discuss options. I’m not on the committee because I don’t feel like I can speak to what the needs are due to my lack of experience, but I am curious as to what consensus will be reached after the meeting.
Back back to the firing – I feel like a fish out of water. I tried some new clay bodies and had no idea how to glaze my work for this venture. I am very familiar with the clay and glazes I normally employ – there are no surprises. Here, well, it could be wonderful or it could be dog poop. We’ll see when we unload. I suppose that’s part of the appeal of firing in this type of atmosphere. I made a vow to myself, however, that I will try it at least 2 more times before deciding whether or not it’s for me. A wise person once told me that it’s good to try something three times before deciding yay or nay. This approach has worked for me so far in life.
Meanwhile, Colorado is experiencing winter like conditions this week and last. We woke up to nearly 10 inches of snow this morning – hello mother nature, I don’t want to complain, but can we start pretending that it’s spring?
My studio is currently located in my garage (fondly referred to as the garagio) which has its up & down sides. On the upside, it’s only steps from my backdoor, is separate from our living space, is convenient, is rent free and it’s mine! On the downside, the cars have been displaced, there is no running water or permanent heat source, is a work in progress, shares space with my husband’s tools and is fairly rustic by modern studio standards.
The trickier aspects for me are the running water and lack of heat. I currently use space heaters in the winter and a rubbermaid container for a “sink”. In some ways, the lack of a proper sink and running water force me to be conservative with water usage and is probably fairly environmentally friendly because no clay or glaze materials end up in the water supply from my abode. I’m considering installing a utility sink that could be hooked up to a garden hose - and then putting a trap and bucket rig underneath to catch solids.
The Colorado Potters Guild does have sinks with running water, but there are some fairly strict guidelines from the EPA that we follow in regards to waste, along with periodic inspections from city officials to make sure we’re in compliance.
The other day, my husband and I were strolling through Costco and saw a sink (image above), and think that it might work in my garagio. But, what I’d really like is a complete studio overhaul. I’ve been using the same passed down furniture for years now – it’s basically a hodge-podge of shelves, tables, and cabinets which has its charms, but is not efficient or organized looking. In June, I’m hoping to revamp a bit – maybe check out Habitat for Humanity’s Restores, Ikea, and even the local home improvement stores for some new furniture. As to the heat situation, I would still love to build a solar heat collector, But, back to sinks….
A fellow guild member, Dick Howell, has a sweet setup in his studio which also happens to be a converted garage. He’s set up a gravity type system with utility sinks set into custom shelves/counter space. He told me that he only fills the 50 gallon barrel annually and if you notice from the photo, he also collects solids in a bucket beneath the sink. I like this a lot because, unlike the Costco sink, Dick has adapted his to be multi-functional. The only downside is the space that the water barrel takes up, though he has made the best of it.
I would love to hear from others what you use for sinks/water supply if you do not have running water in your studios. Or, if you’ve seen other studios that are using creative strategies to get around the issue.
Marketing materials – who loves to design them? I do. The Colorado Potters Guild show is just around the corner and I’ve also committed to monthly farmers markets this summer in addition to selling on Etsy again. After my first online sale, I realized that my business cards are outdated, and I didn’t love them anymore. I reluctantly packaged my first sale with an old business card and vowed to update my card design. Lucky for me, Overnight Prints is having a sale – up to 60% off – but today is the last day. (Not to worry, they seem to run these sales frequently.) Nothing like pressure to light the fire under my pants to get me to move pronto. I don’t know about other people, but unfortunately, I’m often motivated by pressure and deadlines. I do some of my best work under these conditions but, that’s a post for another day.
Now, I’m not saying that these cards are my best design ever, but I’m rather pleased with the minimal feel that compliments my website – letting the graphics do the talking. I elected to print on both sides, rounded corners, matte finish. With S+H, the total came out to @$30 for 250 cards. Most of these will be given out during the Potters Guild sale in May, and I hope to have a few left over for future online + in person sales. 250 really isn’t a huge commitment either if I don’t like the printed version.
I returned to Overnight Prints because I really like the ease of use, the cost and quality. Question – who do you prefer for on demand printing for items like postcards, business cards, etc.?
My daughter is currently on spring break and we decided to take a last minute ski vacation to Steamboat Springs this past week, one of our favorite year round destinations in Colorado. Once we secured a live in dog sitter for our two unruly German shepherds – well, only one is unruly, the other is just very particular – we found some screaming last minute lodging deals that we couldn’t pass up.
I didn’t ski at all the three years that I was in school because I just couldn’t afford the time away, so this year, I’m making up for lost time. It felt great to unplug, and physically exhaust myself every day. I was so whipped from the exercise, I couldn’t even stay up past 8 or 9pm.
Even better, I used the time to recharge my creative juices by taking a break from both my landscape design and ceramic work. That doesn’t mean I stopped thinking about either, but rather, took in the imagery and unfamiliar settings to imagine new possibilities. But, now I’m back and I only have a little over a month until the Spring Colorado Potters Sale starts. Time to crack-a-lacka!
I discovered the work of Candy Chang during my last year in grad school thanks to my Garden in a Cup and three time studio partner in crime Emily Josephs. Candy Chang is an artist with a background in architecture, art and urban planning who is best known for her Before I Die, I Wish This Was, Confessions, and a ton of other projects that engage community and make people think. She is incredibly inspiring to me as both a designer and artist. In fact, Garden in a Cup was partly influenced by some of Candy’s projects.
Today, I just found out that Candy is coming to Denver on April 4th and will be speaking at RedLine, a “diverse urban laboratory where art, education and community converge.” I’ve never heard her speak in person, but I have watched her TED video and can’t wait to see her live. If you’re in town, and are interested, check it out. Plus, RedLine sounds like an incredibly awesome venue and community.
Speaking of Garden in a Cup, Emily and I are going to resurrect our project for National Landscape Architecture Month in both Denver and Boston, where she landed post graduation. I’ve always considered Garden in a Cup both a public art and gardening project. We’re currently brainstorming on how to make it grow and keep it alive. Pun intended.
Just recently, I decided to resurrect Colorado Art Studio as a creative venture and business. Unfortunately, during my three year hiatus I put all business decisions, paperwork, marketing, research, not to mention MAKING, etc. on the back burner. What this means for me now is that everyday, I dedicate 3 -5 hours to doing just that – well mainly the former – those tasks that necessitate spending copious amounts of time plunked down in front of my computer with phone and notebook/pencil nearby. Instead of staying up on trends and new developments that make life for the independent artist/potter easier, I now have to give myself a crash course in everything that I missed while my energies were elsewhere directed.
I’m testing out small business accounting software, credit card readers, new social media outlets, revisiting my favorite blogs, reregistering and making my business legal again, and more. It’s a bit overwhelming to be honest and I look forward to the day where my time commitment to managing my small business lessens. I choose to do these tasks in the morning since it’s still a bit too chilly in my studio, and then head to the studio after lunch when it’s warmed up. I look forward to reversing my schedule because I am very much a morning person and find myself lagging by 3pm nearly every day. Thank goodness for extra strong French roast!
So, why do I need a credit card reader? I committed to sharing a booth at the Pearl Street Farmers Market on the last Sunday of every month during the market which runs May – November and while I have a “knuckle buster”, I’d rather employ a bit of technology, email a receipt on the spot to my customers, and save a bit of paper. I ordered and signed up for Square Up which ships a free card reader to users. I used to use Propay, but they charged a yearly fee and also charge for their card reader. Paypal apparently also offers a similar service. What I like about Square Up is that I won’t be charged a yearly fee, the card reader was free, I will be able to snap a photo of the item and email the receipt to the customer to remind them what they purchased, and I can set up the tax rate automatically so I don’t need to bring my calculator out. In addition to the reader, I just need to install a little app on my iPhone which is directly linked to my account. Each transaction will cost me 2.7% which seems reasonable.
If you have experience with Square Up, or any other mobile credit card business, I’d love to hear the pros and cons. Of course, I imagine I will still bring my knucklebuster, paper carbon receipts and calculator along as backup.
Last week, I was perusing my Facebook newsfeed, and I came across a challenge put forth by Michael Kline to participate in 12 x 12. Basically, whoever participates creates 12 pots before noon (or midnight) and then sends him the photo by a set deadline (which luckily in my case, wasn’t so set) :D. At first, I kept scrolling down my feed, but then something about the post made me pause, and I back tracked, clicked to the link on his blog, looked at the rules, and thought, why not? It happens to be a terrific jumping off point for me right now because I’m just getting back to clay work after a lengthy 3 year hiatus and I am a bit overwhelmed at the sight of a fresh 25# bag of clay. I also recently agreed to participate in a vapor firing in April at the Colorado Potters Guild and need to make some pots, pronto – like yesterday.
The exercise challenged me to just dive in to that fresh clay and start making something, well, 12 of something. I did have an idea before I started, so that helped me have a plan of action. I measured out 12 balls of 1- 1.5 lbs of clay, wedged them and set to work. I had a blast and I no longer felt quite so intimidated by the virgin clay. Sometimes starting is the hardest part. In the meantime, I learned that the clay I chose isn’t the best choice for a vapor firing, so I’m going to save these for the regular gas kiln instead. Yesterday, I picked up some clay better suited for vapor firing and am going to get to work on another 12 pieces today after lunch. Plus, when I posted the photo of my 12 pots on Facebook, many people chimed in much like a critique (I so need a good hard critique right now) about what these forms suggest and how I might be able to explore this as a series.
So, thank you Michael for a big kick in the pants and head on over to his blog to check out the entries.
Meanwhile, I’m testing a new slideshow plugin (see above) – if you have any reaction good or bad, please let me know.
I’ve been busy inventorying and photographing my ceramic jewelry stock the past few weeks – to be honest, it’s tedious and a bit time consuming to photograph, download and then edit the photos – not to mention the process of listing work on Etsy (or any other online sales venue). When I started the process, I soon realized that I needed a workflow that I could follow to maximize my efforts and minimize my time.
I checked out a few of Etsy’s tips here, and then jumped in. While many potters use a seamless graduated background, I have chosen to have a stylized set up with a white background for a contemporary feel for most of my small items (jewelry, mugs, and other similar items). Even though I shoot outside in natural light and use a white background, my photos still have a gray cast to them. I found the following video on Etsy and even though I consider myself an advanced photoshop user, I still learned some new tricks and made my workflow much easier.
I’ll admit that my photos still need work and I need to be a bit more creative with my background props, but I’m happy with the way they’re turning out. It no longer seems quite so overwhelming to photograph, edit and list work for online sales.
Fellow potter, Emily Murphy wrote a post last fall on her photo set up, along with helpful links to other sites which I have found incredibly helpful. I’m in the process of planning to renovate my garage studio in the coming months and would love to install her collapsible photo setup for photographing larger work all season long.
Meanwhile, I committed to a ^10 soda firing in mid April at the Colorado Potters Guild and am making pots again (wheel and hand building). I’ve never participated in a soda firing and mostly fire to ^6 oxidation, so this has been a learning process to use new clay and think about what kind of a surface I want. I’ve chosen to use some Dover White stoneware and B-Mix – hopefully, I’ll have a few turn out that I’ll be proud to sell at our spring show.
I’ve always suffered from a bit of wrist pain – it started years ago when I was a flight attendant. How? Serving coffee repetitively at 35,000 feet is incredibly demanding…on one’s wrist, lol. Fast forward to the last 4 years while I was in school and now working as a part time landscape designer, I live in front of a computer much to the detriment of my right wrist (the same one that bothered me years ago).
Now that I’m back in my studio (and it’s a rustic one at that), I find that as good as working with clay feels compared to typing on my keyboard, it’s necessary to discover low cost ways to do some of the tasks that aggravate my wrist pain, such as wedging clay. I found this video on You Tube and it looks promising.
Meanwhile, I’ve continued listing items in my Etsy shop, and I started promoting my work on Pinterest. I’m not exactly sure what the etiquette is regarding pinning one’s own work, but to be fair, I pin a lot of other people’s work. If you have an opinion, feel free to weigh in!
My Etsy shop has been largely empty for the past 2.5 years because I was so preoccupied with school and short of precious time to make anything that didn’t relate to school work. Just this week, I finally got around to photographing my ceramic jewelry that I made last fall – it’s about damn time if you ask me. Honestly, I forgot how time intensive it is to photograph and list items for Etsy and any other online venue. Plus, since the time I’ve been away, the interface has changed and I am relearning how to write decent copy and all the other steps it takes to promote work online.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like the search function makes it much more difficult for buyers to find seller’s work on Etsy; especially in the ceramic category. I figure that it’s worth a shot though…. If you have any other venues that you consider successful, please do share.
Meanwhile, I am attempting to photograph and list 5 items a day until my current inventory is online – about 50 items to go. Speaking of product shots, I spent way too much time trying to get decent photographs of my work today using my fancy Nikon D90 DSLR. In the end, I took my photo setup outside and shot images using my iPhone and then edited the images using the Camera+ app (my #1 fave – 2nd is Snapseed). Who needs Photoshop anyway?
I am also back in my studio again which feels great. I have been using my new landscape architecture degree in a professional setting, but I miss clay. I miss making things. Yes, I design things, but live in front of my computer for work and I long to touch something tangible – immediate – and useful.
In addition to online venues for my work, I’m exploring retail outlets. I visited the Denver Botanic Gardens to day and obtained the contact + info required to sell in the gift shop and have been investigating other shops where my work might sell well. That would be a win-win situation for both the retail establishment and me.
I’ve been MIA for a bit because I had a family emergency to tend to – unfortunately, the event threw off my making schedule, but I did manage to make a few pots and lots of jewelry in time for this year’s Colorado Potters Guild Show and Sale. It opens tomorrow evening and will run for 3 days.
If you’re in the Denver area, swing by – click here for more details. I now have 6 months to get ready for the spring show
This past weekend, I drove to Evergreen, Colorado with Penny Woolsey, a fellow Colorado Potters Guild member, to tour the Open Doors Studios where three other guild members live and were participating. We didn’t make it to all the artists on the tour – in fact we only made it to 6 out of 34 studios. We visited all of the potters/clay people and two women who make glass beads and jewelry. We just needed more time….
While I added 2 mugs to my collection (including the one above) and picked up a pair of lovely lampwork glass earrings by Kathy Plummer, I found something even more valuable – inspiration! I loved touring the artist’s studios and seeing their work in such a beautiful locale. All of the potters we visited work in completely different styles, firing modes, glazing/surface treatment – and each and everyone is dedicated to their journey and art.
I have so many ideas swimming through my head right now and feel creatively intoxicated! I need to sober up though and be methodical as I begin to explore some new clay ventures as they relate to my new found architectural education. In the meantime, I’m content to play.