Judi Tavill is a ceramic artist based in New Jersey who makes beautiful sculptural, yet functional pottery and wall pieces. Judi Tavill Ceramics’s work draws from her frequent travel and exploration. Coastal discoveries, woodland finds, and lush flora influence her creative process.
Please Introduce Yourself:
I am a ceramic artist with a studio based on the oceanic shore of New Jersey. Born in 1968 in Baltimore, MD, I received a BFA in Fashion Design from the Washington University in Saint Louis in 1990. I achieved swift success as a fashion and textile print designer prior to the birth of my two boys.
When I left fashion to pursue my art interests in 2002 and after delving into various mediums, I found clay in 2003. I definitely pursued ceramics with a voracious appetite, beginning at Monmouth County Park System’s Thompson Park Creative Arts Center and attending a great variety of craft school intensives in the following years.
My current studio practice involves tasks of repetition and contemplation that serve as a working meditation. Outside of my studio practice, I enjoy traveling with my husband and family and I find that it reinvigorates and inspires my work. I have taught locally and volunteer in my community. Currently, I teach ceramic skills to autistic adults at Oasis TLC, a therapeutic life center once a week.
How did your Judi Tavill Ceramics’ journey begin?
I started working with clay when I was painting with oil paint sticks and using my fingers to manipulate the paint. A friend, who was a painter, told me that I needed to be careful due to toxicity in certain paints and suggested that if I enjoyed this part of the process, to give clay a try. I found The Creative Arts Center and began taking clay classes once a week which turned into 3 classes a week. In addition, I took advantage of every chance to use open studio hours.
My husband and I were building a new house at the time and had planned to have an 2D art studio space for me which quickly became a ceramic studio space. I purchased a wheel while we were renting a house that I used on plastic stretched over the basement floor and my kiln arrived shortly after we moved into our new home. That was about 14 years ago and the rest is history.
In 2011, your work made a pretty significant stylistic shift that evolved into a very cohesive style and method of working that is your signature today. After perusing your blog archives, however, I can see the nascent beginnings. What do you think prompted this shift?
I found myself in a place where my work was selling OK. Yet, I felt that if I was going to keep making functional work with a twist, I needed to pursue my customer strategically which meant committing to the design and repetition. I just didn’t feel attached to that work.
My work at the time, didn’t really represent me and I wanted to make work that was truly unique and special or one of a kind. I took some workshops that lead me in this direction and I also did a lot of back and forth creatively which evolved into the work that I currently make.
We both enrolled in Ben Carter’s and Molly Hatch’s Think Big! online course in 2013. This class certainly started the wheels turning for me in regards to alternative ways to market and sell my work in this day and age. How did this course affect your practice?
Think Big was very helpful. I took a couple of online courses that were similar but different. This class was more enjoyable as it directly related to ceramics. Also, the class prompted me to think about who my customer is, where he/she could find my work and why they need it. Variations of my work developed from there. I definitely got to the point that I pulled my work off of ETSY and applied to sell on Artful Home.
Can we talk about Artful Home? You and I both started out on Etsy, but it doesn’t seem to be the right online venue to sell your current work. Artful Home is an upscale and juried Etsy, but similar to a gallery in that it takes a significant commission on sales. Would you recommend Artful Home to other artists as a place to sell work online since the site has large audience, or do you recommend that artists build an email list in order to sell on their own websites?
Artful home feels more representative of artists making fine craft and offers a curated version/gallery to the internet customer. I like that the site proactively advertises and the price points I moved toward with my new work fits into their selections. Additionally, I also sell directly on my website and have made more of an attempt to (minimally) promote it and to keep it stocked. This effort is starting to have a positive effect owing to some nice, recent sales. Sales online, however, come in fits and spurts across all platforms.
If work fits into the price point and quality range seen on Artful Home, I recommend applying. Once accepted, there is a one time fee and the split is similar to wholesale/gallery commissions.
It is important to keep my prices the same EVERYWHERE. Since, I also work with interior designers, the last thing they want is to have their customer find the same work directly from the artist at a lower price. My studio customers and those at fine craft shows (The Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft show/ The Baltimore ACC Retail Show) know that pricing is the same across the board because I need to keep my relationships amicable.
Artful Home does not allow artists to retain customer email addresses or to advertise individual websites. Ultimately, the customer knows the artist’s name and can find their favorites. I try to update my email list frequently and add people as often as possible but I have not mastered it. ALSO… you need to actually SEND emails.
You have been attending NCECA regularly over the years. One of my friends from the Colorado Potters Guild told me that she experiences NCECA overload after attending the conference that negatively affects her clay practice. How do you keep from becoming overwhelmed with all the talent and beautiful ceramic work you see over the course of the conference? Or, alternatively, how does attending NCECA affect you positively or negatively?
I love NCECA but I can absolutely see how it can be overwhelming and intimidating. I am able to connect with other ceramic artists/potters that I may ONLY see at NCECA and that is wonderful and can be a bit of a party!
The shows are always inspiring and the talks and demos, etc. always have little nuggets of info I will use right away or tuck away for some future endeavor. I am not focused on teaching workshops or getting a ton of gigs so I have not applied to demo or speak there yet, but I may some day. There is potential for various kinds of exposure and I have met other artists that may end up being relevant to future collaborations.
Usually, I come home exhausted but excited to use something from there, a bit of knowledge, a new tool, etc. This year I bit the bullet after researching and window shopping for years and bought a pug mill to reclaim all of my carved clay scraps, etc. It’s not here yet… EXCITED THOUGH!
You are pretty prolific in regards to the amount of work that you produce. How do you keep up the pace considering that you’re also a mom and you work from home?
I’m a little obsessed with working and have always been this way in some capacity. I was pretty obsessed as a fashion designer and this trait basically shifted to clay and has even increased. When my children were younger, it was tough but I worked during naps and after bedtime especially. It was definitely hard to focus and figure out where the work was going during this time so it doesn’t feel like I have been working in clay for 14 solid years.
When I was not in the studio, I would sketch and ponder ideas when we were travelling or I was in a car waiting for one child to finish one of their activities. Now, one son is almost 17 years old and the other is 20 and away at school so I have a lot more time. There will always be things that pull me in various directions…including laundry, cooking dinner, etc.
Who or what inspires you?
I have definitely been inspired by nature the most. Design plays a part and natural environments. I don’t feel particularly drawn to narrative, maybe because I’d rather just blather on and on about something instead of speaking through my work. Never say never, but abstraction and texture pull me in everytime. I am definitely experiencing a bit of a shift again and my work may evolve a tad because of it. Stay tuned….
What do you do for fun outside of pottery?
I take my knitting almost everywhere because if I can’t have my hands in clay much I need to be doing something else. It must be a bit like smoking… a place saver. (By the way, I do not smoke.)
I have a tendency to make scarves, wraps, blankets since I don’t want to focus on a pattern and I just want to knit because I love fiber. I would like to just mush a bunch of it together to feel it and look at it…instead, I knit it.
I have power-walked for exercise since I was 18 and tend to listen to music (mainly just my son’s www.jaketavill.com) OR PODCASTS and AUDIOBOOKS which both transfer well from the studio to my earbuds. I live on the northern most part of the Jersey Shore. I am between two rivers and a 15 minute walk to the beach which is great for exploring.
As a couple or family, we usually snowboard somewhere in the snowy months, mainly out west (near you). We also travel frequently. Museums and the like in Manhattan are a ferry ride away and so is my son’s music career, so we tend to check out his gigs.
Additionally, I’ve become proactive in the #resist movement and I work with autistic adults (with clay) about once a week at OASIS TLC. I’m also a bit of a foodie when I have the opportunity.
Where can people find you? (website, shop, galleries, social media – please include links)
- Instagram @jtceramics.com
- Twitter @juditavill
- Facebook https://www.facebook.com/judtavillceramics/
- My Website: http://www.jtceramics.com
- My Website Shop: http://www.jtceramics.com/judi-tavill-ceramics-shop/
- Artful Home: https://www.artfulhome.com/artist/Judi-Tavill-Ceramics/8763
The Taupe Gallery in North Wilkesboro, NC
The AKAR 2017 YUNOMI INVITATIONAL which opens on line May 5, 2017
I publish interviews with artists whose primary medium is clay once a week, every Friday. This regular segment is named “Feature Fridays”. Find past interviews on the Ceramicscapes Blog using the category search function on the right hand sidebar. Interested in being featured? Visit the Apply for Feature Fridays page for more information.