Introducing Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura, a Maryland based ceramic artist and teacher. Laura has been getting her hands muddy since she was fourteen years old in a Saturday clay class at the Corcoran School for the Arts in Washington, DC. She is well known for her highly textured and colorful pots that exude joyfulness.
Meet Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura
I’m Laura Silberman and I call myself a clay artist. I create FUNctional ceramics for home and garden. Primarily, I use hand-building techniques embellished with lots of texture. Using a low fire clay and a bright color palette have helped me achieve a personal style that is often recognized by my customers and fans as a ClayByLaura creation. Sometimes I add mixed media elements to the pieces I make. People tell me my pieces are fun and make them happy! I’m glad to know the pleasure I get from making pottery translates to the finished work!
I read that you have been working with clay since you were 14 years old. Do you have a formal education in ceramics, or have you acquired your skills through community classes, workshops and by working by yourself?
My journey to full time clay artist began at a kid’s class at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC when I was 14. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Communications at Goucher College in 1978, I pursued a career in audio-visual production followed by a freelance career and full-time motherhood. During that time, I took a variety of clay classes and workshops.
I gained valuable technical knowledge from a variety of teachers along the way but I think regular practice and experimentation with my craft has also contributed to my success. My original home studio was outfitted with a used wheel and kiln in the 1990’s.
Initially, the potter’s wheel was my clay workhorse as I exclusively threw pots on the wheel. I began to explore and enjoy hand-building techniques over the last ten years. It is now my primary method of clay making. My trusty Northstar slab roller is in constant use and has lasted more than 20 years with a few spare part repairs here and there. I joke that my potter’s wheel has become ‘the treadmill’ of my studio. I won’t give it up, but it sits in the corner and is covered with various studio ‘stuff.’
When did you realize that your clay hobby could become a business?
Over the last decade, I worked seriously to develop my own creative style. Prior to that, I had been selling my pieces at occasional open studio shows. When I helped found and run a co-op art gallery in Bluffton, SC, in 2008 sales of ClayByLaura started to take off. I began to participate in juried craft shows and developed a business website to further market myself and increase sales opportunities.
Many potters start out selling their work on Etsy. I noticed that you are using Squarespace as both a selling platform and website. Why and how is it working out for you?
I have an ETSY account, but decided to focus website sales through my own Squarespace developed site. While I appreciate the fact that ETSY has the potential to draw customers from a wide net, I decided to consolidate ‘my brand’ through one platform.
I am able to publish my weekly studio blog post, track statistics, receive inquiries, and comments from potential customers all from one source. I really love Squarespace. It is very easy to navigate and update. If I ever have a question about my website, the tech crew has been very helpful in resolving any issue.
Similarly, how do you market your work?
I sell and market my pieces in numerous ways. I write a weekly blog post about myself and what is percolating in the studio. It is published through my Squarespace website, posted on my Facebook page and mailed to a customer email list through MailChimp. I started it more than 3 years ago.
Pottery Making Info repeatedly mentions and rates my blog in their monthly review; they have awarded it as a top pottery blog the past two years in their annual review. In addition to the website, I sell through shops, galleries, pop up shops, occasional craft fairs and private home shows.
I’m very interested in your public art project that you have been working on with a local school. This is an avenue that I would like to pursue. Did you put together a formal proposal or did the school contact you directly to work with them? Can you share your experience designing and executing the tile totems with the students?
I recently completed a public art project for a local private school. A friend of mine is in charge of fundraising for the school and she approached me about creating a tile project to beautify the front entry of the school.
We came up with the idea of having the children (pre-school – 2nd grade), their parents, and teachers decorate pre-made bisque tiles with underglaze. The 4 x 4 tiles were then used to decorate 3 wooden posts of varying heights at the entry of the school.
The opportunity to ‘paint’ the tiles was sold at a fundraising gala as a way to help raise money for the school. I provided the materials, guided the ‘painting’ activity, glazed and fired each tile. I also made some of the tiles with the school name and logo. Finally, I adhered the tiles to the planted wooden posts. This project is emblematic of projects and new ideas I tackle. “Can you make?” is a question I love to explore with customers.
I notice that you also teach clay classes and just read about your “Garden Bell” class on your blog. Do you host your classes in your studio or at another location?
Over the years, I have taught classes and workshops to other clay enthusiasts sometimes at my own studio or other teaching venues. Most recently, I have been teaching quick project classes in tandem with a local shop in Frederick, Md. called The Muse. The owner, Whitney Bingham, hosts regular craft parties for customers featuring all kinds of art projects including jewelry, painting and fiber through her store.
The classes are held at the Frederick, Md. studio (near The Muse) of another local fiber artist, Margaret Hluch. With these particular classes, I create a bisque fired item that students decorate with acrylic paints. The textured surface on the clay responds beautifully to layering and wiping away a variety of paint colors.
These items are not meant to be used for food, so we have made several different garden items in the classes including a pot sticker, wind chimes and a garden bell. Buttons and beads are some times added to embellish the finished pieces. In a few weeks, I’ll lead a jewelry class; we’ll be making a wrap bracelet using a central clay medallion and recycled bits of fashion jewelry.
I’m particularly drawn to your garden address number totems. These are so clever…and I might need to make one for my own home. 🙂 I assume that these are custom orders that clients work with you to design?
I began making outdoor totems about ten years ago. What started out as simple house numbers stacked on top of each other has morphed into many other creative outdoor garden shapes. I work with an individual client to customize a design just for them. Words, numbers and a variety of shapes can be stacked to create a beautiful outdoor adornment. Some of the pieces are finished with mixed media to complete the design. I have created, installed and shipped numerous totem combinations throughout the United States!
In perusing your website, I’m so impressed by your range and creativity. Who or what inspires you?
I LOVE making things with clay. It’s my favorite part of the process. As I mentioned previously, I get input and inspiration from my customers. Additionally, I tend to make items I like to use. Bright colors and lots of texture make me happy and led me to my current use of low-fire clays and glazes. Texturing clay reminds me of different fabric patterns I combined when I used to sew clothing in my younger years. I like to make many of the texture tools I use. Pinterest and Instagram are other great inspiration resources. It’s helpful to see what other potters have made to spark an idea.
What do you do for fun outside of pottery?
I love to cook which is another reason I like to make pieces that are FUNctional. I want people to use my creations in their everyday lives and I often include a recipe with pieces I sell. This gives people an idea of how to use a particular pottery piece. Additionally, it’s another marketing tool. My recipe cards include a photo of one of my recipe boxes, my name, logo, and contact information!
I am also an avid knitter and I knit every night when watching television with my husband. It is a meditative and relaxing activity for me.
Also, I putter in my garden. Digging in the dirt and planting flowers keep me busy and give me an excuse to spend time outdoors!
Where can people find you?
- Website www.claybylaura.com
- Facebook ClayByLaura or Laura Silberman
- Instagram @Claybylaura
- Twitter @Claybylaura
- Email Claybylaura@gmail.com
Making a Wrap Bracelet – The Muse Craft Party – June 21
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. Would you like to be featured on my blog? Visit the Apply for Feature Fridays page for more information.