Meet Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura

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.

Introducing Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura

Meet Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura
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!

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Bird Houses
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Bird Houses

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. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Studio
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Studio

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.’ 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Hand Building
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Hand Building

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. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Craft Fair Booth
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Craft Fair Booth

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. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Close Up of Texture
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Close Up of Texture

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. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - The Maddux Welcome Posts
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – The Maddux Welcome Posts

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.

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Public Art and Fund Raising Project For School
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Public Art and Fund Raising Project For 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. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Garden Bell Class
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Garden Bell Class

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.

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Garden Bell
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Garden Bell

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. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Garden Totems
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Garden Totems

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!

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Greenware
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Greenware

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.

Clay by Laura - Blue Cake Stand
Clay by Laura – Blue Cake Stand

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!

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Yarn Bowls
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Yarn Bowls

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? 

Online:

Galleries/Shops:

Upcoming events:

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.

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Meet Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Ceramics

Today, I’m sharing the work of Jamie Kelly. I’m a huge fan of his work and I first met him a few years ago when he became a member of the Colorado Potters Guild. This spring, I finally snagged one of his gorgeous soda fired bud vases.

Jamie Kelly Red Beard Ceramics
Jamie Kelly Red Beard Ceramics

Meet Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Ceramics:

I’m James Kelly and I’m a potter living in Denver CO. I’ve had a love for ceramics since I took my first class in high school in Michigan. Working with clay is a like working with no other medium, there are endless possibilities. I moved to Colorado after college with a friend looking for a new adventure. The reality of life set in and I ended working all sorts of jobs and clay took a back seat to life for about 10 years.

Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Studio - Mod Mugs
Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Ceramics – Mod Mugs

I finally got my nerve up to apply to the Potter’s Guild and was accepted in 2010. Shortly after that I met my beautiful wife and we were married in 2013. We then bought a house and converted the garage into my studio. Since then I have been working to create work that I feel is good enough to share with the world.

Jamie Kelly Red Beard Studio Space
Jamie Kelly Red Beard Ceramics’ Studio Space

We are both members of the Colorado Potters Guild. How many years have you been a member of the guild and what does it mean to you to be part of a local clay community.

I’ve been a member for 7 years. For me being a member means being part of a community of like-minded individuals. We all share the same desire to create, and the guild provides us that opportunity.  It’s gratifying being a part of a group of peers that all have a passion for clay.

Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Studio - Soda Fired Bud Vases
Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Ceramics – Soda Fired Bud Vases

How many years have your been working with clay and do you have a formal education in clay/art or how did you acquire your skills?

I’ve been working with clay off and on since 1991 and have a BFA in Ceramics from Northern Michigan University. Though, I first fell in love with clay in high school where we had a fully functional ceramics studio. 

 

Meet Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Studio
Meet Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Ceramics

Your ceramic business is “Red Beard Ceramics” – I get the obvious correlation. 🙂 How did you name your business?

 
Choosing a name was something I hemmed and hawed over. I wanted to have something that identified myself without having to use my name. Ultimately, it came down to REDBEARDceramics or REDBEARDstudio. I like them both and am still using them interchangeably at the moment. The only problem with my name is that my beard is turning grey at an alarming rate so a change down the line may be in order.
 
Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Studio - Soda Fired Bottles
Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Ceramics – Soda Fired Bottles

How do you work (techniques/glazing/firing methods)?

Most of my work is either wheel thrown, hand built, or a combination of those two processes. I primarily work with porcelain and fire my work in the soda kiln. I spray my work with various combinations of slips and glazes to create flowing surfaces that are enhanced by the soda firing process. Soda firing is a process where soda ash is dissolved in water and sprayed through ports in the kiln near the hottest point of the firing and the soda ash is vaporized and swirls throughout the kiln reacting with the glazes, slips, and raw clay to create unique surfaces that capture the essence of the firing. 

Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Studio - Tea Pot
Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Ceramics – Tea Pot

Who or what inspires you?

I draw inspiration from all sorts of places. Certainly my college professor Sam Chung has had a lasting impression on me. I am inspired by the simple clean lines of mid century modern architecture and furniture, as well as the random organic shapes found in nature. 

Jamie Kelly's Cliff May Mid Century Modern Home
Jamie Kelly’s Cliff May Mid Century Modern Home

You live in an neighborhood enclave of mid century modern homes in Denver (Harvey Park). How has renovating your home and living in such a mod space influenced your current work?

 
Moving into our Cliff May home in 2014 was a turning point in my ceramics pursuits. We moved from a 600 sq. ft. condo downtown and this was my first opportunity to have a home studio. The simple clean lines of the mid century modern architecture drew us in after seeing so many brick boxes that lacked much visual interest. The space has a one car garage that I gutted and insulated, ran a gas line, and upgraded the electrical with a sub panel for an electric kiln. While the space is rather small it functions great for my needs.
 
Jamie Kelly's Living Room in His Mid Century Modern Home
Jamie Kelly’s Living Room in His Mid Century Modern Home

The house in itself is a piece of art and is a inspiring space to work and live in. Through learning about this architecture, furniture and decor of the 50’s I’ve drawn all sorts of inspiration. I love simple, minimal forms with little embellishment in this space. Seeing my work on display in my house has driven at least some of my work to try and be simple, modern, and aesthetically pleasing in the space.

 
I’d like to incorporate some of the color schemes going on in my house into my work. Subtle shades of grey and white contrasted with bright lime green. I gutted and redid the bathroom and that process really made me think about how important finishes and color choices matter in architecture, the same is true with ceramics. Living in this house is a joy and a wonderful space to create art.
Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Studio - Bud Vases
Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Ceramics – Bud Vases

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you or your work? 

 
I’m still trying to figure out my niche as far as where my work is going. I tried an art fair last december and had a positive experience. While I’ve yet to sign up for any this year, I intend to pursue that avenue more in the future.
 
Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Studio - Booth Display
Jamie Kelly of Red Beard Ceramics – Booth Display

Currently, I’m selling work through my Etsy Shop at and have been trying to develop a website. I can be found on Instagram @redbeardceramics and that’s where I post most of my current happenings. Going forward I hope to keep honing my craft and develop lines of work that I can reproduce consistently at a high level of quality. I enjoy experimenting, but perfecting certain ideas along the way is something I need to spend more time focusing on. I love working with clay and the endless possibilities it holds. 

Where else can people find your work?

  • Facebook
  • Other than the two annual shows put on by the Colorado Potters Guild I try to participate in a few local craft fairs throughout the year as well as trying to get into a few gallery shows. 

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.

Meet Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery

Today, I introduce the beautiful garden and fantasy themed pottery of Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery. Karrita lives and works in tropical Florida and is inspired by her love of gardening and literature.

Queen Bee PotteryMeet Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery

Hi, I’m Karrita Renzelmann, the maker behind Queen Bee Pottery.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery in her studio
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery in her studio

We have something in common. We both previously worked for United Airlines as flight attendants. My own clay journey is full of starts and pivots. How did you find clay and make the transition?

Cindy, I think that this is such an interesting coincidence that we both had long careers flying with United Airlines and both ended up working in pottery. I often miss flying to some unknown international city for a day or two of exploration, but probably wouldn’t have discovered clay if I were still flying.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Fairy House 2
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Fairy House 2

I found clay when my husband surprised me with a pottery wheel for my birthday in 2006. I had recently resigned from flying and now had the ability to be home consistently and take a weekly class in ceramics & pottery at the local community college. It was love at first touch!

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Mug
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Mug

I’m always interested in how people name their creative businesses and I love the name of your’s, Queen Bee Pottery! How did you settle on a name for your pottery?

I have a deep connection to nature, gardening and femininity. I thought that the name ‘Queen Bee Pottery’ combined those pieces of me well and also had a memorable ring to it. Although, I did question the common connotation of what a ‘Queen Bee’ can be thought of in our society. I chose to go with it and let my work convey what Queen Bee Pottery means to me.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Bird Houses
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Bird Houses

Your work has a really strong theme – everything to do with the garden. This must really help you organize the items that you make. Can you explain how your garden and love of plants influences your work?

Plants, nature and blooming flowers are what visually bring me the most comfort and wonder in life, and I somehow hope to convey a bit of those feelings in what I create with clay. We have the toads in the garden, so we need a toad abode, then we have the flower fairy spirits in the blossoms, so of course, we need a few fairy houses and then there’s the birds, and the lizards, and it goes on and on with all the inspiration to be found in a garden.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Toad Abode
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Toad Abode
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Fairy House
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Fairy House

When my daughter was younger, we loved making fairy houses in our garden after reading several books about garden fairies at our local library. We would also construct them at nearby parks out of found materials. You make delightful ceramic fairy houses that are becoming collector items for your fans. How and why did you start delving into fantasy?

I think my curiosity and imagination were piqued by fantasy as a child, starting with classic fairy tales, flower fairy images for the alphabet created by Cicely M Barker, and continuing with books in the science fiction and magical realism genres…I’m still a sucker to this day for anything by Alice Hoffman or Marion Zimmer Bradley. The love of magical realism meets the love of nature when I see flowers blooming and imagine Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words “Earth Laughs in Flowers.” Sounds a bit saccharine, but really is true for me.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Fairy House Detail
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Fairy House Detail

I bet you remember the excitement your daughter had about fairies and creating spaces for them…there’s something magical about a child’s unquestioning belief. I recently made a fairy house for my 4 nieces and threw them a fairy garden making party…their glee, curiosity and belief were priceless to witness and be a part of!

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Clay Sprigs
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Clay Sprigs

You have a second successful Etsy Shop where you sell bisque clay sprig molds, clay texture rollers and press molds. Why did you decide to dip your toes into the ceramic supply realm?

I took a bas-relief tile making workshop given by an amazing potter named, Jan Kolenda. I used the skills learned from that workshop to start making ceramic sprigs for my own work and then realized that I had a product to offer to the clay community that no one else was offering at the time. The bonus part for me is that sales of the bisque sprigs can support purchasing all the clay and glaze I needed for the Queen Bee Pottery business.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Berry Bowl Colander
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Berry Bowl Colander

Do you sell any of the sprigs that you use in your own work in your supply shop? If so, are you worried that others will try to replicate your style?

I don’t offer sprig molds in the ClayStamps.etsy.com shop that I use in my own work. They say, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Sometimes I have wondered with mild irritation why someone would copy, but now I try to look at it as just sharing inspiration.

People have reached out from across the world to show me photos of their work, modeled from mine, who were just plain excited to have been inspired from my work and share that with me. There’s something special about that kind of invisible interchange. We have no control over what others will do and in the end, the feeling and vibe in one’s work really can’t be replicated.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Berry Bowl
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Berry Bowl

What do you do for fun outside of pottery?

I love to garden, be in nature, eat incredible food, play games (Scrabble & Backgammon) and spend time with my closest friends. Also, I travel occasionally…I’ve recently fallen in love with the hot springs found in Costa Rica near the Arenal Volcano. Hot springs in the middle of a lush, tropical setting…pure bliss for me! I’m going back in a few months to celebrate a milestone birthday!

Where can people find you? 

Etsy Shop: QueenBeePottery.com
Instagram: instagram.com/QueenBeePottery @queenbeepottery
Facebook: facebook.com/QueenBeePottery
Pinterest: pinterest.com/QueenBeePottery
Etsy Supply Shop: ClayStamps.etsy.com


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.

Meet Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery

Jackson Gray is the creative force behind her business she has cleverly named Jackpots Pottery. While Jackson utilizes a variety of techniques to decorate her ceramic work, I just love her sgraffito tiles and I think you will too.

Jackson Gray - JackPots Pottery
Jackson Gray – Jackpots Pottery

Please Introduce Yourself:

Hi, I’m Jackson Gray, a studio potter from San Diego, CA. My pottery business is called Jackpots Pottery.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery Working in Her Studio
Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery Working in Her Studio

How did your clay journey begin?

I came to clay after years of thinking I had no artistic talent (thanks to a high school art teacher’s advice to stick with math). While hiking one day, I fell into step with an acquaintance who asked me what I would do if I didn’t have to work for a living. I told him I had always wanted to throw clay on a pottery wheel. I swear I didn’t know that he manufactured potters wheels for a living. Long story short, I have been working with clay since that day in 1992. I learned mostly from community college classes and by taking workshops in San Diego and around the U.S.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Sgraffito Platter Based on a Photo of a Heron Rookery Jackson's Husband Took
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Sgraffito Platter Based on a Photo of a Heron Rookery Jackson’s Husband Took

You employ a number of surface decoration techniques including adding texture using printmaking techniques, slip inlay and sgraffito. I am particularly drawn to your sgraffito work – your tiles are fabulous! Why not concentrate on one technique or style?

Thank you, I love the sgraffito too, but it is really hard on my body. I have carpel tunnel, but have the issue under control by using a wrist brace and taking frequent breaks. This is not to say that I would do only sgraffito if my wrist would allow it.

I’m a bit crazy when it comes to texture and am always looking for something new. One thing I do is carve lino mats to use as a template. I realize having one cohesive look would be more “professional” looking, but when I have just shown the sgraffito work at craft fairs, I couldn’t cover my expenses. My booth was gorgeous but people weren’t spending their money there.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Booth at Craneway Winter Crafts Show 2016
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Booth at Craneway Winter Crafts Show 2016

Your sgraffito tiles have a narrative quality to them. What is your inspiration or where do you find your subject matter for your tiles?

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Surfer Girl Sgraffito Tile
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Surfer Girl Sgraffito Tile

My first tiles were surfers or flowers. My son surfs and I live by the beach. Also,  I love tropical flowers, but inspiration can come from anywhere. I attended a lecture by Hawaiian bird photographer, Jack Jeffrey and was inspired to carve one of his photos of an I’iwi, which is where I started adding a bit of color to my sgraffito. It seemed necessary on that bird.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - I'iwi Sgraffito Tile
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – I’iwi Sgraffito Tile

Another time, a friend got a new dog and I had to carve it – which has led to an interesting custom option, I’ll make a tile of your pet from a photo. I recently sent tiles to a gallery that is having an exhibit entitled “Homage to the Ranches” – the night I saw the title, I lay in bed, pre-sleep with a busy mind – and an old 1950- something pick-up truck popped into my head as a “ranch truck”, which then led me to the internet to see what those lines actually look like.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - '50's Pickup Truck Tile
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – ’50’s Pickup Truck Tile

I personally love hand-building with slabs of clay, though I throw occasionally. Are you primarily a hand-builder? Why? 

I am primarily a hand-builder. I have a wheel and am an OK thrower, but I never became really good at throwing. When I try to make a set of something the same size, I just have much more luck if I start with a template – and then there’s that texture thing. It can be so crisp when put on a slab.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Carving a Linoleum Mat
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Carving a Linoleum Mat

Can we talk about your wholesale business? I noticed that you are a member of indieMe.com which is formerly wholesalecrafts.com. How do you balance the retail and wholesale side of your pottery business? 

I only have the framed tiles on IndieMe.com right now. Quite frankly, I haven’t done much there, so balancing isn’t difficult. I probably should do more to promote that side of business. I spend a lot of time with my Etsy site.

You will be teaching a weeklong workshop this summer at the Mendocino Art Center in Northern California called, “Patterns, Seams and Darts: Sewing Up Pots With Personality. Did you apply to teach, did the art center reach out to you, or how did you find the opportunity to teach at such a wonderful place?

I applied to and was fortunate to be accepted to sell at the American Craft Council Show in San Francisco in 2016. Evan Hobart, the program director from the Mendocino Art Center, was in attendance promoting their summer workshops. He saw my work and asked if I would like to teach a sgraffito workshop – which I did last summer.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Darted Tripod Textured Mugs
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Darted Tripod Textured Mugs

A few days into the sgraffito workshop, I showed the class how to make a tri-foot mug. Evan loved it and asked if I’d like to come back this summer for a longer class and teach hand-building. It feels pretty special to me since the first workshop I ever travelled to attend was in Mendocino, so I’ve circled back to the beginning.

Where do you primarily show and sell your work? Craft Shows, galleries, online?

Before this year, I would say most of my sales were at weekend craft shows, I did quite a lot of them. In 2015 I think I did 15 or 16, which feels like a lot to me. But, my Etsy shop has started doing better which makes the idea of all that packing & unpacking, schlepping and setting up the booth seem like so much more work…I am at retirement age, after all.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Water Color of Husband Taking Photographs
Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery – Jackson’s Husband Taking Photographs

Who or what inspires you? 

Nature…birds, rocks, trees, the clay itself, other potters and their enthusiasm, my husband and his love for the outdoors – which motivates me to get out and experience nature.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Big Horn Sheep Inspiration
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Big Horn Sheep Inspiration
Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Big Horn Sheep Sgraffito Tile
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Big Horn Sheep Sgraffito Tile

What do you do for fun outside of pottery?

Hahaha, see the previous question. We’ve always camped – roll out a pad and a sleeping bag on the ground. If the weather permits, we skip the tent. But as I mentioned earlier, we are getting older and bought a camper last summer. We are planning several trips this summer. After the Mendocino workshop, we’ll continue on to Oregon for the solar eclipse and a gathering of muddy friends from the EtsyMudTeam.

We also like to hike and cross-country ski. Although a shoulder injury has kept me away, but I’ve been repaired and look forward to next season.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Manta Ray Inspiration
Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery – Manta Ray Inspiration

Snorkeling – In September I had a blast swimming with manta rays on a night snorkel in Hawaii and a few days later, dolphins joined us

We also love to travel and have been lucky enough to visit several countries.

I’m pretty involved with 2 of my grandkids who live nearby – unfortunately the others (we have 8 total) are not close.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Ava Makes a Mug
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Ava Makes a Mug

I read mysteries, watch way too much television, listen to music and NPR, and humor my cats

Where can people find you? 

Online:

Wholesale:

  • indieMe.com – I’m artist #26526 and if a visitor password is needed, use JaxPots

In Person:

Upcoming events:

The workshop that I am teaching at Mendocino on August 14–18, 2017 is all I have scheduled this year since my husband will be retiring soon. We plan to explore this country a bit, but here is the link to register for the workshop: http://www.mendocinoartcenter.org/Summer17/Gray.html


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.

Meet Noelle Horsfield of Full Circle Ceramic

Noelle Horsfield owns and operates Full Circle Ceramic, a handmade ceramic studio and shop located in Huntington, WV.  Full Circle Ceramic is a community clay studio where Noelle teaches classes and produces a full line of functional ceramic wares and gift items. Noelle decorates her work with distinct illustrations with a refreshing edginess that amuse and delight customers from across the country.

Noelle Horsfield - Full Circle Ceramic
Noelle Horsfield – Full Circle Ceramic

Please Introduce Yourself:

Hi there, everyone! My name is Noelle Horsfield and I own and operate Full Circle Ceramic in Huntington, WV.

Noelle Horsfield of Full Circle Ceramic
Noelle Horsfield of Full Circle Ceramic

How did your clay journey begin?

I was a painting major in college. I’m actually still just a few credits shy of a degree. Imagery, language, form and the different processes of creating art has always interested me and I played around with a bunch of different mediums until I finally found my way to ceramics.

I think this period of exploration was necessary in order for me to develop a studio practice that is uniquely my own; it was a gathering up of skills that I then turned into my own way of working. As soon as I put my hands in clay, I knew I had finally found the right medium for me…there is no getting bored with ceramics as there is always a new challenge or problem to solve.

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I “met” you back in the blogging heydays around 2008. If I remember correctly, you were living in Maine at the time and were a resident artist at Watershed. At the time, your work was so different than its current incarnation. Can you pin point the stylistic shift?

I don’t know and I go back and forth on how different the work actually is at the core. Back then I was working in earthenware and making big chunky forms that had a lot of sculptural additions with all the color in my work coming from slips that I mixed myself. It was very sweet, and, for lack of a better word, whimsical in nature.

Noelle Horsfield - Earthenware Work
Noelle Horsfield – Earthenware Work circa Watershed days

The technical aspects of my work have definitely changed drastically as I have been working in cone 6 porcelain and white stoneware for the past 4 years. Mishima and sgraffito processes form the decorative and illustrative aspects of the work. However, I feel like the playfulness and sweetness is still present in the work. It’s balanced with a dose of profanity or maybe some of the darker parts of my nature. Maybe the earlier work just seemed a bit too one sided and I needed to inject the work with some reality…bringing a little weird to the party never hurt anyone.

Noelle Horsfield - Stay Weird Plate
Noelle Horsfield – Stay Weird Plate

Speaking of blogging, do you still have your old blog and website? I can’t find it anywhere on the interwebs. Do you think blogging is still relevant?

I wish I still had the old blog if only to go back and read my thoughts from my time at Watershed! I’m not sure how interested anyone was in my day to day blog posts back then but I felt like I was offering a unique look inside, spending time at an artistic residency retreat like Watershed.  That other artists seemed to gain some insight into that experience through my posts made me happy.

The decision to stop blogging is really just due to time constraints as well as the idea that Instagram and Facebook allow for a fast and easy way to connect with my customers and audience in a very visual way. I do think longer form blogging still has a place in the online community but I think the writing needs to be really smart and thoughtful. Posts should be heavy on photographs, and be regular and dependable. These are all things that I feel like I just don’t have time to commit to right now.

Noelle Horsfield - Cut Paper Art
Noelle Horsfield – Cut Paper Art

For a time, it appeared that you stopped creating with clay and had switched to the art of paper cutting. As someone who is interested in many art forms myself, it’s a direction I understand well. Can you elaborate on your creative detour?

After living in Maine where I had freedom to create ceramic work in my home studio, at Watershed, or in the studios at Portland Pottery, my husband and I moved to Massachusetts where I found myself without access to a ceramic studio at all. While I love ceramics and the process of working in clay, I am a maker at heart and I needed to have the ability to make something. Cut paper collage is a medium that I worked with a bit in college so I returned to this art form as a way to fulfill myself artistically. 

I feel like I made a lot of nice work and even had a couple of solo shows in Northampton, MA. Greeting cards made from my original collages are available in my shop in Huntington. It is interesting to see people enjoying this work alongside my current ceramic pieces.

Noelle Horsfield - Carpe Diem Platter
Noelle Horsfield – Carpe Diem Platter

In my opinion, the art of swearing isn’t appreciated enough. For this reason, I love how you’ve embraced adding a well placed curse word in your current clay work. It’s just the sort of levity that is desperately needed today. I also love the irony of using profanity on ceramics, an art that has a history of being a “keepsake” or special occasion item. Having one of your platters reveal itself on a holiday table would have been so interesting when I was younger…. Can you speak to your use of salty language in your clay work?

My first sentence as a baby was “I’m a damn fine baby!” My grandfather taught me to say this as a kind of parlor trick…it was a hit and I think it just stuck with me. I began putting profanity on ceramics about 3 or 4 years ago now and people just really seem to have fun with it and appreciate the honesty and humor that goes into the work. Sometimes the work might get a little bit confrontational but I mostly try to stick with what I like to call “positive profanity.”

Noelle Horsfield - Don't Be A Dick Plate
Noelle Horsfield – Don’t Be A Dick Plate

I don’t normally make things that say “fuck you” and even my biggest seller, which is “fuck that shit” is intended to mean “fuck all that shit that brings you down or makes you feel less than enough or feels like too much for you to bear.” Balancing the profanity with sweet animals, some floral designs or anything that helps to lighten the tone of the piece is important. It makes the profanity a little easier to take. Everything has a particular role to play.

Noelle Horsfield - Weird and Wonderful West Virginia Platter
Noelle Horsfield – Weird and Wonderful West Virginia Platter

I’m curious about your new business, Full Circle Ceramic in Huntington, WV. It appears that you’ve moved your studio into a retail space and now offer classes as well as other types of products outside of ceramic work. To be honest, I’m a little jealous. What prompted this move and how is it working out for you?

Well, having a retail shop and a working studio in the same place is definitely a balancing act but it seems to be working for me thus far! Like most ceramic artists, I spent years working in a home studio and sending things out to galleries and shops with some online sales here and there. This is a fine business  model and it works great for some people but I was left feeling very alone and isolated in my studio.

I craved interaction with my customers and I really needed to be able to have more of a work/life balance. If I  stepped out of the studio to let the dogs out, before I knew it I would be caught up in household chores and hours had passed away from the studio. The idea of a shop where I could both create and sell my work has been on mind for a long time. When the opportunity to lease a space in an old train station complex in Huntington presented itself last spring and I jumped on it.

Full Circle Ceramic Studio and Gallery
Full Circle Ceramic Studio and Gallery

Full Circle Ceramic Studio and Gallery

We opened in June 2016 and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I sell my finished work, t-shirts and stickers with my own designs, some jewelry, my Dad’s original stained glass art, and the work of a few other local ceramic artists as well as taking custom orders in the shop. The floor space is about 1/3 retail selling space and 2/3 work space. So, I am able to work in the studio and talk to customers at the same time, stopping when necessary to run the cash register or meet with customers for more in depth consultations.

I was a little concerned about the local reaction to the profanity and edgy nature of my work but people have been really kind and welcoming and most people just really get a kick out of it. It’s so fun seeing customers come in and interact with the pieces in the shop. You don’t get this experience when you just box things up and shop them off to a gallery. And, let’s be honest, it’s fucking awesome to get full price for a piece rather than giving half of it to a gallery right off the top!

Can we talk about your tattoos? I love yours! I understand that tattoos are often very personal. From the outside looking in, yours remind me of your ceramic work. Is there a correlation?

Noelle Horsfield - In the Studio Carving a Plate
Noelle Horsfield – In the Studio Carving a Plate

Thank you so much! I think my tattoos bring to mind my ceramic work because both my tattoos and my pottery reflect my personal design aesthetic. There isn’t much difference between my life and my work so everything tends to swirl around and it just becomes a way of life. My tattoos are both a form of self expression and a way of collecting artwork.

The tattoo artist has a general idea of what I would like for a particular tattoo and where I would like to see it on my body and then I allow them the freedom to create something beautiful for me. I have never been disappointed with what they come up with and I know that I do my best custom work when I am afforded this same freedom by my own customers.

Noelle Horsfield - Love Trumps Hate Platter
Noelle Horsfield – Love Trumps Hate Platter

Who or what inspires you?

My inspiration sources are pretty varied and I try to always stay open to new patterns, colors, thoughts and ideas. I have always been a big reader and I listen to audiobooks as much as possible when I’m working in the studio so I get a ton of inspiration from words and stories that find their way into my head. I also collect little snippets of quotes and ideas from NPR and the podcasts I listen to. Some health problems have plagued me and Frida Kahlo has become a sort of personal inspiration and patron saint of mine as well. I also LOVE folk art and outsider art from Appalachia and around the world.

Noelle Horsfield - Sometimes You Need Some Crazy Platter
Noelle Horsfield – Sometimes You Need Some Crazy Platter

What do you do for fun outside of pottery?

My husband and I have 4 dogs and 2 cats and taking care of these guys is a big part of our lives. We live near a beautiful park and walk our greyhound Betty there every evening. However, since opening the shop last summer, the line between work and play for me is pretty blurry. This is fine because I would rather be in the studio with my hands in clay than almost anywhere else in the world.

Where can people find you?

Upcoming events:

I mostly stick to the smaller local festivals and events. The shop takes so much time and I often have trouble making enough work to keep up with stocking the shelves, custom orders and wholesale accounts. If you’re in the Huntington, WV area you can find me at:

I would also like to give a shout out to a few shops that carry my work:


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.

Meet Kathleen Laurie Clay

Kathleen Laurie is one of my favorite local Colorado ceramic artists. She lives in Evergreen, CO – a small mountain town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Kathleen’s work bridges ceramic and two dimensional art practices such as painting and printmaking. I confess that I have collected several of ceramic pieces over the years.

kathleen laurie

We are both members of the Colorado Potters Guild. What does it mean to you to be a member of a clay community?

I joined the guild 18 years ago after working in other studio/classroom type scenarios. It is a unique space with my clay family. Being a potter usually means working in isolation unless you have found this magical place with my people who speak my language of art and clay.

Kathleen Laurie - Printed and Slipped Covered Jar
Kathleen Laurie – Printed and Slipped Covered Jar

How many years have you been working with clay?

I had my first experience with clay in the 3rd grade. It was a clay epiphany, an artistic lightning bolt. Overall I would say I’ve been working with clay for 40 years with some breaks in between but I’ve always returned to this medium.

Do you have a formal education in clay/art or how did you acquire your skills?

I have a degree in art/art education from Illinois State University. I’ve studied art my entire life. My mother nurtured my interest in all things art by putting me in classes, taking me to museums and encouraging my artistic growth. She was a science teacher and her interest in the natural world enhanced my visual education.

I spent most of my childhood outdoors running around in the woods and nearby swamps (where there was clay!) Over the years I have participated in workshops to learn glaze formulations and form making, some of them at the guild and some as far away as Vancouver Island with Robin Hopper at Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts

Kathleen Laurie - Paper Clay Ceramic Wall Canvas
Kathleen Laurie – Paper Clay Ceramic Wall Canvas

How do you work (techniques/glazing/firing methods)?

My work encompasses wheel thrown pieces, handbuilt pieces, slabs, lots of texture and incising. Sometimes I combine wheel work with slab work. It varies from functional to sculptural. Wall work and garden pieces. It’s all how my brain tells me to proceed. It’s become intuitive. As I throw a large bowl on my wheel, I envision what kind of beautiful salad will live in it and what color glaze to consider.

The firings take place at the guild. I fire to cone 10 in reduction or soda kilns. Glazing is my way of painting. My art background was comprehensive with drawing, painting, printmaking and ceramics. Now all of that training has morphed into my glaze style which is very graphic in nature. Clay has become my canvas. There’s lots of layers of information, lots of marks, lots of overlapping glazes. 

Kathleen Laurie - Tumblers
Kathleen Laurie – Tumblers

What does “being creative” mean to you?

Being creative means having the freedom to explore, invent, fail, succeed, move on, revisit, stall etc. I’ve always been creative and therefore the exacting left-brain talents are weaker. 

Speaking of exploration, you recently confided that you have started hand building more. Can you share some work in progress? 

Kathleen Laurie - Slab Work in Progress
Kathleen Laurie – Slab Work in Progress

I’m doing more hand building at the moment, decorating with slips, textures and decals.

(Editor’s note – I can’t wait to see these in person when we fire next week!)

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

Music is part of my studio environment. I work at my home studio. Usually there is a fire in my pellet stove, incense going, I must bustle around a bit, clean up, organize, chat with the cat and after an hour I settle down to some actual work. I work in spurts. Can’t work 8 hours at a time. Procrastination is my nemesis. I jokingly say that I have Studio Attention Deficit Disorder, SADD. It takes a while for me to focus and let go of outside, everyday diversions.

Kathleen Laurie - Ceramic Sculpture
Kathleen Laurie – Ceramic Sculpture

How do you overcome obstacles or difficulties working in clay?

I keep working thru it. If I hit a stall or creative wall, it usually takes some time to get back to work. The drought passes in time and with experience I realize it’s just a temporary incubation where something is evolving into a new design or idea. Sometimes it requires discussing with my guild mates to get past it. YouTube is also a great source of quick training.

Do you pursue any themes in your art work?

Patterns, grids, linear designs, turtles, fish, birds, dragonflies, color.

Kathleen Laurie - Fish Platter
Kathleen Laurie – Fish Platter

Who or what inspires you?

Nature, traveling, reading, museums, artist friends, my guild mates, life experiences. Just about everything I see has a possibility of making an appearance in my clay work.

Kathleen Laurie - Wheel Thrown Ceramic Bottles
Kathleen Laurie – Wheel Thrown Ceramic Bottles

Where do you see your work progressing over the next year?

I would like my work to increase in height and volume! New forms are always on the horizon. Sculpture is happening.

Where can people find your work? 

Online:

Galleries:

The Evergreen Gallery  
The Aspen and Evergreen Gallery in Estes Park  

Upcoming Events:

The Colorado Potters Spring Show May 4-6, 2017

This interview originally appeared on the Colorado Potters Guild website, but has been updated.


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.

Meet Page Kelly Piccolo of Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery

Page Kelly Piccolo is the owner and creative force behind Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery located in Montana. Page makes lovely functional pottery that feature botanical themes and the texture of fabrics.

Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery

Please Introduce Yourself:

My name is Page. I’ve long wished that I could just be monoeponymous (I made that word up).  If I could legally go by Page, I would do it. Currently, I live in a bedroom community outside of Helena, MT, which is known both as Montana City and Clancy. I’m a fifth-generation Montanan, but I spent a good chunk of my early adulthood moving my furniture from one side of the country to the other and back again.

Page Kelly Piccolo In Her Studio
Page Kelly Piccolo In Her Studio

How did your clay journey begin?

I vaguely remember an art class in sixth grade, or so, where our art teacher, whom I can only remember as Mr. M???? (my brain continues to refuse to fill in the space) had a short ceramic section where we all had an opportunity to throw on the wheel. We also built a bust. Of all the pieces that I’ve lost to the kiln gods over time, that bust is the one I miss the most. My memory of it was that it was really good, but we didn’t carve out the centers, so everything exploded, likely due to residual water. I love figurative sculpture, and want to explore that work more in the future.

When I was a teen, I had the opportunity to do a studio visit with Judy Ericksen. She let me throw a couple of bowls on her wheel and then at some point we did a raku firing. I enjoyed it immensely. Sadly, I didn’t get the support or encouragement to explore pottery further.

Many years later, lifetimes, I left my second husband and returned to Montana to keep my mother alive. We’d lost three immediate family members in the span of two years, and she was sliding down a black hole of depression. We sold her “in-town” house and moved to a twenty-acre property where she, and I, could start over.

The road to our house went by the Archie Bray Foundation and I drove by twice a day for months. I finally stopped in and signed up for a class and I took my first official pottery class July and August of 2003. Jeremy “Jr.” Kane was my teacher. The following January, I had enrolled in Carroll College with the intent of getting some kind of degree. In the fall of 2004, I took a class through the college that was in cooperation with the Bray, and Ben Krupka was my teacher that semester. The semester-end crit was brutal, I was unprepared for it, but in the long run, it has been the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given.

“BE INTENTIONAL.”

I’ve since taken several classes and workshops at the Bray, and I was a studio tech for Ralph Esposito at the college for a couple of semesters. In 2007, I’d become frustrated with the community firing at the Bray and no longer had access to the ceramic studio at the college. This pushed me to buy a kiln and a wheel which I set up a little basement studio.

By and large, my education has been in my studio – pushing myself to do better, to try something new, and to problem-solve. I’ve had four physical spaces in the last ten years. Between some interruptions of moving and having a daughter, I’ve found those breaks have led to great leaps of improvement in my work. The time off quiets my hands, but not my mind as I constantly obsess about clay.

I’m curious about the name of your clay business, “Zephyr Valley Pottery”. Is this a place or region in Montana where you live?

I’m fuzzy on the timeline, but some time before Montana was a state, my Great-Great-Grandfather had registered a livestock brand with the territory. It reads, “Reversed Hanging Z V.” This brand was eventually inherited by my grandmother who had a ranch in a valley in Meagher County. When I was a teen, Gram made a sign with the name “Zephyr Valley Ranch” which had the image of the brand on it.

Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery Logo
Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery Logo

I wish I knew what happened to that sign, I’d love to have it. In any case, my grandparents are long dead, the ranch has been sold, but my mother retains a quarter of the rights to the brand. In homage to my grandma I named my pottery business Zephyr Valley Pottery and now it’s Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery. I use an image of the brand inside the jug form as my signature on my pots.

Page Kelly Piccolo - Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - Bowl with Decal
Page Kelly Piccolo – Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – Bowl with Decal

What happens if you ever leave Montana? I ask, mainly, because my creative business was called Colorado Art Studio at one time. In 2013, I rebranded my as ceramicscapes so that I could easily move in the future should I desire. I also really debated whether to use my name, but my last name is so difficult to pronounce and spell. Naming a creative business is more challenging than it seems – have you ever considered using your name instead?

As far as the business name goes, I don’t have any issue in taking it with me wherever I go, because it really is more of a familial connection rather than a geographic one. The problem that I’ve recently come across is connecting my business name with me, the artist, and the work that I’ve been exhibiting.

Last year I began applying to juried shows in earnest, and I’ve been very fortunate to be accepted into many of them. The galleries put Page Kelly Piccolo on the labels, not Zephyr Valley Ceramics so I don’t think the connection is necessarily being made. Fortunately, Google has me covered, but folks have to think to search for me there. This is just one of the areas where being an artist in business can be challenging, there is no clear path or one right way.

Page Kelly Piccolo - Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - Yunomi with decal
Page Kelly Piccolo – Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – Yunomi with decal

I am excited to learn that you (and another friend, Judi Tavill) have both been invited to show your work at the AKAR 2017 Yunomi invitational. I am thrilled for both of you. Did you apply to the show, or did AKAR find you online and invite you?

I can’t even begin to express how excited I am to be a participant in this show. For me, this show is THE ceramics show of the year. I always buy a piece (or three) and sit at my computer hitting refresh waiting for the show to open. I LOVE this show.

This truly is an invitation only exhibit – I did not apply. I’m not entirely sure how they found me, but a couple of things happened. As I mentioned, I had earnestly applied and been accepted into several shows last year. Two of those shows were pretty big – one at Companion Gallery and one at the Charlie Cummings Gallery. I was so excited to be selected to those shows.

The other thing that happened was a post by ClayAKAR on Facebook that I commented on. I read it as a kind of fun, ‘hey we’re sending out invitations, is there anyone we should be sending invitations to’ post, so I was like “Uh, yeah, ME!” (none of this is the actual quote, but the essence). Maybe three or four weeks later, I received the questionnaire asking if I would like to participate. I might have hyperventilated a little.

Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - New Studio
Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – New Studio

You recently moved to a new home after building your (what appeared to be) dream home. As someone who moves fairly frequently as well, I understand the impulse. Why did you make the move to the new place. How has that impacted your clay practice?

Yeah, I really have to quit moving. Where to start…. My husband and I actually built our dream home in 2012. We have another business, BearGrass Homes, which is a construction business, now more property management. When we built the 2012 house, we were in a neighborhood where we could pick which school our daughter could attend.

In 2014, I had a health issue that caused me to quit working in the studio for an extended period, and I had to get a full-time J.O.B. outside of my studio. We set up our life and work schedules based on my daughter going to a specific school. They had an after-school program that the other school did not, which meant that I could go to work and not worry about her after school. We discovered when we went to register her, the school had drawn hard lines, and we were outside of that line by two blocks. They also made a rule that they were not accepting out-of-district kids, no exceptions.

I couldn’t mentally or emotionally get to the place where the other school would work, so I moved my family. My husband couldn’t be convinced to buy a house that was already built, so we found a lot and built another home. And that house was another dream house, one level living with a few bells and whistles with a studio in the basement. But, I was regaining my health and working in the studio again. Also, my husband was unhappy with the location.

Page Kelly Piccolo -Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - Yunomi
Page Kelly Piccolo -Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – Yunomi

As I achieved more success with my pottery business and started getting more wholesale and consignment accounts, the path to being a full-time potter again seems really viable. But the mortgage on the new dream house would never have allowed for that. I started looking for a home that had an outbuilding and needed some TLC, something inexpensive that we could improve on.

I found it. It was back in the old neighborhood my husband and daughter loved, and the school district has different rules for existing students, so we bought this beat-up repo house. Now I have my dream studio and the family is glad to be back in the old ‘hood. I’m closer to being financially able to go full-time in the studio again.

My clay practice has had a lot of interruptions. Emotionally, it’s incredibly challenging being away from the creative process. Mentally, it’s challenging because I’m not producing work, so I get behind on orders or goals. Right now, I don’t have anything to submit for exhibitions because I’m in full order-filling mode.

I work 60-70 hours a week, 40 at my day gig and the rest in the studio. I hope to find balance someday. Strangely, these breaks have a strong positive impact on the quality of my work because it has improved by leaps and bounds. I think a lot of that has to do with all the time I think about the work and the process, and the challenges I want to overcome.

Page Kelly Piccolo - Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - Cup
Page Kelly Piccolo – Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – Cup

I imagine that Montana has a fairly decent, but seasonal tourist season similar to Colorado. How do you sell your work typically? On Etsy? Or is your best market local such as galleries, shops or craft markets?

This is a tough question. My hometown is an odd place for me. I don’t fit into any specific cubby, and until recently it’s been challenging to find a place to sell my work locally. I don’t really do the Montana touristy stuff – graphics of the state, elk, moose or the like. And, I’m not one of the elite potters that have been through the Bray residency.

I’ve done okay with Etsy, and I think that continues to improve over time. I did the wholesale trade-show circuit in Montana, but I ran up against the “oh you use photography? Can you put a moose on that?” To which my answer was, “Can? Yes. Want to? Going to? No.”

Part of my impetus for applying to the exhibits last year was to see if my work would sell nationally. Now, I’m working on building a portfolio to send to galleries across the country, but I’ve also been developing my wholesale and consignment accounts.

I have a lovely boutique in Bozeman, MT that has led to a wholesale account with a farm-to-roaster coffee shop. Recently, a local gallery has added me to their stable. I’m also a member of Montana Clay, and last year we had our first studio tour. It was very successful and we are hoping to build on that. Helena has a Spring and Fall art walk each year, and I try to participate in that.

Zephyr Vallery Ceramics and Pottery Studio
Zephyr Vallery Ceramics and Pottery Studio

One of the primary goals I had with this last move was to have a place that people can come to and be more informed about the process and buy from me directly. I will be hosting studio sales once or twice a year to bring in the larger crowds, but I am always happy to have locals come by. I’m hoping to hold an Open-House style event here in the beginning of June. This is all part of rebuilding the business, and it takes time. At the same time, I hope I can keep up!

Page Kelly Piccolo - Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - Bowl
Page Kelly Piccolo – Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – Bowl

You take wonderful photographs of your ceramic work. Photographing work is challenging for a lot of potters, myself included. In scrolling through your Instagram feed, I’m curious about your photo set up that you posted on April 1, 2017. Can you expand on the equipment and techniques you use?

Thank you. My husband should really get all the credit. I take most of my pictures but he has done all the work on figuring out how to get the effects I’m looking for. He’s the kind of guy that gets interested in something and then has to figure out how it all works.

A few years ago, he became interested in landscape and astral photography, so I challenged him to help me with my pot pictures. We started with a lightbox on the kitchen counter, we had a space in a storage room where I hung a cheap canvas wrapped in tinfoil from the ceiling to use as a bounce light. We tried all kinds of options.

Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery Photography Set Up
Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery Photography Set Up

The set up that you mention is now in my new studio. I’ve got a roll of white paper, a piece of foam board to use as a light bounce, and a strobe light with a soft-box. Along with these essentials is the stands to hold everything up and in place. The strobe is on a remote, so instead of a flash, I get a much stronger burst of light. The angles of the light and the bounce board are about 90° to each other. The benefit is a controlled outcome and I can take pictures in my studio and not worry about any environmental light from windows or the ceiling.

I get a graduated background effect when I want it, or I can open up the angle of the light and bounce board, add a light, and have a white or grey background. Because my pots are white, the graduated background helps make them pop a bit more. I love natural light pictures, but my schedule doesn’t allow for me to take pictures on Mother Nature’s schedule.

I’m excited to see what ClayAKAR does this year with the Yunomi Invitational. This year they are posting 360° views of each pot.

I had to delete the Periscope app on my phone last year because I ran out of space. When I replaced my phone I never re-installed the app, because I found the notifications distracting. Are “scopes” automatically archived now to watch later? Are you still active on Periscope? If so, what does it add to your clay practice?

Periscope is awesome. It’s also extremely distracting. (you can turn the notifications off in settings, btw.)

The clay community that has been built around the ‘Scopers and the viewers is amazing. Initially, it was really addicting and I watched and broadcast a lot. There were a few hiccups initially, but Periscope has improved a lot of its features in the last year.

So here’s the bottom line: As a broadcaster, I love it when my viewers interact, ask questions, engage. Hearts are like applause (tap the screen to give a heart). The trolls can be really really super awful, so I limit who can chat to those who follow me. I can look at your profile and see if you are someone who is actually interested in ceramics. Also, when I’m doing throwing demos it’s really hard to split my attention between my pots and the conversation, and it really slows me down.

Page Kelly Piccolo Applying Decals
Page Kelly Piccolo Applying Decals

I’m more likely to ‘Scope these days when I’m glazing or applying decals or the like. The broadcaster has the option to save the broadcasts or delete them, so yes, they can be archived. To conserve space on my devices, I delete the videos. I occasionally upload them to my YouTube channel because I will be referencing that video in a blog post.

And that last bit is really what Periscope has added to my practice. I re-started my blog on my website, because I felt like there was more information to share. Photos of completed work, links to other artists or products or whatever that was discussed in the broadcast. It helps fill in the spaces, and I think sharing information is one of the things that I most love about potters. We tend to be supportive of each other, and I want to pay that forward.

Who or what inspires you?

My daughter inspires me. Mostly to be the woman she can look to as an example of someone who is strong, independent, caring, kind, thoughtful, inclusive. I want better for my child than I had or did, so I try to model that for her.

Beyond that, in my art, I’m a sensory inspired person. I love texture, pattern and love subtlety or things that make me want to engage or investigate. Attention to how things feel is maybe more important than how my work looks.

What do you do for fun outside of pottery?

Right now, I work mostly. I’m intent on getting back into the studio full-time and I’m doing everything I can to make that happen. I’ve also managed to get my arthritis and fibromyalgia under control so that I can physically handle going back to the studio. I study nutrition and am always working toward getting healthier. Recently, I started taking a pilates class once a week.

My mother-in-law taught me some knitting basics, so I’ve done a bit of that. Always looking for balance in life, never quite getting there. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I also hope to get some camping in this summer.

Where can people find you? 

Online:

Shops/Galleries:


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.

Meet Judi Tavill of Judi Tavill Ceramics

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. 

Judi Tavill Ceramics
Judi Tavill Ceramics

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.  

Judi Tavill Ceramics - Detail
Judi Tavill Ceramics – Detail

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.

Judi Tavill in Her Studio - Photo Credit Sue Barr
Judi Tavill in Her Studio – Photo Credit Sue Barr

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?

Judi Tavill Ceramics - Vase
Judi Tavill Ceramics – (Earlier Work) Vase

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.

Judi Tavill Ceramics - Catalina Vase
Judi Tavill Ceramics – Catalina Vase

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.

Judi Tavill Ceramics - Coral Foliage Francis Wall Piece
Judi Tavill Ceramics – Coral Foliage Francis Wall Piece

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.

Judi Tavill Ceramics - Helena Jar
Judi Tavill Ceramics – Helena Jar

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.

Judi Tavill Ceramics - Bowl
Judi Tavill Ceramics – Bowl

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!

Judi Tavill Ceramics - Photo Credit Sue Barr
Judi Tavill Ceramics – Photo Credit Sue Barr

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.

Judi Tavill Ceramics - Yunomi
Judi Tavill Ceramics – Yunomi

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….

Judi Tavill - Throwing Pottery
Judi Tavill – Throwing Pottery

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)

 Online:

Gallery:

The Taupe Gallery in North Wilkesboro, NC

Upcoming events:

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.

Meet Sarah Christensen Ceramics

Sarah Christensen is a ceramic artist and the creative force behind Sarah Christensen Ceramics located in Denver, Colorado. She is known for her highly decorated wheel thrown functional work and ceramic wall pieces. 

Sarah Christensen Ceramics
Sarah Christensen Ceramics

Please introduce yourself:

I was always encouraged to be an artist, and I always wanted to be one.  While I dabbled in lots of mediums as a kid, I didn’t touch clay until high school. Only then, did I really think it could happen. I went to college to blow glass, but after many burns, found clay to be more conducive to how I translated my ideas with my hands. That was all it took, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Wheel Thrown Bowl
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Wheel Thrown Bowl

How many years have your been working with clay?

I’ve been working in clay 25 years.

Do you have a formal education in clay/art or how did you acquire your skills?

I have a bfa in ceramics from Alfred University, which gave me a great base of knowledge from which to work.  I think I am still processing all the info I absorbed there. Since graduation I have been more interested in finding my voice in my work, and have chosen to limit my exposure to new techniques and influences. I love seeing what others are doing, but I get distracted easily and overwhelmed with new ideas which limits my focus.

Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Covered Jar
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Covered Jar

As a graduate of Alfred’s ceramic program, one of the most respected clay programs in the nation, can you speak to the rigor of the program and how it has prepared you to pursue clay full time in recent years? 

I can still hear my professors when I am working. It is rare for me to make anything without thinking, what would they think. Is this piece up to standard?  It has made me a harsh critic of my work, and others work as well. I’m okay with that, I want to make the very best work I can and I want to encourage others to do the same. 
 
Often, I still think of the advice my pottery teacher gave us to wait to put the work out there and to make it the very best you can. Once the  work is in the world, that is the work people will expect you to make, so don’t get stuck making under developed work. I’m not sure anything prepared me for life as a full time artist, but I do feel like I want to live up to the standards set by my education and the talented people I went to school with.
 

Were you ever interested in pursuing a MFA in ceramics?

 
I’ve always debated MFA, no MFA. I still think about the possibility, if it’s something that would enhance my work or open up opportunities. I guess I haven’t made a conclusive decision about it yet so it’s still on the table.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Sugar and Creamer Set
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Sugar and Creamer Set

How do you work (techniques/glazing/firing methods)?

Working on lots of projects at once keeps my day interesting. I throw for part of the day, then switch to handbuilding or sculpting. It is easier on the body to move around, and I don’t get antsy doing the same thing all day. I throw functional ware in porcelain, handbuild slab pots, make decorative wall hangings, and sometimes make attempts at what I call “real art”, but it’s really just playing in the studio.

All my work is very focused on surface decoration. I like simple forms that give me a canvas to use slip, glaze pencils, glaze and stamps, to layer color and image.  Soda firing has always been a part of that process. It adds that extra magic to a surface, and it is always a surprise.

 

We are both members of the Colorado Potters Guild. What does it mean to you to be a member of the guild?

When I joined the guild, I was desperate to have a place to fire, but otherwise I was fine working in solitude. I didn’t realize at first how enriching it would be to have a group of clay friends to talk shop with. These days I am constantly grateful for all the enthusiasm, problem solving and fun that being in this group brings.

Sarah Christensen - Spraying soda into the vapor kiln at the Colorado Potters Guild
Sarah Christensen – Spraying soda into the vapor kiln at the Colorado Potters Guild

We have been firing the soda kiln at the Colorado Potters Guild together with a few others and you lead our firings. What is your philosophy or end goal for a soda firing as it relates to your work since it’s so highly decorated with color and fine line work?

The end goal is always the same. How can I get the most exciting, beautiful surface possible on a pot? It has certainly been a process to find just the right firing to keep the decoration intact, while making sure the soda does its magic. 
 
Lately, my interest is in getting what I call “radioactive” color. Most people associate high fire with brown or subdued colors, so I love that I can get bright colors, but retain the complexity that comes with higher temps. The soda has the potential to really enhance the glaze colors, while also softening the design work and making it more variable.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Wheel Thrown Mug
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Wheel Thrown Mug

Technically this makes you teacher or instructor by taking the lead in our firings (and you’re good at it). Have you ever thought about teaching classes to other potters or aspiring potters? Why or why not?

I have done a little teaching, but have not found a good fit yet. There are times I think I would like to teach, but it is hard to give up my own studio time for it. I wouldn’t rule teaching out if the right opportunity came about, it just hasn’t been a goal particularly.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled

People love your functional work and I think your sculptural wall boxes are under appreciated. Would you like to move more into the sculptural realm, or do you enjoy straddling both functional and sculptural?

There is something very comforting about making pots. They are art objects, but their function gives them purpose and meaning and definition, so I don’t have to. As long as my pots function, they are what they were meant to be.  Its nice to have the container of function and it takes the pressure off when I’m not feeling especially creative, but still want to work.  
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
 
I never intended to show the sculptures when I started making them. They are an exploration of a personal experience, and I really wanted them to stay private. I guess I (mostly) got over this feeling, plus I ran out of wall space to store them.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
 
I have been missing making them lately, but the functional pots have taken precedence as I try to get them into the world…. I would love to make more of the wall pieces, but I feel so much more pressure to make them meaningful, to have them say something about me or the world. Sometimes it’s just really nice to sit down and make a mug.
 

Who or what inspires you?

I’m loving Danish midcentury pottery right now. But inspiration is everywhere, all the time.

Where can people find you?

Online:

Sarah Christensen Ceramics
Colorado Potters Guild Website
Instagram: @sarahsclaybits

Galleries:

Boulder Arts and Crafts Gallery
Gallery 1505 

Upcoming events:
 

I publish interviews with artists whose primary medium is clay once a week, every Friday. This regular segment is named “Feature Fridays” which can be found when searching 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.

Meet Lisa and Alex LaPella of LaPella Pottery

Alex and Lisa LaPella are a husband and wife team and the creative forces behind LaPella Pottery located in Unicoi, TN. Collaboratively, they create many one of a kind pieces and specialize in functional stoneware, barware, and wedding registries.

LaPella Pottery - Handmade Functional Stoneware
LaPella Pottery – Handmade Functional Stoneware

Please Introduce Yourself:

Hello! We are Alex & Lisa LaPella, the potters behind LaPella Pottery. We met just as Lisa was finishing her BFA in ceramics (Alex already had his), almost 20 years ago. We’ve been making pots all along, but only took the plunge into full time studio pottery about 5 years ago.

LaPella Pottery - Snack Bowl in Gray and Red on White
LaPella Pottery – Snack Bowl in Gray and Red on White

I’m envious of how you two have managed to craft a successful creative business together. You are a pottery power couple with an incredible business sense and appear to be terrific parents to boot! What it is like to work with your spouse and how do you split your daily tasks?

Alex: Well, I suppose we are atypical. We have an easy relationship. We are rarely apart, rarely argue, and are always working together either as parents or as partners in business.     

Lisa: We’ve almost always worked together. The hardest time in our marriage was when we worked separately. It’s true we rarely argue – so much so that it is a recurring joke for Alex’s mom to ask weekly, “Have you had your first fight yet?” Ha ha! As for division of labors, we don’t have very rigid job descriptions.    

Alex: Except you do the computer stuff. I hate the computer stuff.    

Lisa: And you do the trimming. Because you love me. 

LaPella Pottery - Alex Working on Mugs for Mug Club for Black Abbey Brewing
LaPella Pottery – Alex Working on Mugs for Mug Club for Black Abbey Brewing

In addition to selling online via Etsy, you’ve developed quite a few wholesale accounts and relationships with local breweries. How did you go about making these connections?

Alex: Start drinking beer!   

Lisa: I suppose we were pretty lucky. The brewery connections began with serendipity. We happened to be set up next to a new brewery tent at a local street festival. It was clear they needed a little help getting set up, so we chatted and hit it off. Soon, we were making mugs and growlers for them. We found that the cross-promotional aspect of that relationship (Johnson City Brewing Company & LaPella Pottery) was very effective for both companies. Other breweries saw how we worked together and soon we had more clients. While we try to be proactive in seeking new clients, it is more often word of mouth or our presence on Etsy Wholesale that leads to new clients. 

LaPella Pottery - Wheel Thrown Growlers Made For Johnson City Brewing
LaPella Pottery – Wheel Thrown Growlers Made For Johnson City Brewing

We are both members of the private Facebook group, Clay Buddies. I check in once in awhile, but always notice (or maybe FB just alerts me via their algorithm) when you provide insight to people looking for technical or other help. You are a terrific resource and I see that you offer occasional classes in your home studio. Have you ever considered opening up a larger clay teaching facility? Why or why not? 

While we toyed with this idea, we both decided it would not suit our personalities. In short, we are selfish with our studio time. Rather than teaching longer classes, we are moving toward teaching weekend workshops instead. It allows us to travel and meet other potters without losing our regular studio workflow. 

LaPella Pottery - Stacks of Wheel Thrown Bowls
LaPella Pottery – Stacks of Wheel Thrown Bowls

I loved your feature in Pottery Making Illustrated, Sept/Oct Issue 2016. It motivated me to subscribe to PMI. Did you pitch your article to PMI, catch the editor’s attention or just get lucky? Do you plan to be a regular contributor?

 Lisa: We would love to contribute again! (Hint! Hint!)  The editor approached us and asked us to submit an article. I had always dreamed of  being published, so I was very excited to work with PMI. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe a talk I gave on Periscope led to the article.

I had given a talk on Periscope shortly before they contacted us called, “Referenced Work is the Strongest Work: What’s That Mean?!” The theme of the talk was that work that has a personal reference for us tends to be the strongest work.  For some, the reference is pots that come before, for others it is a particular time or place. I’m working on an essay of the same title since the talk was not recorded. 

Insta-Crafty Market in Tennessee
Insta-Crafty Market in Tennessee

I followed your journey to start a crafty handmade market in 2016 with anticipation which seems to have really taken off. What motivated you to develop and manage Insta-Crafty? 

Lisa: Honestly, I was kind of being a brat. I was angry that so many artists had lost their booth spaces at our local farmers market. Even though we did not lose our space, it felt very unfair and I wanted to give those locals a way to showcase their wares.

It started as a Friday night pop-up show alongside a weekly concert. Soon I had a website and was planning a large holiday market. I realized there was an untapped need in our area for a true indie craft show. If we want the public to buy handmade, we need to give them opportunities to experience and learn about indie art.    

Alex: I had no idea what she was up to. I thought she’d invite some friends to set up downtown and that would be it. When she showed me the website and application forms, I was pretty shocked.

LaPella Pottery - Wheel Thrown Spice Jar
LaPella Pottery – Wheel Thrown Spice Jar

What advice would you give someone who is interested in organizing an ongoing craft event like Insta-Crafty or even a one day pop up shop? 

Lisa : I would probably advise them to not do what I did. I tend to just jump in and hope I can swim. Mostly I’ve been pretty lucky. I suppose my best advice is to behave like a professional who knows what he/she is doing… even if you aren’t and you don’t.   

Alex: And don’t wait for someone else to do it because it probably won’t get done.

LaPella Pottery - Wheel thrown oval vase, altered, and hand painted with wildflower silhouettes
LaPella Pottery – Wheel thrown oval vase, altered, and hand painted with wildflower silhouettes

Who or what inspires you?

Alex:   All the things.  

Lisa: We are lucky to live in a really craft-rich community. We are within 30 miles of 100s of potters who are among the best in the nation. Living in Appalachia, just over the ridge from Penland, we are witness to a long arts and crafts tradition that is set in the most lovely environment.   

Alex: We love to visit galleries that feature really fine handmade furniture… we love art and architecture…. the mountains we live in… world travels… it all shows up in the work.

LaPella Pottery - Wheel Thrown Latte Mugs
LaPella Pottery – Wheel Thrown Latte Mugs

What do you do for fun outside of pottery? 

Lisa: There is life outside pottery?!  Just kidding! We are happiest out in the woods. Our family hikes, kayaks, paddle boards … we have a vintage camper that we take to the beach or down to the river. We love to take photos of all of our adventures, so watch our Instagram accounts! 

LaPella Pottery - Wheel Thrown Pitcher
LaPella Pottery – Wheel Thrown Pitcher

Where can people find you? 

Online:

Upcoming events:


I publish interviews with artists whose primary medium is clay once a week, every Friday. This regular segment is named “Feature Fridays” which can be found when searching 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.