I had to post this article, mostly so I know I will be able to find it again. It’s a long, dense read, but well worth it. I’m totally in the zone for this article, which I found via the Facebook group Critical Craft Forum (moderated by Namita Wiggers, I highly recommend it). For the past 8 weeks I’ve been neck-deep in the business end of this pottery business, participating in a 10 week course for solo entrepreneurs through the Small Business Development Center and Portland Community College. I’ve been slowly but steadily building my business over many years, but I’m tenacious now. 2016 was a really good year, incredibly validating, and just frustrating enough to make me see I just need to be my own boss.
Like a lot of “how to be a successful artist”-themed articles, this one can’t really give you a blueprint. To its credit, it does not even try. This may seem like a cop out at first, but the truth is there are way too many definitions of “artist” to make one formula applicable to all. Or even the majority (Hell, there is no majority. Maybe way back when, before Warhol and Duchamp, but definitely not in this gatekeeper-less world wide web age). And with that, Alexis Clements provides a great conversation starter. I can see this article used to kickstart idea generation in a professional development workshop scenario and imensely helpful in a classroom or mentorship context to prepare emerging artists for the realities of making a living with a creative practice.
I’m gonna read it again and will surely reference it as I move closer and closer to becoming my own boss full-time.
Well, it’s all over folks…I’ve been through the wringer of grad school and have come out relatively unscathed. I, and 16 other fabulous makers/designers/artists/craftsmen/gluttons-for-punishment, graduated with our MFAs a couple of weeks ago. Just last night we wrapped up our Practicum exhibition, Mixed Messages, which, I must say, looked damn good (see images of my work and Practicum pieces, Everything Falls Apart but Nothing Ever Does <parts I and II>, below). I continue to be impressed, even after two years, with this group’s ability to collaborate and execute some pretty daunting projects, especially considering each one represented 17 distinct voices.
So what next? That’s the question on everyone’s lips. Well, I chose this program partially because of its emphasis on cultivating an entrepreneurial approach to making a living while making difference. About half way through this program I realized my professional life would likely take a multi-faceted form, combining self-employment and traditional job opportunities. It goes without saying that I want to continue making and then exhibit and sell that work (just don’t ask me what I want to make…my head is a bit scrambled right now). I also want to connect with the greater community and build upon the network of artists and makers that grad school has helped me develop.
It’s going to be tough right out of the gate, but, luckily, things seem to be falling into place for me. I have a few opportunities on the table right now, including a sweet part-time gig assisting an amazing local artist, Dana Louis. I have a couple good leads for part-time and full-time job opportunities with local art/craft/manufacturing companies, and I’ve spotted a couple of potential spaces for my next studio. Things are coming together…
The big news: after 10 years of dreaming, scheming, creating, fretting, failing, discovering, and succeeding, I’m going to art school! This fall l will enroll as a student in the MFA in Applied Craft and Design program offered, in collaboration, by the Pacific Northwest College of Art and the Oregon College of Art and Craft in the great city of Portland, Oregon. I say “this fall,” but my program begins this Monday, 8/20, with a two-week design/build project, in which all in-coming grad students are suddenly thrown together to create a space with a very real purpose for a very real client.
I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard we will be building a Bike Hub, a community bike center, in the New Columbia neighborhood of North Portland. This project has been years in the making, thanks in large part to the Community Cycling Center, a local non-profit which believes “the bicycle is a tool for empowerment and a vehicle for change.” Since I found inspiration in the Netherlands last summer I’ve come to believe quite strongly that safe, accessible forms of active transportation, like bicycling, are vital to the formation and longevity of vibrant communities and the overall livability of our city. The coincidence or serendipity of the chain of events which has led me to this program is simply remarkable. Never in a million years could I have planned this!
What attracted me to the Applied Craft + Design program can be summed up this way:
With a curriculum focused on the development of a strong artistic voice, the realization of work for a specific community or client, and entrepreneurism that connects making a living with making a difference, the MFA in Applied Craft and Design is the only graduate program of its kind.
I contemplated a more traditional route: a highly-ranked ceramics MFA program at an established school like the University of Nebraska or the University of Minnesota. These excellent programs have a highly competitive admissions process, many artists applying year after year before gaining entrance (because dozens or hundreds of artists are vying for maybe 1-4 spots in the program each year). While some pretty incredible artists emerge from these programs, they focus on the individual artist and do not, as a facet of the program, emphasize the relationship between the artist and his/her community. I believe, in the end, this may be to the detriment of future artists, for how we can make a living has changed dramatically and will certainly continue to evolve. New paradigms are needed to prepare students for professional life.
I did apply to NE and MN, by the way, and was rejected by both. But I am so glad! Portland has become home to me like no other city in which I’ve ever lived. This city has inspired me to want to do more than just make art and be a traveling workshop presenter (every little potter’s dream, to be “famous”). After two+ years of really living in the city (I live downtown), I better understand the importance of a strong, healthy community. I’ve seen how design can have a profound effect on livability. I want my career to have a direct connection with and positive effect on my community, and this program is uniquely designed (and perfectly located!) to help me do just that.
Some years ago my ceramics teacher at the time encouraged me to begin learning to photograph my work. This was the early 2000s, and although it doesn’t feel all that long ago, digital cameras had not yet replaced 35mm, at least in the realm of art documentation. So I drove into Portland to find the film and other sundries I’d need, and I spent three very tedious hours fidgeting with lighting and camera angles only to come up with a handful of VERY mediocre photos. They were not suitable for anything other than nostalgia. Although, come to think of it, I think I trashed them long ago.
Fast-forward to 2011…Kodak stopped making slide projectors long ago and everyone and their grandmother has at least one digital camera (in their phone!). Technology now exists to give every potter the tools to take decent to professional-grade photos worthy to submit to any show. I now have a Canon Powershot with more features than I know what to do with (I really wish I could find that infernal owner’s manual), in addition to a pair of lights, a graded background, and a light cube.
I purchased the cube and lights as a kit from EZCube for around $200, about a year ago. The EZ Cube is a pop-up, table-top light tent, which diffuses light and reduces glare on the object being photographed. The lights that came with my kit are pretty decent, not professional grade, but I feel like I got my money’s worth. The cube comes with three pieces of background drapery, which are useless to me. They are wrinkled most of the time, but even with ironing they do not drape cleanly for a seamless look. When I moved into the private studio that came with my tech job, I discovered that my predecessor had bequeathed to me and the other tech a Varitone graded background. It’s much to large for my EZ Cube, so lately I’ve been using the Varitone with the lights, which came with diffusing covers.
Here’s what I set up today:
I don’t have a table large enough to accommodate the drape I need to create with the Varitone background, so I found a piece of chipboard in the kiln barn to create an extension to one of my work tables. I nabbed the heaviest thing I could find, a bag of clay, to keep it in place.
Next, I hung the Varitone from the ceiling with very long pieces of twine. The background is painted with a gradient from white to black (a marvelous tool for those of us who want to take our own photos, but don’t want to invest the time into learning how to do proper lighting) . I want to be able to change the curve of the background to increase or decrease the amount of black/white in the frame, depending upon the piece. I learned today that I need even longer pieces of twine to anchor behind the lighting…there’s just no room in there to climb up to the ceiling to adjust the backdrop!
I took photos today which I plan to submit to “Atmospheric Fired 2011,” at the Carbondale Clay Center. Once I got home to view them on my computer, I realized I still have more shots to take. I’ll go back in tomorrow to photograph a teapot to add to the mix. Many of the pieces I shot today just don’t look very good in my photos. I think that’s just the limits of my skills at this point, because those pieces look absolutely marvelous in person.
Today is Marketing Monday, episode two. I’ve decided to stay home on Mondays, instead of commuting in to my studio, so that I can spend some QT marketing myself and my wares. This will save me about $20-25 per month in gas, however, the idea is that the big dividends come from the fruits of my networking labor. I shall tweet, I shall update, I shall blog, I shall submit applications galore. Sounds pretty straight forward, but getting organized and coming up with strategy like this is something I’ve never done before. Where to begin?
I spent my first Monday researching shows and galleries and thinking about photographing work for submissions. Today I researched shopping cart options (I’m thinking I might ditch etsy in favor of selling from my blog). I suppose I’ve been productive, but it feels haphazard, like I’m flailing about. I need some good goals.
My three general goals:
1) Maintain an active web presence via my blog and social media. My blog will also serve as a retail outlet.
2) Put my actual pots in front of actual people. We’re talking sales, shows, and galleries.
3) Be an active member of my local arts community and craft guild.
This simple framework makes these Marketing Mondays look a lot less daunting. I’ve worked so long at refining my pottery-making process that it feels a little odd to know I’m rather unorganized and inefficient in this aspect of my career. I’ll probably end up flailing about a bit more before I get the kinks worked out. I think I’m going to back-track a few steps, break down those goals into smaller tasks, and give myself a more structured plan for the coming weeks.
Many thanks, by the way, to Alyson B. Stanfield, the Art Biz Coach, and her Art Biz Blog. Her articles and pod-casts have lots of great info and advice that help get the juices flowing.