Trying to make it as an artist when your income is just not enough:
This weekend I have the run of Rottenstone Pottery, the local gallery that carries my work. It’s not our busiest season, so traffic has been scattered and people poke in every now and again during mostly quiet days. When I sit the gallery I get a little pay for my time, commissions on sales, and can spend time on my own work to my heart’s content. It’s been over a year since I have taken the leap into the abyss of trying to make it as an artist, left the regularly scheduled world of working for someone else, and taken gigs and odd jobs to try and break even.
I am really lucky for having been offered various steady work waiting tables (my most recent previous form of regular income), and even other full time or part time regular jobs. In this climate of unemployment and job insecurity, I am not ungrateful, but I know how easy it would be for me to neglect this commitment to myself, to pursue making, if my income is safely tied up in a steady job. Yes, I realize it is a luxury to be able to live this way, and the choices, and happenstance of my life have allowed this. I live incredibly humbly with my dear partner who is supportive to no end, in particular, because he has his own dreams for following his creative pursuits outside of the conventional steady job hustle. He is an English teacher and a poet, New Mexico Charter School Teacher of the Year no less! He didn’t get there with an easy gig idly minding behaved and head strong students. He also struggles to support students with no other form of support, add to those, students with inclinations for dangerous forms of rebellion, with additional challenges in the work environment, and I wonder how in the world he is able to do it at all.
Still, he believes in me and takes on the lion’s share of the rent and expenses in our tiny studio apartment because he believes in what I am doing. Eventually, my craft will make our living and he will take time away to focus on his writing! For now, I am pushing away in the studio spending more than full time hours to seek a comfortable living and beyond with what I love doing. In the meantime I take jobs here and there to fill in the gaps of my income, and I have set up some ground rules to keep my head and heart in the studio. I have gotten a reputation as a good house and animal sitter and often get offered jobs in people’s homes for periods of time. I also have experience and the credentials for working in restaurants with food and alcohol and I am offered regular appealing work more than I should be lucky enough to receive. Jobs related directly to my work as a maker I will always consider. And helping friends out is really important to me as well. I have had so much help along the way I want to keep paying that forward where I am able.
My rules for staying true to the course:
1. I don’t take anyone else’s steady jobs with a regular schedule so that I can pick and choose when and where I need to be for my own work, hosting openings, pursuing representation, and promoting. This is particularly important because in this small town my busiest times of year are also the busiest times of year for most jobs I would take on.
2. I cover jobs of people that I have worked comfortably with for a long time at rates that work for both of us. New house sitting and/or animal sitting jobs I make sure work with my schedule and how I value my time.
3. I don’t get tied to working a regular schedule for someone else’s dream, restaurant or whatever venture, so that I can focus on my own. The time and energy I invest in building my business as an artist is much more valuable to me.
4. I take jobs here and there for set specific times on a case by case basis catering or bar tending. When I am able and the pay is acceptable I take on opportunities and let it be known that I am available for this kind of work. Word of mouth and reputation from years of waiting tables is how I get these jobs.
5. I would take a regular schedule with a space representing my work in order to build my understanding of running a gallery and working with customers, something that helps me represent my work, and teaches me the ins and outs if ever I would want to have my own gallery.
6. I keep a regular vigorous schedule in my studio, making sure I am committing full time plus, and staying late and/or going in early or on weekends to make sure I have given myself those hours.
7. I appreciate the freedom to adjust accordingly and like to offer my help to friends wherever I can, especially when they don’t have the same luxury. My friends support me throughout the year, buying, using, and sharing my work, not to mention, welcoming me into their lives and homes.
I know I am lucky to even have the option of considering this type of life, but I have also had the opportunity to choose how humbly I want to live so that I can invest my time, energy, and resources in what is most important to me. Before this past year I was making a decent living waiting tables with enough to spare for travel, skiing, and working in my studio. Now I’m trying to have my making take on that responsibility. Looks like time will tell if that works out or not! I’ll keep you posted!
Plans are in place for a whirlwind of events this month, and maybe I’ll fit some ski days in there somewhere too! It’s the day before our Holiday Sale and Party at our little Community Center, and as always with all the events planned for the month of December, our Party overlaps with other happenings in our neighborhood. This time it’s the Taos Festival of Trees a, great event benefiting a wealth of local charities. We hope our friends find time to make it both events!
So for a little more shameless self promotion, we’ve brought in Chef Antoine to prepare a spread of complimentary hors d’oeuvres and refreshments viagra super active. Our friends at the Farm House Cafe will have a table of locally sourced treats available for sale. Artist, Anee Ward, will have a lovely collection of paintings, prints, gift cards, and watercolors. Claire Blanchard with the Tufted Chair has decorated the hall with oversized ornaments and put together a collection of great holiday gifts along with her exquisite home furnishings. And guest artist Lilli Steinlicht will display her textured hanging planters and other ceramic pieces!
As for me? I just unloaded a kiln of lovely pots that make great gifts and even a few new cowgirls too! The new pots will be available at our party tomorrow, then again at Substance of Taos‘s annual Winter White Sale, and of course as soon as I get the listings together, on Etsy too!
Wishing you all a warm and wonderful holiday season as we look forward to a fun and successful Holiday Party!
Let the December Games Begin!
The great thing about working in clay is that it is so versatile, you can transition from figurative sculptures to cups and bowls that make great holiday gifts! While we are still experiencing our November Lull, I have been fortunate enough to grab some odd jobs to keep the bills paid, and to score some little sales here and there. I just sent out a few mugs from my etsy shop and have posted some new pieces on there as well!
In the meantime, November has been my time to hover over my wheel and produce a kiln full of sweet mugs, cups, bowls, jars, and vases for the holiday gifting season. The lower price point is a great way to make some sales and get people in the door. So here I am building inventory for our December 5th Open Studio event complete with decorations, refreshments, and plenty of shopping!
I am lucky to have my studio in the cozy little village of Arroyo Seco, NM just outside of Taos. The charming shops and businesses probably only cover a stretch of 100 yds or so, maybe even less? and we feature two pottery galleries and of course now my little studio space here in this old elementary school classroom.
Both the Scott potters have great little businesses and produce tons of beautiful handmade pieces for all the guests that come through. I simply can’t produce that much, but I’m lucky to have these guys as mentors and friends. Rottenstone Pottery even features some of my pots and sculptures!
So if you’re in the neighborhood this December 5, come by from 5:30-8:30 and join in our little holiday celebration and sale! If you can’t make it then, just get in touch and we’ll find a time to come by!
The cold weather has been setting in, gardens have been put to bed as night temperatures reach below freezing, and clouds tease us with dustings of snow anticipating the upcoming ski season. Excitement over Taos Ski Valley‘s new lift up to Kachina Peak peppers conversations with hopes of a snowy winter, but until our Thanksgiving opening day the month of November haunts this sleepy town with significantly less visitor traffic, the life blood of our economy.
I arrived in Taos 10 years ago in November desperately seeking work and being regularly turned away during that near screeching halt in business I have come to know all too well as that November lull. It happens every year, and I still find myself surprised at how quiet it gets, never quite saving up enough to feel safe in that transition into the chaos of the holidays.
Now is the time to build inventory, prepare for a holiday sale, and brace ourselves for the onslaught of incoming travelers, skiers, and friends coming in from out of town. I’ve been sitting the Rottenstone Pottery for the past three days, and thank goodness for a weekend shift, or I would have made almost no sales in this time. At least I’ve been making pots and even sold a couple of my own in the meantime!
Time flies when you’re trying to do a lot of stuff!
After 4 months of song and dance, paperwork and payments, business licensing and relicensing, our signs are finally up and legit just in time for the busy season to come to a slow creeping crawl!
Of course things have not quite fizzled out yet! Since I last wrote I made a trip to Utah, to visit my one out of neighborhood gallery. Maran of Gallery Mar in Park City is such a lovely woman and so enthusiastic about my work, I could not have been luckier in finding my first gallery representation outside of friendships in Taos! I wish I had taken a picture with her, but alas, all i did was get some silly photos of me with my work in her gallery. I was also able to drop off a new sculpture for her space and sell one to a dear friend who lives out there as well.
We got back just in time for the Taos Fall Arts Festival and entered a couple of cowgirls into the Taos Open. The 10 day event was kicked off with Thursday night music on the Plaza and a Friday night massive art on the streets event called the PASEO bringing in projection, sound, performance, robotics, and installation artists from all over the world to grace our small town with the latest in technological and interpretive pieces.
Things did not stop there with a week full of poetry readings, gallery openings, and music!
I accomplished two big firsts recently, The Taos Fall Arts Festival, and just this past weekend, we made a trip to Albuquerque for my very first Balloon Fiesta! While it was disappointedly rained out on Friday night for the special shapes balloon glow, where the balloons are tethered but light up in spectacular display, we were still able to check out the amazing chainsaw carving competition and see some remarkable craftsmanship and creativity, and thanks to the line of carnival booths, we also shared a donut burger!
The following morning we attended the mass ascension. We drove in to the park at dusk while it was still mostly dark and the dawn patrol flickered in the night like massive fireflies lighting on and off as the first light of the morning slowly broke over Sandia Mountain. By the time we were on the field among the balloons, they were filling and growing up all around us and taking off here and there into the sky! The special shapes were my favorite, but each balloon’s lift off was cause for a crowd celebration. I felt like Alice in Wonderland shrunk down among puffball mushrooms of every shape and color!
The cowgirls are taking flight thanks to the welding stylings and skills of fellow craftsman and potter, Rene. After firing up the little wood kiln, and watching the gang pull absolutely amazing pieces from their 10-day firing out in Tres Piedras, I finally got some decent pictures of my ‘flying cowgirl brigade.’ Born out of a little spectacle, a little Wild West free falling, and the vague memory of Big Top acrobatics.
Starting off slow and steady, I wonder if I can run this race?
Summer is in full swing here in Taos, and businesses pick up this time of year with tourism and locals getting out to the shops for gifts and souvenirs. With paperwork for our storefront signage still in limbo, foot traffic to my little studio and viewing space is mostly few and far between, but every now and again someone pops by to pick up a little something.
My online sales are mostly non-existent, but it’s a great way to share what you do with anyone you meet who is interested.
“Here’s my business card, take a look at my website,”I might say, “Oh and if you’re in town, you can see my sculptures in a few galleries here and in Park City, UT! Have a nice day!”
So what does it take to make a living as a clay artist?
Honestly, I have no idea, because I’m not doing that yet, but I speculate and come up with theories every day. I suppose there are many ways really, but being a potter and clay sculptor I rely quite a bit on the bread and butter sales of the very accessible functional objects; cups, mugs, bowls; affordable, portable, intimate. As one who is easily intrigued by the allure of other mediums, I paint and print and sew and sculpt when the spirit moves me as well. You could say I have multiple small bodies of work and sketches and watercolors could all be offered for sale at an accessible price too.
Many people I know and meet often want to support me in small doses and I am more than happy to oblige! I love experimenting and exploring visually and feel gratitude and connection to those who respond positively to what I come up with.
For years I worked in a restaurant to support all my habits and desires to play with visual mediums. I was always told to “up sell” our customers, try to get them to buy the more expensive steak, or wine, or add an appetizer or dessert. Knowing my own budget and designs for eating out, I simply wanted the customer to have just what they wanted. Nothing more, but also nothing less. I was happy to let them know exactly what their options were, but I’m not pushy nor a great saleswoman perhaps to a fault. I like think my guests appreciated that.
I worked at a lovely restaurant that accommodated everyone from the locals and regulars to the out of town guests, from visitors looking for a quick inexpensive meal to lavish 6 course dinners with multiple rounds of wine, cocktails, and aperitifs. I met with warm and positive reception to my service and hope to carry that into the business of making and selling artwork.
But without people requiring a meal of handmade pottery multiple times a day relying on regulars or drop-ins can’t be the only way to make a buck. So far I’ve placed my work in a few locations about town and online. I price relative to my peers and with respect to my costs and time. I gig as often as possible, trying not to have a committed schedule anywhere other than my studio, catering, housesitting, petsitting, and sitting a gallery. I peddle my wares plugging my websites on social media, blogging here, and making donations to various causes.
Thanks to my donations of 12 bicycle bowls to the Empty Bowls event here in Taos, a guest sought me out at my studio just the other day to purchase some mugs as well!
Advice to aspiring clayers that don’t want to go the academic route, and simply want to make a living creating and share their craft: put yourself out there however you can. I’m not there yet, but I’m on my way!
I have been living and working in Taos, New Mexico for almost 10 years and for most of that time I worked in restaurants and did odd jobs to support making art, traveling, and my humble but comfortable lifestyle. Thanks to falling in love and having the support of a partner this past year has been an amazing journey into starting my own business and stepping away from restaurants for the time being.
The community center in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico just north of Taos rents out rooms for small businesses, many of us being artists and makers of some kind. Renting out the space for many years to make work when ever I was able was a great way to keep my hands in clay. We have long since set up the hallway between our spaces as a make shift gallery to display our work during open studio events and for when people just drop in. We are finally in the process of putting up signs to transform the abandoned appearance of our building into a more inviting space. Most people know me simply as Laura, so when it came to putting up signage and coming up with a name, I went with simple and straightforward. If you are looking for me I hope to have my sign up sometime late this summer. Just look for “Laura’s Studio” at the “Community Center Studios.”
The building hosts a small collection of talented painters, a photographer, a clay artist (me!), a dance and movement studio, and an amazing furnishings and interior designer/upholsterer. Almost everyone in the building is more than one kind of maker or artist, myself included! It’s worth stopping by when you make a trip into Arroyo Seco!
It’s my regular Thursday shift at the Logan Wannamaker Gallery positioned right on the main street in downtown Taos. Less than a block from the stop light that backs up traffic every few minutes filling this small space with the exhaust from idling cars. My regular shift is Thursdays and it’s been pretty quiet, so if you are out there and reading this and you’re in the neighborhood, please come and visit me! If you’re not in the neighborhood but want to make the trip I’m here! Come have a chat and let me tempt you with all the beautiful pieces that fill the shelves!
The gallery is a lovely space with newly installed wood floors, old oil can pedestals, the ceramic makings of a variety of local potters, beautiful abstract paintings, and of course a few Clay Cowgirl sculptures!
As I am venturing into working full time as a maker, I wonder how to build a business where I can make a successful living. Where once galleries and other spaces that sold your work on consignment might have split the sales 70/30 with the artist and the gallery, now almost everywhere I have found does a 50/50 split on consigned work to cover their over head and whatnot. Maybe I should open a gallery? When you don’t have the means to do that of course you build an Etsy store so that you don’t have to give away half of your retail value… and then build a website where people can buy direct as well… and exciting news for me too is putting signage on the store frontage of my studio working space hoping to solicit direct sales that way too. I have work in a wide range of prices including simple functional pieces to elaborate large sculptural work. Still making a living as a new artist is slow in what is supposed to be the start of our busy season.
So what else can a sculptor do to build business, contacts, exposure, and sales? My computer genius friend advises me to blog regularly here on my Clay Cowgirls website. Link to my Facebook page and raise my visibility on social media and google. Use words like sculpture, pottery, clay, cowgirls, wood firing, and other tag words that will get my site to show up higher on a search. Use Pinterest and Instagram and Tweet and Tag and Categorize. It’s all over my head, but I’m making the effort. I think I’ve pinned a few things and finally opened an Instagram account. Maybe after all of the time on the internet I’ll find time to get back in the studio and put my hands in clay!
Check out my shop here at www.claycowgirls.com, see some of my pottery at BrZart on Etsy, or come by one of the galleries that represent my work here in Taos at the Logan Wannamaker Gallery on the main drag in downtown, Substance of Taos women’s clothing on Doña Luz just behind the plaza, or Rottenstone Pottery in Arroyo Seco, and Gallery Mar in Park City, UT, oh yeah and be sure to like Clay Cowgirls on Facebook too!