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I haven’t quite found the research, but it wasn’t the first time I was hearing that my fiancé and I were attempting to accomplish 3 of the most stressful things one can do in life in the next few months. I’m starting my business here with making pottery and sculptures, we are planning our wedding (as low stress as we can for a guest list of up to 200 people), and in the past month we have been taking steps towards buying a house! Aunt Julie says our bodies can’t really tell the difference from good excitement and stress… we’re basically “running from hungry lions.” And, yes, it all seems good and exciting, but it certainly is stressful.
Buying a house has been on our minds for quite a while, flipping through real estate catalogues, trolling websites, eyeing up homes with glowing signs of their agents’ companies, and taking note of all the things we love or hate about the homes we’ve house sat for. It was all very benign up until last month when we shared a chair lift with our buddies and expressed our interest in buying with a humble budget. Before we knew it we were meeting with mortgage brokers, visiting the house they owned, other comparable properties, and talking with contractors, real estate agents, and all manner of family and friends for advice and decision making opinions and perspectives.
The house is the right size for what we are looking for, great location, with a little bit of acreage. It is a funky old adobe with a lot of potential, much of which we think we can draw out ourselves with a little vision and TLC. Taos ‘Funky’ is a hard one to wrap your mind around if you don’t live in the area. It can mean anything in the range of unknown foundation and shared well and septic all the way to spray foam roofing and rotting adobes, any of which could result in a money pit or worse! It’s our first time and we are not yet deterred by anything major. So far all signs point to go as we do our homework, dot our i’s and cross our t’s.
One more important factor is having a studio on site. We spoke today with a contractor, and need to make sure all is a go with the town, but if I can have my kiln in the same place as my studio that would be ideal…. for all those potters out there, I transport every piece of greenware to my kiln down the road… a dirt road no less! For the laymen this means my work is traveling in its most fragile state to be fired and finished, and casualties are a devastating part of that process.
In the meantime, mugs are getting trimmed and handled, sculptures are being envisioned and sketched out, and wedding plans continue to take shape. Life is an exciting adventure and as we run from hungry lions we are also hoping that we’re heading towards a healthy feast!
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!
On my first visit to Taos I pitched my tent on the grassy backyard of the Abominable Snowmansion Hostel. Thanks to the recommendation from a new friend I had met traveling cross country over the course of 2 months trying to figure out what to do with my art degree, I made the detour into northern New Mexico on my way to the residency I had accepted in Lawrence, Kansas. In less than a day I had made some friends, shared fireside beers and one liners with the potter across the street, and been offered a job at the hostel if I ever decided to return.
By November 2004 I was wondering what on earth had I been thinking moving into the freestanding six foot cube cabin I would be calling home for the next few months viagra deutsch. Was I just hoping the potter next door would take me in? Perhaps it was the appeal connecting to Hosteling International and making this a stepping stone to my grand plans of world travel? Heck, maybe the mountain was calling me, for all I knew?
I proceeded to take jobs wherever I could, at the Taos Ski Valley teaching skiing to 3 and 4 year olds (not as charming as it sounds), cleaning up after the neighborhood potter (and helping create the mess), waiting tables next door (which I would do on and off for the next 8 years), and of course playing housekeeper and hostess to all the hosteling visitors from around the world.
Eventually I would start renting a studio space where I could make my own work. In the meantime, I took odd jobs, started pet sitting, and when I finally stepped away from waiting tables, that long term life line to a steady paycheck, the pet sitting and catering gigs still help to keep my bills paid. I’ve been away from the restaurant circuit for just over a year and with much of my savings dried up and the art market simply being what it is, I will be able to take advantage of people needing job coverage. Lucky to have kept in the good graces of one of my service jobs enough to be welcomed in to cover those available shifts during a slower time, I can count on a little income to get me through to the holidays. I’ll also be sitting galleries, dog-sitting, peddling my wares on Etsy, my shop page, and seeking further gallery representation. I am lucky to have a few commissions coming my way and some tentative interest in some of the sculptures I have in stock that will hopefully bear fruit.
For the love of making, I have continually refused offers of steady work that would put me on someone else’s schedule requiring my time when it would serve me best to be in my studio. Wish me luck friends! Holding out as long as I can, taking the odd jobs so I can, for the most part put my almost full time schedule (except when I have to go walk a dog, or sit a gallery, or cater a gig) in at my studio.
The tides always seem to be shifting, new weather patterns, epidemics, improvements, ideas, new hobbies, new restaurants, fashions, technologies… I have become acutely aware of this phenomena in my own life lately and while grateful for certain constants, wave my white flag to the inevitability of change.
For starters my regular schedule has been totally freed up to work in my studio. I am no longer sitting the Gallery in town on Thursdays! I have also been taking on a lot more house sitting gigs moving from place to place hanging out with all species of house pet and furry family member.
Being in a relationship my love and I continually shift and adjust our lives, our schedules, our expectations to make things work, and so far so good. It can be stressful, but we’re in it together. As a high school teacher, my partner in crime is preparing for the school year, waking up earlier, getting out and spending time with friends as much as possible before classes are fully underway. We will find the new rhythm of autumn and continue to cultivate and harvest our little garden before the frosts.
Perhaps the biggest shift of all was when he asked me to marry him. It felt like I had entered a new stage of my life. And believe me, that last one, while it was a blast, full of rich adventures and experiences, was also a long and rough road to travel. I was, for the most part, a carefree romantic seeking experience, adventure, and love. With the love of my life, I am now functioning as part of a team, supported in my passions, and building toward a steady and deeper connection with my partner. Looking forward to the newest latest shifts in the tides, and grateful for my copilot to help navigate our course!
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!
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!