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thanks and a word of encouragement to beginners

updated sun 22 feb 98


Kathy Mccormick on sat 21 feb 98

Dear Clayarters:

I've been one of the many lurkers on this list for about 2 years now. I
wanted to take a minute to thank all of you that contribute to the list for
the amazing amount of information and inspiration that I have gained from you.
I don't consider myself an expert on much of anything and am quite often
behind on reading the digests, so I rarely contribute directly myself. But as
a way of becoming a contributing member of this community, I want to pass on a
summary of my experience as a commercial potter for the last 2+ years as a way
to encourage others to follow their dreams, whether in pottery or elsewhere.

I began in clay about 10 years ago with a community based 'hobby' class and
eventually graduated to a studio in my basement. At the time I was in the
information systems business working as a corporate drudge which I found
wholey unsatisfying except from a financial perspective. I finally decided
that life is too short to be so unsatisfied, and so decided to 'be a potter'.
The decision was as much about choosing a lifestyle as it was about being
fascinated with clay.

I saved my pennies arduously for a year and then gave notice. I also down-
sized my housing considerably and ended up in a tiny house outside of town
with a nice 2 1/2 car garage which I converted to my studio. I did a few
shows prior to actually quitting work just to see if ANYTHING I was making
would sell and thought at the time I had good stuff.

I didn't have a business plan to start with and still only have a sketchy one
now. But I had the guts to try and I have the self-confidence to know that if
I can't make this dream work, I'll find another path. So some people think I
kind of jumped off a cliff when I did this, but I feel I just chose a path and
that there is no cliff in my own personal landscape!

The first full year was hard. I soon came to realize that my stuff was
anything but good, I didn't have the right set-up for shows, I didn't have the
right vehicle for shows, I didn't even know which shows were the right shows.
But I kept learning...

The second full year, 1997, was much better. I ended up selling about $26,000
worth with an income before depreciation of about $12,000 which was right on
target with my goals. My sales in 1997 were limited by the amount I was able
to produce due to an elder care situation. In 1998 I expect to sell around
$40,000 and a few of my expenses will be less which should yield a fairly
healthy income.

An unexpected benefit has been the flexibility of my schedule. I was able to
provide a lot of support to my mother in her last days, and am now also able
to spend time with my father who now faces a terminal condition. It brings
great comfort to me and the rest of my large family to spend that time.

My strengths are my business skills ( I have a marketing major) and
flexibility (partly because I'm single with no children!), a bank account I
could live on for the first year, and at least the start of a retirement
account. My weakness is my technical knowledge in pottery. I compensate for
my weaknesses by relying on the knowledge of suppliers, therefor right now I
buy commercial clay and glaze and concentrate instead on product and building
product lines. I work in cone 6 electric and have 3 kilns (7 and 3 cu ft, and
a test kiln), a slabroller, extruder, and 1 wheel. I produce functional
tableware and wall art.

My five year goals are to relocate to a larger studio with room for a gallery,
glaze-making and pugmill, to increase sales from wholesale, to reduce my
dependence on shows (I do about 18 a year) and to increase my technical

There have been some posts questioning the worth of doing retail shows/art
fairs, but I'm here to tell you that you can make a living that way (as along
as the economy holds up). Plus if you approach them with the right attitude
they are fun and a wonderful source of customer feedback. If you can do them
I highly recommend them for beginners in the business.

In summary, I live very cheaply from a financial perspective but my life is so
much richer and rewarding than it has ever been, just because I followed a
dream. And I have discovered I am more of an artist than I ever knew, another
benefit of working in this medium full-time.

So to steal from several cliches, life is an adventure, just go live it!

If anyone wants more details, just e-mail me. And thanks again to the gurus
on this list... you'll probably never know how many people you influence and

Best wishes to all,
Kathy McCormick
Midland, Michigan