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hobby versus vocation

updated sun 11 mar 01


Stephani Stephenson on sat 10 mar 01

This is a good question. Many of us ask this question and approach it
quite differently at various stages in life. I know I have.

I did not start with clay till my mid 20s. The joy of discovering
the medium had nothing to do with making a living. It had to do with
finding a voice. I first entered the marketplace QUITE casually,
making pit fired pendants and mystical do dahs. It felt great! Then I
calculated how many THOUSANDS of them I would have to make to earn a
living and a something inside said, "I don't think so!" In truth, I had
not the commitment, craft, discipline or desire to do so at that time.

Then followed a period where I sold one of a kind handbuilt
sculptural pieces, usually in the $200-$1,000 range. Got very positive
feedback, but still kept a day job. Worked full time managing an art
store for 3 years, paying back student loans and dealing with some
unexpected and rather large medical costs. Then was able to cut back my
hours at the day job. The income from my clay grew steadily. In some
ways this was a good situation. I had a home studio and was free to
explore . The downside was that the day job, even part time, drained a
lot of my time and energy, Though I had job security , it was a dead
end job ,income wise and otherwise. I was not able to pursue clay
projects to the depth I wanted.

So I decided to make a leap of faith . Many of you will recognize
that "NOW OR NEVER" feeling! Naive in the way that leaping people
often are, I leaped from the pan into the fire. A hasty move landed me
in a place that was 90 per cent nightmare. But, to completely mix my
metaphor and utilize other cheap analogies, I switched gears, corrected
course and started swimming for my life.

Once upon a time I did not necessarily want my income to depend on
my claywork. I felt like I needed free rein with my creativity and felt
I needed to protect that part of me. I did not want to subject it to the
stress of worrying about whether I could make a living on it. There was
and is nothing wrong with this approach. This decision depends on your
own personality, constitution , strengths, weaknesses and stage in
life. Art does NOT necessarily have to intersect with the marketplace.
For many it does not come from the marketplace, it does not have to
return there. For others it is ALL about the marketplace. Both extremes
and everything in between have validity. Hobby, career, vocation,
vacation, it is you who decides.

At this point I do make a living from my work. On one hand the work
I have done in the last few years could be described as less 'personal'
, in that it is less about me saying 'this is me , this is my vision'
with each piece. I now do a good deal of sculpting and custom work with
architectural ceramics. I also am involved with every aspect of running
a business. One day I am developing a new glaze , another day I am
bidding a job, another I am on the phone, answering email, working out
an order or packing and shipping. I will say that I find a good deal
of satisfaction in successfully completing projects and earning my
income from my efforts. Those years at the art store are helping me now
, as they give me a degree of experience and confidence in the
marketplace . I am always trying to do better, I cherish the good people
I meet. I still do not have a great financial cushion and I am still
pooped at the end of the day. But there is entrepreneurial , personal
and professional satisfaction, there are new friends and associates,
there is growth and progress every month, and my stimulation to learn ,
share , and grow is at a high level.

The best way to describe it its that it is fulfilling in a different
way. Different parts of the person, the artist ,the crafts person come
to the foreground. I do not feel that my creativity is endangered. It is
different than it was 20 years ago when I started., as it should be. I
do not expect it to be the same 20 years from now.

I feel like this is the most intensive learning situation of all.
There is always more to learn on all fronts, business, technique,
materials, innovation, as well as continuing to keep the torch of your
creativity alight. It is all there, every day. Some days it is bucolic,
other days it is the trenches .
We all meet people who are working at their peak: We recognize it when
we see it. I am far from there , as many of us are , and yet we still
have stories and information to share , encouraging each other by the
fact that we are here and working at it in whatever ways we can.

I want to make it clear: struggle and financial difficulty in art, life
or business are not romantic and they are not a prerequisite. Do your
homework and make your plans. Use all your resources. Strategize !

When you get to this point you develop a lot of resolve. You test your
mettle. And you get better at what you do.

Stephani Stephenson
Leucadia ,CA