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yes, virginia, there are successful potters

updated mon 9 dec 02


David Hendley on sun 8 dec 02

I firmly believe that it is possible for someone starting out today to
make a decent living as a potter. It is not, however, possible immediately.
I think a minimum of at least a couple of years of floundering is needed
to get the hang of it, and probably 10 years to really hit a stride.
This is assuming that you are already technically and artistically
competent. There is no need to "sell out" or lower your standards.

The argument that potters aren't paid well for their work because
they do not produce something that is "needed" has no basis
in reality. In this fantastically rich country (U.S.A., but equally other
"developed" countries), mind-boggling sums of money are spent for
trifles. Think "Pet Rock", or whatever the latest fad is. Think $90
for a ticket to a basketball game.
People routinely pay $40,000 for an automobile, when a $15,000
vehicle can transport you with reliability and comfort. People pay
$1,000 or more for dogs, when you can get all you want for free at
the animal shelter. People spend billions for cosmetics, many of
which contain clay that is being sold for the equivalent of $200
a pound.

Marketing is the key. Marketing is not a dirty word. It doesn't mean
you change what you do. In fact, the best marketing for an artist-potter
can be "anti-marketing", just enthusiastically doing what you do.
People who are used to paying a lot for things of greater but often
questionable quality, have no problem paying for first class hand
made work if they are convinced that they are getting the best.

"Personality" is what does the best job of selling and what commands
the most money. No one can take the place of Tommy Lee Jones and
Will Smith, so they can name their price when the idea of "Men in Black II"
is pitched to them.
Likewise, a potter with a mature, distinctive style is unconcerned with
what other work is selling for. She sets her price and the customer
either pays or doesn't get the work. Comparison shopping is not an
Take a hint. Develop a personal style and sell yourself.
The maker is what gives soul and connection to a piece of work. If you
are just selling the object, you are in competition with work made in
China by workers paid $3 a day.
I bet everyone has customers who will only buy from them, and no
other potter. Likewise, I bet everyone remembers a time when they ran
across a fantastic pot at an art fair and considered buying it, but ended
up not buying because the potter was either a jerk or downright offensive.
If you have the sour grapes, whining, complaining attitude I've been
reading all too often here on Clayart the last few days, you, too, will
come across as a jerk and your self-pity will become self-perpetuating

It's actually a shame, but the truth is that the life of a successful full
time professional potter includes more time spent on non-potting
activities than making pots.
You are not ready to be a full time potter unless you can make pots
with great speed and efficiency You must be able to make a day's
worth of pots in 4 hours, so you can do all the other jobs the rest of
the day.
There is no free ride.
You either take another job and make pots as a sideline, or you consider
potting your full-time job and spend large amounts of time maintaining
the business aspects of the job. the "other job" can be teaching ceramics
or something unrelated. Either way, your time spend actually making art
is the all-too-short time you cherish.

David Hendley
Maydelle, Texas