Back in the Studio: Reflections on the UC6 Symposium

bjective Clay members share some of their thoughts on how the UC6 Symposium affected life in the studio and beyond.

 

ip O'Krongly: Reflection

Kip O'Krongly presenting at Utilitarian Clay VI

Kip O'Krongly presenting at Utilitarian Clay VI

My ceramic work revolves around building up layers – layers of form, slip, stain, underglaze and imagery, which hopefully meld into multiple layers of meaning.  Lately I’ve come to realize that just as individual components merge to add complexity to my pots, there are many intertwining elements that come together to enrich my overall studio practice and, more broadly, my life. 

Over the past year, my studio layer of life has seen significant change.  I recently bought my first home with my husband, converted a playroom into my studio space and left the supportive community of Northern Clay Center to work full time as a studio artist.  While there are certainly many advantages to this transition (one of the biggest being the elimination of my 50 minute commute each way to the studio), there are also moments where such easy studio access promotes an unhealthy work–life balance.   Additionally, the act of working alone (while productivity boosting!) can occasionally result in feeling isolated and sapped of creative energy.

My last minute invitation to present at the Utilitarian Clay VI came at the end of a particularly draining year of studio commitments and just ten days before the symposium was to start.  While I knew accepting wasn’t going to positively shift my work-life ratio, I also knew this had the potential to be a transformative moment in my studio practice.  The short days leading to the symposium were a whirlwind of planning and prep – booking tickets, shipping work and cramming the critical elements of my studio into a suitcase.  Once in Gatlinburg, however, the frantic pace of preparation melted away to reveal reinvigorating interactions with other passionate clay artists and enthusiasts.  It was in those moments, chatting during demos, lingering over meals and reconnecting with the vibrant clay community that resides outside my studio walls, that I realized I’d neglected a vital layer of my studio practice: community.  

The symposium is now long past and my days have fallen into a regular studio schedule.  However, the reminder to stay connected and balance the long studio days with times of rejuvenation continues to feed my studio practice.  And while I know that my new routine as a solo studio artist will continue to evolve, I won’t soon forget that my studio life is much like my pots, and each layer needs thought and careful attention to remain vital and strong.


Jennifer Allen: Reflection

Approached with the task of writing a response based on a memorable part of the Utilitarian Clay Conference, I was at a loss on what to pick because so much of it was impactful.  It came down to how the symposium became a catalyst for change in the way I approach my studio practice.  Through various conversations during the symposium, it became clear to me that I was not using current technologies to their full potential.  In comparison to others in the field, my marketing and internet skills were sub-par. 

Things have advanced so drastically since I first started my career and it became obvious that I had failed to keep up.  Current marketing strategies are quite overwhelming (Facebook/twitter/Instagram/MailChimp/etc.), but it’s time I embrace them.  After all, audiences have expanded from local markets to global communities.  People are plugged in every second of every day… it’s the artist’s responsibility to take the initiative and connect with them.

Since the symposium ended, I set a number of goals for myself.  First, I was to purchase a pot from an online source before the end of 2012.  Prior to the symposium, I had been skeptical of purchasing pots online since I was selecting a piece from an image rather than an object.  Not being able to hold the handle or feel the texture of a piece turned me off.  But, I made my first online purchase in November and have since made other purchases.  I’m officially a convert.  Other goals included developing a mailing list on MailChimp, launching a new blog with monthly content, having more of a presence on social media sites like Facebook, developing a new website, and purchasing a smart phone.

Pots Purchased Online: Meredith Host, Dot Dot Tumbler. Purchased from Schaller Gallery website (photo courtesy of Schaller Gallery)

Pots Purchased Online: Meredith Host, Dot Dot Tumbler. Purchased from Schaller Gallery website (photo courtesy of Schaller Gallery)

Pots Purchased Online: Michael Kline, Small Dish. Purchased from AKAR website (Photo courtesy of AKAR Gallery)

Pots Purchased Online: Michael Kline, Small Dish. Purchased from AKAR website (Photo courtesy of AKAR Gallery)

Now that I’ve achieved most of the goals listed above, I feel a bit more connected to current methods of marketing but realize that I still have a lot to learn.  It is my new objective to try to keep up with the rapid advancements of technology instead of letting them pass by.  As a part of a community that advocates for the handmade, it is my responsibility to reach as broad an audience as I can.


Doug Peltzman: Reflection

Doug Peltzman presenting at Utilitarian Clay VI

Doug Peltzman presenting at Utilitarian Clay VI

I had never been to Arrowmont before the Utilitarian Clay Symposium and this was ­my first big event attended since graduate school. So feeling like I was still carrying some baggage from the supportive and rigorous academic environment of school, I prepared myself as best I could to head into what I imagined would be a hostile environment. I must say, I had a great deal of anxiety in the months and weeks building up to the symposium. I was feeling like I wasn't deserving of the honor, and feeling the weight of past presenters (my clay heroines and heroes), and knowing the history of Arrowmont and Utilitarian Clay, I did not want to let anybody down. These feelings and doubts were alleviated soon after my arrival. I felt welcomed and immediately comfortable, from the very moment I arrived at Arrowmont. I am compelled to say how grateful, appreciative and downright happy I was to be a part such a special community of makers and thinkers. 

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Some of the big themes addressed at the Symposium revolved around the future of pottery, navigating a market for our work, and where we might see ourselves in the future. One thing debated and discussed was the difference and preference between buying pots online and in person. As we, makers, move forward forging a path and a market for our work, I feel that this is a very important point of interest. My take is that these are two very different things. When I buy pots in person, I look, pick up, feel, and analyze. When I buy pots online, I look for visual and formal qualities that strike me, and more often than not, I have some prior history with the potter and the pots that I buy, but not always. Similarly, when I buy shoes online, I typically have an idea of what I’m looking for, or have a history with the product, so I feel comfortable enough to buy it. So I think it boils down to an issue of trust. Can the buyer trust that what they see will be as good or better in person? For me, that element of trust and surprise is what makes buying pots online a completely separate experience than in person, not better or worse, but simply different. Personally, I can be more decisive when viewing and purchasing work online. I can be by myself, with no other distractions, just me and the pots. When I buy pots in person, I may peruse a shelf of work and take home something outside of the criteria of what I’d be looking for online or may purchase online. So speaking as someone who takes part in buying pots in both arenas, as well as someone who sells pots in both, I feel obligated to support and advocate for the importance of each, and the merits that each allows.

I can say without hesitation that presenting at Utilitarian Clay, and having these types of discussions was one of the greatest experiences of my life and career as a potter to date. We all know the life of a studio potter can be quite isolating so having the opportunity to be surrounded by so much positive energy and like-mindedness was inspiring and refreshing, to say the least. The place, the people, the history, and the “organic” nature of the Symposium as a whole left me with a feeling of immense hope, curiosity, and a positive outlook for the future of pottery. I am reminded of my family vacations as a kid, of not wanting them to end, getting lost in the moment, and feeling like it was a very special time and place. The feeling I had at the Symposium’s cap was similar in the sense that I was sad to see it end, but I'm confident that there were many seeds planted, relationships formed, and the future feels ripe with possibility and potential.