This past year has been remarkable. I'll start there. My business has evolved in ways I never imagined possible. Just over a year ago I moved to North Carolina, leaving behind formal "real job" employment. I intended to coast on my holiday sales as long as possible before doing the inevitable (or so I thought)-- finding employment in my new state. I was sure I would end up doing something I would no doubt feel fairly passionless about. I tried to curb my spending and began actually saving money (I have a teensy shopping problem- the word "teensy" I'm sure will make most of my friends, and my sister especially laugh. out. loud.) I cut corners, became very resourceful with my groceries, completely shut down my shoe budget.. and well, lived the starving artist life- a loaf of bread, a bag of frozen corn and spaghetti sauce once made up the contents of my pantry and refrigerator combined.
I mention this as the reality side of what it has meant for me to "live my dream." I never did have to go out and get a job here in North Carolina, and I am so thankful for that. But I did have to make major changes in my lifestyle while I worked 12-16 hour days building up a cohesive collection of work. I made hundreds of pots during that time, most of which never saw it to the final firing stage. This was my "get ahead" plan. I haven't been doing pottery for all that long; I took my first class in Fall 2005 and have worked at a very leisurely hobby pace since then. I decided that if I wanted to double my skill level I would have to at least quadruple my output. Realistically I made probably 10-20 times more pots than I had been making. This practice alone pushed me ahead by leaps and bounds in a very short amount of time. I now have a body of work that I know I can grow with.
And as simple as that is, it is an amazing feeling to know that my business will grow in the coming months. I have enjoyed working with clay from the first day of my very first ceramics class. Even when my projects failed I felt connected to clay and confident that "this" was what I wanted to do with my life. I was confident while I was working with clay but completely terrified and uncertain when I considered making a living from pottery. "How?" That question would stop my thoughts, completely paralyzing me. It such a heavy question and one that despite years of studying art I was in no way prepared to answer. I decided to start as simple as possible which lead me to Etsy. The Pros: No real overhead. I could put in as much or as little time as I wanted/needed to. I could maybe sell a few pots. So I began working on building my Etsy shop and thought if nothing else maybe I would sell a pot or two here and there, hopefully making enough to buy a bag of clay every so often. Free clay= incentive enough. To my surprise the entire world opened up. Yes, the power of the internet. But seriously, I had no idea that I would actually be able to create a shop that people would visit, talk about, share and most importantly support through their purchases.
I opened my shop back in November 2009 and business was slow. I made my first sale in February 2010:
The waiting for this first sale was barely short of torture. After months of waiting I decided I just wanted the satisfaction of selling one pot. And eventually that is all I wished for. Just one sale. Obviously this pottery thing just wasn't going to be reliable, lucrative or, well, successful. I devoured every piece of information I could find about taking better product photos, search engine optimization and lots of other things that I never imagined as a potter I would have to know a thing about. Basically things that bored me. But I persevered and I began to feel interested in these "boring things" and finally that first sale came in, and another, and another... By the time I was ready to move in November 2010 I was making a few sales a month. Close to one sale per week. I was thrilled. This was enough business for me to feel comfortable moving without a job, which looking back sounds totally insane. December brought more business, as to be expected with Christmas and Holiday shopping. I planned to ride the sales as long as I could but was still actively researching jobs in the area so I would be ready when the sales slowed down.
It has now been an entire year and my business is my total financial support. The sales never did slow down. I am completely making my living doing what I love to do. The confidence I felt the first time I touched clay now feels centered and reasonable rather than inexplicable, mysterious and maybe a little loony. In March of 2011 I was able to begin a wonderful project for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel that was opening in Paris, Summer 2011. I made fifty vases for the hotel and was honored and truly stunned that this opportunity came to me through Etsy:
Around that same time I begin working on developing a really simple, modern line of bowls and tableware that caught the attention of several amazing food photographers. These two major events were when I really began to feel empowered by my work and limitless. Photo Credit and Copyright: Helene Dujardin
Receiving this sort of recognition was just the reassurance I needed to know that I was on the right path and that I was developing my work in all the right ways. And by that I mean all the right ways for me. Pottery like all art is best the truer it keeps to the artist, or so I believe. I make the work that I want to make, shapes that I believe in, forms that captivate me and colors that make me feel alive and excited. By keeping to my interests I have created a line of pots in the past year that I feel fairly represent me, my personality and the things I enjoy most in life.
This trueness is exactly what I plan to focus on in the coming year. I have learned what works for me and my business and perhaps more importantly what doesn't. It has not all been successes along this path, but even my glaring failures feel purposeful to me now. I am so, so excited to begin the New Year. I can not wait to share all of my new designs and glazes with you all! But even more importantly for me, I can not wait to share my life, the growth of my business and the evolution of my pots with you. Thank you all for your support and making my dreams my reality. What a fantastic year 2011 has been! Cheers to 2012!