I guess the person in my family with the most artistic skills would be my mom. She’s really good at drawing. For our birthday parties growing up, she would always do “pin the tail” on something. One year she did Simba’s face, and it looked exactly like him; then there was the genie from Aladdin and other Disney characters. She’s always been into art, but none of my family has pursued it as anything. I have always been creating though, but I didn’t get into clay specifically until high school. My freshman year I was required to take an art fundamentals class, and we had a clay project, which I didn’t enjoy. The following year, I signed up for an actual ceramics class, and that’s when I really got into it. The rest of high school I kept taking more clay classes until there were none left to take, then I started taking independent studies. I did an AP art concentration in ceramics my senior year.
My high school was Harry D. Jacobs in Algonquin, IL, where there were over 2,000 students. For the first 10 years of my life, I went to a Catholic school that had like 300 students, with 26 people in my graduating class, so it was a little shocking going to this giant public high school. It had an amazing art program though, and the teachers there were so awesome. Honestly, they were some of the best teachers I’ve ever had, even better than some of my college professors. Much of what they taught me has stuck, so it gave me a good foundation for a lot of things.
When I started researching colleges towards the end of high school, I looked all over the place. I had heard of SCAD from family who lived in Savannah, so I visited for the first time when I was 16, and I really liked the school. I did metals/jewelry along with ceramics in high school, but since SCAD only had the metals & jewelry major, I decided to major in metals and minor in ceramics, even though I knew that I liked clay more. I went to SCAD for two years, then after taking a bunch of ceramics classes at SCAD, I realized that I couldn’t do metals & jewelry anymore, because I loved clay too much. I decided I needed to change my major and find another school. I took a year and half off to pick up the search again, but I found out that Armstrong had a ceramics program. I checked it out, and I thought it was great. It was really nice being able to stay in Savannah, because I love it here so much, and I was really sad thinking about having to leave.
The theme of my senior show was the idea of balance and what that means. Each project in that series relates to that and takes on a very different definition of it. Texture is my absolute favorite thing to do. I love textures. As an artist, you’re constantly looking and observing everything around you, so since I enjoy surfaces, I’m more sensitive to that in my environment. For my texture tiles piece, I started with textures that I already knew I was interested in, and from there I developed a list. I needed 25 man-made and 25 natural ones to maintain the balanced aspect of the show. I still have textures that I want to explore, but that project was something that I had wanted to do for a while as just a reference piece. The work I was able to make from the show only touches on a brief amount of where that idea can still go, so I may play around with it more. I guess I’m always thinking about new things I want to make, so it’s hard to go back to something I’ve already done even though there’s still more to explore with it.
As a whole, I’m still kind of in an experimental place, and I like just playing around with different techniques and surfaces to see where it goes. I prefer making sculptural, but lately I’ve been experimenting with functional stuff, because that is something I never focused on in the past. However, even with this functional work, there’s always some sort of sculptural element, whether it’s like filigree and cutting it out or adding different textures. All the mugs I’ve been making are completely different from the next one.
Fascinated by Surfaces
The first time I created a “metal” surface with ceramics was for an assignment that required me to create something “hyper-realistic with a twist.” I’m a fan of puns, and I also wanted to attempt to create a hand, because I had never done that before. So I got the idea to make a “handmade hand made with a hand tool.” I researched different types of wood, and I had a Word document where I would copy and paste different types of wood and metal images. With each texture, I spent a lot of time getting the texture just right. I had this tray that I carried around for weeks with all these different layers of texture, and I only ended up using half of them, but with each layer, there is a completely different process.
Each texture has its own different experimentation phase. That’s one of my favorite things, trying to solve the puzzle of how to recreate textures. It’s fun being able to figure out the best way to do things and repeat that. There’s a wavy layer on the “handmade hand,” where I took apart pens and used the inner ink tubes to create the texture by nestling them beside each other. There are other layers where I waited for the clay to get leatherhard and used a paring knife or toothbrush to get the fine lines. For another metal surface, I use a chunkier slip to apply to the clay for a rusted metal look and use a pen to make the bolts. I also have a jar of peach pits I use for textures…that’s the really nice thing about clay, everything can be a tool.
During the time between transferring and finishing up my degree at Armstrong, I worked at Leopold’s Ice Cream in downtown Savannah. I worked about three days a week during school, and I found that was just enough to support my finances. I went down to two days last fall, while I was completing my senior show. That final semester when I wasn’t at Leopold’s or doing homework for my other classes (which took up a very small amount of time), I was in the studio working at either Armstrong or the space I have set up in my room at home. I had a bunch of different ceramics projects going simultaneously, so I would alternate depending on which one needed what. I’ve tried to start timing my work for bigger projects, so I can get an idea of how much time I invest. For instance, the texture board I made for my thesis was at least 125 hours.
Since graduation, I’ve still only been working 24 hours at Leopold’s. The time between the transfer between SCAD and Armstrong, I worked 40 hours a week, but I really regretted that. I wanted to spend more time in the studio to build my portfolio then, but I was always exhausted on my days off, and I had real people things to do. I really wish I had worked less. So currently, I’m working three days at Leopold’s and I’m also interning at The Clay Spot, mixing glazes and helping out with kids’ classes. The rest of the time I spend in my studio making stuff which is really awesome.
For me, it’s so much easier to manage time and expenses now, because I don’t have school on top of everything else. I think it’s kind of opposite to how a lot of people feel after school, especially those who haven’t had jobs before. I’m not tired all the time, and I know I can survive working at Leopold's. I’ve had my budget down for a while, and honestly, I don’t spend a lot of money outside of essentials, food, bills, etc. After that, if I’m going to spend money on anything, it’s going to be a new clay tool. I live downtown currently with two roommates and my wonderful creature, Monty. I’m really comfortable at the level I’m at, and I’ve always thought that if I could keep my current living situation and not work at Leopold’s, but make money from selling my clay work, I would incredibly happy. Currently, I’m still on my parents’ health insurance, but I only have a short amount of time left on that. That’s something that I’ve been concerned about, because I’m not interested in getting a full-time job. I want to be my own boss in a way, but at the same time, I have no idea how that will turn out.
Bound for Montana
The last semester at Armstrong was my favorite, by far. It was really nice because a lot of my focus was on ceramics, which is what I want to do. Even though I was working really hard on a lot of stuff, I was less stressed out during that time because it was fulfilling. The few weeks leading up to graduation and then afterwards during the holidays, I found myself being really antsy because I wasn’t making anymore. I really just wanted to get back in the studio.
My plan A for a while was to try to make a living off my ceramics in Savannah. Before graduating, I didn’t know specifically what I wanted to do, so I thought I could live here while I figured it out. My goal was to start scouting out places to sell my work, but that’s been the hardest part, because I just don’t know WHERE to sell it. I’m starting to put together an Etsy shop, although I already know that is pretty saturated with mugs and whatnot. So I guess that would have been what I was going to pursue if I hadn’t gotten the internship at Whitefish Pottery.
This opportunity in Montana came about unexpectedly. After graduating I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I knew that I didn’t want to leave Savannah unless there was something I really wanted. I didn’t want to move, just to move, because I love it here so much. I was just googling ceramic internships to see what was available, and this one kind of jumped out at me. I started applying for it around March. It was a long process, getting my letter of intent, and all these recommendation letters, portfolio and resume together, but was the first thing I applied to, so I was really fortunate that I got it.
The company is called Whitefish Pottery in Whitefish, MT. The owner opened it in 1995 and is originally from Wisconsin. There are seven or eight employees there that work as potters, glazers and studio managers. They sell things all across the US, and I’m going to be the intern there. The job is a variety of different tasks, which is nice, because it would be boring doing the same thing over and over again. I’ll be responsible for firing the kilns, attaching handles on things, cleaning the studio, helping out with art fairs and working in their store downtown doing inventory.
I’ll have an apartment on the property, near the studios. There’s free room and board, and I get about $200 a month as a stipend. I get free use of the studio, glazes and everything. I’ll have my own little workspace and the opportunity to sell my work in their store downtown and any art fairs that come along the way. The owner said there were about six art fairs a year.
In a way, I’m thinking the most practically I’ve thought in a while. Obviously, the arts aren’t something people consider a practical thing, but in a perfect world, I would be able to make sculptural stuff and just sell that. What’s really great about ceramics is that there is a functional side, things that are lower cost that anyone can buy. So I guess right now, just for my last month of being here in Savannah, that’s kind of my goal. I have so much clay in my studio, and I don’t want to worry about moving it, so I’m trying to turn all of that into mostly mugs and other functional type things to make some extra money before I leave.
One of the things about the internship is that I will be able to sell my stuff in their stores and shows. This will help me get a realistic idea of how much I need to make and what I need to sell it for to make a living. That’s been super nice about Savannah, there is a pretty low cost of living. I have friends who live in California who have asked me to move, and my initial thoughts are it’s too expensive to live there. At one point my rent was only $280, so when a friend who lived in LA asked how much I paid for rent, she said, “You mean $2,800?” I was like, no two hundred and eighty dollars. She pays like $1,000 every month, and it’s a tiny little apartment.
I’ve loved living here where I’m so close to everything. I’m within walking distance to the park, and I walk downtown sometimes with my dog. Savannah is wonderful, but I don’t feel that there are many people in Savannah who are focusing on creating ceramics as a full-time career. That’s the main reason I’m leaving; I want to be around like-minded people and grow more.
I haven’t done anything at the City of Savannah, so I don’t know the opportunities that exist there, but I’ve been working at Savannah’s Clay Spot. It would be nice to have access to more equipment, like a gas kiln. If there was some sort of residency program that would benefit practicing clay artists that has studio spaces and everything, I would definitely consider returning one day.