My home is in a little neighborhood of Spokane called Peaceful Valley. My business is located in the Garland District, an older artsy and iconic neighborhood. I grew up in Colorado in a family that values hard work and never shies away from getting their hands a little dirty. Homemade and homegrown were often staples throughout my childhood, giving me the resources for independence and exploration. I dipped into lots of interests—music, arts, outdoor activities, sports, etc. I tried to find things that engaged my mind and hands and led me to a place of meaning where I could find purpose and enjoyment. My family has been deeply supportive and encouraging throughout my journey to find those things that let me be me, even when it was less than decorum.
I would never have said that I’m business minded or very entrepreneurial, but I grew up with a mother who set a strong example as a business owner and a woman who could accomplish things on her own. I’ve always loved small business: mom and pop shops over the larger chains, local over big business and handmade over industrial made. I think there’s more meaning and often better quality when things come from one set of hands to another. I want to see the real people around me succeed and grow.
I love working with clay because of the ancient tradition of the craft. Clay has been a central part of humanities’ utilitarian need since the dawn of time. People have always made wares and tools out of clay, and I’ve felt drawn to pottery because of this functionality. Ceramics and clay are elements that were born from the physical necessity to eat and drink off of clean and durable wares. We are able to celebrate this need by choosing to use artisan goods. I love this about pottery. It’s functional, but it also engages with aesthetic and craft.
Art is a means of health, and the world needs art in big ways and small.
My pottery business has been a work in progress for a long time, and I officially “launched” in 2013. It’s been important to me to let things grow organically, to focus on the art and to not leverage myself too deeply or too quickly. My business has been less a means toward financial success and more a I typically find ideas and inspiration from my own needs and wants in my wares and from beloved friends and customers who I can trust with valuable feedback. I want my work to emanate the organic nature from which it comes, so I try to find inspiration from things in the world that are beautiful and functional. I also find inspiration from my community. I want to make things for people, that suits us well and that are tailored to utilitarianism and aesthetic beauty.
Art is intimate, and small business can be personal, though I wanted to simply make pots—I was never trying to be an entrepreneur. Once I began to see the vision of what pottery could mean for me and my community—a platform for educating people on why craft, art and community are imperative —I knew I had found my passion.
I want my work to emanate the organic nature from which it comes, so I try to find inspiration from things in the world that are beautiful and functional. I also find inspiration from my community. I want to make things for people, that suits us well and that are tailored to utilitarianism and aesthetic beauty.
It has been important to me to let the business grow organically, to not take steps until I knew the time was right (or in my case, overdue), and I am, therefore, continually refining my business model. In my art and in my pots, my work changes me, and I change it. Clay and life have an interesting way of intertwining themselves and making things up as they go, of molding and shaping with what time and emotion need from them. I just try to do my part and be present for the work at hand. I aim for a simpler style, clean colors and lines. This style is more natural for me, as I tend to appreciate more simple things. Hopefully, my business model can mold itself in a similar way.
SOMETIMES PEOPLE SAY TO ME, “YOU’RE SUCH AN ARTIST, KELS.” Of which I usually respond externally with a, “Thank you,” and internally with something like, “BUT, I just make pots. I’m not painting up some grand piece that speaks with depth and emotion. That’s art.” The beloved Google says that art is, “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” I WANT TO BE AN ARTIST. I want to make works that are appreciated for their beauty and emotional power. But, in all honesty, I usually fail to see my work this way.
Why do I view my work as somehow less than other works of art? Why do I cringe a little when people call me an artist, even though an artist I long to be? I recently read a quote that has changed much of the way that I view my work with clay. Per Ann Patchett, a brilliant writer, “ART STANDS ON THE SHOULDERS OF CRAFT. TO GET TO ART YOU MUST FIRST MASTER THE CRAFT.” I spend my days making pots or preparing myself and my resources for these wares. I mix glazes, load kilns, pack boxes and send emails. All this doesn’t feel very glamorous, but it is necessary for my craft.
I’M POURING MYSELF INTO MY CRAFT BECAUSE I LONG TO GET TO THE ART. I want to be a good potter, a great potter. I want to make wares that speak of refined skill and that showcase a craft mastered and an art embraced.
- Don’t shy away from working hard, taking big steps and learning from your mistakes.
Don’t leverage yourself too soon or too deep—let things grow organically.
Have your people and lean on these people. You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) do it all by yourself. Other’s have great ideas and can see the things you’ve overlooked or avoided.
Make time and space for you to be healthy, well-rested and able to engage in the things that matter outside of the business.
Read, listen to podcasts, and ask advice. I’ve learned more from others than I could have ever learned from my own solo experiences.
Know yourself and know your customers. Knowing who you are and who you sell to and the relationship between the two will help you know what’s doable and what keeps both parties satisfied.
Care about the people around you. This makes all things in life (including art and business) better and more worthwhile.
A couple of months ago, I heard someone say, “HABIT IS ESSENTIAL FOR THE CREATIVE LIFE.” My first response was, “Nah, we creatives need that free life, go with the fl ow autonomy, the kind of petulant freedom that could inspire anyone. Right?” Rollo May, however, has said that “In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.” SOLITUDE IS TEACHING ME A LOT OF THINGS ABOUT MYSELF. It’s allowed me the opportunity to find a birthing place for beauty and originality in a way that’s previously been unfamiliar to me. It’s afforded the freedom to create a habit of art, a habit of writing, a habit of aloneness and a habit of structured time which has all led me to a more full okayness with myself and the world. I’m now a believer that HABIT IS ESSENTIAL FOR A CREATIVE LIFE and also for a healthy life.
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” — Mary Oliver
Since I’ve mostly been a one-woman show, I’ve needed to take things slow and let myself feel the growth or hiccup in my own way. As I said earlier, it’s all pretty personal for me. I know what I want to provide, and I’m trying to grow into the best version of that. I want very much for my work and my business to be a statement of simplicity and skill and speak to the high value of small business and handmade goods. I want to take people back to the roots—back to themselves. I think by providing them with a face and attunement to the community, it will help them see that art, small business and aesthetic do matter. I think this is the most important business model I can try for—to be a business and an individual that practices the things I hope to encourage others to practice and care for.
Fortunately, my business not only provides financially for me but also provides a means of purpose and fulfillment. In many ways, I feel that I am my work and my work is me. What I create represents me and the reverse is also true. I hope each can support and represent the other well. Being a small business owner allows me the autonomy that I often feel I need. In order to create well, I often need some time away from the demands of work, and this plays well with my need to control my time, which enables me the freedom to move through life at my own pace.
Pricing (an artist’s nightmare), making big financial decisions/commitments, along with trusting other people and myself enough to bring others on board when needed are just some of my biggest challenges faced along the way; however, in the end, trusting myself to continue to take the next best steps has been my biggest accomplishment. This has included moving into my own studio, hiring my first employee, taking on bigger jobs and working alongside others who I really respect in their own field and craft. Small business has proven to be a whirlwind of excitement and fear, beauty and learning. I feel like, perhaps, I’ve only begun to settle into a more comfortable jive. I am beyond honored to get to make pots for the beautiful people who have supported me along the way.