Frequently Asked Questions!
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Feel free to hop on over to the contact page and send Deb a direct message.
Years working with Clay? 20 YEARS!!!
In 1998 I took my first clay class in high school through a “running start program” at Highline Community College. Dana Larson was my first ceramics instructor. I revisited ceramics when I moved to Alaska. There I found an amazing community and have been chasing a career in the arts ever since. I have been earning some sort of “living” from my work since the summer of 2005 after I got my MFA at Penn State. I then started moving from artist residency to artist residency to jobs and such for a number of years. I moved back to Seattle in 2010, bought a home in 2013 and now I have established Rat City Studios, where I offer weekly classes, workshops, work as a studio potter, and offer emerging artists studio space in exchange for helping me manage everything. RCS a bit southwest of downtown Seattle in a small neighborhood called White Center, aka Rat City- this is where my home and studio are. I love the proximity to the city center and airport, the escape of the beaches, and the warm welcome of local eateries and watering holes just up the street. How did Rat City Studios get its name? (link)
Full BIO/ ARTIST STATEMENT Link
Who are your role models/mentors? Oh have so many!
One who I have not written about is my Oma - my mother’s mother, Ella, who emigrated from Romania with two tiny children and her husband. At so many stages in her life she redefined her goals and dreamed big in the face of adversity. Before her journey to the US she worked and lived out of her family home starting at 13 years of age. As a refugee she sought asylum throughout Eastern Europe during WWII. She moved with her family to America while not being able to speak English. While working several jobs, she tended my mom and aunties while her husband recovered from a nearly lethal farm accident. Proudly, she repaid all her debts and became self sufficient. She raised delicious veggies and red roses in the same dark earth. Her kitchen always smelled of coffee and baked goods. She white-washed the house and flipped mattresses in her 60’s. She survived breast cancer. She stuck by my grandpa through many ups and downs and created a home we all wanted to be in. She learned how to write by tracing my mother’s letters in her 70’s. While fighting her own second and last battle with cancer, she crocheted shawls for cancer patients. She was gruff and relentless, but deep hearted and giving. She loved by doing and making for her family and friends. If I can hold even a small candle to her bright flame, I will consider myself lucky.
Also read "A Lasting Influence" on the Objective Clay Website
Also listen to Podcast Episode #140 on the Red Clay Rambler, Allen, Godfrey, & Schwartzkopf
Where are some of the places you would like to go? (Art related or otherwise?)
To hot springs all over the states and the world
To fabulous migration landings of monarch butter flies and flamingos
To momentous occasions where people band together and I can barriers falling away
To places and peoples that still use heirloom ways of making, cooking, or tending
To those kind of places where you can have a real conversation with a good friend
What are some of the biggest hurdles you have faced with being an artist?
My pottery CRACKING from all the altering and combining of pieces I do with porcelain
Figuring out where to plant myself and build a studio.
Establishing a studio (buying a house)
Fostering a significant lasting relationship while trying to build a career
Learning how to listen in a way that creates progress
Trying to change myself and learn from my mistakes
How have other jobs you have had influenced your work?
Frosting cookies- if you do the same repetitive movement you will get carpel tunnel.
Grounds Maintenance-Learned how do jobs that were huge by breaking them down.
Janitorial- Regular cleaning keeps the job smaller; I would rather clean smaller messes than big messes.
Washing Yachts- Take care of tools. Put a floating devise on expensive ones or they will sink to the bottom!
Montessori Preschool Assistant- Play can be the best way to learn.
Trucking Company Secretary- If you can look out the window to the Puget Sound, any job is tolerable
Starbucks Barista- Co-workers are one of the most important parts of making a job fun.
Teaching Assistant- How to connect what I do with words- I’m still working on this…, and then finally!
And finally: Studio Assistant - to two different potters
I had these jobs in 2000-2002 and they were my last day jobs… Many of the things I learned are practical or technical. But there was so much more… Efficiency, stamina, problem solving in the face of adversity, balancing family life, keeping creativity, mentoring, Some of these things I learned from not seeing them and some from being given an amazing example.
How do you prepare to make your work? Drawing, research, etc.
I am always working and so the day before prepares me for the next. There is not a space where I have to reboot and get myself going. I do however prepare for special project time like residencies. I set goals for trying new things and I also leave space for the surprises to have time to take shape. I usually set goals of making new bisque molds. Just random shapes and then I try to make something with them and see what happens. I often have a new form I want to develop and I try out different ways of making it and see if any of them beckon for more refining. When I am working on new shapes, it helps to have feedback, and residencies are a great place to ask for it.
What is your most popular item or what is your favorite item to make?
Wandering and exploring forms and surfaces in the studio are an important part of keeping my studio practice vibrant. When I over book deadlines or find myself struggling financially, this impairs my ability to take risks and invent (and especially to have fun while I am doing them). Knowing this, I try and protect my creative time by making a buffer to the pressures of deadlines. Getting work done ahead of the deadline helps this happen and so does making lists and sticking to them. Having amazing studio assistants is another giant help.
So my favorite item to make changes monthly! As I refine one form, another rises up and comes into focus. Currently, I am really excited about pour-overs and bud vases. I am enchanted with the morning coffee ritual. The pour-over relies on another form to really do its job (a cup or carafe catches the coffee beneath it). Making forms that are relational is a bigger challenge for me. How they work together matters and so creating two great forms that function well together is the focus.
Was any of your work inspired by a custom order or a special request, or has customer feedback played a role in the development of any of your work?
I rarely do this, but one time I developed a glaze for a friend who is an interior designer. I was reluctant, but now it is one of my favorites. Getting feedback from people outside of our field is valuable. Widen the circle to broaden your options for feedback loops.
Negative feedback is hard, but has been a helpful aid in my growth and ability to see my own work. When I got to Penn State, Chris walked into my studio right at the beginning and said, “Your handles need work.” I was deflated. I knew it was true. He also noticed other things and asked me questions that really made me thing. I worked on my handles and a million other things… In seeking advise, it has been a great service to me to receive honest feedback.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given working with clay?
If it looks over worked, it is not over worked enough. This is a quote I was told in school and I do not know who it is from, but this phrase released me to work as hard as I wanted to get the shape I was after.
What’s the best advice you ever gotten about creativity or being an artist?
Don’t compete with nature. When I was in grad school I was making pots that unfurled like flowers. I was trying to make them as beautiful as the flowers I saw around me, which was impossible. I came away with the message that, taking inspiration from my environment was important, but this was just part of the process. Distilling the inspiration through my personality, ways of seeing, and ways of moving clay was important too. Blending these inspirations with why I was working with clay and what I was trying to communicate brought me into a space where I wanted my work to communicate in many ways.
Why do you keep making artwork?
It still challenges me. I am still growing and getting better at making what I hope to make.
All my friends do it (kind of kidding here, but the community of clayers is a wonderful thing).
I have most of my eggs in this basket now, especially after working so hard to establish my studio.
This career keeps offering me hurdles I want to learn to jump over.
Where do you go for inspiration?
Out of my studio…
Sometimes I get the most inspiration on airplanes, where I have a small space that I cannot get distracted from, where people are doing their own thing, and where I still need something for my mind to chew on. I usually use my computer until the battery is dead. I clean up folders from unused or disordered files. In the process of this computer file weeding, I remember goals or projects, I dream up new ideas, and break down goals into small steps that I can do on the trip or when I get home. This space in between studio and traveling to teach gives me a meaningful space for reevaluation and perspective. It is a much needed pause to reflect and envision.
Please share your favorite clay tips or trick:
We have started a RCS YouTube Channel where we are posting Tutorials!
There are so many tips and we keep adding them!
How has your practice changed over time?
I started by sponging in ideas from school, from mentors, from co-residents in community spaces, and from everything around me. I still do this to some extent, but there has been a shift as I have built my studio. The focus has shifted to gleaning information to fostering and educating. In the process of this sharing, I am learning as much as ever, just in a different arena. Now instead of remembering what has happened in the past based on where I was, I think about who was here at RCS. People passing though is a measure of time.
What is your favorite tool?
The Asana App- the App is my favorite studio tool. With so many moving parts, it is hard to keep track of everything and everybody! This free app helps me prioritize and assign jobs. It is a life-saver! My lists are always with me when needed, I can collaborate with people on different lists to get things done in a group, and it makes me way more productive! https://asana.com/?noredirect
What does your income and expense breakdown look like?
Don’t you just love pie charts!? I will be adding year end reviews to my website every year…
Here is a link to the breakdown of my 2017 income. I am working this year to break it down even further. About half my income is from Sales of my work. The other half is from teaching in some capacity. This has changed a lot from year to year. I am using Xero as an accounting program and this has enabled me to track all of this. Next year I am hoping to break it down by state as far as gallery sales go. I also want to compare craft fair sales over time. In the past I have refrained from trying to know much about these statistics, because I thought it would sway me. But I think at this point I am ready. Maybe eventually I will track inventory, but that really might be too much… We’ll see.
What social media platforms do you use and which are your most successful/favorite?
Favorite- Instagram (Socail Media), MailChimp (Newsletter), Squarespace (web platform). These are the tools I rely on the most for web presence. From what I have gathered from classes and experience, all of the postings online are most successful when they point people toward your hub of information- your website. Pick a social media platform that you will use! It does not help to have a website if it is out of date. Showcase your best work.
What do you do to stay motivated in the studio?
There are a lot of big dreams to bring into being. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with goals feeling out of my reach. If I do not know what step to take next, or it is too big of a step, I start feeling bogged down and unmotivated. It helps if I can break down each project into tiny steps I can accomplish in a minute, an hour or a day. I do this by making a lot of lists and then mapping them out. If one step in the list is actually two actions, I break it down it as two list items. I do this until each step or item listed is truly only one action item that can be done in one single step. By the time they get this broken down, they are simple, doable steps. There is a little handout on my website for helping this process along… MAPPING HANDOUT
What are your best marketing tips?
DO WHAT YOU LOVE
Find at least one avenue to promote your work that you actually enjoy. This could be talking to people at craft fairs, updating a website, a social media platform, attending opening receptions, talking with people about your work, applying to juried shows, teaching… all these things put your ideas and work into a network. From this network, opportunities will spring.
Get as many irons in the fire as possible.
If your approach is online- above all, take good images!
Update your website. Do this at least once every two weeks. This will keep the process fresh and you won’t have to relearn it every time. Find a social media platform you enjoy and post at least once a week, once a day is even better. Join the community by volunteering on a board, being part of the WCA, entering shows, and attending show openings and social gatherings. Join the energetic hive-mind.
Don’t avoid the things you don’t like doing. Either do them first with all your energy or If you won’t do the work (for whatever reason), pay/ trade someone to do it for your. It needs to get done :