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Stuff You Want to Know About Ceramics

Potters and ceramicists are classified, occupation-wise, by the U.S. government as fine artists. We’re exist in a subset called craft artists. The Government Occupational Handbook says we use a variety of ceramics materials and techniques to create art for sale. We may also teach others to do what we do. We learn and improve our pottery skills by repeating them and practising or refining. Our average annual pay? As of 2016 — $48,780 or $23.45 per hour.

It’s likely that the vast majority of us, if we calculate hours worked and materials costs, would come nowhere near such a figure. But it’s nice to daydream.

We mostly do what we do out of passion or obsession. The money comes after that. We looked up a few statistics about being a potter. Read along and see how much you know about your vocation or avocation in the pottery studio.

ceramicsOur work environment is known as a studio. Many of us work in a home studio. Some work in a school or community studio. Fewer work in a commercial or professional studio. NOTE: If you’re of a mind to become an entrepreneur, consider planning, organizing and opening a community studio. such ceramics studios are maintaining their popularity, especially in areas where cultural amenities are scarce.

Employment outlook in ceramics is typical of the average for all occupations, projected to grow about 6 percent from now until 2026. Not bad. At least it’s an upward movement in our prospects. Indeed.com has frequent job listings in related fields.

For some reason, the heaviest U.S. concentrations of pottery workers (of all ilk) are in Wyoming, Vermont, Nebraska, Mississippi and Idaho, in top-down order. Pay-wise California, Hawaii, New York, Illinois (good news for me, anyway) and Georgia dole out top dollars to ceramics workers.

If you’re wondering if you should attempt to market your own pottery, let me share this. At an online Q&A site, someone asked how much pottery or ceramics a U.S. resident might use in a given year. The answer, which I could not verify, was attributed to the National Mining Association. “US clay consumption, per capita, is 152 lbs. That is ~70 kg and over a 75 year life that is 5,250 kg.”

This figure is said to represent brick, pottery, kitchenware, and so forth. A century ago, we used many times that amount of clay and ceramics wares, but many industries have switched over to plastics, glass, and other alternatives. Still, with more than 325 million Americans as of 2017, you can do the math and come up with an impressive number. It may be worthwhile to see if you can carve out a nice little niche for marketing your wares.

How do we get to be a potter or ceramicist? Many fine artists decide to earn a bachelor or masters degree in fine arts to improve skills and job prospects. Unless we decide to teach, a degree is not essential, but getting one could be fun and rewarding. A lot of us learn on the job or in the studio from more experienced artists, as was my path. We attend noncredit classes or workshops and often take private lessons at artists’ studios, community colleges, art centers, galleries, museums, and so forth.

The skills that help advance us include artistic  skill and design abilities. Then there are business skills — completely required if you ever want to make a good living with this art, or any art. Many artists neglect their business and marketing knowledge and fail to allot adequate time to those responsibilities.

What In the World Does Ceramics Mean ?

The word is from Greek, but related to a Sanskrit term that means to burn. The Greek word keramos refers to a potter or pottery. Ceramic Studio Prague website says, “…the early Greeks used the term to mean “burned stuff” or “burned earth” when referring to products obtained through the action of fire upon earthy materials.”

As for the materials commonly called ceramics, they are made from acting upon non-organic crystalline substances and NCECA Highlights for handbuilderscertain metal and non-metal elements like silicon and calcium with heat. We all know that clay is made from sand (silica) and quartz, talc, etc. Now you know how to describe your materials to non-users.

Early on, all ceramics were made by energy directly from the potter’s hand. A potter applied hands to clay and worked it into a shape. Early potters used coils, pounded slabs, and pinching. We handbuilders still use those processes. At some point, some lazy potter looked at a wheel in motion and concluded that she could save time and energy by transferring a smaller amount of her personal energy to the wheel and let it do the work. Therefore, more pottery could be made faster. There’s a nice, quick article about early techniques at Ceramic Studio’s website. 


Some Pretty Good Ceramics Resources

ceramicsFrom a Slab of Clay by Daryl E. Baird — Outstanding compact encyclopedia that answers tons of off the cuff questions you may ask yourself in your studio. I keep it on my shelf in the workroom. Daryl also wrote The Extruder Book. If you wish to explore extruding, this is the reference. He even covers building your own extruder.

The Complete Guide to High-Fire Glazes: Glazing & Firing at Cone 10 by John Britt. This is by the guru of glaze. Very readable and indispensable if you work at those temperatures. And for cone four to seven, John offers The Complete Guide to Mid-Range Glazes: Glazing and Firing at Cones 4-7. My partner and husband, Dan keeps this one in his reading room. 

Hand-Made Business website is a compendium of valuable information from marketing and business perspectives. They featured a nice piece about why relying strictly on one venue, like Etsy, may not be your best strategy. Give it a read. 

Handbuilt Pottery Techniques Revealed: The Secrets of Handbuilding Shown in Unique Cutaway Photography by Jacqui Atkin. Put it right up there with Daryl’s books.

Five Best Sites to Sell Your Arts and Crafts. This is a short, helpful article. Also consider Webstore.com a site that aims to bring garage sailing to the web. Before you pay fees to anyone, read carefully and explore their site. You’ll want to know if it looks like the venue has a decent audience. No traffic, no sales. 

Podcasts I have found to be worth my timeThe Potters Cast and Tales of a Red Clay Rambler. Get them from your favorite podcast download site like iTunes or GooglePlay

To my mind, the most productive way to spend my time is in the studio. But face it, we can’t sling mud all the time. When you need a break, try some of the resources we’ve found. If you know some more, please leave a comment.

By the way, you can find advice from John Britt in our archives.