Table of Contents » Chapter 4 : Employment » Chapter 4 : Alternatives to Academia

Chapter 4 : Alternatives to Academia

The variety of careers, of options to work in ceramics outside of academia, is rapidly expanding. This varies from selling your artwork directly (online or locally), working at a gallery, writing for publications, and designing for industry, to whatever you can think of. I would also suggest reading the interview with Ayumi Horie in Chapter 9: underselling & pricing work, as well as the interview with Alleghany Meadows in Chapter 11.

An excellent resource for artists when making a living outside of academia is a book called ART / WORK – everything that you need to know (and do) as you pursue your Art career by Heather Darcy Bhandari & Jonathan Melber. This book is mostly about painting, but still has great information about the professional aspects of being an artist.

American Alliance of Museums

CERF + (craft emergency relief fund) has a wonderful Artist Career Resource page. CERF+ is committed to keeping the craft field strong by keeping professional craft artists at work. Good business practices contribute to the likelihood of rebounding from setbacks, whether due to minor mishaps or major emergencies.CERF+ produces live conference presentations and articles on insurance and other topics that help artists strengthen their business practices.

Harriette Estel Berman has a ferociously helpful website called Professional Guidelines. It has professional guidelines like working with digital images, tips for getting into juried shows, resources for legal and professional advice, and much more. It is a good read. She also has a video about professional practices online at “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly“. This is the link for all of her presentations called “Harriete Estel Berman Slideshares”

***See Employment Page for Art-related Job listing sites.***

Selling Your Artwork

Traditional large scale craft shows:

Artisans sell their work out of their homes, during “kiln openings” through Etsy or their own web pages or blogs as well as large-scale arts and crafts shows.


Many artists sell significant amounts of work from their studios or living rooms during holiday sales. Developing a strong local clientele is a good idea. I spoke with a potter once who said he earned 80% of his income selling pots from his kiln unloading events and from his front porch. In Chapter 5: Exhibitions, there is a list of galleries and a discussion of pricing and selling work.

Studio Tours / Sales / Events

Many communities have set up studio tours where artist sell their work from their studios. This has become very popular; it supports the local community and educates the public. Here are a few examples of studio tours, there are many many tours all across the US and Canada:

“Value of a studio tour” by Robert Briscoe

Minnesota Potters of the Upper St Croix River
“The Potters of the Upper Saint Croix River Valley Studio Tour invite you to visit all seven pottery studios during the 21st annual tour weekend. You will be welcomed by the potters to their unique, rural workshops and you can meet 42 guest potters invited especially for this event. These special guests will present their work for sale alongside the newest work of each host potter. St. Croix, MN”

16 Hands
The 16 Hands Studio Tour is offered twice yearly: the fourth weekend in November and the first weekend in May. Winding your way through the scenic mountainous countryside of Floyd Virginia, you will be welcomed into the studios of Ellen Shankin, Brad Warstler, Silvie Granatelli, Rick Hensley, Donna Polseno, and Josh Copus. In a festive atmosphere of conviviality, food, and drink, the work of the members and their visiting artists can be enjoyed

Art of the Pot
Art of the Pot is a Collective of Austin potters committed to expanding the reach of Contemporary Studio Pottery. Art of the Pot hosts Chris Campbell, Keith Kreeger, Ryan McKerley, Lisa Orr and Claudia Reese bring 11 nationally recognized Clay Artists to Austin for our Annual Studio Tour on Mother’s Day Weekend. Austin, TX.”

hilltown 6

Michiana Pottery Tour

Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail

Western Wisconsin Pottery Tour

Valley Craft Network

Little Spokane River Artist Studio Tour

Omaha North Hills Pottery Tour

Community-Based Pottery Sales

Communities also get together and develop high-quality sales in local art or community centers. This is different than the big ACC sales as they generally are non-profit (if that organized) and are very focused on supporting the potter. There are many many of these kinds of sales, usually around the holidays. The examples listed below are very successful, and are full of good ideas:

Pottery on the Hill
Fifteen nationally-recognized ceramic artists brought their recently-fired, colorful, and durable creations to Hill Center for show and sale. Learn more about these artists and follow their work from links to each on the right side of this page. Annual Group Exhibition, Washington, DC

Old Church Pottery Show
An annual pottery sale in Demarest, NJ. Karen Karnes and Mikhail Zakin started the sale originally for potters to sell their wares and raise support for the Old Church Cultural Arts Center. This sale is tremendously successful and is often just called “Demarest”.

American Pottery Festival
The Festival is a three-day extravaganza revolving around the art and use of the pot. It brings together collectors, artists, students, and clay lovers, providing all with an opportunity to share their love of clay, and also brings in much-needed revenue for both the participating artists and NCC.

Land of Odd – Warren Field
So you want to do crafts shows
This is a link to a class to help you navigate the crafts show scene. It is presented in 6 parts with 16 lessons, artist and businessman, Warren Feld, will fill you in on the ins and outs, the ‘dos and the do nots’ of selling at craft shows and fairs. Which are best for you, which may be a waste of your time. How to compute the revenue you must earn to justify participating in an event. This is a must-see class for anyone thinking of entering the art and craft show world and will maximize your chances of success in these venues.

Living Beyond Academia & Thriving

essay by Jill Foote-Hutton

“Few things sadden me more than to hear an individual who is walking through the gallery begin to praise a family member for their “creativity” and passion, only to be closely followed by the concerned, “Too bad they can’t make a living at it. Maybe after they finish their degree in _______ (fill in the blank with a choice perceived of as sensible).” More...

The upside to such an encounter is the opportunity to seize a teachable moment and when I was employed in academia the topic was a banner I waived all the time to anyone who would listen. Students certainly, but first and foremost, parents and deans. What I believe IS required to have a successful life in the arts is as follows:

  1. An ear attuned to your spirit and natural skill sets.
  2. The ability to apply creative problem solving skills outside the studio.
  3. Vision to look at the periphery of your training and accomplishments.

Artists often get a bad wrap for being absent-minded, but any who is really making a go of a life in the arts will demonstrate myriad skill sets testifying to the contrary. Some of us are fiscally minded, some of us have strong organizational skills, some of us have better spatial sensibilities than others, some of us are networkers, some of us are mechanically inclined, some of us have not only a knack for chemistry, but a love for it…

On and on. Honestly, a successful artist usually has a combination of the aforementioned skills as well as serious discipline and perseverance.

A little over two years ago, I made a conscious choice to leave academia and step into the role of Gallery Coordinator at Red Lodge Clay Center. While I was lucky to have a full-time job with benefits only one year out of college, at the end of the day, the position did not have the professional future I was interested in pursuing. For five and a half years it was exciting, exhausting, challenging and rewarding. It was also teaching up to seven classes a semester, running a gallery, hiring adjunct faculty, developing assessment, explaining to my colleagues that Art Appreciation and Art History were not, in fact, the same class. I felt myself getting farther away from the field of ceramics with each semester. Slowly, as my frustration grew, I remembered the words my father-in-law shared with me upon receiving my MFA, “Don’t forget to look to the periphery.”

So I made an accounting of what it was I did treasure in the position: running the gallery, teaching (specifically I love teaching Art Appreciation and Foundations), coordinating visiting artist workshops and being in a position to give emerging (artist with little exposure) artists a momentary spotlight and line on their CV. I looked outside of the usual circle. I tweaked my CV to target the markets I was pursuing. Most importantly, I knew in my last year, if I had to work a day job outside of art to support the studio and research career I envisioned for myself, I was ready. My mind had shifted and it allowed me to see potential in so many other places. I see the gallery as an educational tool and I feel lucky that the universe did not take me up on my offer to step outside of the arts.

Teaching is a calling and I believe I have that calling. I also believe, and have evidence to support it that there are many ways a calling can manifest itself. I am committed to continue defining my professional course on my terms, although it’s one of those lessons that can fade, it quickly comes back into focus. We are makers!! We define form. We create something from disparate parts. We can certainly choose to define our careers beyond the obvious path of Academia.

Here are some of the sites I keep an eye on:

Finally, a text I cannot recommend enough is Martin Atkins “Tour : Smart”. He wrote it for aspiring bands, but most of it is applicable to aspiring visual artists. Check it out!


On Industrial Design As A Career Option

essay by Molly Hatch

I came to my career as an industrial designer through a non-traditional route of studio pottery. My work in ceramics has generally been focused on developing surface pattern for simple functional objects. I have always been interested in drawing, painting and printmaking techniques in their own right but also in relationship to clay. Because of my interest in 2D and surface, I work in a way that is easily translated into surface design for most any material being used in industry—from ceramics and glass, to furniture, wallpaper (room as object) and even fabrics.


Several years ago, I was approached via email by tabletop buyers from a major retail company after they had seen my work in the window of the shop at Greenwich House Pottery in New York. The buyers were very interested in wholesaling some pots from me in a large order. While being a wholesale/consignment vendor to galleries was how I was used to selling my work, I knew that I would lose money filling a huge order for them on my own since I was already struggling to break even in my handmade pottery business. My solution was to ask to work with the company as a designer. I would provide them with 2D surface designs and some prototypes depending on the project. The work I have designed for them has done so well that we have continued the relationship over the years and I have been able to design for other companies as well. While becoming a designer meant moving on from my career as a studio potter, it also meant I was able to focus more time, money and energy on making more involved and special artwork for Leslie Ferrin at Ferrin Gallery to sell.

It is very common for retail buyers come across artists in a traditional gallery or craft/art fair setting—basically these buyers find artists the same way you or I would research and look for new artists. Buyers do searches online, visiting popular design blogs like Design*Sponge, or they look to Etsy and other handmade marketplaces for new ideas. Buyers visit specific cities/regions and look at galleries and venues they have researched or that have been recommended to them. Often they hear of artists through word of mouth—the same way we do! One of the most direct ways to put your work in front of buyers is through exhibiting your work at the New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF) that is a large retail fair that happens twice a year in New York City.

Some reflections on using social media networks:

I use many different social media networks both as tools as well as ways to get my name/brand out there a bit more. There are so many, some of which you can link together in order to “synchronize” your publishing. For example when I write a blog entry on my wordpress-based website, it is automatically published on my facebook page–that in turn automatically tweets the facebook post on twitter. The same synchronizing happens when I “pin” something on Pin it. The “pin” is automatically posted on facebook and then in turn tweeted on twitter. This is a HUGE time saver and it hits everyone who prefers one way of following you vs. another.

In addition to Pin It, Facebook and Twitter, I use Instagram to keep continuous posting of images I take on the web. When you use the Instagram application on a smartphone, it automatically uploads images to the web and people can follow your postings. I use it to follow the inspirations of fellow designers and artists, bloggers and stylists mostly.

Pin It is a wonderful tool that also acts as social networking. I love to research things online, but I don’t always want to keep folders on my computer desktop full of images I have downloaded. Pin It allows me to keep organized inspirational folders of these source images I collect online for free. The beauty is that other people can view what you are keeping in your folders, which means you get to find great source material online even faster!

As an artist who employs assistants and interns on a regular basis, my one comment for this section is that students be warned that their Facebook pages say A LOT about who they are personally and even more importantly as professionals. There have been many times I have not hired someone because I have researched their Facebook page and they didn’t seem like the kind of person I wanted in my studio. It is incredibly important to remember that future employers go to the web to do research about you and that Facebook is an easy place to find. Be sure to keep your facebook page and any other online publications about you or your work very professional.

Business planning:

There are two books that I think you ought to consider recommending as further reading for students that are focused on business planning.

  • Craft Inc. is a great book for those embarking on a craft based career. It will help answer questions abut how to think about what it will look like and the risks you take on.
  • The business planner is AMAZING. I have a whole semester long professional practice curriculum that uses this book as a workbook. It is an incredible introduction to small business planning. The author would be worth having as a “visiting artist.”

Questions & Suggestions about Starting a Business: Potters Stories

essay by Laura Zindel

Why, how did you start your own business?

Starting my own business was not really a choice, being an artist was not really a choice either. I think you start out, go through a series of experiences that make it an either or situation. You choose what makes you feel powerful. I have had many jobs that I liked and a lot that I did not like. The ones that I liked gave me a sense of autonomy that I became addicted to. I liked it when my ideas and direction contributed to the success of something that mattered. I have followed the breadcrumbs… as a certain salty old sea dog once told me to do. Fate, luck what is this thing? There is a universe of wise people always around who tell you things, filter what you will.


A few suggestions.
1. Register your business name with your state of business.
2. Buy a URL business name and/or your own name.
3. Photograph and copyright your work
4. Register your trademark in the countries that you want to do business.
5. Find a business attorney and a business tax accountant to help with the above.
6. Work with someone that can help you make a business plan. We have a small business development corporation in our town, find one in your area and ask what they offer small business getting started.
7. Become a part of the Chamber of Commerce in your town, they can help with insurance and other resources.
8. Insure yourself and your business.
9.Take yourself seriously.

How did you come to develop two lines of work (dinnerware & handmade)?

As always I listened to my customers. We made a line of handmade tableware and my people wanted something that they could eat of of everyday. Our handmade is earthenware. I could not imagine making enough plates or mugs to satisfy my customers without turning into a factory, so I turned to a factory. I found Niagara Ceramics in upstate NY. There are not many factories left that produce china in our country and I found their story very compelling. I also found that the fact that they would deal with me compelling. It isn’t easy working with a factory, especially if you are perceived as a potter, and a housewife that is a potter. These are perceptions that I had had to overcome as a person. What makes me different than a housewife potter that wants to make a bunch of plates with a big company? Money mostly, but there are other things too. How to overcome a credibility problem?

Perserverance is the only answer here and money. These were the same problems with getting good ceramic decals for our line as well. We went through so many companies along the way. Companies that just made really bad decals, ones that could not translate the designs well, ones that got tired of our complicated needs and to finally a company that cares about what we do and supports us. In the end what I have learned is that my perseverance has led to relationships with these companies that at first did not have any reason to take me seriously.

1. Research companies that you would like to work with.
2. Find out what the set up charge and minimums are.
3. Ask for samples, references, pricing and shipping costs.
4. If possible go to the business and meet the people that you will be working with. Realize that you are putting the quality and time frame of what you make in someone’s hands and you are giving up a lot of control.

What suggestions would you give an artist starting out?

The first thing anyone needs to know about making money from their art is that you have to not care about making money from art. When I taught, my students parents would come to me and ask me if I thought that their kid was good enough to make a career from the education that they were so generously providing. To this question I have had one response, “If your child feels like their only option is to pursue a career in art because they feel that this is their one and only choice then you should back them up”.

Don’t start your career thinking that art is a great way to make money. It has it’s rewards for sure…but if you think that the real reward is money… look into another career, it is not for you.

At least for me as a young person, I really did not see a way out….I knew that I would either be a waitress my whole life or make a go of it. At RISD I was a photo major for a week, I thought that it would be exciting to be a photo journalist and I could get paid a salary from a newspaper to take pictures and travel. After a week I realized that I would have to first learn how to develop photos in a darkroom and switched back to ceramics. I knew in my heart that ceramics was my first love and the bottom of the food chain in terms of making a living…I just could not bring myself to do anything else. I could have gone to a liberal arts college and become a lawyer and taken art classes as my family suggested but it was never really an option for me. As luck would have it I had a father who believed in me and getting into RISD helped solidify his support. I never had to take those math or writing courses, and my SAT’s were pathetic.

Start with what you are passionate about and the rest..(meaning work) will not seem so bad. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from those that can help you. Financial, emotional or otherwise, you will need it.. Surround yourself professionally and personally with as many people as you can that support your goals by being role models.

What is the most interesting part of your day to day?

On a really personal level the best part of my day is when the phone calls and e-mails are behind me and I can put on my headphones and listen to my latest obsession like “Sons of Anarchy” and draw and design my latest obsession. On the other hand I honestly like the part of my business that brings me in contact with people, so without the day to day phone calls and e-mails with my clients I feel lost and not in touch with what actually drives me…to please the people that work so hard to sell my work. I have never disliked the business side of working with people, they tell me about what I do, in really practical terms and I strive to respond to it with respect. It would be impossible to do what I do without their enthusiasm. Don’t fool yourself into believing that your own business lets you be “free to create all day”. If you don’t like working with people, pay someone to do it for you. Your customers will know if you don’t like them.

What is the most frustrating day to day?

The most frustrating part of the day is the constant problem solving. There is always a problem when you work with a living material. It is what we call in our studio the “voodoo”. My training and yours teaches your above all things that you are a problem solver. There is no blue print for what we do. If you work with base materials they are always going to change and challenge, you have to be able to roll with that and embrace this fact. Think of yourself as a problem solver even beyond the science of what you do. I used to think that these things could ruin me….but I have learned to be more forgiving and less hostile and it lets me sleep better.

Narrow the scope of things that can go wrong by simplifying your methods. If you do production you have to be able to figure out where the problems start and then be able to solve them. If you work with 10 different glazes and two clay bodies… your margin for error is very high. We have one clay body, three glazes, and the decal firing. We do the same thing everyday and yet things still go wrong.

What did you do when you first left school?

My first job was as the director of an art center in Connecticut. I was the only salaried person in an organization that was run otherwise by volunteers. I did everything from booking the classes, maintaining the studios, organizing the art exhibitions to painting the walls and cleaning the bathrooms. I was mentored through it by an amazing woman that taught me at this young age to do all of this. I Iearned so much about what it is to bring art to a small community. At the same time I started my first business selling my work because I was given free studio space. I then went on to graduate school, residencies and finally setting up my own studio. I put in many years selling my work in retail shows

Get some experience beyond the studio. It is important to know more than just how to make art. It is important to know how to do things for yourself. Learn how to use basic power tools. Learn how to present your work in a context that suits what you are selling. Do not hesitate to hire people to do things that you are not good at. (For me it was photographing my work, bookkeeping and anything that needs to be designed on a computer.) Explore your options for selling your work in different venues. Gallery, solo and group exhibitions, studio sales, retail shows, wholesale shows, website, Etsy, icensing… They are all different and you will like some more than others, try them all. Work for someone that does what you want to do. Get to know your community….the definition of community is broad so figure out those you want to be a part of. Your needs from a community change as you do, recognize your need for change.

What do you know now that you wish you knew then (when is then – like when you left school I guess)?

I knew right away after graduating that I should have gone right back to school for a degree in Industrial Design. All my ID friends knew how to get things done. It had nothing to do with discipline, they could just have an idea and their training taught them how to get it made. When you specialize, like i did in ceramics, it limits you to a certain range of skills and ideas within that genre. It has taken me a valuable amount of time and thinking to remove myself from the religion of the skill set that I was trained and to rid myself of the bonds of what I can only account for as a set of morals that I was taught. I gave myself a pass at a certain point to do things the easiest way to my end. I think Julia is asking me here to give you that pass in the ceramic profession. It is important to have the background and the history that allows you to go out and forge a new path in ceramics thoughtfully…but never limit yourself in terms of what industry can provide.

Questions to ask yourself:

What part of your work do you enjoy doing and what part is tedious or just so time consuming that it keeps you from doing what you are really good at?
What part of your work will eventually tax your body until your can no longer do it?
Are there other methods to get a result that does not compromise the design?
CV: BFA Rhode Island School of Design, MFA University of Massachusetts, Studio Assistant to Michael Cohen, Residency at the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works and Anderson Ranch, Instructor at City College of San Francisco and the Academy of Art in SF

Laura and her husband Thorsten Lauterbach work together with a small group of artisans at their production studio Laura Zindel Design in Vermont.

– L A U R A Z I N D E L D E S I G N


Designing For Industry & Other Alternatives To Academia:

There are a growing number of artisans that are designing ceramics for industry. These artist have been involved with working with larger corporations or developing and producing an industrial line of ceramics on their own.

Comments from Diana Fyat, Rae Dunn, Jered Nelson and Christa Assad


Diana Fyat

Diana Fayt is an artist and designer from San Francisco who creates ceramic art pieces as well as paper and t-shirt designs. In addition, Diana sells her work across the United States and Japan.

Rae Dunn

own website:
or the design group:

Rae Dunn has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Industrial Design and worked in graphics and fashion design for many years before discovering clay. She currently has a line of wares that is sold nationwide, such as Norstroms. In addition she sells her work at Etsy, terrain, Remodelista, pinkolive, apartment therapy to name a few. Her work is represented through Magenta atprestegious trades shows including the New York International Gift Show, the Chicago Market and the Seattle Gift & Home Accessories Show.

Jered Nelson

At Jered’s Pottery you will find modern, handmade dinnerware and accoutrement, one-of-a-kind gifts, as well as sculptural ceramics. Complete dinnerware sets are custom made to order. Most recently, Jered handcrafted dinnerware for many Bay Area restaurants including COI, Namu Gaji, and Gioia Pizzeria. He is currently working on a new dinnerware line with Chef Louis Maldonado for the Spoonbar in Healdsburg, CA.

Christa Assad

“Making pots provides a few very important things for me: discipline, including regular physical and mental exercise; a measure of creativity and productivity; a role in history as artisan. The choice to pursue potting as a profession came as a bit of a surprise to me at first, but now seems the ideal solution to the puzzle of life. It satisfies the athlete, the academic, and the connoisseur in me alike. I can be my own boss, make my own inventory, and connect with those who buy and use my work. Along with the rewards, there are many lessons to be learned in patience, cooperation, and loss.” Through working closely with galleries such as Leslie Ferrin, and alternative galleries, like the Artstream, Christa has developed a career outside of academia and has become a strong role model for emerging artist who want an alternative to academia.

Making Art for the Public

Museum of Art and Design

They periodically have openings listed uner the Madjobs link listed below. They also accept applicaitons for AIR and paid summer internships.

For more information visit these links:
Job Opportunities at MADEmail: