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A Whole New Year: Goal Setting & Self-care in the Studio

Welcome to a whole new year. For most makers, January is a time of reflection, and hopefully, of some much deserved rest. When our hands are our number one tool, our bodies and minds need this time to pause. Maybe you just made it through a busy retail show season where you met your customers in person after months of quietly focused production work in your studio (thank you, podcasts!). Perhaps you’re also working on wholesale accounts, meaning for that for you, the summer months are likely just as hectic as December. Your studio is full of pots. Your kiln seems to be cycling 24/7.

But what happens after all that is done? When your whole next year sits right ahead and you have to be very strategic about which opportunities you take on for the next 365 days? And what about physical hurdles? If you’re fortunate enough to be working in clay in any capacity, I’m sure there have been days in your studio when you struggled to stay motivated or when your body just wanted to give up. What practices could you put in place to make the next year of making flow, rather than crunch?

We’re always showing our best selves on social media and are especially good at highlighting how productive we can be. We glamourize hard work. I’d like to shed some light on what has to happen behind the scenes to keep that hard work coming.

To do that, I’ve asked five working ceramists to talk about the challenges they've faced and which self-care practices have kept them on solid ground while they continue to build their careers in clay.


Do you have strategic goals (personal, career, financial) that you set each year?

I always set goals for the new year, taking on small or big challenges keeps me motivated at the studio. I think of my year in a global way as personal decisions have an enormous influence on career choices. As early as January, I have a good idea of ​​what the next 11 months will be like and the registration for fairs and events are often prepared well in advance.

I recently moved to a more remote area. I had this dream for a long time of having a home near a forest. The studio is still very busy despite the distance. I have concentrated my efforts on expanding my market, doing fewer events and working with more shops and museums.

Do you have a creative and/or business mentor that you check-in with?

I do not have a mentor in particular but a ceramic community to talk to. The community is very open and generous, everyone has their strengths. I like to hear several opinions because there are so many ways to do things. When I feel the need to go deeper in a specific subject, I do not hesitate to contact the Conseil des métiers d 'art du Québec, which offers mentoring programs.

What do you do in moments of self-doubt?

I do not stay in the studio, I take a break outside even if it's just 15 minutes to aerate my mind. I also use many post-it's to make lists of things to do in the short and medium term, setting priorities. It calms me down and helps me see the times in which I can accomplish these tasks.

What mantra or phrase are you using to help guide you for 2017?

"There was nowhere to go but everywhere. So just keep on rolling under the stars."

-Jack Kerouac


Do you have strategic goals that you set each year?

In terms of financial/career goals, I find that I beat myself up if I don't meet my expectations (and I'm learning that this isn't the best way to respect myself or my studio practice). Instead, I set quarterly, monthly, and weekly "plans" that I follow, and if I am improving overall, (and continuing to pay the bills) I am happy. For personal goals, though, I have been making more effort in the last year to envision what I want my life to look like, and making adjustments to my habits/lifestyle to fit those goals. Career/money has always come first, but I'm trying to change that!

Do you ever feel physically challenged in the studio? Creaky back? Sore wrists? (and what tools have helped you manage that?)

I started throwing standing up a couple years ago after wrecking my back. I still have some chronic back pain (much better than before though!) so I have started regular strength training exercises and stretching to keep in shape. We ask a lot of our bodies, and though we think we have an active job because we're lifting and moving around, pottery is actually very sedentary. For the longevity of a career in clay, I've been more intentional about caring for my body in the ways that I work, while also working out regularly to stay strong.

How do you keep connected to other makers in your community?

I try to meet up with my local maker friends in the mornings before I get our shop opened for the day, or I'll have them pop by for tea during the day if they can. Doing craft shows is a great way to catch up with other makers - I almost see them as much of a sales/marketing opportunity as they are a social event. I have made great friends and maintained many relationships through doing shows. Instagram and Facebook have also been incredible for fostering relationships from afar, and they help me to feel like I'm not all alone (even though I work by myself everyday).

Do you have a creative/business mentor that you check-in with?

I don't have a "business" mentor, but I recently did a mentorship with Tony Clennell, and our whole group continues to be very close. We learn a lot from each other and continue to challenge each other. We try to regularly fire together to keep our community strong.

Have you ever taken a hiatus from your work?

When my dad passed away last year I took over four months off from the studio. I knew the only way to get myself to get out of bed was to make myself deadlines that had to be met. I signed up for too many shows, which forced me to haul-ass and start making work again. In hindsight, I wish I had had a gentler transition back into it, but nothing keeps my mind busy like being busy.

What mantra or phrase are you using to help guide you for 2017?

"The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it." - Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things


Do you ever feel mental blocks in the studio? Any tips on what gets you unstuck?

Definitely YES. I will take a few days out of the studio, do something I've never done. Nothing changes unless you do something different. I will often pick up another craft to practice for a while: embroidery, basket weaving, knitting etc.

Do you ever feel physically challenged in the studio?

I have a yoga practice that I couldn't live without. If things get really bad I will sleep with wrist braces on but I haven't needed them in a few years thanks to yoga. My body is my machine so best keep it working!

Do you have a creative/business mentor that you check-in with?

For years I did until she passed away last summer. She was wonderful and able to give me advice from a position of someone who's not so close to the problem. Now I chat with others who are close to me but not so familiar with the industry. They have been able to give advice from fresh eyes and approach problems from a fresh perspective.

Can you tell us about a goal you set for yourself that you recently achieved?

Improve sales online through social media.

What do you do in moments of self-doubt?

I remind myself why I do what I do, take a break if I have to, or I'll create time to make something just for me.

What mantra or phrase are you using to help guide you for 2017?

"Fuck it!" LOL

...Stay tuned for Part 2!

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