Becoming a Clay Bae

Thanks for stopping by! I’m Ru, the artist behind it all! If you’re looking for a brief (okay, not so brief) overview of my experience in ceramics, as well as what Terru Ceramics is all about, please check out my About the Artist page.

This post is a longer read about my experience at Union Project, CCAC, and what lead to my decision to start a home studio.

I’ll start by saying that I’m not associating the phrase “Clay Bae” with anything existing. It’s just a cute title meaning that ceramic work has become integral to my life. I try to treat my time playing with clay like I’d treat a partner. I carve out time for it, actively work to maintain a healthy relationship with it, and occasionally dream about it. No, really!

Last summer, I attended my first ceramics class in 10 years. One of my partners, Simon, asked me about what might make me feel more fulfilled in life. I had been struggling trying to find a good relationship with art. While I’m not too shabby at it, sketching and painting felt inadequate and didn’t have the tactile outcome I craved. I started using Instagram to intake maker videos of every type. My Feed filled up with ceramic artists. When Simon asked what would make me happy, I realized my answer and what was stopping me. And so Simon offered to sponsor my first class in ceramics at Union Project.

I didn’t expect ceramics to be anything more than a small hobby. I didn’t anticipate how electric my interest would be. Every time I learned a new technique, it introduced two more. I found myself watching videos and reading articles in most of my spare time. Hsin-Chuen Lin and Karan’s Pots and Glass were my two biggest role models for a while. They’re wonderful teachers and I highly recommend starting with them. Jon the Potter made me feel like maybe I could make a living off pottery someday. I spent as much time in the studio as I was allowed & able, both taking classes and attending open studio hours. Eventually, someone asked me why I wasn’t a member. At the time, I hadn’t felt like I was experienced enough to be a member. (I was right, haha.) I had no experience loading and unloading kilns, mixing glazes, recycling clay, and wasn’t experienced enough to teach a class. But I applied anyway. (I figured if I had a chance to pay only $100 a month instead of ~$60 per week on top of classes, I should at the very least try!) I expected to be denied, and was. I would have denied me too. But it helped to remind me that becoming a member wasn’t my only step forward.

I realized that I wanted more than community classes. I had gained so much love for ceramics from my time at UP, but felt like my creativity couldn’t stretch its wings under their studio limitations. I was ready to leave the nest, and maybe once I have some experience on my own, I’ll come back to join their beautiful community. So instead of signing up for more UP classes in the spring, I took a step I had hoped for years to do (since finishing my BA in English Lit in 2014): I signed up for college classes.

CCAC

I had focused so much on wheel throwing during my Union Project classes that I thought I’d still suck at hand building. But I spent the entire semester learning all the hand building techniques and playing with textures, having fun. And I found that because I’d been throwing for six months, I knew clay well enough to easily hand build most of my projects.

I would arrive for my four hour class two hours early to get more time in. At Union Project I’d always found myself rushing against the clock to finish up, trying to make the best use of my time, since I was paying and only had three hours at a time. But once I had six hours at my disposal each week, I knew it’d be difficult to go back to the old system.

Early on in the semester, I decided to clean out my concrete box of a basement and make it into a small home studio. My sculpture professor had me bring my clay projects home to complete. Having clay at home felt right. And I needed more space than my office desk.

I don’t think the basement had been swept since it was built. I easily picked up more than 100 lbs of dust, dirt, and concrete off the floor. I built my own work table with a hardibacker surface to wedge and process clay on, bought some supplies, and picked up 200 lbs of clay to start with.

I admit I do still have some clay from the original 200 lbs. In my defense, I started making miniature pots, which require much less clay than normal sized ones.

When Coronavirus hit, I lost access to all my studios so fast I couldn’t even pick up my things from school.

My ceramics professor suggested that I participate in the Skutt student competition to win a Steven Hill wheel. I figured that I had the time, so I did. This was my piece:

I didn’t win, but I had a ton of fun. And my Kentucky Derby hat made Steven Hill chuckle!

The competition put a thought in my head, though. I could buy a wheel on credit and pay it off as I sell pieces–a good incentive to keep up production. I sat on the thought for a month, also considering whether buying a kiln would be a better option, so I could produced finished handbuilt pieces.

One huge factor in my thought process was Covid-19. I had (and as I write this still have) no idea of when the studios will be open again, let alone when I’d be welcome to use them. Like many potters in the area, I would be able to produce greenware at home ready for bisque firing. But how many potters will have a huge collection ready to fire? How long will scheduling a bisque fire take once the studio is open? I’m honestly unsure of whether it would be much of a problem. But renting a kiln meant applying, having documentation of all my clays and glazes, transporting vulnerable bone dry ware, and not being able to experiment with my own glazes, glass, etc. Compromising for either a wheel or kiln didn’t seem possible.

Since I felt led to buy both, I decided to sit on the decision, do research, apply for loans, etc. The main costs of having my own studio that I didn’t account for have been the small purchases. No wonder producers of pottery tools can make so much money! People keep coming up with wonderful fixes to problems. Do I need it? Not really–I could make due without. But do I want the Sunshine Stick from Sunshine Cobb? Hell yes! Do I want Hsin-Chuen Lin’s trimming tools? Of course!

It’s all still a bit scary and new. I didn’t anticipate my hobby blossoming into a business. But I’ve never felt as confident in myself and my work as I do now. And I’m ready to share it all with you. Thanks for supporting small businesses like me. Now it’s time to go get my hands dirty again.

Happiness and Warmth,
Clay Bae

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