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How to Become a Ceramic Artist

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When Paul Soldner, the iconic ceramicist, died in 2011, the art world mourned. Despite having no interest in art before seeing charcoal drawings made by Holocaust victims on the walls of Nazi death camps when he helped liberate Europe, Soldner returned to the U.S. a changed man. The veteran became a world-class ceramicist, inventing the American Raku style of ceramic crafting. If you’re looking for inspiration as you launch your own career in this creative field, you couldn’t find a better role model than this American legend.

Study art in college. Concentrate on sculpting, ceramics and other 3-D art forms as you explore both theory and technique. Experiment with a variety of media: wood, stone, clay, earthenware and synthetics, and try all manner of techniques: extrusion, hand building, Raku and wheel-thrown pottery. Learn the art of polymer bead making and jewelry design. Study kiln operation to see whether you prefer using an updraft gas, downdraft gas, electrical, wood or Raku kiln.

Exhibit your work at your college. Most fine arts departments stage at least one major exhibit to show off student work -- lots of schools schedule more than one -- and initiate students into the ins and outs of gallery showings. Some exhibits might be juried while others give students opportunities to sell their work. Prepare for these exhibits by stretching your artistic boundaries so the pieces you enter show your range and versatility. When you graduate, you’ll have both a diploma and samples to launch your career.

Establish a studio that’s as sophisticated as your budget and space allow. The ideal working space for a ceramicist would include a water source (utility sink) for mixing clay, excellent lighting, a corner devoted to a kick-start or electric pottery wheel, and space for a kiln. You’ll require a work table and wedging table plus plenty of organizational aids, including shelves and bins to stow supplies and equipment and display projects in varying stages of completion.

Establish a relationship with a wholesale ceramics supplier. If there’s no local resource, turn to the Internet for supplies, though high shipping charges could present a problem if you buy bags of raw materials in bulk. Stock your studio with ceramic clays, glazes, molds, etching tools (some ceramicists prefer dental tools), solvents, rags and cleaning products. Invest in a good extruder. You’ll need sketch pads to create concept renderings and a place to stow magazine clippings, ceramics books and other resource materials.

Survey ceramicists in your geographic area to learn how they price their wares while you start building an inventory of hand-crafted bowls, mugs, dishes, vases, pots, jewelry and ceramic collectible art. Photograph your work, and put the images into a portfolio to carry when you visit galleries and shops in your area to get your work on retailers' shelves. Ask your chamber of commerce for a list of coming craft and holiday shows. Renting a booth at these shows is a great way to sell your art, meet collectors and get feedback, too.


Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.