Claire Henry is a potter based in Glasgow. Her education started out in Canada and she has travelled the world exploring her craft, gathering ideas and working lots of jobs to make her passion work. Claire shares her thoughts on being true to yourself, knowing what you want from your job and how to say no to customers!
Take your job around the world.
I am a small-batch production potter, based in the east end of Glasgow, who makes functional tableware for everyday use. I have been working with clay for over 10 years, and have moved my practice to various countries until I finally set up a more permanent studio practice in Scotland. I throw stoneware clay on an electric potters wheel, to form dishes, plates, vases, bowls and other ceramic objects for people to use in their house.
I use my electric wheel to create the work, various tools to trim and shape the pieces, glazes that cover and coat the ceramic work (melting on to it and making it food-safe and colourful) and finally an electric kiln to fire (bake) the work so that it can be used everyday and last a long time.
The journey from school to career.
At school (in Canada) I started off by taking general art courses mostly focusing on colour theory, painting, mixed media and art history. I then took a higher-level of art and pottery in high school. The resources at my school were incredible and we had brilliant materials for making our work.
As far as information about the creative industries are concerned, I wasn't shown or introduced to much in that area. Looking back now, I feel as though the education system did not lay out a clear path to finding a career in this area. The focus was more about making objects and expressing yourself, and developing skills - not so much about to make a sustainable career out of your school subjects.
My parents have always been incredibly supportive throughout my time growing and developing as an artist and I was very fortunate to have several remarkable teachers who helped me along the way, and went out of their way to encourage and nurture my creative curiosity.
You might need to work other jobs to follow your passion.
After high school I went straight to university and studied visual arts, getting a BFA degree. It took me several years and working in many jobs that were unrelated to the creative industries to get to where I am today. After travelling and working in many countries and doing a long-term artist in residence program, I found my way to Scotland and took on a share studio space where I could concentrate on making pots. Eventually the demand for my work kept increasing, and I knew this was a good time to leave my other jobs, and focus on making and supporting myself through my own creative business of pottery.
Be strong and trust your gut!
There are lots of challenges when you are self-employed. When I first started taking on commissions and making work for new clients and customers, I wasn’t clear with my pricing structure and with my brand as a potter. This meant that people were trying to undercut my prices and didn't want to pay what the work was actually worth. It also meant that they wanted me to make them something very specific and bespoke, when it really didn't reflect the work that I was making and what I wanted to say as a potter.
I have become much more transparent with what I can and cannot make, and have more clarity when it comes to my brand as a potter, so people know what to expect when they see my work. It's always okay to say no (to commissions, projects, jobs offering to pay you with "exposure"). Some things are not worth the trouble, and I have learned to value what I do, trust my gut and be clear when something doesn't feel right.
Sharing spaces, creating rules.
I have also worked in many shared studios throughout my time making pottery. This is a wonderful way to meet other artists and makers, collaborate on projects, work out issues and problems within the craft, and share the costs of materials and equipment. It can also be challenging at times to work in certain environments and share a creative space with other makers who are not on the same page as you. I think it's very important to be clear about what you expect in a shared space, and to be direct with the way you would like things set up and how equipment and materials are used.
It takes time to learn how you like to make, how to be productive, and what kind of routine and schedule works for you in the creative industry. I have allowed myself time to try out new environments and worked with different people which as really helped form the way I run my creative practice.
Follow your passion at your own pace.
Would I do anything differently if I could go back in time? I wouldn't have been so hard on myself for not making a career out of my passion right away. Also, I would have been more discerning with the projects/commissions/work that I took on at the start of my career. I didn't value my skills or knowledge to start with, and wasn't firm when it came to my pricing and what I was capable of making as a potter, or what I actually wanted to make.
I would have set up a clearer business plan, done more research in regards to selling and marketing my work, so that I wasn't so overwhelmed or disorganised when the orders did start to come through. It sounds boring, but putting good systems in place really pays off.
Keep in contact with other makers and artists or people in the creative field - such as teachers, schoolmates, shop owners, other makers who inspire you - you never know when they might be able to help you, collaborate with you, or when you can help them out. Building a strong community around you is very important. You can't do this career alone, and it's so helpful to surround yourself with people who are in the same position as you and might be going through the same issues or dealing with similar challenges.
Don't be shy about reaching out. This could mean talking to other people who share your interests, or getting in touch with someone who you admire and asking them some questions. It also means reaching out for help if you need it, or to collaborate or bounce ideas off other people in the same field as you. New friendships, business relationships and opportunities are made this way.
Take your time and don't put pressure on yourself to succeed right away. It took a very long time to get to where I am today, and for many years I stepped away from the creative industry and gathered inspiration and experience on the sideline. A career in a creative field isn't as straightforward as people may lead you to believe, and there really isn't a set path to get to where you want to be. I am still learning as I go, and am still making mistakes and changing the way that I work. I think you need to be flexible with your expectations, and be open to opportunities that come your way.