Meet the Maker: Q & A with ceramic artist Whitney Smith
We sat down with the fabulous Whitney Smith in her Oakland, CA studio. We asked the woman behind Whitney Smith Pottery about what inspires her, how she got started and about balancing her life as a maker and a business woman.
First, fill us in on what do. How did you get started?
--I am a ceramic artist, and I got started about 20 years ago when I took my first wheel-throwing class at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz. I was almost immediately hooked, and it didn't take me long to get my first job as a ceramic assistant to a professional ceramic artist, Sandi Dihl. It took me about 7 years before I was able to go full-time working for myself while I finished school at UCSC and got some more on-the-job training working for another ceramic artist, Bob Pool. Now I've been working for myself since 2000 and I haven't looked back since!
Where do you find inspiration?
--I wish I were good at going out and finding inspiration, but I have found that it usually comes to me in an unexpected moment. I think of my brain as constantly processing all of the interesting things I come across, mashing it all together, and then popping out something I can run with every once in a while. I have to keep and open and centered mind for inspiration to find me: good sleep, healthy food, lots of exercise. If you find me clicking through Pinterest boards looking for inspiration, you know I'm desperate. I have to be patient and wait for my head to do its deep sea diving and deliver the pearls.
Do you find it a hard balance between wearing the hat as the artist and then switching to running a business for your art? What do you find the most challenging and rewarding?
--I believe that the business side and the creative side of what I do are deeply intertwined, and I don't think of it as switching hats around and pulling me in different directions. Everything that I do for my art-- designing a new product, working on my website, writing a newsletter for my customers, or crunching some numbers to analyze profits-- is all directed toward one thing: getting my work into people's hands. It's all the same project. There are days where one thing feels more appealing than the other, and I can feel very sorry for myself when I get overwhelmed. It is challenging to not go spiraling down the rabbit hole of what I wish could be different or better. But in the end, I get to do the thing that I'm called to do every day, and change people's lives with beautiful objects. The freedom to do that is the reward.
When you are not in the studio, how do you spend your time?
I love to garden, and laying around my garden, so you can often find me there with my cat, Beatrice, watching things grow and doing battle with the mint, blackberry brambles, and morning glory that is trying to take over my yard. I love to take walks around my neighborhood and through some of my favorite spots in Oakland: the Oakland cemetery, the Morcom Rose Garden, the Lake Merritt Botanical Garden, and Redwood Regional Park. I read a lot, so my nose is often buried in a book, and I also write, so I'm often found at the kitchen table, staring off into space with a blank computer screen in front of me. I spend my days usually completely alone, so I love connecting with my friends and husband, often around food and a glass of wine.
Do you have any favorite Instagram streams that you follow?
I tend to follow people who are flower and nature freaks, like me. My current favorites are @tiffanieturner, her paper flowers are simply to die for. A new one is @gio_eucalyptus, she is a biologist who draws incredible nature-based patterns, they are simple and beautiful. I get a big kick out of @flora.forager, she puts together the most clever images with flower parts. @floretflower basically takes flower porn pictures, they make me swoon. And the art of @jillbliss is wonderful, and the images she takes of nature in the Pacific Northwest inspire me as much as her.
Bottom two images courtesy of Whitney Smith Pottery