A Case For Working With Small Artists

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Photo by Sven Ceramics

If you’ve ever been to my home you know that I have a ridiculous obsession with ceramics. Cool bowls, weird vases, odd vessels. All of them. I’m not particularly fond of anything that looks like it was mass produced but I certainly have some things that I love from stores like West Elm or Crate & Barrel. Most of my ceramics were found at thrift stores or bought from local artists. It’s one of my favorite things to shop for when I visit a new city. These are my souvenirs of experiences I’ve had or places I’ve been and I can rattle of a story about each one. Things like this are what make a home feel special and made just for the person who lives there.

For some time, I wanted to custom commission a specific ceramic piece with a small artist. What did I want? An oversize tray. I use trays all over my home to organize barware, gather items on a coffee table, or style a credenza. Trays are an easy way to add visual weight to small items and create the feeling that they belong together. They also keep everything from looking like clutter strewn about your rooms. I wanted a massive tray. We’re talking 20” diameter and about 1.5” high. I really love the tray below from Orlando Soria’s Orcondo. See it there on the coffee table? It’s from Nickey Kehoe and I love everything they do, but I wanted something warmer for my home. The challenge was finding someone who had the technical expertise to complete the piece and was willing to make it for me. I sought out Los Angeles or California based ceramicists who I had been following on Instagram or Etsy for some time.

 

 

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Design by Orlando Soria of Hommemaker. Photo by Tessa Neustadt.

I didn’t reach out to artists in any particular order, in fact, I sent messages to most of them at the same time hoping to hear back from someone who wanted to collaborate. Some weren’t comfortable making a tray of this size since it’s a leap from making plates, cups, or small accessories. Others couldn’t fit my project into their schedule since they had other commissions. Some were worried about investing their time and resources into the tray and worried that if it broke during fabrication they might end up losing money on the deal. I didn’t want to give up on supporting small artists because being an artist or craftsperson is a tough living. It can be challenging to set yourself apart from other artists and their work. If they can make a niche for themselves and get some attention then it can mean making a secure living.

I was ecstatic when I got a message back from Sven Ceramics who’s based out of San Francisco. Sven and I connected on Etsy but I obsess over his stuff on Instagram. Sven’s work is beautiful because he uses this great red clay that is warm and familiar feeling once it’s fired. He doesn’t try to make his ceramics look perfect; they are each unique and handmade which means there might be inconsistencies in the finished glazing, or speckling, or any of those small details that tell you an actual person was involved in the creation of this new piece of art. Sven was excited to take on the project right from the start because it was something new he hadn’t done before. We worked together to establish the dimensions for the tray, the timeline for the work, and the price. Sven knew I followed along with his Instagram stories so he posted process videos and photos of the tray being made. It was great to see it come together and I felt like he was proud of the final result too.

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Look at the size of the tray before firing! Photo by Sven Ceramics.
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Dominating the kiln. Photo by Sven Ceramics.
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White glazing. Photo by Sven Ceramics

I’m not going to talk about the price I paid in this post because I think that’s disrespectful to Sven. This was a custom commission and I know as a business person he took a number of factors into mind when he established his price. The work of artists is usually undervalued. Some of this is because we as consumers are separated from seeing how much time, energy, skill, and individual talent goes into works of art. We are so used to buying mass produced everything that we forget that craftsmanship has a price. If you’re worried about cost ask yourself how much you love what that artist produces and if it would mean something to you to have their work in your home. If it doesn’t, that’s okay. You shouldn’t have something in your home that doesn’t mean something special to you. I know have this story about the tray whenever I use it in my home. Ultimately, I felt Sven’s pricing was fair and I am so pleased with the final result.

I was worried about what would happen to the tray during shipping, so I paid to insure the package in the event that it was damaged and I needed to commission another tray. They used a spray foam that expanded and hardened around the tray to protect it within the box. It dried harder and denser than normal foam would and the tray arrived in perfect condition. I would wholeheartedly recommend working with Sven if you get the chance. Check out his work on Instagram or Etsy. Soon you’ll find yourself yearning to have his pieces in your home just like I did.

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Finished tray styled for a party. Photo by Shaun Crha.

p.s. This post is in no way sponsored by Sven Ceramics. I am proud to share a small artist whose work I love.

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