Ceramic Artist Heidi Fahrenbacher of Bella Joy Pottery shares her experiences and lessons learned, plus how she is pursuing her dream.
ABI: What do people like most about your work?
HF: People enjoy my simple line drawings, which makes my work easy to approach. I often say my work is an extension of myself and by that I mean I don’t take myself too seriously. I describe my style as “controlled whimsy,” with a story behind every drawing.
The best compliment is when people tell me my work makes them smile.
ABI: Could you tell us about a lesson you learned through a bad experience with your business?
HF: Oh can I! In August of 2010, I purchased a ton (literally) of bad clay. When I say the clay was bad, I mean it was mixed improperly and was not consistent to the sample clay I was sent. Therefore, the glaze I had formulated for the clay didn’t fit properly causing crazing (cracks in the glaze), which weakens the integrity of the piece.
The other problem was that since the formula was flawed, the clay cracked all the time. I kept thinking all the problems were me; that I didn’t allow enough time for my work to dry, that I was speeding through the firing process, and that my glaze calculations were flawed. Basically, I questioned my whole foundation as a ceramic artist.
After finally contacting the company numerous times about my struggles, they informed me that the person that mixed the clay did not follow the recipe correctly and was no longer employed with the company.
I spent the first three months of last year remaking work because I couldn’t send it out in to the world with my name on it.
The most important lesson I learned was not to second guess myself. If, in your heart, something feels wrong listen to your intuition. I would have saved myself a lot of grief.
ABI: You received a grant recently. How did you do it?
HF: In April, I was awarded a Kalamazoo Artistic Development Initiative (KADI), funded by the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Projects benefit the Kalamazoo community, either taking place locally or benefiting a local artist or artist having strong ties to the Kalamazoo community.
My work used to be more sculptural than it is now, but with this project I want to expand my architecture series (my house shaped functional ware) and be more sculptural, but still functional. I will be using a whiter porcelain and mimicking common home styles.
The trick to a getting a grant is simple: be specific. I always write out my ideas in as much detail as I can, include sketches of all the work I plan on making, and price out everything from clay to postcards for the opening. Don’t forget you can pay yourself too. Also don’t worry if you project changes as you start working or mishaps happen – that is all part of the artistic development.