Production potter Sara Baker creates functional work with stunning glazes. She talks about promoting and selling her crafts.
ABI: What type of production work do you feel is most profitable for your business and why?
SB: I make functional pots and have found over the 20 or so years of being a professional potter that dollar for dollar, mugs and bowls are the most profitable items that I make and sell. Of course, I make casseroles, pitchers, vases, teapots, and have tried sculptural work, but I keep coming back to the functional because I really like it that my customers (buying directly from me at shows or through a gallery where I have sent work) really respond to the usability of my work.
I try to make pieces that are beautiful, but not so precious that the ultimate owner is afraid to use them. My hope is that users will appreciate the connection between my hands and theirs, taking time to enjoy the way a salad looks in a handcrafted bowl, or the way a cup feels when one holds it.
ABI: Tell us about the work you do for fundraisers and how that has helped your business.
SB: In the last 5 years or so, I have embarked on a new project that has helped build my business, namely making pots for local organizations’ fundraisers. This started when my children’s small school was looking to raise dollars mostly to survive. I contracted with the school to make pitchers, steins, and platters with a medallion with the school logo.
I made a stamp out of clay, and made the pieces which the school sold at its 30th anniversary celebration. I collected half of the proceeds ( I couldn’t donate all of my materials and time) as the pots sold. So I took some risk, because I had to wait for the pots to sell, but for a cause I care about, it was worth it. I currently have an ongoing arrangement with a local non-profit; I make steins with its logo, maybe 10 or 12 at a time, and get roughly half the proceeds. I get added exposure to customers that support this non-profit and who might not otherwise think to purchase a handmade mug.
ABI: You say that “a mug can be a very personal item.” How is that, and how do you promote this idea?
SB: Lately, mugs have been my biggest seller–wholesale as well as retail. In this economy, people are penny pinching, and a $20 item is still accessible. My mugs seem to be the iconic piece right now–they are pretty, very functional, and very tactile. Not only does the user touch them with his/her hands, but also with his/her mouth–what could be more intimate? (don’t answer that!)
It is very important to me as the maker that each mug fit comfortably in both hands and also when a person drinks form it. My mugs are squared, so one can’t drink too fast. I hope the user will brew a wonderful cup of coffee or tea, and really relish the experience, relaxing and enjoying each sip.