Saturday, June 27, 2009

What Makes You Tick

Justin, trimming a sorbet bowl.

Hannah, helping dust the pots before the busy weekend!

Dana, looking through our orders for the month.

For the past six months we have had apprentices here. In the past, we've tried having folks work with us, but have generally been less than thrilled. Time and time again, I would go back and read articles from potters like John Glick, Mark Hewitt or Mike Cohen, where they talked about the importance of the apprentice system. As a product of that system myself, I always figured someday, somehow we would incorporate apprentices into our shop. This was the year!

Since January, we have had Hannah working with us, making plates left and right. Now she has started becoming more involved in making mugs. In addition, she makes her own line of mugs which are bi-colored and often have additional decoration. These mugs we sell separately from our studio line, but since the glazes match our monochrome pots, they work very well together. The end result is that Hannah brings in a little extra cash each week as we sell her mugs, and in return she also makes a pile of mugs for the studio.

In March, Dana and Justin began working here. Neither had ever worked in clay before so this was a completely new experience. I cannot begin to express the fun we've had, the things we've learned, and just the sheer volume of pots that have been made here since January.

Now we're looking at a little over two weeks until Dana and Justin leave for Modesto, CA. Such a terribly short span of time and yet there is still SO much more they want to try before they leave the East Coast.

Things I never took into account:
1. Time. Apprentices NEED a lot of time and attention. It pays you back in spades, but they need that time with your help and supervision and care.

2. Space. I thought our studio was pretty small (comfy) to begin with.... but having up to four of us working in there at once... it was tight! If you aren't thrilled with bopping butts with your fellow potters, a bigger studio might be a better choice than adding apprentices to your cramped space. For us, this has made us work smarter, harder and faster. Now we fire ALL the time, keeping pots flowing out the door instead of log-jamming as greenware or bisqueware on shelves.

3. Patience. I think between having apprentices and having a pre-teen, I am learning about patience. Luckily Nancy is kind and helpful in pointing out when my patience is gone. She always seems to step in RIGHT at the moment when I need help.

4. Direction. I guess it isn't really fair to assume that everyone has direction. Some people aren't goal oriented. I have always had pretty clear cut goals and known how to get there.... till I met clay. Since then, I have wandered, wondered and just plain said hmmm. Apprentices though, expect you to help them find direction. They need to know that the work they're doing will help them down that path. While as the potter/instructor/whatever-you-might-call-yourself... you might not know what the path is for every student/apprentice, at the very least you can shine a path farther down the way.

All in all, this has been the most awesome experience for Nancy and I. We both feel so incredibly lucky to have had this time with our apprentices. As crucial as they have become to our workshop and our life, I am at a loss as to how to approach the next apprentice-applicants. We certainly can't replace Dana and Justin, but the work they've been doing has been so helpful. On top of that, the educational component has really motivated me to begin work on a book project that has been percolating for a few years now. The reciprocity relationship involved in this level of apprenticeship has really reshaped my perceptions of what our studio needs. It's both exciting and rewarding! Thank you Dana, Justin and Hannah.


Charles The Potter said...

Great posting Alex, apprentices..I want apprentices..I am a point in my pottery career where I could use an extra body or two to help out at various points. I could triple production with one more person who can work with me on a regular basis. I'm pretty sure I can find the markets in which to sell those pots too.

What kind of arrangements did you make? What were the expectations from you and the expectations from the apprentices? I did an internet search on apprenticeships and John Glick, Mark Hewitt, Mike Cohen but didn't come up with any articles that were online.

Alex Solla said...

The articles I am referring to are either from Studio Potter magazine or from NCECA conference minutes. I dont think any of them are online. Mores the pity since they are great pieces of writing.

As for having an apprentice in order to increase production... you might be surprised. Unless they show up, already throwing as well as you, they will need a lot of coaching, training and teaching. That's time of yours that could have been spent making pots. Tough call. Our most recent apprentices had never touched clay before, but now they are the most awesome set of hands in the studio.

As for arrangements, it has varied with each apprentice we have brought in. Some wanted to work here in exchange for studio space/time. Others wanted more of my time training them in skills they lacked. Others simply wanted to hang out. Needless to say, that may work for some potters, but we are a very small studio. Not much room for piddling around. We ideally want apprentices who WANT to be here to learn what we have to offer, who want to grow their skills, and who eat,dream, sleep and think clay. Precious few of those nowadays though.

Having expectations from the outset can be a curse or a blessing. So many variables.

So... I guess all I can say is that your mileage may vary. Give it a whirl and see what works!

Charles The Potter said...

I'm going to look for some help for sure..I don't mind the teaching.

My wife helped me for a while but now has other commitments. When she first started she knew nothing, but as her skills grew, she did more and more.

When she was available things just went more smoothly, she took care of the little jobs that make me stop producing..buffing rough spots off of greenware, loading a bisc or glaze kiln, breaking down the clay boxes,doing some of the glazing, organizational stuff mostly. It helped a lot. When she took up her other commitments she was also producing medallions for pendants and mugs, making "wee" bowls and occasionally challenging her skills with a new piece. She was the ultimate student.

Thanks again for posting. I have a lot of old CM's I'll see if I can find some of those articles.

Dana said...

It hasn't taken us too long to get to the point where we can help in the studio, rather than just taking up time and space - although we did a lot of that, in the beginning. I'm definitely a fan of the apprenticeship system, and I am going to miss it (and clay) so, so much when we move. It's been an incredible experience.

Alex Solla said...


I agree completely. Both you and Justin were useful right out of the box! Seriously, you both treated the studio as a place of work and learning and jumped right in and lent a hand. From the outset, I think that was one of the things that has made this apprenticeship so different. Both you and Justin LIKE working. So, whatever the task, it ends up being fun. It might not be making pots, but it still keeps the wheels on this bus rolling along!

Thank you both for all of your hard work! I cant imagine making it through this past Spring without you two. Hannah and I were talking about all the things that we'll miss (and she doesnt even see you both very often!).

Know that you'll be missed!

justin said...

You guys will be missed dearly as well. Plus there's the double pain of being away from good friends and clay!

Oh, clay, what did we ever do before you entered our lives?

Writing...? What's that?