007 – The Hardest Thing About Being a Potter or Ceramic Artist

MudTalk Podcast
MudTalk Podcast - Pottery, Ceramics, Business
007 - The Hardest Thing About Being a Potter or Ceramic Artist

The hardest thingBeing a potter or ceramic artist is not easy. But everyone is different and has their own issues and struggles. Listen to this episode (or read below) to see if there are other people that are struggling with the same things that you are.


The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) (affiliate link)

How to make the most of your time in the studio (Article and Free Download)


First off, I wanted to say thank you very much for listening. I really do appreciate it. Especially if you’ve listened to previous episodes and have come back for more. If this is your first time listening, welcome! Just before I started recording this episode I checked the podcast stats and it said that there have been over 1000 downloads! That is amazing to me. That isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things but I feel like I’ve barely figured out what I’m doing. So thank you for your support. This is episode 7. The question for this episode was: What is the hardest thing about being a potter or ceramic artist? This is a fascinating topic and I can’t wait for you to hear some of these great responses. There were so many comments that I couldn’t include them all! Maybe because everybody struggles with something? Or maybe it’s because it’s such a personal topic and that there are no “wrong” answers? I guess everyone feels like they can relate. Whatever it is, thank you to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts on Instagram and Facebook.

The show notes for this episode and all other episodes can be found at expertclay.com. It’s free to sign up for the email list to find help with something you are struggling with or help other people with something they are struggling with. At the end of the episode you’ll hear how to get a free download with 5 ideas that I have used to make the most of my time in the studio, which has been one of my biggest struggles.

As I was reading through these comments I sorted them into categories to make processing them a little easier. First we’ll talk about struggles with the process, then time and balance, then running a business and then the physicality of working with clay. We’ll also hear some other miscellaneous struggles and I’ll share some of my favorite responses. At the end I’ll share 10 things that I keep in mind when I struggle with something.

So let’s get to the responses.


Making pots is pretty complicated and there is a lot to learn. Some potters struggle with part of the process.

Many people, including Zeevar, FrancoiseAndre, ClayWishSweden, Potterinhawaii, Sometimes_sam_sometimes_paige, Jack.degnan, and Amadia14 all mentioned glazing in one way or another.

Zeevar I think doing the glaze is hard! Am i right?

Francoiseandre @zeevar yes ! Glazing is also for me the hardest thing…

Claywishsweden Glazing!!!

Potterinhawaii Getting the glaze right your piece can be beautiful but if you mess up the glaze it turns out like (beep)?

Sometimes_sam_sometimes_paige Hoping the glaze compliments the form

Jack.degnan Not getting enough layers of glaze on my pieces ?

Amadia14 I struggle with glaze consistency!

Donrankpottery I have a continuing dislike for pulling handles on mugs!

Baxenburg Kilns!! And transporting fragile things that haven’t been fired yet because you’ve cleverly decided to make something at home without thinking about how you’re going to get it to the studio in one piece… !

Etgesq shrinkage in the kiln

Time / Balance

Time management was a popular response. It seems like a lot of potters are part time potters and work a “regular” job to produce a steady income. I bet if we had a survey, most potters don’t make 100% of their income just from selling pots. And with the lengthy process that clay requires, it’s going to be tough to keep everything balanced.

Time to Make

Wildfirepotterypenn I have a full time job outside the studio. Because of this, the hardest thing for me is finding the amount of time I feel is adequate in the studio.

RiderCeramics Time! I never have enough time. For instance when I have a show or a deadline for a large amount of work. I am constantly underestimating the time it takes for making,drying, firing, glazing, and firing again. I feel like I never have enough. (Especially now with a baby sidekick. He hasn’t been of any assistance in the studio yet) AND documenting and listing to sell on etsy. That is another full time job in itself. I feel with the amount of time we artists put into our craft we should be millionaires at this point.

TariHuffaker Right now it is that i only get to do it one day a week. I have a kick wheel and a small electric kiln but no place to set them up….? but i am so grateful for the one day per week.

Viv.ceramics Not having time to work on my own artwork…I’m a BFA student, and I know my skills are developing but I feel like I have lost my developments in my own work…I want it to evolve but I don’t have the time to dedicate to it.

Finding Balance

Peachbottompottery Wearing so many hat’s! ???

AnnAugustinPottery I’m a full time, solo, potter. The hardest thing for me is balancing the creative side (studio work) with the necessary administrative tasks (marketing, finances, customer service, etc).

Fernstreetpottery Balancing my time, pacing myself, taking on too much.

Littlepotteryshop I tend to take on more than I can chew because I want to do it all!! Balancing making my own work, teaching 3 days a week, running our retail store, and also taking care of my own personal needs gets exhausting. I really need about 9-10 days in a week to fit it all in!

Octopusceramics Having time to make things, while balancing school/extracurriculars/college prep/family time/etc

Pitchpinepottery Work-life balance. Working for yourself is incredibly rewarding but also easy to never take a break. Trying to explain why I can’t just “paint a custom order with this exact color swatch for the glaze”. Explaining why the process takes so long.

Williambakerpottery Juggling ?‍♂️

William, I’m pretty sure you mean doing all the different things a potter has to do but if you have a video of yourself juggling mugs or clay or tools, we would love to see it!

Time for Other Things

Some people are so focused on the clay that it’s hard to make time for other things.

JeannieBaker63 I tend to lose track of time when I’m working with clay. The hardest thing is making time for all the things I don’t want to do, and walking away from the workbench.

Timseeclay Making time for other things in my life. I feel I could make pots in the studio for months on end if I didn’t need to eat. I have a Wife, family, cat, a house and gardens that I love too and they all need attention.

Anotherseattleartist Actually taking days off for self care. And then feeling guilty when I do take a day off. “Being self employed is great! You can work any 60 hours per week you want!” I’m trying to get on a schedule where I give myself at least 1 day off a week but it’s hard! And taxes. 4 years into self employment and they are still terrifying and I’m still only mostly hoping I’m doing them right…

The Business

There were a lot of responses about business being the biggest struggle. Let’s start with promotion.


LaurieLandryPottery Promoting my own work.

Pathwaypottery Marketing myself!

CatherineDanielCeramics Getting enough people to actually SEE what I make!?

Salzanos I just want to create and find it hard to promote my creations. Actually promotion is a full time job and if finances allowed, someone with that talent should do it ?

Salzanos, I agree. If you can make it work, it would be ideal to pass off certain things to other people and focus on the things you enjoy or do well.


There were also plenty of responses from people who have a hard time with sales.

Bianca_colangelo Selling enough pots to afford a place to make pots.

Studio2ceramics Art fairs. Getting into them. Designing the booth. Sitting there and talking to a bazillion strangers. Watching them walk by. Ugh. Art fairs.

Marijanel This was such a good question and reading the responses made me feel like I’m not alone. For me, right now, I have decisions to make…do I wholesale into stores/gift shops (I have 5 interested) and have to make/sell volume because I’m sharing 30-50% with consignment stores or do I only do direct sales and make the full amount but perhaps sell less pieces? These kind of big decisions that define a businesses goals cloud creativity for me. If my “job” was just playing with clay, that’d be easy…but there’s the whole “what do you do with it after you make it” part of pottery that’s where the income comes from that is a challenge for us creatives.

Mepifano Promoting and selling the work is the hardest for me, because most people don’t know about or understand the process of ceramics and therefore can’t appreciate the effort, the craftsmanship and ultimately the “value/price” relation.

Woodwardpottery The business side. Accounting, selling, records, ugh!

Sunnydieter11 When my family pesters me about selling my pieces but I don’t have the confidence to do so.


ChrissyBrownSculpture Pricing my work – it’s so difficult to have the confidence to (try to) sell for what people say it’s worth!


There were a few responses about physical ailments.

Jerichostudiopottery My aching wrists when I centre big pieces.

Skibejones Surgery on both wrists.

Lucyfagella I love reading all these comments from people at different stages of their careers! For me the two hardest parts: the physicality of being a potter… In one sense I love it, but as I age I just ache after a long day. If I would learn to pull myself away sooner from making, to do other parts of the job that I don’t enjoy as much (paperwork) maybe I wouldn’t be so tired at the end of the day!

Olisny 1) Neglect of physical fitness: taking care of back and tendinitis issues so they don’t hamper production. 2) Taxes. 3) Marketing. In that order. ?

Anama1ne So interesting to read all of these comments! So much to think about! I am new to the craft and I still have yet to learn so many things. But to me the hardest so far is lifting heavy bags of clay! Not easy at all. Haha! I need muscles!

Other People

I’m also including a category called other people. These responses were mostly about dealing with people that are not potters.

Dtaylorsatm The hardest part of being an artist is being yourself when others want you to be like someone else.

Mdaileystudios Hiding my disappointed expression when I am displaying my original work, and someone needs to tell me I need to make _______ ! (Incense holders, bongs, sports mugs, hearts that say “hope”, or cups like at the blankety-blank store. Awful.

Muddyhands789 Holding my tongue when someone enters my booth, and tells me that I should make something that is obviously outside of my style is one of the most difficult things that I do because they have no idea that what they are really doing is outright insulting me. Would they appreciate it if I showed up at their work place, started telling them how to do their job without me having any background, or formal education, in their chosen professional field? NO!

CeramicBianka Convincing non-clay friends that studio time is not just ‘hobby’ time where you can come & go as you please. It’s meditation time, leave me alone time, nurturing creativity time, work & play time, screwing up & learning time.

Flamingmushrooms Everyone always telling me that being a ceramicist isn’t a practical career path

Benjamin W Being taken seriously in the art world, working on my MFA I was constantly told functional objects are not art. Of course those professors didn’t like the fact that potters can make a living right away without the university connections they desperately needed to sell art and boost their ego’s. Still years later i can practically sell out at a show and a non functional ceramics artist will always win best in ceramics even though they aren’t selling at all. Most people don’t realize it’s more difficult to make a well functioning artistic pot than a non functioning piece.

The Rest

Here are a few more responses that didn’t fit into any of the other categories.

Carolclarkson Staying focused…there are so many options.. one needs to find a form and glaze that is their “own”

Sandyvanderwyk Narrowing it down!

BlueLotusPottery Being patient and staying focused. I am relatively new to this art and there are so many things I want to try I feel like I am all over the place and it takes sooo long to see my end results.

Bairdwarepottery Self criticism, time, pulling a handle that I like, getting $50 for a mug.

Ratbagstudios Staying true to my artistic goals and building some resilience to knock backs.

Bobbie141 Deciding which kiln to buy … it’s a huge purchase and I can’t get anywhere to view them without them just delivering it and saying “here ya go” … ????

Robinlambright Not having a wheel, kiln and proper studio space at my home. Longing for the space to begin acquiring the needed equipment.

Jeffszarzi Keeping the studio clean and organized. Ugh, I just had that tool a second ago.

2frogsstudio Quest for originality. We are so inspired by everything we see that one cannot possibly be able to give credit to self or to just to one. Maybe that’s not a bad problem to have. But I find it hard to define a singular voice within my work that is recognizable as my own. So the quest is the search for identity?

Ikerbonsaipots Defining your voice, keeping your voice but keeping it fresh.

Inspired_clay Being torn between pottery and finding a profession that will be stable ? I’m 22 and trying to get my ducks in a row

Blackberrycreekpottery Easy up tents

Dmpottery Self discipline and making ends meet

Patriciatrainor Waiting for the kiln to cool down before you can open it?

Martha H Cleanup! LOL!

DavidVanmersbergenTha hardest thing is a completely dried out bag of clay. .#Someone didn’t close it tight. …

I love the literal response.


These last few responses were my personal favorites.

Claybylaura I think marketing and sales are the hardest for me. It is necessary, time-consuming and hard because selling yourself (through your art) exposes you to possible rejection.

I like this response by Laura a lot. I think it gets more to the root of why we struggle with some things. I know for sure that I have struggled with fear of failure in many areas of my life. From trying a new technique to selling my work, I get scared that I’ll fail. That people will reject me. They may not like my stuff. They may make fun of me! They may make signs and protest because I’m some kind of imposter! Okay, so that’s usually where I start to realize how silly my thoughts have become. Really, to be more logical, what’s the worst that can happen? Probably someone won’t like my work. Haters gonna hate and all that. But I’ve started to realize that not everyone is going to like my work. And that’s okay. So I’m making progress. For example, starting this podcast and the Expert Clay site really freaked me out at first. But then I thought: what’s the worst that can happen? And whatever that is pales in comparison to the opportunity to help other people.

CatieMillerCeramics Creativity is cyclical like many things in life. I think the hardest part is staying motivated and knowing when you’re at a low there will be a high again. I’m trying to shift my expectations and remember the successful moments rather than focus on the struggle. There is a lot of struggle, but it can’t be a distraction.

Catie, this is a fantastic response! There are going to be tough times. But you know what they say: tough times don’t last but tough people do. If you expect to struggle sometimes I’ve found that it usually makes it easier to deal with when it comes. When you find yourself in a low time it could mean that there are new highs on the other side. You just have to decide if you want to show up every day and get through the dip or quit and do something else. Seth Godin has a short book called The Dip that explores these ideas. It’s an easy read but could help you get through some struggles.

Marzipana_ All of the above! I can identify with just about every frustration mentioned here but mostly with not having enough time to spend working and perfecting what I do. I can also say one of the hardest things is when you’ve spent hours and hours – even days – working on a piece and then it cracks in the firing…???

I think I can honestly say that I’ve struggled at some point with just about everything that was mentioned as well. I’ve struggled with centering, pulling walls and just making decent pots, especially when I was starting out. I’ve struggled with glazing, especially when I was trying to brush on glazes out of those darn little pint sized containers. I still get a cramp in my hands sometimes when I throw big pots. I’ve also struggled with the confidence to put my pots out into the world. I still struggle with promoting my work. But as my work has gotten better, I’ve gained confidence and I’ve noticed the promotion has gotten a little easier. My biggest struggle now is the same struggle that a lot of people face: finding balance or just having enough time to make pots.

So, considering all this, I’ve tried to think of a few things that have helped with my own struggles and some of the other struggles that were already mentioned. These are pretty general so they won’t all work for you. And you may have to adapt some to your specific situation.

Here are my top ten tips to deal with common struggles that we face as potters and ceramic artists.

  1. Adopt a growth Mindset
    I feel like this is the most important thing to do when you struggle with something. Just remember that the more you do something, the better you can get at it. Nobody is expected to be perfect at something the first time.
  2. Break big scary things down into smaller, less scary steps
    I try to break down the big things until they are smaller tasks that can be finished in one block of time.
  3. Do the first step RIGHT NOW without thinking about it
    Don’t get analysis paralysis, just get it done. You can always make changes later. To go along with this tip:
  4. Fake it til you make it
    Keep going! Even if you’re not completely sure you are doing exactly the right thing, keep getting things done. If you at least know you are headed in the right direction, probably the very worst thing that will happen is that you’ll have to start over. But you’ll still be farther along than if you did nothing because you’ll know what not to do and have a much better idea about what to do next time.
  5. Find a mentor
    If you really have no idea about something or want to cut down on research time, find someone that has done it before.
  6. Keep amazing records
    I’ve never regretted keeping good records. It may take a little extra time initially but it has saved me a lot of time in the long run on several occasions. This also makes the next tip easier.
  7. Reflect on what works and what doesn’t
    Go back and compare results from different ways you have done things. Then, obviously, f you find something that works, do more of that. If you find something that doesn’t work as well, do less of that.
  8. Outsource anything you can
    If you can have someone else do something that you don’t do well or don’t like to do, let them do it! This will let you focus more time and energy on the things that you enjoy and do well.
  9. Take care of yourself
    Staying healthy can help with many things including increased focus, stronger bodies, less pain, more energy, and just plain feeling better. It’s a lot easier to deal with struggles if you feel great.
  10. Become a time management ninja
    Three habits that have really helped me take advantage of the time I have are: scheduling everything, prioritizing tasks, and limiting time for each task.

If you haven’t been to the Expert Clay Blog, check it out sometime. I’m starting a series of articles about how I make the most of my time in the studio. And you can get a free checklist to stay productive with the time you have.  All you have to do is sign up for the email list at expertclay.com! Check the show notes for a link.

And don’t forget, the struggle is real but sometimes the struggle is what makes us better. We all struggle with something but as Marijanel said, we are not alone. There are probably plenty of people that struggle with the same thing you do. That’s one reason I created Expert Clay. To connect people that have similar struggles so we can overcome them together.

Thanks to all of you who have left a comment on the MudTalk Monday posts. And thanks for all of you for listening. In the next episode we’ll hear questions that you would love to ask another potter or ceramic artist. Until then, embrace the struggle and stay muddy.

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