Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Whitney Smith and I live in Oakland, California, which is located in the Bay Area. I am an artist who is obsessed with making ceramics, and I’ve been so afflicted since 1993 when I took my first wheel-throwing class. I immediately dumped my other love, Painting, for my new honey Clay, and we’ve been very happy together ever since! I also happened to meet my husband, Andrew, in my wheel-throwing class so it was a very good semester all around.
I’ve been working full-time as a ceramic artist for 10 years now, the last eight solely for myself. I have a sweet little storefront studio that I outgrew about 3 years ago, but it’s a half block away from my house so I’m reluctant to move. Also, it’s very convenient for when I have large dinner parties—I just run down to the studio to pick up serving bowls, candle holders, flowers vases, whatever I need!
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
My friendships are one of the most important things in my life. I like to take care of my friends by cooking outrageously delicious meals for them while we drink amazing wine and I give them unsolicited advice. I also love to write. I have a blog called This Artist’s Life and I write creative fiction as well. I like to keep my life very simple: I ride my bike, practice yoga and meditation, go to the Farmer’s Market every week, read a lot of books, and talk to my husband about every single thing that happens to us during the day.
What first made you want to become an artist?
I’ve been an artist my entire life, and I always dreamed that I would one day live off my art. The first time I realized my dream could come true was when I got my first ceramic assistant job at age 24 and walked into my new boss’s ceramic studio (Sandi Dihl) and I thought, “I can have this”.
Please describe your creative process (how, when, materials, etc).
The first part of the process is the idea, the piece of pottery I want to make. Ideas come to me in a number of ways: I can be inspired by something I see, like a flower petal or a sculpture; I might be playing on the wheel with no goal in mind and be surprised; and sometimes finished pots come to me in a vision inside my head. I occasionally draw out an idea on a piece of paper to remember the concept, but I will usually just make it on the potter’s wheel. Some pieces require that I hand build instead of using the wheel. From there I will refine the idea if it needs refining, as it almost always does. And I always work in clay.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I cherish the things people give me: my grandmother’s knitted blanket, my mother’s quilts, drawings my friend’s children make for me. I try not to cherish things too much, things get lost or broken. I cherish sentiments and relationships.
Name your top five books, movies, songs/musical groups, and web sites (besides Etsy).
Books, and this is not in order and I know I’m forgetting some of my very favorites:
Anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Catcher in the Rye
Anything by Anne Lamott
Eat Pray Love
I love all the Coen Brothers movies, and Gus Van Sant’s work. And I loved Lost In Translation. And Rushmore! I love that movie! There is not a woman in America who is not secretly in love with Bill Murray. I adore Anime—-my most recent favorite was Tekkon Kinkreet
Music I’m very lazy about. When I find something I like I’ll listen to it over and over again. It can be very annoying to other people. I depend on my husband to buy new music and keep our selection fresh. Some musicians I’ve liked listening to in the last year is The Coup, The Killers, Jack Johnson, The Shins and Toshi Reagon. I’ll never get sick of Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Duran Duran, The Pixies, Radiohead, or Red Hot Chili Peppers.
For web sites I don’t think I even have five favorites. I try to do the work I have to do online and then leave it. I don’t surf, it hurts my brain. That being said my favorite blog of all time is 30-year old secretary, and I also enjoy Posy Gets Cozy. I like good writing, and both of these blogs have that. For eye candy and a local perspective I like SF Girl By Bay. And for some fun I like Free Will Astrology, especially his Truth and Beauty Lab. That’s four!
What advice would you give to artists who are new to Etsy?
I would advise artists to see Etsy as an investment into your business or hobby: Upload images as often as possible in small batches, everyday if you have the time. Take the time to photograph your work well and have fun writing the descriptions. Check out what other people are doing and be a part of the community.
What are your favorite features on Etsy? What new features would you like to see?
My favorite features are the forums. I think Etsy is simply an amazing resource for artists and craftspeople and everyone would do well to cruise the forums and chat with others about whatever comes up in your business or on Etsy. I would like to see a more sophisticated search engine on Etsy, but at the same time I think part the fun is stumbling across the weird and crazy stuff people are making and selling out there on Etsy. I would also like to see a wedding registry!
How do you promote your work?
Promoting my work is my second job. Online I maintain a website, my blog, a Trunkt portfolio, and my work is on guild.com and I’m in their catalog about 5 times a year. I’ve done Poppytalk Handmade and will continue to do so, and I am just now looking to take out ads on certain blogs that promote art and design. I sell work to a prop house and I occasionally stumble across my work in catalogs and magazines, which always gives me a little thrill. I send out fancy emails to my customers a few times a year to promote studio sales and remind them how much they love me! I mean how much they love my work… In life I pass out my card to anyone who expresses an interest in art, I attend wholesale shows, do a couple of retail shows a year, keep my studio open to the public, and harass media people to write me up in their magazines. And there’s always more I can do but I actually like to squeeze in some studio time too.
In ten years I’d like to be…
In ten years I ‘d like to still be married to my fabulous husband. My wonderful, loving, patient husband. I’d like to be running a small production factory in California that produces a line of my work and employs a cadre of talented, up-and-coming artists from all over the world who are on their way to launching their own careers. I would also like to be creating one-of-a-kind artwork in my personal studio that goes straight to collectors and museums. And I’d like to have a cute little shack in Italy where I can relax, eat cheese, and continue to be inspired.