It’s 6:30 a.m. I jump out of bed to put on my dirty jeans and clay-covered shirt. After a quick breakfast, my dog Cash and I are on the 3-mile bike trail from our home in Negaunee, Michigan, to my ceramics studio in Ishpeming – the next town over. Originally a woman’s undergarment factory in the 1920s, the building now houses a number of business and creative artist suites. After passing though my office, we are greeted by a 1,100 square-foot space with high ceilings, flooded with natural light. The smell of coffee and sound of public radio floats over the shelves of porcelain greenware and warm kilns. My name is Michele Dugree, and I own Revisions Design Studio. This is the life I’ve built.
My inspiration always begins from one of two places: nature or objects from yesteryear. Living in the remote and beautiful upper peninsula of Michigan, both are in abundance. I create using a ceramic process called slip-casting. Plaster molds, handmade in my studio, are used to turn porcelain slip into ceramic replicas of an object. After removed from the mold, the piece is refined and fired to a toasty cone 6 (2230 degrees Fahrenheit). The entire ceramic process each piece goes through takes over a week to complete.
I do what I do because nothing else could ever compare to the sense of freedom and empowerment I get from being my own boss. The more I put in, the more I get out. It’s really that simple. I’m not spending my life helping someone else achieve his or her dreams; I’m building my own. When you embrace the power you have over your own destiny, the sky’s the limit!
To me, Etsy means economic freedom from anywhere in the world I choose to live. From a town of under 2,000 people, I’ve had my products appear on the Today Show, in several major magazines and shipped orders to almost every continent in the world and all because someone happened upon my shop. Etsy is my storefront to the world. I love my small town, and I will never be forced to leave just to earn a living.
My favorite thing I ever made was an enormous porcelain chandelier comprised of 5,600 small porcelain tiles that I produced for my college BFA exhibition. The piece took hundreds of hours and a lot of blood and sweat and tears to create. The exhibitions “best in show” carried a cash prize of $1,000 and placement in the university’s permanent art collection. I wanted to win so badly and I was devastated when I lost out to a painting. The true meaning of this lesson didn’t reveal itself until almost a year later when I was able to sell the chandelier to a private art collector for over 10 times the amount of the best in show prize. This experience not only gave me the confidence to pursue a career in selling my art but also taught me that everything happens for a reason and in its own due time.
My creative business has not only empowered me as a woman, but has given me an increased sense of personal, social, and fiscal accountability. It has made me a much more conscientious consumer. My total income relies on the support of others purchasing my handmade products. In turn, I choose to spend my money supporting other small business and people just like me. I am extremely thankful for the success I have had and try to pay it forward whenever possible.
A few years back, we had a large national retailer carrying our Porcelain Egg Candles. As the orders poured in, the pressure to outsource production overseas was great. After factoring in the long lead times, large upfront costs, and most importantly the loss of authorship and control, I decided it wasn’t what Revisions Design Studio was all about. When you have control over the entire process, you never have to compromise your vision. I began as a handmade business with a story and real person behind the products. I intend on staying that way.