Reflections Retrospective: 1998-2006 Building a Career

Posted by Diane Sullivan on

Calgary 1998-2006. With the work flowing I learned how to sell. Up to this point I had mostly been doing consignment, this is giving work to a gallery and being paid a cut of the sale (60% at this time) when, if ever, it happens. I then did my first craft fair at Art Market in Calgary in November of 1996. I shared a booth with another potter, there was a snowstorm that paralyzed the city for pretty much the entire 4 day show. Somehow I still made money. I was hooked. While I still was carrying a number of other part time jobs to cover my expenses I was heading in the right direction. And then the ice storm happened in Eastern Ontario and Quebec. Living in Eastern Ontario now I see the physical recoil locals have anytime ice is mentioned in the weather forecast. The ice storm was devastating. But for me, living in Alberta, the ice storm was a pivotal event that sent my business in to full throttle. I had begun attending wholesale shows in Alberta; developed two lines of pottery, built a hard wall booth, and created my logo or brand.

With wholesale shows you bring a line of samples and take orders from shops and galleries, being paid 50% of retail upon delivery of the order, or immediate, reliable cashflow. Most of the work I brought was press moulded, although anything cylindrical (vases, teapots, ewers) had to be thrown on the potters’ wheel and the decoration hand carved, but the moulded work dominated. I started with the wholesale show in Edmonton; good enough, I saw the potential. I had applied to the Toronto wholesale show, a huge event held twice a year in January and August, however, I had been informed I would be on a waitlist for at least 2 years. Then the storm happened out east, shutting down numerous makers’ businesses, forcing them to cancel their attendance in Toronto. The show organizers turned to the waitlist and I was parachuted in to a coveted corner booth with 2 weeks notice. With a lot of anxiety over cost and logistics and a few pep talks from friends (“You can’t not make money!”), I learned how to load my hard wall booth and samples on to a wooden palette and shrink wrap it for shipment to the Toronto show. A skill I continue to use! And then there was my glaze colour. Green. I had been warned by many of my potter friends that the glaze palette I was developing, a celadon green, was a “potter’s glaze”, which just means only potters would like it. Most pottery at this time was blue or brown. They were wrong. The San Francisco Gift Show happened the week before Toronto, and guess what? Green was the new hot trend. I was mobbed at the Toronto Gift Show. The buyers lined up the first day and placed their orders. Overwhelmed I stayed out of my booth for the next 3 days as I had enough orders and then some to keep me in my studio for 6 months. Back in Calgary, I’m walking down the street, doing a happy dance, and saying to no one but myself, “I get to be a potter, I’ve finally got the job I want”!!!!

So that was the structure I followed for the next 5 years; two trips to Toronto a year with my wholesale samples, consignment to galleries I could check on regularly, and then the Christmas season in Calgary where I was surprised and delighted to clue in pretty quick that I could make larger than 12"! My customers loved the palace pots I brought, egging me on every year to bring something new and wonderful for them, eventually building up to an occasional 4’ pot. And every few years I would organize a solo exhibition in a gallery somewhere in Alberta to focus on some area that the artist in me wanted to explore. My wheel throwing skills improved over the years so I only used the moulds for anything not round. One of a kind work is always original hand carved decoration on the surface. And yes, I made A LOT of work in these 8 years. Not all of it got photographed. Most of this work is 16" to 36", except for the teapots, all of it wheel thrown and hand carved, except for the wall pieces, which were hand built hollow from slabs.

At a retail craft fair 2008, same hardwall booth as earlier but a new paint job.

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