Go get 'em. By Big Cartel.

Inside Out: Buried in Clay

We make tools for artists because we’re artists ourselves, so side projects are especially important at Big Cartel. Inside Out features projects that feed our creative appetites outside of work.

Sarah Anderson has been part of Big Cartel’s community team for over four years and she’s been running her own shop, City of Industry, for even longer. In mid-2017, she stepped a little further out of her comfort zone to try making ceramics. We got down to it and asked about where she disappears to once or twice a week.

What’s the project you’re working on?

I’ve been sticking with ceramics for about a year now, and I’m not even totally terrible! I look forward to my time in the studio each week.

How’d you figure out that pottery was something you’d enjoy?

I took my first pottery class as part of an Employee Art Grant, and the goal was to make a candle from scratch, including the container it lived in. I wanted to figure out candle making, and figured the pottery part would be a fun thing to dabble in during the process.

It turns out that I misjudged what I’d obsess over. I like candle making fine, but I love pottery. To be honest, I was super frustrated by working with clay at first, but maybe that’s why I got so deep in it: I was determined to not suck at it forever. So I kept signing up for more classes, and now it’s been about a year of doing the dang thing.

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What’s your favorite thing about working with clay?

I love the mess! It’s great to have a forced break from my phone, since I’m one of those people who hardly goes a few minutes without checking it. I know that sounds a little pathetic, but admitting you have a problem with taking time away from devices is the first step, right? The only downside is that it’s a bit of a shame that this new hobby is so hard to document without sliming my phone, but I also love how that makes it feel more personal: it’s something I do just for me.

Pottery is also teaching me to relax. A lot. During my first few classes, I was uptight about how gooey I got, and how things weren’t coming out perfectly. I washed my hands non-stop, because the texture of the wet clay would gross me out. I clenched my entire body trying to get a pot’s shape just right (spoiler: it didn’t work), and swore at the lump of clay more than a few times. Once I learned to accept that I couldn’t control it all, things got better. That mess encourages me to work on my cups and bowls a little longer. I’m already messy, so I might as well! And now I know that things don’t always come out like I want them to, and that’s OK, too.

That said, I still have so much to learn. I’m working on embracing how much of a novice I am. I fail all the time, and there are a lot of shapes and sizes that I can’t create yet. I lose control and a vase collapses or a blob of clay spins out of my control. I see professional ceramicists doing incredible things with glazes, and I can’t wrap my brain around how they do it. But for now, if you need a small bowl to keep your spare change in (and have plenty of time to wait), I’m your girl.

One more favorite thing: Each time my dad sees something I’ve made, he says, “That’d be a perfect bowl for ice cream!” So far he’s gotten at least three new bowls out of me. I’m slightly concerned about how much ice cream Dad eats, but mostly I just love his enthusiasm.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about your project?

Ceramics is so much harder than it looks! I definitely walked into it with an overabundance of confidence, because I’m pretty handy at making different things. But it’s completely its own thing, and my existing skills just did not apply at all. But I think that struggle makes any improvement even sweeter. So if you decide to try it out, give yourself time and patience.

I also appreciate the price tag on ceramic pieces so much more. Not only is it an item that’s going to last a long time, but it also took a lot of equipment, practice, time, and several steps to make. So when you find a cool ceramic item, plan to spend some money. You’re going to love it forever.

Oh and no one told me this in advance: working with that clay on a wheel is going to make your hands so soft. You’re welcome.

See what else the Big Cartel team is up to these days.