5 questions with the namesake artist behind Etsy shop Sara Paloma Pottery
Where do you get your design inspiration? Are there any hints of the Western lifestyle in your aesthetic?
I draw inspiration from many places–industrial design, architecture, geology, thrift store bric-a-brac, the book I’m listening to–anything well crafted can be inspiration. I just returned from my first trip to Italy and I am waiting to see how all the amazing things we saw will affect my work. So far, the experience has made me want to work less and enjoy life more. I also think an awareness of light and space in my work is something I share with a lot of artists living on the West Coast, past and present.
Where does the magic happen? Describe your work space.
I live in a large, live/work loft in Emeryville, California, with my husband Tom, and our two small kids. The kilns are in the living room behind bookshelves; my two studios are in rooms off the main space, one for throwing and trimming and the other for glazing and displaying finished work. There are glass windows in each studio that look onto our living room so I can see what’s going on in the house. There are pros and cons to having your work/art/business in the same physical space as your home life–the most obvious con being that you can never really clock out–but a quiet house, a glass of red wine, a good audio book, and 100 pounds of fresh clay to throw = magic.
How did you learn your craft?
I first learned wheel throwing and ceramic sculpting in college at Cal State Long Beach, where I was half-heartedly majoring in Art Education. Ceramics classes were part of the requirement and I knew instantly that it was what I wanted to do. This was in the 90s, way before Etsy and the resurgence of modern craft, and to say you wanted to be a potter seemed akin to taking an oath of poverty. My parents were less than thrilled at first. After graduation I got my own wheel and kiln and always lived in places where I could make a studio in the garage. I had jobs in a museum, waitressing, animation, apartment managing, and I did my work in my free time. I did more “art” pottery then, more like sculpture, and applied to juried art shows and was so happy to get in, I didn’t mind at all that nothing ever sold. Nobody I knew was selling their work. We all just did it because we loved to do it. I kind of marvel at that person I was.
Any advice for how aspiring artisans can get started?
I had a very long time to develop my own style in clay, and because there was no Internet as we know it today, I was not burdened with knowing too much about what everyone else was doing and, more importantly, what everyone else was selling. I think it must be enormously tempting for young craftspeople to just copy what they see “selling like hotcakes” on Etsy. I would advise artisans just starting out to protect themselves from the marketplace as much as possible for as long as you can–have a series of weird, quirky day jobs, work in the corporate world for awhile, try it all–but don’t settle in to doing your craft for money too early. It’s like getting married too young or showing up at a party at 7:30. Sure, people do it and manage alright, but it’s way more fun if you hold off and do a lot of other things first.
Describe your favorite or best piece. Did you sell it or keep it or gift it?
My favorite piece I ever made was about 15 years ago. It was a ceramic pedestal with a winged cup form sitting on top. The pedestal had writing stamped into it with directions on how to make something. I don’t remember what, but it was taken out of a 1950s book on mechanics. I also did these technical drawings of the winged form on the pedestal. I was in my 20s, and at that time every idea I had for a piece was written, hen sculpted, and then painted on the piece–to make sure you got the point! This particular piece got into some juried art show and came back broken (and unsold, of course). I taped it back together from the inside and gave it to my friend Sean for a wedding gift (classy). I keep meaning to tell him to redo the tape.
What’s your favorite Etsy shop, other than your own?
My newest Etsy favorite is a clothing designer in the Netherlands, Thongbai Tatong. I just bought a dress and a skirt from her that I love.