Visiting Artist: Curious Clay
This November Moon + Arrow is hosting some incredible local makers including, Curious Clay. Janna is a local ceramicist who specializes in creating items that truly feel handmade. Her work includes incredible gold luster detailing on slab built pieces that reflect the artists' touch in every piece. We sat down with Janna to learn more about Curious Clay.
Q: How did you start your business? The short answer is with an intention I set forth when I was a teeneager. The long answer: I took singular ceramic classes in high school and college, but never pursued it seriously. When I finished my grad program, I was waiting tables and desperate to re-engage with a creative community and attending gallery openings isn’t really my favorite thing. Thanks to a friend from grad school, I was referred to Marguerita Hagan’s in-home classes. Within 6 months, I had a body of work (ever evolving), and was accepted to Art Star’s Craft Bazaar on mother’s day weekend. I credit Megan and Erin with giving me my first true platform. With the sort of response and support I got from that first big show, I continued applying (and getting into) other area craft shows, and eventually NYC-based shows. I slowly started collecting Philly-based stockists, which was my introduction to understanding the world of wholesale.
Circling back around to my “short answer”; I’ve always wanted to “be an artist”. The definition of what that means has changed over the years, but I have always wanted to support myself from my art.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration from when making new objects? Very specifically contemporary ceramic artists that I admire. I used to paint the same way. In art school, you study art history, and artists of the past. You find the ones you are most drawn to and you make work like them. You do this for a long enough time, and you depart from simply copying to finding your own voice. I feel that, for me, originality comes about organically in self-reference. I started by exploring the medium, then I began emulating work that I admired. In playing with form and pattern, I found elements that felt most like me. I fell in love with the idea of invention, and finding a new approach to a familiar form.
Q: How is Curious Clay doing? Is there anything exciting coming up for you in the future? what are you planning for Curious Clay in the new year? More of the same. I love being able to send small batches of my work all over the country. I am going to continue wholesaling with Faire, but I’ll be taking it much easier; smaller amounts of orders with longer production times. I want to develop more homewares - trivets, soap dishes, coffee table objects. And I think I’m going to make items in more limited quantities; ie offer a vase for a few months, then retire it. I also need to be better about upkeep my webshop. I get inquiries about private purchases and can’t deliver or take additional orders, because I’m swamped; so I’d like to balance that a lot more. I also want to leave Philly, but we’ll get to that later.
Q: How has it been making while being a mother and taking care of a toddler!? Well, I have to admit, it’s both incredibly easy and incredibly difficult. Motherhood has presented lots of dualisms for me. I feel lucky my daughter is such a good little kid, but it’s getting more challenging. I haven’t been building CC with a toddler all this time - she started out a sleepy little infant! She was raised around my work schedule, or rather my work happens around raising her. Either way, she is disinterested in all the things I wouldn’t want her getting into and touching. Any other kid coming into a studio like mine might want to explore more, but it’s sort of all hum-drum for Marlow, at this point.
Q: What struggles and strengths have you encountered throughout this process? I have always struggled with the business end of things. I regret going to college and gra school; not for the actual experience of it, but for the lack of real-world tools taught in both arenas. There is so much I’ve had to learn the hard way; from shipping and book-keeping to policy making and buyer product development. Some mistakes I’ll make only once; the most recent I have in mind is this whole year, and saying yes to orders more than I should have. I’m afraid the bubble will burst, so I’ve been trying to make it all count.
Q: What do you love about Philadelphia and being an artist in Philadelphia? I do owe a lot to my geographical location. However, I don’t love much about this city. After having a child, I see the city (and the world) with a different lens. My relationships from art school have been important, and they got me to where I am now. As far as the city goes, I feel that I’ve outgrown the grittiness of it. I lament the loss of visiting M+A more than anything!
Q: How has your business changed since Covid-19?
I used to pack up my inventory, display and my tent several times a month to attend craft shows. This year, I was going to try a new one, based in the Hudson Valley. Once the shutdown happened in March, it quickly became apparent the rest of the year was going to be canceled for craft shows. It was a lot of laborious work, without guaranteed income. Not to mention dealing with whatever the weather wanted to do, and don’t even get me started on windy shows! This aspect of a small craft business used to be very important for CC, both for income and exposure. But I don’t miss it in the least.
I have shifted to fulfilling wholesale orders on Faire. Since January, I’ve acquired 140 new stockists (not all perfect matches, but I’m ok with that). My work is carried in dozens of stores (both web-based & brick-and-mortar) across the US and Canada. It was just stupidly good timing to make the shift on to a wholesale site like Faire. I continue to work constantly; both at Bok and at my home, after-hours (third shift, as my dad would say). I am so lucky that the demand for my work exists, and I don’t take it for granted. Even if we hadn’t been on lock-down for 3+ months, I wouldn’t have had time for social engagements or craft shows. I feel extremely focused and driven right now, regardless of the state of the world. So many businesses (like M+A) have made a strong pivot to web shopping. Again, even though it feels like bad timing for much of the world, I’m so grateful that it feels like the struggle is over.