Julie grew up in rural Illinois and graduated with her BFA in ceramics from Southern Illinois University in 1994. She earned her MFA in studio art from Florida State University in 2008 and has lived in Tallahassee with her husband and their two dogs ever since. In 2015, she opened her studio and brick and mortar shop at The Cottages at Lake Ella. She makes small editions and one-of-a-kind pieces that are handmade and fired 3-5 times, creating a unique blend of nostalgia and contemporary style.
Since graduating from FSU I have completed two regional residencies; each one year long. Although I was making completely different work at each residency, they both allowed me access to the public where I received feedback and sales opportunities. This interaction was really important since what I missed the most after graduate school was the constant feedback about my work.
After I decided to stop making sculptural work and focus on functional ceramics, I also took several opportunities to learn about the business of selling my work through community workshops, classes, women’s entrepreneur groups, business organizations and clubs. I think this is an essential component of learning about marketing, selling/serving, and other business practices that we aren’t taught in art school. But more importantly, these events and interactions allowed me to learn how to speak to real people about my work. We tend to use so much “art speak” in school that we don’t know how to talk to people about our work in a relatable way. I think this is intentional in some art circles, museums and galleries. There is a certain elitism that exists in the art world, which allows us to stay in our own little club and pretend that we are somehow more important or even better than those who are viewing our work. When I made the decision to start making a living by selling my artwork, this thinking had to go. If the artist can’t form a relationship with her audience, then the audience isn’t going to buy her work. As a potter, making a connection with the people who use my work is very important to me. Last year, I moved my tiny home studio into a 1000 sq. ft. studio space. My focus has become about selling my work and using best business practices. I am now a full-time studio artist.
My time at FSU taught me how to talk about my work in a more cohesive way. It gave me the time to research the history behind my ideas, both in a personal and cultural context. I generally work in an intuitive and spontaneous way but as a graduate student I was forced out of that box and I learned to think about every artistic decision I was making before I made it. Even though I am now back to making intuitive decisions, that kind of analytic thinking gave me more confidence in my creative abilities. Understanding why I work the way I do is important as a reflection of myself, and my place in the world. It took me a few years after I graduated to get to this place but I feel comfortable now that I’m here.
The first piece of advice I would give to other students is that your story is your own and your path doesn’t look like everyone else’s. Just because your professors, parents or friends think your life or work should look a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. It has taken me years to be okay with “just being a potter” instead of an installation artist, an academic, or a big city artist. Once I shed everyone else’s expectations I felt very free and happy. Don’t go through life wanting what other people have. Figure out what you want and be okay with it. It will be better than okay, it will be wonderful. I say this as if it’s easy. It’s not, but you’ll know when you get there, trust me.
The second piece of advice is to be constantly re-evaluating everything. What’s working? What’s not? What parts of your process do you like and what aspects can you eliminate or delegate to someone else? I hate applying to shows so I stopped. I wasn’t selling enough work in the five galleries I was represented by so I had all the work returned. I started making work that was less labor intensive and has a lower price point, and started selling online and in shops. I am not good at photographing my work, so I stopped making one of-a-kind pieces and started making work that is easily reproducible. I could then hire a professional photographer to photograph it all at once. I stopped doing the things that are supposed to bring name recognition and started doing the things that bring in the money. I am constantly setting new goals and figuring out how to accomplish them, and I am always learning something new about how this whole thing works.