Sunday, December 02, 2012

Buy Handmade vol 37

Today we head to Montana to show off one of my favorite pottery artists:

Name: Jeff Campana
Age: 32
Occupation: Full-time potter
Etsy Shop: CampanaCeramics

Tell us a little about yourself.

Currently living in Helena, Montana, I have been nomadic for about 6 years. Schooling and job opportunities have brought me to the South, the Northeast, and now the Northwest. I grew up in Wisconsin, just outside Madison. I have been a maker all my life, and couldn't imagine doing anything else. I am currently working in the most wonderful studio at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts ( as and Artist in Residence. This place is known and revered in the ceramic art community worldwide. It is extremely competitive to get a residency, which means the 10-20(depending on the time of year) others that I share a studio with are among the best in the country. This position comes with a 2 year limit, and I have 8 months left. I am at once excited about what comes next, and sad that I will have to leave.

When did you start creating and how long have you been on Etsy? 

As long as I can remember I have been into creating, but I found ceramics when I was 15. I have since gotten a BFA and an MFA on the subject, then taught it at various colleges and universities around the US for a few years. I quit my teaching job and became a full time artist in June of 2011. I've been selling work on Etsy since July of 2008.

How did you come up with your business name, is there any special meaning behind it? 

Mine is a pretty simple and straightforward one - my name's Campana and I make Ceramics.

Has your Etsy shop become your full time job? If not, would you like it to be? 

Making art is my full time job, but Etsy sales only account for about 1/5 of my income. I also sell my work in art galleries around the country, do workshops, take on commissions, and collect a Fellowship stipend as an Artist in Residence as the other parts of my income.

How would you describe your creative process?

My creative process is broken into two parts that are in a feedback loop, informing each other.

Invention: New line patterns, forms, and colors are devised and tested on what I call sketch pots, basically sketches in three dimensions and made out of the materials I use for my work. A pot that only has the function of teaching me something. Once a new idea is sussed out to a reasonable degree, I work it into the second part.

Refinement: This is basically making the work, but many things are learned from producing work. This is where proportions and details get fine-tuned. It is not simply making numbers of items. Each piece is made in an attempt to solve a problem or work some little detail out - the feel of a handle, where the colors should shift, how far up or down should the center of gravity be? would the line fit the form better if it crossed the contour up here or down there? There is an endless well of problems to solve.

I should mention here that all the lines you see on my work are actually seams where I have cut the wet pot apart and carefully reattached it. This is unique to my work. I'm the one who invented it, 5 years ago, and I'm still the only one doing it.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I like to think that my inspiration comes from the work itself. It is a conversation I am always having with the material. I do all my own chemistry/mineralogy, so the process is actually much more involved than it appears at first glance. I do inadvertently scoop up outside influences from time to time. My love of the outdoors might be responsible for the botanical quality of my work. Historical pots from ancient China may have weaseled their way into my idea of what a vase should look like, etc. but I do try to look inward as much as possible. I want these things to be pure.

Do you also sell your work at craft shows? 

I have never have tried that, maybe because I've been too nomadic to acquire all the equipment you need for it. It's been a long time since I've known what part of the country I would be living in the following year, which is also a barrier to applying and preparing for that sort of endeavor.

What is your most cherished handmade item?

Years ago, my ceramics professor Charlie gave me a graduation present. He found it while clearing out his wife's great uncle's attic, I think. It is a bizarre tool for some mystery purpose, seemingly woodworking or something, but it's made out of popsicle sticks, cut up cereal boxes, random scraps of wood, and elmer's glue. Despite it's ramshackle material makeup, there are precisely measured points, and it has been carefully crafted. I'm providing a picture because words do it no justice. I love the mystery of it, while it is clear that it is utilitarian. It intrigues me to no end. 

Apart from creating things, what do you like to do?

I love the outdoors. I camp as often as I can. Glacier National Park, only a four hour drive away, is my obsession. I've recently gotten into fishing, and I try to go for a hike a few times a week if possible. There's a small mountain behind my house that is covered in hiking trails, which is great. I also love cooking good food, and traveling.

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be and why?

I'm always inventing things to help me make my work, and love solving problems. If I wasn't making art, I would be attempting a life as an inventor. That or a chef.

Five years from now you will be…

Owning and running a ceramics studio, making my work, hopefully employing one or more others to help me. I would like to have a family of my own, too, but progress on that front has been slow. We'll see. That's all assuming that the world hasn't ended or I haven't won the lottery. If I win the lottery I'll have more than one or two employees helping me in the studio.

Describe yourself in five words:

Autonomous, workaholic, nomadic, creative artist?

Carrying on with the five theme, if I were to turn on your <insert whatever type of music player you use here>, what five artists/songs would I see on your recently played list? 

John Hartford's "John McLaughlin", Carolina Chocolate Drops' "Cornbread and Butterbeans", Black Moth Super Rainbow's "Dreamsicle Bomb", Vetiver's "Luna Sea" and Madvillian's "Fancy Clown"

Lastly, do you have any advice for anyone thinking about opening their own shop or participating in craft shows?
Go for it, but carefully. Allow time for organic growth. Don't quit your day job until you know you'd make more money or have a better life without said job. It can be a pretty amazing lifestyle, but is full of risks. Make a lot of small gambles that you can recover from if you fail, rather than going all in right away. I'm not sure if I like self-employment or being an artist more. Getting to be both is pretty incredible and worth the sacrifices I made.