I may have only been in the professional crafting business for a few months, but they have been months full of incredible people. The crafting community is one of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration, and I am so blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful veteran crafters. Over the coming months, I will be sharing with you profiles of some of the amazing artists I’ve met.
The first such artist is Jarita Thomson, a Missouri potter and artist who is the creative force behind Jarita’s Creations.
Last fall, I created my very first Treasury on Etsy, Fall is Upon Us, and happened to come across Jarita’s Tiny Little Home while looking for fall-themed items to fill the treasury. When I contacted Jarita to let her know I’d included one of her beautiful items in my treasury, she responded with an invitation to become friends on Facebook, an invitation I gladly accepted.
Since last October, I’ve had a great time keeping up with the latest news from Jarita’s studio, including fun photos of her works in progress. When I decided I wanted to include artist profiles and interviews on my blog, Jarita was an obvious choice for the first artist profiled. My interview with her is below, and you can click any of the photos to zoom in and see her work in all its intricate detail.
May Jarita’s discussion of her work inspire you as much as it has me!
How did you get your start as an artist?
The happiest moments of my childhood were spent creating and crafting. I first learned to crochet when I was only 4 years old. I learned embroidery, sewing (by hand and by machine), needlepoint, quilting, basic woodworking, simple beadwork, photography, calligraphy, and many more crafts while growing up.
My first in-depth exposure to clay, though, occurred as an adult at an MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) Arts & Crafts Shop at Ft. Irwin, CA. I learned slip-casting in manufactured molds and some basics on firing an electric kiln. When an item is slip-cast, there is excess clay, which I would hand-build into roses and leaves. Over time, I felt that I wanted to take my work to the next level, so I attended a class at the local community college. I possess some moderate physical challenges that prevent me from throwing pottery on the potter’s wheel, yet the very kind professor focused his instruction on the wheel, so he encouraged me to research hand-building pottery on my own.
Overall, I am a self-taught potter, and I have gained a lot of cumulative knowledge over the past 21 years. Pottery and clay fascinate me! Due to the malleable nature of the clay body before firing, the potter can shape the clay into incredibly fluid configurations which will be frozen into a state of permanence after firing. The chemical and magical changes that occur to the finishing techniques (such as glazing) during the firing process add to my fascination. The magic of the Earth draws me to clay as the medium for my artistic expressions.
Describe your artistic process.
I hand-build each piece of pottery and jewelry with great attention to detail creating vases that will complement the flowers within, candle cups that will encourage the firelight to dance, faerie-style birdhouses that inspire the hope of new beginnings, and earthy jewelry that encompasses the magic of the forest. Although I was first introduced to ceramics about 21 years ago, I have been developing my own ceramic art for over 12 years – learning, growing, and creating new designs and techniques.
I like taking my time to assure beautiful artwork. It makes me feel better, and I hope it is appreciated by my customers, but honestly, I take my time because I like taking my time. I love watching a piece develop; I actually savor the slow progress and developing process. Whether it’s a pile of beads entwining into an elegant necklace or a lump of clay developing into a decorative, semi-functional piece of artwork, it fascinates me to watch the metamorphosis and know that my hands and creativity played an essential role.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Nature is my inspiration! She has provided us with an amazing display of gifts for our enjoyment. All of the leaves in their diversity are beautifully fascinating yet they are so fleeting – so transient. Clay is magical in that when subjected to extreme heat, it transforms from a malleable material to a hard, stone-like substance. I strive to interpret Nature’s creations into an artistic representation that maintains a degree of permanence. Usually, I hold an idea in my mind of what I wish to create. This idea is somewhat general and leaves room for altering and incorporating additional details throughout the building process. Then, I open up my spirit and begin building. I think about the required details of the process such as sagging concerns, solid attachments, and firing requirements, but I simply allow the overall flow of the piece to occur naturally.
What factors influence your artistic choices?
When I was a teenager, my mom and I would go browse craft shows. We didn’t go to actually buy things. We went to see things. We would look at the handcrafted items and figure out how it was made. We discovered that we could make almost everything there for a lot less money and without too much difficulty. This observation has greatly influenced my life and my artwork.
You see, I want to make special things. I don’t want my work easily replicated. Why would someone buy something from me if they could just go home and easily make it themselves? I strive to create artwork that draws admiration and a desire to possess the unique item as I have created it. I don’t want them to take the idea home; I want them to take the actual item home.
Many factors influence my work: time, availability of materials, investment monies, inspirations, and me – my soul, my principals, my thoughts, my likes and dislikes, my past, and my dreams. I sincerely hope that these influences affect my work in a positive way and that others will always find my creations pleasing. I will never stop creating new things or exploring new ideas. I don’t think I can stop. It is as much a part of me as breathing, eating, and caring about my family.
What has been your most rewarding project as an artist?
I find most of my work to be rewarding, and my perception of satisfaction changes with my moods and the amount of time since I overcame the challenge.
In fact, to me, it is that overcoming of challenges that is the most rewarding. I think that the initial steps of learning to hand-coil bottles was extremely rewarding. Then, as time passed, I stepped up to the next challenge and developed sufficient skill and designed long, curvy necks on my bottles. These pieces still thrill me to this day. So, although it is hard to point out a single project that has been the most rewarding, I would probably say that overcoming the challenges involved in creating hand-coiled bottles with long, curvy necks has stood out in my mind as one of my most satisfying moments.
What is your favorite crafting technique?
I hand-build all my pottery. I do not throw any work on a potter’s wheel, partially due to physical limitations, but also because hand-building is more appealing to me. The slow, intimate manipulation of the clay brings me a sense of peace and focus. My designs require my hands to be directly involved, manipulating the clay in a thoughtful manner.
When I build a birdhouse with the wood-grain texture, I imagine a tree, the bark upon that tree, and the slightly uneven fullness of the tree. I add the leaves where they will look flowing and natural. The perch and hanging vine need to harmonize with the overall piece. All the individual components need to come together like they were created from the Earth’s magic. This birdhouse starts with a simple slab of clay which I shape, add texture, cut into and out of … manipulate… until it becomes the birdhouse that I imagined.
After the first firing, I add various, multiple finishing techniques and once again subject it to extreme heat. Sometimes, the piece is fired in an electric kiln to stoneware temperature and will be water-tight and weather resistant. Other times, the artwork will be put to more direct flames and extreme thermal shock in the raku process of firing. The American form of raku is truly a mix between chemical reactions and the magic of the flames. It is a fascinating process which can develop a wide array of coppery hues from deep forest green to shiny golden copper, rich burnt reds, and metallic purples and silvers, all dancing and blending together like the flames from which they are created.
The Business of Crafting
Why did you decide to make the transition from hobby crafter to artistic businesswoman?
I’m a dreamer. While I am creating my artwork, I sometimes dream of how or where it would be displayed. I imagine my grape leaves raku vase setting on a hallway table greeting someone who lives in a city where the grape vines aren’t growing. How can this person enjoy the vase unless I make it available to them?
At some point, I don’t know when or where, I felt that I was no longer creating my artwork solely to learn how to make it, but instead I was making it for the pleasure of others. My own pleasure is simply in the creation and sharing. I feel no need to retain it for myself. It has almost always been natural to provide my artwork to others. Of course, there is the practical side that receiving a fair compensation allows me to purchase supplies so I may continue to create new artwork to share with someone else. So, I am a business person so that I may continue to create and share.
How did you find Etsy?
I belong to several chat groups, including PotteryBasics and Clayart, where other members have Etsy shops. I investigated their shops and felt that it would be a good market place for my work also. I liked the user friendly format, the fees were reasonable, and the current shops were of comparable quality. I also did some research and noted that Etsy came up quickly in all the different search engines under a variety of different applicable phrases. Some of the shops advertise in major magazines which draws more people to the world of Etsy, and Etsy itself works hard on promoting the site including news features on major television networks.
What do you find most difficult about being an artistic entrepreneur?
Marketing is the most difficult part, I think. Etsy is a great asset along with internet networking sites like Facebook. Overall, though, marketing remains my weakest link. To market better, I need to be more focused, invest more time in my Etsy shop and Facebook activity, and incorporate more craft shows where I need to pass out lots of business cards directing browsers to visit my Etsy shop.
I have attempted a blog, but in prioritizing my time, found that I couldn’t maintain it well. I felt that my computer time was better utilized tending my Etsy shop and networking through Facebook. I have connected with many of my customers, some of my Etsy team members, and many, many fellow potters through Facebook. It is my second-favorite marketing tool, after Etsy itself.
What are the most rewarding aspects of being an artistic entrepreneur?
As much as I love creating my artwork, it always feels incomplete until it finds a good home where it will be appreciated for many years. Sharing my artwork, my creations, with others is a critical part of my creative process.
I feel that magic is necessary for contentment and joy in life. My artwork is a celebration of that magic. I am awestruck at the incredible magic and beauty of the Earth’s creations and I attempt to share my admiration for what Nature has created by recreating a personal interpretation in my artwork. The variety of leaves and the magic within them inspire me. I hope that through my creations, others may bring this joy into their homes and appreciate the magic of Nature’s creations.