An in-depth interview that may help you decide whether you'd like to become a potter.

I call up Kim Deamude on a sunny evening to ask her about her life as a professional potter. What I soon learn is that pottery is only half the story. In addition to managing Pottery of Pelham, the business she runs out of her home studio, Kim also takes care of five children and a farm with her husband. Clearly, this woman has lots of energy—something that only becomes more obvious once she starts talking about her work.

“On my business card,” she tells me, “it says ‘from clay to art’.” She pauses, and I swear I can hear her smiling. “Because a lot of people make bowls—I make art.”


Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from Niagara, Ontario. I’m a happily married mother of five, and my husband owns a construction company. I’m turning 53 this month.

When did you become a professional potter?

About seven years ago.. it was later in my life when I had the opportunity to take some pottery courses.

You’d never done any pottery before those courses?

In high school we had a great art studio and a really great pottery teacher. So for a couple of years, several times a week, I got to go into the art room and do different types of art. Pottery was one of them. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I did know that I loved it!

I got to go into the art room and do different types of art. Pottery was one of them. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I did know that I loved it!

What attracted you to the craft?

I have always been drawn to handmade pottery. It was just something that I’d notice and usually purchase every time I’d see any at a market or a second hand store.

Tell me a little more about your work. What does a potter do?

Well whether you call me a potter or a ceramic artist it does not matter because I am able make as many mugs and bowls as you want or I can make sculptures and one­-of­-a­-kind pieces. I love the art of it. I also enjoy raku, salt fire, wood fire etc. The possibilities are endless when clay is your medium. I can’t sleep at night because I’m going crazy thinking about all the things I want to create. But if I want to make some money to buy more clay, I usually have to make functional ware that I can sell quickly.

But not everyone is both a potter and a ceramic artist, right? What makes people lean one way or the other?

It’s kind of hard to figure out who you are when you first take a class. You go in and you feel like you’re in Grade 2 and there’s plasticine on the table; you’re hand-building and you’re working with clay. Whether you’re taking it at a college level or just a workshop somewhere at some centre—which is what I did—they start you out with feeling the clay, working with the clay, and seeing if you can understand how clay works. That’s a really big part of becoming a potter. Lots of people love sculpture, mugs and pottery dishes, but then they take a course and they’re blown away by how challenging it is.

How so?

Well, I think you really truly have to have an artistic bone in your body if you’re ever going to get anywhere with it. During a course, I worked with many fellow students who had been taking pottery courses for years and they never seemed to improve. Then you get those who walk in, even in kids classes, and just get it—they just create art! It’s like playing guitar or violin; you actually have to be musical or you’re going to hate it after awhile. You have to have that innate art inside of you.

Can you tell me more about how you got started?

I got into it by “baptism by fire”. I worked with a lady who was a very advanced potter. I took her class, and from day one, I was her apprentice. I started by loading kilns and working on glazes and learning all the technical stuff. I jumped in with both feet and it became my life passion, that’s my nature. By the end of the first year, I had two kilns, two wheels—every piece of used equipment I could get my hands on. I started quickly and very hard.

Is an apprenticeship necessary if you want to get into professional pottery?

I believe so or having a strong mentor is necessary. You cannot just take a class and expect professional success. When you’re working in a studio as an assistant, you have to do all the dirty work for a couple of years. You have to deal with all the technical aspects before you really know if you’re made for this craft.

You have to do all the dirty work for a couple of years. You have to deal with all the technical aspects before you really know if you’re made for this craft.

I would suggest, if you’re crazy about pottery, to go to college or university because the potters who are really successful have a technical understanding behind them.

Do a lot of people end up leaving the trade? What’s the career trajectory like?

I would say that probably 98% of people who try pottery never become a working potter. That’s because it is very expensive. Good art is expensive. Have you ever heard of a wealthy artist? It usually does not pay the bills. You cannot make a living at it, unless you are exceptionally rare and have the passion and drive to make it your life—But how are you going to support yourself while learning the craft? You usually spend far more than you make.

I love the fact that there are opportunities to try pottery everywhere—summer programs, winter classes, courses—that you can explore and learn. But are you actually going to support your family doing it? Not likely.

How do you make a living then? Do you support yourself with your pottery?

Most fellow potters I know have a mate or a family member who works elsewhere. Pottery is usually not the main source of money in the household.

For me, I am happy to cover my expenses so that I can buy more supplies. I’d like to have a bumper sticker that says “I work for clay.”

As you get more established and hopefully your work is recognized as ‘good art’, you sell more and more.

What kind of expenses come with the trade?

Most people do not mine their own clay, they purchase it. Then in your studio, you have to have a pottery wheel and a kiln.

Electricity is another big expense that people don’t think of. Your pieces have to be put into the kiln and fired, which is very costly. There’s also glazes to consider. Finally you have to high fire your pieces—re-fire them at an even higher temperature. That takes more money and more time. You have to factor in hours of work. Hence why, when you go into a store, pottery is expensive.

So how do you make money then?

It’s hard now to take your piece and sell it. The most common way is to take your work to a market and you put your wares out on display. They’re called artisan markets and they occur many times a year, in many different places. You drive around to different markets on different days of the week. You may not make a lot of money, but there’s a social aspect to it as well. That’s the most common way.

You can also sell in specialty stores or art galleries but that can be difficult because they often want 20-30% of the sale.

Because I have my own studio at home, I can host my own shows, which is fun. I have classes in which I’ll take in maybe three or four students for a workshop. For me, that’s what works, teaching classes, kids birthday parties and stuff like that, and then some day workshops at schools as well. Which is really a lot of loving volunteer work!

What does a typical day involve?

Pottery is a long process; from the time you make your piece to the time it’s ready, it’s about two weeks.

If just one piece in the kiln has a defect or air bubble, it can blow up and damage all the other pieces, then there is trimming and glazing to do well, it’s a high risk business.

If just one piece in the kiln has a defect or an air bubble, it can blow up and damage all the other pieces... It’s a high risk business.

Tell me a little about the culture of the industry. What’s the pottery community like?

It is a magnificent world. Once you stick your foot into the puddle of pottery you're in love! There are so many shows, so many venues. There’s nothing you can’t make, and there are no two artists alike. There is no end to the possibilities... I love making raku, salt fire, woodfire... it is endless what you can get into.

It’s fantastic. It's inspirational, timeless. It’s also a very dirty business, heavy, physically demanding. Clay is not an easy medium to work with.

Would you describe pottery a social career?

It can be a hugely social profession. You’re constantly going to places to sell your wares and taking workshops sharing ideas and passions.

But most of us also love having that quiet time in the studio working on our pieces, because if you actually are an artist, you can’t think when there are other people around. If I’m in a room with 15 or 20 other people, I can’t create.

I need to set aside time for myself. I need to go to the studio, get the absolute right atmosphere going. I need my peace and quiet, my incense, my glass of wine, my radio—I need my environment to be creative/healing.

I need to set aside time for myself. I need to go to the studio, get the absolute right atmosphere going. I need my peace and quiet, my incense, my glass of wine, my radio—I need my environment to be creative/healing.

Is having some kind of daily routine pretty crucial to your work?

When you’re an artist, I’ve found you have to be in the mood, have to be in the ‘zone’. For example, today there was too much noise going on, and I didn’t have the ability to create anything new. However, I was able to spend a ton of time doing prep work and organizing and glazing and cleaning. You can spend a lot of time sanding and trimming and working before you all of a sudden have a fabulous day and you can’t stop creating. You might go twelve hours straight. It just oozes out of you. Very often I have to apologize to the kids because I didn’t make supper.

Tell me more about your studio. What’s your workspace like?

Oh my gosh you can’t be afraid to get dirty! A pottery studio can be such a dirty, messy environment. You’re not supposed to stick your hands in the glaze because it’s toxic, you’re not supposed to breath the clay dust particles, so you have to wear a mask. Your space has to be well ventilated or your house could burn down. Everything has to meet code! So you can’t just be a messy packrat and work in this field. Good potters have a clean work environment, are well organized, and produce quality ware.

What kind of hours do you typically work?

I try to set aside some time every day in which I’m doing something to do with my craft—even just sorting, cleaning or labeling. Today, I was doing inventory: assessing what I have, loading, cleaning, and packaging. You can’t just wing it; you actually have to be organized and orderly. Because once you get into it, you can’t just stop—clay dries out, kilns are firing and stuff happens. You have to stay focused.

I spend about 20 hours a week as a part­-time potter in my own studio. In the summer, I have a lot of grass cutting etc., (we have a very big farm), but in the winter time, I am able to do a lot more pottery.

How would you describe your work­ life balance?

Very balanced. But I’m a balanced person. You can become obsessed with it. If it’s something that you’re very, very passionate about, you want to do it full­-time. But it’s also physical, so you have to rest your body. You can’t just sit there, hunched over the wheel and focused on your work for a very long time. It’s intense. You need to get out and breath air and smell the roses. I would highly recommend that no one does this more than six hours a day.

I’ve had some wonderful teachers that I’ve taken courses with, and they say the same thing: you’ve got to get out of your studio, or it becomes an uncreative environment. You lose your energy—you have to have positive energy to make good pottery. Or you’re just not creative, and then it becomes a chore. You don’t ever want your craft to become a chore.

You have to have positive energy to make good pottery. Or you’re just not creative, and then it becomes a chore. You don’t ever want your craft to become a chore.

What’s the best thing about your career?

People have such an appreciation for something that’s well crafted, something that’s a tremendous pleasure to look at, to touch. I am humbled every single day by people who ask, “How did you do that?” My kids have been watching me come up from my studio with new pieces on a weekly basis for years, and they still say, “Oh, wow mom!” That's my reward!!!

I also very much love that it’s tactile—pottery is a very tactile thing. I believe that we are of the earth—we are made of dirt and air—and when you have the privilege of working with the earth, working with something that is made of the earth itself, it becomes very healing and very spiritual. Of course, it can be demanding and disappointing too. I love the yin and yang of it.

That’s how you know if you're in the right field—if that’s how you feel about your work.

When you have the privilege of working with the earth, working with something that is made of the earth itself, it becomes very healing and very spiritual.

What’s the worst thing about being a potter?

The disappointment when pieces don't turn out the way you hoped or when you have worked really, really hard and you have a whole set of beautiful pieces made and the glaze didn’t work out or your kiln failed. It’s very sensitive—a very sensitive medium to work with. Anything can go wrong. You can have two pieces sitting on the exact same kiln shelf, fired the same, glazed the same, made the same, and one is completely wrong and one is magnificent. I guess that word would be “uncertainty”: uncertainty of each piece turning out.

Why is this work a good fit for you?

Because I’m making things that are useful—I’m making vessels that can be used and appreciated. I feel very grateful that I’m creating something that will last for generations. I know my potter friends say the same thing: it’s about creating something with clay that’s lasting, timeless.

What piece of advice would you give to someone considering getting into pottery?

Do not buy equipment the first year, I try to talk people out of it. They take a class, they love it, and then they want to buy a pottery wheel. But you also have to fire your pieces, and to do that, you have to try to find somewhere that’s going to allow you kiln time. To this day, I don’t know of one location that will do that. So now you have to buy a kiln too, and you’re getting into big money.

Like I said, 98% of people can’t sustain themselves with this work. It’s a wonderful thing to take classes and make stuff at the centre, and that’s reasonable. You’ve got all the equipment there, the glaze there, the mess there. If you really love it, then definitely sign up for an art course and enjoy it. Enjoy it, enjoy it, enjoy it. Keep doing that. But unless you’re absolutely determined to commit your time and energy and money, don’t buy equipment.

Unless you are someone who cannot live without making art. Someone who is obsessed with it, who doesn’t fit anywhere else. You also have to be a good business person. You have to be able to handle people, you have to be able to handle finances.

I like to make art, pottery-I do not like to go to shows. But you have to do both: to be able to handle selling your works publicly as well as being a creative artist.

Unless you’re absolutely determined to commit your time and energy and money, don’t buy equipment.

What’s the biggest misconception about what you do?

That you can make money at it. I know many who are good potters, they can make beautiful wares, but they can’t sustain themselves solely with their work.

What do you wish you had known before going into this line of work?

Just how much I loved it! I wish I had started earlier! I love it in every way, shape, and form.

But I never took time for myself, having five children. I never wanted to be a burden by taking on a hobby that was expensive and didn’t support the family. But then my husband put his foot down and said, “Oh for goodness sakes Kimmy, we don’t need the money. Go freakin' do it!” He is still beyond supportive. And I am grateful.