Sometime ago, before the days grew shorter and while the sun hung brighter I drove down an island rode that extends to greet the sea.
It is with great pleasure I introduce you to Paula West Pottery. It was an honor to spend a morning with her, to watch her hands craft and to listen to her heart.
Baby by the Sea: What inspired you to start your own business? How do you keep yourself motivated and inspired?
Paula West: I was inspired to simply be able to do it more, and by more I mean more of the time than just a hobby. I really didn’t think abut the business part as much as just being able to work in the studio. I really felt the determination to want to make it work, to make it successful so that it is what I can keep doing.
Keeping creativity motivated and inspired involves just keeping with it. It’s a challenge, so I take breaks when I need it. Sometimes I just need to do what I need to do to feed my family, always remembering that breaks help me avoid the drudgery that makes it feel like a job.
If I just make things that sell it would take over my inspiration to create new pieces. Sometimes I just need to take a break from it all and I go get outside.
It’s been five years doing this full time and it’s just this past year I’ve felt, wow I have to make more mugs because they’re in demand! With enough balance, it’s great and I’m so lucky to have to go throw mugs.
Baby by the Sea: What pieces do you feel most known for?
Paula West: I’d say I’m most known for my mugs.
Cups are things that are most usable and most easy to relate to. It’s such an intimate thing to use, to casually put to our mouth and something we use everyday. I believe things we take into our lives and use each day are flattering to have the opportunity to create.
Paula West: I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands. In high school I began with knitting and sewing. Then, I started clay in high school with a great pottery teacher.
I was drawn to the usefulness of creating something artistic.
I enjoy working with my hands and making things I can use.
In college, I can remember the look and smell of touring studios and thinking, wow people do this?
I took studio classes with a ceramics focus.
I ended up working for a potter in California. I saw an ad for an assistant in CA, so I packed up and went down there and landed in a studio and stayed with her. It was life changing. She was very open I worked with her for a while. She made functional pieces, so it was a great opportunity learning about selling and running a business.
In 1993 I moved here, I slowly acquired equipment, set up this studio. One summer I met Joe, now a cabinetmaker with Ravenhill Construction. We had kids and figured out how to get an hour or two of work in with the baby monitor – I was determined. For five or six years I did Folk Life, Bumbershoot and Duck Soup, and thought I’ve got to see if I can make money with it or else I’ll always wonder if I can make it! We weren’t ever necessarily going to stay here, but now here we are. I think that’s the story of a lot of islanders.
Baby by the Sea: Let’s talk about your business. What’s your big secret?
Paula West: Well, it’s the constant shifting from other work and how that shifting plays out. Once I let go of other work, my current works evolve into wonderful things. As far as money and successful business practice, it is successful in that I make what I made when I was working outside of this current space, this studio.
Baby by the Sea: What is your favorite/most challenging part of the job?
Paula West: To pull something out of the kiln and it see that it works and it so just so comes together. Everything has something to it that is so appealing. Throwing and making work, oh there are just so many aspects: decorating, carving.
Sometimes there is difficultly in 24 pieces that need trimmed feet and its repetitive and it feels like a hurtle to finish one piece at a time and find a groove.
Sometimes there’s disappointment in a crack where I think, I had this figured out and what happened; why did all my handles crack?
Baby by the Sea: How does the balance of work and family play out for you?
Paula West: Hmmm…it’s constantly a challenge to balance working at home. I love being with my boys and I love how I can check on them. At 12 and 15, they don’t need to be by themselves for too long. I need to be close enough to say, put down the video game, pick up the book or put down the chips and go outside. So, they’re good boys. So, here I am, close next door working and far from being distracted by laundry. There are times when I’m so in it, you know, working all day. Sometimes I just have to set time aside and say ok we’re going to the beach and it feels balanced. But there are times when it isn’t that easy. Sometimes family suffers and sometime work suffers. Before we know it our boys will be gone, so we’re trying to appreciate the distraction of our boys because before we know it they’ll be gone.
For today’s giveaway, Paula West Pottery is generously offering the following gift to ONE lucky winner:
~ This wonderful little pitcher is high in functionality, making a great creamer, vase, maple syrup server, or just about anything your heart can dream up.
It’s art, so it looks exquisite sitting atop a piano or shelf. You’ll love it.
So excited to pass a little piece of the island to Mama May I.
[Thank you Random Generator for answering my wish on crossed fingers.]