How to Quit Your Day Job and Start a Ceramics Studio
We can’t get enough beautiful pottery for our humble abodes. Whether we make some super simple Sharpie art on white dishes, gold dip every single vase we own or glam our dressers with DIY gilded ceramic vanity sets, we love being surrounded by stylish ceramics. In this week’s How to Quit Your Day Job, we chat with Courtney Hamill, the designer behind Honeycomb Studio, about how she made the transition from being a nonprofit fundraiser to creating her own line of ceramics full-time.
Meet the Ceramics Pro: Courtney Hamill
During her junior year of college, Courtney on a whim took an introductory course on ceramics and developed a love for clay. When she graduated, Courtney was a full-time ceramics apprentice under Donna Polseno and Richard Hensley, but she also worked in fundraising at a nonprofit for her day job. Courtney loved working on ceramics, and after eight years in the nonprofit world, she decided to take the leap into creating her own pottery studio (which she DIYed herself!) and roll out her own line of ceramics. She launched Honeycomb Studio in 2012 and has been featured in Southern Living, Lonny Magazine and Design*Sponge and by retailers like West Elm and Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.
1. Build things from the ground up. Before officially launching Honeycomb Studio, Courtney knew she needed a physical space to work on her creations. So she did the renovations on a dilapidated, detached garage in her backyard through the power of YouTube construction videos, slowly transforming the squirrel-nest-infested space into a beautiful ceramics studio. She also hired a graphic designer to develop the branding for her Etsy shop, so she could have the website and online store ready to go as soon as she had pottery out of her kiln. “I knew I wanted to lay some solid branding groundwork from the very beginning so I didn’t have to figure that out as I went, and I remain very thankful for that foresight,” shares Courtney. Plan ahead for the basic elements you’ll need for an online shop, like a logo and branding.
2. Put yourself out there. Courtney’s ceramics have been featured in prominent design blogs & magazines and sold in well-known retail shops. Many of these connections came about through blogs she partnered with and posting her work on her Instagram feed. “I’ve come to realize that makers have a very symbiotic relationship with these companies and influencers, so that makes approaching them and maintaining relationships less intimidating to me,” says Courtney. You never know who is paying attention, Courtney confides, so don’t be afraid to promote yourself and your work.
3. Develop your design sense. Everyone’s creative process is different when working on a product line that is about your personal style and branding. Courtney’s ceramics reflect her minimalist yet elegant style. Courtney likens her design process to trying on a new outfit and knowing immediately whether you like it or not: “I work with a restrained glaze palette and have a pretty innate sense of what I do and do not like; therefore, my designs tend to be pretty cohesive.” Spend some time figuring out what you’re drawn to design-wise, and let that inspire you as a creator.
4. Surround yourself with a supportive squad. Starting a creative business from the ground up takes a lot of tenacity, especially when you’re deciding to quit a salaried position for the life of a professional artist. “My husband is my biggest cheerleader, while at the same time pushing me to exceed my comfort zones when it comes to running a business,” says Courtney. Two and a half years after she opened her studio, she had her son Leo. Having systems in place, along with employees who knew how to handle things while she was on maternity leave, made the transition back to work easier. “I now have a full-time studio manager, a part-time production assistant, a part-time admin assistant and seasonal interns. It’s only by investing in these amazing women that Honeycomb Studio has been able to grow at the rate it has, and I still get to be home for dinner every night,” says Courtney. Find the right people to join your team who you can trust to run the biz when you need to step away.
5. The leap is terrifying (and totally worth it). Courtney highly recommends having a solid business plan in place, a semi-viable product income and setting measurable goals to “know whether your business is succeeding or needs to pivot in some way.” Starting a brand-new company is expensive, and Courtney says it’s completely normal to not be profitable right out of the gate, but have a plan in place so you don’t quit before you’ve even really started. On the upside, once you finally get up and running, it’s amazing to be your own boss. “I love that I get to come to work in a creative environment of my own making every day and that every success is a success that I manufactured and every failure is mine to learn from,” says Courtney.
6. Make your work life sustainable. Courtney contends that one of the hardest things about business is learning when and how to invest in its growth. You want to look at the overall big picture and lay down groundwork to keep the ship going in the long-term. Figure out what business model works for you. “By hiring multiple employees and pursuing a more production-minded method of working, I have set Honeycomb Studio up with a very different business model than most of my fellow small-batch ceramicists,” explains Courtney. She’s made major investments in her production-minded method of working, and that helps her maintain her business without working 20 hours a day. “Every business needs to have at least a loose vision of where it wants to end up to help guide those investments,” advises Courtney. If you’re having trouble formulating long-range goals, invest in a business class to help you sort out what you want from your biz.
7. Hustle. The fear of the unknown may be intimidating when you’re deciding to turn your hobby into a fuly fledged gig, but, as Courtney puts it, it’s “the fear of walking that line without a net that is going to push you to succeed.” Her straightforward attitude about the realities of running her ceramics studio keeps her in check. “When it’s just you and your business and those grocery bills are staring you in the face, you’ll hustle in a way you’ve never hustled before,” shares Courtney. Sure, it’ll be tough work, but if you put in the time, effort, determination and passion, you’ll be unstoppable.
Perfect Your Skills
1. Hand-Built Ceramics ($44): This three-part online class teaches you how to make ceramics at home without a potter’s wheel. California ceramicist and designer Linda Fahey shows you every step of setting up a studio at home and then demonstrates three methods for hand-building pottery.
2. Start Your First Creative Business Online Class ($39): Jess Ekstrom, a #girlboss who took her passion to the next level by founding her company Headbands of Hope, walks you through figuring out if your future business idea is profitable. She will help you develop a business plan and target your core customers.
3. How to Build an Online Store ($39): Liz Powers, the founder of ArtLifting, teaches you how to add products to your shop, ship your orders and integrate your personal brand into a Shopify theme. Liz, who started her company’s online shop without any knowledge of HTML or graphic design, is now an expert at launching online stores.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!
(Photos via Honeycomb Studio)