Interview: Runaway Success with One Clay Bead

I was delighted to score an interview with Lee of the very popular One Clay Bead. Her work is often featured on Etsy’s front page, and she’s the first to admit that  the success of her Etsy store is like a “runaway train.” She’s on Craftcount’s top 25 list for ceramic and pottery sellers, as she’s raked in more than 1,700 sales since opening in 2009.
Your pottery is so vibrant, yet earthy! What inspires these beautiful creations?

My work emerges from the colors and organic form in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where I live, and from east coast beaches where I vacation.

Please describe your “zone.” What’s it like when you’re creating your pottery?

I use my studio as a sanctuary, a retreat. I put aside all of the left brain biz side of my work and open myself, with prayer and Buddhist mindfulness meditation, to this crazy joy that I get from creativity. A deeply intuitive part of me evaluates the work and directs its course. I make weekly production lists that are flexible, as I allow myself to follow experimental impulses. I will scrap a thrown shape if it doesn’t feel right, even if the dimensions are accurate. The subtle gesture of form has to feel right, has to feel alive.

Do you have your own kiln and studio space?

Yes. I have 2 kilns, 2 wheels, a hand building and glazing table, an area to recycle clay, and another to mix glazes from raw materials.

What is your typical day like?

I drink coffee and do Etsy biz from 7am- til mid morning, exercise by taking a nature walk or on my elliptic, and then work in the studio. My husband now comes home from work and packs pottery for several hours while I work more after dinner, but this has got to change! My Etsy store, and that of my teen daughter, are like runaway trains. I’m training someone to handle some of the business and packing so that Ken and I can get back to having a home cooked dinner and having free time together. We used to contra dance and waltz several times a week and I miss that.

You have racked up quite a few sales in your two years of business. I appreciate all of the information you share about your success on your blog. What was that first Etsy sale like for you back on January 27, 2009?

I started my Etsy store after my husband lost his job in the 2008 recession. At the same time, credit to galleries was frozen, and my wholesale buyers couldn’t place orders. We were almost paralyzed by fear at the time, and the first few buyers that I had felt like angels shining beacons of hope and saying ‘it will be okay.’ Rationally, I know that they were just people who wanted a piece of pottery or jewelry, but it impacted our lives greatly. I’ve had a huge sense of appreciation for all of my buyers since!

What piece of advice would you offer an Etsy newbie waiting for their first sale?

Don’t passively wait!

The successful Etsy stores are not accidents, they are the result of shop owners who are learning and evolving constantly. Work on your skill levels, design something original and then learn how to present and promote it.

I loved your blog article that featured the behind-the-scenes of your home business. You look quite busy! Do you have any big leaps in store for your handmade business?

Right now I’m catching up to the unexpected leap that my Etsy store has taken. I had planned for a 20% increase in sales but it looks more like my gross sales will double this year, ie, a 100% increase. I’m training help now for the holiday season. I can’t let customer service or quality slide; I value my buyers too much, and want them to get a handmade piece that they really truly love. That’s the whole point of what I do!

Bridal Registry at One Clay Bead!

You offer a bridal registry in your shop, which I think is both fantastic and clever. How has that category opened up your shop to new business?

I love Bridal Registries! I cannot handle all of the requests that I get for them, and only take one couple at a time. Each one brings at least 30-60 new buyers to Etsy, and to my store. Many later purchase pieces for themselves, so it always grows my business.

What has been your best marketing strategy for One Clay Bead?

The more time that one spends on new and unique designs, the less time you need to spend marketing. I have focused on learning the photography and staging, so that my images are immediately eye catching. Those who are seeking work for blogs, treasuries, and magazine features have been kind enough to feature my work. I also make treasuries filled with the things that I love, and have joined Etsy teams with other shops whose work I enjoy promoting. They, in turn, feature me. I formed Artisans Gallery Team using my 35 years of experience in gallery management so that we can collectively keep fine artisan work visible on Etsy. This team in particular has helped me connect with the buyers who use Etsy to find works of exceptional value.

I’m taking a question from one of your interviews: Do you think artists are born, or made?

lol, it’s a great question, isn’t it! I will disagree with many when I say that I believe that great artists are born, although many will never use those innate talents. If you are one of those people who feels like you are on fire with creative ideas, who instantly begins to make something when given certain raw materials, or who has a narrative, a story, in your head about your daily life, I think that there are gifts inside you waiting to emerge. An artist is someone with that inborn talent who can learn to master and ride the wild untamed energy.
Your daughter was featured in Seventeen magazine for her pottery shop, MarciG. How proud are you?!

I’m proud of Marci for many things, such as her willingness to work and play hard, to give generously of her time, and to explore her individuality through creativity at a time in her life when conformity is so highly rewarded! I am very grateful to Seventeen for seeking out young girls such as Marci and holding them up as role models. It encourages teen girls to develop their talents and use their brains, and to take pride in who they are on the inside. The feature in Seventeen came out a few days after Marci’s 17th birthday, and gave her the courage to pursue a major in the arts as she begins college this fall.

What is your proudest handmade moment?

I hope this doesn’t come across as maudlin or stupidly sentimental. Last Christmas a buyer purchased a Peace Conference bowl and wrote me a note that her son in law was being deployed to Afghanistan, and she was giving it to her daughter to help her focus on the vision of a peaceful end to the war. A similar moment came when another buyer wrote that she had been quite depressed and was feeling that heaviness lift when she drank her tea from my mug. These things convince me that some of the energy of prayer and meditation that I create with passes through the pieces that I make. I am proud to consider myself a vessel for peace, joy, the healing quality of beauty and creative wonderment. That’s where my passion lives. The awards or sales are all good, don’t get me wrong! But they are not what give me the greatest pride.

Thank you, Lee! It’s been amazing ♥  For more beautiful pottery, be sure to visit One Clay Bead on Etsy! Until next time ~

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