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How Ceramicist Dan Schmitt Finds the Balance between Fine Art and Wholesale Success

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Having never touched clay before he took an introductory class in college, Dan Schmitt soon found that he had a natural talent for creating beautiful pieces of tableware and functional pottery. From then on, he knew he wanted to start his own ceramics company, selling minimalist and Japanese-influenced works. 

 

Almost 20 years later, Dan’s creations have appeared in prestigious galleries across the country and are also featured regularly in wholesale stores and at craft shows. 

 

We spoke to the veteran potter about finding support in a shared community of artists, the encouragement provided by early success and how he's learned to manage his business expectations. 

 

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Name: Dan Schmitt 

Business: Dan Schmitt Pottery 

Started: June 1999 

 

How did you create your awesome job? 

 

I went into college planning to pursue a career in sports medicine, but after my first semester I realized that I wasn’t enjoying my studies. I decided that, from then on, I would just take classes that sounded interesting — and I ended up in a ceramics course. After the first few lessons I was hooked, and I began spending all my free time in the studio. Within three weeks I switched my major to Art and have been focused on ceramics ever since! 

 

During my time in college I also went to Japan for a summer to study pottery, which influenced my work considerably and had a lasting impact on my aesthetic.

 

I went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in ceramics. After graduating, I set up my first studio in 1999. Then I began traveling to different arts and crafts shows, building my customer base through direct sales and picking up some wholesale accounts as well. I’ve always been someone who needs to feel passionate about what I’m doing in any area of my life. Having a career that I'm not 100% committed to doesn’t work for me! 

 

Who was your very first customer? 

 

I started selling my work when I was in my first year of college. I was home visiting my parents and a local gallery there was hosting a show for regional artists. My girlfriend at the time persuaded me to submit some pieces and, to my amazement, they got in! That was very encouraging and it was my introduction to marketing and selling my work. 

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When did you know your business was going to work? 

 

The moment I felt like my ceramics business could really have legs came in 2000. 

 

I had some of my work on display at a gallery in Portland, Oregon, and one day I got a call telling me that the curator of the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery had stopped by and bought some of my pieces. 

He was interested in seeing more, so I sent some slides of my creations — this was before digital images! — and several weeks later, I got a call from him. He was putting together an exhibit of American ceramics and wanted to use my work! 

 

I was only 25 at the time and it was a defining moment for me — it gave me validation for what I was doing and for the direction I was heading in. 

 

What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business? 

 

One of the things I hadn’t anticipated was the craft field’s strong sense of community. Artists are so generous with sharing information and advice, and there’s a real camaraderie among us. 

 

Social media platforms like Instagram and Periscope have helped, too. Being a studio artist can be very isolating at times, since I spend most of my days alone. So, it’s nice to be able to connect with other artists who are in the same situation. 

 

How do you price your products?

 

It's always tricky! Initially, I looked at what others charged for similar types of products. But most artists — especially those who are just starting out — tend to price their work too low. 

 

It’s easy to forget all the things that need to be covered — labor, materials, utilities, machinery — and I have to make a profit so I can continue doing my art. The biggest lesson I learned about pricing is to price according to each creation's true value and not feel apologetic about it.

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What does a typical day look like for you? 

 

I’m a morning person and I usually get up pretty early, around 6am. Most days, I exercise first thing, since the work I do is quite physical and staying in shape helps with avoiding overuse injuries. 

 

Afterwards, I take a couple hours to eat, walk the dog, clean up the house and check emails. I go to my studio around 10am and stay there until my wife comes home at 5pm, when we go for a walk with the dog. 

 

During busier times I might finish a few things after dinner, but otherwise this is our time together to unwind. I tend to get tasks done on the weekends as well since there is always something that needs to be finished! Clay work has a certain rhythm to it, so some weeks are more full on than others. 

 

If you could go back in time, is there anything you would have done differently when you were starting your business? 

 

I’d remind my past self that this is a long game! 

 

One aspect I’d do differently is to have more patience regarding my expectations of how quickly things should happen. Success is not a linear trajectory — and it’s important to remember that. 

 

What would you like to learn today from a community of small business owners and self-employed professionals? 

 

I love feeling that I'm part of a community of self-employed professionals, and I'd like to hear about the ways people manage their life and work commitments. 

 

I’d also like to know how people deal with disappointments in their business and how they bounce back! 

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Do *you* have work-life balance tips that you can share back with Dan? 


Dan is looking to hear your ideas for how to manage life and work commitments while he continues to grow and build his business.

 

Do you have tips to share that reflect how *you* manage your days? How do you balance the ups and downs of running a small business with raising a family or pursuing your personal projects?

 

Can't wait to hear your stories and experiences below! :-)

 
1 Comment
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Level 7

How Ceramicist Dan Schmitt Finds the Balance between Fine Art and Wholesale Success

It's so easy to stick with a plan out of obligation or for fear of what others will think. I'm always so inspired by people who follow their passion and find success. Right on, Dan!

 

It's so hard to find a work/life balance as a self-employed person, and it's taken many years to find what works for me. As long as I have one day off a week (no computer time whatsoever), I feel refreshed for the week ahead. Sometimes I have to remind myself: all businesses have set hours when they're open and closed. Why should I run my business any different? :smileyhappy:

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