Welcome to “Meet a Maker” by CreativeIncome! We love makers of all kinds, and this series puts a spotlight on crafters who are making a living selling their handmade creations. Whether it’s craft fair advice, how to start an Etsy shop, or even customer service tips, we’re going straight to the experts in this series. Enjoy!
Meet Jennifer Creighton! She’s the founder and maker of Function ceramics! Jennifer’s work definitely features her own fun and unique style. We definitely want a mug or two to display on our desks! Check out Function by Jennifer Creighton online for more info and check out her Etsy shop here.
Meet a Maker: Function by Jennifer Creighton
CREATIVE INCOME: When did your relationship with ceramics start, and what influenced you to become a maker?
JENNIFER CREIGHTON: I never expected to be an artist. Really, it was the furthest thing from my mind as a potential career path. I have a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a Minor in Religious Studies. At my college, one of the general education requirements was to take an art class. I put it off and put it off until my senior year, as I didn’t have time in my schedule until then, and then I chose ceramics for a few simple reasons. One, the course was cheaper than the painting course as I didn’t have to buy canvases, paints, and brushes. Two, I wouldn’t have to take tests like I would have with an art history course. And three, I figured I could make everyone Christmas presents for cheap, as I was a college student and few of us have any real money.
But once I started the class, I was hooked. I would go in before class, stay after, come in during the evenings, and work on the weekends. I lost entire days in the studio. I took an advanced class during the spring semester, and I was able to work intermittently for the year after graduation as my professor, Steve Smith, had begun to mentor me in clay. I then took a year off from studio work to participate in a year of AmeriCorps VISTA service. Then Steve retired and started a ceramic studio/gallery in the lakes region of northeast Indiana, and I moved there to learn from him with the goal of being a full-time maker in time.
Being a potter was the only thing that made sense to me. It was the only thing I wanted to do. After a few years of working in the studio and experimenting, I learned about marketing and product development from Rebecca Graves-Prowse, another maker from the area. She helped me develop a tight and cohesive body of work, and finally in May of 2014, I quit my day job and took the plunge into making full-time. So far, it’s been a whirlwind of awesome, and I’m very grateful for that.
CI: How do you deal with last-minute craft fair chaos?
JC: Oh, craft fairs. There’s always something last minute, isn’t there? To deal with the craziness and to prevent myself from making things worse by spazzing out, I make lists. I make a list of everything I need to pack for the show (booth, table coverings, risers, cash box, etc), so as items go in my car, I can check them off the list. I also know what is going into my product crates and how much each one is worth, so when I start to fret over whether or not I have enough product, I can look at the list and know that I do in fact have that covered. Beyond that, I always try (keyword is ‘try’, it doesn’t always work) to plan extra time in for packing and travel. I also know myself and work within my capabilities. I know that I am incapable of driving overnight, so I don’t even try. I plan ahead to stay somewhere the night before a show so I can get there bright and early and set up.
CI: Do you have any advice to other makers looking to sell their work wholesale?
JC: If you’re looking to sell your work wholesale, then I would make sure that your retail prices are high enough that you won’t be kicking yourself when wholesale orders come in. It might feel just fine to sell a mug for $25 to someone at a craft fair. It might feel much less fine to have to make and pack and ship fifty mugs at $12.50 a piece. If your goal is to do a lot of wholesale, get those prices to a place that feels worth it to you. Also, figure out an efficient packing method. Wholesale is really nice when you have systems in place to handle the work. When you don’t, it can be a pain, and it costs you money in inefficiency.
CI: Your store offers such a colorful array of ceramics, what inspired your Color Pop Collection?
JC: I had always worked with gas reduction glazes, which tend to be very earthy and rich. The problem with that was I knew that when I was able to start my own studio someday, a gas reduction kiln would not make sense or be in my budget. So I started looking into electric glazes and with electric kiln temperatures, a wider range of colors are available. I had also recently learned about the decal transfer method and wanted to incorporate that design element into my work. I sat down with Rebecca and she and I came up with the Color Pop line colors. I wanted four colors that worked together as a team, as sets of two, and individually. Saturation points had to be similar, with a darker color to ground the palette, a lighter color to balance that, and two mid-tones to flesh it all out.
As I had chosen medical illustrations as my surface decoration theme, I wanted bright, happy colors to offset the stark line quality of the medical drawings. So, we end up with a juxtaposition of sorts, which really makes me happy and seems to speak to people. I didn’t want my work to only appeal during Halloween, you know? Also, I feel like the line works well with my personality. I’m overall very happy and bubbly and enthusiastic, like the colors, but I’m also silly and kind of strange (every single guy I’ve dated has told me that I’m weird), so the contrast between the clinical anatomical illustrations and the colors is basically me in clay. And people like it, so that’s nice.
CI: What are your three keys to success for maintaining and/or starting an Etsy shop?
JC: Oh, Etsy. I dug in my heels and refused to open a shop for the longest time. I was a little nervous about the whole thing and was unsure how to price my shipping options. Shipping ceramics can get expensive. But then they offered the Calculated Shipping option, which put my mind at ease quite a bit on that front. And once I finally realized that I was really handicapping my business by not having a shop, I went for it.
I think the biggest key to success is excellent product photography. Everyone says that, and it’s because it’s true. As makers, we have to look at the sea of Etsy sellers and realize just how vast our competition is. If shoppers aren’t seeing good photos, then there are a hundred other makers doing similar work that they can, and will, move on to.
Another key is fully utilizing your tags potential. Do some research and see what keywords are being searched the most with your particular art, and use those search terms as tag words. Also, keep your titles clear and succinct. When I first started, I thought I should give each of my products a cool and quirky name. This is actually the wrong way to go about it. Potential customers will not be searching for your quirky, individual product name, unless you already have an enormous following. Be descriptive. My goldenrod hanging planter is titled, “Ceramic Hanging Planter – hanging planter – pottery planter – pottery hanging planter – handmade – wheel thrown – goldenrod yellow – orange.” Each of those words act as a search term, and will net me more hits and potential sales than a specific product name I’ve assigned to my work because I want to be an individual.
The last key for me is to keep my shop well-stocked. Having pottery set as “made to order” I have found nets fewer sales. We live in an instant gratification society, so having items in stock that can ship within a week is important for me. I know this might not work for everyone. Other artists, especially jewelers, often list items as made to order because they need to fit items to each buyer’s needs (like making a ring in the proper size), but the sellers I have seen doing well make a point of explaining the timeline for fulfillment so that the customer feels taken care of.
Make sure to check out more of Jennifer’s work at JenniferCreighton.com.
We’re obsessed with Jennifer’s mugs! What type of ceramics are your favorite (mugs, bowls, planters, etc.) to browse at a craft fair?