Susannah Paterson Painter, Ceramicist & Psychotherapist

Not Everything Is Made To Be Sold

I was chatting to a fellow potter the other day about the challenge of selling our work, especially when it’s a bit “different”. She has two streams of work - stuff that sells and the stuff she loves, feels compelled to make, but nobody ever buys it. Then she said something that I found quite comforting, “not everything we make is made to be sold” I have thought about this statement for the last week, - how wonderfully liberating!

As an artist in these times, there is a mountain of pressure to produce lots of work. The online galleries which I mainly sell my work through, encourage you to upload new work frequently. What
it really means is that you must put something new on the site every week or the algorithm just drops you off, and your work never gets any exposure at all. This is maddening, since it tends to favour those that can produce what my old teacher Kerrie Lester sometimes called “sausage paintings” - formulaic, possibly technically correct, but superficial and dull.

It can be the same with pottery. I have learned that I am not, and never will be a production potter. Producing hundreds of things all exactly the same would bore the pants off me. I love, love, love making big bowls, which need to be sold at around $200 - because they take longer, and much much more skill, and the price must reflect some self worth as well as time taken. Actually $200 for a large bowl does not reflect the level of skill in any way, but people are used to paying tiny amounts for pottery, and so it’s what the market will bear. My favourite answer to the perpetually regular question of “how long did it take you to make that?” is “about five years”, because that’s the length of time it’s taken me to develop the skill to throw such large pieces on the wheel.

I know my work is a bit “out there”, and I know can bring up uncomfortable feelings for some people. However, that is what I have spent a lifetime doing in my work as a therapist - looking for strengths, beauty and light, through the muck of dark, chaos and pain! Of course I know it’s more pleasant to look at a nice still life, or a landscape, or something your brain understands immediately, but I’m just not interested in making it. It would feel like I was betraying myself in some way. It is much more interesting to spend time going deeper and discovering new things all the time.

I’m currently working on putting my paintings onto large plates, which is taking ages and tons of experimentation - I will be lucky to sell them for more that a couple of hundred bucks despite spending hours and hours on each one. Hey ho .. I guess that’s not the point though .. the point is that I need to make them .. just like I need to paint these dreamscapes. Its nice to know that not all the work is made to be sold.