Stephanie Washburn | Episode 748
Celestial Surf Studio is an extension of Stephanie Washburn as an individual. All of the inspiration and musings Stephanie gathers from the natural world around her are transformed to function. The mystique and charm of Stephanie’s local landscape, allure of crystal formations, and astronomic cycles all influence the pieces Stephanie creates.
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What was it like for you when you had to make that jump and all of your avenues of output were closed down? How did you get over that hump and know where to start?
So fortunately in the year prior I had started creating themed collections where I would use certain stones in my work, or glazes, and would create a special collection that I would publish and drop. And it would be kind of a limited batch type of thing. So that was performing pretty well at that point in time and I think that was a really great, it was set up to where it was a really great vehicle to take me to where I needed to be in this predicament. And instead of having a curated themed collection to drop it was kind of like, Here’s a free-for-all. There’s all different kinds of glazes. There’s all kinds of different themes in this. Hopefully you guys are here for a hodge-podge body of work. I think honestly the response from my customers and audience was like, Hey, this works better than the themed curated stuff because there is something for everyone.
How did you develop the how to’s and learn what you needed to do?
I took a lot of instruction from personal research. Like if I didn’t know how something needed to work, ow was curious about how to do something successfully, I would always look at Pinterest. Honestly, the way that I built my entire website was one window open on Pinterest and the other one was open on Squarespace. So tutorials really help and just looking at other artists and colleagues on social media and kind of looking at their models, Alright, this is successful for them. Will this work for me? How can I modify it to accommodate my schedule or my themes?
How did you fund the process of launching this business full time?
So when it was becoming a full-time thing fortunately it was already self-sufficient and pretty early on in my journey of becoming a full-time potter, once I started to see a decent amount of revenue coming in for my products I allocated that money to go back into it to create. The first year honestly, a lot of that was returned back into getting supplies and marketing materials and paying for decorations for booths in markets. The more exposure I got and the more I was able to create, more I realized I need to get an accountant and I need a different business account to keep this separate from my personal account. So fortunately that was already set in place and like I said before, it was self-supporting.
What did you do to attract your customers and get them interested in what you are selling them?
Honestly, a really huge part of it was being a pottery teacher and having people interested in what I am capable of in the classroom. I have made so many wonderful connections with my students that way and they have become customers and have told their friends. A lot of word of mouth. Also when I first started out on social media I did a lot of what I like to loosely call: gorilla marketing. And I would go follow people that I thought needed to have my things. That and just popping up in Wilmington. It’s a really great area for creatives. There are an abundant of markets and popups and opportunities for workshops here. It is also beneficial living in a coastal area when your pottery has a little bit of a coastal theme to it. So mix all those things together and that’s the recipe.
Did you have any fear of not earning back your investment ?
Yes, at first. So when I first started out if I really wanted a new glaze or if I wanted to get crazier crystals to work with, just different materials, I had the flexibility to pull from my server income. I would buy a little extra here and there. But when you are taking it a little more seriously and you do want it to be self sustaining you really have to look at what your profit margins are and how is it smarter to buy glazes. Let me invest in the dry mix versus the pints or ordering your clay in bulk versus running down to the hobby shop and buying it twenty five pounds at a time. You just kind of have to make smarter decisions on where your money goes and it is almost like a puzzle figuring it out.
Did your small successes fuel your ability to take bigger steps?
Absolutely. Last year after that really big shop update, after Covid postponed that really large market I was able to afford a 25 gallon bucket of blue rutile from Aamaco and I was over the moon about it because it’s one of my favorite glazes and I didn’t and I could never justify spending that much money on glaze at once but I knew that amount, the amount that I was going to get for the price point would totally pay off. Obviously you get more for your money with the larger one.
How do you respond to this quote? : Failure is not life threatening.
I completely agree. And I feel like as a ceramicist if you are too afraid of failure then this is not field for you. (laughter) . I feel like you learn detachment and acceptance with failure very early on in a ceramic career because there are so many parts of the process where things can fail or be compromised and not go the way you expected them to go. And it’s all like a learning experience and honestly the trial and error of it all and the difficulty behind the ceramic process is what drew to me it because I knew I would never get bored with it and that it would always be a challenge. It just makes it like when you get the good stuff even sweeter.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho