Meet Mariella Luz, a self-taught ceramicist and owner of of m.bueno Pottery in Olympia, WA. For almost two decades she worked behind the scenes in music—for a record label and running an all ages venue. In 2014, when the venue decided to close its doors, she took a ceramics class. After one lesson throwing, she decided to buy a wheel. A year after that some friends invited her to sell at a craft fair and that is where she sold some of her first work. Check out her cool workspace in this studio tour , and her Etsy shop here .
We asked Mariella about balancing business with pleasure when creating, how lockdown has affected her creative process, and how to make a living selling your artwork. She also let us know about 5 other creatives she admires, check out her list here.
How do you balance your time making work with time spent on the rest of the tasks necessary when making a living working with clay?
I try to set aside time every day to make things. I know that all the other parts (shipping, emails, etc) are work too but somehow if I don’t make something that day I feel guilty. This is bad! I’m trying to get out of that mindset of constant productivity and busy-ness (the trap of capitalism!) but years of programming make that difficult. Also, I don’t really balance my time—I just work a lot.
You say in your bio that you try to "make your work affordable to use every day." How exactly do you price your work? And does this impact your creative process?
I live in a small town where people don’t make a lot of money so when I started I really wanted to make things that my friends and community members could afford. That was the starting place. Now because I have two people that work in the studio with me and I’ve switched to mostly selling wholesale, I’ve had to adjust that pricing so that we can cover costs and pay a good wage. Part of it was also just doing the math—if I sell something for $8, that has to cover the time to make it, fire it, glaze it, fire it, box it up and send it.
Do we make any money? In some situations the answer was either no, or yes...but only like a dollar. So we had to adjust. (Turns out math works!) It does impact my creative process in that I still start at the place where I want my friends to be able to afford my work, but if I come up with a new design and it’s really labor intensive, how do I make it work at a price I’m willing to sell it for? It is something I am consistently struggling with and I have lots of thoughts about being a POC and a woman artist that I could go ON & ON about.
What made you realize that pottery was the right medium for you?
I fell in love with clay the first time I took a class (I was almost 40 at the time). There was never any other option for me. Occasionally I mess around with drawing and painting but I feel most comfortable with clay.
What are your favorite items to make?
This may sound funny/weird but I’m really into round things. People occasionally ask me to make square or rectangles and it seems that I’m actually incapable of doing it. Everything I make is round or a circle and the bulk of artwork in my home not made by me is also round or circles, I’m kind of obsessed.
Has the lockdown affected your creative process at all?
I think the lockdown has affected my creative process in many ways. Early on my creative practice was a way for me to get out of my head/sorrow for what was going on. To step away from homeschooling my kid and feel more "normal." But it was also difficult to be excited to make new things when everything seemed so uncertain. In a more practical sense, it was great, because for the first time in years I was alone in my studio and I could be as messy as I wanted to be and spread out.
Now that we are back to work it is difficult in a different way, as we’re all meant to go back to “business as usual” when things have actually gotten worse instead of better! Now not only do we have a global pandemic to freak out about, we’re also standing up for our fellow citizens and fighting for systemic change in our country but somehow we’re meant to be as productive as we were before? Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty upside-down creatively and otherwise.
What advice would you give to artists who want to make their living making and selling their work full-time?
I have this print in my studio that is a favorite by Adam J Kurtz. It reads “Do what you love and you’ll work super fucking hard all the time with no separation or any boundaries and also take everything extremely personally.”
I think that pretty much sums it up. Is it worth it? TOTALLY!