How did you first discover your talent/passion for ceramics, and how did that eventually blossom into a career?
I was fortunate to be able to take a ceramics class as an elective during my senior year in high school and when I first tried using the potter’s wheel I fell in love with the process. I started making a lot of pieces and I decide to take them to a local consignment shop to see if I could sell them. After a month or so I stopped back in and received my first check. It was then when I realized that I could one day turn my talent into a business. I eventually graduated from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania with a BS in Art Education and a minor in ceramics. When I moved to South Carolina and started teaching art in the Richland One School District I decided to build a Ceramic studio at my home. I applied for a retail sales license and began selling my work at local craft shows and eventually found the Soda City Market where I sell 90% of my work.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the interaction with my customers. May of whom, I have been able to build some great relationships through the years. Because I sell most of my work throughout the year at the Soda City Market and I am able to talk one on one with my customers. I value their feedback and I always take their suggestions into consideration.
What are your greatest challenges in making a living through creative pursuits?
My sales have been increasing 15 to 20 percent each year since I started it in 2008. I am constantly coming up with ways to become more efficient and stay up with the demand. Finding time to produce product becomes tougher every year. Since I spend most of my time in the studio it difficult balancing my business, my full time teaching job and home life. I wouldn’t’ be able to do it without my incredibly supportive wife, Kim. She handles all of the social media responsibilities and is my biggest cheerleader.
Where do you find the inspiration for your pieces? What makes them unique? What’s your favorite thing about the creative process?
I can make just about anything out of clay and I am often asked to make a piece for a customer that I have never made before. I will incorporate my own design such as a braided handle or a sea grass looking texture on the side of my work. I also developed a special glaze formula the gives my work a transparent watercolor-like finish.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? If it differs, what advice would you give to others?
The best advice I received when I first started out was ‘It takes time to build a business and in order to be successful, you have to realize that it won’t just grow over night’. It was tough the first few years but because of the quality time that I have invested into Kyle Smith Pottery, I now have a diverse product line that is rapidly growing.
How can Columbia residents and business leaders best support the artistic community, and why should they?
The best way to support the artistic community is to buy locally. By buying from a local artisan, you are buying from an independent, locally owned business, rather than nationally owned businesses, significantly more of your money is used to make purchases from other local businesses and service providers — continuing to strengthen the economic base of the community. Also, meeting with the artists themselves and talking to them about their work gives you a story, and I guarantee it’s much more interesting than “I picked this up in at Walmart.”
As briefly as possible, describe a typical day. What might folks be surprised to know about what you do?
I wake up around 5:30-6 am and I’ll work in my studio for about an hour. I’ll usually glaze, making pots on the potter’s wheel or just clean up and sign pieces to get them ready for a kiln firing. I then jump in the shower and get ready for my other full time job teaching art at Southeast Middle School, which often surprises people when I mention that I teach. When I get home around 4:30 my wife and I will sit down together for an early dinner then I’ll drink a bottle or two of wine and pick up where I left off that morning and work in my studio for another 2-5 hours
Where can readers see, purchase or learn more about your work?
You can find me almost every weekend selling my work at the Soda City Market on the 1400 block of Main St Columbia SC from 9-1 most Saturdays. Some of my products are also at the Cotton Mill Exchange, the gift shop at the SC State Museum. I also have an Etsy store at https://www.etsy.com/shop/KyleSmithPottery.
My work will soon be available through this website and my facebook site www.facebook.com/KyleSmithPottery.