Friday, September 14, 2012

Feature Friday: Kate Bertin of Big Sky Artworks/Big Sky Clay


Kate Bertin Big Sky Artworks/Big Sky Clay

Please start by telling us a little about yourself and your studio.

When I am not up to my elbows in clay, I teach writing and public speaking at a tribal college in Montana. Clay is my release, my relaxation, the activity that stops all time. I specialize in whimsical character mugs and jugs, sculpted faces of animals and people that range from silly to scary. No two pieces are ever the same; even when I repeat a theme, each has its own unique character. This is what  I love about clay.

If there is one thing that defines you, what is it?

Chaos and creativity. Wait, no, that’s two things.

What role does your family play in your art?

While my sons and my husband play no direct role in my creations of clay, I am constantly surrounded by their support and encouragement. Because they believe in my capacity to create anything at all, I frequently find myself pushing far beyond what I would normally find comfortable – and grow in the process.

Where do you live and what is it like?

I live in Colstrip, Montana, a tiny coal mining town in eastern Montana. Pine-covered hills rise up on all sides, and the scent of sagebrush is often carried on the breeze. The area is very dry, and sandstone buttes create fantastic organic features in the landscape. Montana is sparsely populated, and eastern Montana even more so. The nearest mall is 130 miles from my home and studio. But what we lack in amenities, we make up for in beauty. I love eastern Montana, and am happy to live here.

Where did you learn your medium?

I wanted to learn to throw on the wheel for most of my life. A few years ago, I finally got a chance to take a class at the local art museum. I was so excited to finally get to throw! But my excitement quickly turned to frustration – it turns out, the wheel is a lot harder than it looks. I was TERRIBLE. But I really wanted to learn – so I went in on my own, and practiced for hours. I finally got the hang of it. Soon I had a wheel in my basement, and a kiln in my garage. My online business was born.

I started sculpting faces on mugs simply to practice sculpting. I have worked in many other mediums, and I know that if I have no outlet for my work, I quickly stop. Making whimsical mugs allows me to sculpt without leaving sculptures on every flat space in the house. It was a happy decision, as I found people really enjoy my one-of-a-kind mugs.

What are your goals with your online studio?

Right now, my goal is to accentuate my full-time income by selling my artwork. I reinvest much of the income back into supplies and equipment, so my work is at least self-supporting. Having a little extra income also means that I can treat my family to things like camping trips – and by saving several years, I took my husband to Europe to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

I also hope that my work will make people smile. So much of the world is difficult, or dark, or frustrating. But it’s hard to be negative when you’re holding a pig mug. It’s my own way of lighting a candle in the darkness.

How did you come to selling online?

I’m an Internet addict. Seriously. When our internet connection goes down, I’m like a junkie in need of a fix. So selling online was the natural choice.

How did you come to find a home on your particular venue/host?

I had an Etsy account before I even started making mugs. When I realized that working with clay was going to be more than a passing fancy, I also realized that I needed to find a place to sell my work, so that I could continue creating. Etsy was a natural outlet, with its focus on unique and handmade goods.

What is the best piece of advice you can give other artisans?

Make what you love. The rest will follow.

Why do you think that buying and selling handmade products benefits society?

With our increasing focus on technology, the world is moving faster and faster. While I’m not averse to technology, I also recognize that we must stay connected with simpler things – things like handmade goods. If we lose this connection, we become little more than technology-wielding machines. I love my computer – but there’s nothing like the feeling of wet clay sliding between your fingers. It is, quite literally, touching the earth.

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