Julie / Potter
Julie Russell studied ceramics and printmaking in college, but found a lack of inspiration to create upon graduating. She spent a few years in the culinary industry before feeling the urge to get back on the pottery wheel.
Here, Julie opens up on the challenges of starting her business, what influences her creativity, and why it means so much when someone buys a piece of her work.
Tell us a little about your creative background: I've always been a maker - was forever the kid going to art camp instead of playing soccer, and was most happy collaging by myself in my room or making my own band shirts or pins because I was too cheap to buy the real ones. When I was graduating high school, I had no real aspirations to go to college but compromised with my parents that if I got into the one school I applied for, I would go (University of Washington)...so after I got in, I had to figure out what I could possibly tolerate spending the next few years studying. Art was a no-brainer because I knew I'd enjoy making projects instead of writing research papers. I chose an interdisciplinary degree so I could take classes in many different mediums. I found that I loved ceramics and printmaking the most, and spent a full year immersed in each one. I finished school in three years and spent the following year interning at a printmaking studio attempting to build up my portfolio with thoughts of grad school. Somewhere along the way I lost my inspiration and quit making things altogether. I spent the next four years getting into the culinary realm and food began to serve as my creative outlet, which satisfied me for some time. I started getting the urge to use my hands in a different way and wanted to get back into ceramics, so I signed up for a refresher pottery class in the summer of 2016. After that, I started renting time at a communal studio, and have been consistent ever since.
What was the moment you knew pottery was what you wanted to focus on? Honestly...I don't really know. I realized I was spending more time at the studio than really anywhere else, completely on my own accord. It was one of the few places I could turn my mind kind of off, and just focus on whatever I was making; it's very meditative and helped me get through a pretty emotional period of my life. I don't think there was a specific turning point but as I continued making, everything started falling into place and it became clear in my mind that I wanted & needed more time to dedicate to my craft - to the extent that I took a pay cut to work less, and eventually decided to leave my full-time job to pursue pottery.
When and why did you create Plant Provisions? It wasn't exactly planned. I've always imagined having my own business and had locked down the name Plant Provisions a few years ago knowing I'd want to do something relating to plants and the natural world. I'd been quietly making pottery for a few months when some friends who own a leather goods line asked if I'd want to sell some of it at a holiday pop-up they were doing. It sounded like fun, so I said yes. I immediately realized that this was sort of my debut as presenting myself as an artist in a public way, and wanting to seem "legitimate" I quickly mocked up a logo and started an Instagram, and Plant Provisions was born. The pop-up ended up being a pretty big success for me and I've just been going with it ever since; figuring it out as I go.
What was the biggest challenge in starting your business? Well, figuring out how to start a small business has been the biggest hurdle for me. I luckily have a lot of friends with their own businesses I've been able to consult for advice, but honestly I am still figuring out all of the back-end logistics as they come up. Taxes, accounting; all of that kind of stuff I loathe and there's no clear instructions to follow because every small business is so different. Ooh, I hate it - but I'm trying to learn it. I even took a part-time job related to accounting which I'm hoping will help some of this become a little more second nature to me. There's also that whole believing in yourself as an artist part, which I'm pretty sure every creative person struggles with and that may always be true. It's always hard to put yourself out there and hope other people like what you're doing.
What influences your creativity? Getting outside is a big one for me. I love hiking and looking at beautiful things is always inspiring and rejuvenating. The color scheme I work with is mostly influenced by the natural world around me. I also get pretty inspired by other art forms: photography, painting, poetry; something will catch my eye and there's like a little light that goes on inside my head that somehow translates into a shape or glaze. I have a tendency towards being a perfectionist but ceramics don't really allow that to take precedent...there are so many elements you can't fully control. I might accidentally cut through the bottom of the pot I was trimming and then it becomes a bracelet. Or a glaze combination comes out of the kiln all crackly and bubbled and can't be used as a cup as I'd intended, but can become a vessel for a plant or candle. The physical process of making ceramics and what happens in-between can inform and inspire what I try to make next.
Do you have creative habits or rituals that help you stay focused? Not really. It sounds nice to do that, though. The closest thing I have to a ritual is that I almost always end up listening to Frank Ocean when I'm throwing on the wheel. I just kind of got in the habit and now I just associate the two together. Thanks, Frank.
What is your proudest moment in your creative journey so far? It still kind of blows my mind when strangers buy my work. I've had so much support from friends and family in the form of compliments, sharing on social media, and actual orders, and I'm so grateful for it. But it's different when someone that doesn't know me personally finds my work online or in a shop and loves it enough to buy it. I know that's kind of the point of having a business...but it still feels really special, and gratifying.
Are you creatively satisfied? Yes - but not only by making pottery alone. It's all about the balance. Most days I do feel like making things out of clay. Some days I don't, but I want to cook instead. Or read. Or ________. All of this plays into feeding my creativity and I'm pretty happy with the balance I'm currently maintaining.
What's next for you? I'm hoping to eventually have my own studio, but don't really have a timeline for that. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing and see where it takes me. That feels right to me.
You can view and purchase Julie's work on her website Plant Provisions.