Opportunities in Arts and Crafts Careers

by Elizabeth B. Gardner
Opportunities in Arts and Crafts Careers

Editor's Note: With permission of the author, we have reprinted portions of of her book, Opportunities in Arts & Crafts Careers, covering ceramics, interior design, and sculpture, plus a special section on how to generate art work opportunities for yourself. These portions are from the first edition.

Ceramics Careers
Interior Design Careers
Sculpture Careers
Employment Possibilities


Ceramics Careers

The word ceramics refers to objects shaped from clay and then fired. A person who makes such objects is called a ceramist. Clay can be shaped into innumerable objects: plates, bowls , pitchers, cups, mugs, teapots, vases, trivets, tiles, plaques, sculptures, jewelry, lamp bases, and more. After shaping clay objects, the ceramist allows them to dry, fires them, usually in an oven called a kiln, and then perhaps decorates them in any one of countless ways.

History of Making Ceramics

The ancient Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, Persians, Koreans, and Chinese particularly excelled in this art. The Chinese began making ceramics at least as far back as 2000 B.C. Even in the far distant past, they knew how to decorate their ceramics by carving designs into the clay, by applying pieces of clay for raised designs, and by painting designs on their wares. They also enhanced their ceramics with colorful glazes. Early on the Chinese also knew how to sculpt figures of clay, and they produced the first fine white ware now called porcelain, and which we also call china because the Chinese invented it.

Pre-Columbian Indians of South America's west coast and Central America became accomplished ceramists in the distant past, as did the Indians of North America's Southwest somewhat later. Archaeologists believe the latter began making ceramics by covering baskets with clay, then letting them dry in the sun or placing them near cooking fires. Later, Southwest Indians placed their ceramics in open dung fires to bake, just as their descendants do today.

Around the end of the last century, a Hopi Indian found pieces of ancient ceramics at an archaeological site where he was employed. He brought them home to his wife, Nampeyo. Nampeyo studies the shapes, designs and colors of the pieces and experimented making ceramics with the same materials her ancestors had used. In time she created ceramics that are highly valued. Thus an old art was revived.

What Ceramists Do

Clay comes in a variety of colors - white, ivory, yellow, gray, red, blue, and black - and is found along the banks of rivers, where water has deposited it.

Ceramists buy clay that is cleansed of pebbles and grit and mixed with other ingredients in the proper proportions to make earthenware, stoneware, or porcelain, the three kinds of clay bodies, or they make mixes themselves. Ingredients mixed with clay that is to be used in making ceramics include ground stone (such as feldspar or flint) and/or sand. Sometimes a ceramist uses more than one kind of clay in a batch.

Interior Design Careers

The profession of interior design evolved form the profession of interior decorating.

Interior designers see their role as broader than that of the traditional interior decorator. The latter mostly suggested color schemes and offered choices of draperies, slipcovers, furniture, and carpets. Interior designers concerned themselves with these matters, but they also are concerned wit the organization of space. They may develop designs and prepare working drawings and specifications for interior changes in buildings and oversee the subsequent construction. Such changes may include the removal of walls, the widening of doorways, and the installation of new bathrooms, kitchens, windows, lighting fixtures, fireplaces, moldings, and finishes. Interior designers also may be concerned with the addition of wings. Increasingly they use computers to devise layouts and develop designs. When layouts are on a computer they can be easily changed to comply with the desires of the client.

History of Interior Design

Several centuries ago the only buildings whose interiors were furnished and embellished with the idea of creating beauty were cathedrals and palaces. Then in the eighteenth century, English cabinetmakers such as Robert Chippendale and Robert Adam, who was also an architect, in addition to designing furniture (and in the case of Adam, buildings) for their wealthy clients, also designed curtains, carpets, ceilings, and moldings for them. As late as the nineteenth century, both in England and the United States, the homes of ordinary people for the most part contained only a few pieces of furniture. These few pieces of furniture were chosen on the basis of their functional performance with little thought given to aesthetics.

Recognition of interior decoration as a profession began around the beginning of the twentieth century. Edith Wharton in her manifesto The Decoration of Houses is usually credited with upgrading interior decoration into an art. In the early nineteen hundreds, Elise de Wolfe, later Lady Mendl, espoused the idea in the United States of beautiful and comfortable homes. She emphasized uncluttered rooms with flowered, glazed-chintz slipcovers and a mixture of furniture from different periods. She was the first to create modern kitchens with laborsaving appliances. At Wanamaker's in New York City, Ruby Ross Wood established the first decorating department in a department store. In London, Syrie Maugham became well-know for her all-white rooms.

After World War II, magazines such as House Beautiful came into being and promoted the idea of attractive living quarters for almost everyone. These magazines made it known that professional decorators were available to help in making desirable choices. Interior decoration grew into an enormous business. In the 1950s and 1960s the profession of interior decorating widened its scope to that of interior design.

What Interior Designers Do

Interior designers concern themselves with the interior of houses, apartments, hotels, motels, restaurants, stores, showrooms, offices, banks, churches, museums, passenger ships, corporate jets - any place where functional, aesthetic, and/or image-promoting surroundings are desired. Some interior designers not only design interiors for their clients but also the furniture to go in them. Sometimes they design exclusively for firms that manufacture furniture, fabrics, wallpaper, carpets, lighting fixtures, glassware, chinaware, flatware, or other items used in interiors.

An interior designer's professional status is attested to by membership in The American Society of Interior Design or the National Society of Interior Designers. Both of these organizations require their members to have college-level training, five year's experience, and a sound business record.

Some interior designer do not prepare for their careers by formal study. Some start as apprentices to established designers; some begin their careers as architects or some to the profession by other routes. Designer Ward Bennett went from fashion sketching and window display to interior design when an apartment he decorated for a family connection was admired by others who then requested his services. Sarah Tomerlin Lee took over her husband's design business when he died. Before that, she had edited House Beautiful magazine and worked as an advertising executive. She soon became a preeminent designer of hotels and inns.

The essential requirement in interior design is creativity. An interior designer visualizes what changes or additions to a structure might be desirable or necessary, concocts interesting color schemes, senses what will go well together, and arranges the content of rooms in ways users find aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.

Sculpture Careers

Sculptors are artists who work in three dimensions. They fashion works of art out of almost any material: stone, wood, metal, clay, plaster, cement, plastic, paper pulp, glass, fabric, even bakers dough. Sculptures range from anything so small one could balance it on the end of a finger to very large. Sculptures may classify as realistic, stylized, abstract or nonrepresentational and may be in the round or in relief. The latter term applies to images that project from a more or less flat surface.

History of Sculpture

Evidence reaching back into prehistoric times affirms the inclination of human beings to create sculptural images. As long as 40,000 years ago, people of the Ice Age modeled sculptures of clay and also carved them from stone, mammoth ivory, reindeer antlers, and bone. Figures of women and animals sculpted in these materials and dating back from that era periodically come to light in caves and elsewhere throughout Europe.

Ancient Greek sculptures of bronze and stone also have survived, including unfinished ones of stone that tell us something of the Greek Sculptor's way of working with that material. The artist drew an outline of the figure on the block and then chipped away excess stone from all sides, releasing the form that early Greeks believed was imprisoned in the block.

Sculptures contribute a great deal to the beauty of Gothic cathedrals built in Europe in the Middle Ages. Most people at the time did not know how to read, so the clergy used sculptures as well as stained-glass windows, mosaics, and paintings to acquaint the populace with the contents of the Bible. When a town and its clergy decided to build a cathedral, the clergy conferred with a master builder or architect, who in turn relayed instructions to the stonemasons. The amount of sculptural work in a cathedral is immense and sometimes took hundreds of years to complete.

What Sculptors Do

After making a drawing or drawings of the work he or she intends to create, a sculptor may model one or more small figures in clay, wax, or plaster as an aid to determining what the finished work should look like.

A beginner may find using plasticine, a prepared modeling clay that requires no preparation and almost no inner supports, the best material for creating a model. Plasticine can be purchased at art supply stores, as can modeling tools. Desirable tools are blade-shaped ones - one with a single wire end and another with two wire ends. A smooth board that has been given a couple of coats of shellac makes a good base for modeling. One also can model on a table with a nonporous top (say a porcelain-topped kitchen table or one covered with oil cloth). The plasticine is cut up and kneaded into shapes about the size of a banana. These shapes are piled on the table. The sculptor then washes his or her hands and is ready to begin.

When planning a stone sculpture, after deciding on its form, the sculptor may make an enlargement in clay (or whatever material is used for preliminary models) the size of the intended work before beginning work on the stone block. If the sculptor plans to cast the sculpture in metal, an enlargement in clay or another material in the size intended for the final work is a necessity.

When making a stone sculpture, measurements from a full-size model can be transferred to the block of stone with a mechanical device called a pointing machine, which is available at art supply stores. For a work larger than the model, the measurements on the stone block necessarily have to be increased proportionally. The pointing machine indicates where holes in the stone should be drilled to correspond to strategic points on the model. The holes act as guides in the carving. Using a pointing machine makes possible the creation of complicated works which would be impossible to execute otherwise.

Michelangelo created his marble sculptures by direct carving rather than using a pointing machine. He began work on a sculpture that was to be in the round as if carving a relief. That is, he worked from the front toward the back, creating figure astonishingly lifelike. Assistants helped him, but only under the closest supervision.

Some sculptors whose finished works are of stone, after creating the model, turn the rest of the process over to assistants. They consider conceiving the idea and constructing the model the creative parts of the process. Assistants transfer the measurements to the stone block and do the carving an any final filing and polishing. Auguste Rodin, the famous French sculptor of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whom critics consider the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo, mostly depended on his assistants to translate his models of clay, plaster, and wax into stone or bronze.

Employment Possibilities

There are many options open to those who would like to make a living or start a business working on a particular art or craft:

  • Check with employment agencies to see if there are openings for artists or craftspeople with your particular skills.
  • Make arrangements with an art gallery or gift shop to sell your work on consignment.
  • Open an art gallery with other artists where you can display and sell your wares.
  • Find out if your town has a cooperative gallery where artists and craftspeople offer their works for sale.
  • See if owners or managers of businesses - hospitals, corporations, clinics, beauty shops, doctor's offices, fitness centers, restaurants, etc. - would like to display your work on their walls or premises. A small label on the bottom corner of each item could give your name and the price of the artwork on it. This would be beneficial to businesses as your work would enhance their environment. Note that the owners or managers may want a commission on sales.
  • Look in the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory for organizations that sell the type of art you produce.
  • Display and sell your work at art fairs.
  • See if friends and acquaintances who admire your work would like to purchase something.
  • If applicable, sell your work to magazines or have it published in book form.
  • Send out mailings, distribute flyers, ask friends and acquaintances to spread the word about you.
  • Open a shop or studio in your home, if local law permits.
  • Answer ads for employment or for commissions for the type of work you do.

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