Connie Norman
Connie Norman

Ron Philbeck – Artist Interview

 Happy Birthday Ron!!!!

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Ron’s website:

Ron’s Shop:

Today’s interview is with Ron Philbeck living in Shelby, North Carolina. After studying mathematics and horticulture at North Carolina State University, he returned to his hometown in 1992 to begin work on becoming a full-time potter. He focuses on utilitarian pots that he hopes will be used in the daily rituals of eating, drinking, and food preparation.  Ron is so generous he cheerfully shares so much information; he has answered many questions that I have asked him and if you read his blog he is always showing us something new. His blog is a great blog to follow.

Tell us a little about yourself!

I’ll be turning 40 this month! I have been making pots since I was 22. I made salt glazed stoneware for 14 years before switching to earthenware. I live out in the county with my wife, Sarah. I really need a hobby! I have a pretty goofy sense of humor and not very good fashion sense. I enjoy napping, drinking tea, cooking and drawing when I’m not making pots.

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How did you become an artist?

My mom drew with me as a child and my father was always building things. I was a creative child, making up drawings and stories and playing on the farm where we lived. I had the desire to go to college to study art but I was not encouraged by anyone to do that. So I studied mathematics and horticulture for 4 years at NC State University. I painted some during that time but it wasn’t until I left college and moved back home that I encountered clay. I took a pottery class with a friend at a local community college. I thought I’d like to be a sculptor. Later, while in Florida taking a workshop, I read an article about Warren Mackenzie and also Susan Peterson’s book on Hamada. I knew then that I wanted to become a potter making functional pots. Here was the chance to make something that was beautiful and useful.

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How would you describe your style? One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from everyone else. How long did it take you to come up with your own style and signature look?

I throw with soft clay on a Leach style treadle wheel. I think these two things give me pots that have some gesture and aren’t overworked.

I feel like I’m still searching for my voice in some ways. It was almost 8 years before I made a good cup. A few years later I realized that I favored a certain kind of pot. I could force myself to make certain shapes but the ones that I could make comfortably and naturally I saw as my own. I’d say it was at least 12 years before I even began to see myself in my pots.

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What is your inspiration for your pieces?

I’m very interested in English slipware and Medieval Italian majolica right now. Living a slow life out here in North Carolina is wonderful. I am surrounded by farmland, rolling hills, lots of small animals and birds and livestock. This certainly feeds my soul and my work.

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What keeps you motivated?

This is the only thing I’ve found that I love to do over and over again; it’s my job and my passion. I think the desire to be the best I can motivates me. I see my work as a journey, as my life, I want it to grow and I want to keep trying to ‘get it right’ and to have fun.

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Are you a full-time artist? How do you come up with your creations? Can you walk us through your creative process when dreaming up new pieces?

I am a full time potter. I work within the limitations of functional pots. That’s very broad but I do find that I need boundaries to keep me from going all over the place. My forms are fairly set at this point, but I do pay attention as I’m making to see if something new emerges.

I’ve only been seriously decorating my pots for 2 years. I draw in my journal everyday. I pay attention to the things around me; I look at historical pots and other forms of art that move me.

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What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it?

I have always had the desire to make things. I’ve drawn and built things since I was young. I had a brief period in my late teens and early twenties when I wanted to be a painter. I couldn’t seem to find what I wanted to say on the canvas. It wasn’t until I was introduced to clay that I felt I had found the right medium.

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What or who inspires you?

There are many amazing pots in the world that inspire me. We have a great collection of pots in our home that we use all the time too. It’s wonderful to be surrounded by beautiful things that are useful. My wife Sarah is a huge inspiration. She keeps me grounded and sane.

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How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance?

I try to have set hours in the studio and maintain a routine. Of course being a potter often means working 7 days a week. I try and stop working everyday around 6pm to come in and get ready to cook supper. I don’t work at night much any more. I spend evenings with Sarah. I’d like to be doing yoga or exercising more, but I’m not so motivated.

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You, like most people enjoy the process of making and crafting and didn’t get into it for the sake of “business”. But eventually you found yourself having to make the transition from crafter to a businessperson. What have you learned so far and what advice can you give others in the same situation?

My mailing list is the most valuable piece of information I have. Early on I collected names and addresses of people who bought my work or who were seriously interested in it. I use direct mail to let folks know when I am having one of my 4 annual studio sales. Now I also use email, my website/blog, and social network sites to keep people up to date.

I have tried to view marketing in as much of a creative way as I do my work. There’s no need for it to be boring or conventional. If I can make it fun and an extension of myself and my work then I think I am more likely to do it and I think it’s more effective.

I try to keep good books, but I do admit that in the past I have always filed my taxes at the last moment. This year I am using an accountant, it’s worth it for me to pay someone to do the job I dislike and get it done on time.

Pricing pots has always been a challenge for me. I have never over priced, if anything I have under priced my pots. This is mainly due to my belief that hand made pots should be accessible to all people. I’ve had to loosen my grip on this system as my work has become more time consuming to make. I feel now I am pricing to the current market price (still a little below probably), for the kind of work I make. I like to get paid for my hard work. There’s no need for me to pretend I want to be a starving artist. I still want my customers to use my pots, and I’d like a student to be able to buy my cups and bowls and such. It’s a balancing act and I have never taken pricing lightly.

I’ve learned to pick which shows work best for me and to drop those that aren’t profitable. I’ve also learned to say ‘no’ when asked for certain commissions if I feel that I am going to hate doing it or have a hard time completing it. No need torturing myself when I can be making the work I enjoy.

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What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look?

Make as much work as you can. It’s in the doing that I have found what works for me and what doesn’t. For me, there’s no use in trying to figure it all our in drawings or in writing although those are helpful places to start. It’s in the making that I learned how I handle the material in my own way.

Pay attention and be kind to yourself.

Become a fan of Ron’s on Facebook.  (I am!)!/pages/Shelby-NC/Ron-Philbeck-Pottery/94387339054?ref=ts

Thanks Ron.

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2 Responses to “Ron Philbeck – Artist Interview”

  1. jim Says:

    great interview connie… i love ron’s work and his drawing has a distinct look. all those critters… i love ‘em. rats, owls, rabbits, possums. makes me think i’d like to live where he lives. ron, i didn’t know you liked to nap… i’m gonna have to take that up too.

  2. Connie Says:

    Hi Jim
    Ron’s interview is very thoughtful and from the heart. I can relate to what he said on many levels, one I loved how he talked about his passion for clay, and how it is his way of life. Ron’s statement about getting a hobby really hit home, as well. People are always telling me how lucky I am that I have a hobby, and in my head I have many responses that aren’t well-mannered. (I do realize people just don’t understand my level of commitment). From now on I will now just say, “I need to get a hobby.”