When it comes to the creative realm, Sarah Beth Elkins has done a little bit of everything, from book-binding to teaching high schoolers graphic design, but her true passion lies in one thing: clay. Now a professional potter working from her home studio north of Houston, Texas, Sarah Beth molds mounds of the pliable stuff into playful mugs, bowls, and even earrings, not to mention the lovely, lighthearted Berry Colander that’s now available for purchase at UncommonGoods.
With one look at Sarah Beth’s adorable berry bowl, we here at UG fell quickly in love with her careful craftsmanship and whimsical touch, and we wanted to give her a proper welcome to the family with her very own post in our This Just In-spiration series. Read on for our Q&A with Sarah Beth, touching on her time as a teacher, her day-to-day life in the studio, and much, much more.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I grew up in a very artistic home that encouraged us to explore our passions. Both of my parents are very creative and have always supported my artistic endeavors. My entire life has revolved around finding time and a way to make art!
How did you first get involved in pottery?
I took multiple courses of Ceramics in college, but only once or twice did I attempt throwing on the wheel. I was very intimidated by the whole process, so naturally I avoided it and kept to hand building. I had a hard time “choosing” which medium to focus on from the get go. I loved it all; painting, drawing, book binding, mixed media, printmaking, ceramics, you name it! I took the variety of college courses required for my Studio degree and explored them all, but struggled to figure out which one I’d adopt as my primary medium. One of my professors, the late Phil Dunham, simply asked “What do you find yourself day-dreaming about, and what could you stand to do every day?” That was it! It was clay.
I finished college and got [a] teaching job, [where I taught] Art 1, Graphic Design, and luckily for me, Ceramics. My addiction to clay grew and grew and by the time I quit teaching after my 6th year, I was teaching Ceramics 1-4, AP Studio Art 2D and 3D, and Art 1. My day to day life was so full of clay I couldn’t have laid it out better myself. The next step was getting out on my own and doing it full time. Around the time I started thinking about leaving, I found a kiln and wheel (new!) on Craigslist. My husband got my kiln hooked up and I turned my “sometimes-I-get-to-use-it” studio at home into a full on working ceramics studio.
Could you talk a little more about your experience teaching high school?
It was an interesting time. I was able to learn so much from that experience, that no matter how tough it was at times, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I loved my students, and many of them were extremely talented and have moved on to do great things! It showed me a lot about working with other personalities and adapting to “not ideal” situations. The department was never lacking in supplies or tools to do what we needed for the students, but I found myself eventually feeling like it was just my time to move on. I was unhappy and needed to break away to feel like me again.
It was definitely the day I got to quit my public school teaching job and finally pursue my own art full time. The cherry on top is definitely being my own boss and making my own schedule. Teaching revolves around focusing on the students and helping them develop their own body of work, so getting to fully dive into my own designs and aspirations has been a huge blessing.
What does your typical day in the studio look like?
Currently my studio is in my home, making my commute a total of about 3 seconds! I begin my days with a cup of coffee in hand, and by checking my “to-do” list. It’s broken down into four categories listed on a dry erase board in the studio:
- New orders “to throw”
- Bisqued & ready to glaze
- Completed & shipped
I make sure I’m on schedule for any open order or PO, and always find time to do some exploring for inspiration and experimenting with new techniques and designs. I enjoy treating my day like a normal day at the office (that I don’t dread!). I take a lunch break, and when my husband gets home I enjoy hanging up the apron and cooking dinner. Just another form of art!
Do you have any favorite themes or techniques? What about something you’d like to explore, but haven’t yet?
I am a huge fan of slip trailing! Slip is what I like to call the “pudding version” of clay achieved when mixed with water. There’s something so amazing about clay—the way it allows you to utilize it in so many different stages and consistencies. I love making the slip and have recently started playing with mason stains and coloring my slip. Something I’ve always wanted to try and haven’t made it there yet is the Japanese art of Kintsugi. It’s a technique of repairing broken pottery with a lacquer mixed with gold.
Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and why?
I have had this silly fortune cookie paper for years that stares at me from the light switch, constantly reminding me that “skill comes from diligence.” It’s the perfect prompt when you’re feeling a little stuck, or needing motivation.
Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartner for the first time. What do you hope they would say?
My mommy has one of these!
What quote keeps you motivated?
A quick thought from a book I read on Frida Kahlo, one of my favorite female artists, “painting completed my life” keeps me motivated. It reminds me that I have a God-given gift to create and it truly has always been a part of who I am, and I am complete!