David with his 25-year-old Paragon kiln.
When David Hendley signed up for an eight-week pottery class in 1972, he had no inkling that it would change the direction of his life. He had one semester left before graduating as a psychologist, but after a few pottery classes under Tracy Dotson, he decided to become a potter instead. He finished his psychology degree and then earned an MA in ceramics four years later.
Since 1990 David has owned Old Farmhouse Pottery in East Texas, where he produces thrown and extruded pottery, bisque fires in a Paragon kiln, and glaze fires in his wood-fired kiln.
Recently Arnold Howard of Paragon Industries interviewed David for this website. David kindly shares insights gained from over 30 years as a professional potter:
Q: What are the biggest obstacles in the way of a successful pottery business, and how did you overcome them?
A: Many pottery businesses fail for the same reasons as any other business, and the number one cause is under-capitalization. When starting a business, the money keeps going out while none is coming in! I advise people to have enough money to meet living expenses for six months before starting a pottery business. Some are fortunate enough to have this through an inheritance or a working spouse, but for some it means that they must work and save a portion of their paycheck for many months or years.
I think it is helpful to establish five-year plans. Write down where you want to be and what you want to be doing in five years. That helps to keep you focused on the big picture and to keep you on track. It took four five-year plans (20 years) for me to achieve my goal of having a home with a successful pottery business nearby.
A successful independent potter has to be resourceful and knowledgeable in many different areas. He has to easily switch back and forth between left and right brain thinking, such as designing pots and accounting. I tried to learn as many skills as I could. It helps a lot if you don't have to hire someone to fix your car, replace your water heater, or design your website. I even built my own house so I would not have a mortgage.
Family obligations and/or non-support can be big obstacles. In fact, I wrote an entire Clay Times article titled “Marry Well” about the importance of a supportive spouse. Of course, you can't choose your family, but if you approach your work with enthusiasm and seriousness, it will demonstrate to them that you are determined to make a go of it.
Q: What advice would you give someone who doesn’t know what they want in five years?
A: Get interested in something! It's possible to just "go with the flow," but it makes for an uninteresting life. You have to know where you want to go before you start a journey, and the five-year plans are maps.
Q: How do you maintain your enthusiasm for pottery after 30 years?
A: There are always new things to keep you interested, sometimes big new ideas and sometimes just subtle changes. I try to set goals to force myself to make sure I keep growing. For instance, I try to include at least one glaze test in every kiln firing, and I try to have two new items available for sale every fall for my annual open house. These aren't necessarily “new” things, but new to me. It can be a new pottery design, or something completely different, such as the ceramic drawer pulls I made two years ago. Last year I made square extruded pots designed to accept clock movements in the walls of the pots.
Q: What aspect of making pottery do you enjoy most?
A: I like just about everything I do. If it is in moderation, I even enjoy such chores as stacking the wood that is fuel for my kiln or cleaning kiln shelves. For enjoyment, there is nothing that beats actually working with moist clay, but I wouldn't want to do it all day, every day. The great thing about being a potter is that you get to do so many different things.
Q: If you had your life to live over, what would you do differently?
A: Nothing, so far!
Click here for David's website.
Visit David's website to order his DVDs.