Petra Kaiser, the woman behind Sandbox is a self-taught potter. She initially took a class at a community college but went on to teach herself via YouTube on a secondhand wheel in her dining room. Petra continued working on her ceramics and started working full time for a more established potter in Portland, Oregon until starting Sandbox in 2016. Here we learn more about Petra’s ceramic journey, how she works and what some of the challenges of being a self-taught potter.
How did you get into ceramics?
My love for ceramics was sparked while taking an intro to ceramics class at a local community college near Portland, Oregon. I was feeling pretty lost in my mid-twenties, so I promised myself I’d invest some serious time into trying out different mediums until something felt right. I’ve always been drawn to working with my hands, so in hindsight, it seems crazy that I didn’t get into ceramics sooner. My grandmother was a potter (hand-builder), so I wasn’t a complete stranger to clay. It wasn’t until I sat at a wheel that my interest really blossomed.
When did you decide to pursue ceramics as a career?
It still feels unbelievable that this is my career. I think it all happened pretty organically (and more quickly than I thought it would). I bought a used wheel about a month after I started the course at the community college and began throwing in my dining room at home just to teach myself the basics. I’ve always been someone who learns by doing, so I decided to reach out to local potters to see if anyone wanted free help from a girl who knows almost nothing about clay – I definitely wasn’t holding my breath. After a lot of no’s and mostly non-responses to my annoying emails, I managed to get an interview with Sarah VanRaden of Notary Ceramics. To my disbelief she hired me! A year later I found myself working for her full time and running Sandbox Ceramics out of my home studio any time that I wasn’t at work. Since then I’ve learned a ton and grown my own business more than I could’ve imagined.
How did you teach yourself pottery?
So much research! I would fall asleep at night while watching Youtube videos and visiting pottery forums about a particular technique I was interested in. I was very committed to putting in some serious time experimenting with my own underglaze patterns and designs and simple shapes.
Your work is very distinctive, very graphic, what is your creative process like?
I make a lot of the same shapes but like to experiment with different color, pattern and line work. I like to have a few extra bisqued mugs around to apply a pattern or new color to when an idea strikes. I keep around sketches I’ve made on napkins and receipts for when I have extra time to play with new ideas. I’d say my creative process is pretty laid back- I tend to like to fly by the seat of my pants.
What are you inspired by right now?
Pattern and color blocking. I like repetitive patterns. Crisp straight lines. Matte colors. I want my work to be simple enough to have around the home but still graphic and interesting in some kind of way.
What does a typical day in your studio look like?
I generally get up pretty early, make coffee and start with answering emails. I so appreciate when people get back to me quickly, so I try to do the same with everyone else!
My business is made up of primarily wholesale accounts at this point, so I work on 1-2 orders at a time ( it might be time for a kiln upgrade). I’ll throw, trim, fire and glaze each order as a group while making extras of certain items to stock my website or fill presale orders. Each day varies depending on which part of the process is next.
Another thing I’ve become more serious about is photography. I use Instagram as my main platform to market my work and it’s become clear to me that taking quality photos really pays off. Any day that I unload a glaze kiln means I’m staging and taking photos of new work before it’s packed and shipped off.
What are you working on now?
When I can find time between deadlines, I’ve been working on a table lamp design I’ve had rolling around in my head. I’ve never made or wired a lamp and I’ll be working with some pretty exact height constraints, so it’s a work in progress!