Paper & Clay: The Journey To Becoming A Ceramic Artist

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Brit McDaniel is a ceramic artist and the owner of Paper & Clay. In this piece she shares her honest and heartfelt journey to becoming a ceramic artist and the value of taking time for tea.

I first fell in love with ceramics in college, but I was working full-time, going to school full-time, always broke and always exhausted. I had no idea where I was going or what I even wanted, and because of that school felt like a waste of time and money. So, I quit. I moved to Austin, and got a good job. I did everything that my 23 year-old-self thought I needed to do to be happy. I got married, I bought a house, you know, the whole package. But something wasn’t clicking. I was always searching for something else. It took a painfully long time for me to realize that by cutting off that creative aspect of my life, I had shut down a big part of myself. I was miserable, and depressed and just so lost. I don’t really know how or when it happened exactly, but one day I just realized that I had to take control– I had to change the direction that my life was headed.

The change in my life started with a community ceramics class, and l quickly realized that clay was the thing I’d been searching for (I’d spent months thinking about what I could possibly do for a living that I could be happy with . . . the list ranged from sonographer to vet tech and into the absurd), but once I realized that I wanted to make my living a ceramic artist, it became clear that I had a lot to accomplish. I was working as a nanny at the time and taking ceramics classes in the evenings, so I started getting up early and carving out an hour each morning before work. I would go sit at my favorite coffee shop, have a black coffee and a chocolate chip scone, and plan. I looked at  the work of so many ceramic artists that I admire. I researched studio set-ups, immersed myself in the world of social media marketing, found the answers to technical questions and made a plan to finish my BFA and oh my god this might really be possible!

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My plan involved quitting my job and moving back to Memphis to finish school. It seemed a little intimidating, but I only had two semesters left and it would have been much more expensive (and time consuming) to start a program at a new school. It was the first time in YEARS (maybe in my whole life) that I felt like I had a real purpose. So, I did it. I packed up and moved my life (I thought temporarily) and jumped in. In the process, my marriage fell apart. Looking back, it’s easy to see that it had been slowly collapsing under the pressure of my unhappiness. I’d been missing my identity. I finally found it, and I knew even though it was incredibly sad and though it made me feel like the worst person on Earth, it was the right thing. Even though it was incredibly difficult, I realized that if I didn’t stay true to myself, to this newfound clarity, I would be completely stuck– trapped in my unhappiness.

So, I let go. I moved forward. I began working for something that I was confident in. I was hopeful. I was determined, and I was happy. I worked HARD. I took everything I could from my last two semesters of school. I pushed and planned and knew that I was doing what I was supposed to do. And I didn’t look back.

For the last three years I’ve been who I’m supposed to be. Always growing and trying to be better. I’m a ceramic artist. I spend my time trying to live a fulfilling life. I try to be more kind to others. I try help when and where I can. I take time to breathe deeply on gorgeous Fall Days, snuggle my pup on my “lunch breaks” and every morning, I make myself a real cup of coffee or tea in a mug that I’ve made and I sit down to enjoy it. I didn’t realize at the time how important those mornings at the coffee shop were. So many of us are so over worked and exhausted that we fumble around for the snooze button, spend every last second in bed, and then rush to get to work. I used to be that person. I think that by taking just a few minutes for yourself in the morning, no matter how early you have to get up to claim them, has the power to give us back control of the day. That hour before work was MINE. I was using it to set my intention (albeit unintentionally!), and it allowed me to peel my identity away from my job, and see myself as (a very flawed but real) PERSON who had real goals and real potential.  

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This experience has had a huge impact on the kind of work I make. I want to help others enjoy those small but important everyday moments. It seems silly to think that sitting down with a cup-of-something and noticing the beautiful light poring into your kitchen could change your life, but I think it can. Those moments add up to become your life. My hope is that my handmade mug will add another dimension to your experience by reminding you of a connection to another person, to the fact that you’ve supported an artist and are helping them to do what they are meant to do. It’s so easy to get on life’s treadmill and forget to actually live. So wake up, set on the kettle, grab your favorite morning brew and stop to ask the important questions like “why am doing this?” and “Am I happy?”.  Stop to be thankful. Stop to enjoy the feel of a handmade mug in your hand. Stop to set your intention. Your life is the only thing that’s truly yours. Stop to enjoy it. 

Note: Brit shared that she is currently enjoying Kilogram’s Plum Ginger Tea by Intelegentsia.

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Brit McDaniel is a ceramic artist and the owner of Paper & Clay. She lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee with her boyfriend, Barry, pup, Jetta and cat Charlie. Brit graduated from The University of Memphis in 2013 with a BFA in ceramics, and has been featured on/in Design*Sponge, Anthology, Southern Living, Garden and Gun, New York Magazine and New York Business journal. For more information or to see more of her work, visit http://www.shoppaperandclay.com/


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