Clay Owen Studios Interview
We're kicking off our second go-around through Anchorage and Eagle River with Autumn Stubbert of Clay Owen Studios. She provided us with some beautiful Alaskan prints. We chatted about the growth of her studio, her discovery of her love of teaching, and more! Without further ado. :)
Tell me a bit about yourself, Clay Owen Studios, and how you got started.
I am 29 years old. I just got married this year and I run a pretty busy art studio. I teach mosaics, stained glass, resin projects, and mostly wheel-thrown pottery. I love to paint with acrylics and watercolors. I have not taught many classes in these mediums but plan to in the future. My best buddy is my husky Zulu who hangs out with me when I paint. Right now I work as a full-time artist. In December the studio had 330 students this year with just me and an assistant so it keeps me very busy. In all honesty, the studio got off with a bumpy start. At first I, like the typical artist, was not very organized and it was very hard for me to run a business. Since then I have come so far developing ways to keep myself organized, to be both creative and technical, and to take responsibility for my business and its image. I started with one pottery wheel in my garage. Since 2011, when we started, we have expanded and moved three times, each time to a bigger space. We accumulated equipment a piece at a time, often second hand since that was all I could afford at the time. Now we have a lot of regular students, a following, and really a studio family who I love. They make any bad day worth it and trust me with art there are bad days. Often art does not always go as planned. I try to navigate that as best I can but it is all based on each individual. I am happy to provide this service and feel like after ten years we are just getting to a place of stability even despite an earthquake and a pandemic in this last year. We are making beautiful things happen here despite those things and I could not be more proud.
I definitely know what you mean in regards to treating your passion like a business. Do you have any tips for helping creatives develop their business muscles as well?
I think artists have a tendency to take things too personally and to be very emotionally attached to their work. I have grown some thicker skin the longer I have been selling my artwork. It's best to have someone working with you, another artist, a family member, someone who can see business choices as non-emotional choices and advise artists on what to do or how to price their art. It's also important to still do art projects without selling or money in mind, projects that are just for you and not for business purposes.
What's the story behind your name?
My studio was named after my grandpa. I grew up on a farm in Palmer and he was by far my greatest supporter. He was always giving me art supplies and saving my artwork. He died a year before I started the studio ten years ago but I would like to think he is happy with our progress and how many students we serve in our space. He came up here with his family in the 1940s and they bought 80 acres for $100. They ran a chicken egg farm starting out and were the pioneers of the valley. Their work ethic and grit are why I have made it so far with my business today.
What do you like most about teaching classes and new art styles to others?
I love teaching art to adults and children because it gives them such a sense of accomplishment and individuality. On top of the benefits to students, I learn a lot from students. As I watch them do art projects and observe I can discover many things about the process I never thought about in-depth before. What I have learned the most is the biggest thing that stops us on an art project is doubt in ourselves. My job here is to supply the materials and to try to keep that doubt at bay so that they can discover new successes. The studio has become a way for adults to focus on something besides everyday life stresses. I think it's important to get that mental break. Many of my students have taken what they learn and set up studios at home and that is the biggest reward for me.
I'm sure it feels really great to hear about how your students have set up their own studios at home! Just from you talking about it, it definitely sounds very transformative. You mentioned how coming to your classes is a way for people to have a focus or an outlet separate from the stress of everyday life. What would you say is your biggest reason for getting into and developing your love of art?
Well, in all honesty, I had a very stressful childhood. I had a very mentally ill parent and my best way to handle that stress as a child was to put together art projects. We did not have very much so it was easy to just pick up a pencil and paper to get lost in a drawing. I have found that other artist friends have had similar painful life events and art was really a way for them to release that anxiety.
Did you always see yourself teaching art as well as making it or was there a certain point when you knew that teaching was something that you wanted to do?
I always wanted to be an artist. I knew that from a young age. However, I never saw myself teaching art. It was probably the first year of having the business that I really found I love teaching and I love sharing the art experience with other people. It made them happy which in turn made me feel part of that happiness.
I read that you taught pottery to people with disabilities for two years at the Arc of Anchorage. How did that opportunity come to be and tell me about that experience?
I loved my experience working with the Arc of Anchorage. Students with disabilities are so very loving and open-minded. At first I was very uncomfortable in all honesty. I think a lot of people who have not worked with students with disabilities need time to adjust to not feel self-conscious. I really felt that my students were more confident in themselves than I was. There were several students who were very shy but throughout projects would become very open, they would talk and socialize more than they did outside the classroom. I thought that was both super interesting and wonderful. The director at the time had taken one of my classes and sent me an email the next week asking if I would assist with an art class once a week for pottery students. It was a wonderful experience for me not only as a teacher but as a human being.
I also read that you were commissioned to do classes by native corporations for rural communities. Tell me more about that.
I was hired to fly out to a remote community to help set up art classes. In this small community, the importance of staying close and connected really can mean life and death. It's a harsh environment, critical resources may be hard to come by if you are not prepared, and you really must be able to depend on your neighbors out there. These art classes were really a way for the corporation that hired me to keep people together, to have them share and connect over art. It was a bumpy ride out there I will tell you what, three small planes, and a cold four-wheeler ride. It was a rude awakening to how spoiled I was in town. I did witness a bit of mental health issues that the community had which is unfortunate but I think worth mentioning, as those individuals are often excluded from activities. Setting this community up with information on what supplies to order, how to make art together, and how to share ideas really served those individuals the most in the long run.
When you're working on something new, where do you draw your inspiration from?
It really all depends on my emotions at the time. Art is really personal for me. It most often is a release for when I am sad or unhappy or stressed. That sounds morbid however when I start an art project I focus on featuring things that do make me happy to pull myself out of the funk. My favorite flowers are sunflowers, they are featured in many, many of my art pieces. My best relationship is my relationship with my husband and after we got married a lot of my pieces featured couples. So not only emotions but life events as well. There have been a few times where I was over the moon happy. Those were good times for painting as well. In summary, it would be at an emotional peak, not the in-betweens. I do art when I really need art. My favorite myth would have to be that inspiration is like a spirit. You don't know when it's going to visit, you don't know for how long, so when it's there you have to work to keep it around. I could get inspired at 2 am and normally well work until 2 pm the next day simply because I know if I go to sleep or take a break I will lose the inspiration, I will lose the perfect accumulation of emotion, energy, and motivation.
Do you have a favorite artist from the past? What about a contemporary artist?
Oh man, Salvador Dali has to be my favorite artist from the past. His work was so odd and full of imagination. I went to see his art exhibit in London and you just want to know more about what went on in his head. I got to see his sketches, find out more about his life, and his art really had more meaning to me being able to put it into that context.
Is there anything new that you're working on that you can tease?
There is a piece that I was working on all night and through the day. I managed to finish it in one night. I could barely keep my eyes open, they were burning. After I was done I swore it was the best piece I had painted to date. I did feature it on my Facebook page, not for sale, and got a message that someone wanted to buy it right away. Which is a great compliment but, as an artist, you need time apart from a piece you really love. I said I would have to hold onto it for a while just so I could enjoy it myself but was flattered and it will eventually be shipped out for this person. Other than that I am trying to navigate the fear and anxiety of what is going on today. I started to put together mail out art kits for families to enjoy at home. And you know what? I really love putting them together. I am working on keeping this a regular service when we are allowed to open again because through these I can reach remote areas that may not have access to the art classes they want. I have about 50 orders right now and the support from students is really warming my heart. I think that during this stressful time we need a break, we need to adapt, and we need to stay productive. Providing these art kits has given that to me and probably will in the future as well. I attach a picture of the mentioned painting as well, I put it together in my kitchen, lol. I think I got more paint on my dog and my kitchen than on the canvas.
What was it about The Bear Box that made you want to be a part of it?
I have spent a lot of time teaching as of late and really have not spent time developing my own art and getting it out there for people to see. It really is a hard balance when you teach, to also remember that you need to be taught, and your art needs to be worked on as well. Part of being an artist is really engaging an audience. I thought this was a good way to start since those who subscribe are interested in art. I was interested in having a way to introduce myself to more art lovers and to have my work somewhere in their homes where they can enjoy it, instead of just hanging up in my home.
Do you have an inspirational quote or any words of wisdom?
Hmm, words of wisdom. Well, when I started my business I did not have the whole support of my family. Of course they worried that artists can't make a good living, which comes from a place of love, still a little harsh though. So I would say if you want to do something, try it, nothing is a waste of time. The worst that can happen is it doesn't work out and you start on a new idea but it would be a shame to miss out on an opportunity because of self-doubt. Now my family has told me more than once this is what I am supposed to be doing in life. Having them realize that and acknowledge that was a really great moment for me. So to summarize, don't let self-doubt or the doubt of others keep you from trying.
Is there anything else that you haven't mentioned yet that you'd like to?
I just want to thank you for putting this wonderful box together and supporting local artists.
Don't let self-doubt get in your way. Great stuff! A big thanks to Autumn for being a part of our box and taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure to connect with her on Facebook!