Three Things I Learned: Painting Pottery

I landed my first job at Feats of Clay, a paint-your-own-pottery place in my hometown when I was 15. Here are three things I learned:

1. Responsibility can be taken or given, regardless of whether or not you want to take or be given it. Let it give you perseverance.

Within three months, I had a key to the store. Soon after, I was not only counting the drawer and tracking our daily profit, but also dropping the deposit off at the bank. At 16, I often opened and closed the store alone and would run the store like a mullet: regular business up front and sometimes hectic, crazy toddler filled parties in the back. I typically didn’t mind running the store alone; on slow days, I would paint display pieces and empty out the kiln. I learned that autonomy and responsibility are incredibly gratifying things from a job. But I also learned how crushing it can be when you have too much responsibility and not enough leadership. There were times when the store would run out of small change. There were times when my boss said she had to run a quick errand and not come back for three hours. There were times when people would get impatient and pissily ask me how old are you again? Are you the only one here? I sometimes would go home and cry to my mom complaining I was too stressed…but then I would just wake up the next Saturday and open and work and close again. Nothing wrong with a little perseverance. I had that job, with a few raises, for almost four years.

2. There’s always room to teach yourself something new at any job. And it’s not a chore.

My typical responsibilities were helping customers, cleaning, running parties, and handling the cash register. But eventually I did window displays, planned and budgeted summer camps, and even created one or two advertisements for the local papers. I did this because I love creatively designing things: events, images, displays. I was able to explore my own talents and my own design aesthetic. I was 17, it was fun, and business jargon labels it as the highly sought after “initiative.”

3. It’s so easy to see how much better you can run things than your boss.

But if that’s the case, rather than complaining (ugh), do what you can to improve what you have responsibility over. Then request time to sit with your boss and offer up constructive feedback. We’re all humans and no one is perfect. Having the opportunity to step back from your work and criticize it isn’t an opportunity to bitch about your job – it’s an opportunity to help someone see the larger picture when they’re most likely totally consumed by the dirty details. Or in my case, maybe they don’t have the time (or don’t care) to see the bigger picture. I always wished I had stepped up and had more serious conversations about ways to improve that job.

BONUS: Coffee in large quantities is totally fine (probably).

Ah coffee. How I used to loathe thee and that strange bitter flavor. Then I became slightly less dim and started enjoying coffee ice cream in middle school. True genius status arrived once I started at Feats of Clay and I began to consume more coffee than a high school student should need. There’s something reassuring about being at work with coffee in hand. It’s like it gives you power. You know it’s supposed to kick start something, so then after you take those first few steps, all you need is to believe. That’s when you get your grind on (punny). Coffee + work = accomplishment. The only time I’ve ever found coffee to be a problem was when I was painting custom pieces…which were most often birthday or wedding gifts with lots of fine typography. Jittery hands were not the greatest thing. And yet me and my coworkers would fall to pieces laughing  over the fact that we were trying to paint something delicate while our hands were just shaking all over the place.

Photo of Meredith painting a ceramic mug.

Pro painting tip: always place your brush where you want the heaviest paint line first. Other pro tip: don’t shake.


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