We had the good fortune of connecting with Randy O’Brien and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Randy, do you have any habits that you feel contribute to your effectiveness?
I love being in my pottery studio. My goal early in my career was not so much as to make a living as a potter, but to be able to spend every possible hour in my pottery studio. The first couple decades I worked 12-16 hours a day. I barely made enough to survive, but I was able to spend all my time working in clay. There were numerous setbacks throughout the years, but I did not give myself an alternative to being a potter. That and luck. 

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I never actually decided to become a ceramic artist. It just evolved over time. As a beginning potter, I doubted I would ever have the skills necessary to make it my career. From where I was to where I needed to be did not seem to be a linear progression. It was more that I was a beginner and then somehow magic would have to happen for me to obtain the necessary skills to be a potter. I loved making pots, though, and being in a pottery studio. I spent all the time I could working in clay. After several years had passed, I began to develop the self-confidence that I could make a living as a potter. After my apprenticeship in Santa Cruz, CA with ceramic artist Al Johnsen came to an end in 1988, I decided to move to Homer, Alaska to set up my own studio. My focus began to shift from mastering throwing skills to glaze chemistry. I took a break from my studio and went to the University of Alaska Fairbanks for a summer to learn more about making glazes with locally available materials. It turned out I was the only one to show up. The class was cancelled and the instructor, Dwain Naragon, agreed to work with me as an independent study. Not only did this immersion give me an excellent understanding of glaze chemistry, it also was my first introduction to crawl glazes which I eventually built a career around. The struggle to make a living as a production potter began to take its toll after a few years. The monotony of making the same form over and over began to burn me out. My back ached. My hands were starting to go numb. To get a fresh perspective I returned to art school. This time at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. While at Alfred I focused on special effect glaze surfaces. Five years later I was able to combine what I learned in Fairbanks and what I learned at Alfred to successfully create the ceramic surface that has been my trademark for the past 2 decades. The biggest challenges that I have faced were physical struggles and burn out. There were many financial struggles throughout the years, but they never were a serious threat to my career. I discovered after moving to Tucson in 1999 that my physical problems disappeared. It was the constant contact with cold water and clay that was the cause. I now work in a studio without air conditioning. While it can be quite hot during the summer, I have no physical limitations even as I near 60. I am very careful to avoid burning out again. I divide my day into tasks that can be completed in under an hour. Variety is crucial. My sales are evenly divided between galleries and art festivals. Galleries provide me with a consistent income throughout the year and are an excellent source of exposure. Art festivals give me feedback that is instrumental to the evolution of my work. I love meeting the people that purchase my work and seeing the pleasure it brings them.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Places to visit – Tohono Chul, Summerhaven, Sabino Canyon Places to eat – The Parish, Wildflower, The Hub, Obon Sushi

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Al Johnsen (1922-2015) gave me the skills I needed to build a successful career in ceramics.

Website: www.randyobrien.net
Instagram: @randyobrienceramics
Facebook: www.facebook.com/obrienceramics
Youtube: https://youtu.be/hJMs3QGwQoQ

Image Credits
Wilson Graham

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