Raising enough money to buy a ceramic kiln – a Creative & Arts crowdfunding project in Edinburgh by Jo Millar
Last summer, in the midst of a global pandemic, I launched a Crowdfunder to buy my first potter’s wheel and start my own very small ceramics business, Biscocho.
What is Biscocho?
The word ‘bizcocho’ means ‘bisque’ in Spanish. The first firing in the process of ceramics is the bisque firing. After this stage, I like to leave part of my pieces without glaze, so that you can feel the clay itself. I’ve taken the ‘Biz’ out of Biscocho, because this is less of a ‘Biz’ business for me, and more of a creative practice and passion.
I started Biscocho in July 2020. I make and sell my stoneware ceramics in Abbyhill, Edinburgh. I like to make tactile, earthy ceramics which can be used and enjoyed in our everyday rituals. I make my work in very small batches and like to embrace the fact that every piece is made by hand and is unique.
I can hardly believe that here I am again, 14 months later, in need of your collective help. Initially the thought of asking for help so soon made me feel a sense of shame. I don’t like asking for help at the best of times.
Let me explain what brings me to this situation, it wasn’t planned. (I was in fact planning to focus on my family over the next month or so as our eldest daughter is starting school mid August and our youngest will be starting at a new nursery in September and we won’t have any childcare until they’re both settled).
I wasn’t planning on moving studios this summer. In fact, I have been incredibly happy in sharing Natalie’s studio for the last year. When I heard she was planning to leave the studio it dawned on me what an insecure situation I was in as my name wasn’t on the lease. None of the big decisions were in my hands, I panicked at the thought of finding myself without a studio.
Fortunately, I have managed to secure a very small studio of my own in the same building. My name will be on the lease. I’m delighted.
Unfortunately, I won’t have a kiln in the new studio.
What’s a kiln and why is it so important?
Every piece of my ceramics is fired in the kiln twice, first in a bisque firing to 998 degrees and then glazing, it is fired again to 1224 degrees. Without a kiln, my pieces would remain dry clay and crumble to the touch.
Kilns are essential to a working ceramics studio and I won’t be able work without one. They’re expensive though, on top of paying for the kiln itself and delivery, there’s the additional cost of paying an electrician to install it. I don’t have or make this kind of money which is why I’m asking for help.
Where did this all start?
I learned how to throw in Colombia while living there (from 2012-2015) and quickly became obsessed. I had a lot more free time back then and would go to the studio as much as possible.
I went from classes to a personal practice in a shared studio in Bogota. Before I left I started selling my work.
When we moved to Edinburgh in 2015, the first thing I did was find a wheel I could use. I joined the Bridge Pottery Collective at St Margaret’s House on London Road and spent my time getting used to new clay and glazes. I started throwing Stoneware instead of the local Earthenware clay I had learned with in Colombia.
It’s fair to say that my pottery has had to take a back seat since having children. I did return to the Bridge Collective a year after having my first child, but 7 months later I was too heavily pregnant with my second daughter to continue, so I left. I was no longer able to afford the monthly shared rent as I was now a Stay at Home Mum.
Having two children under 2 is no joke and when my youngest turned 6 months and was able to be given some food if I wasn’t around, I started going to a local pottery studio, Mudstation, in Abbeyhill, on a Saturday morning. I looked forward to it all week. I switched off. I threw pots. I listened to music. I didn’t think about my babies. This, for me, was “self-care”.
In April 2019, I started my A Year in Cups project. It was born from the need to focus on something else other than my babies. The idea also came from hearing someone on a podcast say “if you do something everyday for a year, you’ll get really good at it”. I wasn’t able to go to the studio everyday, so instead I started A Year in Cups, a cup for every day of the year. I sold the cups to pay for the studio fees and 10% of the money raised was donated to Bikes for Refugees, a local charity providing New Scots with bikes to get around their new home. Giving money to local charities is something I continue to do, I regularly donate money to charities supporting women and mothers. My last donation was to Dr Bells Family Centre in Leith.
The feedback and overwhelming support I received while doing this project gave me the confidence to buy my own wheel and start Biscocho.
In January 2020, my daughters started at nursery part-time and I returned to part-time work. I felt more balance in my life and more myself than I had in a long time. I was a mother, a potter, a teacher and I had a bit more time to think, to breathe. Until the pandemic hit that was!
I now teach part-time, run Biscocho and my daughters are 4 and 2. It’s a massive juggle, but I love it.
Over the last year I have worked hard in my ceramic practice and I’ve also built a small business which I am proud of. I built my website with online shop last September, I’ve been commissioned to make work for both individuals and small businesses both in the Lothians and further afield in the UK, I recently did my first market.
I’d love to have a chance to continue this work and build on the foundations that I have laid. I’d also love to continue giving 1:1 classes, something which I’ve greatly enjoyed this year but frustratingly has had to be put on hold several times due to COVID restrictions.
How can you help?
For those of you who are new to a Crowdfunder, I’m not simply asking for free money.
I’m asking you to purchase something from me in advance. I will make it for you and fire it in my new kiln once it’s in place. Not only are you investing in a piece of my work or a learning experience but you are giving me the opportunity to build on the work I have put into Biscocho and to develop my ceramic career.
The key to Crowdfunders is that one pledge alone wouldn’t do it, but if everyone chips in a bit (and chooses a reward so that I can pay them back) I’ll be able to buy a kiln and get it installed in my new studio.
I really don’t want your money for nothing. If you look at the rewards available, I hope you will find something for you. If you don’t want to get some of my ceramics as a reward there is also the option to make a Pay Pottery Forward Donation.
This is a way of paying your generosity forward to those who cannot afford to buy some themselves or for those who could do with cheering up on cheering on. Everyone will be able to nominate friends, family members, colleagues to receive some ceramics. This might be an NHS worker, but it also might be someone whose mental health has struggled during the challenges of the past year.
You will also find Taster Wheel sessions and Beginner courses. These can be bought for yourself or others (gift vouchers are available on request).
Although moving studios wasn’t what I had planned this summer, I can’t help thinking that this will help me move to the next stage in my artistic practice. To have my own studio, with both wheel and kiln would be an absolute dream.
If you are financially unable make a pledge on my Crowdfunder, I fully understand. There are other ways of helping, simply by spreading the word and sharing my Crowdfunder with anyone you think might be interested.
The more people who hear about my Crowdfunder the better and the more chance I have of reaching my goal.
(Thanks to Jo Tennant for the wonderful photographs she took of me in the studio in May 2021 used here, to Essay Studio for my branding and the Chalco Stamps for my potter’s stamps.)
This content was originally published here.