Dean McRaine | Episode 345
Dean McRaine has been a professional potter for 30 years, on Kauai since 1991. Dean is mostly self taught and consequently he has explored some unconventional pathways in his work: raw glazing, cone 10 oxidation firing, WVO (vegetable oil) firing, and Dean’s favorite technique, colored clay millefiori.
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What kind of sacrifices should a potter look at making in order to survive as an artist?
Well that’s going to be individual depending on how clever you are. If you are talented and you are clever you might not have to make any sacrifices at all. You might end up rich and famous like Tom Coleman or somebody. But initially you’ve got to balance the market and your creativity. I think that’s the most important thing. I have seen people fall off both sides of that. They were really intent on their creative vision and didn’t want to be guided by commerce, they didn’t want to adjust what they were doing so that they could make a living. If you want to do that and your work isn’t particularly saleable you could get a job teaching somewhere. Potter’s subsidise themselves either by teaching or by doing production work. I did it by doing production work, but teaching is just as valid. If you get a teaching gig you can do whatever you want in your spare time. I have also seen people fall off the other side where they have gotten too commercial. There was a guy on the island here who was mass producing these hand-painted coffee cups by the thousands. He had three people decorating, he was a really talented artist in his own right but he wasn’t using any of his creativity. He just went totally commercial and he got burnt out on it and he quit. I think it’s important to keep both things in perspective. Stay creative but also keep an eye on your market.
How do you keep the balance between your desire for creativity and your desire to eat?
Well it’s not that big of a conflict for me because I enjoy making production work. I like the process of making stuff out of clay. I’ve been lucky because Kauai is an affluent market. Tourists who can afford to come over here have got some money in their pockets. It is a self-selecting market. A solid 80 percent of my market are tourists. Initially if you don’t want to have to get a real job you’ve got to figure out how to make some money. You might have to make coffee cups and sell them at the local flea market. It might not be fun but you’ll be in your studio instead of being in an office somewhere.
How many hours a week do you typically work?
Probably 30. I’m chill man, I’m an old man. I live in Hawaii, I go to the beach. I work 5 days a week, 6 hours a day and I show up. I am really focused and it is hard to break me out of that. If you have to stress out and overwork in order to make it you are not going to be able to keep doing it forever. Maybe you can do it through 30 but you are not going to be able to do it when you are 50. I didn’t move to Kauai to be a workaholic.
How do you schedule your day as a potter?
I just do what’s up. I just go through a regular cycle of production. Whatever is at the top of the list. I am not that structured. I do have my eye on how much work I am producing. Right now I’ve been making tools. If I have to do shop maintenance things or work on my kiln I try not to get too involved in projects that are really time consuming. As far as scheduling stuff I just go through a firing schedule. I just did a firing Monday last week, and always get what I call postpartum depression after I do a firing. I don’t know if you have experienced this but after I do a firing I;ve got a month’s worth of work coming out of the kiln and I’ve got all this new feedback, I’ve got glaze tests and new glaze combinations and various things. I get a couple hundred pieces out of it and I get it out in the showroom and I end of crashing for a day or two. It’s like after you give birth to a baby where you get depressed for awhile.
How do you price your work?
What the market will bear, I guess. One of the advantages of having customers coming into the studio is I can see how they respond to my pricing. I can tell if something is too expensive. I usually price the best stuff higher. The mainline stuff, like standard coffee cups at $30. Big cups are $35. Colored clay pieces are a little bit more. That has been guided over the years by watching how people respond to my prices.
What is your perfect dream vacation?
Some of the best vacations I’ve had have been on the island. All I have to do is go to the other side of the island and I’m on vacation. People pay thousands of dollars to come here to the beaches that I just drop off on my way to work, you know? But it is nice to get away. I think my perfect dream vacation would be to go back to New Zealand. I took a trip to New Zealand in ’96 that was just great. New Zealand is an awesome country and they have terrific potters down there. They are generous, pretty green-oriented, they have great food, and the country is beautiful. I would probably go back down there for a month if I had a free ticket anywhere.