A Blogazine, based out of Park Slope, Brooklyn, that features fun and interesting articles. Topics include: parenting, society, real estate, career, style, spirituality and more. Written contributions are always welcome!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Alyssa Ettinger: On Finding Your Comfort Zone

Alyssa Ettinger - Photograph by: Meredith Zinner

In line with my hyper obsession with stories of reinvention, I found a great one about a well-known and talented ceramist on DesignSpongeOnline.com. Alyssa Ettinger, had felt something stirring inside her for a change. 9/11 was the impetus that made her begin seeking a direction away from working in the corporate world. She found her calling in ceramics. It was a life-long love that had somehow fallen by the wayside. Alyssa writes: "It's a far different environment than the more corporate world where I once worked," she says. "Being a ceramic artist certainly doesn't make you wealthy, but I've reached a point in my life where being happy and content are far more valuable currency." Alyssa's teal, celery and slate cable knit pottery, as well as her new Porcelain Replica Milk Bottles hand-cast from antique half-pint glass milk bottles are incredibly coveted (see photos below) and have been featured in countless Art and Home Decor magazines. You can buy her lovely and fragile ceramics on her website AlyssaEttinger.com or Etsy. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn and as it turns out happens to be a fellow Bennington Alumni. So, I proceeded to invite her to tell her story of reinvention on Hip Slope Mama and she graciously agreed. Here it is:

That I've become an artist really isn't a stretch to anyone who knows me, yet it has surprised me the most. It's surreal somehow that I've become a designer. I wish someone had told me I could do this a long time ago, but I didn't even know that careers like product design even existed. To me, when you mention that kind of design I think of people who design lipstick cases or ergonomic chairs. I didn't put together that it could also mean being an artist.

Before I started designing, I worked as an Editor in women's magazines for nearly 2 decades. Halfway through those years, I went from covering consumer issues to covering crafts, decorating and lifestyle. Looking at my life in that linear way, this leap towards designing seems very organic. I've always been very creative, yet I hadn't been doing any kind of art since college. I was always in the middle of a decorating project, or remodeling something, or sewing something, but I certainly wasn't creating art. I hadn't touched clay since I graduated from college in 1987. Ironic, because half of my degree is in studio art.

In between jobs--and this was something like 3 1/2 years ago? not a long time--a friend urged me to sign up for a ceramics class she'd taken numerous times down on East Broadway. I threw a pot that first night as though I'd never stopped doing so, and within a few weeks had, in my head, designed an entire line of bowls. (I'm a notorious insomniac and most of my ideas come while I'm lying in bed trying to sleep.)

I started thinking about clay all day long, and somewhere inside of me found the courage to jump headfirst and get some studio space, a wheel, and some clay and see what I could accomplish. I threw a lot of pots and felt as though iI'd found my calling. (some people find god, I found clay. go figure.) but then, the giant studio I had a share in was sold. I moved with three of other designers, to a raw space we transformed into a ceramics studio.

The pieces I'm producing now are nothing like I'd ever made before. I use a completely different process to make things, and it's one I was taught less than two years ago from the three women I shared my space with. It's amazing, crazy even, to think that I've accomplished this much in this short time. If it didn't feel so natural I'd likely be pinching myself.

One of the reasons I believe I've done so well has nothing to do with sitting in my studio. (I've now moved out on my own, to a new studio space in Sunset Park.) all those years of creating stories about parties and products and home design gave me a very solid knowledge of what people like. The ten million photo shoots I went on taught me how to style pictures in a way that makes a good product look exceptional. Add that to knowing a lot about PR --when you're an Editor, hundreds of press releases come across your desk every month. I know from experience why many of them got saved and many got tossed in the garbage. I also know how the right picture, the right package, and the right way to put them all together makes for great exposure. More press equals more sales, so it just keeps blossoming. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that seeing my own work on the kinds of magazine pages I used to produce always makes me want to do a little happy dance.

I'm so early on in this game I have no idea where it's going. (I'm always asked. I have no idea.) I have a strong sense of what people like, because i wrote about it for so long. that experience absolutely contributes to my success, so i don't feel as though I've started from scratch.

It's a pretty nice life to design lovely things, plus I don't have to wear pantyhose (clearly the work of satan) or follow a boss' missives. I likely work more now than I did then, but I have never come home feeling stressed that the person I worked for wouldn't like what I did. Likely, that should make me sleep better at night, but then I'd never have any time for designing.