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Inspiring Conversations with Julie Neri of Julie Neri Pottery

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julie Neri.

Julie, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I grew up in Connecticut, graduated with a business degree from Cornell University, and after several years working in the corporate world, felt the need for a change and moved to Colorado to volunteer for a year with VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). I obtained my MPA from CU Denver and worked for several years in education administration.

After obtaining my Masters’s Degree, in 1995, I decided to take a class in something non-intellectual and I fell in love with clay. Marriage, two kids, a nasty divorce, recession, several difficult employment endings, and I became a single mom with two young children, with one child having chronic health problems that needed a stay-at-home mom.

The need to make a living while being at home with incredible flexibility led me to turn a hobby as a potter into a successful and thriving small business, and an empty space in my house into a short-term rental venture. I developed a bay of my garage into a start-to-finish pottery studio in 2010, so I could work from home in the snippets of time that being a single mom allowed.

In 2010, I joined the Boulder Potters’ Guild and began to sell my work and teach adults. In 2018, I joined the board of Eastern Boulder County Artists and started showing my work in studio tours. I now use my two business degrees to help manage several non-profit arts organizations and to continue to grow my lines of ceramic work.

My ceramic work has evolved over the years to be based on texture, inspired by nature, and infused with a touch of whimsy. I predominantly hand build my pieces, which makes my style and my designs unique. The textures that I use are mostly carved by me in clay and are inspired by the Connecticut shoreline and designs found in the Colorado outdoors.

In August 2022, I took my second and last child to college. The sacrifice to stay at home and develop an art career paid off in the stability of my child. In addition, after both of my children grew up in an artistic household, my daughter is an Interior Architect and my son is studying Computer Animation.

I am, at the core, a business person that fabricates products with clay. I see the world through the lens of efficiency and marketing, but I am able to use my creativity in both the design and the development of the pieces that I make from clay. I began an Etsy Shop in 2020, during Covid, and saw immediate success across the country and eventually in many other countries.

My lines of work include ceramic trees, houses, sea turtles, carved painter’s palettes, vases, and planters. My work is now sold online, through three galleries in Allenspark (The Old Gallery) and Estes Park (Aspen and Evergreen Gallery, The Highland Bard), at the Boulder Potters’ Guild Sales, EBCA Studio Tours, and a variety of artisan sales in Boulder County.

I am currently taking all of the knowledge that I have obtained through this journey to teach a class for long-time pottery students taking the next steps toward independence in the field. In this class, we are learning to fire kilns, mix glazes, develop a cohesive body of work, start a business, decide where to sell, and develop a private studio. My clay journey is far from over, but it feels good to give back to potters that are striving to go in a direction that I have already been.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
People ask how long I have been doing pottery. The answer I give is 27 years with time off for each child, a divorce, and many other struggles along the way. Raising children and having an intensive hobby do not easily go together. Being a single mom and anything else is a struggle. Throw in a chronically ill child with a continuum of new issues over 9 years and a difficult divorce, and it was essentially all a struggle.

Clay started as therapy and grew to be my respite from my life as a caretaker and single mom. It was never in the plan to make it a full-time gig, but over time, I recognized the potential and stuck with it. Being a full-time artist requires way more than any other full-time job I have had. It is my job, my life, my therapy, my passion, and my hobby all wrapped into one. There is very little downtime.

The lack of art shows during Covid pushed me to start an online shop on Etsy and that opened my business up to an entirely new audience. The choice to join The Old Gallery in Allenspark was a gamble, but also opened up a new market and I have watched my sales increase as my work is getting noticed by tourists and mountain travelers. That lead to an invitation to join another gallery in Estes Park.

Getting involved with non-profit organizations of artists is a challenge as well. Managing my volunteer time with my production and management time for my business is very difficult. The rewards are friendships in the art community and satisfaction from using my business skills to assist with the management and development of these organizations.

In one organization, I needed to teach a group of artists to manage their inventory with product codes and spreadsheets. It was a unique challenge, but one I did complete! In 2022, one of the largest challenges in the non-profit world is getting people to volunteer their time in responsible positions. This is a distinct difference from pre-2020 and is something I am seeing across several organizations.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
I believe that what makes my business unique is partly my creativity, but mostly the way I view the business through the avenue of art. Many artists create what they feel like and hope there is someone that will want to pay them money for it.

I come up with an idea and develop it to where my creations will be unique and desirable, but will also inspire future sales of my work. I listen to customers’ requests and when appropriate, create to their demands and then develop that idea further.

In 2020, a friend of the family contacted me, said she loved my style, and asked if I would create a ceramic painter’s palette for her. I researched the concept and found most of the ceramic painter’s palettes were being made in other countries and were not always of high quality.

I designed some shapes that would fit into my lines of work and created a set for her with a leaf and an extension palette, giving her additional space for her paint colors and for mixing, all in an artistically designed set. Over the last 2 years, I have designed and created over 30 palette designs.

Each design is created with an add-on planned. A 6″ Sunrise (half circle) fits snugly with a 6″ 6 well strip. Painters told me that they have limited space on their painting tables and need to have pieces take up minimal space. I later designed a crescent moon palette that hugged the same half circle and then created several options for that half circle to fit whether a painter wants more storage space or more mixing space. Two half circles can be placed together as a 6″ circle.

Each of these palettes is hand carved by me and each is a piece of art that aesthetically and functionally adds benefit to the painter that is using them. All of this effort has put me solidly on page one of the Etsy search for ‘ceramic palette’ and created consistent sales for me, year-round.

My attention to detail, both in design and in the creation and finish work, brings my work to a higher level than a potter that is new to the medium. Adding a touch of whimsy to the toppers on my ceramic trees, a mushroom growing out of the crevice of a forest house or a bird with its empty nest on my houses all add to the fun and the attraction of my pieces.

I have been developing my customer base and keeping in touch with them consistently for over 10 years. They know that I am approachable and flexible and that I enjoy interacting with them. Success in the art world is never just one thing.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
The best advice I have is to join an organization in your field. Connecting with other artists through working on mutual projects has introduced me to artists in my medium and in every other medium.

We all have things that we have learned that can help each other. I have been open to sharing my experiences and looking to connect with others that are also open to sharing.

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