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Working from her backyard studio in Atlanta's West Midtown district, Courtney Hamill is the designer and maker behind Honeycomb Studio. Each object that comes from her small-scale production studio is hand-made, either on the wheel or cast from an original mold, one-at-a-time so that no two pieces are ever exactly alike.
An Atlanta native, Courtney discovered ceramics when she signed up for an introductory class on the wheel her Junior year in college. It was during that class that she developed an intense love-hate relationship with clay. Over the course of many late nights in the studio, the hate melted away and was replaced by a life-long passion for pottery. After college, she moved to Floyd, Virgina to live in an old farmhouse and work as an apprentice to Donna Polseno and Rick Hensley on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In 2012, after a brief hiatus from ceramics, Courtney walked away from her career in non-profit fundraising and hasn't looked back.
We caught up with Courtney to talk about her inspiration, design process and favorite things.
What drew you to ceramics in the beginning and what keeps you hooked?
At its core, ceramics is a tactile art. I think in the beginning I was drawn to the idea of what I could make with clay, but what keeps me hooked is how you learn to work with the clay itself. When I’m away from ceramics for an extended length of time, my fingers almost physically ache to be in the clay again.
What potters / ceramicists inspire your work? Do you have any mentors that have inspired you?
I have many ceramicists whose work I admire (Annette Gates, Diana Fayt and Molly Hatch to name a very few), but I wouldn't say that my style is derived from theirs. I try to look outside the ceramics world for inspirations so that I don’t find myself inadvertently copying someone whose work appeals to me. Donna Polseno, a really talented ceramicist was a huge mentor to me when I got out of school and really cemented my love of pottery when I worked with her for a short time as an apprentice.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to quit their 9-5 job and start a creative business from home?
Buckle up and get ready to work HARD! I would also tell them to prepare to be flexible while they’re getting off the ground – don’t get too attached to any one idea, because it may not work and you have to recognize that and move on to the next thing or you risk stagnation. I think the MBA books call this the “fail fast” principle and I have experienced it first hand.
What has been the most difficult part of starting your own business and working for yourself?
First it’s learning how to do all of the different jobs that are required to keep a business running. Sure, I’m a potter, but I also had to figure out how to develop my brand, market my products, keep the books, invoice clients, design new products and make sure that orders get mailed. Now that I’m two years into the business and know what needs to be done, the most difficult part is finding enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done in a way that I can be proud of.
What is the process for designing new products?
I usually start with a loose idea of what I want to make, for example, a lamp. I then keep an eye open everywhere I go for a form with appealing lines that I think would work well for the product that I have in mind. This part of the process alone can take 6 months to a year. Once the form has been decided upon, it’s the form itself that usually dictates the glaze/decoration choices that I make. If, however, the form calls for something more than my signature clear or metallic black glaze, the process for testing and determining the final glaze can take months. Because all of this experimenting happens as I’m working on normal production, new product development usually takes me 3-8 months.
What’s your favorite thing about being in the studio?
There is absolutely no better feeling in the world than walking out to my studio in the morning with my cup of tea. Even if I have a hectic day of glazing or production ahead of me, it is an incredibly peaceful way to start the day.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
For me, the inspiration really flows from the form so I try to keep my eyes open everywhere I go for simple forms with clean lines that can be re-interpreted into porcelain.
How do you stay creative working for yourself?
I don’t know that I do anything in particular, but I’m very careful to take breaks when I need to and to manage my expectations about everything being done as quickly as possible so that I’m not constantly stressed. I think it’s also good to surround yourself with other creative people who work in different industries. It always amazes me how an idea or piece of work totally removed from your medium can lead to “ah ha!” moments. So far I haven’t run out of ideas, so it must be working!
You're based in Atlanta –
What’s the best thing about your neighborhood?
I live in an area called West Midtown that is changing really rapidly. It’s exciting to see my little neighborhood grow and thrive! We have great food and cocktails.
Any favorite shops or markets?
I live near a fancy grocery called Star Provisions which has the best meats, cheeses and a sweet butter and prosciutto sandwich that makes my day.
Best local eateries?
Octane Coffee has its own line item on my budget (seriously) and I can always get down on some Taqueria del Sol tacos.
What are you looking forward to as the weather turns colder?
Scarves and bourbon old fashioneds.
Describe an ideal weekend...
Sleeping in, a pancake breakfast at my favorite brunch place with my husband (with no line, which would never happen if you sleep in), a walk on the Beltline or apple picking up in the North Georgia mountains, followed by dinner and a bonfire with friends. In bed by midnight!