Ceramicist Ruchika Madan learnt to say no the hard way, but it was one of the best realizations she ever had. “I was initially so eager for work, I found it very hard to refuse projects that I didn’t want to do, or wholesale production orders.
“Eventually I figured out that if I just worked on what I really wanted to, stayed true to my own pursuits and values, the work sold just as well or even better, and I was so much happier.
“I still don’t do much production or any wholesale and only take commissions that fall into my current way of working and style. I want to go into the studio excited to work, not dreading the slog through some tedious project.”
Ruchika’s career has taken a few twists and turns, but always the focus was on creating something. Originally studying metalsmithing, she changed focus to ceramics early on in her studies, and graduated from Maine College of Art in Portland. Wanting to work as a studio potter but stuck without a studio meant working as an assistant to another ceramicist (which she says was great for honing skills), while doing restaurant jobs on the side and textiles at home to support herself.
“I have always been a maker – it’s just what I have always done and in some ways, my career has just been a long continuation of the same person I was as that little kid.”
Over the past 20 years, she has split her time between teaching, making and exhibiting, and for the last 10, had her own retail studio space next to her friend and jeweller, Jade Moran in Somerville, MA. During that time, she also worked as product developer and designer for her family business, Achla Designs, a manufacturer of garden products. “At one point we had a ceramic line, which I worked to develop with a factory in Poland. It was a great experience to trouble-shoot and learn more about designing for specific production methods.”
With the arrival of her second child at the end of last year, Ruchika decided to close her retail space. Now she continues her work from home, with an office upstairs and a clay studio in the basement. “I have plenty of space and my garden right outside.”
It’s her garden and what happens in it that provides much of the inspiration for her work – birds, worms, baby carrots and fresh sprouts all make their way onto her platters and tiles. Strong clean forms come through, with plenty of emphasis on line and texture. “I love to work in series, creating a body of work with images that come from a theme, or recurring preoccupation I have.”
“Most of my work is made from white stoneware and porcelain clay using a variety of forming techniques, including wheel-throwing, slab-building and slip-casting. The surface is created by incising and carving, and brushing, stenciling, and trailing slip. The glaze and underglaze materials vary the line quality and colors. By applying the glazes to selected areas with a brush, some areas can be shiny, while others remain softly matte.”
“I think the hardest thing as an artist is having to just muddle along and make your own way. You have to have drive to become reasonably successful and/or financially solvent. You are a one-man-band – production, marketing, accounting, janitorial…
“Sometimes people have mentors, but I didn’t so much, and 20 years ago there were no fabulous tools like Etsy or Squarespace or mobile phone credit card readers that make tasks manageable, even easy.”
“Just learning to take photographs – (slides!) of your work was such a huge obstacle before you could even move on to the next thing. So I just buckled down and figured it out. Now it’s so much easier to hang a virtual shingle out and you’re open for business, and I’m happy to be able to take advantage. Outsourcing and hiring help is also possible once you are more established or have a bigger budget, but watching my parents in the family business doing it all and building up to the successful business they have today, taught me what could be achieved on your own.”
Throwing children into the mix was a hard adjustment. “Being a studio artist is a solitary life – I mean mentally more, but physically too. I spent so many hours working full-time alone in my studio for many years before kids came along. It was hard to adjust and I go crazy when I can’t carve out any time for that. I resort to dead of night when everyone is in bed. I figure I’ll sleep when I’m dead! Right now with a 1 and 5 yr old is the biggest challenge. I often feel I am running on a hamster wheel.”
But of course the children are inspiring too. “It’s interesting to see what my 5 year old seems to have inherited genetically. He spends hours at our kitchen table, “his workshop” cutting things out with scissors and doing various projects. At my parents house, he has commandeered the shoe closet under the stairs as his “studio” and set it up with a tiny table and chair and suitcase full of supplies.”
They spend a lot of time as a family making art together. “My husband is an artist too and we draw a lot in our family – we have a giant sketchbook we work on together and really, we spend a lot more time doing art purely for fun. My inspiration has always come from my activities – my garden, my time in Maine etc., and the stories we read and animals we study, projects we do – all of it percolates into my studio work.” Ruchika also uses the time with children to focus on aspects other than studio work, like setting up her website and some other side projects in design, including fresh products for Achla, as well as patterns through Spoonflower. And of course, working in her garden.
You can find more of Ruchika’s beautiful ceramics in her Etsy shop, ruchika.