Local beer. Local coffee. Local honey for your tea. There’s a lot of talk about ‘drinking local’ these days but few consider what they’re drinking out of. Chicago potter Ryanne Maldonado hopes to change this. Three months ago, the 30-year old Michigan native quit her corporate paycheck to pursue her passion: making mugs and other forms of functional, artisanal pottery. And at this stage, every mug and tumbler sold brings her closer to achieving the small business dream.
Maldonado’s passion was sparked in 2013 when she took a beginner’s class at Logan Square’s Penguin Foot Pottery. “It was insanely difficult,” she says of getting started, but the challenge only made her more eager to learn. She would go to the studio as much as possible, but had to keep her clay-crafting confined to nights and weekends while working a day job to pay the bills. Pretty soon she was making gifts and commissions for friends and family, choosing the apt phrase “Set Fire To It” as her artistic handle. Once she’d made her final student loan payment she began to seriously consider the possibility of trying pottery full time.
Taking part in monthly meetups hosted by entrepreneur collective Coffee and Conversation helped Maldonado get the support and motivation she needed to make the decision. With inspiration from others in the group who’d taken a similar self-employment plunge, she put in her notice at work and made a website. Though the prospect of trading a steady paycheck for a life of sporadic commissions and unpredictable craft fairs was certainly intimidating, she knew that setting herself up for the challenge was just what she needed to keep growing artistically. The extra 40 hours per week she’d gain from quitting her day job proved instrumental in taking Set Fire To It (“SFTI” as it’s stamped on each of her pieces) from just a hobby to a livelihood.
Photo caption: Examples of Maldonado's work, stamped with the "SFTI" maker's mark.
With more hours in the studio, Maldonado can now prepare enough inventory to have a real presence at craft shows, giving her not only quick sales but also more exposure in Chicago’s burgeoning independent craft scene. She's quickly become a mainstay at pop-up markets like the Bitter Betty Bazaar, but is always on the lookout for more opportunities to get her work out to new people. January's been a slow month (as it is for many businesses) but she's looking forward to starting the new year strong at Empty Bottle's popular Handmade Market on February 13th.
As a relative newcomer, Maldonado's been impressed with the overwhelming positivity of the Chicago "maker" scene: “The community is really supportive and inclusive—people are always up for giving advice and they organize pop-up shops largely as labors of love.”
Her pottery is also a labor of love but Maldonado knows that liking what you do can’t pay the rent. Goals for 2016 include striking wholesale/consignment deals and setting up an online shop—though with the risks involved in shipping ceramics, she’s happy to get more local sales first.
Ryanne Maldonado lives and works in Logan Square. See more of her work at setfiretoit.com and like her page on Facebook for details on upcoming shows. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for commissions and pricing.
Coffee and Conversation is a Chicago-based community of entrepreneurs and innovators meeting monthly to share ideas, resources, and support. Meetups are free and open to the public. Join C&C on Facebook and Twitter for details on upcoming events.
April Muller is a freelance writer and dog lover based in Avondale. Find her on Twitter @findapril.