Tell us about you and your family. I am from rural Oregon. I grew up on 20 acres of land with my amazing parents and my little sister Kate. It was the ideal childhood full of wild and free playtime and lots of art projects. My childhood and my family, which is full of artists, has certainly influenced my work as a creative. I am now a full time potter and Mama working from home and creating functional ceramic pieces. I have two young daughters, Sylvie - 4, and Eloise - 6. We live in Portland Oregon, off the beaten path on a dirt road in an old farmhouse.
Meet Sarah Van Raden, a Mom, the founder and now full time potter of Notary Ceramics. I adore her whole universe and couldn’t wait to do this interview about her work and family life in Portland, Oregon.
Tell us about your work with Notary Ceramics. I started Notary Ceramics about 7 years ago in collaboration with my uncle who was a life-long potter. We had a lot of success with the initial line and when he decided to retire from ceramics I kept paying for the name of our company as well as the domain name. I thought that in the future I could hire another potter to produce our beautiful stoneware creations. I eventually started taking an evening ceramics class at a local clay retailer. I immediately fell in love with the meditative and rhythmic process of throwing clay on a wheel. I took beginning class three times in a row until I felt that I had enough knowledge of the basics to be able to produce pottery and learn and grow my skills on my own. Eventually I bought a used wheel and kiln and cleared out enough space in my basement to be able to work during my down time. I would sneak down to the basement and throw anytime my girls were napping, or in the evenings after they went to sleep. It became an insatiable habit that I had no interest in limiting or giving up. And it was after a friend of mine offered to start carrying those first pots in her shop that I had the crazy idea of turning this hobby into a career. This meant giving up a very lucrative and stable career as a photo stylist. I was a bit terrified to make the jump but I had the support of my husband and family who, for some crazy reason, believed that I could make this a profitable business.
What is your background? My background was always in art in some form. While I received my bachelors in Sociology and Anthropology I immediately jumped into designing a clothing line, which led to becoming a buyer for a womens boutique and finally a 10 year career as a photo stylist.
What is a typical day for you like? I wake up around 7am when my husband Paul sneaks a cup of coffee into our bedroom and we try to steal away 10 minutes together before our daughters wake up. We then slowly get moving towards breakfast and baths and getting everyone dressed. Finally, if it is a school day I will take the girls to school and then head to my studio to get started on the day of work ahead of me. Three days a week my girls are picked up from school by our sitter and are waiting at home for me when I get there around 5pm. Generally my husband arrives home on bike around 6 and makes us all dinner while the girls and I play and make art projects.
How did you build Notary Ceramics to what it is today? I became obsessive about creating this line of pottery and spent all waking time when not with my family devoted to creating and promoting my pottery. Instagram has been my biggest marketing tool. I rarely turned down an offer to collaborate with a photographer or stylist that was interested in shooting or working with my ceramics. This proved a great way to get my work out into the world as well as a affordable means to cultivating gorgeous imagery of my work. About a year ago I made the jump to hire an assistant. This has made a huge impact on my company's ability to keep up with orders. Now my assistant Petra and I have a beautiful partnership and we are looking to hire a full time intern to help with all of the daily tasks that are building up around us. I recently signed a two year lease on a beautiful little building in my neighbourhood. We have worked incessantly over the past 6 weeks to get the space ready and built out. We did the work ourselves in order to insure that we ended up with exactly the workspace we needed and the retail space that we wanted. We have just moved in and I couldn't be happier with the way everything turned out.
You have two sweet girls and a husband, how do you juggle family life with building and running your own business? I try to put my family first. Sometimes this means that my business doesn’t grow as fast as I know that it could, but there is nothing as important to me as my relationships with my kids and my husband. I had a life before that didn’t allow me to be as present for them as I wanted to be and I am determined not to let this career go that same route. I stay home two days a week with my youngest daughter while she is still in preschool, and I drop my kids at school every morning, and pick them up two days a week. I make certain to be home by dinner time, and to put my phone down when we are together. Weekends are sacred and we try to do long, slow breakfasts, and make time for dinner with friends and family.
What is your favourite thing to do on a day off? My favourite thing to do on a day off with my family is to lay low around our yard, walk to our community garden and spend hours in our beautiful surroundings. I prefer to stay in our community and if possible, not get in the car.
Do you prefer the city or the countryside with your family? I prefer the countryside with my family when we have the time to escape the city. We are lucky that we live a ways off the beaten path, though we are still in the city limits. However, I adore escaping to my family's cabin in the mountains whenever possible. The girls thrive in all that space and seem to crave the time to be wild and free as much as my husband and I do.
Tell us about living and working in Portland. It seems to be a really creative place to be. Portland is large town, and a very creative one at that. The creative community is very interconnected and I find that the more people I get to meet in this career the more I recognize how connected everyone is. It is a highly supportive community and Portland is a city that very much prizes local business and hand crafted art.
What are your hopes and dreams for Notary Ceramics? My dream is to be able to keep my hands in this business as long as my body with allow it! I want to eventually hire someone to be my office manager and continue to foster young creatives through internships. If we can stay in this beautiful building and grow our business from here I would be so happy. But I can foresee that we may eventually need more space, as well as more employees. Time will tell. For now I am taking this one day at a time and feeling incredibly grateful to come to work at a place that I have literally created with my own hands.
If you love Sarahs work as much as I do (and love flowers and the French countryside) Notary Ceramics together with french florist Laetitia Mayor from Florésie, will be hosting a creative retreat and workshop in France (Champagne region) this April. These two talented women will be teaching you all they know about floral design and tablescape styling with Sarah's unique pieces from Notary. Oh how I wish I could go... Read more over here!