December 4, 2023

The magnetism of a good mug is hardly a new phenomenon. But during the pandemic, many ceramic artists have seen the kind of customer excitement that is more associated with clothing lines or concert tickets. Some pieces sell out within seconds of being posted on websites and Instagram pages.

Lalese Stamps from Lolly Lolly Ceramics said it could sell 250 cups in less than a minute. Sarah Hussaini, the architect who became the ceramist behind Not Work Related, reported that she had sold 350 pieces in six minutes. Mica DeMarquez of Mimi Ceramics tracked sales of 326 items in four minutes, and Dustin Barzell of Ceramicism routinely unloaded 10 to 30 items in 30 seconds. Studio Hecha’s Haley Bradley spent an estimated 400 hours – with no drying time – releasing 78 unique tracks. Everything sold, she said, in five minutes.

“A customer told me the last time he felt like he was getting tickets to Beyoncé,” said Ms. DeMarquez, 35. “It’s an adrenaline rush.”

Part of the thrill is that the goods are sold in limited batches or “drops”. Such mini-collections have become an online strategy for selling all sorts of things – streetwear and sneakers, but also handbags, makeup, and even knitwear.

But while streetwear brands keep creating an aura of exclusivity, this category of ceramics is the real thing: made by artists, unique. Most are decidedly bold – cups in an upbeat mix of colors, shapes, and patterns, with glossy glazes and checkerboard prints being particularly popular.

As the quarantine dragged on, the urge to maximize the enjoyment of home environments blossomed, and sales of certain household goods have increased since the same time last year. Many people also had a desire to make everyday activities – drinking coffee, eating dinner – a little more worthy of Instagram.

Ms. Stamps, 31, who stocks her mugs in Madewell and West Elm, saw the popularity of her work soar on social media to support more black makers. In March 2020, she had under 9,000 followers; Now she has over 100,000. “I know it’s not just because I’m a black person or a black company,” she said. “It has a lot to do with the work I do.” Their “100-day project” – a collection of 100 stoneware cups, each with a different handle, made in 100 days – was widely announced.

Hunter Galligan, a licensed consultant in Chapel Hill, NC, has been trying to purchase a specific mug from Ms. Stamps’ collection since January. She contacted the artist directly, searched eBay and Poshmark, and asked friends and family to join the search. “It felt like a treasure hunt to find these rare items,” said Ms. Galligan. “It became a fun distraction.” Part of the appeal is helping small businesses, she said – even though she still hasn’t got her hands on the mug she wanted.

“Over-the-keyboard dressing,” as Kat Collings, 33, editor-in-chief of Who What Wear calls it, is also an incentive. “It goes beyond your clothes. I consider your glass of choice to be an accessory, ”she wrote in an email. Meryl Vedros, 33, creative director and design ethnographer in Los Angeles, agreed: “Beautiful mug in a Zoom meeting for victory.”

Hana Cohn, a consultant for nonprofits and arts organizations, believes that in this era when touch was taboo, handcrafted works are more attractive than ever. “There is something irresistible about ceramics,” said Ms. Cohn, 30 years old. “That it is done through direct contact.” Helen Levi, 33, a ceramics artist in Brooklyn, said these accounts create a “bond with the person.” She added, “It’s not a faceless transaction.”

Hedy Yang by Hedy Yang Ceramics, Those who were popular with their typical bubble vitrification technique even before the pandemic agreed: “People are invested in me,” she said. “It’s not just about a cup anymore.” Quarantine enables Ms. Yang, 25, Spending more time in the studio, which meant more content, more engagement, and more sales.

Ms. Hussaini, 32, said that people were invested more in their work than they told more about their personal life and the process of making ceramics. She appeared on a podcast to talk about her shabby studio in a Brooklyn bathroom, where the wheel is next to a tub. (She has since moved to her own studio.)

Ms. Bradley, 34, creates elaborate “mini-campaigns” for every collection of mugs, cups, and vases she calls “dirt drops.” “I probably cried after every single drop sold out,” she said. “It’s just a huge setup to create these tiny, special pieces that I put everything in.” Ms. Bradley is looking for ways to ensure that the make-sell-make-sell process stays fresh for her and her fans. She announced the release of a recent collection only to her newsletter subscribers and invited Instagram followers to create a playlist inspired by the new collection and timed to coincide with the collection’s release. “Being spontaneous gives me energy and helps me in the way I work,” said Ms. Bradley.

The 40-year-old Barzell had a similar impulse when he asked his followers to send in song submissions to win one of his psychedelic trophies. “I really want to do more game show stuff, or maybe we do scratch cards or ask people to draw a picture of a mug,” he said. “I love the interaction and it’s another way of getting the work to people.”