August 14, 2020 at 9:15am
Dane Lisser

"Every piece I make is different and has a different purpose"

Courtney Zimmerman has a passion for pottery, a talent she discovered as a student at Millikin University. Her motivation to develop her craft and become her own boss has led to successful pottery business she's built online and through social media.

A 2015 graduate of Millikin, Zimmerman began her academic journey as an art therapy major, but that all changed after helping a Millikin faculty member set up an art show on campus as a sophomore in 2013.

"I was a gallery watcher at Kirkland Fine Arts Center. At the time, Millikin Professor Jim Schietinger oversaw changing out the gallery exhibits, and while I was in there one day, he was putting up the next show. I offered to help set up, and after that he offered me the job as the student assistant for the ceramics building," she said.

Courtney Zimmerman Millikin

From that point on, Zimmerman, a native of Momence, Ill., learned how to make clay and glazes before she ever took a ceramics course. She was so intrigued by the process that she took a wheel throwing course as a sophomore.

"The summer after my sophomore year, I didn't want to have to stop over the summer, so I got my hands on an old kick wheel, bought an old Cress kiln off Craigslist and set up shop in my mom's garage," said Zimmerman. "I signed up for a few local art shows and got down to business. Since then, I have created thousands of pieces and have probably participated in somewhere around 70 shows. I can't say everything I've made over the years has been great, but you know, you have to start somewhere."

Just about everything Zimmerman creates is thrown on a pottery wheel. Each piece has anywhere from four to eight different glazes that are strategically brushed on. "I like colors to blend and change so I layer just about everything," she said. "I tend to think about the glazes as creating abstract landscapes, but with colors that I am personally inspired by."

The 26-year-old has a goal of wanting to become a full-time potter by the time she's in her early 30s. Currently, Zimmerman works a full-time job 45 hours a week and then works on her pottery every day after work.

"I'm working for myself. I have to self-motivate which can be challenging when you've just worked nine hours, but I write a lot of lists throughout the day," she said. "I keep a planner so I know what it is I must get done each day to stay on schedule."

Zimmerman added, "My biggest motivator is the consistent dream of wanting to become a full-time potter. So in order to get there, I feel like I have to work extra hard every day. So far, I think it's paying off."

Zimmerman says the best thing about creating pottery is that it's a functional art.

"Every piece I make is different and has a different purpose," she says. "Anytime I see people using my mugs around the office I just get so happy that they're able to enjoy those things on a daily basis. Anyone can have a cup of coffee but drinking it out of something that's beautiful and handmade; that makes it so much more enjoyable."

Zimmerman's work can be found on Instagram @cmwceramics and on her website at courtneyzimmerman.com, where she has an online store. Her work can also be found at a few shops including: Society in Valparaiso, Ind., Moon Cookie Gallery and Stefari Café in Kankakee, Ill., and Homespun in Indianapolis, Ind.

As an artist, Zimmerman says it's important to grow and change over time, and to build a following online and in the real world. "Don't be afraid to put your work out there. Not everyone is going to like it but that's okay," she said. "Market yourself and apply to shows, galleries or markets. You have to start somewhere even if it's the little market in your hometown. Write yourself lists of anything you want to accomplish whether it's big or small. Keep yourself accountable because you are doing this for you and to make your dreams a reality."

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