How Living on the Road led us to Making Pottery on San Juan Island, WA

May 17, 2023

Handmade Pottery (a cup with hand painted mountains)by Living Large Small on San Juan Island, WA
Summer on San Juan Island is certainly something to add to your bucket list, just for the nature alone. Stunning views of Mt Baker, Northern Cascades & the Olympic Peninsula, rolling hills of idyllic farmland, impressive marine & wildlife, miles of trails, national historical parks - take your pick, it all weaves together to form a magical experience. The community is also impressive & home to countless small businesses, ranging from restaurants and unique shops to farmers and artists. One of our favorite attractions of the summer happens the first weekend in June each year - The San Juan Island Artists' Studio.
The Studio Tour was formed by a group of local artists that wanted to come together to share their passion for the arts & bring awareness to the prolific artist community on San Juan Island, while also offering a glimpse into the artist lifestyle. In fact 32 years later, the Studio Tour is still run by many of the original founding members. This year's self-guided driving tour consists of 46 local artists, 17 of which are graciously opening their home studios to the public for this one special weekend.
In the spirit of the Studio Tour, we thought it was a great time to share a peek into our lives and how we evolved into Living Large Small. Last fall, I was asked to speak at Alchemy Art Center’s Annual Fall Fundraiser to share our story of building a business within a community art center. We thought we'd take the opportunity to shine the light on Alchemy as well, by sharing the speech in its entirety to highlight their immense impact on our island community as a whole.
But first, a brief backstory is needed to fully appreciate our journey: In 2016 we embarked on an open-ended, cross country roadtrip, alongside our cat & dog (@kaelpupjoonecat), with hopes of finding direction in our lives. We built out a camper van (Van Morrison) & explored remote areas of the country - hiking as much as we could & seeking out the coolest dispersed camping sites we could find. We are endlessly inspired by the years we spent living on the road, devouring as much raw nature as we could & fully embracing the Dirtbag Lifestyle. We traded comforts for connecting with nature & it was worth every moment… but I’ll save those adventures for another day, another blog.
Back to the speech:
Alchemy Art Center Annual Fall Fundraiser Speech
November 4th, 2022

“Good evening. My name is Brittany Whitaker & I have been making art at Alchemy with my partner Craig Britton for the past 3 years. We first moved to the island in the spring of 2019 for an opportunity to apprentice in a local fused glass studio. We found Alchemy by early fall that year & became monthly members with the simple intentions of getting out of the house & meeting new people. We started our business Living Large Small in January of 2020 selling our fused glass work, but we quickly found ourselves in the ceramic studio as much as, if not more than, the glass studio & realized we were hooked! 
Once the pandemic hit, Alchemy provided a safe, supportive space to create in, while also offering opportunities to expand & hone our skills. We have each taken a handful of classes at Alchemy ranging from group wheel throwing classes to one-on-one glazing tutorials - I’ve even taken a few classes in the printmaking studio - and have found the instructors to not only be knowledgeable & skilled, but incredibly supportive & motivating. With their positive feedback & encouragement, we gained the skills & perhaps more importantly the confidence to begin selling some of our ceramic work by the end of 2020. Fast forward 2 years and now ceramics are our main focus, we sell our work at local & regional markets, we have a booth at Roche Harbor Resort, Craig does production work for Flaming Chalice (another island potter) & he is also teaching wheel throwing classes at Alchemy now.
Our work is a collaborative effort, where Craig throws all of our forms & I’m responsible for all of the glazing. Alchemy's generous studio hours have truly made this teamwork possible, because we could not be more opposite - I’m often in the studio at 7am & Craig usually works in the evenings until 9pm. Although we now have our own wheel & Craig is able to throw at home most of the time, Alchemy still plays a major role in our business - not only do we rely on their wide variety of beautiful handmade glazes, Alchemy is responsible for firing all of our work.
The fact that Alchemy offers different types of memberships has enabled us to grow our business incrementally. While we have big dreams of one day having our own studio, knowing that our membership can evolve along the way & support us in reaching that goal at every step, is truly life-changing. Establishing your own studio is no small feat & is quite an investment, one we would not be able to make all in one step. Alchemy has provided us with such an incredible gift by offering us their skills, resources and space to do what we love, while also enabling us to build a business.
However, one of the most remarkable aspects of Alchemy isn’t simply their studio space or membership, but their incredible drive to bring art to the community & their prolific implementation of kids programming. Personally, I feel that this might be where Alchemy shines the brightest. My first introduction to art as a kid was through similar summer art programming. And it was in these programs that I first found other kids who enjoyed the same things, which in turn, instilled a sense of belonging & new found confidence. It’s so much more than kids making art - it’s providing a creative outlet that can have ripple effects on so many other aspects of their lives.
I think Alchemy is an excellent example of cultivating an intentional community presence. Through affordable membership, classes & free programming, Alchemy is fulfilling a crucial need in our community & positively impacting so much of our youth.
We are so grateful for the countless ways Alchemy has helped us grow over the years & I’m very excited to see how our relationship continues to evolve - but I think I’m even more excited to see how Alchemy continues to evolve, because despite everything that they are already doing, I know that they have so much more to give.
And that’s really where all of you come in - it’s very encouraging to see so many of you here tonight, supporting our community's only art center. You really do play such an integral role in all of this, and as someone who directly benefits from it, I’m very grateful for your support.
I would, however, like to leave you with a little bit of a challenge: 
Whenever you go to an Alchemy event, (or even a fundraiser) do your best to bring a friend who’s never been or might not know about them & let’s help grow this network of support. Because I can guarantee you that whatever the event & whoever the person, they will be blown away by everything Alchemy has to offer. And together, we can have an even greater impact on our community. 
So I hope to see you at Alchemy events in the future: Please introduce yourself & say hello & I’m really looking forward to meeting all of your friends. Thank you so much.” 
We didn't set out to make art, but we're so grateful that the road led us to this lifestyle and magical place. Whenever you get the chance to visit San Juan Island, we hope you’ll make it a point to engage with the active artist community - whether by visiting the Studio Tour, participating in some of Alchemy’s arts programming, strolling through the Sculpture Park & SJIMA, or checking out a Saturday Farmers Market at Brickworks - you won’t regret it.
For more info to help plan your trip, check out  SJI Chamber of Commerce & Visit San Juans . Happy Planning & we hope to see you on San Juan soon!
Author of Blog - Britt from Living Large Small

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