A Career in Art? It’s Possible!

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Aashi Chhabra

Choosing art as a career? It’s possible! Just look at Jeff Blandford. A West Ottawa alumni and a successful entrepreneur, Blandford has his own art gallery, is the owner of an organic farm with 5 barn studios on property and is even a visiting artist at several universities. He told us about how he got his start and his journey to having his own gallery.

When did you first become interested in art?

I first became interested in art as a child. Shapes, color, and their infinite combinations naturally made me curious. Although I wasn’t good at drawing or painting, I had always enjoyed the topic of art and being crafty in any way I could.

When you came into West Ottawa, how did the school and its teachers help you pursue your interest?

I was fortunate enough to have some amazing art teachers at West Ottawa High school. Jan Propst was the person who changed my life with a casual conversation in which she said, “We have these old pottery wheels. I don’t know how to use them very well, but you can stay after school and teach yourself if you’d like.” Such a small coment to a teacher ended up changing my life more than I could have ever imagined.

I had Brad Vredevoogd as a teacher also, and between the two of them I earned enough trust to spend as much of my time as I could in the art room furthering my pursuits on the pottery wheel.

What were you like, when you were a student at WO?

When I was at WO, I was a dedicated soccer player. I played on many teams throughout the year for school and travel teams. I have always thought the discipline needed in an organized sport helped me with my physical efforts in art. I was always a laid back student with good grades and a sense of adventure, but my willingness to be different and try something on my own would prove to be a fortunate quality at the time. I had some football player buddies that would give me a hard time for being involved with pottery. They are now my clients.

Who were the greatest inspirations throughout high school?

Throughout high school my greatest inspirations came from all over the place. Within art I would say Jonathan Adler- a designer who started as a potter. Dale Chihuly- glass master. Nature, color, architecture, and Herman Milller’s design sense with furniture. My art teachers with their willingness to let me explore, as long as I was working hard, proved to be key for me. Inspiration came from all over for particular avenues within my world.

Did you pursue your interest in college?

I did end up studying art at MSU. In December of 2007 I earned my BFA in Studio Art with a concentration in ceramics. I studied all areas within art, and chose ceramics as my “specialty.” It was a great place to study ceramics. They did not have a glass studio, but during my college days I slowly gained skill in glass blowing as well.

How did you know that art was what you wanted to pursue as a career?

When I sold my first piece to a friend’s mother in high school, my world changed. I thought I could avoid a “normal” job in a cubicle, and at that point knew I had to make more work. Bigger work. More challenging work. Tons of work. Then even more. As a potter I knew it was about production. If I have 10 things to sell, great. 100 things would be better, and if I had 1,000 things to sell, I was going to start making more significant money.

Why did you decide to open a gallery?

I chose to open a gallery because it seemed like the logical thing to do. I needed space to create work, but also to display it. A headquarters for my business and studio. In 2003 I opened my first tiny studio/gallery. It was the cheapest thing I could find and was a hole in the wall. Each entrepreneur has the same issues starting out. I didn’t have a lot of money, but had enough drive. Each of the last 12 years my sales have increased to the point where I now know with certainty I can make a living doing nothing but making art.

Is there any message/advice you would like to give the students at WO regarding pursuing a [unique] career path?

The best advice I have is to do whatever you want to do. No one will hold your hand, any area in life will take a great amount of self motivation. We all have the opportunity to live our dreams. I have been a potter for 14 years now, and life still isn’t easy, but it is very rewarding. If anyone had asked me what I would be doing at 30 years old… even I wouldn’t believe I own an organic farm, 5 barn studios on the property, glass blowing, gallery owner, and visiting artist at the university level. Listening to others is a hugely important characteristic… but so is listening to your natural instinct.

Jeff Blandford, student who once chose a unique, and different career from the rest of his classmates, and paved his own path. Visit his studio in downtown Saugatuck; it is worth the short drive.