Tom Kemp’s Instagram Tips

This is the original text of an article that I wrote for the London Potters Members Magazine June / July 2018, following a great LP day out in April …

Huge thanks are due to London Potters for organising an incredibly useful event at Turning Earth E10 in Walthamstow on the 7thApril. Around 20 or so potters were treated to a seminar with Tom Kemp who generously shared his experiences, successes and lessons from using social media to sell and promote his pottery online.


Turning Earth E10 Studios in Use

I travelled up from Carshalton with a small band of potters from Sutton College on train, tube and bus with our packed lunches. We were pleasantly surprised that what looked like a daunting journey on paper in fact turned out to be quite straightforward. Luckily we bumped into a fellow London Potter on the bus who told us where to jump out at the industrial estate that is now home to the large, bright and spacious factory that has been recently converted for ceramics classrooms, beautiful studios and well equipped professional facilities.

Tom Kemp creates porcelain ceramics incorporating a distinctive “quasi-writing” decorative technique. He is fascinated by writing and is self-taught in the history and practice of calligraphy. He has brought this to his pottery and in recent years made a name for himself through social media. He is now successful enough to have given up his previous full time job to be a ceramicist since June 2017. He generously shared his experience with us through a talk called “Finding your people” …

He started with an introduction on how to get onto the social media bandwagon. Tom was careful to pitch his talk at both people with very little experience in this area and also those who do know the ropes. There was something for everyone.

Social media allows anyone to reach and engage with a large audience, to make connections and spread the word. How you use social media is entirely up to you and depends on your goals and the style of communication you are most comfortable with. For example, your goals may include making more sales, gaining recognition, finding opportunities and interacting with other potters to find help, discuss problems and learn new techniques.

Tom has an analytical background and looked into the statistics and driving forces behind social media usage. He explained to us the power of the dopamine hit from getting “likes” that can make social media so addictive. Virtually all platforms are free to use but as we all now know from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, you are really paying through sharing your personal data. I think that so long as this is understood then it depends on your attitude in weighing up the pros and cons. I am happy to share my love of pottery but keep my private life to myself. Tom also showed us that you don’t need to be an extrovert to make this work for you.

Reaching your goals through social media is “a numbers game” he explained. On Instagram, Tom has about 153,000 followers today. Each post then averages 3000 likes, generating approximately 30 comments (he does try to answer them all) then 3 direct messages from people who are nearly always genuinely interested. So there is a funnelling effect from the number of followers through to real opportunities.

Tom has an online shop and he periodically announces that his “shop is opening” on Instagram. Statistically he then showed that his following generates around 2000 shop visits, then 30 cart-fillers and perhaps 15 buyers, who spend on average £200 each. He has learned some of his techniques from potters such as Jono Smart and Florian Gadsby who both promote and sell very successfully using this model. Their online shop remains open for a few days and is then shut but left displaying a clear message suggesting that visitors sign up to the email newsletter for advance news of the next shop opening. This builds an opted-in subscriber list of properly interested people that remains independent of the social media platform itself.

If you are wondering how Tom found his 153,000 followers, then here are some top tips I took away. Like any kind of marketing, it does take discipline and effort to make it really work.

Tom advised us to “tell the unfolding, never-ending story” of how your work is made, leading to the finished pieces, because people love to see craftsmanship in action. Tell people about you and your progress, and this in turn builds trustworthiness and therefore your “brand”. He’s found that people are now asking for a “Tom Kemp Vase”.

Be honest and help others, answer questions and share interesting and useful stuff. This all helps to build the trust and the sense that “if all those people like it, it must be good!”

Do also try and actively find people to engage with and learn from. There are lots of great teachers on Youtube such as Simon Leach, Hsin-Chuen Lin and Danielle “The Clay Lady”. Facebook is used very successfully by Kate Malone, while Adam Frew used it to help crowdfund the setup of his new studio. If you ever get stuck, just Google it and there are many people out there who will help you.

Most social media platforms are actually quite similar but learn one of them really well and you can normally link from there to others automatically. You need to be relentless and consistent with your posting and continuously “tag, tag, tag”! If you are so minded, you can learn how to use the analytical tools that come with your platform of choice to learn more about your posts and followers.

It’s very important to have your own website to direct all your social media engagement towards, and it’s not hard to create one these days. Tom uses SquareSpace, but various others are available such as Wix, Duda and Weebly.

Tom’s own magic social media moment was when he posted a brief “how it’s done” video of writing on porcelain that was shared extensively and virally. His follower numbers then shot up by 1500 in a single day and grew rapidly from there. He used the analogy of a room full of mousetraps, where setting off the first mousetrap triggers an explosive effect in setting off all the others in rapid succession.

The main practical point that I took away is to make a concerted effort to direct my Instagram followers to subscribe to my mailing list. Instagram has worked really well for me already as it has helped me to be found by galleries, as well as generated direct sales, commissions and more. I now want to try and generate more direct sales through building up my mailing list and improving my online shop.

This article is just a taster of a great day out. I’m sure that everyone who attended would like to extend a heartfelt thank you again to Tom for sharing his invaluable experience with us and of course to Luyi Brown at London Potters for making this happen.

Carshalton Artists Open Studios

This article was written by my friend and potter Caroline Warwick who I exhibited with, along with ceramicist Sarah Hillman, as part of the new Carshalton Artists Open Studios (CAOS) event that proved to be more successful than any of us imagined and now likely to become an annual fixture. Written for London Potters magazine, Caroline talks about our practical experience of being part of this event and some lessons we learned along the way …

It started in October 2016, a text from Kathryn asking whether I would be interested in joining a group of Carshalton artists in planning an Open Studios event for Summer 2017.

Since we’d already done a few local craft fairs and the Carshalton Frost Fair together, it was worth going to a meeting to find out more about this Open Studio.

By the first meeting we attended in December a lot of the initial planning had been done, bank account set up, dedicated CAOS (Carshalton Artists Open Studios) website up and running, grants applied for (Sutton Neighbourhood grant and Arts Network Sutton).

It was surprising to both of us to learn how many artists were in our local area – both Kathryn and I had artists living in our roads!

The priority for that meeting was marketing the event – an approach to local estate agents to sponsor signboards at each of the Open studio venues was discussed – this proved successful. The boards were very prominent and supplied and erected by Goodfellows estate agents at no cost. They were put up about a month or so before the event and in themselves, started to generate a buzz around Carshalton and interest in the event.

Next for discussion was a publicity leaflet, this eventually turned into an A3 fold out pamphlet, showing map of venues, including a list of other locations worth a visit while in the area and the artists taking part represented by a picture of their work Having artists with graphics and marketing backgrounds certainly helped in the production of this leaflet. All the marketing material used the same colour purple, this included the signboards, maps, leaflets and even balloons. A local printer, who produced cards and prints for many of the local artists was also used to produce all the publicity material for CAOS.

Since Kathryn had a side entrance to her garden studio, it made sense for her to offer her house as the venue for our Open Studio (mine being in the loft of my house!) This meant persuading her lovely husband to vacate his office space in the garden studio to give us the space to show our pots. He packed up all his books and decanted to the house for the duration. Kathryn’s cunning plan is to take over the whole studio for her pottery and not allow him to return!

We all did leaflet drops in our local roads, posters were put up all over, maps were distributed through libraries, galleries etc and banners erected. Social media, Facebook and Instagram were also used with all artists being urged to send pics of preparations for the event for regular postings. These generated a lot of interest in the event.

Kathryn and Al researched and purchased a card reader for the event so we could accept debit/credit card sales (definitely worth doing as about 50% of our sales were card payments).

In the meetings running up to the event we met more local artists and it was lovely to network and share ideas/recommendations for good card printers etc. In the two weeks running up to the event some of us opened our studios so that other CAOS participants could see our work. Though we weren’t all able or ready to do this, it was hugely beneficial for us to be able to see other set ups, learn from what they were doing, discuss pricing (generally we felt people were under-pricing their work and it was really helpful to get opinion on what was a realistic price). A bonus to these previews was that we were able to heartily recommend other venues to visit, having seen the work first hand

We got together before the event to run through a checklist of do’s and don’ts (again provided by our wonderful organisers)   including accessibility, identifying potential risks/hazards, were we offering toilet facilities? Making sure public liability insurance was in place. Letting the neighbours know – Kathryn posted special invites to them and many turned up during the event. Pricing up our stock, ensuring we had packaging etc.

We spent a day putting up signs, hazard tape on steps, an information board about us and our work and setting out our work in the studio, as well as optimistically designating the dining table as the sales/packaging area.

Following the record 35o temperatures the week before we were relieved that the weather for the first weekend had cooled somewhat. It remained dry, and a pleasant temperature but not too sunny to tempt people to stay in their gardens or go to the seaside. In fact perfect weather for visiting Open Studios!

Along with all the other venues, our opening time was 11am and shortly after putting out the easel with balloons and more signs to show we were open, our first visitors arrived and they kept coming all through the day. We kept a tally of numbers, along with a visitors’ comments sheet and were amazed to tally 140 visitors on the first Saturday.

Visitors enjoyed Kathryn’s garden as well as seeing her immaculate studio set up. Though we both produce functional tableware, our styles are very different and we also had another local ceramicist showing her decorative sculptural pieces. Having 3 makers in one location showing a variety of work was a definite plus point in attracting visitors.

We both did a few throwing demonstrations, which the children particularly enjoyed, especially when pushing the pots to their limits so they wobbled and collapsed. Note for future, instead of doing these off the cuff when we had a moment to think about it or when there seemed a few children looking bored and needing some entertainment, for next year we plan to schedule demonstrations at certain times and publicise when we will be demonstrating.

Many of our visitors expressed the wish to try out pottery and we signposted many to our local Sutton College which runs day and evening pottery courses and has excellent facilities.

We ensured we were around all the time we were open so we could explain our work and answer questions – it was hugely rewarding to chat to people about our work and to have our work admired and appreciated. It made me return to my wheel with renewed vigour this week.

Kathryn had large boxes of samples/rejects which she put out for sale. These were snapped up by visitors at very much reduced prices (not really seconds at all) Though Kathryn was happy to see them all go, sales of her good pieces suffered during the first day but picked up once the samples had gone. A lesson learned for next time.

I had some old Raku pots which I brought along to show, more for interest than with a view to selling. I’d prepared a laminated sheet illustrating the Raku process and this proved very popular – much to my surprise I ended up selling all the Raku pots!

After the two weekends we had totalled over 520 visitors – far exceeding our expectations. Luckily, we had plenty of family support to ensure we had enough manpower to tally visitor numbers and encourage them to leave contact details for future events, handle sales and wrapping and allow to talk to visitors and do demonstrations. Reports from the other venues had similar numbers, especially the venues with more than one artist present. Only those venues slightly out on a limb had fewer numbers but everyone reported sales, interest and commissions generated from the event. Through one of the other artist’s regular Instagram postings about the event, a gallery has already been in contact with Kathryn.

We all got together in the local Hope pub, where the conversation about Open Studios had started, for a celebratory drink the week after. We all agreed that CAOS had been a huge success, all artists had been really supportive of each other, new friendships forged and we will certainly all be planning for an even better event for next year.

Studio visit from made by Mrs M

Last week I had a visit from fabulous textile designer and blogger Kate Marsden, aka made by Mrs M. She and I are both going to be taking part in Carshalton Artists Open Studios in June/July and Kate is going to be exploring the studios of several artists before it all kicks off, starting with mine. You can read the article here


Working at the wheel in my studio that is by a railway embankment, that’s the Victoria train going past