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Artists encourage buying locally

One day her kiln didn't shut off when it was supposed to. A piece of pottery had exploded from the heat and wedged into the shut-off timer.

For about 15 hours, rather than the recommended six or seven hours, her artwork sat in 1600 degree heat, eventually melting into a puddle of dark goo. So did the shelves and everything else inside the kiln.

"I have a huge power bill," joked Sharin Bradshaw, a local artist.

Bradshaw, a Mercer Island native who moved to North Bend five years ago, never imagined that one day she would be an artist ... especially not an artist who earns a livable income in North Bend.

Sometimes, though, life can throw in a few surprises.

For Bradshaw, that surprise came in the form of a new, unexpected passion.

Bradshaw, who spent 15 years in optometry, was an avid hiker until the early 1990s, when she found herself ill after having some routine dental work done. Looking for something to occupy her time, she found her way inside a ceramics studio.

She said that she found it took her mind off of being sick.

"It's very healing," she said.

Never having had a particular interest in art or any formal training, Bradshaw said that she soon developed her technique, practicing on 100 pieces before she decided to sell her work to local shops and street fairs in 1999.

"I didn't know I knew how to paint things," she said. "You just don't know what you're capable of doing until you sit down and do it."

Her husband Bob Kelly, who rebuilds and restores Harley Davidson motorcycles for Sno-Valley Motorcycle Consignment, noticed her affinity for art and built her a studio on their property.

"He is my number one supporter," she said.

The first piece of work that she sold was a platter upon which she painted a fish design. Someone took an interest in it and she realized that there was a potential market for her art.

Next, she tackled creating a crab design. From there, her work has branched out into flowers, animals and food designs on dishes, trivets, bowls, vases, platters, bread plates, teapots and more.

Though Bradshaw said that it was hard to give up her work at first, she found a lot of good places in the Valley to sell her designs.

Her work can be found at many places including Down to Earth in Snoqualmie, the North Bend and Redmond Saturday markets, Artist Tree Gallery in Bothell and Renovations in Issaquah's Gilman Village. She also teaches classes.

Selling in stores is a way to get your product out there, Bradshaw said. But, they usually take 30 to 50 percent of the sale.

Bradshaw said that she takes custom orders and is known for her "custom cat" portraits on plates, creating individualized caricatures based on cat photographs from her customers.

Her dishes are lead-free and can be used for serving food on; they are dishwasher and oven safe.

Bradshaw explained that interested buyers of ceramics should look for lead-free products if they intend to use them for food purposes. She also said to buy heavier pieces because the weight indicates the durability and clay quality. Another thing to look for is whether the work is mass-produced and whether a buyer wants to support a commercial chain or a local artist.

The paints aren't as vibrant, the material is thinner and there is usually a stamp rather than a hand-signed attribution, Bradshaw explained.

"[When buying locally-made work] you know who you are supporting," she added, noting that she has many repeat customers. "I think it's a better quality."

Her number one seller is probably a nine-inch asparagus serving dish; inside the dish are black, squiggly painted lines that outline deeply colored asparagus stalks and bright yellow lemon wedges.

Bradshaw described her art as loosely formed, allowing for

creativity to take the foreground to precision.

She said that she gets most of her ideas now from her imagination, but when she first started, she often copied things that she saw around her, from magazines and from stationery.

"When I first started, I didn't have ideas," she said. "I've been doing it long enough now, though, I see things differently now. Everything can be art."

Her work ranges in price from about $30 to $175.

She said that the earning range for an artist in the Valley can vary dramatically from $1,000 annually to $50,000, though the income is rarely steady.

Bradshaw described the art community in the Valley as growing, but that each community seems to create a buzz independently, rather than join forces within the entire Valley to connect.

Bradshaw is hoping to find an affordable space in North Bend to host a studio with fellow artist and Sammamish resident Cindy Houot after the first of next year.

"I feel it's [the Valley art community] really developing and becoming stronger and its very important to support our local artists," Houot said. "The larger stores are good in one way, but people cannot forget the local artists and stores, either."

Bradshaw and Houot will have an art show at Spill The Paint Art Studio in Sammamish on Saturday, Dec. 17, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a portion of the proceeds going to Sharehouse, a nonprofit organization providing support and recovery for abused women and children. The address is 416 228th Ave. S.E.

For information, call 425-427-8810 or 425-888-6618 or visit www.somethingdifferentceramics.com or www.angelheartdesigns.com.

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