Many artists fall in love with their art and not the business of art. With anyone in any field, if you focus on doing what you love ,your heart will show through in your art. Handcrafting your work is imperative to making a product that is both sophisticated and relevant for today's consumer.
Byentaro Moses was employed as a social worker for 5 years before he started his own Ceramics Company. He has since become one of the go-to ceramics designers in Uganda.
Growing up, he watched his grandmother, an artist make clay pots in her backyard. At the time, he and his siblings were mere assistants helping with molding, in the process making their own shoddy replicas (toys). Many years later, he would enroll into Ceramics Industrial Engineering at the University and re-unite with his childhood memories in his grandmother’s backyard.
After honing his craft, he decided to actively pursue a career in Ceramics starting Byentaro Ceramics, a crafts and decorative ware store in 2016 with only ugx450,000 (approximately USD126). ‘’ The first thing I bought was the raw material. It’s all I needed because I already had the skill.’’
Making anything involves a series of steps. For Byentaro, the first step is to gather the raw materials, which mainly include ball clay that is normally mixed with kaolin or China clay. It is then mixed with grog in the correct proportions plus various materials that combine to form the perfect mold. Most of these materials are outsourced locally.
He however imports some colors: white, green, blue among others with the exception of red which is locally made from anthills. ’’We dig up the anthills, prepare them using a whole different process and get the red color that we add to some of our products.’’
Byentaro believes that a successful art business has more to do with how you choose to access your materials than it does the specific materials you use. Starting a company out of raw materials doesn’t have to be complicated; it just means taking the right precautionary measures. ’’Clay is easily accessible but not every kind of clay can be used to make our products. We are so selective when it comes to choosing what we use. When we find an ideal quarry, we have to get a few samples, test them and see if they meet our required standard i.e. are they strong enough to withstand the heat temperatures? Are they durable? At the moment, we have identified an ideal place where we get our clay and other specific raw materials .’’
On His Creative Process
Creativity leads an artist to create something new. But, where does the artistic process begin?
There is a certain process of creative thinking which depends on a person. One person can be inspired by a certain creature, another – by nature. I am mostly inspired by nature. Nature is so beautiful and you cannot exhaust how many ideas can simply arise from studying it. The best thing to do is to collect impressions and transform them into art masterpieces.
After clearly visualizing the idea, I find a way to transform it into reality. To do this, I convert all of my ideas into sketches which help me understand the forms and volumes I want to work with and also help me solve important technical issues such as the position of each part of the piece that will be made by hand or its size. Sketches help transform the specific design onto the product.
I then get with the molding, transferring sketch to product and use fire for the drying process.
Just like any other business, Byentaro has his day to day activities mapped out. A normal day includes: planning, coordinating designs, monitoring work in the workshop, attending scheduled meetings, client appointments, order placements, and planning for the next day.
On Establishing an Audience
As an artist, creating a brand is not something easy. It is important to have a good product. We have very good products. They are unique and made from the best materials.
When I started the company, I knew that word of mouth was very important and when you supply an amazing product, word will make rounds on that. The best way to achieve the dissemination of positive opinions is through people who are themselves satisfied about our products. This is essential for us to reach more markets and audiences.
I give most of my products time. Time to test, time to experiment and time to improve .Long term strategy is the difference between a one off sale and a loyal client.
Trust is the most important thing in every market. People want social proof, and to do business with a company that sells quality products and always delivers. They want to do business with a company that cares about its customers.
Communication prior, during the process to delivery/purchase. If you want to sell or even create an audience, you must understand it's not always about what your product or service is offering, but also how well you communicate.
The business is not limited to a particular part of the country as it caters to both national and international customers. He gets orders for both single and wholesale purchases, most sales being international, something he attributes to pricing.
‘’The products are expensive. Art products are generally expensive. Why? The quality of the product dictates its price. Ours are not machinery made. They are all handmade products. Each and every product that goes onto the market goes through about 5 to 7 people in the processes of clay molding, smoothening, designing, polishing, drying etc. It is a long chain. People need to learn how to appreciate the value of these products.’’
With the establishment of Byentaro Ceramics, Moses has boosted the livelihoods of the people in his community through skilling and job creation. He has been able to purchase land to construct his own production space, construct a home for his parents and scale his business from 50 piece sales to over 2,000 a month.
As a person, you need to lay strategies .You can’t be employed for life. Have something that you can do on your own that can earn you a living. Self-employment though challenging, can teach you a whole lot.
Pick up a skill. Skills are important and they are quite beneficial in life. I was employed for years before quitting to start my own business. That is the best decision I ever made.
Byentaro believes that Art is beautiful. Though expensive, it is totally worth it. ‘’Art employs so many people. I’m more into community development. If you buy an Art piece, you are supporting the community. So many people have touched the product and have made a living off it.’’
HOW TO REACH: Byentaro Ceramics
Photos by : Chris Lutanga , Shem Derrick Wasswa & International Trade Centre
This article was produced as part of the Handicraft Souvenir and Development Project implemented by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and the International Trade Centre funded by the Enhanced Integrated Framework .