Meet the Artists Behind Our Mugs: Grey Fox Pottery
By Megan Dority — / The Biz
Everything You Need to Know About Our Handcrafted Coffee Mugs
The most beloved mugs from Death Wish Coffee begin their journey entrusted in the hands of artists at various small pottery businesses. Each coffee mug supports the talented artists who create these magical masterpieces. At Death Wish Coffee, we pride ourselves in giving back to our local community, charities near and far, small businesses and accomplished craftsmen from all over the world. Next time you’re sipping your coffee out of your favorite mug, you can reflect upon all the skilled labor, exquisite detail and creative brainpower that went into that coffee mug.
Small Business Spotlight: Grey Fox Pottery
Grey Fox Pottery, located in Minneapolis, MN, is one of the small pottery businesses that has been working with us to make our highly sought-after Death Wish Coffee mugs. You know, the ones that sell out like a flash of lightning? Grey Fox Pottery has about 30 artists creating, throwing and assembling these unique handcrafted coffee mugs. The materials are sourced nationally and come in various shapes, colors and sizes, designed specifically for our beloved DWC community. Now, take a sip of coffee and meet the gifted artists behind that mug you’re holding.
Q&A: Meet the Artists at Grey Fox Pottery
1. Are you a coffee drinker? If so, what’s your favorite roast, and how do you take your coffee?
Yes, Medium Roast, black. —Jack, Owner of Grey Fox Pottery
2. What inspired you to become a potter? Did you always know it was your calling?
I love working with my hands. I found the process meditative, and there is a certain freedom to it. —Britt, Glazing
3. What do you like most about pottery/being a potter?
Using my hands to create something people will use—that’s what I love about pottery. Being a potter has been a very fulfilling journey in finding a sense of purpose and belonging. —Carter, Throwing
4. What was your initial exposure to the pottery world? What was your first piece like?
I was first exposed to pottery when I saw a potter demonstrating wheel throwing at a furniture showroom at the age of 10 or 11. I made my first pot in the 8th grade. It was coil built and a vase form. The glaze was tan in color and satin matte. —Jeff, Mold Making
5. How long have you been a potter?
I started making pottery when I was 5 or 6. I’ve been doing it professionally for over 15 years. —Jared, Throwing
6. When did you realize you wanted to be a potter? How did you get started in the industry?
I dreamed about being a potter in high school, thanks to my ceramics teacher, Ted Mitshulis, but I ended up in freelance graphic design for a long time. Thankfully, a few years ago a community education throwing course rekindled my love of clay, and I was determined to find a way to make a career out of ceramics. I jumped at a job listing for Grey Fox Pottery, and luckily, Jack saw something in me and hired me! I am grateful to have my dream job where I get to learn and challenge myself all the time. It's amazing to be able to watch mugs go from concept to finished pieces of functional art. —Julia, Operations and R&D
7. What does a typical day at the studio look like?
On any given day there are hundreds of mugs in each step of the process, from wet clay to finished glazed mugs. The background hum of the studio is made up of many parts—wheels spinning, air filtration humming, glaze whisking, jazz radio playing softly in the mold-making room, gurgling slip in tanks and sandpaper on mug bottoms before they get boxed up. Every square foot of space is used for something resulting in a bit of a clay maze. Everyone follows the traffic rules—anyone carrying a board of mugs gets the right of way. The studio hums with activity until about 4:15 p.m., when machinery starts getting shut down and people are cleaning up their departments. We leave with the kilns clicking as they warm up to fire that day's batch of mugs, ready to get packed up tomorrow. —Jack, Owner
8. Can you tell us what the process is like from clay to the final product?
Each mug starts out as a lump of clay on the potter's wheel. The potter will throw it to the specifications of the order, and then it is whisked off to gently dry for the next step. While that happens, the medallions and handles get made for the order. Once the mug is firmed up but not dry, the handles and medallions are attached. The mug then dries for a couple of days before it goes in for the first trip in the kiln, which is called a bisque firing. This turns the clay into ceramic that’s ready to hold some glaze. Mugs get unloaded from the bisque kilns to get their bottoms waxed and medallions filled with slip to make the design pop. Glazers then dip the mugs in glaze and send them to the scraping booth to have the medallions cleaned off. After that they are ready to be loaded into the kilns for their second and final firing. Once they are unloaded the next day, they get quality checked, engraved if needed and packed up to ship out to our customers. —Julia, Operations and R&D
9. How long does it take to make one mug?
About a week from wet clay to finished mug. —Elysabeth, Shipping and QC
10. What’s your favorite part of the process and your least favorite part?
My favorite part is that it’s relaxing and you know what to expect each day. My least favorite is when there are hiccups in the process. —Kelly, Production
11. What’s a common misconception people have about making pottery?
That it is straightforward and that mistakes are unfixable. It is a multi-step process. —Manya, Glazing
12. What’s your favorite mug you’ve made for Death Wish Coffee and why?
The Snow Globe mug! It is the most interesting glaze combination we’ve done. —Lisa, Shipping and QC
13. What do you like to do outside of the studio?
Hanging out with my dog, roller-skating and doing projects. —Kali, Casting
14. What’s your biggest pet peeve? Personally and in the studio?
Personally, being interrupted. In the studio, when the coffee pot is empty! —Anna, Customer Service
15. What does the quality control of mugs entail? How many mugs from a batch usually pass QC?
Each mug is inspected by hand for flaws in medallions and glaze. Those that pass get their bottoms sanded smooth and packed ready to ship. Approximately 95% of mugs make it through QC. —Elysabeth, Shipping and QC
16. What does the design, glaze and R&D process look like?
We work with Kyle and the team at DWCC to choose or create a mug shape to match the concept. If we don't already have the perfect glaze in-house, it's time to have fun developing something new. Glaze development is a mix of chemistry and art. To get precise colors for Death Wish, I mix two colors in varying proportions to get a whole line gradient of test tiles to choose from. We can adjust gloss, opacity and the melt fluidity to get glazes that look and feel great. It takes a long time because each idea or iteration has to go in the kiln overnight. Every morning I get to see the results of my science experiments come out of the kiln. Our sprinkle frosting glazes took quite a bit of time to dial in—the first Donut mug prototype had sprinkles like razor blades on the rim! —Julia, Operations and R&D
17. How long do your mugs last?
Longer than any of us will be alive—archaeologists in the future will unearth our mugs. In reality, mugs get dropped, cats knock them off shelves... so “lasting” really depends on what kind of life the mug leads! —Julia, Operations and R&D
18. How many mugs do you have in your personal collection?
A couple dozen and counting. —Carter, Throwing
19. What moment in your career are you the most proud of?
It’s a tie between day 1 as a small business owner and today because I’m still here. —Jack, Owner
20. How many hands touch each mug before it reaches the customer?
Around 8 sets of hands touch each mug: thrower, assembler, loading and unloading bisque kiln, waxing the bottoms and filling medallions, glazing, cleaning medallions, loading and unloading glaze kiln, QC, packing. It is really a team effort. —Julia, Operations and R&D
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