Normally a stray cup on the ground or on a fence post may not get a second glance, but Sequim’s Sydney Swanson hopes you’ll give her mugs on the Olympic Discovery Trail another look.
The 18-year-old Sequim High graduate started a mug marketing campaign to boost spirits and help promote her business, Sunshine Ceramics Studio. Before school closed in-person sessions because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Sydney’s parents Dan and Tracy surprised her with a with a potter’s wheel, kiln and studio space in half of her mom’s greenhouse.
“They gave it to me the day before school closed down,” Sydney said.
“I had the same kiln at my school, so I was able to figure out how to use it by asking my teachers for the one day I was in school and by watching a whole lot of Youtube videos.”
Sydney began getting into a groove experimenting with glazes and designs; a pot for her mom on Mother’s Day helped push the idea of a business to the forefront of her mind.
“I always joked about doing a business but it wasn’t really viable because I was just using the school’s resources,” Sydney said.
Eventually Sunshine Ceramics Studio started in-part after Tracy shared some of her daughter’s early projects on social media. With her mom’s word-of-mouth, Sydney received 40 orders in two days for mugs with Sequim’s GPS coordinates and the #SequimStrong hashtag on them.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Sydney said. “I learned a lot in that first month.”
Hike and seek
As a marketing effort, Sydney has gotten into practice of making extra items to place in the Sequim area, typically between Carlsborg and the City of Sequim along the Olympic Discovery Trail. She’ll go on a bike ride and drop off a few with a note, hoping to brighten someone’s day while asking them to check out her studio’s social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.
Mike Walker of Central California was one of the few to spot a mug so far. He and his wife Mary Jo are educators who have visited Sequim each summer for more than a decade. Walker said he bikes and walks on the Olympic Discovery Trail when he visits. In late July, he recalls spotting a mug on a fence post on the trail near Priest Road.
“It was camouflaged well,” he said. “Anyone worried about COVID probably wouldn’t have touched it, but me being a sucker, I grabbed it.”
At first he thought someone forgot their mug, but then he saw a strip of paper from Sydney describing her effort and business.
“I thought, ‘This is so cool,’” Walker said.
Since he isn’t on social media, Walker connected with his daughter, who in turn communicated with Sydney. Walker’s niece eventually met Sydney and bought some items.
Ceramics became a balance for Sydney’s life.
“Art was my outlet, a stress reliever from school,” she said.
“It’s brought me a lot of happiness. I kind of lost myself in high school and struggled with depression.”
Now Sydney has found a sense of peace in her busy schedule, working two jobs along with starting her business.
“I try to get out here every day,” she said of her studio. “The goal is to get half an order done every day.”
Later this month she’ll begin classes at Peninsula College while working at Solar City and John Wayne’s Rustic Waterfront Resort.
Before work though she sits behind the potter’s wheel for an hour, and also sometimes at night with her mom nearby working in her greenhouse.
“Making beautiful things out of the dirt is a reminder to me to keep going,” she said.
Sydney recalls weighing whether to take cooking or ceramics her freshman year. Former SHS teacher Jake Reichner helped Sydney discover the joy of ceramics, she said.
Sydney said she was a little scared of the potter’s wheel.
“I was going to stick to sculpting, but I picked it up and it was super easy,” she said, noting help she received from Sequim High teachers.
Much of her experience comes from plenty of practice. Many of her early projects were not what she was expecting. Now, however, she boasts a growing line of products like stemless wine glasses, earring holders, bowls and plates and multiple styles of mugs.
Her mugs and plates with lavender impressions sold out at John Wayne’s Rustic Waterfront Resort this summer, but new products are available there seven days a week at 2634 W. Sequim Bay Road.
Free product is also available to the lucky few who find her mugs along the ODT, too.