Emily “Paz” Stevens is an accomplished ceramic artist living in Denver, Colorado who had the opportunity to make ceramic vases for the Denver Broncos.
Editor’s note: This post is a continuation of our series How I Got That Gig, where craft industry professionals tell us the story behind a great commission, job, freelance opportunity, or contract. In this installment, ceramic artist Emily Paz Stevens explains how she got the opportunity to create a series of vases for the Denver Broncos.
My ceramic pieces are now used in the owner’s suite of the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. The vases and are filled at each game with beautiful floral arrangements from The Twisted Tulip, a local Denver flower shop and are used for every home game.
I think as an artist it’s always great to see your finished piece in any new setting that isn’t your own home, but specifically seeing my vases overflowing with these beautiful floral arrangements that were professionally done, it just completely elevated the look of my art. It was incredible.
Here’s how I got that gig.
The Broncos found Emily after she had displayed a collection of custom hats for a hotel in Denver.
Getting on the radar of the Denver Broncos
The Broncos organization reached out to me after they found my art and website through a local hotel here in Denver. A while back, I had made some custom hats for this hotel, something very much out of my wheelhouse and comfort zone. To be honest, I don’t exactly remember how I was approached to make the hats, but I believe that opportunity came about from an employee of the hotel following me on Instagram and being a fan of local artists. They enjoyed some of the graphic work I was putting on my ceramic pieces and commissioned a series of hats from me.
When the hotel was promoting the launch of the hats that I had designed they also included a few photos of my ceramic work. The launch email included my work and was seen by the correct people in the Broncos organization who themselves were seeking out local artists for an upcoming project.
Once the Broncos reached out, I think it took me a day or two to actually respond because I was certain it was a scam email! I’m so happy I actually responded to find out more information on the project they had in mind. When I realized that they were actually interested in my art I think I had every emotion at once. I was elated, nervous, giddy, and in total disbelief, but also absolutely ready to take on the opportunity.
I met with a few select people within the Broncos organization that I worked closely with on the project. To be honest they had already looked at my social media and my website and had a pretty clear idea of what they wanted. I brought samples of my work to the first meeting so they could see pieces in person, and from there we talked about size, color, and quantity. I do think that sometimes making functional art versus non-functional art the discussion can be a little different. Since they were already aware of the vase forms and colors they wanted, the meeting was quite straight forward.
I still remember leaving the meeting and calling my mom in the car and saying, “Mom, I’m making art for THE Broncos!”
The part of development that took the most amount of time was getting the specific glaze colors just right. Going forward on future projects I think I would have ordered bigger quantities of material sooner. That being said, I had never done something at this scale before! My work is predominantly done in pastel colors, and while I’ve been making my own glazes for years, a new glaze color can be treated a lot like creating a new baking recipe. The biggest hiccup I experienced during the process was a major flaw in my clay body from the clay supplier.
Unfortunately, I doubted myself when I initially noticed some inconsistency in the texture of the clay, and convinced myself it would be okay! (Long story short, it wasn’t). Opening up that first kiln with the finished work was a major bummer because of the bad clay I had used. In the seven years of me using that specific clay body I had never experienced the issues I had during this project. However, failing was not an option and I wasn’t going to let a bad batch of clay get in my way of the deadline.
A lot of my life led up to this project. I feel like I’ve always known that I either wanted to be an artist, or somehow have a career in the art world. As a kid I would experience severe disappointment when my art wasn’t selected for “Artist of the Week” in elementary school so I guess it’s safe to say I’ve always been passionate about the art I created. I studied International Business and Studio Art when I was in college.
Emily makes her own glaze colors that are predominantly pastel, so the Broncos project was a departure for her.
I initially envisioned being an art dealer or gallery curator after I graduated, but I found myself in the restaurant industry after graduation because I was able to make considerably more money per hour than I could working at a gallery. I worked a few lovely years for a retail store as well that I was overly committed to. It was odd to have such a love for my job, but having to continue to work in the restaurant industry the entire time because the wage was unlivable.
I remember finding out on vacation that I had been denied a promotion for the third time in a year, and I had this epiphany of starting my own business.
I was already so used to working two jobs, one of which was very underpaid that I figured if I started my own business at least I would value myself as an employee more so than the retail company.
Growing up I always envisioned myself as a painter selling my art in fancy New York City galleries. I know you wouldn’t be able to tell from my current social media posting and website, but I would still really love to return back to painting. I love pottery with all of my heart, but I still dream of having a fabulous gallery opening that shows off my painting and ceramic skills.
Stevens has mainly focued on crafting unique functional art pieces that are inspired by geometry.
I recognize that I’m incredibly lucky I was able to give up some work shifts at my restaurant job to focus on this project and essentially start over. If I had a different job, I might be writing this from an entirely different perspective. I knew that the Broncos had put a lot of trust in me and from my own perspective there was just zero possibility of me not delivering to them. I’m not even sure if I ever mentioned it to anybody within the organization. I personally didn’t feel like it was their problem to deal with so I did all of the troubleshooting on my own end.
Delivering the vases
When I delivered the pieces to the stadium and saw them in their final set up, I was so happy. They looked stunning and beautiful. All of the stress and minor hiccups that I had throughout the project were gone and totally worth it. To deliver the project on time and to their standard made me feel so proud of what I had completed. It was just an awesome experience, and an amazing opportunity.
The new owners of the Broncos are very committed to supporting Denver artists, and I know that I am just one of many who have art in the stadium this year. I’ve always wanted to be more involved in the community I live in and I genuinely feel that this was the first step in making that happen. It was bittersweet when this project ended because it really was so lovely working for the Broncos. I can’t wait to see what comes next!
A few things I learned through this experience are:
- First and foremost, be yourself! If someone is reaching out to you to inquire about your work, the chances are they’re already knowledgeable about who you are and the art you make.
- Own what you do and be proud of your work! Give yourself plenty of time and grace to deliver on the project.
- If you’re going to try something new within your work, make sure you openly communicate about the challenges that may come within that new territory.
- If a client asks you to do something in a timeline that you don’t feel comfortable with, be honest and say you won’t be able to make it work in that timeframe. In short be yourself, and be open with communication.
I think my best advice for other artists on how I got to where I am today is that number one, I am still on this journey!
I am not where I want to be as an artist, and I’m not sure if I ever will be because I think my goals and dreams will only continue to get higher and bigger. But really, I got to present day because I showed up for myself. I showed up for my business. I took myself seriously and from day one talked about my art as a business because it is. I took risks, I failed a ton, and learned a lot from those failures. I always knew that I was not going to submit to being the struggling artist stereotype that was talked about when I was growing up. I think social media has done a really great job at showing other people that this is something you can make a career out of. It definitely isn’t easy, but making art makes me the happiest version of myself so it’s always worth it.
Emily “Paz” Stevens
Emily “Paz” Stevens is an accomplished ceramic artist living in Denver, Colorado. Her introduction to ceramics came about unexpectedly when she stumbled upon a community pottery studio while living in Austin, Texas. After one class she decided to pursue ceramics as a career.
Emily has mainly focused on crafting unique functional art pieces that are inspired by geometry. She takes pleasure in repetition, a trait evident in her forms. Her motivation for creating art is her own happiness, and she believes that if her art can also bring joy to others she has succeeded in her purpose. Outside of her work, Emily enjoys exploring Denver with her two rescue dogs, trying new restaurants, and visiting local art galleries.