Just the Facts
Clay: all types, but mainly Southern Ice porcelain
Primary forming method: all types
Primary firing temperature: gas kiln, fired in oxidation to 2336°F (1280°C)
Favorite surface treatment: ceramic pencil on porcelain
Favorite tools: small, sharp, non-serrated knife
I live on a suburban street, in a small town about two hours away from Sydney. Having worked for several years in my spare bedroom (with overflow to kitchen, living room, etc.), I have recently completed a studio addition to the back of my house. It’s about 430-square feet (40-square meters) of pure happiness, entered via a glass door from my living area. I use this area for handbuilding, drawing, painting, and sitting around thinking. My wheel space is separate—in an old outside laundry room, which works well as the mess is contained and I’m only an occasional thrower. My small gas kiln is housed in a dilapidated garden shed in my backyard, along with two other garden sheds for materials, old tests, glaze buckets, and tools (and the lawn mower). And finally, I use the space underneath my house to store old work.
My studio is quite clean (for someone who works with clay), and about half of it is devoted to drawing and painting. I spend at least half of my time drawing (on paper, or on bisque porcelain) so that division of the space makes sense to me. I probably also have my geographic location to thank for this: although I live in a colder part of Australia, I enjoy a relatively mild climate, so all of the messy activities like glazing or sanding are done outside.
My work is made for exhibitions, so my workflow reflects this. I first build all of the forms, bisque fire, clean the studio, and then line them up to look at. Next, I work out ideas on paper for a while, before committing pencil and brush to the ceramic forms. After they’ve been fired, my workspace is re-arranged to photograph finished pieces and provide packing space. Finally, the work disappears to the show, the studio is clean and blank again, and the whole cycle begins afresh.
My new studio was built with good solar orientation, large windows, and maximum insulation, so my favorite aspect is that it’s beautifully warm and sunny, and requires little additional heating or cooling. Prior to this project I had experienced life with/as an owner-builder, but this time I employed a professional builder for almost the entire project, and did not regret it for a second. Several people recommended Richard Herborn, so I had to wait until he was free, but he was fantastic to work with. I saved so much time, money, and stress. My partner, parents, and I completed the easy (but time-consuming) jobs like painting, building cupboards, and putting down decking. These smaller tasks, along with choosing things and making decisions really did cut into my studio time.
I feel like this studio is where I want to stay forever; I’m so lucky to have it. Bigger would always be nice, but this is a good size for keeping all my stuff under control—unlimited space leads to unlimited accumulation! My only future plan is to replace all of the small garden sheds in my backyard with one decent-sized shed, and finally create the vegetable garden of my dreams.
Although I have had to give up the social life of the city art world to live here, I do like the quiet of the country and the security of my own place. Career-wise, my location is a negative, because it’s those meetings at exhibitions that lead to opportunities, and you can more easily foster the friendships with other artists that help keep you mentally strong—but Sydney is unaffordable for me. I visit every week for teaching, and until the day I win a lottery, compromises need to be made!
Paying Dues (and Bills)
My undergraduate (BFA) studies were in ceramics at the National Art School in Sydney, however my work is also strongly influenced by my MFA study, which was drawing based, at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Long ago, my first degree was in graphic design. Although I did not work as a graphic designer, it remains a visible influence. I’m presently employed as a part-time lecturer in ceramics at the National Art School, where I teach two days a week, and am fortunate to have some excellent, inspiring students whom I love and learn a lot from! I would love to have a set routine, but teaching work constantly creates variation in my schedule. A good week for me is four days in the studio, plus two teaching and one for all the rest of life’s demands.
My reading mix for inspiration tends toward an equal-parts blend of theory and poetry. Recently I read The Nature of Things by Francis Ponge, Juhani Pallasmaa’s The Thinking Hand, and the classic In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. I look outside of ceramics for inspiration, but my sources are varied, and often supplied by chance—I have always loved wandering in libraries. I recently read the architect Peter Zumthor’s book Atmospheres and have been wondering how those ideas might feed into a series of works—but I’m equally devoted to a good long bushwalk (or hike) as a sure-fire source of inspiration.
I get stuck frequently; usually I’m trying too hard, overthinking things or making something that might impress others rather than being true to myself. When this happens, I make something useful. Consequently, I have lots of overly-nice pots for my indoor plants!
I sell almost 100% of my work in galleries. As a consequence, I don’t really meet or know many of the people who buy my work, which always makes me a bit sad. The odd sale comes though contact via my website, but it’s not currently set up for direct sales, so this is rare. All my works are one-off, and over time I realized that a professional, passionate art dealer can sell my work far more effectively than me. I tend to downplay things, which is not helpful when talking about or selling artwork, and I have the marketing/social-media abilities of a gnat!
Most Valuable Lesson
My most valuable lesson is also one I’m always struggling with: you should always keep making, don’t stop working! I’m prone to long gaps of doubt and extreme procrastination, and my worst creative block is trying to figure things out before I start. But of course we all know that the best work comes out of being in the flow of things. There is no substitute for hard work. However, I also believe strongly in a good edit before every firing!