In the late 1990s, after many years of travel, I decided to settle down and get a job. In my small town, there was a pottery production company and I went there to ask for work. I hadn’t had much to do with clay, so the manager advised a year studying pottery to learn how to wheel throw and fire a kiln.
Finding a Path
I moved to Brisbane to complete a diploma in ceramics. After the first year, I began exploring the surface of forms as a means of communicating ideas using drawing and writing. In glaze technology, I developed a simple recipe for terra sigillata that used body stains for color. This opened doors for sgraffito surface decoration.
At the same time, globalization came to our country. Chinese pots flooded the market, resulting in many pottery businesses closing down around Australia. Customers bought imported cups and bowls at a markedly reduced price when compared to the home-grown equivalent. The customers were happy, but the pottery business that I had planned to work with ceased trading. This didn’t upset me too much as I had fallen in love with mold making and drawing and painting on clay. I used the techniques I had learned to make utilitarian pieces with social and political commentary on the surface. Apparently, I had a lot to say and the public supported me by purchasing it.
An Evolving Career
At the beginning, I sold my work mostly through group exhibitions and in a few not-for-profit outlets. I entered special pieces in award exhibitions with the beneficial outcome of having those pieces acquired by public galleries. Eventually a reputable private gallery spotted the work and they offered me representation. This led to my workdays becoming hectic and all consuming. While there was also enjoyment, I found that I was becoming disordered. After several years, I started pushing the limits of my abilities, resulting in many technical failures. I made complicated pieces experimenting with form and layered surfaces. They rarely sold, but interestingly, these works have sold several years later.
In time, the day-to-day routine of my work situation became exhausting and I opted for distance. I made the decision to step away from the art market. I went back to drawing and writing in a sketchbook. I started making simple forms and writing about them on a blog called BumCrane. I worked on this for a number of years, but stopped posting several years ago as the blog had run its course. By this time, my objects were wrapped with drawings and words using colored terra sigillata and sgraffito, which I started successfully selling in retail outlets. I began gathering art/ceramic followers who collected my work.
Marketing and Collaborating
My advice to anyone seeking gallery representation is to find a gallery that understands the history of pottery. The gallery ought to have appropriate spaces and lighting for displaying ceramics and ideally they should have clientele in their database who collect ceramics. Always have a contract.
For 12 years, I worked in a studio sponsored by the Brisbane City Council. It housed a diverse range of artists from performance artists to printmakers, painters, boat builders, and writers. They came and they went. I was in the shed space with another potter and a glass artist. Ideas flowed between us all at times and at other times I wouldn’t see anyone for weeks. The studio was affordable, but it had some issues. It was a huge tin shed that was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and would flood in one area during heavy rain storms. It wasn’t located close to my home, so I would start early in the morning and finish mid afternoon to avoid commuting during the peak morning and evening rush-hour traffic. I juggled covering and uncovering work to attach and build at the correct time for the clay. It was often hit and miss.
I thought of moving, but affordable artist spaces in Brisbane are thin on the ground. It also had its benefits. I had made a lot of work in the space and it was big enough that it could house all of the kilns. Additionally, throughout the years, we had several open studios that were financially successful. People love to meet artists and see where they work. My client base grew and I was asked to do commission pieces for weddings and a series of trophies for awards in the arts.
During this time, I was invited to work with a South Australian artist, Margaret Dodd, who is best known for her ceramic Holden cars and her films and videos. Margaret studied at The University of California Davis with Robert Arneson and became part of the Funk movement. I stayed in her granny flat at the bottom of the garden, and we worked together making Holden cars and layering the surfaces with terra sigillata, while Margaret told some wonderful stories of the people she worked with in California in the 1970s. She taught me to slow down and feel the clay, and showed me how to be gentle and thoughtful with each piece we made. It wasn’t a race. When we were finished with the pieces, Margaret exhibited them at the Jam Factory in Adelaide, prior to the exhibition traveling on tour to parts of Australia.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I finally moved my studio practice from the shed. I’m now in the garage at home. I always worried that I’d watch Netflix all day and ignore my work, but it has been the opposite. I am organized and have a routine, and I seem to be accomplishing more without the travel time. I still sell work out of my studio, but I am progressing with starting an online store with a friend called Eton Street. It is in its early days, and we are learning as we go. We are engaged in a collaboration working toward a winter and Christmas art market at the Gallery of Modern Art. We recently had an exhibition with another artist and the sales were amazing; collectors do follow artists.
The only advice I could give to someone pursuing ceramics as a profession is what has worked for me. Be patient with your practice and yourself. It takes a lot of effort, so try to be tuned in to the process as each step informs the next. Be unruffled by change and failure—it’ll happen. Make your own thing, not someone else’s in a different color. Stay creative in all aspects of your life. Be close to what you make and believe in your skills. Take time for some exercise if you’re so inclined; it benefits your mind. Have an accountant, friends, and dogs. Be generous with your knowledge— not everyone is so lucky.
Years as a professional potter
Number of pots made in a year
2000: Advanced Diploma of Arts, Ceramics
TAFE Queensland Southbank, Brisbane
1985: Bachelor of Visual Arts
City Art Institute New South Wales University, Sydney
1982: Art Certificate
TAFE New South Wales Newcastle
The time it takes (percentages)
Making work, including firings: 75%
Slab and handbuilding
Where it Goes