I’m a maker of wheel thrown and hand built stoneware. From my home studio in Thornbury, Melbourne, I squirrel away with clay whenever I can, often making things worth keeping and sometimes making enough that I sell them. Things for sale go to the beautiful shelves of Queensberry Pour House – a true treasure of a café on the corner of Queensberry Street and Bouverie Street in Carlton – or on my Etsy page. For more pics of work and my life and family and assorted other life observations, go to @saltandcarbon on Instagram.
In general, I try to let the distinct personality of each clay come to the fore, and tend go for clean lines and strong forms. I am trying to loosen up though.
Any questions contact me at email@example.com
(Much) longer ramblings about what I make and why I make below…
Thoughts on Making: Part I
I’ve been thinking about what ceramics is for me. Why I make pots. I started throwing as a way to get out of my head when I was deep in the brain-melting end of a theory-heavy doctorate, and the act of throwing anchored me. It got me back into my body in a way I hadn’t felt since I surfed almost every day growing up on the coast. It takes both concentration and looseness. You need to focus and think and practice to build muscle memory, and then unthink in the moment. At least that’s what I’ve found makes my best work.
I was prodded to pick up clay by my partner. “Get out of your head [you’re driving me crazy].” She enrolled me in a 10-week course. I felt like a five year old slapping at mudcakes for the first few weeks. Then something clicked, I figured out that delicate dance of how to move my hands on the clay and letting the clay move my hands, and I made some things that looked like things.
Hours and dollars and more than a little skin goes in, but what comes out? Objects, yes, but what are those objects to me? And what of the process; what of the time. In the brute ledger of life, is it worth it? I sell some pots sometimes, but part-time ceramics is a shitty strategy to make money. And the more I’ve thought, and the less time I’ve had, the more hankering I’ve had to be at the wheel – making, but equally pausing, unmaking, cleaning, planning, mind-wandering, and the countless other ways time is whiled in the studio – I’ve felt in sharp relief how the end product is only one entry in the “is it worth it” ledger.
Of course time well spent can’t be defined or even determined through a ledger – it is a crude metaphor, but one that is surprisingly handy to start thinking with more care.
And, as much as the process is a joy and a challenge and a reward in itself, the finished product absolutely matters. Process gets old fast if you always finish empty handed. That doesn’t mean the finished product needs to fit our imagining of it – my first ceramics teacher called opening the kiln “an exercise in controlled disappointment”, which may have been understating that sinking feeling when the glaze doesn’t break over the rim like it did in your head or a hairline crack scars the base of a pot. But it is important to end up with a material outcome of all that time spent, and all that money spent. Not just because of the time and money spent, but because each thing made – however modest, however flawed – is a minor miracle in focus, and effort, and concentration, and commitment. And to see that miracle in an object – to feel it in the curves, and cuts, and empty spaces opened up or whittled away with purpose – is a deeply gratifying thing.
To put it another way, ceramics takes persistence, and patience, and practice, but it also teaches all those things. The object you touch and hold and use embodies this back and forth between the potter and the clay, and that’s a truly lovely thing.
Thoughts on Making: Part II
As one part of my practice, I’m not trimming what I make. I’ll leave these pieces as they are when I cut them from the wheel that first time. The idea is to be more mindful of each shape in front of me in the moment it’s in front of me; to focus my care on the time it takes to move a lump of mud into a cup or a vase or a bowl or a miscellaneous dish. A way of – paradoxically, I guess – forcing pottery back into being a kind of meditation. Which is how it started for me – a way to get out of my head when I was finishing my thesis. A return to the hands and the moment from the no-time mind-maze of academia. As I practiced and developed, the possibilities of form and finish kept opening up like a glorious ceramic concertina and soon enough I was trying something different every time I stuck my hands in clay. And it was glorious.
But as life in general and my sense of time specifically have shifted since I became a dad, I’ve been drawn back to the wheel for how throwing pots can put you bang in the moment. How it makes you focus and let go at the same time. The no-trimming rule means I have to focus more closely on the shape I make when I first make it, and let go of what else it could be – no return to tidy or polish or re-work. The volume, the weight, the profile all needs to be worked out on the wheel. A lot of times it won’t work out, but hopefully through those failures – walls too thin, walls too thick, rims bent – I’ll also learn to be a better potter.
It is also good practice for me to be okay with rough edges. To embrace the frays and the gouges and the slumps and the bumps. Never been good at that, but with a little one to raise I had better get better at it, quick sticks. We’ll see how it goes…