Sydney is currently going through another round of COVID-related disruptions, and LouiseM studio has been heavily effected by these changes. As the studio is located in the Inner West Council, and I live in the highly restricted Canterbury-Bankstown Council area, I am unable to get in to the studio because crossing council boundaries for work in not allowed for non-essential workers. Much as I love my job I wouldn’t dream of trying to frame my work as essential. What this means is I am restricted to working at home, and as my kiln isn’t at home there isn’t a terribly large amount of work-related tasks I can complete at home. Unfortunately it looks like the making of Hardenbergia pieces for the flora range will be impacted, as well as Flannel Flower pieces. Hopefully I don’t spend all of spring in lockdown!
Any orders placed through this website at this time will be delayed. If the piece is in stock, I am able to get occasional drop-offs from one of my studio partners, so it will be delayed, but only for a week or so. Any items that need to be made will be delayed to the end of lockdown plus an extra few weeks. Once I get back I will be working as fast as I can to get everything out to everyone as quickly as possible, but there will most likely be delays.
One thing to be grateful for though is that my kiln, which had been broken for approximately a month prior to the lockdown has been fixed, and I am very fortunate that my studio partners have been working their way through firing my back-log of pieces. And so we wait, and we hope, and we try to embrace the down-time. Things at home have never been neater or better organised!
If you’ve been to Sydney, we’re pretty sure you know this famous strawberry watermelon cake! Dubbed the world’s most instagram-ed cake, Black Star Pastry has served over a million slices of this cake to date!
And you know what they say, below every instagram-ed cake lies a beautiful handmade plate. Yes yes, we totally just made that up! We got in touch with Louise Martiensen of LouisM Studio, the maker of that plate in the photograph above, to learn more about her and her craft.
Tell us a little bit more about your start into the world of ceramics.
I fell into ceramics almost entirely by accident. Back when I had to choose university courses, I decided on a general design degree, but with a rough idea of working in furniture and product design.
When we had to choose our workshop studios for our practical sessions, I had one choice left and couldn’t decide. Alas, I ended up choosing ceramics because it was on a Monday and suited my timetable best! After a couple of classes, I was in love with the medium and it has driven me ever since. Now, I’m a full-time potter based out of a studio in Sydney.
We’ve been to Sydney and we have to say it is really quite a creative enclave!
There is a fairly sizeable creative community in our building. I share my studio with two other makers and am right next door to a large pottery studio and teaching space. There are also textile artists, photographers, wood-workers, painters and jewellers in a building just a short walk away. It’s really inspiring to be surrounded by other creatives and seeing them make their beautiful pieces and go through their own processes.
Pottery can be such a lovely, yet frustrating process. If you have to point out one thing you love or hate about pottery, what would it be?
There are so many things that I love and hate about pottery, but I suppose the big one that keeps me going is the magic that happens behind the kiln doors. It’s both the single most rewarding yet frustrating part of the process.
What goes on in the kiln can literally make or break your pieces and it’s always exciting to open the kiln doors and see what’s inside! (If you are wondering what can go wrong in the kiln, this is a minor mishap she had to go through.)
Working as an independent potter is tough work – you have to juggle between production as well as branding and marketing on top of other administrative work.
Indeed! For me, a ‘normal’ working day can look very different from each other. I have a small study at home where I do most of my admin work, but in the studio I could be doing any of a number of things. Casting from my fleet of molds, decorating vases, fettling cast pieces, putting kilns on, glazing, colouring, packing orders, and a whole lot more cleaning than I’d like to be doing!
We have noticed that some makers will sketch it out whenever a new idea pops into their head while others would prefer to just get straight to working with the clay / wheel once a new idea hits.
My creative process usually starts with an idea. It might be something that I’ve seen that sparked something in me, or it might be through my experimentation with processes that I’ve developed a new idea or technique that I want to try.
I usually try to sketch things out and work through my ideas on paper for a bit before I proceed to doing physical tests and developing prototypes. Ideas change and mature along the way so I don’t always end up with what I had expected at the start of the process. It’s an ongoing thing as I’m always tweaking and improving my works.
What do you do if you face a creative block then?
I can’t remember the last time I had a creative block, honestly. There’s not enough hours in the day to keep up with all my ideas! However, when I am in the design or prototyping process I do often come up against problems that need to be worked out that do slow my process down.
When I come up against such a problem, I find it is best to not keep butting myself up against the issue, but to do something else. While I’m doing that, I know the problem is actually being turned over at the back of my mind. Solutions often come to me when I’m engaged in another activity.
Most of your works are made using the slip-cast method, would that be your go-to method currently?
Yup, I mostly work with the slip-casting process. It’s a technique I learnt at university and I love its possibilities for creating things that are the same, but different. I occasionally throw on the wheel for some commissions, and sometimes even hand-build. But mostly, it’s still slip-casting.
I usually use a porcelain slip that gets fired to 1280 degrees and add colours using stains. As I get most of my colours by using body stains, I use a lot of clear glaze but have recently been moving into different glazes which has been really interesting.
It seems like pottery seems to be gaining quite a bit of traction these days.
Most definitely. I do find it hard to precisely pinpoint why ceramics has been gaining in popularity in recent years, but like anything, it’s probably a combination of a lot of different factors. With an increased emphasis on being conscious consumers, a lot more people are having a bit more of a think about where and how their products are made.
Also, for a ceramics practice, you don’t need hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment to get started. It can be quite small so you have plenty of people trying their hand at it and turning to pottery as a hobby. These new potters are popping up all over the place which feeds in to the ‘buy small and buy local’ ethos.
There’s just been an explosion of creativity in this area in the last 10 years which expands what people think ceramics can be, I think it’s lovely!
Functional or decorative?
Functional. It has to be beautiful too, but something that is useful is very beautiful to me, so I think for my work, the function comes first.
Are there any ceramicists or creatives that you follow?
To end it off, what do you think you will be doing if you are not a potter?
If I wasn’t a full-time potter, I think I would have ended up in some other creative field. All my life I’ve loved making things and it has consumed my spare time. But outside of that, I have quite a caring bent to my nature and I think I might have ended up as a counsellor or social worker.
I’m Louise and I’m the owner/designer/maker/everything at LouiseM studio. I started making ceramics professionally about 8 years ago and the business began as a place for me to go on my ceramic journey and make the sort of pieces that I wanted in my own home.
After high school, I decided to go to uni and do a design degree. I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to get out of it, but I thought the course looked interesting. I’d never done ceramics in a serious way before and took the elective on a whim, then I totally and unexpectedly fell in love. I think I was really fortunate to be going through that course, in the right place and the right time, I had some really wonderful tutors who introduced me to ceramics in ways I’d never considered before, and it opened the way for me to practice as I do today.
WHAT IMPACT HAS 2020 HAD ON YOUR BUSINESS AND HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED DIRECTION?
The way that I earn a living has always been quite up and down, with unexpected things coming along and changing the flow all the time, but even so this is shaping up to be a very different year for me professionally.
Previously I’d say most of my cashflow came from hauling myself and my ceramic wares out to markets, alongside teaching ceramics classes through a local community college, so when the pandemic hit us here in Australia I was at first distraught. Then I pulled myself together and was totally ready for this to be an opportunity for me to reset and make more time for new designs. What actually happened was that online sales picked up from all those wonderful people that had seen me at the markets over the years, and a small ongoing commission that I’d been producing for quite a few years took off, leaving me spending more time in the studio, making more than ever before and feeling exceptionally grateful.
WHAT INFLUENCES YOUR WORK AND SPARKS YOUR CREATIVITY?
I’ve never had a problem with my creativity, it’s always flown freely. Inspiration and what drives my work and my process usually comes from experimentation with technique. I’ve developed so many works that started from just playing around in the studio and there are so many more things I’d love to have more time to explore. What’s been really important to me has been having the space to test things out and to make mistakes and follow my interest.
My work has certainly developed over the years, but a big driver behind most pieces that do go through the design and development phase and then on to manufacturing is that I want it to be something so lovely that it’s beyond style. Something that gets loved, appreciated and used, and not put aside in a year because the trend has moved on. As a maker of pieces that have the potential to last thousands of years I’m acutely aware of my responsibility to not just add to the world’s collection of ‘stuff’. Even though I make things according to my own whims and interests, I do have to temper that with what is useful and fit for purpose, and I would say that’s where my design training shines through.
WHAT ARE YOU LOVING AT THE MOMENT AND WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?
So many things. This has certainly been a good period to practice gratitude for all the good things in life; partner, friends, family, gardening, music, books, tea, eating well. On a personal level I’ve enjoyed making more effort to keep in contact with loved ones, and seeing everyone have a little more time for each other. I have always been an avid reader, I even worked in a bookshop for a number of years. My top picks from the last 6 months would have to be Dark Emu, Sapiens and A Dream About Lightning Bugs.
I have been kept quite busy lately making butter keepers for Pepe Saya Cultured Butter, on top of custom orders for people and replenishing stock levels. When I have the chance to do anything else I have been slowly developing a new range of tablewares, on top of tweaks to existing products.
CAN YOU SHARE YOUR WORK FROM HOME TIPS?
The bulk of my work is not done from home. I am fortunate enough to have my own little studio space not too far from where I live, and going in to get some work done has always been easy. What I do have at home is a little office/photography set-up, and this is probably the aspect of my business that I have the most trouble getting on top of.
My number one top tip for getting work done at home is to treat it like a job that you go to. You go in, you set yourself up, you get the work done, you don’t get distracted by non-work things, and then when it’s all done or you reach a certain time, you get to stop. It doesn’t always work for me, but it’s been my most effective self-management strategy by far.
The world is gripped in the panic of COVID-19 and it affects us all in some way, large or small. I am lucky enough to be young, healthy and living in a country that decided to take action relatively early, meaning that I don’t know anyone who has caught the disease, nor am I likely to sicken significantly if I did happen to catch it. How it affects me is how it affects my business.
Being the owner of a creatively-based small business means that my income is never steady, but after 8 years of trading I am starting to get a feel for the pattern of things. And what is happening now is not normal. A tentative assessment of my loss of income (required for government assistance) has put that number a reduction of 80%. It is huge. And although I acknowledge the privileged position I find myself in, compared some of my colleagues in other, less-easily-quantifiable creative roles, I know the next few months will be a struggle. I am fortunate that I am eligible for government assistance, but what happens next is murky and uncertain. I will be attempting to use my extra spare time to prepare for a brighter future that I’m not completely certain of the timing of. I plan to still be around, making ceramics after this is all over, but really who can predict the future?
So I’ll be hunkering down in my studio, elated at the extra time available to spend devoted to pursuing new projects and freedom from the usual grind, but also bereft without my usual jammed schedule of making, markets and classes. Being human often involves a complex tangle of contradictory emotion, so I’ll know it’s pretty normal to feel these two things simultaneously and that I’m not alone in these thoughts. Knowing that we’re all in it together has become rather comforting. If you still have a job: please support struggling local business wherever you can. The appreciation isn’t endless, but it is immense.
And here they are! Two new takes on my product lines just in time for Finders Keepers.
I made the vases just for the market; they are short and wide and come in a variety of sizes, and hand-carved with my signature patterns. There are only limited numbers, so get in quick if you want one. Please let me know if you’re a fan, and if you think these shapes have a future in my range of works.
Secondly I am really proud to release the new range of blend cup colours. I still love the old colours, but I am in the process of giving the whole range a bit of a facelift (which will include new sizes in the coming months) and have started with these new colours. I have been working on developing these shades for a while now and am really pleased with how they have come out and how they all sit together. There will also only be small quantities of these at the market, but I’d love your feedback, so please let me know what you think about the new colours.
Finders Keepers will be held at The Cutaway in Barangaroo from Friday the 3rd May – Sunday the 5th of May. Opening hours are 12-9 on Friday and 10-5 on Saturday and Sunday. There is a $5 entry fee, but there is so much to see inside. Hope to see you there!