Meet the Makers: Melbourne Ceramics Market

The pottery wheel scene in Ghost has officially been confirmed as a very common reference that Tina Thorburn and Daisy Cooper, the creators, curators and coordinators of Melbourne Ceramic Market (MCM) get tired of hearing. In fact, we're confident that everyone at Melbourne’s newest independent ceramics market has heard it before, too.

Knowing that, don’t ask about it at the upcoming MCM summer event, which is on again at the end of the month, Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 November, in Collingwood.

After a bustling and successful turnout of more than two thousand people for their launch event in August, MCM is back bigger and better, showcasing over fifty emerging and established ceramic makers under one roof and aiming to create a vibrant marketplace that highlights and reflects the work of Melbourne’s finest ceramic talent.

Annette Wagner caught up with Tina and Daisy and asked them some questions about being ceramicists.

 Tina Thorburn (L) and Daisy Cooper (R), the creators, curators and coordinators of Melbourne Ceramic Market. Photo: Annette Wagner.

Tina Thorburn (L) and Daisy Cooper (R), the creators, curators and coordinators of Melbourne Ceramic Market. Photo: Annette Wagner.

Tell us your insights about the Melbourne ceramic movement.

DC: It’s here and it needs to be celebrated! There are so many amazing artists creating really interesting work across all the fields of ceramics that it’s hard not to be immersed in it.

TT: The appreciation for ceramics has grown in this movement and it seems pottery schools can’t keep up with demand of people wanting to try ceramics!

Did this prompt the ceramic focused market?

DC: Yes, we felt that there were so many makers going unseen and there wasn’t a specific market outlet for them. There was a niche that needed filling.

TT: Not everyone who tries ceramics will enjoy the process, and not everyone is good at it. Why not connect people who love and appreciate ceramics with local ceramicists who make beautiful work? 

Is the ceramic market competitive or community orientated?  

DC: Completely community orientated! We want to create a space that allows new makers to the market scene feel supported and welcomed. Of course there is a competitive element in the selling, but in a welcoming and knowledgeable way.

 Tina Thorburn, at August 2017 Melbourne Ceramic Market. Photo: Annette Wagner

Tina Thorburn, at August 2017 Melbourne Ceramic Market. Photo: Annette Wagner

TT: We are intentionally doing specific things to make this more than a market. For example, we raised thirteen hundred dollars for SisterWorks by collecting gold coin donations at our last market, and we have lots of fun things planned for midsummer events that bring the community of ceramicists in contact with the general community. We are about more than selling ceramics. We also believe we are responsible to help educate people about the craft and share our insights as full-time potters with other makers.

What customer insights have you been able to observe from the recent market? 

TT: We’ve had lots of feedback. Everyone loved it but some found it too crowded. We have taken steps to make the November market bigger and control the crowds better. It’s all a big learning curve!

What is the response from your consumers?

TT: Many customers asked us to do monthly markets, but we want to stay fresh and keep our markets boutique in feel. 

Is there a demand from the more conscious consumer for more thoughtful pieces?

TT: Yes! And this is linked to the whole handmade movement that is giving pottery its big presence. In our experience, people are craving things that are thoughtfully made and with purpose in mind. Ceramics is functional art and there is big demand for that now!

What and where are your top tips, from where to fire work to how to use a wheel?

DC: There are so many amazing ceramics schools around Melbourne and across Australia. Get yourself booked into a class and have a go at as many things as you can. Don’t be afraid of the wheel (like me)—go for it!

TT: My top tip, and the thing I tell people in my workshops, is to be kind to yourself. If you give kids a piece of clay they’ll dive straight in and make weird and wonderful things without self criticism. Give adults a piece of clay and they’ll automatically say they aren’t creative, or panic about what they ‘should’ make. In my experience, no one is good at ceramics from the start. It takes time, practice, patience and kindness to oneself to get good.

When did you first start working with ceramics, and for how long? 

DC: I started an evening class in London at Turning Earth Ceramics Studio in May 2014 and have never looked back. From there, it has all been self-taught and having amazing ceramic maker friends to call upon when I get stuck with something technical or tricky. The wealth of knowledge of other makers is invaluable to a creative.

TT: I took it up in October 2014, so coming up to three years. I took it up as an evening filler because the hockey season had finished and I wanted to keep busy. It was an eight-week course at the Carlton Arts Centre. By March 2015, I’d quit my job and became a full time potter.

Where did your interest in ceramics come from?

DC: I was travelling around Australia and China in 2013 and fell in love with the colours, textures and variety of ceramic work out there. I thought to myself, I want to try my hands at this! I found my medium!

TT: I had an inkling I would enjoy ceramics because my dad had done a lot of ceramics through his life. His pieces litter his house, and I grew up with handmade ceramics all over my childhood home.

Can you remember the first piece you ever made? Was it a coil pot?!

DC: It was indeed a coil pot! I am truly useless at the wheel, so my first pieces were some bowls (not great) and a set of cups (a bit better). I still have the cups and my mum has the bowls. I get them out now and then to remind myself how far I’ve come in three years! It’s always a laugh for my family and partner.

TT: I learned on the wheel and we threw away our first two weeks attempts in an effort to loosen up our expectations. The first batch of pieces from that course were given to friends and family for Christmas. I regret this as every once in a while my mother-in-law will pull out a cup made in that first batch to show off, only making me cringe and want to break in when no one is home and smash those early pieces! They are so different and primitive to what I make now.

What appealed to you about working with ceramics, as opposed to other forms of art?

DC: I studied fine art, so have tried my hand at many art forms, from painting to screen printing and now ceramics. I love anything that is hands-on and where you really get into the raw materials, so clay was the ultimate medium for me. I’ve even worked with clay that I have dug straight from the earth near home in Scotland. You don’t get much closer to the raw material than that.

TT: I love clay. It's the only thing in the world that slows me down. I'm not naturally a patient person but I have to be with clay and that quality is slowly creeping into the rest of my life. Ceramics has also helped nurture a stillness in me that is helping with my self esteem and giving me to time and space to figure out where I belong in the world. Sounds very profound, and to be honest, it is.

What other artist/s do you admire that were represented at the market?

DC: That’s a hard one. The quality of work was so amazing from all the makers, but obviously Tina’s work and work ethic inspires me greatly, along with Melanie Channel and Dasa Ceramics for their enthusiasm and love of the craft.

TT: I love Daisy's work along with Ghostwares, alhora and Georgina Proud.

Do you ever get the equivalent of ‘writers block’?

DC: Sometimes, and it’s usually when I’ve got loads of orders to fulfil and I just want to create something of my own that’s a bit different but when I come to create this piece I get stuck. It’s usually overcome by telling myself to look around at what you’ve achieved! Just try something new. What’s the worst that can happen?

TT: Yeah, I guess so. But when that happens I give myself a day of play in the studio where I follow the clay and make whatever I want rather than fill orders.

What do you value most: the process of creating a piece or the achievement of having made it?

DC: The process of making the work is the most valuable to me. I get to come to work every day and make! For myself! It doesn’t get better than that. Once my pieces are out in the world, they are their own thing, but it’s the pleasure of making that makes this the best job in the world.

TT: The process. I adore glazing. I think that is where all the magic happens. And that process will make or break a piece. I get so nervous about bringing my pieces into the world for sale. This is getting easier for me, but I find each piece has a bit of my soul in it. I have crafted the clay into what it is, and to put it on a table and ask people for money is scary. Sometimes people scoff and say it’s too much, sometimes people say hurtful things, like they could make that. I find that part of the process very taxing.

What do you least enjoy about ceramics? References to the scene from Ghost?!

DC: Ha ha, yep, lots of Ghost references—which have no relevance to me as I don’t throw! I think the hardest thing is putting yourself out there. There are major highs and major lows with creating and running your own business, but the highs usually outweigh the lows.

TT: I get this all the time. And I just smile and nod.

What qualities make a great ceramic piece?

DC: Timelessness. A piece that can sit in a house or a gallery and always bring you back to it is a great ceramic piece.

TT: For me, the mindset and ethos of the person who made it. I also like bright colours and unique takes on old techniques.

What do regard as more important: a piece that is aesthetically pleasing, or one that has practical function? 

DC: That’s a hard one to answer. It’s a combination of both for me. I would never use or buy something that I didn’t find aesthetically pleasing but I also love a functional piece that I can get pleasure out of using every day.

TT: For me, functionality is paramount. I don't make anything that doesn't have a use. I think ceramics is the perfect balance of function and art.

If you weren’t working in ceramics, what other field would you work in?

DC: I’ve worked a lot as an arts facilitator in the disabilities sector. I love working with groups of individuals who are so talented but either don’t get the representation they deserve or don’t believe themselves to be the artists they are. Working to help people realise this is so rewarding and something I recommend anyone to try volunteering in. There are so many amazing organizations out there like Arts Project Australia that need support and recognition for the work they do.

TT: I will probably go back and study nursing/midwifery in the next five years. I care a lot about rural health and think balancing ceramics with a health career will allow me to live the life I wants in my later thirties.

The MCM will be held on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 November 2017 at Fiveasy Upstairs, 5 Easy St, Collingwood, 3066. Opening hours are Saturday 10am–6pm and Sunday 10am–4pm.

For more about the MCM, visit their website at melbourneceramicsmarket.com or follow them on Facebook (melbourneceramicsmarket) and Instagram (@melbourne.ceramics.market).

Annette Wagner is a designer, marketer, creative consultant, artist and writer. She is also on the board of the Creative Women’s Circle. Obsessively passionate about the arts and the creative process, she is determined to not talk art-speak and instead focus on supporting and sharing concepts and insights most creative types crave to know.