Elbow deep: building a new career from clay

Pippa of Makerie Ceramics is a ceramicist living her dream of working with clay everyday, in her sunny Auckland studio. Most days she can be found elbow deep in clay, working at her wheel. Otherwise, she’s probably running after her three year old, doing the household chores or drinking tea!

Her ceramics reflect her lifestyle and personality: keep it simple and organic. Every piece is handmade by Pippa: the lines aren’t always straight, the rim shapes are organic, but they’re all functional and made with love.

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What do you make?
I make simple, functional ceramics that are handmade with love in my studio in Auckland. Each piece is thrown on the wheel and hand finished, made from locally sourced white earthenware clay and finished off with a glossy glaze (that is food and dishwasher safe).

How did you get into your craft?
I try to take a new creative course every year to find out as much as I can about a creative process. In 2016 I decided to try my hand at ceramics and absolutely fell in love. I signed up with Teresa at Ceramic College in Devonport and remember going home after my first lesson to tell my hubby that I had found what it was that I wanted to do with my free time. It’s been a beautiful love affair ever since and now I’m doing it full time!

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
The classes at Ceramic College kicked off the obsession and I eventually invested in a kiln and wheel and set up the studio. From there, I’ve been working with various techniques to decide on what felt best for me. While the underlying techniques I learned from the super talented Teresa, I have honed them in my studio and I do what feels best for me and my aesthetic.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I absolutely love the painting stage. I paint on greenware (earthenware that hasn’t been bisque fired yet) as it is a lot smoother and easier a process than painting on bone-dry bisqueware. I also really enjoy the actual act of throwing on the wheel: it’s incredibly therapeutic and if I’m not careful, hours can go by before I step away from the wheel.

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Tell us a bit about the techniques involved in producing one of your ceramic pieces:
I start by wedging the clay: i.e. warming it up and making it supple for the throwing or hand-building phase. If I’m throwing it on the wheel, I’ll centre it and build the piece from there. If I’m hand-building, I’ll pinch it out with my hands and smooth it out with the back of a wooden spoon. Then I let the piece dry out completely which normally takes about three days. I have shelving in my garage where I store the pieces until they are ready for the kiln.

The first firing is the bisque firing (where it gets up to a temperature of about 1000 C): in this kiln session, the water is driven out of the clay and hardens up to form a bright white piece of pottery. From here I will sand the item, wipe it down and then dip it in a glossy glaze. I give the bases a good wipe (otherwise the piece sticks to the kiln shelf). It then goes into the kiln for the glaze firing (at about 1160 C) where it hardens and gets a beautiful glossy finish. At this point, the piece is either ready or it gets a lustre put on it (i.e. a gold, copper or mother of pearl trim). If that’s the case, it goes back into the kiln for the third firing (to about 700 C). Once the firings are done, I give the piece a clean by wiping down the surface and giving the bases one quick final sand. Then it’s ready to be sent out!

What inspires you?
I am absolutely inspired by our beautiful New Zealand landscapes: I fold New Zealand beach sand through a few of the pieces in the range and it gives the collection this rich, earthy texture and look.

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Is there a philosophy behind your work?
My philosophy is to keep it simple and organic. None of the lines are ever quite straight, the rims have an organic finish to them, the shapes are never perfect but it shows that each piece is utterly unique and subtly different to the next one.

Describe your creative process:
While I was refining my Autumn/Winter 2017 range, I spent months sketching up ideas. I like to let ideas ruminate so I list the pieces I think need to be in the range, then as the designs form in my head, I get on the wheel and make the piece up. Once I’ve finessed the style, I’ll note key things like clay weight, dimensions, time spent handling it etc so that I can accurately cost up the piece but also design a “blueprint” for it the next time I make it. I’m currently working on my Spring/Summer range which will launch in August. I’ve taken notes of all the best sellers from the current range, refined the offering and will soon start throwing the new pieces on the wheel. Once samples are made of the whole range, I’ll photograph them in my studio (it gets the best morning light). I take a lot of mental notes of photography flat lays or shoots that I see that resonate with me and I’ll use them to inform the new look for the season.

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Describe your workspace:
I have a studio in my home in Birkenhead. I have an admin desk where I work on my Mac answering emails, doing tax stuff or processing orders. I have a stand where finished orders are placed, ready for packing up and shipping. I have a long work bench which is home to my wheel (I prefer to stand while I throw, sitting hurts my back), my jars of sand, tools, rolling pins, etc. Above that, I have a rack to dry some pieces before the bisque fire, another shelf to house the work that’s ready for the glaze stage and another shelf which houses product ready for the markets or PR requests.

Five words that describe your mind:
Organised, focused, driven, anxious, inspired.

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
Being told “I absolutely love your work” I find has been incredibly rewarding. I also try to come back to those messages when times get a little rough.

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What are you currently listening to?
I’m on a throwback kick to the early 2000s so I’m currently listening to The All-American Rejects, Sum 41 and Blink 182. They remind me of my time at high school and uni.

Recommend an album:
Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits. Give “Gypsy” a listen – what a great track!

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
I loved Winnie the Pooh – I remember opening the book to smell the pages and was incredibly protective of it. I loved the drawings more than the stories themselves. I wished that I could jump into the illustrations and be a part of that imaginary world.

What are you reading now?
I haven’t really had time to read lately – I’ve been working 15 hour days trying to get through all my orders (NO COMPLAINTS!) but when I do have a moment, I’ve been reading The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. It’s killing me not being able to get to the twist fast enough!

A favourite quote:
“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows – not the flower.” This quote has inspired me to take a plunge, out of a job that didn’t quite fit with me and straight into ceramics.

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Tell us about your pets:
We have two kitties – both rescues. Nina is our black cat that I got from Lonely Miaow. She is a little skittish but makes a wonderful hot water bottle when I crawl into bed at night. She sleeps on my chest and has the loudest purr – I miss her if she’s out gallivanting at night. Our second cat is Penny, we got her as a foster baby from the SPCA – she was supposed to go back to be adopted at the end of the foster period but we just loved her too much. She has the loveliest personality. She walks with me down the drive every day to check the mailbox. She is a sucker for warm sunlight so she can be found on my daughter’s bed in the mornings and on our bed in the afternoons as she follows the light around the house. She is GREAT with kids and nothing really seems to faze her. They’ve clearly talked us up though to their friends in the neighbourhood because all the cats in the area come to chill at our place and eat their food.

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Being someone else isn’t fun, so when you’ve developed your signature piece/idea, celebrate it and own it.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I bought a ceramic spoon that had a beautiful illustration of a girl on it. I loved it for the artistic effort it took to create that piece – I thought it would make a great addition to my ceramics collection. It also reminds me of the overseas adventure that I was on when I bought it.

What’s in store for the rest of 2017?
If April has been anything to go by, it will be very busy! I’m going to be doing heaps of markets (2-3 a month), a few collaborations with some amazing brands and people, continuing to grow the wholesale side of the business and investing in another kiln! Keep a look out in the coming months for my new Spring/Summer range too.

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Pippa has kindly offered a gorgeous prize set for one lucky Felt reader, of two speckled pinch pots with matching teaspoons (see above). These gorgeous kitchenware pieces are made from a speckled buff clay and finished off with a white food and dishwasher-safe glossy glaze. Perfect as condiment sets, or use the bowls for precious rings and trinkets. To be in to win this great prize, simply leave a comment telling us what you like about Pippa’s story and her creations. The draw will be made on Friday 2 June and is open to New Zealand residents only.

 

Purchase from Makerie Ceramics here »

 

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12 Responses to “Elbow deep: building a new career from clay”

  1. Rebekah says:

    I’m so excited to read this! I have coveted Makerie Ceramics pieces for a loooong time and finally picked up my first piece in one of Pippa’s Dunedin stockists last week. Now I want them all! I love the organic feel of them and that it gives them their own personality and uniqueness. Love your work Pippa!

  2. Stephanie says:

    Another long-time fan of Makerie Ceramics here! I have been coveting Pippa’s work for ages. I love that the pieces are all a little unique and have warmth and character, and the colours and patterns are very cool. Pippa’s passion really shows in how she talks about her work.

  3. Victoria says:

    Another fan here! I love Pippa’s work, and am the proud owner of 2 of her pieces, as well as buying them for others too! It’s been a pleasure getting to know her at markets as well :D

  4. Michelle says:

    I love her favourite quote about changing the flower’s environment; it’s got me thinking ;) Also as another of 2 little boys I find it inspiring that she is working at her dream while being a full time mum as well. Love your work Pippa!

  5. Veruschka says:

    What a lovely article and insight into the creative process that is involved. I am a huge fan of your work Pippa and can’t wait to start my collection!

  6. Kate says:

    Love the favourite quote and really love the little ceramic bowls – they would make perfect gifts! Saving for later!

  7. Andrea says:

    From the get go “simple and functional” and your inspiration being the New Zealand Landscape, exactly what I am all about with my own products. There is a huge amount of freedom in keeping things simple and I like to think we are creating our own unique trends and how gorgeous, effective and primal can it be. You use New Zealand beach sand to fold through your products and I use New Zealand Bentonite Clay…how fantastic are we :)

  8. Desiree says:

    Great interview. Fantastic how Pippas doing what she obviously truly enjoys and loves. And totally agree – Gypsy IS a fantastic song.

  9. Barb says:

    You are an inspiration, and remind me of my mother, who earned a living as a potter all through my childhood – I love to see people follow their creative dreams. And I love the look of your beautiful pots too!

  10. Renèe says:

    I honestly just love how real and authentic Pippa is. Reading all about her life and the development of her love of ceramics is amazing! I love that your ceramics are completelg perfect with rounded edges it makes them so unique and quirky. Thanks for sharing yours story!

  11. Gwyneth says:

    I always enjoy reading about how hobbies and small businesses begin. Thanks for sharing your story.

  12. Gosh you are all SO kind and lovely. Thank you so much for your lovely comments – I appreciate each and every one of you for taking the time to write something. Thank you for the support xxx

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